Case Study - Sarah's Contact Sheet
Sarah was very nice to donate her contact sheet because I wanted to give feedback for somebody to see if you're having direction in what you're photographing. Are you identifying what you find most interesting and actually making photographs of that? Maybe someone could give Sarah a mic, just so if I have questions we can ask her, okay? So Sarah, how long were you with this family first of all?
It was supposed to be about 90 minutes and it ended up being kind of rushed in just an hour.
Okay, just an hour, that's fine. You can make good photos in an hour, for sure. I already see you're walking in and you're holding back a little. You're standing back a little, you're not 100% sure to go in right away, is that what's happening?
Yeah, this is I just walked in and they're in the back, yes.
So my suggestion is, don't take the warm-up photos to make yourself feel more comfortable. Just have the camera ready and be confident, because even this, they'll feed off of. If you're standing ...
back and shooting because you're not sure yet of the space. Don't even make those photos, just go in. "My God look at this baby, how are you doing?" Start a conversation and then pull up the camera right? Let's identify our light source. Well we've got this crappy one right here. And they're sitting right here, so this is not helping us at all, this light. It's just adding distraction. It's not helping at all, because we're not even taking advantage of that light coming on the subjects, right? It doesn't even look like there's another window, is there?
I think there's a window behind me.
Okay, if it is, it's small, it's not emitting a lot of light onto them. So we have kind of a crappy light situation. So I'm not even gonna enlarge those, 'cause those are you warming up, I notice. Okay, now we're above. Do you know why you shot from above?
I was trying to get the baby, and the baby's face.
Okay, just the baby, that's what you wanted?
I was interested in the mom holding the baby right there.
Well we can definitely see the baby, okay here's a photo right here. I feel like you're way too high, because you still got some fear going on and you're like, "Oh I'm kind of close, I'm gonna stay up here." Right, rather than getting close so we can feel like we're there, because your photo, which I feel like you missed, because we're so far. Your photo is here, right? But you need to be close, you need to fill the frame with that. I talked about filling the frame. We need to fill the frame with what you find most important and you were most interested in how she's holding the baby, and then the daughter gifted you a photo. I'm just gonna magically touch the baby's head and there's a photo right but you weren't ready for it. Look at that baby's book right there. I actually really like this frame. It's really fun the way the baby is looking at his sister. This would be a black and white for me. Okay so now, are we gonna do some portraits or no?
Again, I wasn't really directing yet but I came around to the front, and they kind of putting themselves in portrait positions without my direction.
Well the one thing is now you're close. I like this so I know that you're not afraid to get close at all, so just go in there confident. You don't even need to make those warm up test shots. If you feel like you need a few minutes of warm up with them. I'd rather you just talk to them than make the pictures 'cause it's gonna make more of an impression on getting you the access quicker. Oh these are the most beautiful children by the way.
Yeah, they were gorgeous.
Okay. Yeah they're gorgeous kids. Okay so now she's playing. What do you find interesting about her playing, and you can be honest?
So the Mom needed to breastfeed the baby and did not want me to take photos, which I was surprised, but that was the first time that I have encountered that. So I left the room--
What, did she close the door on you or did she specifically?
She actually said no.
She said, "Maybe come back in when I'm burping her." So I followed the daughter into her room, and then I felt like she often was playing by herself in her room so I was, and it had just been her birthday. So there were all these balloons and some other kind of props around from her birthday party.
Is there anything specifically about the playing that you find interesting?
I think was the solo concentration.
Okay so in order to show that, what do you need to do?
To lower either of her point of view or down with her like I'm playing with her.
Her point of view and you gotta get low, and you have to shoot up. If you wanna show her concentration, that's eyes.
In her eyes.
That's biting the lip. Remember when we talked about facial expressions. In order to show that, you have to get low and you have to shoot up in order to show that. So rather than just shoot this, the whole point is look at the scene how am I approaching it. We have crappy light so I can't worry about that. We have a pretty clean background. Did anybody identify what do I find most interesting? Well she's concentrating. How am I gonna show or illustrate that she's concentrating? 'Cause then none of this does that. I just want you to give yourself permission to shoot what you find interesting. Okay so this is interesting that she's now playing with the balloon. Tell me why you went vertical on this?
