I am often being asked to do an environmental portrait of a subject. I do a variety of photos from posed to them doing something.
Here I have assembled some examples of shots I would look to do for a person being featured. I ask them about their hobbies and what they do at work and then we shoot everything I can do with the time I am given with the subject.
Every thing we can think of we try and capture some images of him doing.
You cannot settle for one photo and that is all you give an editor. You need to mix it up.
Here I have the logo for Chick-fil-A in the background. I like the photo, but thought it might be too blurred.
Before you arrive have a call with the editor or writer that will tell you everything they know about the person and what the story is that they are writing.
Next call the subject and talk with them telling them what you have been asked to do. Then ask them about their hobbies and interests and anything else you can think about that would work for possible locations for photographing them.
Then get as much time as you can so you can capture as many of these as you can do. Prioritize them so you get the ones you think are best and if you run out of time that the best ideas are the ones you will capture.
The other day I was processing some of my thoughts with one of my mentors Greg Thompson.
Greg Thompson retired last year from Chick-fil-A where he was the senior director of corporate communications. Prior to joining Chick-fil-A, Greg spent 25 years in various global communications management roles for IBM in the U.S. and Asia, including more than five years living in Tokyo, Japan. Greg joined IBM after a career as a photographer, sports writer, political writer, editor and bureau chief for three newspapers and The Associated Press.
I was getting really frustrated with some people who were not refining the story, but rather expanding the story. So, I made a comment that I thought writers were used to being able to make changes up to the last minute. Greg said that in his years of experience it was not due to being a writer, but to being indecisive.
I have been working with our Advanced Storytellers workshop to Nicaragua. The biggest thing we are doing on this workshop is inviting the participants to see how to create a communications plan. The plan is for telling a story that will help a missionary organization.
A lack of process clarity guarantees a slower, more convoluted path to the desired outcome. You have to make decisions that will have you focused on telling a story in a compelling way that it invites the audience to join the story.
What I watch happen every time with any organization is they want to tell the audience everything they do and, in the process, not only don’t engage the audience, but turn them off.
If you step logically through a proven process, you will waste less time and make use of the right resources at the right time.
Before we even begin to tell a story, we ask the organization what is the problem they need to solve. If we do our job as professional communicators what will success look like to them?
Once we have this goal we now know our purpose and are able to decide if something stays or gets cut in our communications.
We are using the hero’s journey as a framework to tell stories. The very first thing we will do is establish a crisis for the main character.
The 2018–2020 Nicaraguan protests began on 18 April 2018 when demonstrators in several cities of Nicaragua began protests against the social security reforms decreed by President Daniel Ortega that increased taxes and decreased benefits. After five days of unrest in which nearly thirty people were killed, Ortega announced the cancellation of the reforms.
The missionaries we are working with had to leave Nicaragua quickly. Many went to neighboring Costa Rica. When they left Nicaragua some of their supporters stopped their support of the center they used as a base and redirected those funds to other missionary projects in other countries.
The center which was defunded in this process serves as a hub of their ministry since they returned. It is like a small college or camp. It has dormitories, dining area and classrooms making it a great place to host groups for all types of training.
Now we started first with what their object and goal was, which was to raise financial support of at least $4,000 a month for their operational budget. Even though we had talked through this some of the missionaries didn’t understand why we had to start with the protest and them leaving the country, but the audience needs to know quickly why there is a problem. Why are you contacting them and wanting their support?
Too often missionaries and any organization want to tell people all they are doing. Keeping everything so positive, but missing the critical part that storytelling does better than a bullet list. Most of the time when I hear many people speak from nonprofits you kind of wonder why they need any help. They have built the wells or built churches. They tell you all their successes and never do a good job of establishing why they need money.
You always start with the crisis in a story. It is helping to clarify the objective for the organization. We are trying to solve this problem and the story invites the audience to join in the journey of the main character.
When you know exactly what you are trying to achieve, you can do it faster. Period. I doubt that requires more explanation. Speed comes from greater clarity of purpose and process.
I asked the missionary team right from the start what is your biggest need. What keeps you up at night and worrying for tomorrow?
