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How I Did Ten Photo Sessions in 48 Hours

Two weeks ago, I took my Columbus-based portrait business back on the road and headed to Montgomery County, Maryland, to photograph ten families. I've been in Ohio for almost a year now. I'm grateful that I can still fill a weekend back in Maryland with return clients (and one new family!). Doing that many sessions away from home in such a short amount of time isn't easy.

From 7:30am on Friday to 2:30pm Monday, I drove 933 miles and clicked the shutter 2,199 times. To test all of my skills as a photographer, four of the sessions occurred in the rain, two of which were complete downpours.

I'm going to expand on this trip over the course of a few blog posts. Here are some initial lessons from the weekend...

Lesson #1: Be Flexible and Listen to Your Aunt

I checked the weekend forecast every few hours leading up to the trip. For much of the week, it looked like rain on Sunday and sunshine on Saturday. For better or for worse, I was prepared for rain at some point. I emailed all of the clients, asking them to prepare for indoor sessions on Sunday.

As I drove to Maryland on Friday, the rain switched from Sunday to Saturday. Now Saturday's families had to prepare for rain while Sunday's families were in the clear. But Sunday also called for temperatures in the 30's and 40's until mid-morning. My early morning sessions wouldn't be the fun, comfortable sessions we hoped for.

I scrambled to make some schedule changes, but I wasn't quite sure how to make things work. Enter: Aunt Sheila. She told me that the Brighton Dam Azalea Garden was beginning to bloom. She knew one of my clients lived just down the road. Her suggestion: postpone dinner with the family on Friday night and do a Sunday session on Friday night instead. Just head down the road to the azalea garden and get a session finished before the weekend rain.

Perfect idea, Aunt Sheila. And thank you to Alli and Eric for being flexible and ready to go on a moment's notice. (Truth be told, Eric was thankful that he didn't have to think about photos all weekend!) Thanks to some good ideas and fast texting, the weekend was off to a good start.

Lesson #2: Know How to Find Good Light in the Rain (and Buy a Rain Sleeve and Quick Drying Pants)

Some of the normal rules of good photography go out the window when your session is in the rain. For one, you can't use the sun to your advantage. Gone are the opportunities for lens flare and back-lighting and all the good stuff that can come from a dry natural-light session.

In the rain, I had to know that finding an awning would be what saved each session. Yes, the awning would keep everyone dry. But more importantly, an awning provides a unique opportunity for good light. There's a sweet spot you can find right under the edge of the awning that will give you soft, bright light. Too far back, and everyone is in shadow. Too far forward, and the elements start to interfere. Just the right spot and you have soft light on the family and a nice dark background to help them pop a little more.

Of course, using the awning means I'm standing in the rain. The rain sleeve to the rescue! This accessory is under $10, and it is AMAZING. I bought one when I shot a wedding in the fall, but I thankfully didn't have to use it then. I've kept it in my bag ever since, hoping I'd never use it. The time came when rain poured for much of the four families I photographed on Saturday.

(All four families were good sports and embraced the rain!)

The rain sleeve is so simple, yet so effective. Not a single drop of rain ever touched my camera or lens. The drawstring works amazingly--it never slipped a millimeter. My advice for best results? Make sure you use your lens hood and draw the string tight on the hood. That'll give you some wiggle room for drawstring positioning.

Oh, and also make sure you have waterproof clothing. My Teva Riva Event Waterproof Performance Hiking Shoes have lasted for two years, and they remain waterproof after tons of wear. My Columbia Rain Jacket kept my torso dry the entire day. And I love my Arc'teryx Rampart pants. These might be a pricey set of pants, but they are amazing. I've had them for five years, and they show no signs of wear. The best part is that they dry quickly. After three morning sessions in the rain, I didn't have time go back to where I was staying to change. Thankfully, these pants dried completely as I ate lunch.

Photography is all about good light. But surviving a long weekend of family sessions is also about having the right clothes.

Lesson #3: Keep Things Simple

The last thing I'll say on this post is that simple is best. I did the entire weekend with my Canon 6D and the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro IS L series lens. The 6D is a reliable, high quality camera. The 100mm lens is a great focal length for portraits, and it produces beautiful colors and tones. Using the same lens and a good camera for the entire trip kept my look consistent and allowed me to stop thinking about settings like aperture and to not worry about ISO. (Some of the photos below were shot at ISO 4000!)

Since my focal length length never changed, I always knew what an f/4 photo would look like at certain distances. I also didn't have to worry that my composition would distort facial features or architecture because the long focal length would never change. If I had the option to zoom, distortion would be another thing to worry about--with ten sessions in two days, I had enough worries!

Were there times when I used my Yongnuo 560iv to bounce light or fill shadow? Yes. Did I sometimes wish I was shooting in a controlled-light situation like the twenty minutes I photographed my nephew with my big octobox? Also, Yes.

But limiting myself to a camera and lens for most of the weekend allowed me to stay connected with the families rather than fuss with my gear. I also know my simple setup inside-and-out after so much practice. There's nothing like 48 hours of non-stop photography to help you hone your skills.

Enjoy some photos from each family's session. There's more to come from this amazing weekend!

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