Jul 8, 2009

Free Portrait Day

Party in the Park (set-up)

[Update: Having received so much positive feedback from Strobist readers, I plan to have way more videos in the near future. Stay tuned. -Jeremy, Aug 25, 2009]

Once again, a charity shoot has given me an excuse to try something new — something I wouldn't have just blundered into with a client, and something I couldn't have just winged on my own.

[Note: the idea behind "Free Portrait Day" was explained in an earlier post, so I won't repeat myself to all my both of my readers. The deal was: contribute what you can, say cheese, then download your full-res portrait in a week. Other than a wee bit of Lightroom, the pictures are as-is.]

The event was the Party in the Park — an outdoor funfest with bake sales, big bands, and bouncy castles. My portable 'studio' was one of several fund-raising booths dedicated to the Mimico Moms. The 'Moms' include my wife, Michelle Sale, and friends of ours who are raising money for breast cancer research in honour of our friend, Jane, who died on Christmas Day, 2008.

[Update: The Moms tell me there's a bit more left to raise; so if you haven't maxed out your credit card... click away.]

The 'studio' consisted of a rented backdrop kit, three speedlights and a D700. (Now that I have the Kung Fu grip, I've been itching to shoot as many long portraits as possible. Don't tell her, but my wife thinks it came with the camera.)

It didn't occur to me until afterwards, but there's something a little wrong about turning a perfectly good greenspace into Sears Portrait Studio; but once I got the idea, it never occurred to me to do otherwise. Also, it was nice having enough headspace for once in my life.

(To add another layer of weird, consider this shot: two soldiers dressed in woodland camo, standing on a studio backdrop... in a field of grass and trees.)


The set-up video is here if you want a quick walk-through. Try to ignore the blaring music. It does no justice to the remarkably good high school band that was performing that day.
Subjects were lit by a Lumiquest III softbox in front, a gobo'd SB on either side (positioned behind and aimed slightly forward to get reflected light on the sides of their faces, rather than rim or fill.) The pop-up flash provided a bit of on-axis fill, too.

All in all, a good turnout. The weather co-operated and I wasn't put out one nickel, due to the generosity of Headshots, the local photo rental place. Not much I can say about these guys that doesn't involve the word 'awesome'.

One thing to keep in mind, if you decide to do an unsolicited portrait shoot: most people hate having their picture taken — even for free. It helps to have samples of your work on display, to prove that you're actually good. It also helps if your wife — or any other female friend — is on-hand to coax people over to the muslin. Might have been the trench-coat I was wearing, who knows.

Another thing I found out by sheer chance? If you have the time to review photos with your subject and delete the ones they hate — right on the spot — people get noticeably more relaxed. In addition to making your editing that much easier, this also helps draw more people to the booth, because there's always someone shouting, "Wow. Look at this one, Karen!"

Because this was also a research shoot, I'm not beating myself up on the minor flaws. The set-up was exactly how I pictured it, and I got some shots that I'm proud of. Again, having unlimited room for a backdrop has completely spoiled me for all future gigs that will take place in someone's cluttered den.

Black Belt

Things I would change next time:
  1. Would put 'studio' completely in the shade. It wasn't a big deal, but the first few shots had sunlight hitting the backdrop from behind, and a bit of lens flare.
  2. Would have used my bigger softbox, but I went in figuring that any wind would have made me insane. Turns out, there was none.
  3. I kept opening up my shutter speed to 1/60 without knowing it. I figure it was when I was reviewing shots by spinning the back wheel, and not being in 'review' mode at the time.
  4. I think I would ease off on the sidelight intensity next time, and give more thought to how easily group shots get compromised by people blocking each other's light.
  5. Cardinal Sin: I completely forgot about my model releases as soon as things got busy. I may live to regret this, but I'm tracking them down. Yikes.
"... and party every day."

Things that were awesome:
  1. Raised good money for a great cause.
  2. Pre-existing party = costumes and make-up!
  3. Got major practice with a set-up I had never used before.
  4. Got great neighbourhood exposure and handed out a whack of business cards — to people who actually wanted them.
  5. Got way more comfortable trying coax performances out of people.
  6. Got a few killer portfolio shots. Thank you Gene Simmons, Jr.
  7. Made friends and neighbours very happy when they got a peek at the LCD, and then got to download the real McCoy less than a week later. They're all here, if you're interested.
Finally, a tip of the hat to the Strobist community for their many charity-related projects (see "Strobist Boot Camp II" for the current assignment). As much as he gives out for free, David Hobby is quick to nudge us photographers into paying it forward. Props, Mr. Hobby.

