Thursday, June 10, 2004

100 frames are required per assignment

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Eric N. Danchak poses for a portrait at his home-based office in Lewisville on Tuesday, June 8, 2004. He is the North Texas representative for the National Association for the Self-Employed. The former technology worker is helping other unemployed techies start their own businesses.

The first time I went to the desk for an edit of a portrait, the editor held up my negative sleeve between his forefinger and thumb, wiggled it in the air like a thin fish and said, "Where are the rest?" I had taken 16 frames with two backgrounds. What else could he want?

He wanted 100 frames.

We're asked to try to get at least 100 frames per assignment. It's very important to let the subject of a portrait know this immediately. Then, we don't have a "are we there yet" situation after 10 frames.

I'm certain 100 is an arbitrary number, but here's my justification for the subjects. Between pay, insurance and all the other non-listed costs, the publisher pays on average about $400 to send us to each assignment each day. If we take 100 images, then each image costs the publisher about $4. However, if we only take 36 images (still a sizable number at a smaller paper), it costs the publisher more than $10 per image.

Consequently, the publisher would pay more money for less images each time we shot less than the target 100 images.

To the point, news photography involves an extremely high number of portraits. If the story isn't currently happening or is of a human-related abstract nature, it can only be visually represented by a portrait.

Portraits are both the easiest and most difficult assignments. Personally, I find them challenging because I prefer to shoot live events, which tend to run 200-300 frames.

To make a portrait, PJs must experiment a lot to do our job up to standard. The following is an example of how 100 frames only scratches the surface of a portrait session.

We use every lens. I carry four lenses with me at all times (80~200mm, 17~35mm, 50mm, 100mm) and have another two in reserve (300mm, 70~180mm micro). I consider the properties of each lens and work each lens as if it were my only lens. Math buffs have already calculated the numbers. This means I'm shooting 25 times with each of the main lenses.

Light is the critical part of any image. There's no image if there's no light. We tend to light more subjects than not. We also try multiple angles of light to get different looks. For our example today, we'll use available light and a flash with a small softbox.

We make one frame with available light. We make one frame with direct flash overhead, direct flash from the right and left, one bounced off the ceiling, and one from each of the two walls available. This is a total of seven frames.

At this point, we've already committed to 28 frames (7 light angles x 4 lenses) without considering the subject or the background. Or, we have used 7 of our 25 frames.

The number above is before the subject blinks, sneezes or any number of other twitches which spoil a frame. As a rule, once we arrange a good portrait (proper lens and light, background is good, hands in position, jacket strait, hair in place, pleasant look, etc.), we should make three images for each person in the setting to compensate for the above mentioned spoilers. So, for a trio of people, we'll need nine images. (The number is 9 remaining for those keeping track)

For speed, here are nine quick standards: The subject stands up, sits down, half-sits on arm of chair/couch/desk, lays down (on sofa) forward and TV style. The photographer uses a high angle, low angle, standard angle, and portrait angle (slightly higher than subjects' eyes). – IF everything goes perfect.

For those counting, there were 100 frames made for a boring portrait without much thought. This is the basic starting point. Beyond this point is where creativity begins.

I didn't mention color balance, adding layers to the image, the skeletal structure of the image, posing multiple subjects, depth of field, severe lighting or a plethora of other standard photography devices. This entry only explains why it is important to plan on using at least 100 frames for every assignment.

Enough for now,

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