I didn't wanna chop off any limbs. I wanted the balloon and I liked her big physicality.
Okay so you liked the body? Are the legs adding to the physicality of that?
No, what's really expressing this overjoy in play?
Her arms and upper.
Yes, so how could you have shot this differently?
Getting much closer, either come down onto that or get even in (indistinct speaking).
I think if you gone a little bit lower and centered her, had a lot of space around, because we have this nice, clean spot. Her arms up in the air. (audience laughing) With the balloons, that says what is important to you. We don't need her legs. Her legs are dead to us. We only care about her arms and her balloons. I'm just trying to get everyone to see. Really identify what you find interesting and then do what you can to exaggerate that, and make good photos of that. If I had more time, I would show you. I had a session, a full day session on, kid you not, I almost said a really bad word. I kid you not, this kid played with his balloon for like 6 hours, 6 hours. So I feel the pet balloon kid, I think they blew up 50 balloons and he just played with balloons all day. So I feel like I'm well versed in the art of photographing a kid with a balloon all day. But yeah, identify what you find most into, okay I'm really glad about this. Okay let's look at this big scene. What do we notice about this scene, in terms of light?
The windows were on this side.
We have a strong light coming from that window, so you have two choices. You can meet her for this really beautiful light. What's going to happen if we need her for that really hot light?
It will be highlights that darken (indistinct speaking).
And what happens if the rest falls all the way dark?
It's super clean and pretty.
Bye, bye, it goes away. All that crap goes away, and then we can make this really interesting photo. This is what I envision in my head. This is how my brain works. I see this beautiful light, and I see this really clean space right here, and all I think is I'm going to work my butt off to try and make this awesome photo of arms extended like that highlighted and just a balloon and arms right. I'm trying to think less literal, more interesting, more of a photograph like a picture right. And I think that's what David was trying to get me to think. Make pictures, make good pictures. They don't all have to be so literal especially in here. You've got this great light. This opportunity because your only other option is to meet her for this dark light, and that's boring, so let's work with the light instead. Where was Dad? Was he helping when Mom was nursing?
I am not sure where Dad was.
I was just curious but I love that Dad's in here. Okay so now we've got some fun layers that you can play with. What sucks about this scene? Here I'm gonna, what sucks about this scene, anyone?
The busy stuff.
This is not good visually but we can clean that up by shooting squared up on them. We've got Mom with the baby and Dad playing with her, and we can shoot squared up on it right. This had potential for going there and I'm curious if you go there, let's see. Okay so now okay, she sat in this nice light so you have an option. You can work with that light or not. My suggestion meet her for that light and wait for her to naturally come into the light and shoot, and then back out. So now she's out of the light, but what happens when you meet her, for when she's out of the light?
It's sort of flat.
No, it's not even flat. We have an issue that we need to problem solve. There is that highlight still on her and so it's very distracting and it's blown out. So my suggestion is to just work and if you are at this point, directing her to make some portraits. If you do, just go ahead ask them to go in the light. If you're not directing her for portraits, then you either need to move yourself so none of her body is in the light, or nothing in the composition is in that harsh light, or you just have to wait for everything to be in the light. This is sweet, okay to remember I talked about hands and stuff. This is stuff I look for, it's a little out of focus. I know exactly why 'cause you transition from one situation to another, and there's no reason to be at aperture 63 right now, at all 28 would be totally fine or to 70. I don't even think you need the long lens but that's fine, but we have the shutter 162 II. So it's so low that we're going to have a lot of movement right, but you do have this really great moment here, that could be preserved in black and white I think. This isn't about the baby. This is about this but this is something I look for gestures with like, you have to remember there's three people in this photo, so they all have to be working to be adding to the picture. They all have to have a fairly good moment. Aren't parents always doing that? "Hey, check this out?" And they're like, "Nah, I'm onto something else." Oh my God, this is funny, so this could have been a potentially fun scene. And the thing is, I know why you're this far away 'cause you have the long lens.
