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Thursday, August 16, 2012

On Photographing People: Pt. 3

Editor's Note: This is the third in a three-part series by Italian photographer Sara Lando on photographing people. The series begins here. I asked her to select some of her favorite images to illustrate this piece.


By Sara Lando -- The model is gone, your studio is a mess, you’re tired but still a bit excited about the shooting and can’t wait to see your pictures on your big monitor.

Some might call it a day and go grab a beer. But there’s still a couple of things you might want to do before wrapping it up.
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I won’t talk about the importance of post production in digital photography (long story short: when you think you’re not doing any because you shoot jpeg, you’re just demanding it to some random guy trapped in a camera factory, who decided which de-mosaicing algorithms to apply to your raw files) and I still think most of what I’m going to say is still valid if you shoot film: just because your model is gone, it doesn’t mean the work is done. I know mine isn't.

After my model is gone and the door is shut, I download my images right away and back them up on external hard drives. Memory cards are small, sneaky and the last thing you want to do is to format one of them before you know all your photos are safely stored in three different places. You don’t spend all this time, money and effort on learning how to use a very expensive camera just to lose those files because you were careless or lazy. I did, it burned.

With portrait photography especially, people are often emotionally invested and you’re kinda sorta supposed to actually give them some pictures at some point.





SENDING PREVIEW IMAGES

While I’m waiting for the files to download and copy, I usually quickly select 3 of them to send to my subject. Right after the shooting is the best moment to do so for several reasons:


1) I’m stuck there anyway.

2) I have just shot those images and I already know which ones I’m going to pick. There’s this feeling I get when I’m shooting someone and I really like what I see through the lens: it’s a little bit like being in love. And I know what came before and what came right after, so it takes me very little time to track those images down. It might take much more time after a couple of days or a week.

3) I want them to see a preview while they are still excited about the whole experience. This keeps the hype going.

4) If they receive a preview right away, they will not think it’s been photoshopped to death. If it takes you 3 month to get back with the final images, people are going to assume you have been spending the whole time working on them, so they most likely are going to think they look nice only because they have been retouched. This is particularly true for those who are used to seeing bad pictures of themselves. I almost never show the pictures to them in person because I want to make sure I don’t accidentally show them that one photo in which they have their eyes closed, their mouth open and no neck (there’s always a bunch of those).

5) It gives me the occasion to thank them for letting me take their picture. A small “thank you” goes a long way and even though your name is going to be the one on the credits, it takes two to play the game and you should recognize that.





I only send very small samples (400x600px) and keep the post production at minimum, usually I just develop the RAW files and adjust contrasts or sometimes convert the shot to black and white. I explain that what they are receiving are not the final images and I ask them not to publish them on Facebook/Twitter/wherever, yet. I also let them know exactly when I will be giving them the photos.
One of the most common complaints I hear from models when they talk about photographers (believe me, they do), is the amount of time it takes them to send them usable photos.

I don’t care if I’m shooting a paid job, a test or doing a favour for a friend: I treat each and every shooting as if I was paid top money.

If I don’t have time to deliver, I’d rather postpone the shooting. People forget how much they paid (or didn’t pay) for their photos, but they always remember how professional you have been, when it’s time to name a photographer for a job.





DELIVERING YOUR SHOTS

The more experience I gain as a photographer, the less post production I need to do on my images, yet everything I deliver to anyone has to be finalized. You never know who’s going to look at those file and unless you are working for a big client and just hand over the memory cards, what you show—and how—is something you should have complete control over.

You should already know how many pictures you are going to send (it’s an information I often include in my model release.) But I never just burn a cd with everything that has been shot: the really bad images are erased immediately, never to be missed. And if I said I would deliver 15 images, I try to make it at least 18. Again, it’s all about making people feel treated really well.

I usually send a link to gallery of images (Lightroom works great for that, because it’s fast and looks nice) they can look at on the web and a link to a .zip file of the same images they can download and have on their computers. I also spend some time writing the email that I’m sending, because “here’s the link” is effective but not exactly warm. I usually tell them which ones are my favourites and why. Those are the photos I’ll most likely publish and I want to make sure they are really looking at them.




GIVING YOUR SUBJECT THE POWER TO VETO

Unless the model has been paid (and therefore the client is the one calling the shots), giving my subject the possibility to veto what I can publish has been the fastest way to build endless trust. If I have done my job, I know it won’t happen.

I have never shot a picture that has changed the history of photography and probably never will. But I know how it feels to be on the receiving side of a very bad picture displayed without your consent (thanks mum for hanging THAT shot in our living room for years) and it’s very upsetting. If someone vetoes your shots, it’s usually because you have tricked them into expecting something completely different and that’s your fault.




