Monday, April 27, 2015

Personal Branding Portrait of a Real Estate Agent

Our first final shot: frame #89

Real estate agent (specifically, an Ecobroker for Green Real Estate) and actress Judy Coffey is another entrepreneur who sometimes uses her home as an office. Once I'd scouted her (actually authentic converted warehouse) loft condo I knew we had the perfect location for an environmental shoot...really stylishly and contemporarily decorated interior, enough space to move around in and allow me and my camera some distance from the subject (her) so we could use a flattering focal length lens, and west facing facing window with lots of light at the right time of day, which we could use or not depending on what worked. 

Here above is the main shot we were going for. But how did we get to this?

Let me show you where we started:

First outfit we tried, no lights yet

If we were doing a moody personal portrait to put in a scrapbook or personal blog or something we could be almost there, but for a professional, branding image that is going to shout to the world how into, and on top of her professional world Judy is, we had a ways to go. 

First off, the sweater is a bit casual, and beige. We had thought something blue might provide a pleasing pop of colour, but we didn't love the texture of the blue jacket available. We loved the delicate silk fabric in the third top below, but thought it likely wouldn't "read" upscale and professional-agent-appropriate but rather look just too loose and cas.

Five different tops we thought might work

So what did we do? (See pics below) We went back to the sweater one more time with light! Nope. Still not happening. We did really like the fourth blouse but it was looking a bit risque. So we tried it again. It was not going to work if Judy had to hold it shut. So we steamed it and styled it and ta-da! It worked. Then we added a bit more lip colour, which we realized almost instantly was actually too much lip colour, so we took it back down, and we were almost ready to really shoot. 

Back to the sweater, again? No, the blouse, but... Whoa...too much lipstick!

Except that we had not yet finessed the props and greenery to my satisfaction. We turned the lily around and around  trying to get just the right amount of green in the shot but it just wasn't the right shape, so we moved it right out of the shot, and moved in a smaller more delicate leafed plant on a small table just behind the dining table. And then proceeded to move it and turn it and move it and turn it until it was in just the right spot for the crop I had, by this point, decided worked best. Then we just needed to add in something where the lily had been so we took a tall, decorative vase of twigs from the corner of the living room and positioned it there. That fit perfectly and filled in the empty space just enough to add texture without being distracting. 

Jude laughs as we figure out what to do with her hands.

Now it was just a matter of settling on the right props (we didn't like the cordless phone so we switched to a cell), hand position, head position, and eyeline, and then getting the right expression...happy, self-possessed, comfortable and ostensibly spontaneous! In some cases there is lots of flexibility in terms of head position, but that said, there is also, quite often, a limited range of positions within which the person looks the "prettiest". In this case, the lighting was set up to look most flattering when Judy looked well off camera axis, so we could capture a somewhat candid looking "moment" at which she looked up to greet a make believe client. If we'd wanted to photograph her looking at the camera we would have changed the angle of the lighting considerably to contour and flatter her face at that angle.

In any case, by the 89th frame we had it (see the pic at the top of this post)! 

Satisfied with the sitting shot we then moved on to the shot I had actually originally wanted to do first: what I had envisioned as sort of an action shot featuring Jude moving toward her client to greet her and shake her hand. Jude and I both burst out laughing at the first test shot:

Jude as a robot or Michael Jackson

 I hadn't moved the lighting yet, so it was way too dramatic, and Jude looked like she was conjuring Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk. After choosing and testing new wardrobe, relighting, and a few more tests with various props, we tried having her walk towards her imaginary client to offer her a cup of tea. That actually looked pretty good, so we checked and locked camera focus, then did a few speed and position tests to determine how fast she needed to walk so that her motion would "read" without too much blur, and at what point she would be in the middle of the frame, in focus, with her swinging arm in a nice position.

We could have shot looser and followed her with focus as she moved, but we would have run the risk of a bunch of uncontrolled variables compromising the overall quality of the shot, for example the lighting looking less optimal, arm swing looking awkward, or background elements either partially appearing or disappearing or looking misplaced within the frame relative to Jude. The challenge is to get multiple elements right at the same time. One way is to shoot hundreds of frames and search through them hoping for a good one. Another, which I prefer with a shoot like this, is to determine what is going to look best and focus on getting that, while still allowing for small variations that may add that little extra spark of unexpected greatness. Furthermore, this was one of those times when shooting a plate made sense (ie. taking a picture of the scene without Jude in it) which is best done with a camera locked in place, and with focus locked, so that if I needed to retouch something like hair flyaways it would be relatively easy. (There were and it was.)

Frame #109, fourth last frame of the day

By the end of our afternoon shoot, the sunlight we had been hoping for was shining in, gloriously bright and unobstructed. It kind of made us want to shoot a more, but we had what we needed and our time was up! 

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