Sunday, December 16, 2012

clean classy corporate headshot session :: with erik braun of SAP america

Sometimes opportunities reveal themselves in strange and unexpected ways. As photographers, we must be like the elusive chameleon, adapting and changing to our given environment.

Moreover, along with adaptation, we must learn to improvise and make due with difficult situations.

Not possessing these traits can lead a shooter straight down the toilet. Those who adapt and improvise with relative ease tend to surpass their peers in the grand scheme of all things being photographic.

Such was the case in my world very recently.

It was just over a week ago, a Thursday to be specific, that I received an email from Erik Braun, Solution Architect for SAP America, not the guitarist for Iron Butterfly.

The email was straight to the point.

Without sharing exactly what was said, let me explain to you how it felt. 

Basically, the gist of the message stated that this person, whom I never met and was not presently in the country, needed corporate headshots. No problem right? Simply check my iCal, look for some availability in my schedule, see when it was he wanted the shoot to go down, see which days jive with each other and bang, bam, donesky! Scheduled shoot.



Unfortunately, in the real world, things don't always go that smoothly. In the real world, we, as photographers need to adapt, need to improvise, or fall flat on your ass.

The Reality

The world where photographers are farting rainbows and pooping butterflies is, well, not as accurate as you may imagine. If that world does exist, I haven't seen it but I won't give up searching for that pot of gold at the end of that gaseous array of color in the sky.

What does go down in the real world behind the glass? While there is some shooting involved, also involved is a whole lotta stress balled up with, planning, coordination, more planning and  impossible deadlines that require your stress management to make that impossible mission, possible. Did I mention that there is zero time allocated to make all of this happen?

Let me elaborate.

Don't let me frighten you away from that camera. This is not always the case. Hell, it doesn't ever have to be the case. As a free man or woman, it is your right to say no to any gig that comes your way. More for me! haha. Fact of the matter is, I like the stress that comes with this territory. The entire artform is in my bones. Creativity, technology, stress, heaven. Some thrive on these things while others crumble. Hey, you can always work the camera at the DMV, I'm sure they are always hiring and that's a government gig, nice benefits. Shitty clients but nice benefits.

Thursday Evening

Back to that email. Erik Braun, explained that he was on that evening, in Amsterdam, to be back in the states on Friday, needed the shoot to be completed Saturday and the files delivered by Sunday so that he can then forward to his editor and be in the editor's hands by Monday. Piece of cake, right?

Here is where the stress starts to build. The corrosive juices in my upper GI tract begin to slowly rise up in to my esophagus. Yep, it has begun. The birth of the shoot.

Here's all that I knew at that given moment. Erik had discovered me by a few degrees of separation. Someone who knows someone who knows me. Things often happen like that and it is important to make these new relationships flourish as new opportunities can arise. I digress.

So my background on Erik was nothing more than the email sitting at the top of my inbox. I knew only that he worked for SAP, was having an article published on a very large scale and needed some corporate headshots ASAP.

The clock was ticking and I needed to do my homework on Erik. What type of portrait was he looking for? Something clean and basic, seamless backgrounds? Environmental? If environmental where would, where could, we shoot? Immediately, I envisioned a server room, lots of lights and technology.

I began picking his brain a bit by asking these questions in my return email. Erik replied by stating he preferred the clean seamless background. This helped narrow things down in my head. Now, I have no idea what Erik looks like, if he is dark skinned, light skinned, bald, hairy, tall, short, wide, lanky, or whatever. I was clueless. Not that these things matter too much, that is where you improvise on the fly. I was trying to think of a color background to choose. I really wanted to hang up some black seamless and throw some light on it to brighten it up a bit. I then thought about what type of paper the article would be printed on. Fact of the matter was, I didn't know but I did know that a large amount of black on certain stock can look crappy. All of these are things going through my mind leading up to the shoot.


Friday afternoon was spent exchanging emails with Erik. We still have not officially spoken to each other but with some bantering back and forth via messages, I could tell immediately that we would get along just fine.

Final messages included an attached proposal (the formalities are never fun) and some directions. Never assume that a client knows what to do or what to bring when it comes to the actual gig. Working with Erik was a perfect example of why never to assume. I had advised Erik to bring multiple wardrobe changes. He later explained that he had never thought to bring more than one outfit to the shoot.

The day flew by and bed time neared. As with all shoots, I do a thorough gear check. I went out to a bodega to load up on (overpriced) AA batteries. I wasn't sure how old my Pocketwizard batteries were so I felt it would be best to trash them and work with a fresh set.

I charged the camera batteries and made sure the LAN was operational as I would be working tethered to my MacBook Pro, allowing Erik to see his posing and expressions. Tethering is priceless for shoots such as this.

All gear checked. Time for bed.

Saturday, Shoot Day

The shoot would take place at my digs, where I convert the space to a studio. I opted to go with the seamless white background throwing little light on it, giving it that gray look you see in the image above. I feel it's a very classy look for this type of portrait, classy yet stylish.

I had the "studio" set in about an hour. For lighting I decided to use only the 28 inch Westcott Apollo, my favorite light mod these days. That would work as my key and to bring up the shadows a bit on the other side, I placed a 45 inch brolly, sans strobe, to bounce a tad of the Apollo light.

