Process 052 ☼ Answering Your Questions
GIVEAWAY: ltd ed. Dan Rubin X-Pan print
Today’s letter is a Q&A in which I will answer a bunch of your questions submitted via email and on Instagram.
Also: a video interview with Oliver Marsden, a talented photojournalist in Ukraine, as we went over questions you submitted last week after my conversation with Julia Kochetova.
This week’s Process Giveaway features a special limited edition print by Dan Rubin, shot on his Hasselblad X-Pan panorama camera.
Before we dive into the Q&A, a happy announcement! This issue of Process is sponsored by my friends at Glass, an ad-free and algorithm-free photo sharing app. More below!
Questions and Answers
Thank you for sending in so many great questions ranging from the technical to the philosophical. Let’s dive right in!
How do you prepare for a portrait shoot? — @Mellodezz
If it’s a client shoot, I prepare meticulously to make sure the circumstances and my gear are fully figured out and we are set up for success. I’ll work with my team to make sure we work efficiently and have a clearly laid out game plan.
Most of that is taken care of in pre-production meetings with the client and often someone from the client’s team will be on set with me as an extra pair of eyes.
I’ll also make sure we know what the people and the space look like so my team and I can prepare a lighting strategy and styling can be discussed in advance. As long as you have a clear list of deliverables, everyone communicates about their expectations, and your gear is packed and in good shape everything should be ok.
If it’s for a personal shoot for one of my projects all of that goes out the window and I just show up and play and connect with the person I am photographing and let it all happen. I just tell them to wear what makes them feel confident and like themselves and that is about it!
If you walk away from each shoot having accomplished just one thing, what would it be? — @breathinmyblood
If it’s a portrait shoot the highest possible is for me to make the other person feel truly seen and, if they’re sharing their story as well, to feel heard. There have been times when someone has told me my portrait of them was the first time they felt a portrait truly reflected how they saw themselves, and that is an amazing thing to be told. A smaller version of that is when someone makes my portrait their profile photo on social media, which is always a good feeling too.
If it’s a client shoot all I care about accomplishing is helping the client tell their story in the best way possible by creating images we can be proud of that will communicate what needs to be communicated.
What advice would you give to a beginning photographer? — @guidodebruin
A perfect question for the Process Archive! Check out Process 008 where I share Three Photography Tips For Beginners (Plus Four More). For extra credit check out Process 024: Five Beliefs That Hold Photographers Back.
How do you meter light for portraits? — @timvrhn
I almost always meter for the highlights or mids, because it gives me the dramatic deep black shadows that I love. See below for an example with a portrait of Gabe which I took during a client shoot for underwear brand Hanes. On the left is a behind-the-scenes moment captured by my good friend Paul Jun.
Generally most people prefer doing the opposite and meter for shadows since it leads to a more evenly lit and bright image, which is especially useful for commercial and lifestyle work. I highly recommend setting up a practice shoot to try both with the same camera and model. This way you gain the experience that will help you pick between the two depending on the moment.
How do you see the future of film photography? Won’t we run out of cameras, parts, and equipment? - @swcallen
I hope and think film will not go away in the foreseeable future. I am however afraid that rising costs and demand growing faster than supply will make it even more so a format for those who are privileged to be able to afford it, especially color.
In terms of running out of cameras, I am not that worried about it. We have to remember that when analog cameras were being produced the market was basically everyone, which is much larger than today’s market which is a niche for enthusiasts.
For every person who shoots film in 2022 there were probably 100 or even 1000 people who shot film cameras in the 1990’s. So while many of those millions and millions of cameras have broken by now, many more are still left including all the parts.
At what point in your career did you feel most grateful? — @maartjebrockbernd
There are many moments when I feel grateful about getting to do the work I do and these days also about being able to share lessons learned with you here in Process.
The moment Dan and I launched the NOTICE pre-order was a big gratitude moment, as was nearly selling out the first print through pre-orders alone.
I’m also grateful every time I get a message from someone in the Process community sharing something personal and how Process has been empowering for them. That’s what keeps me going!
Perhaps the most grateful moment I’ve had during my career was during and after a shoot I did in San Francisco a few years ago. It was a pro bono shoot for a non-profit that trained homeless people in the culinary arts and helps them find jobs. See below.
It was a Monday morning, I was tired, and it was in an inconvenient location so I wasn’t super excited on my way to the shoot. My assignment was to take some simple graduation portraits for an hour and head back out.
Once I arrived I realized the space that had been set up for the shoot was never going to work due to the light conditions and clutter. I started walking around and found a door that hadn’t been opened in years, which led to a very narrow alleyway in between the school and next building over and the light was heavenly.
They allowed me to set up there and one by one the graduating class students popped in to have their portrait taken. Homeless people are often ignored and treated as if they’re invisible, especially in San Francisco, and what we were doing during the shoot was the opposite! We were celebrating their presence and accomplishments, and truly seeing them for their achievements and humanity. Each student thanked me profusely for taking their portrait because they didn’t have any pictures of themselves.
