I intended to write a retrospective after every shoot, but there are always so many things to do after and between sessions…
- Unpack the Jeep
- Download photos and videos
- Review and cull all of the photos and videos
- Set up proofing galleries for clients to select the photos they want
- Edit and retouch the photos
- Create new galleries for clients to review the first edit
- Re-edit photos if client requests it
- Find new clients
- Contact previous clients
- Schedule and plan new sessions
- Update my website
- Work on marketing materials (ads, newsletters, email campaigns, etc.)
- Post samples on social media
- Select and prepare Patreon rewards
- Edit videos
- Scout outdoor locations for future shoots
- And more…
I also have a day job, and I like to spend time with my wife. And I need to take time out for myself too. So, I’m always busy and never get enough sleep.
But, since that first session with a model back in October 2017, I’ve had eight sessions… two in November, one in December, two in February, two in March, and one in April.
So, after those eight shoots, have my photography and editing skills improved? In a word… ABSOLUTELY! Let’s revisit the lessons learned from my first photoshoot with a model and see how I’ve improved since then.
[Editor’s Note: My workflow has changed dramatically since I originally wrote this blog post. It doesn’t mean I’m any less busy. Some things in the above list were eliminated, while new things were added. Also, I’ve improved upon everything even more since this blog post was published.]
The Lessons Learned & The Improvements I Made
Lesson #1: Work Quickly But Don't Rush
This is no longer a problem. This problem was mostly because it was my first photo shoot, and I didn’t want anyone to tell us we couldn’t shoot at the location without a permit, which I didn’t get. The other outdoor locations at which I’ve shot were public locations [Valley of Fire State Park, Las Vegas Arts District and Las Vegas Strip] where I didn’t have to work quickly. The rest of the sessions were indoors. One was in the “public” areas at the M Resort, but not in the gaming area. We were approached by someone on staff of the M Resort, but she just asked us to move to a different spot as the area we were in was reserved for a conference that was beginning. The other four sessions were in hotel or Airbnb suites I rented, so we had all night to shoot [one shoot went until 3:00 AM… I didn’t get home until 5:00 AM… but we also started very late].
Lesson #2: Expose for the Subject, Not the Scene
I haven’t shot in areas with a super bright background very much since that first session, but I started taking a few test shots to fine tune the correct exposure settings before beginning the actual session. I do this with every setting, even within the same hotel suite since the lighting changes for spot to spot. So that’s something that I do now as a result of this lesson. Even so, I should buy a light meter to read the light and suggest exposure settings so I don’t have to take test shots.
[Editor’s Note: I have since acquired a light meter. I use it in unfamiliar locations, but not so much in my home studio where I know the light.]
Lesson #3: Move Around the Subject More
I’ve gotten better about this. I move around a lot more, including kneeling, sitting, lying down, standing on furniture, step stools, ladders, and counters to get better angles and interesting shots. I also break a photography rule occasionally, which is to level the scene in the photograph, by tilting the camera one way or the other. This gives a different perspective to the photo. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But, hey, it’s digital so why not!
Lesson #4: Don't Be Afraid to Direct [Coach] Your Model
I think I needed more experience shooting and watching how models move and pose while I’m shooting before I could give direction. So I didn’t really start doing more of this until the last two sessions with Damsel Doll. I started with some suggestions to reduce the tension in her face and hands. On the next session, I suggested that she not freeze when I started shooting and to change facial expressions and move instead. I also suggested some poses during our last session. I definitely need to continue working on this, but I’m making progress with every session and by watching photographers who upload videos of their sessions on YouTube.
[Editor’s Note: Since publishing this blog post, I’ve started specializing in boudoir photography. In my marketing, I target the everyday woman and don’t work with professional models as often anymore. So I do a lot of coaching now. I demonstrate every pose, have them copy it, then fine tune it by explaining where they should put their arms, legs, hands, and feet, how to adjust their hair, outfit, jewelry, and props, if used, where to look, what facial expression I want, etc. I am now trying to learn how to elicit emotional expressions. and responses.]
