Facebook friends photo shoot, part 1/2

Facebook friends photo shoot Joel

If you’ve been a follower of this blog you know I’m now on staff with a former client, working at the convergence of internet, photography, and video. I still find time to do my own personal photography, though, and a recent shoot involving some Facebook friends was a fun and educational experience, one worth sharing on the blog, I thought.

There were two main reasons I wanted to photograph Facebook friends.

  1. Photo aspect – I felt like photographing portraits and needed a few subjects. Being connected to literally hundreds of people on Facebook provided a great resource, one worth tapping into.
  2. Social aspect – the word “friends.” Do we define friends differently in this day and age of rampant social media? What is a friend?

Putting out the call

First, a web page describing the shoot was created and posted on my personal blog. Over the next two weeks I linked to this page a couple of times through Facebook updates. Some interested responses came in immediately and some didn’t filter in until a day or so before the shoot. And, of course, there were the “can you do this another time/special request” questions, but the premise was really simple: I had the studio for one weekend only and the photos would be of Facebook friends, only.

I decided to cap the number of sittings at ten and scheduled them fairly evenly over the two-day period. It turned out to be a good number, large enough to satisfy the intentions of the shoot but small enough that we could take our time.

Photo/technical aspect

Wouldn’t you know, the week prior to the shoot turned out to be exceedingly busy, with not much time to think about the set up. On Saturday morning I headed to Daylight Photo with only a loose plan in mind.

My initial intention was to bounce a bunch of light into a side wall and not worry about the lighting too much – just take what it gives me and work mainly on the interaction with the subject. When I entered the studio (after a few month absence) I was reminded that the only solid side wall was covered with cabinets and other obstructions. That’s not good for bouncing light. Time for Plan B.

Out came the strobes and a couple of soft boxes, a 24” x 36” medium for the main light and an 18” x 24” small for the hair light, set directly opposite one another. Maybe I’d play with the lighting a bit more than originally intended, I decided.

The plan for working with the subjects was simple – give them a starting point and then let them be themselves. There were three basic set ups during the shoot: a stool to sit on, standing, and sitting at a table, and a wide roll of gray seamless paper served as the backdrop.

Each shoot was scheduled for half an hour but probably ended up taking 45-60 minutes. Once a subject arrived we’d talk for quite a while, then move through the basic set ups rather quickly, spending 5-10 minutes on each. Our conversations continued all the way out into the parking lot after each shoot was finished.

As far as technical details go, most of the fiddling was done with a large (4′ x 8′) foamcore panel on the shadow side of each subject. This is all pretty standard stuff for studio photographers: black foamcore was used to subtract light, making dark, dramatic shadows, and white foamcare filled in light and softened shadows. I played with both on each subject and am glad that I did. Soft light can be beautiful but when does it become too soft (and all definition is lost)? And at what point does hard light go from strikingly beautiful to simply harsh? I have a good sense for what works best but this allowed me to push those edges on a number of subjects, in a no-pressure situation. And if we’re not continually pushing the boundaries of what we know (or what we think we know), then we’re not learning, are we?

The camera was a Nikon D90, with either the 18-70 Nikkor zoom or the Nikkor 85mm f1.8. The 18-70 was once a standard Nikon kit lens but it remains one of my personal favorites. I find it very versatile for general photography but there’s noticeable distortion at each end of the range, so it’s not ideal for architectural subjects.

Most shots were done with the lens stopped down to f14-16, a very small aperture. Yes, shooting wide open can be beautiful but I prefer that look with natural light. When shooting in the studio with strobe power I prefer the safe route, stopping far down so depth of field isn’t a concern. I know the lenses are sharp at that aperture and there’s little risk of something important falling out of focus, so no matter how fast we’re shooting or changing things up, focus is a non-issue.

All post-production was done in Lightroom 3, which handles 95% of my image making workload (a free trial download is available from Adobe). A minimum of retouching is done  to retain a natural look.

That’s it for the technical stuff. As far as studio shoots go, it was a fairly typical two-light set up with minimal post-production.

Next up: in next Tuesday’s post we’ll look at the social aspects of the shoot and my search to define “friend” in the age of social media.

- Jim T.