Lessons Learned Shooting for a Photo Booth


I was flattered they asked me, truth be told.  I guess in all of the years of shooting photos – I don’t feel legit in the sex positive world.  Sure I’ve shot many an erotic photo – and two have gotten into two different shows.  I guess I just feel like I’m playing dress up yet – not feeling like the real thing.

“I have heard you take fabulous photographs” was the comment made by the person asking.  I thought back to all I know on the board and as volunteers for the sex positive group in Portland to try to figure out who would know that.  I realized a couple would have seen – on Facebook or through conversations.  Then I recalled that when I was asked to fill out the form for “other skills you might think our organization could use”, I hesitated but jotted down “photographer”.

“We’d like to have a photo booth there – for people to use funny signs and props to create a memorable photo of the event.  It would also give us some good images for the future on website and such.  What do you need?”

Uhm, lights, I guess. Oh fuck – lights.

Yes, I am a photographer who has little experience shooting photos with lights – actually photographer’s lights.  I own a couple of umbrella lights really meant to be used with a full setup – not on their own. I have dabbled – I have played. I usually get annoyed – then drag whoever I’m photographing outside into natural light.  Or know in the house where to shoot in the right light.

An artist had some lights sitting at home and offered them for the night. I thanked her – fretted some more – worried that lights would trip me up.  I do little post-processing and know to even do that right, the photo has to be close to what you want it to be.  I was stepping way outside of my comfort zone.  I knew it.

I got to the event and they were just unpacking the lights for my corner.  The corner had a nice wall behind it – the props were workable.  There was sadly a window up high that had the sunlight streaming through it.  The window’s heavy drapes wouldn’t quite close enough to stop it – and despite my urge to say fuck-it and open it up for the natural light, I knew the venue would go mood-lighting – and I’d need the lights.  So I made do – futzed with the white balance (but reminded myself I shoot raw for a reason) – pulled someone over to help me test.  And swore to myself that I hadn’t replaced my white balance lens cap yet after it broke as it always saved me in situations like this when regular white balance settings failed me.

It was going to be what it was going to be, I decided.  Along with a silent request to the universe to at least make them good enough so I could fix them quickly and easily in Lightroom.

The night went well.  The photos went surprisingly well.  But I learned a few things:

  1. People don’t always see the light and stand in it. For some, they were completely oblivious.  They saw a wall and went and stood with their ass against it.  Others who had done some model work, knew to stand in between the lights and away from the wall.  Some went to almost stand in the corner – way outside of where the light is set up.  If I were to do this again, I would have a rug where people need to stand.  Then people would stand on it naturally instead of acting like they were getting a mug shot taken.  I didn’t realize the impact this was causing until I went from setting my shutter speed from 90 to 500 all because one person wanted to stand in the corner where the light wasn’t directed – and the next person was in the sweet spot.  Call me slow – but it wasn’t until I had that wide of variation that I went “ah-ha”.  From there on, I directed people better.
  2. Have a way to set the white balance for the room with the lights – especially if the white balance lens cap is broken.  Between the lights, the lighting of the room, and the wall, I needed to set a custom white balance to keep my sanity.  I admit that I like the colors to look right – and when they didn’t, it drove me nutty.  I was able to quickly and easily resolve this in Lightroom which was great (and I knew I could) – but it would have been one less thing to worry about had I had what I was familiar with on me.
  3. Go with my gut.  I tried to give everyone a full head to toe shot.  But as things progressed, I found capturing the moments between people were what I was drawn to – not the head to toe shot – and not just head-shots.  Once I let myself take the photo I saw – I was happier – and I captured some great moments between people.  And seeing that – well, that fed me and made me happy.
  4. In the end, it was not about the gear or my familiarity with it, it was my skills that made this work just fine.  I got wrapped up in the gear- what I had – what I did not – what I had little experience with ….but when I let that go and shot photos…..I got some great photos.  Like I said, I had some processing but minor – easy stuff.  I think that was my take away – the biggest one – I need to give myself credit – I have skills.  And not get wrapped up in the gear.  And this was the greatest thing I learned about the event and myself – it’s the operator, as SB pointed out as we talked about it.  And he’s right – it is.

Funny enough, I was asked yesterday to fill in for a photographer that had to drop out of a photo shoot for another local group.  I sadly cannot commit to the date – but also, I have mixed feelings about the event itself given how they presented it.

Will I do this again? Yes.

It was fun – it yielded some great photos…..and most importantly…..

It forced me out of my comfort zone where I learned to trust me.

A good lesson.

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