From The Intern's Corner: Back-to-back Photo Shoots with Stephanie Dunn
11 Jan 2022
Shortly after starting my internship with BW Production, I attended two different photoshoots, the first being corporate headshots at a hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. The lead photographer, Stephanie Dunn, drove our little crew consisting of her, me, and our content coordinator, Brynn Knight, plus all the necessary equipment.
Stephanie loaded her SUV with a couple of heavy-duty light stands, 2 softboxes, 2 backdrop stands, a large paper backdrop roll, and a couple of bags with her camera, lights, and extra batteries. She also had additional items in her car necessary for the second photoshoot later that day. The headshots took place in the hotel conference room lined with soft carpet and red heavy drapes, so we had to prepare the space.
First, we installed the white backdrop and set up the lighting. Handling a 10 foot backdrop ideally requires two people, both at opposite ends of the roll. After carefully sliding the pole through the paper roll, we placed it so it sat properly on the stands. We raised them simultaneously at both ends, letting the paper drift and expand with no risk of wrinkling or tearing at the edges.
Setting up lights was quite simple. First, we secured the battery operated light to the stand so it's locked in place. Then we opened the umbrella shaped softboxes and attached them to the lights. There's a clicking mechanism associated with the softboxes to alert that they're locked in place. We raised the lights to a desirable height that appropriately illuminated the clients. We closed the drapes on the windows to expel any rogue light intruding the frame.
Stephanie marked the spot for the clients to stand and I acted as a stand-in while she synced the camera and lights together. As she configured the settings, Stephanie snapped pictures of me goofing off with poses and facial expressions. Choosing the correct settings before the session starts is important, but it didn't mean we couldn't have fun during the process. Creating an easy-going atmosphere relaxed the crew and ensured everyone was in high spirits; nevertheless, we were focused.
We had a company of about 12 people that came for the shoot. Stephanie was friendly, fast, and professional with them.
She first assessed their looks. She started with clothing items, getting wrinkles out, and followed up with fixing their hair. She then showed them how to stand and pose, what energy to channel or what memory to recall to capture the right emotion. She struck up conversations to get to know them better, but she did it with the intention to relax them. Some clients get nervous and she knows how to make them comfortable with her down-to-earth attitude and smile.
Though most people coming for headshots may have little experience in front of flashing lights and cameras, a professional photographer will always direct them to achieve the best results. They also take client comments and concerns into consideration. Some might be particular about hair, some don’t like smiling wide, and some ask to remove a scar during editing, or to make sure their shirt collar or jewelry is in a specific position.
Each headshot took about 7 minutes to complete. Regardless of my previous experience with fashion photoshoots in the studio, being familiar with the equipment and general photoshoot flow, that was a very insightful practice as each photographer has their own unique style and attitude. During this photoshoot, I mainly assisted with equipment set-up and strike, while taking mental notes on how Stephanie approached each client.
The next location was at Eggs in the City, who hired us to take photos for their new menu and website. This was my first time experiencing a food product photoshoot. For this, we had to set up a shadow box. Essentially, it's a contraption that blocks outside light from intruding on the subject while creating a shadow for dramatic effect.
First, Stephanie took a regular C-stand and attached an arm to it, creating the foundation for the camera. She then mounted the camera to the arm, angling the lens directly over where the food would sit. Next, Stephanie grabbed a foam board with a sleek wood pattern, positioning it under the lens to give each dish a distinct background. Around that space, she built the shadow box using 2 white, 3x3 foam boards and a soft box to light up the food.
Shortly after our arrival, the cafe closed for regular customers. The kitchen cooked each dish to perfection and presented it for Stephanie to photograph. She was tethering on her computer so the client could see right away what shots she got and if there was a need for adjustments.
Sometimes the food needed to be slightly rearranged, or the plate had a splatter and needed to be cleaned, or the light wasn’t right. At times, little details slip our attention but are visible in the pictures, so the tethering mode was beneficial. She had over 30 dishes to photograph, so Stephanie maintained a relatively fast and continuous pace so the food stayed fresh and the whipped cream wasn’t a soggy mess.
I had plenty of time to see her work and walk around snapping BTS photos on my camera. Unlike the previous photoshoot in a dim, rather empty, and very formal room, this location allowed me to explore a new place and see people in their element. I had ample opportunities to watch the cooks work and take their pictures along with some interior details.
I shot with a Canon camera that Stephanie brings on photoshoots for an assistant or BTS photographer. I'm used to my own compact Sony 6000, so it was a completely different experience for me. My unfamiliarity with settings and different button positions and the heaviness of the lens left me confused for a minute.
I took a note for myself to get familiar with this camera later in the office so in the future I could be more effective with it on the spot. I usually photograph landscapes and architecture as a hobby, so jumping right onto indoor BTS scenes was a new and exciting adventure for me.
Despite the complete difference between these two photo sessions; one being corporate headshots and another being a food photoshoot in a casual cafe, the friendly atmosphere at both made it a pleasurable and informative experience.
Utah Women in Production and Photography was founded by women for women. Their mission is to advocate for women in their respective industries. Women provide unique perspectives, skills and insight, making impactful decisions on set. BW Productions is proud to represent a dedicated group that advocates for and collaborates with women.