A camera earns its keep by faithfully capturing the world frame by frame or as a tool for manipulating images to create a new reality. A professional or dedicated amateur photographer usually specializes in one or more types of photography, developing the expertise and collecting the essential gear for a successful shoot. That photo shoot might yield a birds-eye view of flood devastation taken from a helicopter, a tender moment between the bride and a sobbing flower girl in the vestibule of a church or a hot new couture bag carried by a model at dawn on a rain-soaked cobblestone street.
Gleaming Strawberries and SUVs
The commercial shoot is all about the product, which can be the latest model car or the supermarket's produce-of-the-week. Advertising photos involve exacting lighting -- strobes, mirrors and reflectors, a stylist and a "story" to convey about the product -- even if that's just that it's nearly irresistible and bright red. The shoot is guided by the client's creative director, but the photographer's experience and technical tricks add tendrils of smoky powder around a make-up brush or sparkling raindrops spattered over the Meyer lemons. The amateur equivalent of a commercial or industrial shoot is the staged photograph of your beloved jalopy -- or the kitchen of your newly remodeled house -- as you put it up for sale.
Travel photography seems like a dream career, a series of shoots in exotic locations full of beautiful people or fascinating fruit bats. The reality is far more demanding but no less adventurous. Transporting all the necessary gear to a remote site is a challenge; slogging through mosquito-infested jungle for five hours to reach a newly discovered ruin is sweaty, backbreaking work. Dancing around spotty weather at a Caribbean resort in no way resembles relaxing poolside. If you're an adventurer, you can combine your skill or extreme sport with your lens work for breathtaking views from a whitewater raft or a vibrant tropical reef. If you're a nature photographer, the macro shot of the rainbow leaf beetle is worth the trek up a Welsh mountain.
The Devil Wears Name Brands
A fashion shoot is a celebration of the clothes -- and the accessories. Most fashion photography depends on models who are professionals with a particular look favored by a designer or fashion magazine. David Turner, who shot fashion for "W" magazine for decades, likens a fashion shoot to a three-ring circus with the photographer as ringmaster, researching locations; finding the right models, make-up and hair assistants; keeping the action on the set organized and the people involved focused on getting the pictures. Conditions are often unpredictable, just as they are for the prom dress photographer -- aka Mom -- tasked with nailing the perfect image for a demanding client. The best fashion photography evokes a mood or tells a story colored by the couture.
Actors, dancers and models need headshots; celebrities, heroes and ordinary people need portraits for media coverage and posterity. A portrait shoot is typically set up in a controlled environment with precise lighting to emphasize or disguise signs of emotion or age, a bland background or one that reveals something about the subject, possibly a hair and make-up artist, and a lot of light metering. A shoot might also be on-site or outdoors -- a professor in a library, a comedian hanging upside-down from playground monkey bars. But most portrait shots focus on the face, with no extraneous details to detract from the close-up subject.
Eye on the Ball
You're the volunteer shooter for the small-fry soccer league or the photographer paid to capture disaster and glory on the track, the trampoline or the tennis court. Sports shoots at practice or during games or competitions take nerves of steel, a motor drive and a really big lens. In fact, sports photographers rely on a battery of fixed and zoom lenses to gab the action near, far and racing by. A tripod and slow shutter speed produce motion-blur photographs with a sense of speed. Dance photography uses many of the same techniques that work for a sports shoot.
First Kiss, First Dance
Here comes the smiling wedding photographer with a long list to tick off of absolutely gotta-have-it shots and a mandate to capture the candid moments that keep this wedding from looking like every other wedding. A wedding shoot is an hours-long affair that has already gobbled up days of pre-planning and is meant to create an irreplaceable heirloom. No pressure. Wedding shoots come in four main flavors -- with endless variations -- and they require a boatload of gear. Classic portraiture, documentary, artistic and edgy styles range from the shots in your mother's wedding album to odd angles of the ceremony. A comprehensive wedding shoot covers formal and informal, staged and unrehearsed photographs.
On the Scene
As a fire flashes through a row of houses, the flames flicker across the face of a small boy in his pajamas, held in his father's arms and clutching a teddy bear. In the aftermath of a killer hurricane, a harbor-full of yachts is beached helter-skelter on a highway. As she declares victory, the successful candidate does a quick fist pump in front of her campaign sign. For the photojournalist, a shoot is a breaking event, full of iconic single images that must convey the whole story. The requirements for the job are equal parts news judgment, courage and artistry. Available light and all the gear you can carry while you're scrambling for shots deliver memorable photojournalism.
- Hallmark Institute of Photography: David Turner’s Advice for Photographers on a Fashion Shoot -- Act Like the Ringleader of a Circus
- Photo Pro Magazine: Studio Master
- Professional Photographer: Photo Gallery
- Shutterbug: Alternative Processes, Digital Style -- Classic Expressions for Your Images
- The Knot: Getting Started -- Finding a Great Wedding Photographer
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .