OK pros we (read I ) need your help.
Some of you may know that I am slowly trying to make my way into the photography business. I started shooting some leagues this summer and have started selling some prints. The feedback that I have received here has been invaluable and I appreciate everyone's help. I hope that I give back as much as I have learned. Now, I did mention slowly right? I had no plans of doing this anytime soon, but I have now been asked to shoot team and individual portraits for one (er make that two now) of the teams in the flag football league that I shoot. I have only been doing the action shots so far. Apparently the coaches will not be able to make the original date of the schedule shoots with the league's studio. So the league has asked if I would be interested in doing the shoots, on about 2 weeks notice. I gladly accepted (will that be the death of me?).
I have been researching as much as I can and talking to the league director about what he wants me to have available. First, he is aware that this is my first time doing portraits and that I likely won't have everything down pat my first time. Luckily his team is one of the teams needing photos. His shoot will be first so that he can help me with anything I need.
So this is where you guys come in. I have searched POTN and Google to my wits end and while there is lots of info out there, it is spread over the entire internet and not easily presentable. With this in mind I want to create a FAQ to help not only myself, but the various others that succumb to my fate. Please feel free to add any helpful info that you can think of or tell me that I am off my rocker. I will do my best to keep the first page updated or maybe create a PDF eventually of all the info.
EDIT: Some of this has been updated as per the discussion on the following pages.
We all know that we need gear to take the pics. But how much do we need? Let's start with the essentials and then add some other items which might take us to the next level.
Camera - If you are looking at this sight then you probably are using digital. If not, then you should go get one. While today's technology is digital I noticed a lot of labs that still offer services to film photographers in my research. So if all you have is a film camera you are fine. A digital camera will offer you more options, but film will work. It is much easier to see your results and retake the shot right away if needed than it is to track down the individual or team and re-shoot. A backup camera would be a very good idea as well. Sure you could ask the parents to come back out but do you really want to?
Lens - Individual portraits are best served by a lens with a standard to short telephoto effective focal length. Anything from 50-135 mm will work fine. Longer lenses would also work and if your backgrounds are busy you might go longer to try and blur them. For team photos you will need a wider lens. The focal length here will vary based on your team size. A standard zoom (24-70 for FF, or 17-50 for APS-C) should do the trick.
Tripod and remote release – This is a preference thing, but there are pros and cons to each. Having a tripod to keep the camera steady would be very beneficial. If you are planning on using one make sure you have a good tripod and find some way to stabilize it or even secure it to the ground. The remote release ensures that you don’t move the camera during the exposure. It also allows you to see the subject and background better while taking the picture, while giving your subject a better view of you (if you look funny like I do it might help them smile).
The tripod can limit you though. Some prefer to move around since not every child is the same size. You could also knock the tripod over which would be very bad.
Flash and Flash Bracket– A flash is one item that you don’t necessarily need, but it could dramatically improve your photos of the light is harsh. The flash can fill in shadows and add some separation between your subject and the background. The bracket is something to help keep the flash in the best orientation for taking the pictures. Having the flash above the lens will yield more natural results and lessen the chance of red eye.
Here are some other items that would take your shots to the next level.
Light Meter – Want to nail your exposures? An incident meter is the way to go. Take a reading, dial in your settings and shoot, shoot, shoot with confidence.
Studio lights – Speedlights could also work here but the idea is to get them off-camera and use modifiers like umbrellas or softboxes to improve the light quality. If you use studio lights you will also need a source of power so keep that in mind. It would also be best to use a wireless method to fire the strobes. Wires can easily be tripped on. Pocket Wizards are the most reliable outdoors.
Each sport requires a different pose or poses. Have a sheet with a couple of poses for each child to choose. Props might also be required like a football, soccer ball, or baseball bat. Make sure the coach brings any of these items to the pictures. Scheduling the shoot the same day as a practivce or game makes this a no bariner. Place the player so that their back is toward the sun. This will keep the player from squinting and help to reduce any shadows, as well as adding a nice rim light affect around the player. This is also where your flash comes in handy to help illuminate your subject to the same exposure as your background.
For team shots situate the team so that each row of players has a different number. Staggering the players will eliminate the head on top of head look and is visually more appealing. Have the coaches kneel if possible so that they are not giants compared to the players. This will also yield a much better shot with less dead space which will fill the frame better in the long run. The easiest ways to lineup the players is “by the numbers” or alphabetically by last name, or by height. Make adjustments once you have the players lined up if necessary. To minimize the number of players with their eyes closed have them all close their eyes, count to three and open them. Fire the shot right after they open their eyes.
This is going to depend on your lighting situation, backgrounds, and focal length. But one thing for certain is to stick with Manual mode on your camera. Manual mode will allow your exposures to be the same from start to finish (providing there is not a drastic change in your lighting). For backlit subjects start with f/8, 1/200, and ISO 100. Take a test shot BEFORE your players get there and adjust based on the histogram. If using flash start with FEC at 0 and adjust accordingly.
It has been mentioned that blurring the background is better. Again, this is a personal choice. If your background is distracting then make sure you select a combination of focal length, aperture, and distance to subject to create the DOF you are after. It might help to consult a DOF calculator. A proper combination can make all the difference.
For group shots move to f/11 and adjust your other settings accordingly.
You need to find a method to keep up with the players and their pictures. One of the easiest methods is to make sure the players number is visible on their uniform and have that number on their order form. But what if they don’t have numbers visible? You might use a numbered card, take a “pre-shot” with the player holding the numbered card and then write that number on their order form. Use envelopes if possible to keep order forms and your numbered cards separate. Some cameras can record a voice memo. After each player’s picture is taken you can record their name. Also record your voice saying their name so that you can make sure you understand it. Have a roster on hand so that you can keep up with which players have been shot. Make indicators for those that are absent. This way you are not running around trying to figure out where this player or that player’s shots are. If you can have an assistant do all the paperwork that is an added bonus. Make sure they are familiar with your packages and can answer questions from the parents. They can also collect your money, so make sure they can add! You don’t want to be giving away product. Bring a table with you and keep extra pens, paper, calculator, stapler, envelopes, business cards, etc in a Tupperware container.
There are tons of labs out there and all of them are different. In my research I found that there were a few things I wanted to make sure were available. Be on the lookout for these:
Good Customer Service - Make sure that the lab you plan to use wants you to be a customer. These places will be quick to respond to you (and I do not mean an automated email response). They should also be quick to answer your questions and of course be courteous.
Image Quality - Make sure you test out the products before you commit. Most labs offer some free or reduced price samples. Get some. Several also offer counter displays for you to use as marketing tools.
Software - Just about every lab uses different software for the ordering process. Download them and try them out. They are usually free if you become a customer or have trial periods until you open an account. Make sure it is easy to use and that the company provides support. One place I found offered a training course, for $250 a day locally, or $1500 plus expenses for onsite. If I need training for the ordering software it likely has lots of options or is difficult to use. Find out by asking the customer service department.
Products and Pricing - The labs all have their own specialty items but most have the necessities. Make sure you get a catalog and price list. Is shipping included? Individual packaging? How are the prices compared to other labs? How will the price affect your packages you are offereing to your customers?
Getting Your Prints to the Lab - How do you get your prints to the lab? Mail a CD or DVD? FTP upload? These things are important. I don't want to mail anything if I don't have to. I like uploading my orders. Does the software process include the uploading or do I have to order through their website? Can I do both?
Turn Around - How fast is the lab at printing my images? Some of the labs said 2-3 weeks. Some offer next day. Some vary depending on the time of year! Make sure you understand this before committing to both your customers and to the lab. Telling the customer 2-3 weeks and it taking 4-5 is bad for business.
Shipping - How fast does the lab ship after printing? Next day, next week? What type of shipping do they use? FedEx, UPS, DHL, Mail? Next day, 2nd say, ground? Hoe much? Is it included in the pricing? Extra? What packing do they use? Envelopes so my prints get bent? Boxes? Each lab varies with the best being included in the price and Next Day FedEx using boxes.
Here are a few labs I found while looking.
www.millerslab.com Another good candidate. I have heard good things about Miller’s and have requested an account so that I can see what prices and products they have available. EDIT: I am using them for my first two attempts. They seem great to work with.
www.foto-sports.com They seem expensive and want total control of everything, right down to what sheets you use for your customers.
www.sports-america.com They seem to have a pretty good system, with step by step instructions for their software, live online assistance, and good prices. I have a catalog coming.
Some other POTN Threads:
I am sure there is a lot more that needs to be added. As I mentioned before I will try to update this post as new info gets added to the thread.