Sometimes people might veto a shot because of something that can be easily corrected in post production (sometimes it can be as small as “the almost-invisible-ring I’m wearing was given to me by my ex boyfriend and he left me for my best friend, so I don’t want that picture published”), so before you start thinking they’re tasteless idiots, ask them if it’s something you can fix.

You might argue that it’s *your* picture, and you can do whatever you want with your art… it’s an interesting discussion, and I can see the point here. Yet I am not into the business of making people miserable and this has always worked fine for me.

It happened to me only once to have someone asking me not to publish a specific picture. They felt like it was too intimate and even though they liked the shot, they asked me not to publish it on the Internet. I have photographed the same person several times after that, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have happened, had I just told her “I have a signed release, I’m doing what I want”.




WHAT TO SHOW (AND WHY TO SHARE)

Because of Murphy’s law applied to photography, you want to make sure that the images you don’t really like, never EVER leave your hard drive, as they are probably the ones that will end up everywhere and that’s usually when people remember to give credit.

When I select the images, I pick everything I would like to show and a couple of shots I won’t use in my portfolio but I still like and I’m sure my subject will love because they look very good in them. Those are the ones that will be printed and hanged in their houses, posted on Facebook and showed to grandchildren.

One of the things I am most proud of is that a really high percentage of the people I photograph uses my images as their profile pictures in Facebook, Twitter or other social media. I always include the right to use my pictures on social media in my model release, and I’m very easy-going about that. They use something I did as the official representation of their identity and it’s really flattering for me, but there’s more than flattery involved.




Think about that for a moment: that picture is going to be seen by those who know how that person looks like on a daily basis. They see that person on a winter monday morning with a flu and then they compare it to my image. They are going to assume I am a good photographer, even though all I have done was place a light, find the right angle, make them do most of the job and select the best shot!

Regardless of what your subject decides to show others, you want to be very specific about what you publish on your website/ Flickr/ whatever. Many people consider a portfolio a way to show what they have done, but it should be more a display of what you would like to do more of.



You will find that the closest your portfolio is going to be to what you care about, the easiest is going to be to find models that are likeminded and perfect for your projects. Don’t try to please everybody, don’t be afraid to stand for something. All you care is the back of people’s heads? Own it.

A great photo is about what you exclude just as much as what you show, and the same can be said of a great photographer.
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Sara Lando is based in Milan, Italy. To see more of her work or to commission her, visit her website.


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40 Comments:

Blogger John said...

Awesome series Sara! I found useful bits of info in all three posts and also discovered a slightly different way to look at things I have been doing.

Something I've always been unhappy with is the wording in my model releases. You mentioned that in yours you have something about the right to use images for social media. That never occurred to me even though I know it most definitely should've.

Do you have a sample model release that you would be willing to share, or a point in the right direction for effective releases?

Thanks again for your series and looking forward to future involvement!

August 16, 2012 8:39 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

"Many people consider a portfolio a way to show what they have done, but it should be more a display of what you would like to do more of."

One of the most brilliant lines/thoughts/sentiments I've ever come across. Fabulous series. Thank you Sara and thank you very much David for allowing her the floor.

August 16, 2012 9:57 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

I don't usually comment, but I must say this series is one of the most informative, insightful, and useful article on how to improve on your portrait photography. Not to mention the writing is some of the best. It is concise and entertaining. Fantastic job!

August 16, 2012 10:14 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

I don't usually comment, but I must say this series is one of the most informative, insightful, and useful article on how to improve on your portrait photography. Not to mention the writing is some of the best. It is concise and entertaining. Fantastic job!

August 16, 2012 10:15 AM  
OpenID Joe said...

Thank you Sara, for posting this series. It was very interesting and informative to follow one's entire workflow from start to finish. Sometimes we get so caught in the destination, we forget about the journey. The journey can often have detours and unexpected surprises, both good and bad. Your insight into the human interaction with the client during the entire process is on point and often overlooked. It is just as important as camera settings, lens selection and lighting. Thank you for letting us peek in and be a fly on the wall, of a typical session of yours.

August 16, 2012 11:13 AM  
Blogger Doug Howell said...

Enjoyed the words and the imagery. Thanks! Now to start stealing some of your ideas ;)

August 16, 2012 11:19 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Ng said...

Sara, what an incredibly informative series of articles! The information you have presented here is clear, concise, witty, and immediately applicable - particularly for those of us who find the technical aspects of lighting and photography easy to grasp but struggle with the social / people aspect of things! Thank you!

I second John's comment earlier re: model releases - would you be willing to share what you use in your model releases (or perhaps a detailed outline)?

@DavidHobby - really appreciate your blog and thanks for asking Sara to guest post!

August 16, 2012 11:24 AM  
Blogger Glenn Harris said...

Very enjoyable and informative series of posts Sara. I was surprised that you don't like showing the models images during the shoot.

