Work Experience 25: Photographer
To me photography has always been about capturing special moments. Photos of happy times with friends and family (thousands of my kids), travel and holiday snaps, events, trips to the beach and my dog Lexie fill my albums. Although I appreciate the look of particular shots and give a bit of thought to the composition of a photo, I mostly love that photos are a way of triggering memories. Poring over old travel pictures to take myself back to a particular place and time, smiling as I look back at photos of my children when they were little and wondering where the time has gone, and flicking through albums from my own childhood growing up is a favourite pastime of mine.
Admittedly, I’ve never really learnt how to use a DSLR camera in any other mode than auto, and in recent years I’ve used my iPhone to take most of my shots because it’s so easy and convenient. But I do enjoy looking at beautiful photos, and was excited to learn more about the art and business of photography as part of my work experience job with Andrew Jarvie from Life Portraits Photography, Brisbane.
What did I do?
There are two arms to Andy’s photography business, which he shares with his business partner Emily Clarke. One is Life Portraits – wedding, family photography, fitness and beauty. The other is LP Commercial Photography which covers corporate portraits, events, food and drink, architecture, and product shoots. Andy and Emily photograph nearly anything and everything, which made it particularly interesting for me from an observation and work experience point of view. Andy has such an interesting work background, and I love that he has used all of that experience to build the type of photography business he has with Emily, combining both of their strengths. The style of photographs they take, their location, their clients and the subjects of their photos are wide ranging, which means each week can look very different to the one before and the one following. It keeps their work interesting and exciting.
I joined Andy for three shoots on three different days. The first one was an advertising shoot for Zero Athletic, a triathlon and sportswear brand. Shortly after we arrived on location at Mt Coot-tha, Andy opened his car boot to show me all of the photography gear he’d brought with him. There was a lot of it! In fact, the contents of his car boot cost more than twice the car itself! Andy took out a variety of items that he thought he’d need and briefly explained what each is used for. Once his model arrived, professional triathlete Flick Abram, we loaded up and headed off on foot to find a location that Andy thought would be suitable. Luckily we didn’t have to walk too far, as there was a fair bit of equipment and I didn’t want to drop any of it! Andy chose a spot along a dry rocky creek bed that was quite shady but also had some sunlight peeking through the leaves of the eucalyptus trees.
Andy fiddled around with his camera and equipment to get it all switched on and set up, took a few test shots, checked them out on his camera screen, and took a few more until he was happy with the settings on his camera and the amount of flash required.
Normally he’d use a light stand to support his studio light, battery pack and beauty dish, but as the ground was very uneven and I was there to help I happily stepped in a human lamp stand instead. I got a good arm workout that’s for sure! Andy encouraged Flick to stand in different positions to best showcase the clothing she was advertising (a new range of sports clothing and jackets) as well as make best use of the light and landscape. This included subtle changes such as looking a certain direction, lifting her chin or turning her head slightly. At the same time, he asked me to adjust the lamp a little so that the flash would highlight what it needed to. Every now and then the sun would go behind a cloud and adjustments needed to be made. After plenty of shots of Flick in a variety of different poses, and with a few changes to what she was wearing, I was able to rest my weary arms for a while as Andy got set for the next group of shots in a different location. He explained how he could use the technology in his camera to highlight the colour of the sky behind Flick, even when he was facing towards the sun. It was such a beautiful day, and Andy thought the background was as important to the finished photos as the subject itself.
After the photo shoot, Andy and I headed to a local coffee shop, where he uploaded some photos to his laptop and explained how the images he takes are raw files. Creating an image is a two-stage process. The first is capturing the image in the camera, and the second is processing the image which is done on a computer. I can only imagine how much longer processing images would’ve taken back in the ‘olden days’ when it was done in a darkroom. Most people shoot jpg files on their phones and compact cameras, which is essentially an image that has been processed by the phone or camera. Most professionals and keen amateurs shoot raw files which contain far more information than a jpg file and allows the photographer to take much more control over every part of the image creation process. Andy showed me how he edited a raw photo and just how much you could do to a raw to bring out the best of the camera and photographer’s abilities. When you shoot jpg what comes out of the camera is pretty much the finished image, but if you shoot raw often the picture out of the camera is not very impressive as it’s taken with the post production editing in mind. This means it may look flat with lower levels of colour or contrast because the photographer already has in mind what they want to do to the image and it has been shot to match that. Below are a few of Andy’s images for Zero Athletic post production.