If they lose the center where they are doing their ministry, everything will get more complicated, expensive and even prohibitive in some cases for them to do their work.
Once we knew what was the priority, then we looked for people that they had helped through the center in the past to tell their stories. We have many more people like this person to help and need the audience to come along them and help them accomplish their goal of changing lives for the better.
After some questions they mentioned this pastor. He was called into the country where some people wanted to start a church. He didn’t know how to do this and needed help. He heard about the missionaries. They told him about their center and their classes.
Out of this church start other crisis for the community started to pop up. The kids didn’t have much to do and just got involved in drugs and many of the girls were becoming pregnant as early at 9 or 10 years of age. This led them to start programs for the youth in that community. They had church teams from the US come in and do camp programs during the summer and the center helped to train the community to create programing for the youth.
Other programs for the women who needed purpose in their lives came through bible studies and teaching them how to reach their neighbors.
We have decided to learn more about these different programs that this pastor’s church have created with the help of the center to tell the story of how this center is helping to change the lives of communities in Nicaragua.
Muddled processes don’t provide much evidence of logic, good input, fairness, or representation of interests. Muddled decision processes create skeptics and cynics, not supporters of those missionaries.
We will have limited time in the country, so we are trying to identify all the characters and as much as we can about their stories before we land in Managua. We have had three video conference calls with the team. The team is made up of people from four countries. Togo, West Africa; Columbia, South America; Nicaragua and the United States.
Next month when we land we need to have all the interviews lined up and then have time to capture video and photography of these people in their churches, homes and places of business to tell their stories.
If you get off the plane and nothing is lined up, it is because we were Wishy Washy.
By creating clarity of purpose, process, and roles, people learn to trust the system and let go. Once that happens, they can get back to their top priorities and amp up their ability to focus.
I’ve observed numerous missionary teams who think they are focused but are really working on five decisions and two plans simultaneously. And they wonder why they keep going in circles. They haven’t figured out what decision they are making and are trying to make several at once.
How you leave people feeling is always important. Decisions made with clarity produce the best results across the board.
Here is my list that I work through with missionary organizations:
What is the #1 priority problem that needs help? What is it that keeps you up at night from sleeping?
Is there someone that you have helped that represents what success looks like? This becomes the main character
What was their problem that you helped them with?
Who on your team helped them? Who was the guide in the story?
What was the plan that the guide had for the main character?
What was the call to action from the guide to the subject?
What does failure look like if the subject isn’t successful?
What was the success of the subject?
Due to time constraints and budget we must stay focused. Sometimes in this process there isn’t a clear choice, but you must pick. If you have to just flip a coin. Don’t be Wishy Washy.
If magically I could have any lens on the camera at any moment I would be switching lenses all the time. If I could do this in the blink of the eye I would. They would probably all be prime lenses, but often this isn’t very practical.
Since magically switching lenses with a blink of an eye isn’t possible I decided to take my Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 Art lens mounted on my Nikon Z6 and then keep the Nikon 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 on my Nikon D5 as I went through the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden which is just north of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.
I think you sometimes will need to read the specs to tell the difference. When shooting the 28-300mm @ 300mm the compression creates a shallow depth of field even at ƒ/5.6.
Sometimes the shallow depth-of-field is almost too shallow. So I would shoot some at different apertures and then pick.
I think I like some from both lenses for different reasons. What do you think?
I do think that the ƒ/1.4 is a really smooth and silky BOKEH, but the 300mm @ ƒ/5.6 isn’t bad if you didn’t have but that one lens.
The more I travel the more I think if you have to be weight conscious the Nikon 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 is an awesome lens.
[NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 250, 1/500, ƒ/4, (35mm = 24)]
We are often enjoying photographing sunsets and even talk about the Golden Hour of light for photography. The Golden Hour (sometimes referred to as the Magic Hour) is often defined as the first and last hour of sunlight in the day when the special quality of light yields particularly beautiful photographs.
I have found that when it comes to matching the manmade light of buildings within the Golden Hour it shrinks to just minutes of opportune time for great light.
Now the difference between this photo where the light outside is balancing well with the light of the restaurant was just a few minutes between too much light and too little light from the sun.
