Corporate and editorial portrait sessions often come with time constraints. You have 30 minutes scheduled with the subject, the handlers arrive 15 minutes late, the subject 5 minutes after that, he or she has to get back on schedule, so 30 minutes becomes 10, … and so it goes. Better be ready.
So what was I thinking when I thought it would be a great idea to do a portrait demo in 8 minutes? Not just a portrait demo, but a demo that ranged from the kind of stuff everyone does with a point and shoot to an editorial portrait. In 8 minutes! I like challenges, but unlike David Hobby and Zack Arias I had no assistants, I wasn’t in Dubai, and I was trying to explain what I was doing while I was doing it, shooting tethered. At least I didn’t have Joe McNally looking on. I did have about 35 onlookers, though, members of the Wakefield, RI chapter of BNI. I wanted to show them how I do the voodoo that I do, and show them how I try to start with a concept and develop it. 8 minutes. Damn fool.
So I recruited Bill as a subject, for a few reasons: he’s in a techy business, he’s cool-looking, and he doesn’t like having his photo taken. (You read that right. Keep it real, I always used to say.)
The well-thought-out plan went like this: headshot in available (fluorescent) light in the meeting room, camera on Program, auto white balance. (The first problem I had was figuring out how to use the Program mode, since I’d never done it before.) Should come out looking like a point & shoot with available light. Next, same thing, put a flash in the hot shoe on ETTL. Should look kind of like a p&s with the flash. Next, underexpose the ambient to tone down the background, get the Speedlight off the camera and into a small softbox and up in the air over the camera. (I was going to do an interim shot without the softbox, but that 8 minute bell …) Next, get the light off to the side a bit, and get some backlight on him with a snooted Vivitar 283 to separate him from the dark background. Finally, use the Speedlight in the softbox up front for fill, get 2 snooted 283s behind him to give him some crisp specular highlights on his cheeks. Cool. Ambitious. Had the lights on stands, ready to move where I wanted ‘em. Laptop, projector, cables, camera, check.
Well thought-out plans, being subject to the laws of nature, are just plans. About those laws of nature …
Shots 1 and 2 came of without a hitch, and as unattractive as I thought they’d be. (Sorry, Bill.) Started moving the lights in, and a Vivitar 283 toppled off its mount, breaking the shoe. (Glad it wasn’t a 580.) Brought in the backup. (Always have a backup.) Shot 3 worked as planned. Shot 4, too. Then I ran out of time.
So, what did Mr. Photographer learn here? The best laid plans … (see Robert Burns on the subject). But the real takeaway was for my audience. (How do I know? Because they told me.) What did 35 people learn about Mr. Photographer? That he is pretty much unflappable under pressure, even when the fecal matter engages the fan blades. Even when his gear hits the deck. Even when the subject is reluctant. Great pictures? No. But the experience …