Putting the divisive discussions about what constitutes modern photography and whether or not Alec Soth is relevant aside I thought I'd talk about the anatomy of a small photo assignment for an advertising agency. In spite of my arguments that all photography is headed to the web this particular job will have us creating an image that will end up in printed magazines. We think we'll be able to style our model and do the relatively simple photographic work in a couple hours in the morning but we'll end up billing for far more time + usage. Here's why:
We bid the job back in October of 2018 but it kept getting delayed. It's a shot of a doctor against a black background illuminated by a hard spot light from high above which also creates a shaft of light against the black background. Seems simple, right? But a single spotlight would create a very hard light source with bright highlights etched against empty shadows. We've tested and tested and the way we'll actually light is to put a 2x3 foot soft box up on an boom arm and then drape the bottom edges of the soft box with black fabric. The black fabric hanging down on all sides by about a foot and a half keeps the light off the foreground and background. It acts as a soft-edged snoot. Our talent will be sitting and working with a piece of high tech medical gear. I have extra flashes and large panels standing by in case we need to decrease the lighting contrast even more.
When we got the go ahead to do the ad we started with a half hour call to the agency go over all the details again with the art director. Then I spent a couple of hours casting an age appropriate model. After that I headed to the photo store to fetch a long roll of black seamless background paper and a new Kupo boom arm.
We've been doing artsy portraits in the studio over the last week so most of today was spent packing up the lights and modifiers I generally use for those kinds of shots and then pulling up the foam floor tiles so we could cover the floor with the black seamless paper. I had to sweep and wash the floor in the mid-afternoon so it would be clean and dry after dinner when I could prevail upon Ben to help me get the seamless aligned and spread just right, and taped down to the concrete studio floor. I also had Ben sit in while I played with the skirted soft box, working with the distance from the subject and power settings to get the exposure combination I wanted. Something that would give me enough depth of field but also a large enough f-stop to prevent sharpness loss from diffraction. I wanted to hit the right level to get f7.1. A good light meter helps... Also, the distance from the light to the subject will determine how hard or soft the light will finally be.
I spent time last week, as soon as the assignment was confirmed, getting together medical props. We needed face masks (I got three different styles so the A.D. can pick). We needed surgical aprons, clean room shoe covers, forest green scrubs, and both disposable and re-usable surgical hats. I got gloves but they were blue. I also wanted plain gloves so I hit up my physician and dropped by his office to get a small Baggie with a variety of gloves.
Some of the stuff came from Amazon.com and some of the stuff came from the oral surgery practice that I work with. They were great about handing me a stack of daily use materials. After I got the props, the photo materials, and the talent squared away I stocked in a can of Illy coffee (medium roast), a fresh carton of half and half and an assortment of muffins from my favorite bakery. The last step before I walk into the studio tomorrow will be to come home after early morning swim practice and clean the guest bathroom.
After the actual photography we'll bid everyone farewell and I'll start breaking down the set-up and archiving the raw files. I'll edit down the take, which, for a change, will be more like a still life shoot, meaning far fewer frame shot, My client is going to have some needed compositing done by a professional retoucher and they'd like the raw files so I'll send them along via FTP and then bill the job.
I'm shooting with studio flash and the camera will be locked down on a tripod. I've gone through the camera menu twice to do some fine tuning and have remembered to turn off the image stabilization and to make the raw files uncompressed. I don't like to shoot tethered but I will have the camera connected via HDMI to an Atomos Ninja Flame 7" monitor for the convenience of the art director. The screen on that device is much bigger and brighter; easier to assess. The camera will be a Fuji X-H1 with the 16-55mm f2.8 lens. Trying to make it as easy and flexible as possible...
I've gone through and tested every step. When the A.D. hits the studio at 10am tomorrow we should be able to make our wardrobe and prop selections and get right to the shoot. After I deliver the images I'll spent the rest of the afternoon stowing the still life oriented gear and black background, and re-setting for a doctor's portrait I'll be shooting the next morning against white.
So, yes, the actual shoot might only take two hours but the prep time and post production time are much more extensive and someone needs to pay for that as well. Photography may be going through many changes but some niches in commercial photography haven't changed much at all.
Can't wait to try one of those raspberry and walnut, oat bran muffins tomorrow. Ah, craft service.
Gratuitous coffee syrup shot.
Once my favorite pair of frames, now destroyed by the ravages of time....