How many decent studio portraits can you possibly shoot in one hour?

How many decent studio portraits can you possibly shoot in one hour? Last November I shot 50 portraits of 109 subjects in 126 minutes, and I think that’s the limit for the quality I can still be happy with.

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During the 2016 Stand Up for Heroes event for the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York I thought I would challenge myself again with shooting 50 portraits within 2 hours.  As a portrait photographer I usually plan for an hour, photographing one single subject. Photographing 50 in two hours creates several challenges. 

The technical part of photography has to become completely secondary during the shoot. There is just no time to think about light and composition, or to think about technicalities such as shutter speed, light output, aperture, ISO, etc. …. 

Everything needs to be planned ahead, including how the post-processing is going to be done. Plus I need backup equipment in case something breaks down, because there is just no room for an impromptu plan B.

The 2:30 minutes per session I spend with building a rapport with my subjects and directing them. 150 seconds to make people feel at ease in front of the camera, to build some form of trust, to have them open up, so I am not ending up with the dreaded deer-in-headlights-expression, and to make it a positive experience for the subject. 

If there is only such little time for each session, I find it more beneficial not to have my face behind the camera looking through the viewfinder. To check, if the equipment still does what it is supposed to do, I use a monitor tethered to my camera, which I keep in my peripheral view. During the shoot I want to be able to spend as much time as possible to interact with my subjects, which would be limited, if I am behind the camera. The shutter release is being pressed via a wireless remote control. As long as the equipment does what it is supposed to do, there is no need for me to have to touch the camera. The camera becomes completely irrelevant at that point, my work is all about the subject during the shoot.

In order to do this we needed a pretty large crew

  • we had 10 hair stylists
  • 10 make up artists
  • 4 men’s groomers
  • 3 assistants to manage the flow

Some other facts:

  • first to last image = 126 minutes
  • about 18 images per portrait session
  • around 150 seconds for each portrait session 
  • there were 42 groups of 2,
  • 2 groups of 8,
  • 1 group of 4,
  • 5 service dogs, 
  • and I snuck into 2 portraits
  • all in all 104 people photographed in 126 minutes, boom!

Equipment:

  • Nikon D800
  • F7.1
  • 1/160
  • ISO 320 to keep the recycle time of the strobe manageable 
  • Nikon 24-120mm F4 @ 31mm
  • Flashpoint StreakLight 360 
  • Photek Softlighter II 60 inch
  • CamRanger to connect wireless to iPad
  • Yongnuo RF-360 to trigger the D800 remotely

One pre-requisite here was also that the equipment had to be kept down to a minimum due to logistics. 

SRS