HA! You asked for another #cjRAW behind-the-scenes photo/video shoot…and so I’m DELIVERING! That’s right, in this episode of #cjRAW, I take you on location to photograph SERENA WILLIAMS, ROGER FEDERER and half dozen more of the BEST TENNIS STARS IN THE WORLD (while shooting a campaign for Wilson Tennis).
Working smoothly with pro athletes or celebrities or otherwise fancy people on set is under-recognized, but highly valuable skill. Put bluntly – it is almost always the differentiating factor in getting a great shot…or having to make up excuses why you didn’t In light of celebrating the release of this here newest #cjRAW (I release new ones every week, follow along by doing this thing and/or subscribing to this thing), I thought it would be nice to go the extra mile and throw a few, scratch that, FIVE of my best tips for working with key talent on set.
1. Know all you can about your subject + their world.
Whether its athletes or Hollywood stars, most all personalities are accustomed to photo shoots and media, but doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk. Mostly they have BAD experiences with this stuff. In fact, this is one way I’ve developed a killer reputation in the industry…by providing great work AND being great to work WITH. It’s true – by having a good time, your subjects will photograph better, which -in turn- make you look better in every way. I’m not saying you need to become their best friend in 5 minutes – or be fake in ANY way (quite the opposite, it’s AUTHENTICITY and confidence that you want to oooze). Do NOT kiss their ass. In fact, here’s something to sink your teeth into: be NORMAL and AWESOME. (I don’t know why I’m using so many CAPS. I’ll stop…). Knowing as much as you can about them (ie ‘researching your subject’) isn’t so you can kiss their ass, it’s so you can determine the ways in which you can authentically connect with them, if the chance arises. You both have a Golden Retriever? Good to know. Store that in the memory bank. You have some friends in common? Definitely bring that up. etc etc. You get my point. It also helps a lot to know a lot about their world (ie their sport, movie, etc etc). That’s one way I get a lot of work as well…because I can authentically photograph (as an ‘insider’) a LOT of sports, pop culture, music, lifestyle etc because I’ve spend years focused on each of those worlds on their own. How bout you? If you’re living your passion and have put in the time, I bet the same is true for you (or can be)! And btw, remember – you only GOT to this place you find yourself in right now because you ARE especially good at this stuff! That’s why you’re here! You know better than most people and you need to believe that.
2. Be relatable, not a weirdo.
This one is short. There’s nothing worse than an ass-kisser or a superfan stance when you’re trying to get a killer shot of a talented / famous human. See #1 above? There’s a difference between knowing a lot about them and being a weirdo on set. In the former, you know enough to connect with your subject around common interests and creative ideas that will drive your shoot forward toward success. In the latter, you lose authority as a photographer and fall into “fan” or “superfan” category which they get everyday. You devolve from a person who they first consider someone who is talented and hired to get a killer shot because of your skill….into another one of the hundreds of people they see everyday on the street asking them for their autograph. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable they will be.
3. Be on your A game.
I’m not talking be smooth like a playah… I’m talking be really effing organized for the shoot. Have an objective (ie a shot that looks like this, or in that style or with a focus on X, Y, or Z. Know what you want and hunt for that photo in a timely and reasonably precise manner. Conjure as much artistic inspiration as you have / need for the shoot – we don’t want to stifle that – but do it like a boss with a plan and not on your heels. A smoothly run shoot is all about being prepared on and off of set. The less stressed you are during the shoot, the more time and energy you can put into working with the athlete to get the image you’re looking for. BONUS: this is a thing that celebs and other people with high emotional intelligence can FEEL. You send of poorly organized vibes, they can smell it. And then you lose the opps for your best imagery.
4. Get an early win.
Most often, as you’re on the way up in your profession (and unless you’re a baller) the key talent often does not know who you are. In there eyes, you are generally one of two things… a) the person who is going to get an acceptable (not great) shot of them; or b) probably going to eff this up and at best get one salvageable shot where the talent doesn’t look like a tool. Seriously. There are so many mediocre photographers out there, and a lot of them talk their way into shooting this celeb or that talent etc…but only once (and then they never get hired by agency X, client Y again, etc). For the rest of us – it’s our job to stand out. How do that? Get an early win. Spend a lot of time prepping so that you can nail an early shot of the talent where they look goooooooooood. And then show it to them on the back of the camera or the monitor. BAM! Instant credibility. (now you’d better have some decent taste – for if you show them a shot you “like” and they “hate”, you’re name is mud. So, seriously, get a killer shot early. Know what that shot looks like…go make it…and then show them. Assuming you know what’s up and can show them an early winning shot, their trust will go up 10X and THATS when you can make the real magic. Just like in commercial shoots…get a great shot that they expect, gain trust, and then turn on your magic. This will give not just them confidence in YOU, but YOU confidence in YOU. Get an early win. You can see this in the video above – I’m showing them the back of the camera when I get a killer shot and they are loving it…trusting me more and more.
