Patrick Hall and His Fstoppers
Charleston, South Carolina wedding photographer Patrick Hall teamed up with his friend Lee Morris in 2009 to create the photography resource Fstoppers.com. The site has become an online destination showcasing behind the scenes videos of professional photographers at work. Originally primarily a site known for high quality videos, it has branched out to include written articles by guest photographers, and is worth the time of anyone interested in the art and practice of photography.
Hall went to college as a pre-med major. “I thought I was going to be a doctor,” he says. “Fate had it where I just picked up a camera, really enjoyed it, and in three years made a business out of it.”
The two photographers got the idea for Fstoppers.com after they both bought Nikon D90 cameras for their respective wedding businesses. Intrigued by the video feature, they soon felt they needed to incorporate video into their trade. As photographers who had learned much from other shooters via the Internet, they soon formulated what Fstoppers would become. “What if we could do behind the scenes videos of photo shoots, and you could just watch a five or ten‑minute video instead of reading an article and trying to imagine where these lights are and what the photographers are doing as they engage their models?,” Hall recalls asking. “Wouldn’t you watch a video to see all of that?”
Typically chronicling photographers on the job, the boys at Fstoppers.com also review products, such as their in-depth look at the PocketWizard FlexTT5, the MiniTT1, and the AC3. This type of reviewing is detailed, includes substantial video, and is made with a considerable amount of effort. We last wrote about the review itself here, which pointed out the fact Fstoppers put the gear through two completely different photo shoots.
Another video which brought Fstoppers.com a lot of attention is the one documenting their iPhone fashion shoot. Morris did the photography, and Hall shot all the video. The pair used Velcro to mount an Apple iPhone 3GS onto a tripod, and otherwise executed a typical professional shoot. The video has pulled in over half a million hits on YouTube alone.
Contributions by photographers outside Hall and Morris are critical. “From the very beginning, Lee and I did not want this Web site to be just about the two of us,” says Hall. “We really want it to be a community‑oriented site, and luckily, we have photographers all over the world already making behind the scenes videos they send us that we can feature on our site.”
Stressing high quality videos documenting high quality photography as a cornerstone of the site, Hall says Fstoppers.com encompasses all types of photography. “I think the real future of it is just to continue build this database of videos, and to bring everybody together,” he says. “There’s so many Web sites out there that are all technical, it’s kind of depressing when it’s just about the camera you buy and this IT setup.”
Complimenting Fstoppers.com is the Fstoppers Forum, where photographers discuss gear and techniques, post their own images, and get questions answered. This is a site unto itself, and has proved very popular.
Hall stresses the importance of video as a way for photographers to set themselves apart. “There’s no better way for your client to get to know who you are,” he says. “For you to be in a behind the scenes video talking about what you’re about to do and for them to see you working before they ever hire you [is critical]. Pretty much anybody can make their own promotional video that not only educates others but also promotes their own business.”
Hall still shoots his wedding clients separately from Morris. He stresses they have their own marketing and different visions of how they approach wedding photography. They advertise for the ample Charleston wedding scene, and don’t approach bigger markets at this time. They both shoot some commercial work on the side, but rely on weddings for their main trade.
Always using assistants for his wedding work, Hall shoots a candid, photojournalistic style, although he strives for a commercial look. “I want to make your images look like they came out of a magazine. For me, that looks like a lot of flash is involved. I like to make images look surreal, not super fake and not cheesy but I’ve always just been drawn to that flash look I’ve seen in more the glamour magazines and fashion magazines and that sort of thing. For me, portable lighting is key.”
A Nikon shooter, Hall uses the D300S and the D700. “I would say 98% of the time I’m shooting with the Nikon speed lights. They’re portable, they’re really powerful, I can pair them up with the PocketWizards and do really creative lighting really fast and I’m not fumbling with big cords and boxes and power supplies.”
Hall primarily uses PocketWizard Plus II units. “They’re tried and true,” he says. “There’re so many wireless triggers out there now, but the thing I find the biggest value is first, they’re dependable and reliable. I don’t have to worry about them ever. I’ve heard of other photographers even say they’re the industry standard now, to where if something happens to mine and I’m in a big market—I’m in Charlotte or I’m in New York shooting a wedding—every rental house has PocketWizards. If you need something you can immediately get them. They are the simplest little products to use. They have two or three buttons on them—they’re so easy. They’re just great—they’re built like tanks. I’ve really had very few of them ever go down. I was just turned on to them by other photographers and I’ve learned my lesson. You buy the best when you can buy it and you’re not re‑buying gear all the time.”
Always eager to share information, Hall continues. “Lot of my shooting involves a speed light on the camera from the hot shoe, and that’s usually my key light that’s bouncing into the ceiling, but then I like to use kicker lights that are on light stands around the room. Then I can pick and choose which one I use depending on where the people are located.”
Between his wedding practice and the demands of Fstoppers.com, Hall has been more than busy. With professional photographers around the world supplying content, it seems the popularity of the site will only continue to grow. We’ll be watching and learning, along with so many others.
Written by Ron Egatz