(* as I explained to prospective clients, the portrait was free — the privilege of ever seeing it costs money.)
Recent charity shoot:
White Seamless at Lobsterfest.
Hike for Hospice.
Lumiquest III "review"


Anonymous said...

Kudos! My hat's off to you for doing this kind of thing. Must take a bit of courage, but as you said, you learned a lot in the process and probably boosted your confidence quite a bit as well. Great job, and thanks for sharing the results and write-up.


The Rock's said...

Very nice work, saw the David Hobby writeup and recalled that you did this a few weeks ago.

G. Chai said...

Sounds/looks like lots of fun.
Thanks for the post and video.

Karl Filip K said...

Were that not to light outside to got that so much light on the model? some flash were so far away. maybe they are strong enough? =)
great photo anyway

Barnacle said...

great stuff and a great idea! good job!
i am thinking of doing something similar soon.


Gregory said...

First and foremost, great cause, thank you (lost my wife to cancer Dec. 15th).

How did the strobe batteries do? Did you have to change them out during the event or did they make it the whole way (number of shots)?

They were manual, what power were they set on, just curious to get some idea of how the batteries were taxed.

That KISS kid is great! Really nice job.

I also applaud you for 'grabbing' people to shoot, not something that is in my comfort zone. That is why I like landscapes, they don't talk, don't move and I don't need release forms. :-)

Tom said...

What a wonderful way to support a worthy charity and grow your photography at the same time. You've inspired me to try some similar.

Sheldon said...

What a great idea! Congrats! :)

Karl @ Play said...

Wow, great post and nice set up. The finished images look great.

Cassandra said...

Great post and a wonderful thing you did!

Robert said...

Great job! Curious about the Kung Fu Grip. What is it and where did you get it? Also, could you go into greater detail about what settings you used on each flash and in the camera. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

ditto and ditto
great job and more info on light settings

Caroline Castillo said...

So glad you featured this guy. And Congrats to Jeremy Sale for taking the opportunity....it's AMAZING what can be accomplished, on so many levels, with work that's given from the heart.

Newbies and Amateurs: This is how I built my business! My work is not yet as tight as Jeremy Sale's, but I've buit a fine business through honing skills through volunteerism, and making contacts in the process.

Today, I still volunteer on a regular basis, and even seek out this type of work.

Thanks again David and Jeremy!

Nicole/Movie Still Photographs said...

The military photo looks really nice so it's among my top 3 with the family one and your Strobist featured image being the top two.

The family portrait must have been a lot of fun to work on. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I started doing something similar for a benefit show, and now it is my main source of income and allows me to travel on the side. Check out

Alex said...

The accidental shutter-speed changes have happened to me too. Wish there was a way too lock things in as this seems to be a common thing to happen when situations call for a lot of image-review.
Great article.

Boston Photographer-MWynne said...

Followed the Strobist link over. I love the photo of the kid with his face painted jumping in the air. Your blog seems pretty interesting and I like the fact that you include video. Thanks for the post.

Jon Leidel said...

Great work! I followed the stobist link to you. Great video, love the quip about the wife's thoughts on the Kung Fu Grip... feel free to remind or show how much the camera bodies are that come with said grip already attached, she may appreciate the add on cost a bit more then.
My question is about cost.
You said in your * explanation that the portrait was free but the privilege of seeing it cost.
Did you use your standard pricing for that? Did people buy prints or download a hi res for them selves to print? Did you discount your prices or did you do a full price with a % going to charity? I tend to get stuck in how best to approach this when it comes to pricing.
Thanks again for posting this... great work! Pay it forward is karma well spent.

Dan Depew said...

Great write-up. Thank you for this.

Most impressive was the details of what you were expecting and what you learned from it. Awesome stuff and a fresh change from all the shameless self-promotion that many of us photographer-bloggers tend to do.

I almost didn't take the jump... glad I did.

Joey Shemuel said...

These look great! My only comment would be to move the Lumi III'ed SB in closer, because from as far away as you had it, the box was mostly just taking away light, without softening or enlarging the quality substantially. On the other hand, maybe you prefer the harder key. Either way, nicely done!

Yair said...

What BG is that? It's absolutely amazing!

JS said...

[Since many have asked, the backdrop is a rental from "Headshots" in Toronto. Might have to buy one!]

JS said...

Oh, more importantly...

Thank you all for your generous feedback.
It's so rewarding when people take time out of their schedule to give a critique or drop a note.

I strongly encourage you to do charity shoots. They are, by far the most gratifying gigs you will ever do.

Anonymous said...

great ideas and i appreciate you taking the time to pop it on for us to read and be inspired by