Saturday, May 5, 2012

EQUIPMENT 202: The Basics for a Portrait/Commercial Business

Hello again--glad to see you again!
Last time, I covered the bare bones equipment needed to start a candid photography business. By Candid, I mean events, such as parties, business meetings, weddings, PR events, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, etc. You could also do Team Sports with the equipment basics. This time, I'll delve into the equipment necessary to operate a Portrait or Commercial photography business. Portrait is self explanatory, but Commercial would be things such as advertising, annual reports, images for electronic and/or print media, etc.

To recap, you will want everything that was listed in the last post, Equipment 101. That total was $4215, not counting computer equipment and software. As long as we are talking about software, you know already that Photoshop is the current king. There used to be a great program that was for Mac only called Live Picture, but it's gone. You do have alternatives to Photoshop (currently retailing for around $700). Check this blog, or check an article by Rick Valence.

While you can do retouching with Photoshop, there are now several automated plug-ins and stand alone retouching packages. I use Kodak Digital Gem Airbrush; this is still available for purchase, but I believe it stopped being supported after Photoshop CS 2. Do a Google search for "Portrait Retouching Software" and you will find several choices, such as Uretouch. There is even a free online service available. . If you have a lot of images to retouch, or you do not enjoy retouching or you do not feel you are that good at it, there are retouching services that are very fast and very inexpensive. A Google search returned millions of entries!

Remember there are many workshops and seminars that you can attend and learn these skills. The Triangle Institute of Photography is a great place to get started, as well as many others. Go to the Education section on the Professional Photographers of America website to find a school near you . If you need specific computer hardware and software information, you will be able to get it there. Another place to see what photographers are using (and not just what the store guy is trying to sell you) is to attend a trade show. Every state professional photographer's organization holds an annual convention, and along with that, a trade show.

Okay, back to equipment. As in EQUIPMENT 101 I have to ask, "What type of Portrait Photographer do you want to be?"
In Studio
Head shots only (can be done on location or in studio)
Available light only
Location only
Green Screen Specialist
Fine Art
General Practitioner (In Studio, on location, events, the whole enchilada)

If you are going to do studio-type portrait photography, you will need all of the equipment listed in EQUIPMENT 101 and more, while an available light photographer will need about the same or less than what's listed in EQUIPMENT 101. For Location Photographers, you may need less, you may need more, depending on how you choose to light your subjects. So let's get to it: An IN STUDIO PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHER will need the following items in addition to the items listed in EQUIPMENT 101:
Studio space
Electronic flash lighting, stands, trigger, and electronic flash light meter
Light Modifiers (soft boxes, umbrellas, snoots, grids, reflectors, gels, etc.)
Posing Stools & Posing Table
Other Items

1. Studio Space - Obviously, you need a place to take portraits. Now you can go online and you will see information from "experts" (usually self-proclaimed as such) that says you need a bare minimum of 30 x 20 feet with a 15 foot ceiling. Bullpucky. I worked for nearly 10 years in a camera room that was 9 feet wide and 15 feet long. It was not perfect, but I generated nearly a million dollars in sales from that room. Next is ceiling height. My current studio is about 24 x 20, but the ceiling is less than 8 feet tall (about 7' 6"). I produced nearly two million dollars in sales and had award winning images made in this space over a ten year period. Bigger is better, but you can make just about anything work. If you are going to do head shots only, you could work in a studio that is as small as 8x10. If you plan on doing large families, bigger is better--a lot bigger. But with Photoshop, you can extend the background digitally, and if the ceiling gets in the shot, edit it! Many photographers turn their garage into studio space which can work quite nicely.

Now if you think you are going to build a building, go slow. You have to check your zoning laws: you may not be permitted to operate a business from a separate building in your residential neighborhood. And if you were dumb enough to buy a house in an area where you are subject to the whim of the "homeowner's association", well you're screwed. About the only business you can have in these places is blogger, webmaster, author or painter.

EDITORIAL: Why someone would pay $300,000 for a home where other people can tell you what color it can be, what plants you can grow, whether or not you can fly a flag, and make up the rules as they go along is beyond me. I don't respond to authority too well, I guess, and I sure as hell don't want to lose my home for planting too many roses. Don't think it can happen? Think again! END EDITORIAL

2. Electronic Flash, Stands, Trigger, & Flash Meter - You need at a bare minimum 4 heads: Main, Fill, Background, hair. It would be wise to have at least one spare light. Purchase a couple of flash tubes to have on hand--they do wear out. You need light stands for all--don't go cheap! Purchase air cushioned stands with casters. Many photographers just use two lights and a reflector and this can cut down your expense. It is wise to use a wireless trigger to avoid having cords that people could trip on. You need a flash meter. All can be found on eBay, or purchased new from vendors on line. You point your flash head at the ceiling and make it your fill light. At the same time, this flash will trigger the built-in slave eyes on the other flash units!

