Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making A Photo From Whole Cloth

In some respects, editorial photography is identical to advertising photography, which is product photography with a message. The photo must obviously be properly exposed and suitable cropped, but from that point forward it becomes an exercise in understanding the communicative power of an image.

The San Mateo Daily Journal is not a "gotcha" periodical. It is a community paper, and as such, celebrates the community's accomplishments. If people get together to promote civic pride, the Journal will do its best to recognize it. When an assignment comes from my Editor, it's because there was, or will be, an event worthy of the community's recognition.

Whole Cloth: I use the term "whole cloth" as a way to describe the open-ended nature of some assignments. When I arrived at the location, I only know the name of one of the co-chairs, the start time, and whatever information I could glean from the press release. The content of the final photo was entirely up to me.

One of the greatest challenges is limiting the "pose time" required for the shot. This is actual time it takes to make the photo and does not include any preparation done beforehand. I try to do as much preparation as possible by phone or e-mail by contacting the publicist listed on the initial press. My editors will often provide a list of the shot's  "must includes", which can be actual names, or in some cases, titles.

This shot was at a "Monte Carlo Night" fundraiser held at a country club on the Peninsula. The shot was simplicity itself. The event started at 5:30, so I arrived at 5:15. After locating one of the co-chairs, I told her that I would spend 10 minutes scouting for a suitable location while she found the other co-chair and the auctioneer.

Shooting Position: I try to choose shooting positions that have interesting foregrounds and backgrounds in order to provide a sense of scale and depth. In this case, nearly every shot in the room would include portions of the surrounding woods, so to prevent them from being grossly overexposed, I used the shortest flash synchronized shutter speed, the lowest practical ISO, and the smallest aperture possible. The latter would necessitate more than a single flash if I was to have any flexibility in positioning my supplementary light source. So for this shot, I did my preliminary shots on the craps table using 2 SB-800s on a monopod shot through a Zumbrella. Doubling the number of flashes would bring my key light closer to the brightness of the windows.

Dealing With Ambient Background Light: One other thing when dealing with the great outdoors: Avoid having the bright, overexposed sky at the very edge of the photo. This shot includes enough "borders" to keep the eye from wandering off of the photograph. You can see how the ceiling fixtures and the window panes serve the purpose, although I wish I could have used the ceiling to complete contain the overexposed sky in the distant background.

It tried to position my flash to be the same distance to the leftmost and rightmost subjects. To accomplish this, the monopod was extended to full length and held high up at the camera's right. If you examine the location of the shadows, you can get a good idea of the approximate location of the light. Another advantage of this angled light source is the saturation of the different colored poker chips due to the absence of glare. 

Directing The Shot: When the three ladies returned, I convinced one of the dealers to start explaining how the game was played, and after a few minutes of instruction the the three spontaneously started throwing chips to place their practice bets. If you look closely, you can actually see a red chip caught in mid flight. The photo shoot was done in five minutes. Everybody was now free to return to the party. 

In looking over the finished product, there are a number elements to tie the image to the event. While you might have recognized the venue (The University Club in Palo Alto), It is obvious from the gambling table with three stylishly dressed women that it was probably a charity event. However, I felt it important to include significant detail in the crap table, since the colored chips and the writing on the felt would add to the visual interest. I do think, from time to time, that the dealer occupies too much space in the photo, but he told me that this is exactly where he would normally stand. The angle of shot allows for more depth, so the photo has both left to right, and front to back.