Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Tips of the Trade: Commercial Photographer David X. Tejada

On Sunday, I was one of about 30 photographers who got the chance to meet commercial David X. Tejada, one of Colorado's most highly sought after location corporate photographers. The Colorado Strobist Flickr group hosted the event at the North Denver Photography Studio, and it was well worth the $10 we each paid for the studio rental time. All images in this post were taken by Tejada.

I love any opportunity I get to pick the brain of a professional photographer. It amazes me that anyone would be able to make a living solely from their photography business, so Tejada's willingness to share some of his secrets of success was greatly appreciated. Tejada presented a body of work from various corporate assignments and discussed how many of those images where created. He shared some tips and tricks about lighting and answered questions regarding business practices. I will be blogging about some of those practices on Sunday's "Growing Pains" post and explaining how I will incorporate some of his ideas in my own business. I also hope to sign up for his "Small Strobes, Big Results" workshop so I can see some hands-on instruction in use of off-camera lighting.

Tejada even joined a group of photographers for dinner, allowing us to spend more time with him and his assistants getting coveted tricks of the trade. He is a location specialists and doesn't do much studio work anymore. This Nikon shooter spent the majority of his discussion explaining how to achieve big lighting results with a small travel size outfit of strobes (usually SB800s) that's easy to carry, especially since he's already had two back surgeries! His corporate photography and annual report shots often call for him to shoot "guys with ties" and "gals in skirts," so he explained what he does to make what might be boring subjects stand out:

1) He looks for an interesting background first and then puts his subject in it. His process starts with asking himself "what's my background," and "what's my depth of field." Then he applies the light that's needed to get the effect he wants. He figures out what f-stop he wants to shoot at and then sets up lights so he can shoot at that depth.

2) He uses people in his photos to show a sense of scale. He doesn't care who he has to grab, whether it's his own assistants or factory crews, to add a human element his photos showcasing advertising, architecture, editorial, healthcare, industrial, international, mining, oil & gas, portrait, still life and workplace or environmental imagery.

3) He uses foreground elements to create a sense of depth in images.

4) He rarely uses more than 1/30th to 1/60th of power on his SB800s, and he generally starts with only one light source. The area is lit before the subject comes in.

5) He aims to create believable and sellable images. Most of his work is staged, and he acts out every position he wants his subjects to take. He doesn't shoot photos, he "makes" photos. "Be an art director with a camera. People don't know what to do. You need to direct them." To this end, his most useful photographic tools are walkie talkies to direct subjects and primary color jackets to add interest and contrast to images.

"Nothing will happen uneless you make that shot happen. You will never get a shot unless you put it together," Tejada says.

6) He recommends collecting favorite images from magazines and annual reports so photographers can get creative inspiration. "I see nothing wrong with doing a rendention of someone's work," Tejada says.

7) He blogs to keep a written journal of his assignments. He does so much he tends to forget what his assignments are.

8) He makes clients pay for liability insurance and cleaning his gear in dirty, dingy and hazardous shooting environments.

9) The key to his small strobe usage is to let the ambient light do all the "heavy lifting" and he uses the strobes to light up the subject.

10) If you see something you want to shoot, STOP NOW and get it because there is no guarantee the circumstance will be the same when you come back.

11) Get yourself a mentor if you want to be successful.

12) He direct's a viewers eyes by placing a stronger light source on his subjects. He often has one person making direct eye contact with the camera in his images.

13) He loves DIY-photography projects. His other favorite tools are tripods for sharp images, Lightroom, light breaks to project pattern into a background, HMI movie lights, CTO/CTB filters, scissor clamps, barn doors and nothing larger than 4 GB on a memory card.

14) Use open doorways as an available light source. "Just because you have a strobe doesn't mean you have to use it. Find the light." On the other hand, it's sometimes fun to try putting a strobe in a shot. "Have fun playing with light and see what you can do. Practice all the time."

15) His biggest No-Nos: Don't have models standing or leaning on walls, and don't have a subject point a finger in a photograph.


Jonathan P. Freeman said...

You wrote such a better blog about this then I did. Great job and the SSBR workshop is very good. You'll learn alot. Then you'll go buy a bunch of stuff.... I did!

Sheba Wheeler said...

Thanks Jon! Although right now, I couldn't afford to buy much of anything!

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