I live in a very small desert town with what I feel are very limited shooting locations to choose from: lot of harsh sunlight, a lack of open shade, and tons of dirt and weeds. I’m feeling stuck. How do you choose your session locations? And what are you looking for when you’re shooting?
Last time, we answered your first question, “How do you choose your session locations?” and we promised that we’d put the other side of the bread on the grilled cheese this week by answering the second half of your question, “What are you looking for when you’re shooting?”
One of the most common questions we get from our clients is, “Have you shot at (fill in their venue) before?” because there’s a misnomer that the background is the most important element of a great shot. It’s important, but for us, when we’re shooting, we’re looking for light first. Instead of location, location, location! we’re all about light, light, light! It’s like John Lennon should’ve said, “All you need is LIGHT!” We’d rather photograph a cute, well-posed, in-love couple in a dump with great light than in an epic location without it. The hard part for us when we started, though, and for so many newer photographers, too, is walking and chewing gum at the same time, because when you’re just getting going, it feels like there are a hundred other things to think about. Camera settings, posing, interacting with the clients, keeping track of time… it’s a lot. We remember. But it does get better. We promise. And you know how you master 100 things you need to know to shoot an amazing shoot? One thing at a time. Because once you’ve mastered one thing, it becomes an instinct, an extension of yourself, and you don’t have to master it again, so don’t be so hard on yourself, okay? But, while you’re getting there, let us give you our formula for finding the great light that we love. It’s as easy as 1-2-3…
1.Even Exposure to the Light from Head to Toe
We like our subject’s entire body to be evenly exposed. No hot spots. One consistent exposure from head to toe (if you’re shooting from head to toe!).
2. Lit from Behind (Backlit)
When we’re walking with our clients, we’re looking them in the eyes. Well, just past the eyes, actually, to the back of their head. If their face is even and the sun’s hitting the back of their head, we stop. Wherever we are.
3. Even Exposure to Light in the Background
If we can keep them evenly exposed in front, backlit, AND still have an even exposure in the background (like on their face) then we’ve got the trifecta, our favorite combination of light, and we exhaust that location and shoot the heck out of it. The HECK out of it! It’s better in our opinion to rock lots of poses in the same great light than to move from good light to bad light for the sake of variety.
When we first started, one of our biggest fears on a shoot was that our clients would find out that we didn’t know what we were doing! So, the temptation for us, and maybe you, was to find a spot and start shooting right away to get some control. The problem with that, though, is that it sometimes comes at the expense of great light, and you’re susceptible to getting flustered when you rush into the first set and lose your confidence because it’s not quite right. Our suggestion? Do what we do. Walk around with your clients at the beginning of the shoot to get a good lay of the land. Let them know that, as soon as you find the best light, you’ll start, but not a second sooner. They’ll appreciate your seriousness and effort — and it’ll actually reassure your clients that you know what you’re doing and have their best interest in mind.
Plus, once you get them in great light and get your exposure nailed, you’ve knocked out two of the hardest parts, so you can focus on posing and composition. Get those four elements right and you’ve got yourself a great shot.
CW, this two-part, two-week answer was probably longer than you expected. It was longer than we expected, too! But we didn’t want to leave you hanging without a full explanation, because both were such important questions! We hope that now you’ll have an easier time finding great places to shoot and feel more confident to find great light the next time you’re out even if you don’t.
Keep up the good work, friend! Your clients are so blessed to have a photographer who cares as much as you!
More virtual hugs!
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More from the Dear A&J Series…
1. The Best Place to Invest
2. How to Choose a Session Location
3. How to Find Great Light
4. How to Blog to an Invisible Audience
5. How to Take Sharp Family Portraits
6. What Lens Should I Buy Next?