The top photo of my wife was shot at 6:32 pm. Right about the time of sunset. This one just above was shot at 6:18 pm.
From my many years of shooting I have noticed that from the time of actual sunset to when balancing light with man-made lights like here you have about 15 to 20 minutes tops for good photos. I think there is really about a 5 minute window for the best photos at most.
My favorite shot was done on my Galaxy S10 phone and shot with the wide angle lens. That is 13mm equivalent with the 35mm camera. This is shot at 6:40 pm 13 minutes after sunset.
By the way, the food and atmosphere of The Fish Hopper in Kona, Hawaii is excellent. The waitress was one of the best we have ever had. Big shout out to Bridget Kaleki Butler for the recommendation.
Photo above [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/60, ƒ/6.3, (35mm = 35) flash used was Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS TTL Monolight w/ R2 2.4GHz using the R2 Mark II ETTL Wireless Flash Trigger for Nikon -1 EV setting with TTL]
Every year since 2006 Dennis Fahringer has invited me to teach to his School of Photography 1 students at the University of Nations in Kona, Hawaii studio lighting.
While I was originally asked to teach only studio lighting, I have also taught some on business practices.
I believe every successful business starts first with the customer and discovering what needs/wants they have and creating a business that meets those needs/wants. Too many photography programs only teach how to do photography and never give their students the one thing that will determine their ability to do this as a career and not a hobby–business skills.
Dennis caps the class at 16 students. Normally he has a waiting list. This year we only had 4 students. This just meant this class got even more one-on-one time with their instructors.
The students were from four countries this year. Columbia, S. Korea, Canada & USA. Some years we had as many as 9 different countries represented. They fly to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii and spend 3 months of doing just photography. I believe that Dennis has put together one of the best foundation courses for photography that I have ever seen.
My first day I teach how to turn on the studio flashes and how to adjust their power as well as how to make them work with your camera. Their first lighting assignment is to start with just one light and learn how to place the light in the starting place for most portraits. That is 45º to the side of the camera and then 45º above their eye level. When done correctly and the subject is looking at the camera you will get the classic lighting style of Rembrandt.
Butterfly lighting is a portrait lighting pattern where the key light is placed above and directly centered with a subject’s face. This creates a shadow under the nose that resembles a butterfly. It’s also known as ‘Paramount lighting,’ named for classic Hollywood glamour photography.
Lighting ratio in photography refers to the comparison of key light (the main source of light from which shadows fall) to the fill light (the light that fills in the shadow areas). The higher the lighting ratio, the higher the contrast of the image; the lower the ratio, the lower the contrast.
I also asked that each photo have a caption. There are two reasons for this. First it is easier later to find the photo if you have text embedded in the metadata. Second is most clients will also benefit from having this information. We were not using the AP Style for captions, but more of a social media style for the captions. This was their first attempts for most of them in writing captions.
Myoungsuk Kim said, “This week has taught me that I can take photos not just for me, but to make photos for others.” That was one of the best things I could have heard.
You see most people want to do photography and get paid, but are usually self-centered in their photography. It is when you realize that when you make photos that others enjoy and more importantly use that they will pay you to do this and therefore make it possible to do this for a living.
“The evidence is overwhelming: The best way to get what you want is through serving others.”
The photo above is of Don Senas, Fire Dancer [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/320, ƒ/4, (35mm = 75)]
This week I have been teaching how to use studio strobes to help improve one’s photography.
Last night was the only time I have had the class join me for a real photo shoot that they can watch, take some photos to help remember the occasion, but primarily have the opportunity to watch a pro and what they do on a photo shoot using studio strobes to improve the lighting.
My wife Dorie Griggs took a video on her phone of me taking the photos and the students watching. Here is that video:
You can see the strobes off to the side at about 45º from the camera angle.
All those were shot at these settings: [NIKON Z 6, VR Zoom 24-105mm f/4G IF-ED, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/160, ƒ/4, (35mm = 24)]
These photos are of Brooke Valle Anderson, Hawaiian Dancer. She is with Island Breeze. They do luau shows on the Big Island.
