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« Analysis of a shoot part II-The shoot day | Main | Looking at the world with open eyes »

Analysis of a shoot part I-Concept and Scout

How you approach a shoot clearly affects the images you get, so I thought it would be good to walk you through how I do a shoot from start to finish. The benefit is the same whether you are shooting a portfolio image for an actor, or intending to take a special picture of a friend or family member.

The first order of business is to come up with a concept for the image (or images) you are going to produce. What do you want to say about the person? Do you want to show their physical attributes? Their sense of humor? Their state of mind? I keep a reference file on my computer with images of paintings, sculptures and photographs that inspire me. The goal is not to copy, but rather to spur the thinking process.

Once you’ve got your idea in mind, think about the lighting and background that will serve those ideas best. Should the location be indoors or outdoors? Would hard or soft lighting be better?

Next, if I’m shooting on location, I’ll do a scout of potential sites. Sometimes you can set the shoot time based on the light at the location, but sometimes it is based on your subjects’ schedule. I take that into account in choosing the time of day to scout. I may not know a location at all, so in that case I will go there whenever it is convenient, and while shooting take good notes with compass headings and reference points. Many cameras have built in microphones, so I’ll shoot a picture, then say something like “Looking northeast from the the landing on the south side of the building, three feet from the left front edge of the first bench.” If the location is a broad landscape without a lot of obvious manmade landmarks, I’ll carry a GPS unit with me and mark the spots I shoot. In that case I would add “Shot at Waypoint 5.” New on the scene are devices that sync GPS positioning to specific images on your media card. I hope to test this technology and report on that soon.

Since I travel a lot, I also make sure I have the correct time set in my camera so I know when the scout picture was shot. All digital cameras will display the time and lens information in the EXIF files, so I can duplicate the look when I come back.

Since I did not know the actor I was going to shoot in advance, I set up a phone call in which we could talk a little bit about who he was, and how he was being positioned for roles. Based on that, I decided to shoot at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where I could look for simple, graphic backgrounds that would give a sense of place, but make him the hero of the image. I always look for something people can relate to. That is, if I give them a wall or a tree, it gives them something to work with to create line and shape. It also makes it easier for talent to get into the session if they have a prop than if you have them just stand in open space.

Here are a few of the scout images.

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