Cooper & O’Hara Photograph for Venture Publishing – Outdoor Editorial Portrait

Today we’re talking about dealing with snowfall in May and the magazine is publishing in July, how research can help you get the most out of your subject, and a few tricks on how to light things realistically on location! Also, look at the pretty tearsheets.Calgary-Edmonton-Editorial-Photographers-Magazine-Tearsheet-Spread-1-Leap

We love photographing for magazines. The budgets may not always be great and the deadlines are tight but sometimes those limitations are the best way to light a fire for creativity, and two things we get very passionate about are telling stories with our images, and meeting new people.

When The Weather Outside is Frightful

Photographing Dr. Christine Friedenreich for Leap magazine (a magazine for the Alberta Cancer Foundation produced by Venture Publishing) was a great experience. We’ve worked with Venture in the past, and they do such an excellent job in creating these interesting custom magazines for a huge variety of trades and industries. This sounded like a really interesting outdoor editorial portrait! When we first got the brief for the job we were very excited… followed by a sense of dread as the snow began to fall in Calgary with the shoot already on a tight deadline and slated to take place within a few days.

The crux of the story is Christine’s passion about her work in researching physical activity in preventing certain cancers, and the concept of the shoot – The Research Rockstar series the magazine does – hinged on her personal experiences hiking in some fantastic parts of the world like the Mont Blanc in the French/Swiss Alps, the West Coast Trail, and more. With the issue coming out in July, and the focus being on outdoor physical activity, it was pretty much a no-go to do anything but an outdoor location shoot. Snow was not invited to that party, however.

One of a few alternates shot for the wide "double truck" spread of the opener.

One of a few alternate sets shot for the wide “double truck” spread for the article opener.


Dr. Christine Friedenreich doesn’t write prescriptions but if she did, she’d probably tell you to take a hike. For real.” – Pat Fream (the author of the article)


The only choice was to delay the shoot a few days. That’s pretty much how it goes, but I location scouted several spots in the city to determine that which would look most not-winter by the time we had the shoot. Thanks to Christine’s flexibility with her schedule, and the mercurial weather of southern Alberta, the snow melted enough in time to photograph at this great wooded location just on the outskirts of Calgary. It also could have been that I stared in anger so hard at the unwelcome snow that I melted most of it by sheer force of will.

Dealing with the weather problems on editorial photoshoot

Despite the snow being gone and making my life considerably easier, I still had to tweak the image in photoshop to achieve the look you see at the top of the article. Yellow dead grass does not convey spring, let alone summer.

Thomas and I both recently finished reading Gregory Heisler’s new book 50 Portraits and it really resonated with both of us. What Greg Heisler does best, and what we enjoy about portraiture, is that magic interaction between the subject when you’re able to connect on a genuine level and you can then convey in the photograph some truth or greatness about them. It was obvious that Christine felt at home in the fresh open air, and putting her in the right setting helped immensely in getting great expression and movement from her. When you’re doing walking shots, basically a lot of walking back and forth, being able to keep up the energy and set the right mood is the only way to nail the shot.

Every photographer works differently. Some are big talkers and shout a lot of encouraging things or play loud music. I’m quiet a lot, because I’m listening. I’m listening because I’m Mr. Questions. I have a very genuine interest in knowledge about a lot of different things, so I can ask a lot (or a few) of thoughtful questions about many topics. Christine and I talked a lot about different hikes in the Rocky Mountains and other experiences like Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, as well as her scientific research and commitment to health and wellness.


Invoking The Mood of the Photoshoot

By asking Christine different leading questions to get her to think about her trips hiking around the world I’m doing two critical things:

1. Develop rapport with the subject by expressing genuine interest in them as a person. This lets them know that you’re on their team and they can trust that you care about how they will be shown in the photo. They relax a bit.

2. Put the person in the mental space that will cause them to emote and act the way that you want. Memory is a powerful thing. By asking about hiking in all these epic locations I’m enabling her muscle memory to act and behave more like that epic situation. If we are doing a photoshoot that’s supposed to look like we’re way out in the wilderness, but in actuality we’re just outside a suburb, we can use all the help we can get.

The best thing you can do for yourself to nail these two critical things in doing your photoshoot is to research your subject. I read through the draft of the article very thoroughly and committed a few things to memory. Then A google search on Dr. Friedenreich also helped. In the information age it’s so easy to add this important facet to your photography skills. Don’t be lazy.

Obviously you can’t just do a bunch research and then screw it up by sucking as a conversationalist. No, you have to create a dialogue of comfort and interest. I’ve had to practice quite a lot to know my gear well enough to set it up and still make lots of eye contact and genuinely take the time to listen. If possible, set up in advance so you can just talk and don’t have to work on the setup, but that’s not always do-able. One really helpful tip for this whole process is that once a subject has finished speaking, pause. Really pause, and digest the material for a few seconds, before you ask another question or comment on what they said.


Obviously you can’t just do a bunch research and then screw it up by sucking as a conversationalist. No, you have to create a dialogue of comfort and interest. I’ve had to practice quite a lot to know my gear well enough to set it up and still make lots of eye contact and genuinely take the time to listen.





Shot for this layout

Shooting Into The Sun

The shot above used an octabox with a grid for the light modifier. The soft but directed light mimicked the dappled light which streamed down from the canopy of evergreens. Conversely, the photograph below and the one used in the spread at the top of the article used an einstein light without any modifier at all – not even a reflector. This created a point source which instead mimicked the direct sunlight and blue sky of that set. By using a light in these ways, we were able to make things look natural, but still have great shape and dimension. In both cases the sun acted as a natural backlight. If you’re looking for extra interest, especially making things look fun/exciting/epic, shoot into the sun. You’ll just need the juice of 1 or 2 flashes to create the lighting on the face and body of the subject since they will naturally be in shadow.

Funny side-story: Christine started calling the octabox with grid the sunflower because of the similar appearance. From now on I’m going to ask Thomas to pass me the sunflower.


Another alternate for the double-page opener. This one also featured a closer view of Dr. Friedenreich. In this photo I adjusted composition, especially my horizon line, so that her head would be in a clean space with no evergreen branches sticking out of it or anything.

If you’re looking for extra interest, especially making things look fun/exciting/epic, shoot into the sun. You’ll just need the juice of 1 or 2 flashes to create the lighting on the face and body of the subject since they will naturally be in shadow.


We hope you enjoyed the photographs and learned a few things. What are you interested in learning more about? What weather horror stories do you have? Let us know in the comment section below!



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