Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in a photography session? Well hopefully this post will help enlighten you.
This is a photo of me and my two beautiful girls taken by Andrew Sinclair back in 2005. I love this photo so much; in fact I love it so much that it sits in a frame beside me in my study where I work every day. My girls have since grown into teenagers and no longer dance, but this beautiful portrait forever reminds me of a time when all three of us all danced together at the same ballet school – a special time when I was privileged enough to witness the two of them experience the joys and magic of being a dancer from a firsthand perspective.
I have always spent money on portraits, not only because I love photography, but also because I treasure the ability to be able to preserve those moments in time that can never be viewed again in real life. I love that moment when your children gather around a photo album and go on a journey re-living forgotten memories and experiences.
Thinking back to when this photograph was taken, I can clearly remember the conversations and complaints about the cost of the photos as though it was yesterday. I remember giving the matter a moment’s thought – we would spend hours getting ready, putting on our costumes, doing our hair and make-up and when our turn came we would line up for a photo that took a few minutes, only to repeat the process a few times over for each different costumes. And then, without much further thought, the resulting photos would turn up a week or so later for purchase. There wasn’t much in it I thought at the time; that was until I became the person on the other side of the camera. It was then when I realized exactly how much work actually went into the whole process and boy, was I surprised.
I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time. Hopefully I can educate others on what actually goes into a photography session. I believe I would have appreciated reading a post like this all those years ago and perhaps it will dispel the misconception that there’s not much to it, because the reality is quite to the contrary.
Let me take you on a step by step journey of what’s involved:
Back when I first started doing sessions, I used to wing it without any specific planning on what sort of photos I would like to achieve. I would go to a session with a vague idea of what I wanted to capture and come home feeling frustrated as I sifted through the images only to find that I had very little variety to choose from. Those days are long gone. Nowadays, from the moment of conception, my mind starts mentally planning for the shoot. Sometimes, I’ll even play out an entire session in my head whilst tossing and turning in the throes of an insomnia inflicted night.
Whether it is ballet concert photos or an individual portfolio shoot, I always start by preparing a set of ideas on how I want the session to run. I take the time to develop and research poses and concepts suitable for the individual session. I’ll literarily spend hours thinking, planning and researching for ideas.
If it’s an individual session, I will brainstorm with my client on exactly what sort of photographs they are after and from there I work with the client’s ideas and put together an overall plan to work with on the day. Let me just say though, although I write up an exact plan of how I’d like the session to run, invariable it always goes in all manner of directions on the day, and despite being more than happy to be flexible and run with whatever happens, I always re-consult my notes (either mentally or physically) now and again to ensure I haven’t miss out on any ideas that I know are too valuable to miss.
Here are a few examples of my planning notes, complete with stick figure drawings:
The day of the session arrives and it’s time to get ready. If I’m doing a studio shoot, it will normally take me an hour or more to set everything up. This includes (just to name a few) mounting the backdrop, taping cords down, setting up the lights, adjusting camera settings, testing the lights until they are exactly right and setting up my computer if I plan to tether the session.
But this hour or so of setting up doesn’t include the hundreds of hours it has taken me to learn how to use studio equipment – hours upon hours of researching, tutoring, testing and practicing until I finally worked out what I was doing; not to mention the hundreds of dollars spent on the tutoring and equipment. I often think of Andrew Sinclair when I’m setting up my equipment, and how much I took it for granted that the lights would do their job perfectly when I stepped into the frame to have my photo taken. I realise now that he didn’t just bang them up there and hope for the best and that much preparation would have gone into setting everything up.
Likewise, if I’m doing an outdoor shoot, I will spend hours location hunting and once I’ve found a possible location, I will go back there at the same time I plan to be taking the photos to check if the lighting is right. If it’s not, I’m back in the car searching until I find just the right spot. I’ve spent a lot of time and money on tutoring when it comes to location hunting and I’m still learning, but if I am to take myself seriously as a professional photographer, I feel it is absolutely imperative to continue to improve on these skills.
(To read more about the above session click here).
