Last year, before the retreat, we did several live chats with the people whom were integral to the event. One of those people was Lee Corkett, our outstanding photographer who not only documented the entire weekend but also did some amazing professional photo shoots on site for henna artists.Here’s our lively discussion and question & answer session with Debi Varvi as our moderator!
Lee Corkett: How is everyone this lovely Tuesday?
Debi Varvi: Excited to have you here with us!
Question: Could you give us a brief intro to your background?
Lee: I’m a photographer and graphic designer, Canadian, I’m the husband of a belly dancer, and I’ve been shooting female performers and models for about 10 years. I work with local businesses to help them promote their work, art or business.
Debi: So, Lee, what is the first thing you’d tell someone like me, who truly sucks at photography, about taking a decent photo of a henna design?
Lee: Stay out of the sun and get into an even, but brightly lit area. Like under a tent. Getting up close for henna photos is UTMOST important. Cut the clutter and tell people exactly what you want them to look at in your photos. Simplify. True of all arts. Yours included!
Question: Lee, how would you promote yourself after having all the logos/photos perfectly done?
Lee: Hmm… that is such a touch question. Quick story: I was listening to a lecture for photographers for last year and they were talking about using social media to market. Everyone kept asking “everything you’ve told us is great… but should I blog?” The answer is you need to know your audience and MARKET TO THEM. If, in their case, blogging is the right avenue, then yes, those people should blog – if they’re customers don’t read blogs… well then it’s a waste of time. So, only you, with your experience in your market and knowing your aspirations can know how to market yourself. But the one thing to keep in mind is having a consistent image – don’t flip flop!
Debi: I guess researching what our customers like is in order here. And checking out what seems to be working for other artists.
Debi: Hmm… flip flop? Stay focused on your audience so to speak?
Question: By not flip flopping, do you mean, sticking to the brand direction?
Lee: Choosing a direction yes, but always being aware of your market and being able to change your product if needed. That seems contradictory. But another good point I’ve been told was “Work for your current customers, but market to your (hoped for) future customers”. So, know what you’re doing now, but keep your goals in mind and market to that group. You already have your cut tent people, you want to attract new ones.
Question: If I wanted to team up with a photographer, how would you recommend that I do that? I’ve been meaning to try doing a photo shoot and wanted to set something up. Basically a co-promotion, linking up to help boost each others business.
Lee: That’s great of course! Neither henna or photography is cheap or easy! But make sure you have a feeling of how those photos will work for you before you start making them. Who will those photos attract? Faire people? Birthday party customers? Academics or people who are looking for someone who can lecture and inform?
Question: So, research the photographers target market? And find the best way to approach someone for the trade? I’m so new to it all so I’m working on my people skills.
Lee: No problem. It’s hard. It takes time. I guess I need to know if you already have someone in mind to be the photographer? Are you currently looking for this person?
Debi: How important are professional photos? I’ve been making due with just the snaps I’ve been taking myself, and I’m really starting to feel that I’m falling behind.
Lee: Budgets are tough, but if you can manage it, having someone who knows how to create a strong image is incredibly important. How you market yourself reflects how much you are willing to invest in your image (and therefore your business!) If you can’t afford to do professional photos, consider finding someone who might do a trade. Don’t ruin your own henna art with shoddy photos though.
Debi: When you are approached by an artist who needs professional photos of their work, Lee, do you ask a standard set of questions?
Lee: Yes, I do. I ask what your goals are, how you plan to use the photos – business cards, websites, etc? Do you have an existing color scheme? Are you looking for modern, exotic, or traditional?
Question: Having been a henna artist for 25 years, I’m now focusing on my online henna shop. Any tips on product shoots? I do henna candles, bookmarks, bowls, and cups. I also have henna products – cones, powder, oils, etc. I also have a real problem making glitter look good.
Lee: Using a large and soft light source is always a good idea for smaller, and reflective products. Like a sheet with a light coming through (which diffuses it) or a large north or south facing window (that doesn’t get direct light). For glitter you want the opposite – smaller and harder light sources (which is very challenging). You want smaller sparkly highlights. Think bright sun on a lake in summer.
Lightboxes are deceivingly tough though. They always tell you to use 3 lights, two on the sides and one on the top. That makes the images flat and shadowless (sometimes a good thing). Try using just one or two lights. One close on top, and one a little farther away from the side. You’ll start to get nicer shadows, but you need to experiment (a lot).
Question: I read somewhere to shine a torch (flashlight) onto a glitter tattoo while taking pictures. Do you think that will work?
Lee: Aah! Right! A torch is a small, hard light source! Keep in mind that when you’re lighting something reflective, you’re not really lighting *it* (since the light bounces off), what you need to do is light the thing that it’s reflecting. Brain hurt yet?
Debi: Camera question… any suggestions for a starter camera?
Lee: If you can afford a DSLR, great. If not… well… any point and shoot is fine, but you wouldn’t want to use something like a lightbox with it. You’d use available (natural) light. Like a large window. A DSLR is going to start at $500-$700 (a lot). The new mirrorless cameras are kick a** and start at about $300-$400 (search for Olympus PEN camera).
Question: What camera do you use Lee? Or is it a matter of any camera but having a good eye?
Lee: I use a Nikon D300 and D800. The camera isn’t so much the issue, once a camera is on its manual setting, they’re all the same. It’s the light that really matters. Any “modern” camera is fine. A camera less than 5 years old and costs more than $100 is more than adequate. I’d be happy to share some thoughts on using a camera at the event.
Question: Do you like taking pictures of people or landscapes? What is your favorite subject?
Lee: I started with landscapes (they don’t talk back). I moved into portraiture and studio later.
Great chat with Lee Corkett of Printologie!
Stay tuned for more live chats coming soon!
(Live chat edited for coherence by Blume Bauer)