It was a 24 to 70, so I could have been closer.
But we're at 70 right now. When you see things like this happening, just go ahead and get close because her, and also her back is to us, so I don't know like, he's great with his glasses. But I don't know what she's doing right here right, so I rather you just come around and use them as a layer. And you can keep bumping focus back and forth, and you can make it from they're playing with mom and baby in the background, to also you can bump focus and make it about how mom loves them so much, by the way she's looking at them. And by bumping focus changes the story right. Does that make sense?
So if anything I'm hoping I'm opening your eyes to all the different possibilities in a shoot. I feel like I just missed this screen. That's really lovely right here. It will be nice in black and white, she'll love that. Tell me why, what do you find interesting about this?
I think I was trying to come in closer, she had all these things squirreled away around the room. She finds these and then she find some seeds, and then she was showing me all her collection, without saying as much.
So the one thing I find interesting is she has a lot in her little hands. So right now, I feel like we're just shooting at it. We're not shooting in it, and I want to feel like I'm in it. And you're gonna see interesting in the next seven. I have a very similar situation to this, and how I handle this in getting really low, and up to exaggerate or emphasize the fact that this kid is like desperately trying to hold everything right here. And that's what I feel with this. How much stuff is she going to try and hold at once?
And here they wanted some portraits.
Yeah so they wanted portraits. If they want portraits, I think you have two options. This is when you push your 70 and just get back and make a nice traditional portrait for them. And then maybe get close like this but square up, and just stay there for a while, and let them play with the kids. I'm talking for like a hundred frames to make one good one. The important thing is you wanna fill the whole frame because we've got some some stuff in the back there. What right now you're not squared up. See how you're a little bit to the right. It's better if you just come just little bit this way, in this situation. And now you're a little to the left. This better, now we're squared up. I just think you don't need all of this. The other thing is the closer you get, the less depth the feel will have because we're closer to our subjects. So this will seemingly disappear a little bit better. I know we're out of time. Does this helps?
Yeah, it's helpful to me.
Does it help others to see this too? They're gonna love these photos, and I know that you can do better than this in the next shoot and then the next shoot, next shoot. Just by identifying and allowing yourself to photograph what you find most important and exaggerated those things, so it makes it clear to viewer, okay.
First of all people at home absolutely love critique and walking through that so valuable. A question come in from Sarah Olden. You were talking about the different types of POVs. The point of views that you're giving. Are you working during each session to capture each of those? Do you have those squirreled away? Does it depend on the family themselves?
No, it depends, I like to identify those, in terms of storytelling. So if in my mind, I'm like oh this kid is doing something. How does he feel about it? I'm gonna think about his point of view or her point of view and using that approach to emphasize how they feel about what they're doing. If they're doing something super naughty, and they wouldn't do it if anyone else is around. Then I'm thinking about that outside world's point of view. And so I need to back up and give them space, so that it's the outside world. If parents are struggling or pointing and disciplining their kids. I might take the parent's point of view in order to emphasize that part of the story. Does that help? That answer help?
I had a question about how do you navigate the donkey pole situation if you have two equally interesting things going on. I know it's pretty much like your own personal preference but I just wanted to know what would be going on in your mind. What are you looking at? What types of things would you be considering to decide which scenario you wanna shoot? What's more important?
Have I made this photo before? Which situation have I maybe, already have in my portfolio or I've already made before? Or which one in the end is more visually interesting, which one's gonna give me more? Or if it's equal and maybe I haven't photographed the other subjects as much. That might also make me go to that, if I've been photographed, if I have a lot of great pictures of the other subject.
And then I also have a follow-up. Do you ever go back to the other? So if you're shooting one scene and then something else you could go that way. Do you ever go back to the original scenario?
Yeah, the donkey pole situation has dissolved, and the other thing is still happening, then I might go back and keep working it for sure, definitely.
Okay, great, thank you.
