I could write a book and fill it with the amount of mistakes I made when starting out in photography. In fact I just might. Being underprepared for my first fashion campaign shoot was a traumatic experience I don’t want to repeat in a hurry.
But the biggest mistake I made over and over was overcomplicating things. I was obsessed with buying another lens or another light or another filter or another… You get the picture.
I also struggled to achieve a consistent style with my photography. I just didn’t understand how many photographers achieved a distinct look that was their own. Bear with me because these 2 seemingly unrelated issues are connected.
Fast forward to today. What if I told you I managed to build a thriving photography business using the same lens and the same 1 light setup 80% of the time? I’m going to speak up now for those of you in the back:
If you are struggling to achieve a consistent style and struggling with confidence when you are shooting – KEEP IT SIMPLE. Try sticking with one light setup and one lens.
If you look at some of the most iconic photographer’s in the world – Helmut Newton and Annie Leibowitz for example. Both of them mainly use the same light setup and look for a lot of their work. If you analyse Helmut Newton’s work closely, most of the women he photographed also had the same hairstyle and makeup as well.
When I first started shooting model tests for modelling agencies I struggled to make a set of pictures have a consistent look and feel. I also struggled with confidence. I didn’t have a lot of experience with studio equipment and I didn’t have much experience directing models. It’s pretty terrifying starting out. I would try and do too much. I thought a test would have to have 5 completely different lighting styles. So I would try and do that and not really achieve any of them properly.
Fast forward to today. I have a thriving photography business, the core of which is headshots and personal branding imagery. My clients come from the corporate sector, headshots for company websites as well as portraits of CEO’s and company executive teams for press and websites etc.
And 80% of this work is done with the same lens and the same light setup.
Yep. My go-to light is a large (180cm) white brolly. It’s a large flattering light and makes people look great. It’s also reasonably forgiving. If the subject moves a little from their mark they will still be well exposed. And the lens I mainly use is a Canon 100mm f/2.8L.
Does this mean you shouldn’t experiment with new light setups? Hell no! Does this mean you have to make your photos all the same? Also no. But do your experiments on your own time not clients time if you can avoid it.
See these images below? They all look different yes, but have a cohesive style? Same light used in every image.
I went with a photographer friend David Broadway to a photography exhibition by Richard Avedon in Perth, Western Australia. We were in the presence of genius. As we feasted on these works David suddenly exclaimed, “These picture aren’t about the light! The light is really simple. They are about the personality of the subject”.
Yes of course light matters in photography. But a perfectly lit, boring subject is still a boring subject and a boring photograph. Worry about your ideas just as much if not more than the lighting. Work your arse off making a genuine connection with your subject. My main goal in any shoot is to have fun and enjoy the moment. SEE the person in front of you and connect with them in any way you can – humour, empathy, kindness or even sadness. Never forget it’s a person with all the same fears as yourself.
Browse the web and you will see a million (billion?) boring as hell, perfectly lit photos. Don’t get me wrong, I take a lot of boring photos as well, but always try and do better.
Look at this image. On the surface it’s just a picture of a woman in a high heel shoe. The lighting is simple, the composition is simple. However, this image is an iconic fashion photograph. There’s subtext – the heel of the shoe digging into the woman’s achilles is subversive. It adds a darkness to an otherwise simple photograph.
If you want to see some more of my work, be sure to check out me website by clicking on the image below. We’ll help you elevate your online presence with our personality driven headshots and personal branding imagery.