The time has come to take the actual photos. As you can see, a lot of thought and preparation has already taken place before I have even started.
There are so many things going on in my mind while I’m shooting. I use my camera in manual mode; this means I am completely in control of every single thing my camera does – from shutter speed, to aperture, to ISO, even down to the correct temperature I want my images to be. I make all of the choices and don’t leave any decisions up to my camera. After years of experience, running my camera in manual mode has become like second nature, however, I do have to keep my wits about me so I don’t accidentally forget to change the ISO or shutter speed etc to a different setting as the situation continuously changes.
As I am giving my subject directions, my mind is also thinking about a stream of other things, for example, watching the lighting, fine tuning the posing, making artistic choices about composition. At the same time that is going on, my eye is continuously roaming around the view finder for anything that can be fixed in real life (like hair in the eyes, or an untucked shirt, or a forgotten watch on a ballerina) because leaving it to fix it in Photoshop – aint nobody got time for that!
LENGTH OF A SESSION
If I’m taking photos for a dance competition for example, I usually start photographing at 11 am and don’t usually finish until 6pm with a short break somewhere in between.
(The above photo of the very charismatic Karis was taken at Peninsula School of Dance’s recent Dance Competition)
(The above images is from a website portfolio photography session at Peninsula School of Dance in Rosebud, Victoria)
If it’s a customized client session, the session can last from anywhere between 2 to 3 hours depending upon what happens on the day.
On location, there is a small amount of packing up to do, whilst a studio session will take an hour or more to pack up after everyone else has long gone.
AFTER THE SESSION
For me, this is where a massive amount of hours are spent. It begins with uploading all of the photos onto my computer where the job of viewing each and every photo begins – it’s there where I start culling any images with blinking or closed eyes, poses that didn’t work or technically incorrect images from the pile until finally I end up with a selection of the very best.
From there, if it’s a customized session, I will personally spend anywhere from half an hour or more on each photo. I treat my work as a piece of art and edit each image as though painting by hand. It has taken me hundreds of hours of training and expenditure to get to the level I am currently at.
Here are a few before and after’s examples:
AFTER THE SESSION – BALLET CONCERTS AND COMPETITIONS
For ballet concerts or competitions, I won’t do such an intensive edit as a customized shoot but I still do edit each photo. Once I’ve culled and edited the photos, if I’m doing an online gallery I need to resize and watermark the photos to suit my website then upload them all. Once all the orders are in, I will spend hours going through the orders and putting the selected photos into a folder. I will give them a final inspection to make sure I haven’t missed anything before I send them off to my professional lab for printing. Once I receive the prints, it will take a few more hours sorting through them and placing them with their respective order.
When I used to sell photos at concerts, the job was much more involved. After culling and editing, I would have the photos printed before I mounted them onto boards for viewing by customers at the concert. Mounting them on the boards alone could take up to three hours.
I once took a note of the amount of hours I spent doing dance competition photos recently. I stopped counting after 30 hours. It was at that very point that I realized not only how many hours Andrew Sinclair, and all other photographers spent on their trade, but also the amount of expenses that were involved as well.
So the next time you are delivered a print from a photographer with a certain price attached to it, you may look at that print and only think of the paper cost, but hopefully you will now realise that for the photographer, the costs associated with that print includes so much more. Not only is there the labour, there is also the cost of equipment and accessories, maintenance and/or upgrade of that equipment, training, insurances, petrol and car expenses, electricity, branding, website costs, printing, subscriptions, memberships, computer hardware and software programs like Photoshop and Lightroom, telephone expenses, office equipment, packaging, product samples – just to name a few.
I have a new appreciation for the price of a portrait, but that only came about because I found myself on the other side of the camera, but how can anyone else who is as clueless as me find out the reality of the situation without becoming a photographer? Hopefully this post will help enlightened anyone who is reading this on exactly what goes on behind the scenes so that they can have a better understand the value of the trade.
If you have stuck with me until the end, I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and have found it useful. Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog.
Warm wishes, Sharlene Harvey