Brooke also works with a Hula Keiki (children’s) after school program where the children learn the different dances.
Earlier in the day I taught the class how to use off camera strobe to complement the existing light. Here are some of the shots I did to show them how to do this, before they each went and spent the afternoon shooting an assignment to do an enviornmental portrait and use the flash to improve the photo.
They were to hand in a before and after photo like I am showing here.
I also gave them a PDF for the assignment. Here is a link to that project in case you want to try this as well.
Here are a couple examples I showed them that are “Environmental Portraits”
Now here are some that would work for this assignment as well from my photo shoot in a Chick-fil-A. All of these also use a strobe to improve the light.
This was the last assignment for my time here on the Big Island of Hawaii teaching the students in the School of Photography 1 at the University of the Nations. The last assignment they did is the one that I do more than any other lighting setup.
I am adding just one light off the camera to help light a person’s face to help draw the audience to them quickly in a photo.
“If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.”
Settings for photo above: [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/6, ƒ/9, (35mm = 24)]
I shoot a lot in restaurants. The hardest part for these photo shoots is that there are four walls and three of them are all glass. Just the front counter isn’t backlit during the daytime hours.
I love to hang strobes from the drop ceilings using a bracket.
I just used the Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS TTL Battery-Powered Monolight as a bare bulb and point the light straight up.
That lets me keep the outside windows from being blown out in the background and gives me most of the time great light on people’s faces.
The light from the window is lighting the employee and the strobe in the ceiling is lighting the customer in this photo.
The other great thing using this setup is the strobes are battery powered and so there are no cords. I am just adjusting the power with the Godox X1T-N TTL Wireless Flash Trigger Transmitter.
I could change the power of the lights even tho they were mounted on the ceiling away from the camera. I first check to see what the existing light settings would be and then set the camera to use that ISO and settings so that the flash is just cleaning up the light and where there are shadows [like the man’s face would have been] are no longer silhouettes.
Now to get the photo like the one here and the very top photo, I just slowed the shutter speed to 1/6 and cranked the aperture up to ƒ/9 and ISO 100. The flash is on the ceiling as I mentioned and since it is TTL it just popped in to get a clean light on the face and then me panning blurred the rest of the photo.
Just get the flash off the camera is the best tip I can give. Try the mounting of the flash to the ceiling rather than on a light stand.
Try some experimenting. You don’t always shoot the lowest ISO and at the flash sync speed when shooting with the Flashpoint XPLOR 600 HSS TTL Battery-Powered Monolight.
If you don’t have a good headshot, you need one in today’s business world. For actors they need them for all the shows they are in. For the average person you need one as part of your resume, which many use LinkedIn as the way to deliver a resume.
I have steered away from picture backgrounds, because they can look really fake. However, recently more and more people want photos outside on location.
So while the traditional solid background works for inside portraits, outside portraits on weather challenging days is difficult to do with your model.
So this is the setup I was using to do actor headshots at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia.
Before I shot the models with it on location, I did some testing in my house.
I tried a few lighting setups. I went with the Pall Buff 86” Soft Silver PLM™ Umbrella. It produces a controlled, feathered falloff with very soft shadows.
I had two setups. One with a large white muslin background that I could make grey or white depending on the light I put on the background.
Here is a video my wife took when I was shooting my daughter on the brick background.
Here are some of those photos:
I did less coaching with Chelle since she has done this many times before she needed no real direction. For others who are doing this for the first time I did more direction.
I shot with my Nikon Z6 with the focus setting on AF-S and Auto Area with the AF face/eye detection turned on. If you use the Nikon ViewNX-i software it will let you see where you were focused when the photo was taken as you can see here. This is great for trouble shooting your focus.
I find that actors/models love having the freedom to try new expressions and just experiment.
This was the setup I finally used after experimenting.
Organist in the Roswell Presbyterian Historic Sanctuary for the 8:15 am Worship service. [NIKON Z 6, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 2200, 1/200, ƒ/4, (35mm = 28)]
Today I photographed three different worship services at my church using my Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera. I arrived early and knew I had to shoot without a flash, but wanted to see could I shoot with the silent shutter.
