When commissioning a photographer for a portrait session, as the client, you really should be asking for much more than someone with a “nice camera” and it’s important to be educated about the entire process. There are many choices when looking for a photographer and it’s important to know what each photographer brings to the table.
First, lets talk briefly about why a client usually hires a photographer. Most people hire a custom portrait photogrpaher to create the best image possible and it is generally accepted that clients will hire the best photographer they can afford.
In reality the photographer’s camera is just one of many tools used in the process of creating a beautiful portrait and having a nice camera is just the beginning.
At our studio, during a portrait session, we put a lot of time and effort behind the scenes, that is above and beyond the time spent during the actual the portrait sitting itself in the following areas.
- Pre-production planning
- Day of Session Set-up
- Portrait Sitting/Session
- Image Culling and Post-Production
- Product design/creation.
Your photographers training and expertise is what guides this entire process and dictates what is necessary to create the best possible image.
A portrait session differs from a simple snapshot, in that a great deal of planning and thought goes into each portrait. A snapshot is an image taken quickly, without regard for location, pose, lighting, colors, etc.
A true fine-art portrait session starts with the end in mind. I always like to know if a client already has a location in their home picked out for their wall portrait. Why is this important? When styling the shoot we want to know that the location/background and wardrobe colors chosen will compliment the room where the portrait will be displayed. It would be terrible to invest the time and money into a session only to hate how the finished piece looks on the wall. We like to have clients send us cell phone photos of any walls where they might hang their portraits. This helps us later in the design session.
Once we have a color palette in mind we start the location scouting. Many of the most popular and scenic locations in the Bay Area require permits for us to set-up a formal shoot and this is another part of the process most Client’s are simply not aware of. We have to contact the right governmental agency and obtain permits or provide the client with this information. As part of the location scouting process, we also use technology to help us asses the best time for shooting in the location so that we will have the very best light.
The last phase of pre-production is wardrobe tips and coaching. Some clients prefer to buy new clothes and consult with a stylist. Others prefer to get some simple tips from their photographer and will do a mix of shopping and finding items they may already own.
On the day of your session, you photographer will arrive at the shoot location before you arrive to reserve the ideal spot (if permits have not been obtained) and set up. We will take time to scout out various spots in a given location and search for the best areas of natural light.
Although we like our portraits to have a natural feel, we often bring professional lighting to help shape and supplement the existing natural light to best flatter our subjects. It often takes some time to set-up these lights and adjust all the settings appropriately.
We also set up posing blocks for clients to sit on and not have to worry about staining their clothing in the grass or leaves.
During the actual session your Photographer will help guide and coach you into a natural looking position to help you look your best and minimize any flaws. Nobody wants a stiff un-natural pose, but some gentle adjustments will help you look your best. This is an art in and of itself and a photographer who is knowledgeable about posing brings a great deal of value to the table.
Good composition and shooting a variety of posed and candid shots are important should the client be looking for an album of their session and something more than a simple wall portrait.
Even the most expensive professional level cameras rely on three basic functions that are known as the exposure triangle. These three functions can only be pushed so far and the rest of the work is done in post production to perfect lighting, direct the viewers attention, and address any blemishes or flaws.
This is simple word for what is often a very detail oriented process that can be quite tedious and time consuming. The amount of time spent in post-production is a large factor in pricing photographic work and the final quality of an image.
Product Design / Creation
At our studio, we have spent hours deciding what products to offer you and have been experimenting with what items will stand the test of time. Not all photographic products are created equal and there is an absolute sea of options on the market today. After investing a great deal of time into the initial capture, we will want to show off or work with quality products and materials. We believe in frames that are made with real wood and papers that are certified as archival. We want out prints to be reproduced in true to life colors and that can normally only be accomplished with both the photographer and printer using the same color calibration standards. Professional labs calibrate their printers several times a day, to a published standard, and most consumer labs seldom calibrate their machines and don’t make their profiles publicly available. They operate under a “close enough” philosophy with a lot of luck and hope customers don’t appreciate or notice the difference.
At the conclusion of this process is a viewing and ordering session. This is the stage where we will use state of the art design software to create a wall grouping and/or album spreads depending on your initial goals for the session. Having the ability to preview these designs on the computer ensures before you order, ensures our clients are thrilled with their final selections and will not waste money on an item or product that doesn’t look right in their home.
We hope short article touches on a few things to think about when hiring a professional photographer and gives clients a better understanding of the portrait process with our studio.