August 16, 2012 11:36 AM  
Blogger Sara Lando said...

Thanks everyone for taking the time to read through this (and David, for letting me highjacking the blog…)


@John I mostly work in Italy and I'm associated to Tau Visual, which is our National Professional Photographers Association. Each year they send us a bunch of templates for model releases, contracts, forms and whatnot that we can use and tweak and are good for italian laws and standards.
Here the easiest for of release would be "I (name of model) hereby grant (name of photographer) the right to publish the images he took of me on (date)".
This is a bit too general for me and for a personal project I would usually go for something that would be translated a bit like this:

"I (name of model and contact info), in exchange for photographs of myself, authorize (name of photographer), to use photographs taken by Photographer of myself on the date of __/__/____ and derivative works based on those pictures for all lawful purposes subject to the terms and conditions described herein. I agree that the exchange is for photographs delivered to me by Photographer in the quantity and format described as follows:
_________________________________________.

I agree that, while I may use the Photos for purposes related to the promotion of my modeling business, including but not limited to advertising, portfolios, composite cards, exhibitions, contests, and promotional internet web sites, social networks, I will not sell publication rights in any or all of the Photos without Photographer's prior consent.

Likewise, I authorize Photographer to use the Photos for purposes related to the promotion of Photographer's business, including but not limited to advertising, portfolios, composite cards, exhibitions, contests, and promotional internet web sites, but do not authorize Photographer to sell publication rights in any or all of the Photos except with my prior consent".

everybody signs and goes home with a copy.
I make sure I explain what I will and will not do with the images and what I ask them not to do.
Keep it simple and do not use weird words that your subject might not understand. There's a fine line between having a contract that sounds professional and one that makes you feel like they're trying to trick you into signing something you might regret.
Then again, someone from the U.S. might want to add to what I say.

When I work abroad I usually check with local photographers and associations and the wording might be a little less casual, but still.

August 16, 2012 12:05 PM  
Blogger Garry Finch said...

A great series of posts and a great style of writing, very down to earth and easy to understand. One of my favourite series of articles so far on strobist.

August 16, 2012 12:10 PM  
Blogger Harry P said...

fantastic posts! Thanks Sara, thanks David for continuing to surprise, inspire, and educate.

August 16, 2012 12:12 PM  
Blogger Ken Elliott said...

Sara - Great series. I really appreciate your focus on the human element, rather than the technical.

I'm guilty of taking too long to provide images. I love your idea of picking 3 images and sending them right away. Thanks.

August 16, 2012 12:20 PM  
Blogger DarkWolf said...

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. As someone who is just venturing out into portrait photography, I am always looking for guidence from those who are at a level of professionalism that I can admire, and you are definitely on this list.

August 16, 2012 3:02 PM  
Blogger jeffy said...

Fascinating and entertaining series. Thanks so much to Sara and David.

Oh, and Sara, your photos are beautiful, one and all.

August 16, 2012 3:28 PM  
Blogger wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

Great series, great photos, great advice. Grazie Sara, and thanks David!

August 16, 2012 4:28 PM  
Blogger Huijari said...

Thank you for a great series, Sara! Some commenters have already posted great quotes from this post, but this is the one that struck the chord with me:

"There’s this feeling I get when I’m shooting someone and I really like what I see through the lens: it’s a little bit like being in love."

I haven't been shooting much lately, but that thought brought me back so many memories of good shoots that you've given me the spark to grab my camera and start falling in love again. Thank you.

August 16, 2012 8:29 PM  
Blogger John said...

Sara, thanks again for this series and your tips on the Model Release, it really is a big help!!!

August 17, 2012 8:07 AM  
Blogger MSGDLD said...

Thanks Sara. Superb series. Well written and clear, you have a great ability to tell how, which is harder than doing the photo shoot. So much information, so very helpful. I had many "Aah" & "Oops!' as well!



August 17, 2012 10:05 AM  
Blogger Gordon Lindsay said...

Thank you very much I enjoyed reading these very thoughtful and insightful series, and David for allowing Sara the vehicle.

August 17, 2012 1:12 PM  
Blogger Jeremy DeBauche said...

Sara, I've been away from Strobist for a little while, but definitely came back to check in at the right time. So much of my own photographic education has been focused on the technical aspects of photography, with little focus on the personal aspect. While I'm not a professional photographer (just a wildly enthusiastic amateur), connecting with my subjects is an area I know I can always improve in. Thanks for sharing your experience and organizing it in a way that's easy to consume and understand!

August 17, 2012 2:43 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Sara. Wow. What a wonderful set of posts. So many great ideas that I've saved to my iPhone so I can read a few times and let it sink in. I can only benefit from these wise words. Thanks so much for sharing with us all.
And thank you David for sharing someone so insightful with all of us.