The second photoshoot I joined Andy for was very different but equally as interesting to see. Andy and Emily do almost all of their photoshoots on location rather than in a studio, and for this shoot Andy had rented a cute Queenslander cottage from Airbnb. Skye is an aspiring lingerie model and was in the process of putting her portfolio together, which was the reason for the shoot. Andy set up all of his equipment as Skye was getting changed and used me to stand in position by a window for some test shots so he could work out the best settings for his camera and flash. I felt a bit nervous with the camera pointed at me even though it was only for test shots. Thankfully I’ve never seen those photos – I think I would’ve looked like a cardboard cut-out! On the other hand, I admired how comfortable Skye was in her own skin. She was relaxed throughout the shoot, and Andy was a true professional.
I really liked the way he spoke to Skye and encouraged her to have a particular facial expression, look in a certain direction, or pose slightly differently to capture the sorts of shots they were after. I was a bit nervous about this shoot before turning up, mainly because I didn’t know much about the style and worried I’d feel awkward looking on. However, it was clear from the way Andy and Skye worked together that the end results were not about creating something naughty or down market but about creating beautiful, strong, feminine images which both the model and photographer could be proud of. That’s exactly what was achieved.
The final photoshoot was very different again, and involved Andy taking a number of staff headshots for Tomkins Commercial and Industrial Builders. This shoot had an extra element of fun to it, as Andy’s business partner Emily was along for the ride. Andy and Em include Vlogs on their social media platforms, which allows anyone to enjoy the experience I had by going behind the scenes with them. Both Andy and Em are accomplished photographers so when they work together on a shoot one of them will take the lead while the other (with their client’s permission) will film the experience to Vlog later on YouTube and their website.
When we arrived at Tomkins we were ushered to a small meeting room which was to be used for the shoot. Andy set his equipment up, which included one studio light and softbox directly on to the subjects, and a second studio light firing directly onto the roof of the meeting room we were using. The white roof then reflected that light to create an even downlight.
Each staff member was welcomed into the room when it was their turn, and as they entered many of them had similar looks on their faces as I’d had when posing for test shots with Andy last time. Andy tried to help each person to relax by using a bit of humour. He demonstrated how to stand naturally and specified where they needed to place their feet as well as a couple of options of where to place their hands. There was a very light, relaxing feeling in the room and it took no time for people to feel comfortable, which gave Andy the chance to capture some great headshots. Each person spent a maximum of ten minutes in the room, so it didn’t take long to get through all of the crew.
What did I learn?
Photography is essentially about painting with light (I love that term) according to Andy, whether the subject is a lingerie model, an athlete, or a cup of coffee. There are certain tricks to dealing with different subjects, but when creating an image everything boils down to shape, form and controlling or shaping the light around that subject to display it in the best possible way.
Although I currently find the technical side of photography a bit overwhelming, Andy assured me that anyone can learn how to use the cameras and equipment, as well as how to process images. Technology is always changing and improving so he needs to stay updated too. Like most things, you just need to start with the basics and build from there.
As Andy explained after the first shoot, knowing how to work the gear is critical but only 20% of the job. Having a clear vision of the outcome is also important, but not so much that you ignore the chance of something random happening. According to Andy, some of the best photographs happen when the subject and photographer go down a completely different route to the one originally planned. For Andy, it’s understanding people which is the critical skill of a photographer.
Being able to interact well with people when they are the subject of an image stood out to me as being another very important skill. Andy’s able to quickly gauge how his subject feels about being photographed, and interacts with them in a way that ensures he can get the required look without anyone feeling embarrassed or self-conscious. He explained that being photographed is quite an intimate experience for both the photographer and subject, where both sides have to give a lot of themselves and let their guards down to make an image work. To generate that element of trust the photographer must do whatever it takes, even if it means looking a complete idiot, to spark an emotional reaction. Without that emotion Andy believes a photograph is meaningless.
If you’ve ever considered a career as a photographer, or would like to get a good glimpse into the world of one, please click here to read Andy’s interview. He shares some interesting insight and advice.