The hardest part is truly over.
You’ve booked your first client, gone through a well-prepared and methodically-conducted photo shoot with them, and now you’ve got a few hundred images that you need to turn into a sales presentation.
Here’s where you get to admire your work and start making notes on likes and dislikes and what-to-do’s and what-not-to-do’s for next time and what to practice before your next shoot.
Assuming you’ve backed up your images to a second or external hard drive (I’m partial to Iomega and Seagate options myself), let’s start culling the shoot down to a digestible set of your most salable images and then give them some Photoshop love.
Culling your shoot
This is going to be painful. Gird yourself.
No matter how many photos you took during your shoot, no matter how many subtle nuances captured, no matter the number of seemingly equal variations, we’ve got to cull your shoot down to the very best.
How many? The number 50 has always been a good fit for me. If you primarily push large wall prints, a smaller and more purposeful set may be appropriate. For those of us in the digital age, selling digital files, 50 gives your client a good set to choose from. You’ll hope that your client asks “How much for all of them?” or that your client will cull your set down by half to around 25 and buy that many. If they buy less, they are usually on a strict budget and weren’t going to buy more anyway.
Nothing wrong with that at all – some clients buy more, some less, and 95% of the time you’ll more than have your time well paid for. When you don’t, you still gained experience and additions to your portfolio.
The best way to go about culling is to do an initial run and pick all your potential keepers. If you shot 400 images, by the time you toss all the bad expressions, half-closed zombie eyes, unflattering outtakes, and of course, utterly crap and/or out-of-focus images, you will end up with around 100 shots to concern yourself with.
Here’s where we take up the sage advice of two great thinkers of modern times, Steve Krug and Blaise Pascal:
“Get rid of half the text on your page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” – Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think
“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” – Blaise Pascal, Lettres provinciales
The point being, of course, that your first edit should not be your last.
If you don’t cull your shoot down to the very best, you’ll get two results:
A) Your client will be overwhelmed with so many photos to choose from and you’ll just end up wasting your time and theirs trying to whittle down their selection. You will likely frustrate and exhaust them in the process; and,
B) You will include too many “meh” photos, too many fair-to-middlin’ shots, and your client will be less impressed with your work. I shoot often with a fellow sports photog, very talented, whom I have long criticized (to his face, so I can talk smack here) for posting sooooo many images online. Backs of heads, no action, bad expressions… I tell him, “John Doe, you take some really good shots, but nobody’s going to wade through your 400 mediocre images to find your 40 real keepers.”
Fifty. 50. That’s the number to aim for.
Don’t kill yourself to get there, and have confidence in your artistic impression. If you feel you’ve got 80 really good shots and variations, show’em. If you feel you only have 25, then show only those. Give yourself some credit for knowing your art.
Many photogs will tell you that 50 is a loose cull, that you should get it close to 20 to show. I’ve found with portraiture, often my clients will go gaga over images that I wouldn’t have shown if I went with a tighter cull.
There’s art I shoot for myself and there’s certainly art that I shoot just for my clients; my art creates my style, but always, you want to balance style with salability. There’s something to be said for old standbys that sell every time.
If you’re having trouble finding 25-50 good images from your shoot, don’t stress – you’re early on in your transition to being a paid part time professional photographer, so give yourself some leeway. Try to find at least 20-25 images and let the client choose what they feel is worth trading their money for. Maybe they’ll drop $20 with you – just maybe they’ll drop $200. Some clients will spend as much on one big print of one favorite image as others may spend buying 20 digital files. Never underestimate your art or your clients. Give them the power of choice and get out of their way. Let’em buy what they love.
During your initial run of post-processing on the images you’ll present to your client, you want to stick to the 80-20 rule: 80% of the results from 20% of the effort.
You want to make your images look as nice as possible in the smallest amount of time. You don’t know what your client might buy, but you want to make a nice presentation so they are more inclined to purchase. Here, in the endless exploration that is Photoshop or your chosen equivalent, is where you can waste as much time as any marathon Facebook or MySpace session.
Don’t do it. Get in, make the proofs pop, and get out.
