Increase Your Success Rate for Your Photo Shoot

Proper planning prevents piss poor performance

I recently did a photoshoot with Art Model Lucy Magdalene and my friend Harold. All three of us have worked together in May 2021 and decided to do another shoot again, but this time it was different. This time I prepped more to increase my success rate for the photoshoot.

Art Model Lucy Magdalene

The summer came and went and we still hadn’t planned a shoot, so I reached out to both and said, let’s shoot!

We chatted over Messenger for a few days and we finally decided that mid-October works the best for everyone. It was mid-August and the time and it would give us about two months to prepare.

In the old days, I would just show up and take photos. If I had to buy film I would make sure I had it ready and all my batteries were charged. If it was purely digital I’d make sure all my spare batteries were charged and my SD cards were formatted.

And that was it. That was my usual level of planning. Sure I had some ideas conceptually running around in my head like poses and location, but it was always thoughts in my head. I was always a “go with the flow” shooter but I decided to make a big change.

I decided not to leave things to chance anymore, at least the things I can control. So for this shoot, I planned. I planned as much as a could and I prepared.

Spooky Witch Shoot

Since the shoot was planned for mid-October, I thought it would be neat to plan a spooky witch type of shoot. I have a lot of female friends that are pagans, witches, and Wiccans, so I thought this would be a nice way to pay homage to them.

I thought that this idea and dark theme would work well with Lucy because of her hair, complexion, and lithe frame.

Lucy Magdalene Spooky Witch Shoot

So I sat down in front of my computer and did something I’ve only read about before, I created a storyboard.

A storyboard is exactly what it sounds like, a document that sets the mood, theme, and important “scenes” in a story. Since this was a spooky witch shoot, I pulled together poses, ideas, and props for the shoot.

I screenshot ideas and pasted them into a Google slides document and added to it till I was happy with how my vision was coming into being.

The Hit Ratio

Normally when I go do a shoot I end up with two to three kick-ass photos that I like. These are the ones where I nailed exactly everything I wanted.

This is called the hit rate or hit ratio. For the time and energy you spend working together, you want to generate as many “usable” images as possible. You want to have a high hit rate so you can share these images in your portfolio, give them the model, or share on social media.

The hard part is getting a high hit ratio!

Lucy Magdalene Spooky Witch Shoot

A professional photographer’s hit rate needs to be high, or else they wouldn’t last long in the industry. As a hobbyist photographer, my hit rate doesn’t need to be high, but I want it to be high!

I wanted more than just 2 to 3 usable images per shoot if I spent over an hour driving to the location and spending two hours shooting the Lucy.

Luckily, this time I had over 20 usable images, which is a first for me

Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

I’m reminded of this bit of wisdom from my college days, except I never applied it to my photography work. The simple act of spending a few hours up from making a storyboard and preparing for the shoot (more than usual) made a huge difference!

While there’s nothing wrong with taking in-the-moment photos, I think spending the time to plan a shoot pays big dividends for everyone.

That’s my plan going forward for all photoshoots. Put in the time and effort to prepare so you can make gorgeous photos.

So how did I do it? Google slides, Pinterest, Goodwill, and Amazon. Those are the main pieces of this puzzle.

The entire storyboard can be downloaded here. It’s not pretty and short but it’s not supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to be a living and breathing document.

I shared this document with Harold and Lucy so they could get an idea of what I’m planning. You want the entire team you working with (if there is a team) to know what’s in your head instead of dropping it on them the day of the shoot.

Sharing these ideas helped Lucy bring some of her wardrobe to assist, like her Morticia-looking dress, boots, and other accessories.

The storyboard starts with a simple title, date, and location. I like to listen to music when I create so I added a musical track to set the mood.

I went to Pinterest for the first time and search through some great ideas and themes. It’s where I was inspired to get the cloak and think of more ideas for the shoot.

Props

Where did I get the props? I got them from three places: Goodwill, Amazon, and Spirit Halloween.

The central piece of clothing was the cloak and for that, I went on Amazon to buy this one.

