June 27, 2013

Pancake Session: Plus One the Shot

Good morning & Happy Pancake Day!!

Today I want to talk to you guys about something we push pretty hard in both our Walk Through a Wedding and J&M Lighting Intensive workshops: Plus One-ing the Shot. We first heard of this idea from our friend & Australian photographer, Dan O’Day. He talked about it in his presentation at What If Cabo and it’s really just stuck with me ever since.

The idea is simple. Most of us tend to shoot until we have a good shot, and then the temptation is to walk away and move on to the next thing. That’s especially true on a wedding day when things are moving a million miles a minute and so much is happening. But the thing is, once we’ve done all the work to get to a “good” shot we’re 90% of the way there to a really great shot. We’ve dialed in our settings, simplified the background, figured out our shot. If we could just force ourselves to slow down for a second, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves “what’s just one thing I could do to make this shot better?”….that could be all the difference in making it that extra 10% to a great shot. And the kind of shot we can be really proud of.

So when we’re in our workshops & I’m working side by side with someone, the first step is for us to dial in and nail the exposure. I can tell you that once we get that, most people are ready to be done right there! :) But getting your settings dialed in just means that now you’re ready to create. The next step, is I tell them “ok, what’s your shot? what is the shot you WANT to take?” And then we get that. And now most people think we’re really done. But before I let them go, I ask them to look at the back of the camera, look at the scene, do a “visual sweep” and pick one thing that they would like to improve. One thing that when they get back home and look at the pictures on the computer, they are going to WISH they would have changed. Here are a few things I have people look for:

*Cropping too close to the edge
*Something distracting in the background
*Crooked frame
*Weird angle of chin
*Is the posing too stiff?
*Could the expression be more natural
*Was the groom’s hand just dropped down at his side instead of engaging bride?
*Is this the best background for what we’re shooting?
*Could the direction of the light be better?
*Is there a silly mistake like a strap being undone or the dress being flipped up that’s going to bug you in every shot
*Is there something small that you’re going to have to retouch out of every shot, where you could just crop it out in camera?

I chose four frames from one of our most recent weddings to show you Plus One-ing in action. I chose something like the shoes because when you’re first pushing yourself to up your shots, it can be easier to do with something like the getting ready details where you have more time and things aren’t moving as fast. But as you get more used to not putting your camera down until you have a GREAT shot, you can start to apply that to things like the couple portraits, and really candid moments (anticipating where you need to be to get the better shot before it even happens). So let’s take a look at the thought process behind these shoes.

First, I shot these sparkly, amazing Jimmy Choos on a simple ivory, velvet couch that gave me a nice clean background. The light is good, the shoes looks polished, the background is simple. This is a good enough shot. It could look just fine in a blog post or album. And I could have walked away there. But since we had some time to play (getting there early helps for this!) I was able then shoot for myself and see if I could get an image I was really psyched about.

The next step was I noticed this grey velvet chair in the corner that reminded me a lot of the gray backdrops we use in our editorial work. I liked that it really showed off the metallic of the shoes and was a slightly more dramatic background, that seemed more fitting for shoes like this!

But one of the things I quickly noticed next, was that the way I had been styling the shoes was kind of “blah” and didn’t really show off their shape. So I shifted them to be able to shoot from the side view, which I found much more flattering. I think some shoes look better straight on & some look better from the side, so I wouldn’t have known that until I was in there taking the time to try it different ways.

Finally, I noticed that our bride also had a sparkly silver purse to match, so I brought that in to really style a scene of the details and make the whole thing more interesting. None of which i probably would have ever gotten to if I would have just stopped when I had a “good” shot.

Now a few disclaimers.

At the end of the day, these are just the shoes. And there is much more important stuff going on on a wedding day. So please don’t take what I’m saying in any way to mean that you should spend the first three hours shooting the shoes, and miss the real life that’s going on! :) I just chose the shoes because I thought it was a really simple, clear way to show the evolution & thought process. And this whole evolution of the shoe shot can happen in five minutes or less. But the biggest takeaway, is to take this “Plus-One” challenge and apply throughout the day including the shots that really matter….training yourself to size up & skip over the just “good” shots in your head and get right to the GREAT ones as the moments are unfolding. It’s tough to do, and that’s why practice like this matters.

The second disclaimer is that as the shots unfolded above, you have may have found yourself liking the first shot better than the fourth. That’s totally fine. The point is to Plus One what YOU think is a great shot v. just a good one. And at the end of the day, go home with images that YOU’RE really proud of.

As always, we hope this helped! If we can ever answer any questions, just leave them in the comment box below!
Happy Pancake Day, y’all!

  1. Tiffany Farley

    This is my favorite pancake post by far and why you are such an amazing teacher. The end.

  2. Nik

    This gave word to a feeling I often have, now I know what to call it!
    Great stuff, super helpful!
    Also I do really like the shoes on angle shot, I feel that a lot of us are stuck in the "shoes together from straight on" look that only shows a fraction of the shoe in focus, I like the turn look you’ve included!

  3. Kristin

    Love this! And I am loving that last shot! I love mixing detail pieces.

  4. Bonnie & Lauren

    We’re about to go shoot a wedding. This is a great reminder to slow down and really think instead of firing shots off like a madwoman.

  5. Lea Ciceraro

    So fabulous as always! Having Mary push me to +1 my shots, and giving me a little bit of guidance to do so until I got the hang of it, at the lighting intensive really did make a world of difference! Now I can hardly take a shot without thinking about that first!! Such wonderful advice. XOXO

  6. ashley link

    this is so helpful and a good tip! thank you for sharing! :)

  7. Angela Snyder

    You are so right, I always say, I wish I would have just…(fill in blank) Better to do it earlier..and yes, that last shoe shot is gorgeous!!!!

  8. Jade

    So true.. I struggle with this at times!!

  9. Karen

    I’m crushing on image #3 in this bunch! :)

  10. sindisi

    Hi Mary, can you tell me which lens you are using normally for your detail shots? Macro 100m or 50mm?
    Thanks! Sindisi

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