It was such a moving experience to photograph these amazing people and help make them feel seen. I teared up throughout this shoot and even get emotional writing about it now. It was probably my most grateful moment in photography.
Later on I pitched the images to SF Magazine to get attention for this amazing program and they ran it as a full page feature.
What’s your take on slide film? — @vvankooten
I love slide film! Most of the color images in my book NOTICE are shot on slide film, see below. I also love living on the edge but shooting expired slide film, which I wrote about in Process 025 with lots of example images.
When it comes to your portfolio which is better; quality or quantity? — @initial.here.please
For sure quality over quality. It’s better to have portfolio with ten great shots than it is to have a portfolio those same ten great shots plus ten more pretty good ones. I wrote an entire issue of Process about putting together a portfolio which you can check out here and I’m planning to do an update on this in the coming week.
What are your thoughts on using a digital camera as a light meter when shooting film? — @kevens_photographs
My guideline is whatever works and helps you get a better picture is a-ok! That being said, my other guideline is to carry as little as possible so while a digital camera will be a much more accurate tool to meter light with, my iPhone Lightmeter app is totally fine and it means less stuff to carry so that’s what I bring.
What kind of models do you look for? — @_shanisia
When I do test shoots for modeling agencies more than anything I look for real personality and individuality, especially in today’s sea of sameness. As a fan of the 90’s era of models I love when a collaboration between model and photographer is playful and focuses on bringing whatever makes the model unique out into the open.
This is also why I prefer working with models who are not solely models but also have another creative outlet, for example acting or writing or music. These are amazing wells of inspiration to co-create stories with.
Modeling is quite a hard profession to do well and in this era where one particular celebrity family has influenced beauty standards so much I try to steer clear of that particular look. I look more for “interesting” and less for “Instagram-hot”.
To take this a step further, for many commercial shoots I don’t cast from modeling agencies but from the ever-growing group of people I meet and photograph on the street. I wrote about that in Process 035: How To Ask A Stranger For A Portrait. Below are two people I met and photographed on the streets of Tokyo.
What is one photo book that you come back to often?— José Ruiz
That would be Steidl’s Mary Ellen Mark’s “The Book of Everything” which is a three book volume edited by her husband Martin Bell after Ms. Mark passed away. It spans decades of work and is incredibly beautiful, moving, and inspiring.
Do you get imposter syndrome? As you gained more experience did this subside? How do you deal with it? — Shanil
Absolutely, even during the writing of this particular issue of Process I had a brief moment where the internal imposter syndrome voice exclaimed: “Who are you to answer these questions??” The good thing is, I can laugh at the voice now and that gets easier with each year of experience and as I learn to be patient and kind to myself.
Do you ever feel that photography as a medium is inadequate in this new media landscape in which Instagram and TikTok favour video format more than stills? As a hobbyist photographer trying to build up my body of work, I always feel this pressure having to do video if I were to do reach more audiences. — Alvin Jurianto
I would recommend playing the long game and embracing photography as life-long passion and a craft that is never-ending in terms of how much there is to learn. That will help you worry less about what the trend is right now, whether it’s an aesthetic trend or a format one steered by apps that in the long term will not be around.
You’re better off spending that time on becoming a better photographer. Having great photos is a more sustainable way to get noticed than jumping on every trend and algorithmic format push. That being said, if you enjoy making videos then by all means embrace that wonderful format, but don’t do it if it’s because you feel forced to in an effort of getting your photography noticed.
Below is a tiny video piece I made during a photo shoot last year.
Is it too late to start a photography career in your mid thirties? How do you know if your photography is any good? — Fabian Hönig
Absolutely not! And the same goes for any creative work. The media is obsessed with youth, which is why stories about young artists of all disciplines are most of what you see, but in the world of the working creative there is much more age diversity.
Authors usually don’t get published until their 40’s or even 50’s. Designers may not hit their stride until their 40’s. One of my favorite photographers working today is Siân Davey and she didn’t start until she was in her 40’s after a career as a psychotherapist.
What is the best affordable camera for beginners? — Stephanie Schreier
The world affordable is a little tricky because the Process community is spread out over more than 50 countries and incomes vary greatly. Keeping that in mind I’d say any camera you can get your hands on is the best camera to start with. Whether that is your phone, or an analog point and shoot, or a 10 year old digital Canon Rebel.
In the end gear is fun to talk about but nowhere near as important as having a point of view that is unique to you. When normal non-photographer people see a good photo they will never ever (never!) wonder or care about which camera it was taken on. Only us photography weirdos like to obsess over that.
Its also helpful to remember that any camera that can be purchased new in 2022 far outperforms cameras used by your favorite legendary photographers from the 1950’s, for example, in terms of specs. Meaning any camera will do, especially to get started with. More doing, less thinking, is the motto. Embrace the search for a point of view and worry less about the camera you’re using right now.
That being said if it’s within your budget to pick up a Fuji X100F or V then I highly recommend it because it’s a well-designed digital camera that has soul.
What is best first analog camera for someone who has only shot digital so far? - @kevenblderas
When I lived in Mexico City a few years ago my friend Frederik Trovatten asked me this exact question and we ended up making a video for his channel where I took him shopping for his first analog camera. You can watch it here.
