Catherine shows you her tips and tricks
Tips + Tricks
How I squelched my fear of using strobe on-site.
In the wedding-photography industry, the use of natural lighting is the norm. I’m interested in changing that. By incorporating artificial lighting techniques into my repertoire, I am able to share with my clients the gift of visual depth, saturation, and drama–something I couldn’t always otherwise achieve if I weren’t getting cozy with strobe. Given my all-over-the-place, a-hundred-miles-a-minute schedule, it’s been challenging to carve out time to sit down and learn how to use new lighting tools. That’s where the hire of a Lighting Director re-focused and re-directed my photography career.
When on-site at a photo shoot, adrenaline floods my body. My work day is marked by a sense of intensity, urgency, and hyper-vision (and, obviously, pleasure from doing the thing that I love most). Working with artificial light only ups the ante.Despite all of the test shoots leading up to my first use of strobe out in-the-field, when the big day came around, I was a nervous wreck. A total contrast to my typical California-girl cool.My nervousness translated into clumsiness. During my first round of shots for a new corporate client, I completely forgot that my lighting director synced my camera to fire the strobes–resulting in overexposed, barely recoverable images. I felt heart-racing panic. (My emotional state wasn’t helped by the artistic director who was breathing down my neck, watching my every move.)
Yet as a Bikram yoga devotee of three years, I’ve developed a knack for breathing through fear and intensity. For those of you unfamiliar with Bikram, just imagine you’re in a room heated to 100+ degrees, contorting your body into positions with names like camel and cricket. Now, imagine you’re in this scenario and somehow achieving a meditative head-space. This is the practice of yoga. With measured inhalations and exhalations, I summoned my resolve and returned to the moment–the most important thing was my client, and focusing on my own fear wasn’t helping them. I asked my lighting director to give me a meter reading and returned to the fray. My next images? Total Rembrandt. The results were rich with texture and depth–dare I say, jaw-dropping?
It turns out that using lighting in the field makes my experience as a photographer more dynamic–rather than relying on old tricks, I’m stimulated by the synthesis of new techniques into my skill set. Not to mention that my clients receive images with a quality that exceeds their expectations.
Lighting Journal Entry #3 – One year ago…
Our journey started off with a bang. Ryan and I were in complete agreement that Profoto was the only lights we wanted to use. Since the company is internationally recognized as the best, neither of us thought otherwise.
We walked up to the Profoto booth at WPPI holding hands and excited to embark on this experience that would surely bring us closer. Unfortunately, our bliss was cut short when Ryan, with his film industry background, exclaimed that we were looking for the second biggest generator Profoto makes and happens to be incredibly heavy. Plus, this generator he was looking for is one their most expensive pieces of gear (we’re talking double digits here).
Ok, I admit it… as a chick, I like compressed, cute stuff. Easy to move, easy to store, and well, cute to look at. We discovered our differences on the Profoto Booth floor and had a bit of a tiff. Needless to say the two sales reps eagerly helping us slowly backed away and disengaged — awkward!! I felt like we had all been part of a domestic dispute. Good thing I made a lasting impression on my sponsor… and hopefully entertained a few people passing by.
We laughed over our argument later and turned it into a point of discussion, finally coming to a synonymous decision on what was best for Catherine Hall Studios. I’m looking forward to sharing my choice soon!
Photograph by Gene Higa Lighting Journal entry # 2 – one year ago…
Every girl loves to shop. And as a total tech geek it doesn’t get much better than this. I can’t wait to get to work with the great equipment I’ve chosen, all from industry leaders in the world of lighting technology. Here’s what I’m getting to launch my lighting learning:
Strobe – I was immediately drawn to Profoto because of their incredible reputation as a leader in the industry. Their products are consistent (with both color balance and burst power), durable and reliable. Most important for me: Profoto is known for shaping and creating absolutely gorgeous light.
Reflectors – My first exposure to California Sunbounce was at a Greg Gorman workshop in Mendocino – btw – his workshops are AWESOME. I have always admired Greg more than any other living photographer for his ability to manipulate and capture extraordinary light. At the workshop I saw that Greg really utilizes California Sunbounce to create his dramatic portraits. So, I decided to learn from the best and work with their products too. Plus, California Sunbounce offers tons of great options and is known for helping many leading photographers emphasize light to create the right effect in an image.
