Ben Durham

Law Firm Photoshoot, BTS & Critiquing

4 lawyers posing for their team photo in front of a brick wall

Let’s look at how I created this photo! I don’t have all the details because I only decided after the fact that I should write something up for this. It’ll be short. Once I get writing, I can’t help but share the details. Follow me on Instagram if you want to keep up to date with moi.

Disclaimer: I’m primarily a videographer and filmmaker. There are many things I still need to learn about photography (primarily to do with posing and directing the subtleties of subjects’ body). More on that in the Critiques & Feedback section.

The Gig

First, I was called to do this shoot a few days before relocating to Montreal for two months… So we had to schedule it for the two-week stint in which I was back in London, Ontario for. I had been referred by an employee in the Lawyer’s office who knew I did the real estate photography for a friend of her’s realty company. Sound something like a confusing grapevine? Yep, often times referrals are just miraculous and it’s always interesting to see how your name gets out there. 

They required one team photo and individual photos of the 6 primary lawyers at the firm. Only 5 were there, so at the time of writing this, I’m still going to have to go back to get another team shot and another individual shot of the lawyer who wasn’t there on Shoot Day #1 (originally going to be the only one). 

Aside: Track your mileage for tax write-off reasons! It's handy and if you're not writing things off, start now (you can be a sole proprietor when starting). 

The Shoot

Unfortunately I don’t have any behind the scenes of the group shot. I’m kicking myself right now because the photo turned out really well in my opinion… but at the time it was in a “professional public space” aka the lobby… Let me explain. It’s quite amusing. 

I left my bag in Stew’s office and we did a scouting tour of the offices. Time was limited because these photos were all taken during operating hours and I had to steal the lawyers between their meetings with clients. 

There were three locations that could have worked:
1. in an office with a plain grey/brown’ish background but with an unclosable window light source that wouldn’t allow me to control at least 90% of the light in my shot. 
2. in front of a brown brick wall next to the washrooms, where I would have to back into the women’s washroom in order to get far enough back so as to not shoot on a 24mm focal length (which wasn’t the look that I was going for), 
3. this lobby with the yellow’ish brick. 

I chose to shoot in the lobby with their clients there because it was the only area that could work for what I envisioned. I took two picture frames off the walls and moved chairs out of the way and then, when the subjects were all ready between meetings, I turned off ALL the lighting in the lobby and it was nearly pitch black.

I’d warned everyone but it was still quite amusing. All the clients were probably thinking “this isn’t something you see everyday…” One of the more entertaining events was when a delivery man came in for a delivery and asked what was up with the lack of power. We explained and turned the lights on for a short intermission.

Focusing was difficult in the lower light. I could have quickly held up the flashlight on my phone to get my focus, but instead I temporarily cranked my ISO up to 100,000, set focus, and brought it back down to the A7Sii’s native 1600 ISO for the shot. 

The hardest thing was directing the guys and figuring out the order in which they should have gone. While balancing everything else and being pressured for time (I had approximately 3 minutes to shoot this), it was also difficult to review the photos and make adjustments such as to those wearing glasses (so as to keep their chin down to negate any glare making its way onto their glasses). More on this in the Critiques & Feedback section!

The Edit

The morning after the shoot, I had a voicemail requesting the one Real Estate Team photo be edited ASAP (if possible) because it needed to be in an upcoming magazine advertisement for the firm. I re-scheduled a few things and got to work. Unfortunately, because of my relocation to Montreal, I didn’t have my normal editing rig (power, standing desk, and large 4k monitor), and instead had to edit on my ThinkPad (Lenovo X1 Carbon, 5th Gen Kabylake 20HR) which held up extremely well, aside from my ergonomic needs being pushed aside. 

So this is where my edit comes in. 

I had previously backed up the photos and assets immediately following the shoot so now it was time to import the ones specifically from the group shot.

what I imported into Lightroom for editing

Something to keep in mind, I shoot with a Sony A7Sii, using a Sigma EF-to-E lens adapter so I can use my trusty Canon f/2.8 24-70mm… and I also shoot S-LOG for still images as well as video. I just absolutely LOVE the vast dynamic range that you get! So that’s also why all the imported images in the above image look like trash straight out of camera. I know my camera and what it’s capable of, so I chose to preserve the highlights by exposing for the highlights. I wouldn’t recommend you do this yourself and with whichever camera you’re using unless you have practiced this prior to a professional shoot. Also, Lightroom does some weird stuff to the image files upon import. The information that is actually there looks like this: 

See? They’re so much brighter than in Lightroom. Weird processing but the colour information’s still there!

So, without going into detail, this is the ORIGINAL image: 

And the data that’s actually there and not Lightroom-processed:

As ugly as this looks, this look BRILLIANT to me because all I see is HUGE AMOUNTS OF DELICIOUS DYNAMIC RANGE

This is the interface I was working in (solo mode works well for me on all screen sizes. It let’s me concentrate and always have everything on-screen without having to scroll through all the panels): 

This is the initial Lightroom edit. Amongst the normal adjustments, I also did a perspective transformation so that the brickwork is more symmetrical: 

And this is the final Photoshopped file where I removed the blemishes, wall imperfections, and face sheen: 

The Results

RAW on LEFT. Final Edit on RIGHT.
Lightroom Edit on LEFT. Final Photoshopped Edit on RIGHT.

And again, here’s the Final Photoshopped image: 

4 lawyers posing for their team photo in front of a brick wall

Critiques & Feedback

When I asked for critiques, Jessica Noble’s (site, Instagram) recommendations were as follows:

  • Make a tower of people, so the shortest people are on the sides.
    • This was something that I struggled with during the shoot because I was focused primarily on the location being a mess, lighting, and put simply… not messing up due to the unique environmental circumstances. Now I have something to default on in the future. If I choose to pose the subjects differently, I’ll actively stray away from the “default tower” knowingly. Just being aware of this is key… and now I’m aware! 
  • Make sure both guys are doing the same thing (specifically with their hands). Both women are doing the same thing with their hands, so it’s visually distracting that the guys are doing different things with their hands. 
    • I noticed this as soon as I opened the file, however at the time, I wasn’t sure what to have their hands do. Now I do! 
  • Still a nice photo though
    • Yay! Positive reinforcement! Thanks for the feedback, Jess!

Thoughts on Critiques & Feedback

When I ask for critiques and/or feedback, I’m looking to be torn apart. If someone can’t find something wrong or something (s)he would have done differently, I don’t think they’re really trying hard enough or they’re scared that they’ll hurt my feelings. Sometime my feelings get hurt on stuff that I spend hours, days, or months on, but even then, I recognize that peoples’ critiques and feedback usually points me in a better direction than what it was.

Sometimes though, people have different tastes than you and you need to go with your gut. You -as the creator of the piece- are the last to decide what the Final Product will look like and what the world will see. Usually there are some shreds of truth to what people have to say, so hear what people have to say, take it in, and do what you will with it.

TL;DR: Keep an open mind when asking for critiques. Don’t be defensive. Your objective is to grow.

If you have any questions, critiques, or feedback, let me know in the comments!

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Ben Durham

Professional storyteller

Just an average person on a bike who’s focused on getting more people out of their cars and on to bicycles or electric last-mile micro-mobility solutions!

That, and rooting for active transportation infrastructure upgrades in North America (we need to catch up)!

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