August 18, 2012 2:56 AM  
Blogger AJ said...

WOWW This is brilliant. I loved this series. Glad to find this blog.

AJ
http://ajstates.blogspot.com

August 18, 2012 6:50 AM  
Blogger Martin Hambleton said...

A quite brilliant series of articles. Serious common sense, written in a great down-to-earth style. Thanks for writing it; David, thanks for sharing it. Power to you both.

August 19, 2012 5:25 AM  
Blogger Martin Hambleton said...

A brilliant series of articles. It's so good to read some common sense, down-to-earth pieces for a change. All power to you. And to you David, for sharing it. Thanks both.

August 19, 2012 5:26 AM  
Blogger Blonde Woman Stamping said...

Bravo, Sara! Wonderful series of articles. Your advice for evoking the connection/poses we seek from our subjects is priceless. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and knowledge. Hope to see you again soon, here on Strobist. Thanks, David, for a great blog and for sharing a great resource like Sara with your readers.

August 19, 2012 10:35 AM  
Blogger Dawn JP Danko said...

Really enjoyed the series. My biggest take away was to create a portfolio of work you want to do - not work you've done.

August 19, 2012 9:10 PM  
Blogger Lazlo said...

Splendiferous end to a first-rate series. There will be a greater smoothness in the portrait studios across the land. A palpable up in the rapport between subject and photographer.

Thanks Dave and Sara.

August 20, 2012 12:34 AM  
Blogger FaBBius said...

Really engaging and useful series of posts. It complements perfectly the more technical side of Strobist. I've saved all 3 articles in the "References" folder of my Kindle ;)

Congrats to Sara, both for the posts and her work: seems that, contrary to the Italian saying, she can both do and teach ;)

Ciao!

August 20, 2012 11:10 AM  
Blogger LFC said...

What a fantastic post, when so many are trying to protect their 'recipes' it's difficult to get to know some of the tiny subtleties that matter so much.

I loved this series, thank-you for sharing, I think this is the type of post that confident working professional would publish. A generous and humble insight into what I imagined the work looks and feels like.

August 20, 2012 1:34 PM  
Blogger Ted Felsberg said...

Thank you so much Sara! I loved these posts. Great information. I really liked when you were talking about how when they use your photos to display on social networks and that the pictures really represent their identity.
Which brings up a question. Do your clients come up with the conceptual portraits that you do or do you come up with most of the ideas?

August 20, 2012 1:56 PM  
Blogger Sara Lando said...

@Ted Felsberg: It depends. If it's the first time we shoot together, I'd say 99% of the times it's my idea we start with, but we might end up anywhere. I usually roll with the punches and when people start having fun they start coming up with ideas and just enjoy taking charge.
It's like rolling a huge boulder down a hill. At first you need to push really hard to make it move and it requires a lot of effort on your side, but once it's going, you just need to give it a little push if it's going too much in the wrong direction and make sure you don't kill anyone in the process.

It's quite common that the second time I shoot with someone they might contribute a lot before the shooting, sending me references, hunting for props or coming up with a concept.
There's always a lot of me in the final images, but I like collaborating with my subjects.

August 21, 2012 12:28 PM  
Blogger Isaac Miller Photo said...

This may be one of the most important things I have ever read about photography!

August 21, 2012 7:04 PM  
Blogger Isaac Miller Photo said...

This may be one of the most important things I have ever read about photography. You are amazing Ms. Lando!

August 21, 2012 7:06 PM  
Blogger Nick potts said...

Brilliant series Sara.

Great writing and very informative to a newb like me :)

August 31, 2012 9:01 AM  
Blogger Pastingal said...

Thank you so much Sara for your 3 memos. At a time where I invest much of myself for entiring in the world of studio photography, your lecture is a masterpiece and I will keep an eye on it as I should do over a Bible ...
Thanks again

JPM

September 02, 2012 11:14 AM  
Blogger Pastingal said...

Thank you so much Sara for your 3 memos. At a time where I invest much of myself for entiring in the world of studio photography, your lecture is a masterpiece and I will keep an eye on it as I should do over a Bible ...
Thanks again

JPM

September 02, 2012 11:17 AM  
Blogger myrtle said...

WoW! Great insights in here. Been learning a lot from your blog.=D
myrtle

September 14, 2012 3:26 AM  
Blogger bronney said...

Sara,

Thank you got sharing. I am in the process of doing my portfolio and your series helped greatly.

Cheers.

September 18, 2012 10:47 PM  
Blogger Renae said...

Insightful and informative article. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it as much as you enjoyed writing it. :)
Thanks for sharing.

December 27, 2012 8:48 PM  
Blogger RicoPico said...

Fantastic series of articles. Truly inspiring words and great advice

January 03, 2013 5:07 PM  

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