The new Howard Smith Wharves here in Brisbane are just a stone’s throw from where I live. Last week I had the pleasure of carrying out a corporate portrait session here with Jessie, a local businesswoman. Big props to Joe Grey for the assist, holding studio lights in the crazy Brisbane heat, as well as the model’s laid back attitude, for helping make this shoot a success. I thought I’d post a blog about the shoot, explaining a bit about my process as a corporate portrait photographer in Brisbane, and showcasing my new favourite portrait photography location, the Howard Smith Wharves.
I love photographing portraits, there’s so much to think about and no two sessions are the same. I’m always learning new things, be it lighting techniques, ideas on how to direct and pose a subject, or just interesting things about the clients themselves. While I do photograph often for large companies, setting up a studio in their office and photographing multiple staff members, sometimes over 30 in a session, individual portrait shoots are the best for one-on-one banter.
For me, the work starts as soon as I get an enquiry. There are a number of things a photographer needs to do to plan a successful portrait shoot, well before they pick up the camera:
Image Style: My first priority is to work out what kind of portrait the client wants to get out of the session. I want to envision the final hero image. This can be tricky, especially when, nine times out of ten, they don’t really know themselves.
I start by asking them to send me some examples of portraits they like, either from Google, Pinterest, or my own portrait photography portfolio. This is handy for a number of reasons. One, it helps me identify the kind of aesthetic that appeals to them. While I tend to shoot in the particular style I have developed over time, as a commercial photographer I have to be flexible and happy to adapt my style of shooting to suit the client’s needs.
It also helps get the client excited about the shoot. Seeing what’s possible to achieve photographically puts them in a positive frame of mind for the shoot, which is important when trying to capture good, naturally happy or approachable expressions.
Last but not least, it helps involve the client in the planning process. It gives them a sense of control that subconsciously helps combat any nervousness they might be feeling about being photographed. Almost every person I photograph admits to me how nervous they usually are when having their photograph taken. It’s so common, and I completely understand why. I might be shooting myself in the foot a bit here, but I can see how the act of photographing someone can be perceived as invasive. It’s hard to explain, but Susan Sontag had a good crack at it in her book On Photography. This quote has stuck with me since uni: “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed…”
Location: After working out the image style my client Jessie was after, I then had to work out where the shoot should take place to achieve the desired aesthetic. After a chat on the phone, bouncing around some ideas, we settled on my suggestion of the new Howard Smith Wharves as the shoot location. While being quite close to the CBD makes it hard to capture the whole skyline or Story Bridge backdrop, all we needed was a suggestion of the city in the background to achieve the look and message we were going for. Plus I had also scouted some really nice textured walls and architectural features I knew would be great backdrops for other shots. I like to create as varied a gallery as possible for my clients to choose their favourite from.
Time: While I always try to work around the client’s schedule as much as possible, outside shoots are best scheduled according to the sun’s position in the sky. I’d scouted the location around sunset a few days before to get a good idea of my shooting window. For my hero shot, I needed the sun low to act as a hair light with the Story Bridge in the background. I figured I had a 30-minute window from 5:45 pm to 6:15 pm to take advantage of the low sun before it disappeared behind the skyscrapers.
Gear: Finally we get to the geeky stuff. While I like to keep things fluid during a shoot, roaming a bit to find spots that look good, I always have at least three positions in mind that I’d previously found on location scout days. I use these as the foundation of the shoot. I also pre-plan how I am going to shoot in these positions. While sometimes I might just use available light, I find most of my images are shot using light and light modifiers. This one was pretty minimal. As mentioned, I wanted to utilise the setting sun as a hair light or “kicker”. The key light was simply a studio light with a 120cm Octabox. I like to bring all the gear I need for the hero, then use that gear or less for the rest of the images. The gear I needed for this shoot included:
- Nikon D850 Camera body
- Nikon 70-200 2.8 FL, Nikon 24-70 2.8 VR
- Variable Neutral Density filter for 70-200
- Paul C. Buff Einstein 640 Studio light + radio trigger
- Paul C. Buff Einstein 47” Foldable Octabox
- Nikon SB900 + warm gel (brought in case I needed to emphasise kicker but didn’t use in end)
- Two light stands
- Two Paul C. Buff Vagabond Batteries (Competing with the sun, I was shooting at almost full power a lot of the time.)
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