I’m going to be honest – I’m writing this one through years of trial and error and I’m gunna share that with you.
But rather than get mad about all the things I can’t control (and I mean more than just the light) I’ve thought through how I can manage the expectations of my self and the people I’m photographing through the ever changing and unpredictable weather I’ve been based in for the last few years in England.
In this chapter of my business, I’m lucky enough to be able to decide to not shoot in Winter. Specifically, not outside of Daylight Savings time.
I use the time to work on my business and book future shoots or I fly to a country that is having Summer! But it’s not always been like this and sometimes the forecast still has me stressing over my shoots.
Nowadays, I continue to make money all year around through branding photography by pre booking Spring and Summer shoots and taking deposits to keep my cash flow flowing.
This year in particular I’ve introduced 6 month payment plans so that my Spring/Summer bookings in the UK provide my husband, huskies and I with a monthly recurring income whilst we travel across America on the road trip of our dreams!
When on a Commercial Budget…
But sometimes there are jobs that I can’t turn down because it’s a commercial client who work to the selling seasons and we need to make November look amazing, and there’s no budget to just fly to Cape Town!
If this is the case I’ll make sure that we have an inside location and I’ll use lighting to emulate natural light.
If it’s a large budget we’ll hire a bright and airy location house (through Shoot Factory) and I’ll use flash lighting but bounce it into the white ceiling corners so that it floods the room with even beautiful light, rather than creating the shadows of flash photography. When the budget allows I’ll even hire gigantic 4K HMI lights and stand them outside the windows and use them to simulate sunbeams pouring through. Super helpful when it’s 4pm and the sun has already set!
When on Personal Branding Budgets…
But let’s focus on branding shoots. Usually these don’t have massive commercial budgets so the possibility of a location house (that starts at £1200/$1500 a day) is unlikely.
Firstly hire a location that you might possibly have to use all day long.
Hiring Indoor Location
I always start by searching Airbnb Plus and creating a saved list of on-brand, bright, big locations that my client can pick from.
It’s important for you as the photographer to do this yourself because people that don’t understand the light the way you do, won’t understand what’s needed in an indoor space. Most people think indoor is the answer, but we know that indoor with tiny windows and dark walls on an overcast day is pretty much like shooting in the dark!
Make sure there are enough possible shots in this space for you to get a good return on investment for the client.
Explain to your client that this is the safest way to shoot at this time of year and the money they spend on an indoor space could be the difference between a good shoot and a rained-off shoot.
Lighting the Location
To light a dull room on an overcast day, I turn all the house lights off – yellow or tungsten light is basically hideous and if you’re balancing for this, the window light will look blue.
Then once I can see the available light I have to work with I set my shutter speed to be as slow as I can trust my hands to hold – usually 200th of a second. I set my aperture as wide as can (without compromising focus) to pull in as much light as possible.
Then lastly, because this really does effect the quality the most, I set the ISO. And the fastest I will go for branding is 1600ISO or the images lose sharpness.
Then I’ll get my LED panel lights and fill in what’s left. I point them at the ceiling or a white reflector. The key is to spread the light softly so that it doesn’t look lit.
My goal is always flat even light on the face, and some depth in the light so that the background has slightly more brightness than the foreground. This isn’t essential, but it’s just my style.
Creating Weather Days
One thing I do in early Spring and Fall is leave a few free days in my calendar to pencil some weather days.
Ask your client to pick one of these as their back up day incase the predictive forecast is gross and you think sacrificing your plans and waiting a little longer would serve your photography.
Now I’ve been in some pretty uncomfortable scenarios with weather.
The worst is when I don’t have any day to move the shoot too and we just have to let the weather dictate the entire day.
I don’t have lighting on shoots when I travel and even Bali has tropical storms out of the blue (especially Bali!) I’ve been in situations where we had no indoor location and we’ve cafe hopped all day long, with dishevelled hair, desperate to get a window seat.
I’ve had my lighting break mid shoot.
I’ve literally forgotten my reflectors and had to ask my husband if he could race them too me during hair and makeup on a 2 hour round trip!
I’ve moved a shoot last minute, asking the client to trust me on this, and because I hadn’t properly covered this in the discovery call I had them feeling totally surprised and confused.
My creative heart is so tied up in achieving the best results that I’ve literally shot the same person three days in a row because we was rained off each time around… and we had no indoor space to seek refuge!
Oh those moments through which we learn!
You learn that not everyone sees the three dimensional light the way you do.
Nor is it anyone else’s job other than yours to understand it.
It’s not your clients fault for booking a shoot in Winter.
They trust that as the professional you have this covered.
After all, we’ve all been told that everything is Photoshop’ed these days and nothing is real, so most people believe that you can save it all in post.
But you know that the foundations need to be strong to create something extraordinary and still real.
So what can you do to help yourself navigate these scenarios? You can set the expectations for your client from the get go:
“It’s Spring and we might get a little rain or some clouds and I’m a light worker, not a miracle worker so we need to layout some plan B’s for it it gets too dull or wet for our shoot.”
“I’m a natural light photographer and my skills lie in seeing, manipulating and working alongside the available god given light of our day. I can definitely make it appear more bright and brilliant that it feels on a cloudy day, and I can make it look less cold, but there are limits to a camera and edit.”
“I highly recommend hiring an indoor space, which will cost you a little more on top of my shoot rate but it could be out saving grave if it rains! Even if it doesn’t rain, we can use it anyway to shoot all your homely laptop lifestyle imagery, so it’s definitely not going to be wasted.”
“What I’ll do is keep an eye on the predictive forecast, and if it’s looking like our date together isn’t not giving us the sunshine you deserve, I’ll consider moving your shoot date to our weather day. And don’t worry this won’t effect your deposit or cost you more. I save days in my diary specifically for this reason because an amazing outcome of our shoot is as important to me as it is to you.”
“We’ll try to find a location that has a flexible cancellation policy so that if we have to move our date you’re not losing money. But at the end of the day it’ll be up to you if you want to proceed and do our best or take my offer of a new day. And this only really happens less than a handful of shoots a year, it’s just to get you clear on my process.”
Build this info into your contract and email communication.
Talk your client through this on your discovery call before they book.
This is how you make them feel safe. That’s what we want when we’re handing over our money and time to a professional.
And lastly it’s going to take the pressure to be a perfect problem solver off of your shoulders.
Be kind to yourself. Everyone finds it hard to shoot when the light is rubbish.
You can have methods to make it through the uncontrollable variations in weather.
But remember no one would expect a pilot to fly if the conditions were against her – As the passenger you have no clue, and you’d trust her to take the lead on what to do!