Spoiler alert: Canon AE-1 (or A-1) or the Pentax K1000 are affordable and great cameras with lots of nice cheap lenses available and they’re great to learn on.
What’s your favorite 35mm camera? - @batmangoesphotography
It depends a bit on what the shoot is about but overall its the Pentax LX, which does come with a warning label which I wrote about in issue 047.
How do you conduct a photo shoot with someone who’s never been photographed in their life? - @eletrotupiniquim
Most non-model client shoots feature people who have never been photographed by a professional before. Whether it’s executive or staff portraits, an author portrait for a writer’s new book, or marketing images featuring customers. To be photographed is to be seen and even stared at, which can be intimidating if you’re not used to it.
The key is to create a comfortable atmosphere filled with trust and fun. Getting to know the person through conversation before the shoot, having a calm presence on set, explaining the process, playing music they enjoy, smiling, showing them some nice photos on the back of the digital camera so they see they look good, etc. All of those little thoughtful moves that might make someone feel comfortable. When someone is comfortable, they look beautiful and like themselves.
Will you ever teach a course or workshop on analog portrait photography? - @studio_roko
Yes! I’m working on a few special Process projects for later in the year and a workshop is one of them. Before then I will start offering some extra mentoring sessions similar to the ones I did as part of the NOTICE pre-order campaign. In these sessions my focus will be on providing guidance and practical next steps for people who are working on a project like a zine, a book, or a photo series that will live online.
For some people that will mean I will help them flesh out their idea from the ground up, while others might already have a strong concept and need help bringing it to the next level through image selection and storytelling strategies. I will also start offering more portfolio reviews. More news on this soon!
How can I pitch my myself to companies for my photography work? — @gunnarelgersma
This was such a popular question that I have decided to dedicate an entire future issue to laying out this process from start to finish. Coming soon!
That’s it for the Q&A! I hope this was helpful, let me know if you have any other questions in the comments.
A Conversation With Oliver, a Photojournalist In Ukraine
Last week’s Process Giveaway question was “What question would you ask a conflict photographer if you had the chance?”.
You sent in so many great questions and I was able to ask many of them during a conversation with Oliver Marsden, a Lebanon-based photojournalist currently on the ground in Ukraine. Below is an unedited video of our conversation, recorded via Zoom. It was a great chat.
That’s it for this week! The next issue will come out on Monday March 21st instead of Sunday March 20th for an exciting reason: I’m testing a brand new film (!!) which can’t be announced until then!
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others.
My good friend Dan Rubin, photographer and designer extraordinaire, has made available this stunning one-of-one print shot on his Hasselblad X-Pan during a trip to Sri-Lanka in 2016. You may remember that Dan also designed my book NOTICE and is an expert on all things print! The size of this print is 24” by 9”, or about 61cm by 22.8cm, and will look gorgeous on your wall. Look at it! It’s stunning!
To enter email me at firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject line PROCESS GIVEAWAY 052 before 11pm EST on March 16th and answer the following question:
What did you learn about yourself as a photographer during the pandemic?
My answer: I learned that I could do street photography even on completely abandoned streets without any people around and in a “boring” neighborhood. (PS this led to my book NOTICE.)
The winner will be randomly drawn and notified. This giveaway is for Process subscribers only. Subscribe by clicking the button below:
Make sure to check out Dan’s print shop and use the code “process-march” to get 25% off all prints. Dan is closing out the shop at the end of March so this is your last shot!
➳ Process Sponsor: Glass
Since this is the first issue of Process with a sponsor I wanted to take you along in my thinking. Process takes a lot of time to put together and I love doing it during my free time in between client work. Having a sponsor means I can free up time during to dedicate to making Process extra fun and inspiring in a more sustainable way.
My pledge to you is that when I work with a sponsor it will be fully transparent, there will be no input whatsoever on the content of Process, and I will never share reader information. Basically, Process and our relationship doesn’t change in any way.
Sponsors and their products will be aligned with the spirit of Process, which honors a slow and intentional approach to photography and learning. Glass is a perfect example. I’m a paying member myself and you can check out my profile here.
Here are some words from Glass co-founder Tom Watson:
“We're thrilled to be able to be the first sponsor of Process. We've been following Wesley's work for years and his dedication to sharing his knowledge and helping other photographer's improve their craft is exactly the same reason we started Glass.
Glass is a photography community and photo sharing app. It's a place where you can share your work, get feedback, experiment, and find inspiration. We don't have ads or algorithms. Absolutely no data tracking or public counts. We're member-supported with no outside investors. We have a chronological feed.
We just released our iPad app and Glass for the web is coming next month. To celebrate the launch of a photo community on iPad, we're giving Process readers a free month on a yearly membership. Glass costs $5/month or $30/year.”
Glass is on board to sponsor the next four issues and as a thank you to them I’d love for you to check them out for free here.
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Process is a weekly letter from Wesley Verhoeve. If you’d like to support what I do here click the button below to order my new book NOTICE.