Last Sunday was the 17th edition of the Grande Seance organized by Studio4Fun, a photography event taking place now almost every month. If you followed my blog a bit, you should know this is where I started portraiture almost 2 years ago. I have participated a few times as registered photographer and the past 4 as volunteer. I feel I can contribute more standing behind the scene, helping others get over technical bumps and eating free pizza. As usual, since a GS just concluded, I thought I should get a post about it. I have done a few already, praising the event and the benefits of them. There is one thing I never really wrote about though and it is what you should be doing during a Grande Séance.
You see, these events are really meant to get people to meet and make contacts. Being on the side lines all day, I noticed a few faux pas so I thought for this post, I should play Monday morning quarterback (although it is Friday… ok, Friday morning quarterback will do.). I am not criticizing anyone here. I have been lucky enough to participate to my 1st GS with a seasoned participant who dragged me around and gave glorified introductions of me as the photographer I wasn’t to models. I looked at the way he was working, duplicate that behavior and adapted it to what I am. I simply hope anyone participating in the Grande Séance and reading this might find a few pointers for the next one.
Here are the top 6 things you should consider as photographers for your future Grande Séance participation.
Don’t be late
This is an obvious. You are paying to participate. The cost of the event is still extremely affordable when you consider the logistics but still. When you arrive late, you miss part of the initial meeting explaining the day workflow. This might be a minor issue but it can go beyond that point. In the 1st minutes of the day, everyone is fresh, eager to start and curious to see who is there. Whether we like it or not, some association will be naturally formed just before the kickoff meeting. If you are late, you might end up by yourself in your own wolf pack. Do you really want to be Zach Galifianakis that day?
You will be in a closed and controlled environment. Not that much “unpredictable” to be considering when you pack your bags. If you think you need more than 2 lenses, think again. 2 should suffice, one should be enough. You will be shooting people so unless you really master that 10mm lens of yours, leave it home. People start looking visually normal at 35mm. With a 35mm, you might be in their face though so go maybe a bit longer if you can. 50mm, 70mm, 85mm are great. You have a zoom? Perfect. You will be walking around all day. The last thing you want to worry about is the camera bag you need to leave unattended while you are shooting. Pack light with only the essentials. You do not need flashes. Feel free to bring one but that should be enough for any “off the set” photos.
Your camera will rely on 2 things: memory and batteries. You should be able to evaluate how many photos you might be taking that day. If you are trigger happy, bring a lot of memory (really mean that). Otherwise, you will be chimping away all day at the camera trying to figure which photos can be tossed out so you can still shoot in the afternoon. For the batteries, make sure they are charged or bring a sketching pad and pencils. You will probably spend some time showing your photos to the models and other photographers. Turning the LCD on is the most power demanding action camera after live view and video recording.
No one wanted to sit next to the smelly kid in school. No matter what the toothpaste companies’ claim, breath freshness does wear out. You will be meeting people and a 1$ investment might prevent you from falling under the “you make my eyes watering” category.
Talk with people
This is probably the most important one. Well, you should really consider the gum for that one. You will be meeting people. There is a difference between meeting someone and coming across someone. You will be working with people during the event; talk with them. They don’t know you, you don’t know them. I have seen many photographers walking toward a model standing on a seamless, giving her basic instructions such as look at me, look at the flash, look at me again and finish up with “Thank you”… What about names? Does the model know who you are? Maybe the model does simply because you were wearing your name tag but that does not count.
Knowing a little bit about someone opens up vast opportunities. Yes, the models there are there to model. What if the model you are taking photos of is a ballet dancer in her/his day to day life? Rather than standing still and looking at you, the model could be pulling a ballet move.
Communication breaks barriers. Walk to the people who are standing inactive. Introduce yourself, ask how long they have been modeling, if they are part of an agency, what are their interests outside modeling. Ask for a business card; it shows interest. Keep in mind you are not there to find a date for dinner but showing a little bit of interest into the others will push these people to work with you.
During those events there are not only photographers and models but makeup artists and hair stylists. They are people too; they have feelings… Talk with them! The makeup standing between the models and your camera was put together by them. The models did not wakeup with these funky hair styles either. Without them, you would take photos of people looking like me! Believe me, not that exciting.
Get out of that box
Be you. The event is made in a way that most people don’t have to think too much. The reason is very simple; the less time you spend thinking about your lights and setup, the more time you have to work and meet people (tell me now that this is not worth the registration fees…). If you see a model working with a photographer and then it is your turn to take photos, should you ask the model to do exactly what she or he did with the other photographer?
“Hello, my name is Xerox”
Introduce yourself (if your name is Xerox, I apologize for the above example…) and tell the model you would like to try something. Reposition the model; get the model to do something different. It might not be totally different than what others did before but it will be coming from you. Look around, try different angles, and try shooting away from the lights even. Shoot against a window or a wall. Don’t be afraid to ask someone standing still and waiting to shoot on something else than a décor or seamless. Some sets have humongous light modifiers. If no one is using the setup, place a model in front of the light and shoot straight into it. In the end, this action will leave a mark on the model and the model will remember you for that. Leaving someone with a unique looking photo scores a lot of points.
Finally, have fun
It is not supposed to feel like you are getting your teeth pulled out. Sometimes the juice might not flow like we would like. When that happens, take a break, step back a little. Use that time to talk with others. Look at your photos and see if there is anything different you could be doing. Photography is supposed to be fun otherwise Hai Au would have called it Studio2Bore.
These events are opportunities and it is really up to each participant to pull what they need from those. It can be overwhelming sometimes, especially when it is the 1st participation you are in. Take it from me, I am shy by nature but forcing yourself to connect with others will benefit you more in the long run. If you concentrate only on the photoshoot, you will be missing all these opportunities that could be coming your way if you had just really met the other individuals rather than coming across them. There is more beyond the shoot that meets the mind.
Notes about me and volunteering at the GS: I was the dude with the bad hair do wearing a tuque all day. Although I am a volunteer worker for the GS, I still remain a photographer. I’ve always brought my camera to these events. I normally try to shoot some behind the scene because it is always nice for the organizers to see what is going on. I never shoot using the lights that are setup for the participants as it does not feel right to me to eat flash cycles when participants should be there instead. The only time you would see me with a trigger during the day is if a participant is experiencing issues with his triggering system. In addition to this, I take the camera with me to show others what I mean by getting out of the box. It is easy to tell someone to take a model and shoot against a surface that does not seem suitable for. Some just look at you like you are from another planet. In these cases, I pull out the camera and introduce myself to a model waiting for something to be happening.
“Hi, my name is Steph. I would like to try something. I want to shoot you with big bright light coming behind you. We can do this in front of this window. Can’t guaranty the results; we will see.”
Next thing you know there are 1 or 2 photographers standing behind me, curious to see what the heck I am getting as images. Then, my job is done. I move over, give them a ball park idea of the settings I am using and let them try. I did the same thing during the 16th GS when people were afraid of the green walls. Unless you try it, you won’t know.
These photos were not meant to be masterpieces. They all heavily back-lit and lit in the front by the lights hanging from the ceiling. I had to compensate so much for the brick wall and delivery truck standing behind the window, and the lack of available front reflector caused severe noise to slip in the shadows. Does it matter? For the final photo, yes, unfortunately. For the intent, no. It got photographers and model to do something and something different. I am sure there is now a handful of photographers who will see a bright window one day and tell their models to step in front of it.