You Haven’t Got It Until You’ve Got It

The great thing about digital photography is that we are no longer bound 12, 24, or 36 frames at a time. And we don’t need to waste time during setup to snap a few polaroids. And yes, as a commercial photographer, it is in my best interest to be economical with my shots if for no other reason than the amount of time needed to edit 1000 shots is obviously much great than 100 shots. That said, however, I’m not afraid to keep shooting until I’m sure I’m got the shoot, and more importantly, until the client is sure as well.

A few days before Christmas, I was approached by St. Louis Magazine to shoot the cover of their February issue. The concept was pretty straight forward: the biggest cupcake you’ve ever seen + model. There were a few other shots in the shoot for the inside spread of the magazine etc. but the cover shoot was what I wanted to concentrate the most on.

St. Louis Magazine | February 2013

On a shoot like this there are a lot of people involved: the art director, associate art director, one of the editors, hair stylist, makeup stylist, and the food stylist, and everyone is there in the studio working hard to get the perfect shot. For this assignment I shot tethered (despite the fact that we didn’t have budget for a digital tech). I could do a whole post on the trials and tribulations of shooting tethered, but it mainly comes down one big advantage and one big disadvantage. Starting with the latter, the biggest disadvantage of shooting tethered is how much it slows the shoot down. After each shot (or short series of shots) you have to wait for the images to transfer from the camera to the computer, then everyone huddles around the monitor to evaluate the images. Invariably someone important is on the other side of the room and has to be called over to look at the monitor, or there is a glitch that you have to sort out. This all takes just a minute or two (usually) but when you pause the shoot for a couple of minutes twenty times an hour those lost minutes add up.

However, the biggest advantage of shooting tethered is the same as the disadvantage: the client gets to see the shots as they are being taken, rather than reviewing them after the fact. For a shoot like this one, where layout and composition are very important (leaving space for a masthead and all of the typography that goes on a magazine cover), having the client sign off in as the shots are taken is a huge plus and saves any headaches once the shoot is wrapped. We even had a mockup of the cover opened up in InDesign, so we could drop in potential winners and see how they work in the layout, in real time. Again, this makes the shoot take longer, but it takes out the guesswork.

In the end we had a whole series of images that we thought would work well, but we were just not sure that we had pushed it as far as we could have. Everyone was getting tired but we felt one more take would be a good idea. Our model, the lovely and talented Shannon Quinn went through a series of poses- whipped cream on finger, licking it off, yuuuummmm. And rinse and repeat. The shots were ok, but it was missing something. I asked Shannon to grab one last dollop of whipped cream on her finger, and to run through the series again. With her hand on her chin, and whipped cream on her left index finger, Shannon lifted the index finger on her right hand and … *CLICK* … tapped the table. That was it. That tiny, idle motion of her hand was the thing that made it work.

We had our moneyshot. On the very last frame.


Moral of the story? It doesn’t matter if the photo that makes the cover is the first frame, or the last frame. You just haven’t got it until you’ve got it.

Lots of thanks to the awesome team that made this shoot possible: Lindsay and Kristin at St. Louis Magazine for the assignment and the art direction, the model Shannon Quinn, hair by Valerie Brown, makeup by Whitney Fogel, and food styling by Carrie Province. Great job everyone!

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