3. Light Modifiers - I used a soft box for my main light--use the largest one you have room for. Since my ceiling was low, I bounced the fill light off the ceiling or used a white globe that bounced light 360º. If you have a taller ceiling, a white umbrella is best (put a black backer on it to minimize light loss through the back of the umbrella). I used a grid on a light head for the hair light, and a specially modified reflector that would give the best pattern and also accept a filter frame so I could put gels over the light and change the color of the background.

4. Backgrounds - To get started you just need a few; muslins are a good place to start. These are available on eBay and photo supplier sites. Again, most state photographers' conventions will have several of these suppliers, and they normally offer show specials and discounts. They come in sizes 6x9, 10x10, 10x20, 10x24, etc. I recommend purchasing at least two MATCHING 10x20 backgrounds. Put one on the wall horizontally and one on the floor, and you can do a really large group or photograph a High School Senior with all their "stuff." Be careful when buying sight unseen--some of these things are made in India and they are so light weight, you can see through them! You'll get your best bang for the buck with double sided backgrounds. You can run a plastic coated wire across your camera room and use specially designed hangers or you can use a background stand (two stands and a collapsible pole) and spring clamps to hold them on. Some photographers are using Green Screen techniques to have hundreds--even thousands--of backgrounds at their fingertips. Tight budget? Make your own backgrounds!

5. Posing Stools & Table - Some photographers use drum thrones, others use photographic posing stools, some use posing benches. Make sure they are CUSHIONED. If your budget is really tight, you can purchase an inexpensive office chair and remove the back, but the downside is that some of these are not very adjustable height-wise. Posing tables are available at photographic supply outlets. A large mirror--the same size as the table--can add a dramatic look to eyes.

Other items - You may want to purchase some props: other chairs, blankets, pillows, plants, etc. You may find that instead of using the zoom lens for portraits, you want a fixed focal length. If so, an 85mm or a 105mm is a good choice for portraits using cameras with APS size sensors; if you are using a full frame sensor, a 135mm lens is a good choice. Canon makes a 135mm lens with soft focus which is nice for portraits of women and older subjects. You may want to purchase a fan (to blow hair and/or flowing clothing) or a smoke machine for dramatic effects. You may want to purchase a ring light for dramatic portrait effects. Another good item is a pattern projector. This attaches to your light and accepts patterns--often known as cookies--which can be cast onto backgrounds. You may want to purchase a boom arm and counter weight for your hair light and/or main light (to get it to floor level).

Let's do some rough math. We started with $4215 for the items in Equipment 101. Now we'll add the following--I am NOT including any money for studio space--and assuming new purchases (you can save by buying used gear):

4 Monolights @ $300-$400 each - $1200-$1600

3 Stands with casters @ $100 each - $300

1 background light stand - $ 25

Softbox, grids, reflectors - $500

Electronic Flash Trigger - $100

Electronic Flash Meter - $100

1 spare flash tube - $ 50

4 10x20 and 2 6x9 Muslins - $1000

3 Posing Stools @ $60 each - $ 180

1 Posing Table - $ 100

Miscellaneous Props etc. - $ 200

Total - $3755 PLUS AMOUNT FROM EQUIPMENT 101 = Grand total of $7970. Again, this could be cut in half by buying used, making your own backgrounds, using your speedlite, etc. This does not include any cost for marketing our business, which I will discuss in future posts!

As a Head Shot photographer, you can get started really inexpensively. I have a friend in Chicago doing this right now. I'll have to see if I can get her to give me an interview. Some time ago I spoke to a guy that got started with one camera body, a 24-70mm zoom lens with UV filter, a speedlight, two monolights, a softbox and reflector, two posing stools, 3 stands, a flash meter, and 4 basic backgrounds: white, black, gray/silver, and abstract "old masters." One bought all used equipment, used Savage background paper for the backgrounds (he painted one himself), made his reflector from a piece of silver foil faced building foam sheet, and had less than $2,000 into the entire set up. It can be done! He has a constant stream of actors, models, and business people in and out of his apartment--he set the camera room up in a spare bedroom. He does not do weddings or families...just tightly cropped head shots!