The cauldron I bought a while back from Goodwill for $5, it’s a cast-iron one and perfect for cooking and witchery.

The sage sticks I bought off Amazon too. I chose sage because when they smolder they get smoky and I wanted to have some smoke.

The only big fuck up I did was not find a ritual knife. I completely forget about getting that as a prop and the day before the shoot I was searching for something but I couldn’t find something appropriate.

Lucy the Witch - 2

Poses

While I had some ideas for poses, Lucy is super-expressive and she can do some great poses right out of the box. That said, I did have some ideas after studying Michael Zelbel’s posing guide from his Boudior Poses eBook.

However, we had to adjust things because of the site location but having posing ideas already documented in the storyboard made things a lot easier and faster.

TL;dr

If you want to increase your success rate (aka hit ratio) for your photo shoots, you should plan them properly. Think about all the moving pieces like props, poses, location, and mood. That will go a long way to improving your success!


Lighting and Exposure in Erotic and Non-Erotic Photography

How you manipulate the light depends on how you read the light. That’s called metering and there are a few different ways to meter light.

My last post on Compositional Elements of Erotic Photography talked about Lighting, Mood, and Pose. I wanted to expand more on the lighting topic and discuss exposure with you here.

Lighting can make or break a photograph whether erotic or non-erotic and for this post, I want to review a few photographs from photographer Jan Scholz ( Flickr/ Instagram). I consider him a master of light and admire his work greatly.

I was first introduced to his work by someone on Flickr. He was actively posting his work there and I fell in love with how sensual and tender his photos were.

There’s so much to unpack in this single photograph but let’s start with the light and exposure, our main topics for this post.

He calls himself a hobbyist photographer but regularly shoots female and male models. His portfolio is weighted toward female models but he does shoot some landscapes and lifestyle stuff too.

His choice of medium is film and he shoots 35mm, 120(Medium Format), and large format.

For our first image, I’d offer my readers the model Marine.

(c) Jan Scholz

There’s so much to unpack in this single photograph but let’s start with the light and exposure, our main topics for this post.

Exposure

First, what is exposure? Exposure is simply the amount of light that hits the film or camera sensor. It’s how you control the light that’s available to you. While you can’t bend light, you can manipulate it to create the mood of the photograph.

How you manipulate the light depends on how you read the light. That’s called metering and there are a few different ways to meter light.

The most common way and automatic way to meter light today are inside your camera. You can do it manually and I still do this when using my film cameras. I have a hand-held light meter that I use to read ambient and incident light.

But the three most common methods of metering light for a digital camera are matrix, spot, and center-weighted.

Let’s take a deeper look at Marine, this time with my markups.

Matrix metering reads the light in the entire frame and for simplicities sake, averages the entire light from the scene and recommends the shutter speed and aperture. Spot metering (I use this one a lot), meters the light on a small area of the frame and then recommends the shutter speed and aperture. The center-weighted meter is similar to spot metering but it takes a larger area of the center to meter and gradually disappears in the frame as you move away from the center.

9 times out of 10, your camera will default to matrix metering. Do yourself a favor and find where you can change the metering type for your camera and switch to spot or center-weighting.

How do we read, interpret, and express light levels? Some photographers use the EV method and other use the Stop method. Both are essentially the same thing but they have different terminology. I prefer the stop method.

A full stop is either 1 unit of over or underexposure from your baseline exposure. If your camera says that the perfect exposure for your photograph is ISO 100, F/16, and 1/125s (0 Stop), then a +1 Stop could be ISO 100, F/8, 1/125s. Or it could be ISO 100, F/16, 1/60s, Or even ISO 50, F/16, 1/125s. Exposure can be adjusted using your ISO setting, your aperture, and your shutter speed.

A partial stop (i.e. -0.5 stop), using the above baseline example, could be ISO 100, F/22, 1/125s. (More info here on aperture F stops).

There are reasons why you might want to manipulate your shutter speed over the aperture or ISO, but that’s for another post.

Let’s take a deeper look at Marine, this time with my markups.

