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Problems with Last Year's Briefs - 2 - Production


Here's the 2nd in my series of posts about responses to last year's briefs, this one focusing on matters of production. That mythical, nebulous, yet absolutely vital side to professional photography!

Production Problems.

"Production" is a word that seems to confuse a lot of people, yet if you shoot anything at all you've been doing some production, no matter how small. In a nutshell, production refers to bringing together the right people, props, equipment and general stuff, to the right place at the right time to carry out your shoot. So this can be as simple as remembering to book a studio space at college, and not forgetting to bring your camera and something to shoot, all the way up to booking flights for a dozen crew, sorting out carnets and excess baggage, arranging for translators and location crew, plus generators, security guards and food for a crew of 12!

As far as the challenge briefs are concerned, production problems refer to issues of organisation, usually caused by people being freaked out by only having 3 hours to do things in! There's a bit of a cross-over into the creative side of things as well, but I'll try not to cover stuff twice.

"...In the context of the brief it's no skin off my nose if someone decides to quit - it usually means I get to go home early!"

I only encountered a couple of people across 12 colleges who actually gave up on the brief. Both times their excuses were pretty lame - and were very easily countered with suggestions like: "well, everyone else is managing to shoot in the rain", or "why didn't you try a different location then, if that one was no good". In the context of the brief it's no skin off my nose if someone decides to quit - it usually means I get to go home early, as there'll be less work to critique! If it were a real brief, then telling the person who commissioned the work that you've "given up because it was drizzling a bit, so there's no photos sorry" would be met with open mouthed incredulity, and it's unlikely you'd ever get called for work again. I made frequent mentions in my talk of improvising when things don't go according to plan (which is about 90% of the time), and it's a vital skill to learn. So many things can change from your initial idea to what happens on the day that you have to develop good skills of adapting and evolving as you go along.

"...there's no excuse for handing in the same shot 8 times."

The art of editing your own work is something that takes years to perfect, and it's also something that probably comes under the umbrella of creative problems, but I'm sticking it in here anyway! We suggested in the guidelines that 4 or more images would be sufficient, and most people handed in between 4 and 10 shots. There were a few people who only handed in 1 or 2 shots, and this would be more of a problem than the few people who handed in 20-odd, as it gives the art director very little to play with. More of an issue were people who handed in effectively the same shot in every frame, varying nothing more than a slight angle, or possibly cropping in a bit tighter. Again, this gives an art director very little to work with, and is as bad as only handing in one or two images.

There are so many things that you can do just by changing the relationship between the camera and the subject that excuses about not having enough time or equipment are not really acceptable. Get above your subject, get below them, hide them behind things, shoot through things, frame them within things, move the camera round or move the subject round whilst shooting, shoot out wide, or shoot very close in, and so on. All of this can be done without changing locations or adding extra equipment such as lighting, and once you start to bring those extra factors in the possibilities become almost endless. In short there's no excuse for handing in the same shot 8 times, and you should be able to produce a wide range of shots without even leaving the location you first started in.

"...your images are not a perfect work of art that may never be tampered with."

All of this variety is there to give the art director something to work with when they put the pages together, and here we bump into another recurring problem - not allowing for your images to be "used". Too many people shot things without taking into account what I'd told them about Double-Page-Spreads (don't put any details dead centre - they'll get lost in the fold between the pages) and too many people shot things that left no room for things like text or graphics to be added afterwards. In the commercial world, be it editorial, advertising or other it's vital to remember that your images are not a perfect work of art that may never be tampered with. They are in fact raw material for the art director to muck about with as required. To this end be careful of shooting things which are too fixed - handing in shots that have already been cropped to a panoramic format, or converted to Black and White, limits the options quite a lot. By all means do things like panoramic crops or grayscale conversions, but hand in plain versions as well in case the art director doesn't like what you've done.

It seems a little unfair to criticise students for what are called "production values" (the physical elements that make up the shot - clothes, location, model etc) but the fact that a few people produced outstanding results in this area proves that it's possible. One of the easiest ways for people like me in the commercial world to spot student work is because of it's low production values - shots look like they were done with mates rather than models, clothes don't look very well styled, make-up is scarce if used at all, locations tend to be obvious or cheap and so on. Probably one of the best ways to make your work stand out, and appeal to the commercial world is to pay attention to these production values, and make them as polished and professional as possible. Now, we understand that given 3 hours, and very little warning, it's asking a bit much to magic up a professional model, studio, wardrobe, hair and make-up and the rest from nowhere, but that's half the point of the challenge! You'd be surprised at how often we're expected to make do and improvise with what we can find here in the "real world".

"...The ones who impressed us with their production values simply used what they had better."

The fact that a decent number of people managed to produce work (usually for the fashion or Sunday Supplement briefs) which looked polished and professional proves it can be done. In every case they'd made maximum use of what they had to hand, and thought things through carefully. There was a deliberate trap in the Sunday Supplement brief, which was the list of previous snappers who've shot it. Handing in shots of one of your mates just lounging about at home, in the clothes you found them in, lit with direct on-camera flash, doesn't quite conjure up the same feel as something shot by Rankin or Lorenzo Agius. The ones who impressed us with their production values didn't have more money to spend than the others, nor did they have more time, they simply used what they had better. Although a softbox, and a full set of location lighting would be very handy for a shoot of this nature, you could get fairly close by simply using soft light wherever you may find it - in open shade, or windowlight for example. Likewise, locations don't have to be lavish and expensive, they just need to not feel cheap and nasty, or obvious and banal. One of the best entries we saw for this brief was of someone who'd blatantly shot her friend at home, but by changing clothes several times, framing the shots very carefully against what backdrops she had, and using simple lighting, she produced a very polished set of images. The point being that nothing she did was beyond the reach of anyone else - it didn't require much more time, or equipment, just a bit of thought and consideration before pressing the shutter.

"...Lunch? What were you thinking?"

And without sounding like a complete fascist, who on earth were those odd people at a few colleges who, on being given the details of the brief at 12, and told they had 3 hours in which to do the entire thing, went off and had lunch? Lunch? What were you thinking? You've got 3 hours from start to finish - leave off the pies for now fatty and get the job done! I love lunch, me, but I've missed more than I could ever count because circumstances dictated that I had to get the job shot there and then. It tastes better when you've built up an appetite, trust me!


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