Lesson #5: Make Small Talk & Play Music
The small talk and chit chat is difficult for me… I never know what to talk about with someone I don’t know very well. So, one thing I’ve started doing is trying to meet with every new model in a public location, like Starbucks, to talk about the shoot and get to know one another a little bit. I find this helps break the ice and makes the beginning of the session a little less awkward. This helped a little during the session at the M Resort. If we can’t meet face to face, then I try to do this over a video call on Zoom.
I did go buy a Bluetooth speaker to play music during shoots. I generally let the model connect his/her phone to it and play whatever s/he wants since I try to use my phone to take behind the scenes photos using a Bluetooth remote. Generally, it’s not possible to connect to both the speaker and the remote at the same time. Plus, I think it’s better if the model controls the music. I think I’m going to also load music and streaming music apps on my iPad, so I can use my iPad for music.
Lesson #6: Better Focusing
This one was pretty easy to fix. Nowadays, I always use auto-focus, and I always make sure my camera is set to single point focus when shooting with models. Then, when I focus on the model I focus on one of the model’s eyes, or the bridge of the nose. This has helped get better focused photos and reduced the number of photos I had to toss because they were out of focus. I still do get photos where the focus on the eyes is a little soft, but I learned a technique for sharpening the eyes in Photoshop without overdoing it.
Lesson #7: Better Composition & Framing
I have gotten a lot better at this, including making sure there aren’t any distracting items in the background. Sure, I still miss stuff, but not nearly as much as before.
Lesson #8: Review Photos on the Back of the Camera More Frequently
I’ve improved in this area too, but sometimes it feels like I’m checking the back of the camera too often. There’s a balance I still seek. Along with this, I do sometimes forget to check the exposure graph in the camera when I change the exposure time or aperture. For me, it usually results in under exposed photos, but not so much that the photos are unusable. But I do need to remember to check and adjust more frequently.
Lesson #9: Use Continuous [Burst] Mode
I always shoot in continuous mode now. Along with that, I suggest that my models don’t freeze when I take the photos. If they do, I end up with five to seven photos of essentially the same shot. Instead I ask them to change facial expressions and move… slowly… move the head, hands, arms, legs, feet, body, and/or props if we’re using any. When the model complies, I get a variety of similar but different photos from each pose. More usable photos!
[Editor’s Note: I don’t use continuous mode all the time anymore as I’ve gotten better at coaching my models to give me what I’m looking for. Still, there are times when I will use it.]
Lesson #10: Avoid Hyper-focus
While I do still sometimes lose track of time while I’m shooting and go overtime on shoots, I’m not fully to blame. Models sometimes ask if we should keep going or stop. I almost always answer, “I’ll shoot as long as you want.” If the model wants to keep shooting, I will. I always need new, fresh content for my portfolio, but more importantly, I need to keep creating new content for my Patreon page, which I revamped recently and am only using model photography as rewards. That said, I really should set an alarm on my phone for 10-15 minutes before the session is supposed to end to let me know that time is almost up. And if we are doing a multiple set shoot, I could set a countdown timer for some length of time so that we know it’s time to change outfits/looks and/or settings for the next set.
Overall, I think I’ve made significant strides in improving my photographic skills over the past six months. I think my photos are much better than the photos from my first photo shoot with a model, even though I did get many very good photos from that shoot. That said, I know that there are still areas in which I definitely need more practice, especially directing [coaching] models, suggesting poses, facial expressions, placement of hands, legs, torso, head, booty, etc., better focusing, suggesting wardrobe, looks, makeup, hairstyles, and suggesting shoot themes.
What Have I Learned from the 7 Sessions Since that First Session?
I Don't Really Like Using External On-Camera Flash
I shot with external on-camera flash three times. Two shoots were at night. Despite all its lights, the Las Vegas Strip is darker than you think. I had to use flash there. I purposely pointed the flash away from the model and used a small diffuser/reflector to bounce some of the light from the flash back onto the model. It worked well. I did the same thing when I shot at the Las Vegas Arts District; many of those photos came out pretty good too. But the third time I used external on-camera flash was indoors at the M Resort. Flash wasn’t really necessary most of the time, and I wasn’t very happy with the results, but the client was insistent on shooting with it. Fortunately, she was happy with the results.