5. Be collaborative.
Assuming you nail #4 above, and keep working on the shoot for a while, there comes a magical time where you have an opportunity to be collaborative…and sometimes this is when your talent gives you their best stuff. An example is if, say, someone has their best move – whether that’s a dunk in basketball, a look on the runway, a go-to trick that they KNOW they rock at… and get them to do that. Note: this trick can’t be pulled out too early, lest you send a message that you don’t have creative mojo, or can’t do your job and are looking to them to play your role (don’t let that happen). BUT if you get a rapport going…and the vibe is happening (the ultimate goal), it’s cool to at that point and never sooner to ask them if they have something they’re dying to do for / with you and the camera… If you can get to that point, it not only adds to the chances of getting an image of them at their MOST comfortable, but NOW you’re really having fun. They forgot that you were supposed to only have 5 minutes with them and now you’re working on 45 and they are really into it. They are committed to the project, and you will get pure gold.
Sooooo….below is a handful of BTS photos AND list of gear and such for your perusal. I’ll do my part to answer any questions in the comments here or via social- and in the meantime, keep shooting. And remember, the dirtiest secret in photography is that you have to take a hell of a lot of photos to get the ones you want.
There you go my friends! I hope you enjoyed the vid and/or that this post helps you in some way. If you know someone who could benefit from this, definitely don’t tell them! Keep this a secret all for yourself. Kidding of course. Your sharing of this video / post with your circles is the highest form of flattery. If this added value to you, I appreciate the extra effort
Gear Used on Set
|The “Essential” Kit||Video (BTS Kit)|
|Nikon D4 Body||Canon 5D Mark III|
|D4 Backup||EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM|
|14-24 F/2.8G ED AF-S||EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM|
|24-70 F/2.8G ED AF-S||EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM|
|70-200mm 2.8G ED AF-S VR||EF 35mm f/1.4L USM|
|AF 50mm 1.8D||EF 85mm 1.2 II|
|200-400mm F4||Z-Finder Pro 3x|
|400mm F2.8||EVF – Electronic Viewfinder|
|MH-26 Charger||HDMI Zacuto 18in Mini to Standard HDMI|
|EN-EL4a Battery x4||Panasonic GX7 – Camera Body (Timelapses)|
|17x CF Extreme Pro Card Wallet||Lumix Vario 7-14mm F4|
|Card Reader||GoPro Hero 4|
|Computer Tech (Digital Asset Management)||Lighting|
|Road Warrior 15” Thunderbolt (Macbook Pro 15”)||SB-910 TTL AF|
|Thunderbolt 27” Display||SB-910 TTL AF|
|Pegasus J2 256GB – SSD – Spare x2||Pocket Wizard Plus III x3|
|Thunderbolt SSD 1TB Main|
|Thunderbolt SSD 1TB Backup|
|Manfrotto Magic Arm 2929||EW112-p PG3 Receiver (A) x2|
|Manfrotto Super Clamp MA035|
|Motorola XTN Series 2-Way Radios|
|Dakine Reload 26L Backpack|
|ThinkTank Airport Security V2.0 Roller Case|
|Kessler K-Pod System (Pocket Dolly)|
|Kessler elektraDRIVE Bundle w/ Basic Controller v2.0|
|Manfrotto 190 CF Tripod-90-4 Section 190CXPRO4|
|Manfrotto 054 CF Kit Grey-4s Ball Head 190CXPRO4-M0Q2|
|Manfrotto 057 CF Tripod-4s MT057C4|
Links from the Episode
Learn all this photo stuff and more at CreativeLive
This episodes features a green screen, which requires keying out the background and replacing it. This course will give you the tools to do the same: Advanced Photoshop Techniques with Dave Cross
It’s not uncommon for me to to produce thousands of photos on shoots like these. We use a lightroom workflow to sort through them, find the best and present the final selects to the client. I discuss more of that in this blog here.
You can also learn more about Lightroom here at CreativeLive.