An Available Light photographer needs little more than the Equipment 101 list. A folding reflector and a hand held light meter, along with a Zebra card and tripod is all that's needed. A speedlite can be used for fill in flash. Now, many photographers will tell you they never use fill in flash because the photographs lose their natural light beauty. Bullpucky--it's because they don't know how to properly use fill in flash! I made almost all of my outdoor photographs with fill flash, and working pros couldn't even tell in most cases.

Location photographers do not have a studio: part of their selling point is that they work on location so there is no repetition in their work. You may want to add a long zoom, such as a 70-200mm f/2.8 or f/4. You can work with available light or you could use strobes. Portable power may be necessary, available for about $300. Add another $1000 for the 70-200mm zoom if purchased new.

Green Screen Specialists are normally event photographers, but some work at home. They use a green background, then use special software to drop in digital backgrounds. They can have hundreds, or even thousands on a CD or DVD. Add about $500 to the cost of the Equipment 101 list. You will of course need Photoshop or a similar image editing program.

Fine Art Portraitists do very avant garde work. One photographer in California only did black and white nude photography of people in their homes. And believe me, some of these people definitely should have kept their clothes on (I'm pretty sure I would fall into that category, too)! These were commissioned by the Über wealthy. Others create the image then do extensive post processing on them using a program such as Painter (about $400 retail). They have a very, very low volume of business, but it is not uncommon for them to charge $5,000 or more for a minimum fee. Your work has to be of the very highest quality to garner this type of fee. They will normally use a very wide range of lenses on each session, from a fish eye to a 1200mm telephoto in some cases. Some may use special attachments, such as a LensBaby for one-of-a-kind effects. In the film days, these artists would use Infra Red film or use special processing techniques such as the Sabbatier Effect or freezing transparency film then processing it in color negative chemicals. These lenses carry a hefty price tag. As with anything regarding photography, if you look long enough and have enough money to throw at it, you'll find someone to teach you how to do it. Sorry, but I'm not the guy to tell you how to get this type of business up and running.

A General Practitioner will have pretty much all the equipment from both lists. They will normally have a dozen or more backgrounds in muslin and canvas, as well as make their own. They may use sets that they build in their studio. They may even have shadowless light set-ups to photograph products for advertising.

Commercial photographers will often have more specialized equipment. Some may still use view cameras for swing and tilts to enable them to make corrections in the camera, eliminate distortion, etc--these use film. Tilt movements allow you to obtain a wide depth of field even at the maximum aperture and still keep the entire subject in focus. Shift movements correct the trapezoidal effect seen in pictures taken of tall objects, so as not to distort the subject.There are digital view camera: price with lens, about $20,000 (ouch). Some people are adapting Canon 1Ds cameras to the back of a film view camera (it costs a lot less), and then there are tilt-and-shift lenses for digital cameras. While not exactly the same as a view camera, it can do the job admirably. These lenses range in price from $1500-$2500. This is not to say you simply MUST have this capability, but if you are going to do architectural photography, it is a requirement.

Many commercial photographers have a wide array of lenses, normally more lights, and a table top lighting set up for shadowless photography of products. These are available commercially, or you can have one made from milky plexiglass sheet that has been bent by a specialty plastics shop in your area to fit a 2x4 frame you have constructed. It's pretty much impossible to put an exact price tag on the investment needed because there are so many variables. A Detroit photographer who recently passed away did a lot of commercial work and at one time he owned every lens that Nikon made, in addition to having view cameras and lenses--a substantial investment! Many commercial photographers will earn a living doing catalog/print media--such as fashion/advertising--and annual report work. Catalog/print media work requires a few more lenses and a few more backgrounds as buyers of this photography want to see variety. Annual report photographers will normally have as many as a dozen lenses. Commercial photography is a specialized field that demands quality work. Very rarely does someone just step into the field. It takes specialized training. Having said that, I did a lot of annual report photography working from home. Another part of commercial photography is insurance work. If you want to enter this field of photography, save your dimes: you'll need to get an education and finance the big bill that comes along with obtaining the necessary equipment.

Commercial photography is probably the least adaptable from earning a part time income from home. If you want to do it full time, that's different. The financial rewards are the greatest in Commercial photography: fashion and industrial photographers are among the highest paid. There is also the greatest amount of pressure and the least amount of control in Commercial photography. Just remember, for every job that needs to be filled or each assignment that has to be covered, there are over 1000 people who want the opportunity.

Remember, a new topic every Sunday. As always, your questions are welcome. If you want to be added to a notification list when I have new Kindle publications ready, send me an email request!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your interest and contribution to PHOTOGRAPHY FOR INCOME!