Avoid playing the lead role in a photography horror story

I heard a story today that set my hair on fire – someone knew a photographer (or someone who called himself one – more on that in a minute) and asked if he could come to their office and shoot headshots of a number of employees. The photographer quoted them a fee that is consistent with what professional’s charge, and so 10 employees got together and paid for the session.

When the photographer arrived at the office for the shoot, there had been no real discussions before the day of the shoot to understand the target audience who will be viewing the shots, clothing/makeup/hair recommendations, nor any discussion of the process – he had no lighting equipment, backdrop, or any other equipment other than his camera. He shot all the people in front of a white wall, using office lighting (overhead, mixture of florescent and incandescent spots). I viewed one of the shots from the session – the pose did nothing to accentuate the character/features of the person’s face, there was a blown highlight on the person’s head (male, somewhat “hair challenged”), the lighting had no real direction, and the expression lacked energy – and the person’s teeth were obviously “photoshopped”, looking pure white with no texture or real form.

Unfortunately I’ve had clients tell similar stories of experiences they’ve had – so how can you avoid being another character in this horror movie? I wrote a previous blog about how to go about choosing a photographer (https://www.barrybraunsteinphotography.com/blog/2018/3/8/choosing-a-photographer) – Here, I’ll provide some additional tips on how to determine if you’re working with a real pro:

·         Ask the photographer about the equipment he or she uses, and if they’re coming onsite, what will they bring. If it’s a headshot session, they should be using either strobes or daylight balanced continuous lighting – both with softboxes to diffuse the light (makes it softer). Inquire also about the background – what color/material? White walls can be OK, but most are not pure white, which could create a color cast on the background.

·         If the shoot will be in an office environment, the photographer should offer/want to come in a see where the shoot will take place – if they don’t ask about the environment, it could be a red flag, not just from a lighting perspective, but also you’ll need a certain amount of space to set up the lights, camera and background. While this can be done in a fairly small space, the photographer needs to have the right equipment (lens, lights, diffusers) to make it work.

·         The photographer should offer to discuss with you the overall look you’re going for, and make recommendations on clothing, makeup, hair, etc. prior to the session – if they just say to come to the session wearing nice clothes, I’d look elsewhere.

·         What kind of coaching will the photographer provide during the session and how will the session work? Professionals generally shoot “tethered”, allowing both the subject and the photographer to view the images immediately on a computer – this provides the subject with feedback on how different poses are working and make adjustments. The photographer should help you determine (if you don’t already know) which side of your face looks best (some people look the same on both sides). If you have any specific challenges (eg, a double chin, one eye bigger than the other, a nose you feel is large, poor skin, etc), ask how the photographer can help minimize these things and see if the answer makes sense to you.

Finally, be sure to talk to the photographer prior to booking a session – you’ll need to feel comfortable working with him/her.