photography: anatomy of a time-limited photo session

Brian Friedman is an event and publicity photographer based in NYC. When I first became acquainted with Brian and his work, my reaction was, “damn! I wish I could shoot this type of work.” Looking at his website, you’ll see the kind of gigs that Brian shoots – interesting and diverse. Quite exciting. Brian was gracious enough to describe the behind-the-scenes activity of a recent photo session: “Kitten Bowl 2014”

anatomy of a “simple” photo session for a client

a guest post by Brian Friedman,
New York portrait and event photographer

The assignment. Take a portrait of the gorgeous Beth Ostrosky, as well as some “action shots” of kittens. Kittens just “being kittens” and playing. Football that is. Say What!?

And so it is bestowed upon me by my client to do so – and not in a photo studio. I had to create my own studio in a common room of a sound stage. Okay then. It’s time to get to work. Here’s what I did for “Kitten Bowl 2014” gallery shoot which will be broadcast during the Super Bowl half-time show on Sunday, February 2, 2014.

for this photo of Beth Ostrosky:

1. Listened to the client.
I made sure I knew EXACTLY what they wanted because I had very little time to get done what was needed given the schedule and the level of talent involved. They made things clear to me and I did my research on what other photos within their brand looked like. This immediately put me where I needed to be – which is not guessing before, during, or after the shoot.

2. Kept it simple (stupid).
The client didn’t need the background of the portrait to be white. So I shot Beth against an unlit white (paper) background (causing it to go light grey). Not having to light the background saved me a ton of fussing, not to mention space within the limited space I was given. So I lit her with 3 lights: For the main light I used a 54” Elinchrome Octagon, powered by a Profoto 7B2 Power Pack, and for the 2 hair lights I used a a Profoto 7B2 power pack with simple reflectors and grid spot inserts.

3. Used less time than I was given.
My goal was to be so prepared that I used LESS time than I was given. Because I’ve come to learn that, especially with celebrities, the less time you need the more they love you. Not like you; love you. So the attitude I always carry with me on a shoot is “get your s**t done and get out.” Any portrait client, especially celebrities, will love you for being fast. In this instance I had one of my assistants (who’s the same height as Beth) stand in so I could adjust the lights accordingly. And I taped an x on the paper where I needed Beth to stand. This may seem obvious to do but it’s easy to forget when you are in the moment. Beth was able to walk into the space, hit her mark, and be done with the portrait in less than 10 minutes. I photographed her solo and holding cats.

4. Admired and respected, but didn’t dote over.
As a fan I want to dote over. As a photographer I want to respect. So even though Beth is a big star and huge advocate for animals (as am I), I didn’t dote or hover. I shook her hand, smiled and looked her in her eyes, introduced myself, and got to work. Because at the end of the day the environment you create with the subject, famous or not, is what shows up in the camera. In these quick situations, you have to do everything you can to disarm your subject. Being kind and professional is all you need. Don’t overdo it and shoot yourself in the foot.


for the photos of the kittens

1. I knew it’d be a game of numbers.
I shot 818 frames. You’ll see 2. Kittens were moving and not listening to me or the professional handlers (#shocker). That means there will be a ridiculous amount of photos taken in order to get the “right one.”

2. Adjusted power of the lights to favor quick recycling time.
If you know the action is going to be fast, you need to be able to fire your strobes quickly. Crazy enough, I had these power packs on their lowest setting and my exposure was STILL: f/9, 1/200th @ ISO 800. f/9 at nearly the lowest power… That should tell you the lights are powerful!

3. Used plexiglass.
This surface is great for reflections and adds a 3rd dimension to any photo. In this instance I wanted to make the kittens look a little larger (think football players) and so I shot from a low position. Shooting from above the kittens would have been the wrong approach and would have made it look very common in my opinion (because we are normally towering over kittens).

4. Shot the props separately.
We incorporated the props into the photos with the kittens but knowing there may be a desire for their art department to manually place a prop in a photo I knew it would be a good thing to provide them with “prop only” photos. Sure enough their art department did use one of them to make the composite of the kitten getting ready to catch the football. By saving their art department retouching time makes me a more valuable photographer to them.


more technical info about the shoot

I used a Nikon D3X camera because it met the minimum resolution requirements the client provided. I chose this over the Nikon D800 because I am more comfortable with the D3x.

My lens was a Nikon 24-70 f/2.8. I tethered with a cord to my 13” Macbook Pro and brought along a 23” Apple Cinema Display so the client could see what was coming out of the camera right away.

I had 2 trusty assistants who helped me in all areas of the shoot.

Hopefully this glimpse of what goes into a photo shoot where the time is limited, was helpful and interesting.

All images by Brian Friedman ©2013 Crown Media Family Networks

11 Comments, Add Your Own

  1. 1Michael says

    First, let me say Neil that I enjoy your work very much. If I had a wedding which needed to be photographed I would not hesitate to call you. If I had other events or moments, then you would be the one to call.

