The Careers office at the University had organised a “Linked In” workshops day, particularly aimed at 3rd year, i.e. graduating students as to how best to use the social media site to develop and publish an effective, professional profile.
One of the things they decided to offer was to get a “headshot” photo done to use for a profile picture. Last year the careers office had advertised for a photography student to undertake the work, I did respond, albeit slightly slowly, and they already had someone. However I did receive feedback that they had liked my application and would bear me in mind for future events, I thought no more of it but then out of the blue this year I was asked if I would like to undertake the work this year.
I think this seemingly minor event has a serious moral in that : You never know from when or where work will arrive and it’s worth paying attention to the details. My original application – which was only a few lines and a sample photo – just outlined what I thought was required and mentioned issues like clothing advice and style of photo. However it obviously stood out among the other responses and led to me getting the gig this time around.
I have been steadily acquiring and refining the equipment I have in preparation for life after study, increasingly I have been buying good quality used equipment as it is simply so much cheaper than buying new and in many cases just as good. A case in point was the equipment required for this event. I had bought some studio lights (Elinchrom, 500 Watt BRX Units) which proved a real bargain as apart from the fact were barely used, the deal included a portable white/black backdrop with stand from Lastolite and a Sekonic light meter. I sold the light meter for £100 as I already had one and so for a net £500 had professional studio lights, softboxes, lighting stands and a decent background which currently cost around £1250 new.
Equipment Used :
Canon 5D Mk III with 70-200 f2.8 L Lens and studio equipment, I used wireless triggers but took a sync cable as backup just in case along with a spare light.
This equipment was set up as a portable studio in the ground floor area of the Commons building at Newton Park, I had assistance form another Student Ambassador who was capturing contact details whilst I concentrated on the image making. This was an extremely helpful and productive workflow and my thanks to the other Ambassadors.
The key light was positioned at 2, with a larger 90 cm soft box and grid whilst the second was placed at 4, behind and hidden by the subject to wash out the background with a standard reflector. A reflector acted as the fill light placed at position 3. I rehearsed this set up at home as I wanted to simulate being on location and made sure I had a list of everything required on the day. The practice session generally worked well although positioning the reflector was awkward, as a result I looked for a better solution and I had previously looked at panel reflectors for being more easily position-able than the standard circular ones when mounted on a light stand. However they were looking expensive at £100 plus. I found a Photosel one on Amazon that was normally £70 being advertised as damaged for £25. As Amazon offer a money back guarantee on such goods I bought it and it turned out all that was damaged was the box – the contents were pristine. Result ! In use this type of reflector proved much easier for this task as it is easy to position and provides a good area of coverage of the subject space.
Apart from the lighting set up I had also done specific research on headshots, in particular I found Peter Hurley’s book “The Headshot” useful along with one or two of his Utube videos, which provided some technical tips which proved effective on the day which was 6 hours of more or less continuous shooting with almost 80 subjects. First was to have the camera tripod mounted, although technically not necessarily with a relatively fast shutter speed holding a large heavy camera / lens combination all day is extremely tiring. Secondly was to shoot tethered as it gives a much better indication of the final result than the camera display and further you can share the result with the subject instantly.
My goal was to have the images as right in camera as possible and the practice run confirmed this was entirely possible. In the end I photographed 79 different people over 6 hours but talking 260+ photos. So giving subjects the chance to select their preferred images was extremely helpful in minimizing post production work. They were seeing a good quality image to choose and I only processed their final choice by recording file no against their name.
Post production was light touch in the sense that I removed any obvious temporary skin blemishes – literally spot removal but didn’t do any advanced re-touching as that would have been time constraining. Images were provided at full resolution and 400 pixel for linked in. I made a Photoshop action to save and resize the finished files in the appropriate folder which was a tremendous aid to productivity for this element of the task. In the end it averaged about 2 mins per image for post processing which I was pleased with.
The most interesting aspect of the task was of course the interaction with the individuals. At the end of the day, the technicalities whilst important, once sorted are no longer a consideration what is different with every new subject is rapidly establishing a rapport, I had never shot in this volume before but felt it was important to appear confident, to have the set up such that it didn’t need constant attention and focus on obtaining a pleasing result for the subject. I think I largely succeeded in this as the images obtained are consistent and of a good technical quality in terms of exposure, focus etc. I think the lighting and shooting technique can be still further refined and especially interaction with nervous subjects – some people seem simply overwhelmed when faced with a camera and it was sometimes difficult to get a pleasing expression – developing ways to make subjects relax is something to be worked on. Happily though most people went away pleased with their images and subsequent feedback has been good with promises of more work from the careers department.
Sample Images from the day.
Summary of the days pro’s and cons.
Technically the day generally went well, I had one minor panic when the camera stopped working and reported a fault but was fine after removing and reinserting batteries. The major technical issue was I had wanted to shoot wirelessly tethered via my Ipad but I couldn’t make this work reliably, so on the day shot tethered with a cable from camera to laptop. This exercise did prove the value of a practice session and I have since resolved the wireless issue and will write a separate blog post on this topic.
The lighting although successful could be still further refined, reviewing the images shot some images are a little dark under the chin and a horizontal reflector in front of subject would be helpful in this respect and I will investigate options. Paying attention to issues such as glare on glasses was successful. The only other shooting issue experienced was I had some extremely tall subjects and could have done with some steps. I had one subject who was 6′ 8″ and I had no choice to but to have him sit down as he was just too tall for me to shoot otherwise.
Interaction with subjects. Again generally I felt this worked reasonably well, I pushed myself a little bit in terms of being more forceful but friendly in giving direction to subjects and mostly this was successful in getting a decent image. Although with lots of people and only a couple of minutes with each one it is definitely not an easy undertaking. However like so much of photography it is something that only gets better with practice.
Subsequent feedback from the Careers Office was extremely positive with them reporting they had recieved good feedback from subjects.
All in all an enjoyable and instructive day with some lessons learned and some things to take forward to the next such event.