Doing the illuminating would be a single Vivitar 285HV, gelled with a 1/4 CTO. The quarter CTO gel is a default on all of my headshot work. I love the life it brings to the palest of skin. Not too much, not too little. If it did get them too warm, I could always cool down the Kelvin a bit in the Adobe Camera RAW editor.

After setting up, I then pulled out the Pocketwizards, threw one on camera and one on the strobe. Tested the triggers and everything was a go.

After this was all ready, I pulled out the Feisol carbon fiber tripod system. I don't use tripods often but for this particular shoot, I really wanted to work with the subject's posing routine and focus less on technicals. Once I set up the sticks, I then mounted the camera and dialed in an exposure that was getting the background a nice rich gray, 18% if I had to say.

Once everything was dialed in I then pulled out the ethernet cable and tethered the camera. I set the Nikon D4 to automatically obtain an IP address and I then entered that info into my MacBook Pro. Bammo! Let the tethering begin!

Taking a step back, it was a thing of beauty. I just love seeing the home converted into a studio. The wife doesn't like it, which is why she departs for those shoots but I effing love it!

With the strobe firing 1/4 power, I had the camera dialed to f/5.6, ISO 200 and a sync of 1/250. From experience, I knew this was just about the exposure I would need. Once Erik would arrive, I would then tweak, if necessary, by moving the light closer or further (inverse square law) or by opening or closing the aperture a bit.

At 1p.m., on the dot, Erik arrived, as scheduled. Before getting to work, we sat down and got to know each other. I could immediately deduce from his accent that he hailed from Germany. Although we were born thousands of miles apart and study very different things, we were actually very similar in our thought processes. In a matter of minutes I knew that I could sit and have beers with this guy. He was aces in my book.

I wanted to dig a little deeper. Where and for what were the photos to be published? Erik explained that the article he has written will be in multiple publications, likely in February. As for the content of this article? All I can divulge from this SAP solutions architect is that whatever he wrote is somewhat a global innovation, groundbreaking. You'll just have to read the article when published in early 2013. I won't spill any secrets here. There are some unwritten ethics involved in photography. A client may tell you all their dirty little secrets but that doesn't mean you can go spilling the beans with no regards on how that may affect or effect the other party. As Peter Hurley says, it's 10% photographer and 90% therapist.

So, after a short while of getting to know each other, it was time to get to work. We had about two hours to nail the conservative corporate shot that he was looking for. That would be plenty of time to get him comfortable posting in front of the camera.

Erik brought with him, three suits. Once getting properly dressed, he walked in front of the camera. And just like many, glaring down the end of that lens and being in front of large lighting equipment, he froze up like a deer in the headlights. I anticipated this as with most people, if they don't model for a living, tend to get a bit stiff in front of the camera. It's the photographer's job to cure them of this affliction.

In less than five minutes, I had my exposure dialed in. My job now was to do nothing more than direct Erik, to get him comfy in front of the camera.

First things first, music. I like to set the mood a bit with some choices from the iTunes. Ok, that sounded a bit creepy but you know what I meant. As Erik and I shared many similarities, I thought that he would like my music picks. To start things off, I put on the Rock and Rolla soundtrack, a film by Guy Ritchie. If you haven't seen it, it's a must. As for the soundtrack, it simply kicks ass.

We began work. Slowly but surely, Erik gained comfort and confidence in front of the camera. It was as if he had spent years modeling for GQ magazine. Ok, maybe that was a bit far fetched but fact of the matter is, as we progressed through the shoot, I could see his level of comfort consistently progress, frame after frame.

After three or more wardrobe changes and a couple hundred frames, we wrapped. It was just before 3p.m. and Erik had nailed it. We had plenty of awesome frames to work with. I couldn't wait to start processing these files.

After we wrapped, I explained to Erik my workflow, how I would then process and deliver the final images. Sure, all that jargon is in the proposal but I like to personally explain things since some people avoid reading contracts and such, in their entirety.

We parted ways, Erik on to wherever it was he was off to and as for myself, it was the least fun part of any shoot, breaking down all of the equipment. Besides just being a butt load of work, it saddens me to see the studio get put away. In that world of farting rainbows and pooping butterflies, I'd have my king sized bed right in the middle of a studio, lighting the bed with giant octas and beauty dishes. Too much? I thought so.

At the end of the day, I popped open a nice bottle of Abbaye de Rocs Grand Cru, a fine Belgian Ale. Erik and I had discussed our taste for fine brews and I decided to indulge with some nice bottles that evening.


Those who don't know think that with photography, the brunt of the work is finished. Simply shoot and deliver beautiful photographs. Little do they know that there is so much more involved. The steps involved to prepare and post produce is easily 85% of the work, if not more.

I'm not getting into the post production techniques of these images, I've already typed too much. My fingers hurt. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome acting up.

Needless to say, by early Sunday afternoon I delivered the final images to Erik via an online service called We Transfer, a website that allows for the transfer of large files, those which cannot be emailed. We Transfer allows for the transfer of 2GB per send. I highly recommend We Transfer, it's free and it rocks!

By the way, when Erik's article is finally released, I will be sure to share with everyone. Stay tuned.

Until next time...