When I prep files for client proofing, I load them into Camera Raw in Photoshop CS4 (adjust my instructions to fit your digital darkroom of choice) and make universal adjustments to the entire shoot. I adjust white balance, brighten to taste, add a bit of contrast, bump the vibrancy, add a vignette if it’s warranted, and add as much fill light as I want to pull detail from the shadows.
I then quickly go image-by-image and fine-tune those changes I made universally to best fit that image. Sometimes I’ll grab a group of images, such as a set shot in shade, a set shot indoors, etc., and edit them together before making image-by-image adjustments.
What you adjust and where you take your image artistically is your call; it’s your art to create.
What you do in camera is only half the battle; what you do in post is almost as important as nailing the shot in the first place.
You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but showing your decent-and-better images some Photoshop love (without going hog wild…ha!) will only multiply their impressiveness and salability.
Once you’ve given each image a few seconds of attention in post, go back through and pick a handful (3-5) of your very favorites to do some extra post work on and add black-and-white versions of these. Use your spot healing brush to clean up blemishes and lines, soften skin, even out skin tones, dodge and burn to make the image pop where it should, then save a color version and black-and-white copy.
These will be your marquee images that really ring with clients during your sales session. Even if a client doesn’t buy one, they will see what you’re capable of doing with their favorite picks.
I’ll go into further detail on post-processing ideas and techniques in future articles; for now, just do what you know, do your best, and make those photos look nice. Just like learning to take great portraits in camera, learning to do good post work will take time and practice. Enjoy the fact that you’re getting paid all the while!
Take notes on what to improve
Want to multiply the rate at which you improve as an artist? As I mentioned in my Your First Photo Shoot article, taking notes on what you like and don’t like from your shoot will give you some real guidelines for how to improve your work.
When you’re done culling and post processing your shoot, make another pass through the images with notepad (physical or digital) in hand and write down another set of notes:
- What are your favorite images from the shoot? Why? Go into detail, explore your own artistic vision and preferences. Be verbose. You want to identify what to repeat next time.
- What are your least favorite images? Why? Be detailed here also. Is it the background? Lighting? Expression? Pose? Moment? Weather? Angle? Aperture?
- With this in mind, what are you going to do on your next shoot to create more favorites and fewer least favorites?
- What images do you think your client will love and buy? Do they differ from your own favorites as the photographer? Why? How can you balance the two styles? Step outside your own biased perspective and look at the images as a parent, senior, or bride.
- What resources (books, magazines, web sites, tutorials, forums, practice) can you draw on between now and your next shoot to better your best shots and bring your worst up from the trash bin? Try to identify at least one area of your art to better your knowledge in before your next shoot. Define a path to improve your photography.
- What will you do on your next shoot to create a better experience and better set of images for your client? This is a repeat from the last article, but worth doing again to both reinforce and introduce new ideas gained after post-processing.
In Part 9 of what is turning out to be a 10-part series, I’ll walk you through your first proofing and sales session. You’ll learn how to sell ethically and easily, letting your art and business policies do the hard work for you.
- If you’ve ever done a single photo shoot with anyone, for money or fun, go back over your images from that shoot and answer the note-taking questions posed above. As with your shoot, slow down and really evaluate. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done one or a thousand shoots; slow down and give yourself the opportunity to be conscious of your art and explore how you can make it better.
- Brainstorm session: If you could improve any three things about your art, what would they be? What resources can you find online or in your town that would help? File this in your Brainstorms folder.
- Once this series is complete, I can up the pace of my posting and expound on many of the ideas I’ve touched on throughout. I plan to leave no nuance unnoticed in my effort to help you make the smooth and exciting transition from amateur photographer to paid professional. If you like what you’re reading here, feel free to click the free “Subscribe” link at the top of any page of this web site.
- What’s one of the best post-processing tips or methods you’ve learned to improve your images after a shoot? Leave a comment below, e-mail me, or call or text me at 830-688-1564.
- Your first photo shoot: expectations and results – Your First Customer Series, Part 7
- Sharp photos – how to get them, in camera and in post
- How to make money as a part time portrait photographer – Startup Series, Part 1
- How can I find time to be a part time photographer? – Your First Customer Series, Part 1
- How to watermark your photography proofs for the web