I had a little fun on Halloween and at the last minute decided to set up a photo studio on my front lawn and offer portraits of the neighborhood kids (parental permission required, of course). I’ll post some photos here from whichever parents ultimately give me the OK too, but for now the photo of our lawn sign will have to suffice. Given that this was a surprise to everyone walking up, I didn’t want to ask parents to sign any kind of release on the spot. I wanted this to be as easy and safe-feeling for the parents as possible. So here’s how it went down; first the logistics and then the technical.

I had this set up literally on my front lawn, so anyone could see it walking past the house or up the walkway. As kids came to trick-or-treat, I explained to the parents that I had set up a little photo studio and was taking photos of any kids who’s parents approved. These photos would be available online in a password protected site just for them, and of course no obligation. Nearly every single parent said OK. I only had one outright refuse, and another that was a little reluctant but gave in. They were concerned these might become stock photos, but once I explained the security behind it they were fine. I didn’t even need to explain that without a model release no stock house in the world would take them, which is of course true, before they agreed.

I had a stack of papers printed out with my web address, instructions and prices. Each family or group of kids got a number assigned to them, and their last name was their password. I wrote both on the paper, and the first picture was of the kids holding that paper—so no way to confuse which kids were which. That paper then went to the parents to take with them. I shot tethered so they could see the photos immediately, which of course generated a lot of excitement on the spot. And by Sunday afternoon, I had 16 individual sets with photos of 56 trick-or-treat’ers on my website, run by Smugmug, each set password protected. Once in, the parents can choose a digital download, prints from 5x7 up, and even some kitschy mugs, mousepads, and those sorts of things. Not what I’d normally offer but this was clearly perfect for it.

The setup was a single Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 monobloc in a massive 4’ x 6’ softbox (rented from Samy’s) at about 30˚ off the right, a 2 x 6 yard swath of black felt, triggered by a good ol’ fashioned sync cable gaffer-taped onto a 1Ds Mk III and either the 24-70/2.8 or 70-200/4.0 depending on how many kids, tethered into the MacBook Pro 15 running into Aperture. Sadly Aperture still doesn’t support Mk III for tethering the easy way, so I had to use Canon’s EOS software (bleh) and Sal Soghoian’s still-awesome Aperture Hot Folder script. That’s pretty much it… other than a sandbag to hold the softbox from crashing down and a table to put my gear on, that’s all that was out there. It took a little longer than I would have liked on Sunday to get the photos online (Aperture kept uploading solid black files so I had to replace about a dozen of those, and I kept tweaking the SmugMug setup to my liking—which was tedious because I had to change it to 16 sets once I’d individually passworded each one), but finally it was all up and parents started looking at the shots, and the first orders rolled in around 9pm.

So why go through all this for relatively little profit? After all let’s face it, there’s only so many 8x10’s at $20 a pop that I’ll sell, and the profits will cover the rental cost on the lights and maybe buy a nice bottle of wine. I’m still new to the neighborhood, and this got my name out a bit. Out of the parents that stopped by, I had one who works for a major hotel chain and wants to talk to me about some work for them. And another that wants me to do their holiday photo—which admittedly is not my primary business, but it’s nice to work close to home sometimes and make a little pocket change to keep warm on those upcoming winter nights. And it’s fun to work with kids. Everyone had a blast, and I’m really pleased with the shots I got. I learned a lot, and will make some changes and do this again next year. My biggest ‘problem’ this year was that I wasn’t prepared for large groups. Two or three kids, fine. Any more though and I had no choice but to get the brick wall in the background and let the people farthest from the light go a bit dark. So next year, a bigger backdrop and a fill light on the other side.

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