    After looking at Brian Friedman’s work, lets just say I would not hire him. A lot of the shots on his website, unlike yours, seem a bit underwhelming to me. I am guessing he has a lot of connections and a great personality. I would love to hear how he got those gigs with photos which I would not choose to represent myself.

    I do not at all mean to put the man down. He is probably a swell guy. However, you clearly blow him away as a photographer. If I were to attend his class then it would be to learn the business end and how to attract the right clients, but not for photography lessons.

  2. 2Ed says

    Hello Neil
    I have been a lurker on your blog for a while now and wanted to tell you how much I enjoy it. The perspective you give and the advice is welcome and refreshing. I also have to respectfully disagree with Michael’s comment. I found both this post by Brain and his work excellent. A 1st person view point on trying to shoot kittens for money should make us amateurs realize how lucky we have it. We get to say enough when a shoot is not what we want, but the pro has to keep firing and hope he can hit it. In regards to Brian’s work, I find there is a simplicity and yet also a depth to it. His subjects look comfortable in front of the camera, and thus we can see them and not a facade they choose to show.

  3. 3Trev says

    I have never heard of Brian Friedman, so after reading the comments I knew I had to take a look at his work.

    His work, in my humble opinion, is great. :)

    The shots shown in the above article, what more can I say, perfect.
    They are the type of images one wishes it could have been them shooting.

    The guy is most certainly talented otherwise big companies would not get him, pure and simple.

    Nice work Brian! You most definitely have my vote mate.


  4. 4 says

    Michael .. thank you for the kind compliments, really. However, they are at the expense of another photographer – especially someone who took the time to write an article here.

    As anyone who regularly visits the Tangents blog will know by now is that the kind of negativity that some forums are steeped, don’t have any chance here. This is especially true of the Tangents forum where Adrian as a moderator helps to keep things rolling smoothly. I was therefore hovering over the decision whether to delete your comment, when Ed’s comment rolled in. I then decided to let the comment stand in the hope that perhaps it will engender a further discussion that may have some benefit to everyone.

    With that, I meant it when I said I would’ve loved to attend his presentation at WPPI. As with this article, there are sure to be some interesting ideas and some nuggets of info that can be used.

    That is my motive as well in posting Brian’s article – it is an interesting glimpse into another working professional’s thought-process, and his work and style. Take in and use what you can – there’s always something to learn.

  5. 5Michael says

    I did say something positive and that is I would attend the seminar because marketing, presentation and the business end of photography is the most important part. Knowing how to get the clients and sell your work. I value Brians business prowess and would love to hear how he was able to land these clients.

  6. 6Jennifer Lynch says

    Thank you Brian, there’s a ton of great advice in this column. Love the photos and hope to see them on Super Bowl now that you’ve taken us backstage.

  7. 7 says

    Hey guys
    Thank you for the compliments and feedback I appreciate it. To address a few things that have been written…
    A few important factors in this shoot: a) NOT in a photo studio/everything had to be brought in, b) not a huge budget, c) 10 minutes with the talent. In this instance I know what the client was looking for and kept the look of the portrait (especially) in line with their brand. Clean, beautiful light. No need to reinvent the wheel.
    As far as getting a client like this. Lots and lots of patience, persistence, and being reliable. Some of my connections played a role but then it’s what you do with them that counts. My iHeart/ClearChannel gig is the culmination of being a team player and seeing the larger picture. They are a dream client because they treat me really well, as though I’m a member of their family. That took me years of slowly building things up, gig by gig by gig. Being in NY helps too.
    At the end of the day my strengths are more in the event category than the portrait category. I am more comfortable improvising in a live-event situation than in a studio. But being versatile is monumentally important these days so I do a little of both. If you want to see my wedding work go here; I specialize in NYC intimate weddings…
    Thanks guys for reading and your feedback.

  8. 8Jennifer Lynch says


    Re your Central Park wedding gallery: wow, stunning photos. How did you light the scene under the stairs at Bethesda fountain with all the mosaics?

  9. 9 says

    Brian, it was refreshing to read an article that blends a keen business sense with the art of photography so well. The two words you used in your comment that resonated the most with me were patience and persistence…without those, forget it.

  10. 10 says

    Jennifer – For the most part it’s natural light! You just have to play to the best direction of the light… Everynow and then I’ll chose a lower perspective and fire a speed light straight up…

    Frank – thank you very much!

  11. 11Alan says

    I really enjoy the guest articles you feature from time-to-time, Neil. Hearing a different voice or perspective occasionally is always helpful. You do a great job of finding new topics or revisiting familiar topics in new ways. I’m sure that after all these years of publishing this site that can be a challenge at times.

    Brian, thanks for a very interesting piece. And your wedding photos are lovely as well.

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