How many times have you heard it? You under-promise, and over-deliver. As a freelancer, under-promising is kind of hard to do; you have to let a potential client know that you’re going to put everything you have into the job. But there’s no reason not to over-deliver. Magazine editors will love you when you toss in some extra comps, different setups, whatever you can produce. It gives them flexibility for when plans and layouts change. It’s not that you’re promising anything specific in advance; you just agree to do the job as it was described. But while you’re on-site, look for anything else you can do, anything different that catches your eye.
Case in point: I was recently called to shoot a headshot of the CEO of a healthcare company. The marketing director called me and set it up, but I got absolutely no guidance as to what the thing was supposed to look like. Was it a true headshot? Or more of a waist-up Executive Portrait? Studio background, or environmental? Despite my queries, I got nothing back.
So, the morning of the shoot, I showed up early, found the conference room they had booked for me to work in, discovered that it was more than roomy enough to operate in, and began getting ready. The walls of the room were white-ish, so I knew that if they wanted a white backdrop, I set. But just in case, I also hung a big piece of grey seamless. Between those two backgrounds, I knew I could render anything from pure white to black, and anything in between. If I really needed to, I could even throw a gelled light on either surface and create a colored background.
I made my seamless big enough so that my subject could either sit or stand, depending on how comfortable he felt. The marketing director showed up, announced that my subject would be arriving in a couple of minutes, and reminded me that I had exactly one hour, “No more,” to get the shot made. Inside, I laughed. An hour is an eternity; I knew I would have time for the safe shot but also for a few other ideas, as well. We quickly decided on the Grey backdrop, and then The Man arrived.
We did a round of shooting with him standing, but as soon as he sat down it was immediately clear that the shots were much better, so we spent the better part of a half hour making a nice, formal headshot. Then I suggested that we move to his office so I could do an “executive portrait” — the cliched one where he sits on the edge of his desk and and looks powerful.
Took me only a few minutes to set up and make this shot:
By now, he was confident enough in me to let me play. We only had a few minutes left, but he agreed to let me try “something different” although I wouldn’t tell him what it was. Now, I should say here for the sake of full disclosure that I stole this idea lock, stock, and barrel from Joe McNally’s book, The Hotshoe Diaries. The minute I read it I wanted to try it out, and here was my chance. Thanks, Joe!
While he sat down to check emails, I began setting up, beginning with an ambient shot:
The exposure was 1/200th at f/14, as I wanted the windows to go nice and dark.
I set the camera’s white balance as low as it goes, 2800K. One light (an SB-80) was bounced off the ceiling at about 1/2 power, with a full CTO gel, to act as a bit of fill (remember, the ambient exposure is f/11, so the flashes are working pretty hard to keep up.) I taped a piece of white copy paper to his monitor, and angled the monitor a bit away from the camera in order to hide what I was doing from the camera. I placed another SB-80 in front of the monitor, with a diffuser cap which I stuffed with 3 full CTO gels, and set it at 1/8th or so.
If you’re not familiar with this technique, which is done in interiors work all the time, I was gelling the flashes to match the very cool White Balance setting in the camera, so that my subject’s white shirt and skin tones would appear natural, even as the ambient light from the windows turned that vivid blue. I over-gelled the light bouncing off the monitor, so that it would actually appear warmer than normal, the idea being that he’s lit by the glow of his computer screen as he works diligently into the night.
Except that it’s 10:00am on a bright day. The whole episode took exactly 12 minutes, from first frame to last, and when I called him over to look at the results on the laptop, I got the ultimate, gratifying response:
“Wow……How’d you do that?!”