15 Ways to Rock a Single Location

Eleanor R.

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Today we’re getting to know Reset breakout speaker Sally Molhoek.

Sally, tell our Reset readers a little about yourself.
I lived for over thirty years in the great state of Michigan, and it is where I began my photography journey.  Yes, it was cloudy and raining (or snowing, or sleeting….) most of the time, but nobody could really argue that it isn’t a gorgeous state with many unique and awe-inspiring features. Still, it took some ingenuity to make a session work when the weather didn’t want to cooperate. 

A cross-country move meant being prepared for anything.
Five years ago I moved to Texas, and although we LOVE every minute we live here, we did not move to Texas for the scenery or the terrain (I mean, nobody moves to Texas to see more snakes or fire ants I’m assuming). When I go out for a session, I don’t always know what I’m going to get or what kind of conditions might face me, so I’ve made it my mission to be ready and able to rock a session no matter what.  I’m a self-described variety junkie, and I crave as much variety in a single session as is humanly possible, so I want to share with you some of the things I do to ensure a diverse and compelling gallery for every client, no matter the spot (even if it’s lousy!).

Below is a spot next to the middle school near my home.  Nothing special, and limited variety. So what could you do to create a dynamic gallery of images from this one spot? Here are your 15 tips:

  1. Change up your light. 

As tempting as it can be to shoot in golden hour only, sometimes client schedules, weather, and other occurrences can disrupt your best-laid plans and you find yourself having to improvise.  Even if the light is pretty and it is golden hour, how can you change up your light for more variety? Read on for some of my favorites.

Backlight:


Directional Light:


Direct Light at Blue Hour:

2. Change your angle!

There is no reason why you have to remain stationary when you shoot.  Move around! Try everything! Try every angle. Shoot from above:

3. Shoot from below or from a lower vantage point.

4. Shoot from the side of the subject.

5. Shoot from behind the subject.

6. Shoot the details.

What are the details you see that draw you, that garner interest, that round out the story?

7. Vary the distance from your subject. 

Are you moving closer up and then moving farther away? Are you capturing a variety of full length, headshot and three-quarter images of your subjects and changing your orientation (vertical and horizontal)?  Often, for me, I don’t know my client or their tastes at the beginning, and I always strive to make sure that there is something that fits their preferences in the gallery, so I do it all.

8. Change up your lenses. 

One thing that so many photographers do is get attached to one lens.  Yes, it’s easier, and it can be okay for a session (especially if it is a zoom lens) but if variety is the goal, try aiming to switch lenses at least a couple of times during every session.  I like to change my lenses a LOT! Every lens can help you produce vastly different results.

50mm lens:

135mm lens:

Lensbaby Twist:

15mm Fisheye:

Lensbaby Edge 35:

9. Vary your composition. 

Raise your hand if all your pictures end up either centered or in the rule of thirds composition 90% of the time.  If you really want to know, I’m raising my hand right now. Guilty as charged. It’s easy to stick with a composition you know that works, but the way to achieve variety is to branch out and try new and different compositions. 

Shooting Through/Framing:

Rule of Thirds:

Fill the frame:

Negative Space:

10. Change your focal point. 

Not every picture needs to be a traditional portrait of the subject(s) you are shooting.  Sometimes, in order to tell the greater story, you can focus on something unexpected in the frame, and let the other elements fall out of focus.  This kind of image works well in storyboards and diptychs (and can be awesome for albums).

11. Change up your Emphasis.

Emphasis, which is one of the major Principles of Design, is the establishing of the most important aspect of your frame, the part that will draw the eye and enhance the meaning and impact of the image.  Sometimes, the emphasis isn’t necessarily the subject, but something else in the frame with the subject. Basically, the primary subject might become something different. Flowers, hands, feet, eyes, expressions and other more specific elements become the highlights.

12.  Tell a bigger story by varying your subject matter. 

This is similar to showing more specific emphasis, but you can actually add images to a gallery that don’t necessarily portray the subject at all, but fill in essential details about the day, the surroundings, the mood and the feel of the session, which can all lend to a more colorful and interesting story of who your subjects are as unique individuals.   These might not be top-sellers but I think including them in a gallery can relay a more thorough story for your clients.

13.  Pose some, don’t pose some. 

Most clients are going to want to have a picture of all subjects looking at the camera and smiling (even if they say they don’t!), so make sure that is always included in the gallery.  However, don’t make that the only thing in the gallery! A good, varied portfolio should include a healthy mix of posed, completely un-posed and everything in between. I capture moments where I have posed every member of a family perfectly, moments where I’ve directed them to interact and play or move together, and moments where I give no direction at all.  All of these moments tell a different part of the story and it’s important to include all of them. There is no such thing as an “outtake” in my book. 🙂  

“I capture moments where I have posed every member of a family perfectly, moments where I’ve directed them to interact and play or move together, and moments where I give no direction at all.”

— Sally Molhoek

14.  Pull out those specialty lenses and try unusual techniques. 

If you have some fun lenses, like a fisheye, a macro lens, a Lensbaby or a tilt-shift, use them if time allows!  If your aim is to produce perfectly composed and tack sharp images, then you might be hesitant to venture into this territory with a client, but I think every successful shoot can and should include a little bit of fun even if it is only for your sake.  You are a better photographer if you aren’t burned out and you still love what you do, so you should strive to shoot for you at least a little bit, every time!  Why not try a double exposure, or free-lensing? You never know if you might get something amazing. 

15.  Have some editing fun! 

If you use Photoshop, or even if you like to stick with Lightroom, there are always fun things you can do to enhance a photo and make it more exciting with a little imagination.  YouTube is a wonderful resource if you want to learn some new tricks!  

A before and after:

Don’t become bored as this “busy season” is approaching for many of you!  My hope is that the season ahead is filled with success, but also with a fire that keeps your fire burning, that keeps your love for the craft alive and well and grateful for the profession you’re in.  You don’t need to have the most perfect subjects, the most perfect location or the most perfect weather. You just need a good understanding of light, a willingness to move around and change it up, and a little imagination.  Best of luck to you for the best “busy season” ever!

If you loved learning from Sally, be sure to take her class at Reset 2020 — you can buy your ticket here.


Eleanor R.
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