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"