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When You Have to Wing It

What do you do when you have to wing it during a shoot and you have little or no prior information?

Making it up as you go along is one of the most pressure-filled experiences you will have as a photographer. But remember, travel photogs and photojournos do it, so if they can, so can you.

The key is to be open and prepared for all the possibilities. One key to being able to wing it on location is to have all your gear ready. If it’s a portrait photoshoot, you need to pack all the light equipment you think you might need, something which you learn from experience, and once you’re on location, you need to summon every ounce of your creative problem solving to make your images work.

Here are some tips for when you have to make it up as you go along.

Don’t pack light.

I mean, weight-wise. For a shoot I did for a magazine cover, I brought six lights, so I would have twice as many as I needed in case something happened and some units failed. In the middle of the shoot at the location, a half-finished boutique hotel, there was a tour of the premises for a group of about ten employees. As they walked through the room where we were shooting, one of them knocked down one of my lightstands and the strobe and receiver attached to it broke into pieces as they hit the floor. I didn’t have time to stop except to glare at the offending person; I quickly removed the broken equipment to look at later, and replaced them with backup items.

Bring all kinds of light shapers, just in case.

I also brought a lot of light shapers. Good thing, because I had to do a reasonably wide portrait including the environment. The walls were dark, especially the black granite with the hotel logo which absolutely had to be in the shot. I couldn’t use a softbox because it would create a large reflection on the black granite. Also, I wanted to use the mirror in the shot, and had to have lighting that included the clothing, face, and everything else in its range. To light the subject’s face and clothes and have some nice fall-off around her, I attached a honeycomb grid to one strobe and used the mirror to reflect some of that light to light the environment.

Vachini Kraikrish for Muse Hotel Copyright Aloha Lavina.

A honeycomb grid made this shot possible. Copyright Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

Create the look using the environment.

For another shoot, I had never been to the location. All I knew was, the client wanted the photos to look ‘mysterious.’ So while the model was going through makeup and hair styling, I walked around with a flash unit and lit it at various rooms in the location. Even the bathroom. The bathroom had a ledge with some candles on it, so I decided to light the candles to create separation between the subject and the wall. Then I used one light to light the model and the jewelry for which this image was a branding shot.

House of Jarvis jewelry Copyright Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

Scouting the location on the spot with a flash unit helped with this one. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Bring a range of focal lengths.

I’ve preached about the advantages of using just one lens, but at times when you have to wing a shoot, you don’t want to be caught without a focal length that will give you the images you need. Bringing a range of different focal lengths makes sure you have the right lens for the shot you want.

One of the questions I always ask before a shoot is, what type of shots does the client need? Usually you will be asked to do a variety of shots, for example, some wide full body shots with environment included, half-body shots, and closeup shots. This range means you might be using from 24mm to 85mm. When I am shooting for a jewelry company, I always ask if they want product closeups as well. If they do, I remember to pack my 105mm macro and 60mm macro lenses along with the 24mm-85mm range.

Aysha with necklace copyright Aloha Lavina.

Bring a range of focal lengths when you don't know the types of shots you'll be making. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Bring useful accessories that have nothing to do with lighting or lenses.

I always bring safety pins, hairpins, double clips of varying sizes, and clamps, and bungee balls with me. Safety pins are useful for clamping down dresses that are too big. Hairpins take care of hair that’s stubbornly distracting in a shot. Double clips are good for holding up reflectors if you don’t have an assistant. And the most useful accessory for me is the bungee ball. It’s elastic and attaches around objects, so I can place flash units onto poles, branches and other objects when it’s awkward or impossible to use a lightstand.

Winging it might not be advisable for a portrait photographer, but if you absolutely have to make it up as you go along, it is not impossible. With thorough preparation, you too can create on the spot.

 

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You might also like:
From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively
Finding Good Photos Where They Hide

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About Aloha

I am a photographer and writer currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. My work has appeared in CNNGo, Canon's PhotoYou magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Korea Times, Thailand Tatler, and a few photography books including recently Blogging for Creatives, a book published in the UK. I believe there is nothing you cannot imagine that you cannot do.

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