Lighting Supports – I choose these from Manfrotto for several reasons. Since I am constantly moving around quickly during shoots, I need stands that are reliable, durable, and easy to manipulate (I don’t want to lose my awesome, brand new equipment because of tripping over a stand!). Since these Manfrotto supports are incredibly well designed I know that they will be practical and easy to use during shoots.
Photography Support – I have owned a Gitzo since age 16 and have never looked back or even considered anything else. I have always depended on their cutting edge products and finally decided it was time to upgrade from the durable tripod I purchased in college ten years ago (am I dating myself?).
Continuous Light – I noticed that many professionals are using Lite Panels for both video and still photography. I have heard a lot of impressive things about their products and am really excited to take work with this fairly new technology. The Lite Panels products very well made, light weight (very important for me) and eco-friendly making them a perfect piece of equipment. Plus, they are also cable free, reducing the number of possible things to trip over at a shoot!
All of these products are made by great brands and I’m very excited to get started working with all this high quality equipment.
This week I am very honored to be featured on the Wedding 360 Blog. Please enjoy my tips on transitioning from one coast to another as a business owner:
I met Catherine Hall at a networking event awhile back, and I remember liking her immediately. She just has this gracefulness to her that is so admirable, and her calm, easygoing personality makes you feel extremely comfortable when conversing with her. In the few times that we met up to chat, I have learned so much from her already. She is a wealth of knowledge not just in the photography world, but also in the business and marketing world. Since her move from New York to the Bay Area seemed so smooth, I asked if she would share some tips on transitioning from one end of the country to the other as a business owner. Thank you Catherine!
Looking back, I think I was a little crazy. Why else would I have naively believed that transitioning my business from New York City to San Francisco would be a piece of cake? Sure, San Francisco had more potential for longevity than New York, and sure, I did miss my family. But my enthusiasm to return to the Bay overshadowed some important points–like the fact that all of my clients were on the East Coast–and I found that my expectations were dramatically different than reality. I hope sharing my transition experience will give those thinking of relocating some food for thought, and everyone else some great business building tips.
1. Expect the transition to be hard.One of the biggest mistakes I made was assuming that transitioning would be easy. I thought I could just hop on a plane to San Francisco and have plenty of work upon landing. In reality, I had to start over completely. I spent the first year flying back to New York about once a month to maintain my clientele (and income!) while I became established in the Bay Area. I should have controlled my expectations and been prepared for the transition to be a journey, rather than a quick fix.
2. Research, research, research!If you do nothing else, research the industry in your chosen location before you arrive! Find out who can help you get access to the clients you want. Use your connections as much as possible. Do you have an aunt who’s a florist? A friend from high school who’s now an event planner? I talked to family friends and scoured the Internet and Here Comes the Guide to find wedding coordinators who would have the type of clients I wanted, whose work I admire, and who would be a good fit to work with. I also researched venues that would attract the type of bride I was looking for, and other photographers at my price point.
3. Seek out networking opportunities.After researching, I began contacting as many people as possible. I wrote letters to the wedding and venue coordinators introducing myself and asking for face-to-face meetings. I explained that while I was new to the area, I was not new to the industry, and needed help becoming established in a new area. I also asked for recommendations of other people to speak with and attended networking events hosted by Bay Area Wedding Network (BAWN) and the International Special Events Society (ISES). Before long, I had a list of vendors willing to help me, brides who were eager to work with me, and some great industry friends. It was also a HUGE help (and fun) having friends in the industry that offered me (and still provide) support, advice, and good company in a new area.
4. Play up your strengths.Always try to highlight and use your best qualities. Are you a Web 2.0 guru? An expert blogger? Great at social interactions? Better in one-on-one settings? Figure out in what environment you really shine and use that knowledge to your advantage. For example, I’m a social person. I love talking with people and found that attending meetings, lunches, and networking events was a great way for me to strengthen industry relationships and meet new people.
5. Maintain the integrity of yourself, your products, and your service.Sometimes when entering a new market, people lose sight of who they are and what they truly want. In their quest to fit in and gain clients, they may compromise the quality of their products or their level of service. However, long-term success depends on the way you treat everyone involved (brides, venue representatives, coordinators, etc.) and the product you deliver. I kept my overhead low (vs. cutting prices and sacrificing quality) so I could continue to deliver the quality that clients had come to expect of Catherine Hall Studios. It wasn’t fun keeping overhead low, but it was a sacrifice well worth the struggle.
Catherine will be one of our speakers at Wedding 360 PRO, together with Gene Higa who was named one of the top 10 photographers in the world!