Well you prepare some questions, right before the session, the sheet about this family and you prepare some question about it and you ask them to fill it out, so that you can know this family before you shoot them. And another question. How do you decide to choose you're picture to post to the social media? Because some pictures are better to present only one. But some pictures are maybe for couple of photos so how do you decide to, which one you post, only one.
So just remind me of the, oh the contract, or the questionnaire. I have a questionnaire but it's just logistical. I don't like to know a lot about my families ahead of time. This is the personal preference. The reason being is I've work really hard to have people hire me because they want to see how I see their families. In the beginning was probably 'cause I was the only one doing this, right. But now there's lots of people doing this and they can go to a lot of people, which I like because now I feel that hire me, really want to hire me because of my point of view, and not because I'm the only ones that does it. I don't wanna shoot their family the way they see their family. I wanna make pictures of their family the way I see their family. I don't need to know what they love about their family. I learned that very quickly on my own, and sometimes I feel like I show them things they don't even realize. The other thing is I don't want them to have photos in their minds of what they want, and then me disappoint them if I don't follow through. If they give me a list of photos they want, and then I don't meet those expectations, then I'm screwing myself over right. And so I don't wanna put myself in that position. I'm trying really hard to manage expectations to my clients as best I can. But the things I ask in my contract or my questionnaire are. Where am I going to meet you? What is your address? Is there public transportation to your house? 'Cause I travel everywhere Most of you probably wouldn't have to ask that question. I do ask what time the kids wake up and go to bed, so I can prepare myself 'cause I'm not sleeping over right now. For sleeping over and I won't really need that information anymore. Right now I need it because I need to know when I need to be at their house, and when Greg can pick me up or Greg can expect me to come home. Also if I have to nurse in the middle of my shoot 'cause she can only go so long right now, or I can only go so long in between. One key thing that I do ask and I've learned to ask is, is there any extenuating circumstance or challenge that any of your kids have, that something I can do with trigger them. Or things that I can do to make it more comfortable for them while I'm in your space. And a lot of my clients have really appreciated that question because I've photographed quite a few families with kids on the spectrum. And so by knowing what makes them most comfortable, that helps me work with them, and create a really safe place around me. Does that make sense? That's the only question I ask and it's out of respect for any kids with any challenges, and that I can make it as comfortable for them as soon as possible.
The second question is, how do you decide which photo you're use.
I have learned very quickly recently, what photos really work as a strong single photo, because it's different. And so if you noticed I don't post a whole lot on Instagram because I'm really picky, and I feel like it takes awhile for me to make a really good single photo. On Facebook, I'll share a collection of photos like you said where I feel like it's a good nice cohesive story of about 20 photos that that support one another, that that work well together. But the single photos I know you ask me how I know.
Is there any ideas that you decide, "Oh yes, this photo I want to post in Instagram."
I ask my husband always. Is this strong enough, I ask someone else's opinion, and I trust him so if he says no, it's out. Sometimes I'll send it to Jenna 'cause I trust her opinion too, and she'll tell me if it's working or not. And sometimes I just know in my gut what works as a photo but remember I'm critiquing two or three students a day, so I've gotten used to knowing what works, and what doesn't as a photo. But I think the best advice would be share your photos with small networks and see what their response is, and they will help you to see what works and what doesn't. Also look at the photos that you post, which ones get a positive response probably tells you that it's working better than others.
Alright we've got one last question that I just wanna clarify because a couple of people were asking about when you're shooting for a client. How much are you shooting for the client verses shooting for your own portfolio? So I'm just wondering if you can expand upon when you are saying, you're shooting what you're drawn to most. That I think what you mean is that that's how you're going to get the best pictures for those clients.
It's not about portfolio.
Not about what you want for your portfolio.
No, it's not about what I need for my portfolio. I picked maybe one photo per session that goes in my portfolio. Like out of 6 or 7000 frames, maybe one, and a lot of sessions don't get any. What I'm doing is I'm shooting with a personal point of view that's mine. And so because I've gone to a place where I feel like clients are hiring me, because of my point of view. I'm shooting for them but through my eyes, I guess that's the best way to make sure that is understood right.