So I switched the camera to silent mode. Here are the instructions from the camera manual.
After setting the camera to silent mode, I took a picture of the plain wall and got banding as you can see here. So I couldn’t shoot in silent mode. But with the Nikon Z6 it is still much quieter than with the DSLR.
I was shooting wide open apertures most of the time. I had the Auto ISO set so that I was @ 1/200 for shutter speed.
In the historic sanctuary it was pretty dark. I was shooting for the most part ISO 2200 in the balcony with the organist. There was a flourescent light directly over her that kept the ISO lowest in the room. In the pews ISO 22800 in the middle of the room. I was able to shoot as low at ISO 8000 by the windows.
After the first service I captured the minister talking to the people outside.
So for the first service I shot everything with the Nikon 28-300mm ƒ/3.5–5.6. It worked just fine.
With Auto ISO set go to ISO 51200 I found the shutter speed was dropping to 1/15 at ISO 51200. I ran to my car and got my 85mm ƒ/1.8 and 35mm ƒ/1.4. Even with those fast lenses the light in the Contemporary Worship service was dismal. I was in a gym using mood lighting. It was dark.
I was still at ISO 51200 but at ƒ/1.8 I could have shutter speed of 1/125 when photographing the people in the congregation.
Some parts of the room I was dropping to 1/30, ƒ/1.8 @ ISO 51200.
With the 35mm ƒ/1.4 I was wide open at ISO 51200 and shooting 1/30.
There was just no way to photograph people in a dark room like this with a zoom lens. I needed the fastest prime lenses I owned.
The last service was in the brightest room. I was able to pull out that 28-300mm and zoom in and capture these two friends enjoying worship together. I love my Nikon Z6, because it lets me focus on moments and the people. I did have to think and be sure I had the right lens on the camera, but the technology let me capture the moments that will help my church show they are a place where people can be themselves and feel welcomed and able to bring anyone they know to worship with them.
Savanna Sturkie, a 2017 graduate, is being interviewed by Mark Johnson on Photo Night @ The Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communications, University of Georgia. [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 25600, 1/200, ƒ/4, (35mm = 32)]
The point of Photo Night is to help learn from photographers. Sturkie had graduated from UGA in 2017 and went to work as intern for Food & Wine Magazine in Birmingham, Alabama. She wanted to be a food photographer.
Sturkie was asked how she made the change from a full-time job to freelance. She first explained she was on a track for editing and not shooting in her position with Food & Wine Magazine.
She said she doesn’t recommend doing what she did for transition. Most people she said work part-time while building their freelance. She was just so unhappy with her trajectory and needed a change.
She just up and quit and moved to Atlanta, Georgia from Birmingham, Alabama.
“I emailed relentlessly photographers that I wanted to work with or learn from,” said Sturkie.
Three things she recommends
Get Coffee with photographers
Getting coffee with photographers was a way to learn. She said that one particular photographer she had coffee with she never got a chance to work with, but what she learned during that coffee time was some of the most valuable information.
Listen – This is the most important thing to do when you have coffee.
What can I learn from this photographer? You need to be focused on realizing you are starting out and they are further ahead of you.
Develop the relationship – The industry is really small and you need a network of people to make it. They may hire you, refer you or just be a resource.
While you have some skills you can learn so much by just watching another seasoned photographer. You also get to make some money when assisting. This is doing what ever they need when they are on a job. You may be getting lenses for them. Helping carry gear and setting up is also part of the job. The key is to be willing to do just about anything to lessen the load of the photographer.
80% of Sturkie’s work is weddings. When she first helped in assisting she hated it. She helped a photographer who had a style that just didn’t feel good and the lady wasn’t pleasant at all to work with.
She did find other photographers doing a photojournalistic wedding style. By being a second shooter she was getting to shoot, but also learn about the business of weddings.
Sturkie is now doing food photography, weddings and other photo projects as they come up.
Sturkie also said that to keep that creative fire going, you need to create your own project. The photo above is one of her personal projects. She wanted to do a 1960s fashion shoot. She paid to get all the clothes and had a studio space to do the photo shoot.