© Jan Scholz / Analysis by Thomas Ott

The model is in a classic feminine pose, her back partially exposed and there is eye contact with the viewer. There’s a wonderful angle to this pose because your eye first lands on the “hot spot” (0 stops) of her back and then moves up to her eyes that hold on to you.

From there you begin to explore the photograph in a very gentle way. Your eye does not hunt around for something interesting. She holds your interest.

Marine appears to be lighted from a narrow shaft of light. Based on Jan’s other photos, I’m going to guess that this is from window light that he’s controlled using curtains. From all the work I see from him, he likes to use ambient light and a handheld light meter a lot.

The light gradually falls off in a pleasing way from the center of the photograph. It’s so gradual that there’s plenty of detail in the shadows, which is a hard thing to do on film.

The point of exposure is right on her skin where my arrow is pointing. If Jan was using a handheld meter (and I think he was) he would meter that spot on her back and then her face. It only looks like 1/3 to 1/2 a stop of light difference between her back and her cheekbone under the left eye. Then light falls off faster. Her right eye looks to be greater than 1 stop difference from the exposure point.

5 Tips for Better Photos

Tip 1 — I highly recommend that you use a camera where you can either touch on the screen where you can take the exposure from or be able to change the exposure settings in the camera. My preferred method of using in-camera metering is the spot metering method.

Tip 2 — You don’t need fancy flash and lighting gear. That great big yellow star in the sky gives you so much free light that you can use. Look around your house. Where’s the gorgeous light? If you have windows, you have light.

Tip 3 — Think about where you want the point of exposure to be? Is it the face? Is it the back? Is it somewhere else in the frame and expose accordingly.

Tip 4 — Think about how fast you want to light to fall off from your point of exposure. In Marine’s case, it was gradual across her body and then faster after that. It can be gradual, fast, or no fall off. That depends on you.

Tip 5 — Experiment. If you have a digital camera then take lots of photographs. Find the ones you liked and the ones you didn’t like, but pay attention to what was the differences in exposure and light for each of them.

Extended Analysis

I wanted to add two more photos from Jan that I adore and wanted to review the lighting.

The first one is from model Danika.

(c) Jan Scholz

Danika is illuminated with full-on but diffused window light. The light is pretty even throughout the entire photograph with maybe a (+1 to +2) to (-1 to -1.5) stop variance throughout the frame.

Once again, I believe he metered the light using a handheld meter and expose her face.

(c) Jan Scholz / Analysis by Thomas Ott

She is in a wonderful pose, reminiscent of the Cassiopeia’s Chair constellation and the focus is on her. Your eyes are instantly focused on her because of all the negative space around her.

The last photo I want to review from Jan is of model Sophie.

This is a classic (partial) nude in nature and this one is a tough photo to meter right.

(c) Jan Scholz

The light around Sophie is even but flat. There’s nothing exciting going with light shafts or sunlight dappling leaves and casting small shadows.

Here’s the best part, you can make great photographs when the light is flat or not that interesting.

From the level of bokeh, it looks like Jan is shooting with his lens wide open. This means he’s using a shallow depth of field like f/4 or f/2.8, or even smaller. Why? I think this was a very low light environment and he wanted to gather as much light as possible to expose Sophie.

(c) Jan Scholz / Analysis by Thomas Ott

There is very little light variance in this scene relative to Sophie. My guess is that the day they shot was overcast
Yes, there’s a big drop-off under the dead tree but who cares? Your focus is on her, then the dead tree she’s resting her hand on.

The thing with ambient light is that you don’t know what you’re going to get sometimes. It’s all weather-dependent.

But, and here’s the big but, you can still shoot in any light condition provided you know how to meter the light and adjust your camera settings. One of my biggest mistakes when learning photography was not shooting on days where the light was flat. You can make some beautiful photos in flat light if you know to expose the scene.

Anyone can shoot a good photograph on a sunny day, that doesn’t make you an expert. An expert is someone who studies the light on good days and bad days. He or she makes mistakes but keeps going. Keeps working and keeps reading the light.

Then, one day, you’ll see the light.