The process of shooting an assignment involves pre thinking the details and doing research before the day of the shoot. The night before a photo shoot I research image samples, sift through Pinterest and try to visualize ideas that incorporate lighting and composition. It is often a difficult process because there is no real knowledge of what a location will offer, what the subject will look like and what wardrobe they will bring to a shoot. The process begins by visualizing in my mind what kind of lighting I want to use, how I might pose my subject and what items I might be able to incorporate into the shot.
Shooting in a studio is an easier tack because it allows more control of the planning in advance. I can generally arrive early or do some pre prep the night before. This often allows time to play with lighting ideas beforehand. As a photographer part of the excitement is not knowing how the final image will look and often the outcome can be more satisfying that ever imagines.
The start of a shoot always begins with a flutter of nervousness. Wondering how the person will react in front of the camera and how well I will be able to calm their nerves so they can relax in front of the camera. Trust is a big factor when photographing people and it is something you have to earn as a photographer. Connecting and discussing things to keep their mind busy so that they forget about the discomfort they are feeling in front of the camera is key. I understand how uncomfortable it can be so I use that to communicate with them while keeping the conversation moving. Silence can really create discomfort.
Before a shoot I generally arrive thirty minutes or more to get my lights ready and think about the placement and lighting style I want. When the client arrives things begin to get busy quickly. If there is hair, makeup and wardrobe it can take a bit longer. Many times the client will rely on my creativity generate ideas and they trust my ability to come up with something unique. Other times a client knows exactly what they want and I to have the ability to generate their vision. It is important for me to interact with the subject as much as possible to gain their trust with my ability to produce their vision.
Once I have determined a direction, know the clothes they will wear and how they looks I can begin to create a story with composition and light. I offer ideas, share test shots as I set them to be clear in the direction the photo is taking. I always ask in advance for images samples they like so I have a better understanding of their vision. I study the skin color, eye color, hair color, clothing and the way that they carry themselves. Their body language always offers me a starting point and I can tell when something is natural versus something that is not. All of this is happening as I also consider light ratios, aperture settings, white balance, angles and composition
Photography is not just taking a photo, it is a process of creating an image that portrays the subject in a manner that tells some kind of personal story about them, it generates a sense of internal emotion. The beauty of photographing people is that their personality has the ability to work with everything in the shot. All of those elements help to set up a story and what I capture in their eyes is where the truth of the image is told.
Subconsciously we make a connection with others by look into the eyes. As the shoot begins I make sure that I am capturing their essence through their eyes while also paying attention to highlights, shadows, composition, hair, clothes, image placement, and so many other things.
I know internally when “it” happens, it is a feeling that comes over me that is difficult to explain. A photo shoot is the process of creation, it is spontaneous, mystical and often unclear in the beginning but as the puzzle pieces slowly come together a story of its own unfolds. Thinking, moving, changing, talking and tweaking. Slowly the nerves begins to relax, a rush of energy begins to grow and excitement builds as I get closer to the place I need to be.
With every year of photographing new people, places and products the process becomes easier and more exciting. I know how to push myself and the subject to get where I know the image needs to go. I know when it happens, the feeling overwhelms me and I know I am done. In the end it is a combination of experience, visual realization and internal emotion. It speaks to me when I know I have taken the hero shot.
Over the years I grow more and more grateful for this creative path that allows me to generate a library of images unique to my style. I love the feeling thats my imagery becomes a part of historical moments that can never again happen. I am not just a photographer, I am a storyteller and I love the opportunity of sharing that allows. Every single click stops a moment in time that will never again be. The true gift is the story that evolves and the reflection of life in a time that once was. It is not just the act of shooting an assignment as a photographer…it is so much more to me!
*NOTE all Sheri Oneal blog posts are ©2013 by Sheri Oneal. Any use of photos or content must be agreed upon in writing.