MANAGING YOUR BUSINESS PHOTOGRAPHY NEEDS IN THE DARK WINTER MONTHS
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The clocks have gone back and we're officially on GMT... or as I refer to it, IPM - the Impossible Photography Months. And before I go any further, there’s a quick disclaimer I should get out the way. I’m no photography expert and nor do I intend to become one. A few years ago, I watched as a handful of other bloggers whose work I really admire, become brilliant at mastering the art of photography. Finding myself influenced by my peers once more, there was a (fairly brief) period of time where I thought I should try my hand at it too. Turns out I don't have the time... or perhaps the inclination to devote the time needed to learn it.
In either case I've since learned to get by on the basis of minimal time invested for the best possible results. For me this means doing what I can myself, hiring great photographers when I'm able to and picking up a few tried and tested tips from the experts along the way. I still aim to continually improve my photography as I go along and learn as much as I can but I can’t do this at the expense of time that should be spent elsewhere. When you're a one person business, you have to decide how much time you can devote to any one skill and understand and respect those limitations.
But back to the original premise of this post which is managing your photography needs during the dark winter months. Over the years, and mostly by trial and error, I've learned a few things that make image capturing a little less painful… even once the clocks have gone back in autumn. So this post is for anyone who has a business, be it a blog or otherwise and wonders how on earth they can still create beautiful images when the daylight hours are scarce. And it pretty much amounts to the Three L's - Light, Location and Lightroom
Prior to shooting with professional photographers, I was always under the impression that the best days to get photos were the bright blue sky, sunny ones. How wrong can one mis-informed, wannabe style blogger be? Flat white skies with a smattering of pale grey clouds are the very best. Turns out I even need the weather to be monochrome.
A pro photographer will know how to get the best out of shooting in bright sunlight but this doesn’t apply to me and my willing accomplice, aka the sometime Instagram Husband, Patrick. We always produce far better images when it looks like its about to rain! Flat white light is as neutral as it gets and depending on the kind of feel that you want for your imagery, photos shot in this kind of light are by far the easiest to edit. When I see this light forming, I’m prepared to chase it a long way. Whilst I love to be underneath a bright blue sky on a warm sunny day, I don't like how it looks in photos on the blog or Instagram. So when I know I have some content that requires an outside shoot, I become a voracious checker of weather Apps so that we can plan that shoot slot around the best light availability.
From October onwards, I also pay attention to the number of daylight hours and how the light changes within those hours as winter progresses. I have to be realistic when it comes to accepting band work that involves long or detailed shoots when shooting hours are in scarce supply, as for five days a week, it's just me and the dog here at the desk. Whilst Biscuit is a canine of many talents, sadly holding a camera is beyond even her capabilities. So before I say yes to a project, I have to look at the deadline for content submission and figure out the feasibility of delivering it on time, factoring in any image approval process too.
Brand work that allows for the cost of paying a photographer isn’t always forthcoming so we often end up shooting on a weekend. Add in the winter weather and speedy light variations and you can see how it all ends up becoming one big seasonal juggle. I know there are bloggers who can turn around a fairly involved batch of content in under a week at short notice but with family commitments, I’ve accepted that I’m not one of them and have learned to work within my limitations.
When planning out your work week, prioritise the time for shoots around the weather and then everything else around that. And always have a plan B for location if the weather lets you down.
Don't promise delivery on anything client related until you know you can factor in the time to shoot and edit the images.
If you're blessed with a great flat light day, batch shoot as many images as possible - you never know when the winter weather will play ball again.
The second L applies to both in and outdoors. Outdoors is possibly the one I find the easiest - if I can shoot something... anything, at the beach then I'm a happy soul! We live right on the edge of the New Forest so there's plenty of countryside to utilise too. Although, and I'm sure I've already mentioned this, I'm not a fan of the colour green. So any shoots that take place in green spaces depend on the availability of some good grey or white light... and just how much use of the desaturation function is deemed acceptable!
If something that I’m shooting is outfit specific, the right backdrop is always the first consideration. Patrick and I have amassed a list of local places that we can shoot at and we keep track of them via an iNote so we can get in, get the job done and get out. Teens and labradors wait for no woman (or man) on the weekends.
