The Test Shoot

From the way I talk about my skills at times, it may seem that I don’t have any. It’s not that I think that my photography is bad; it’s just that the more you develop mastery over an art, the more you realize you don’t know. Just when you think you have something mastered, you begin to recognize subtle elements that you never noticed before. Photography is such a rich medium, from both a technical and creative aspect, that I will be photographing for the rest of my life and will likely have just scratched the surface of its potential. I wish I would have started 30 years earlier so that I had a running start. 

The bottom line is that you can never stop learning and improving. But it doesn’t happen by just shooting a lot. It requires deliberate practice and conscious examination of your work. 

This entire blog is really just collection of test shoots I do to exercise my technical and creative skills. Every week, I do one or two test shoots to work on some aspect of photography or a particular skill. 

In this shoot, with Kristianna, I challenged myself in a number of ways to get over my instinctive habits: I used a wide lens that I don’t normally use for portrait photography. I tried to incorporate the environment more to make the image more narrative or cinematic. I shot high key photos (bright) instead of only dark and moody. I mixed flash with the ambient light. (As a challenge to you, see if you can identify where flash was used and how I used it.)

Even though I have this beautiful natural light studio, I’ve only shot in it ten times perhaps in the past year. So this was also a good exercise in utilizing the space. 

It probably would have been better just to focus on one element, but Kristianna was willing and there was no rush, so I just played. 

So I’m posting these images to illustrate what a test shoot might look like. You can click on any image for a larger view and to scroll through that gallery. 

We started at a window. Normally I don’t start a shoot with full body standing shots because, as a model, it’s one of the most challenging positions to be in. The model is given a blank canvas, so anything is possible, which makes it hard to pick a direction. By Kris is experienced so I didn’t think it would be an issue and  the natural light coming through the window at that moment looked good. 

Then we moved to the bed. I wanted to practice shooting more high key. That means bright images rather than dark moody images that I default to. The problem was that the room was dark. It was a dark overcast day and there was not really enough natural light travelling through the room. So I pulled out strobes to emulate sunshine coming through the windows and to fill in shadows so we could see her face. You can see how I blew out the whites to give the sense of strong sunlight coming through the window. Again, the reality was that there was no sunlight.  

After finishing with that light experiment, I wanted to shoot to capture more environment. Normally I shoot in the downstairs studio at RAW Photographic where I’m always working against a blank backdrop and the focus is purely on the subject. Here I wanted to incorporate the surroundings into the images. This meant that I had to shoot wider than I normally do in the studio. 

More specifically I wanted to make the images more cinematic, so in post I cropped the images to look like the dimensions of a movie screen like this…

Then we went to this window that has always been a puzzle for me. I have visions of what kinds of images I’d like to capture here, but I’ve never really nailed it and produced an image that I’m in love with. So I had to keep trying. 

We were shooting implied nude (or concealed nude), which means that the model is nude or appears to be nude, but nothing is showing. This is not something that Kris normally does, so it was important that she was comfortable with the process. So she wore nude bottoms and we were careful that she was never really exposed. This is easier to do on the bed than standing and you have the benefit of being able to use sheets. 

Once again, I played with light getting some high key shots, some moodier low key shots, and some shots emulating the warm glow of morning sunlight.  

Lastly in post-production, I played with some black and white presets. I never use presets and I custom edit every black and white photo I do. But these were “throw away” images, so I tried this particular B&W preset that I like, but have never really found a use for. 

So this gives you a sense of the kind of thing that I do on a regular basis to improve my skills. Usually these shoots are done on a TFP (time for print) basis where the model volunteers her time in exchanged for edited prints for her portfolio. Sometimes I hire models for this kind of work so that there is no expectation that I’ll produce anything useable. I have far more hits than misses, but I still fail on a regular basis. 

If you have an interesting idea for a shoot or want to play with me in these kinds of experiments, drop me a note. Click here for details