So, there are times when external on-camera flash is necessary, but I’d much rather shoot with natural light, continuous artificial light, or strobes. I will avoid using external on-camera flash whenever I can.
Continuous Artificial Lighting
My wife bought me two sets of studio lighting for some of my birthday/Christmas presents. I practiced setting them up before the first time I used them on a shoot, but I should have researched placement of the lights for best effect. As such, the lights weren’t as effective as I had hoped. In addition, I didn’t think to increase the camera sensor’s light sensitivity (ISO) which would have helped tremendously. But because I didn’t, I had to use a very slow shutter speed, which resulted in a lot of blurry, unusable photos. Since then, I’ve remembered to increase the ISO. I also bought a 50mm f/1.8 lens and a 35mm f/1.8 lens, which allows more light to enter the camera so I don”t have to push the ISO too high and end up having to deal with as much noise during editing.
Photo Editing & Beauty Retouching
Before shooting with models, I used Adobe Lightroom exclusively to edit my landscape, cityscape, wildlife, and astrophotography photos. And they came out very good. Even on my first three shoots with models, I didn’t use Photoshop for editing. But since then I’ve started using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to edit and retouch photos. My first attempts with Adobe Photoshop weren’t all that good, but I watched a lot of YouTube videos and now have a good grasp on retouching photos. I still can learn a lot more, but my photos look a lot better with what I’ve learned so far.
I Don't Have to Take Every Gig
I’ve shot a lot with Damsel Doll (unfortunately that relationship had to come to an end… not her fault at all), and hope to work again with Kraigen. But I want, and need, to work with other models too. So I posted a message that I am looking for models to work with in one or two of the photography Meetup groups of which I am a member. I got a couple of responses. One of those responses turned into a session, but it was a very boring shoot for me. My client was very specific in how she wanted me to shoot, allowing me virtually no opportunity to be creative. I wasn’t happy with the results. It was a TFP session, but it’s highly likely I will not be using any of the photos for my portfolio or anything else. I should have declined when she first contacted me and told me what she liked, but I didn’t think it would turn out the way it did. Lesson learned.
I Really Enjoy photographing people
I wasn’t sure if I’d like working with models or if I’d be any good at it. My wife mentioned several times after my first two or three shoots that she thought my non-model photography was much better. And it was, but I didn’t have much experience working with models at that point either. I wasn’t ready to abandon model photography. After all, we’ve invested some money on equipment: backdrop rigging, backdrops, artificial lighting kits, and more. So I felt I needed to stick with it a bit longer to see if I got better at it. I have so far, and along the way, I’ve found that I really enjoy model photography. There is so much creativity that goes with it, from selecting locations to helping models plan looks and outfits, deciding whether we should use props, deciding on set themes, and more. While planning a shoot is a lot of work, the creativity that goes into it is a lot of fun. And that makes the shoots a lot of fun too.
[Editor’s Note: In late 2018, I decided to specialize in boudoir photography. Best decision I made for my business so far. It is so rewarding. Not just financially, but I get a lot of joy watching women blossom right before my eyes. I see them gain confidence and self-esteem and realize they are beautiful and sexy when they see their photos 30-60 minutes after we finish shooting. It’s amazing.]
That's a Wrap!
I’ve learned a lot since my first shoot with a model in October 2017 and improved in virtually every facet of model photography: taking photos, working with models, editing and retouching, and using Photoshop. I know I can improve and learn a lot more, but I’m pleased with how far I’ve come in such a short time. I owe a big shout out to @zen_sgphoto and @laz_andrea for answering all my questions, making suggestions and more, and @Damsel_Doll and @Kraigen_Gaut for working with me on multiple occasions to help me practice and improve my skills.