When it comes to shooting indoors, light becomes all the more important. One thing I would recommend trying is going into any of the rooms in your house where you think you might shoot at different times of the day, snap away and look at the results. You might be surprised at the variation in light temperature. When we first painted our living room white I was brimming with delight at the thought of all the light and therefore all the shooting possibilities. But catch it on a cold winter's morning and I can’t get rid of the blue tinge to photos no matter how many editing Apps I have at my disposal.
The light in the kitchen goes orange in late afternoon in winter and as for any images being shot in the main bedroom at any time... well you may as well forget it. The best place is the spare room that we turned into a dressing room a few years ago. In winter, prime time in this room is between 1:00 and 3:30 - still not a huge window but I know where and when to shoot any flat lays or set up any lifestyle shots now. So much so that as I was updating this post for simply START living, work was just getting underway on changing the room around to incorporate more work and photography space. Like I said… always chasing the light!
On a side note, I'm often asked what camera I use or if I take a lot of photos with my phone. The answer to the second one is yes I do and I use my iPhone 8 Plus * - the camera is brilliant. Or we shoot with an Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II camera with a 45mm lens for good depth of field... or that "blurry background thing" as I like to refer to it in my own technical terms.
Gather props and store them in something you can cart around the house in search of the best light.
For some images I use Photo Boards and I also have a vinyl backdrop from Capture By Lucy. Whilst I love some of the floor surfaces in our house, the light in the room can be terrible. That's when you need to take the subject (and the background) to the light source.
If you’re shooting near a window, open it. You’d be amazed at the difference it makes to the quality of the light. Which possibly means our windows could be a lot cleaner!
A couple of years ago I bought two of these portable studio lights from Amazon * and they are my saving grace in winter. I honestly don't know how I'd cope without them now. Using one is great for smaller, detailed shots but use two and you can light a whole area of the room.
I also have a set of reflectors * that I use when there's a willing pair of hands to hold them in just the right position. When it's just me around I have been known to set up some bizarre ways of balancing them against the side of my head and half propped up on other surfaces. Needs must!
Keep a local location list to hand and keep it updated as you discover more. It becomes invaluable when you work with a photographer on a day rate and have to capture multiple setups in a limited time frame.
How I ever got by without this editing tool I'll never know. Actually I do. I used Pic Monkey for my light, colour and tone editing and whilst I love this chimpy little app for collages and graphics, the fine editing facilities are so much better in Lightroom. I subscribe to the monthly Adobe Creative Cloud which gives me access to both Lightroom and Photoshop for about £9 per month. If I'm honest, I've shed many a tear over Photoshop - I find it very complicated for anything apart from image sizing. So I was naturally wary of Lightroom at first.
But having watched this tutorial on the basics of simple editing, I found it remarkably easy... and SO effective. I only use it to do very simple edits to colour, brightness, saturation etc but so far, they're all I need. And within these, you can desaturate individual colours too. Goodbye Green - be seen no more! Look around for Lightroom presets that you can purchase according to the aesthetic you’re looking to create. Adding them to blog images means that everything has a cohesive, pulled together feel.
I also use the Lightroom for mobile App to edit the colour and exposure on my Instagram photos before I add in a filter from the Bright category in the Priime App. I've been able to rescue some seriously underexposed photos using Lightroom, something that before wouldn't have happened and a re-shoot would have been the only solution. Which in the winter months is sometimes impossible.
So there you have it - a few things I've learned about coping with photography in the dark winter months. One thing worth remembering is that sometimes, when you're doing it all by yourself without the help of a pro, despite all the hints, tips and tricks you may have learned, things can still go wrong... and often do. I try to think of these experiences as valuable lessons and don't spend too much time berating myself over a batch of bad photographs. When I look back at my first blog and Instagram attempts I realise how far I've come and how much I've learnt.
Here’s a few more practical and easy reads on improving photography in general:
And these are the talented photographers that I've worked with on a regular basis:
Photography for this post: SarahLou Francis, Wildblume Imagery