From Beginning To End: Sagittarius – Part 2: The Shoot

October 24, 2013

Sagittarius Detail

Shoot days are normally about simply executing the concept. But there’s always things that happen during the shoot that evolve the concept and push it in unexpected directions and this was no different. As I mentioned in Part 1 I had my team of make-up artist in Nikki Reign, hair stylist of Malia Malir, and clothing stylist in Megan Lacki. I trust these people to be fantastic and they didn’t disappoint.

Shoot Prep
Both Megan and Malia brought in accessories that fit the theme. There were feathers, beads, loops of wire, and pieces of jewelry that we could use in various creative ways. Once I was able to see all the elements we were able to build a plan of attack. We mixed and matched jewelry and other accessories to develop the final look. We selected elements that would work well together as well as for the overall theme we were going for. We were specifically looking for pieces that went well together but that no one piece stood out. We could go heavier on the jewelry for this one because the theme allowed for it, rather than for Aries or Libra where other items like the props, the hair, the makeup, or the outfit were the “hero”, in this one it was more about the entire look rather than one piece or another. We chose a choker necklace but used it instead as a head-piece, and several feathers and beads to put in the hair. We also chose a necklace, bracelet, and belt to complete the look.

Then Madison, the model, went into wardrobe. Megan had modified a shirt she had bought at Forever 21 and matched it with a skirt and it looked fantastic on Madison.

Then it was time for hair. Malia did a wonderful braided look that worked with Madison’s existing hairstyle which was short on the sides and long on the top and worked in the various elements.

Then it was on to make-up. This was going to be the most extensive part of the look. Nikki brought in several doilies to use as stencils and ran several tests while wardrobe and hair were being done. When she got Madison in the chair she did our basic makeup look, accentuating the features we wanted to bring out. Then she used an airbrush on top of the doilies to paint what became feather patterns on her cheeks and other cool geometric patters on her forehead and around her eyes, contouring the stencils to the model’s face. I’ve never seen a make-up artist work this way and it was entrancing. She also whitened her eye lashes and her eye-brows to accentuate the ghostly theme.

While all this was happening I took the dark-wood bow outside and used a white temporary hair-spray to spray down the bow and several of the arrows to make the bow less contemporary and give it some texture.

Lighting Setup
I set up this shoot much the same way that I started Aries. I did this because I wanted there to be a distinctly “familial” feel to the series. So I brought out the same silver 60” PLM umbrella with the white diffusion panel and set it up at about 4 o’clock and then a gridded beauty dish above and opposite and behind the model in the same way I did Aries. My “studio” is actually a racquetball court, so there are white walls all around me, and the white wall to the left provided me with some bounce as a fill. I did end up moving the setup around a bit, eventually flipping the lighting to 7 o’clock because I really wanted her looking to my left (because that side of the hair looked better to me) and I wanted to get some shadows on the camera-side of the face.

Sagittarius Lighting Diagram

I’m a big fan of shadows. I like the way the add contrast and help contour the model’s face and I generally prefer to “short-light” my models, which means having the model facing away from the main light but having them turn their heads towards the light.

Posing And Direction
I envisioned this character to be haunting the viewer. To be threatening or intimidating but not in a “horror movie” sort of way. Like you’ve just turned around and caught a glimpse of her standing there watching you, stalking you, but then she evaporates into thin air so the viewer is left wondering if what they saw was a ghost or just a trick of the light.

Props generally make a shoot easier for me. It gives the model a role to play and something to interact with, and generally helps the model get into character. But I found the bow to be an especially tricky prop to use for several reasons. First of all, from straight on a bow can very easily look like a walking stick. It generally “reads” best as a bow from the profile, but I definitely didn’t want that. I wanted the character to be haunting and stalking the viewer, so that wasn’t going to work. Secondly, the way to draw a bow is you hold the shaft of the bow straight out in front of you, locking the elbow in place. I consider this to be a generally unflattering position from an aesthetic point of view. Not to mention that drawing the bow back properly close to the ear requires a great deal of force, and that force shows in the muscles of the arms as well as the face. I didn’t want my model to look like she was straining or tense. I wanted her to look relaxed and confident. Also, when drawing the bow there’s a good 2 feet of bow above the model’s face, which will reduce the size of the model in the frame. Lastly, the bow was a good 3.5-4 feet long and it MUST be carried in the middle, which makes it an awkward prop to work with. I quickly concluded that having the model drawing the bow wasn’t going to work for the look I wanted, so I opted for looks where she looks like she’s stalking her prey either standing or kneeling, holding the bow at her side or resting the end of it on the ground. I originally liked the idea of her kneeling because that would give me a realistic way to bring the horse’s head into the scene as I originally envisioned it, but standing would work as well, so I shot it both ways.

Sagittarius Poses

There are things that I look for in poses. I like to accentuate curves, especially in the hips, elbows, and legs. I also like to get the chin pointed in a different direction from the shoulders and having the model’s weight shifted onto one foot helps that. I picture how I want the hips, shoulders, and face positioned first in my head, and then figure out how the model should stand in order to get that pose. I try to give direction from the feet up as the pose really flows from how the model is standing. Putting the weight on one leg is almost always the best way to pose someone. It pushes the hip out and gives you a nice curve to work with. I really like asymmetry so having the hip pushed one way pushes the shoulders in the opposite direction and so forth.

Here’s the image I selected for my final image so you can see what I’m talking about.

Sagittarius Base Image

Shooting Post-Production Elements
After the shoot was done I still had to shoot the grasses that I had bought from Michaels. This actually happened AFTER I had made my final selects, but since it’s all part of the “shooting” phase I’ll describe that here. The grasses were white and I knew that I wanted to clip them out and put them into the photo, so to add contrast I shot them on a black background. I set up my lights to directly mimic the lighting in my final photo. I then grabbed a nice decent amount of the grasses and held them out at arm’s-length to take photos of them. I INSTANTLY understood the problem with this approach. All of the grasses were clutched in my fist, which meant that, although I had a decent spread at the tops of the grasses, they all angled down towards the center as if into a funnel at the base. If I had an assistant I could have had them hold them straighter, but sadly I did not have that option. I had only myself. So I came up with a rather ingenious solution, if I do say so myself. I clamped the grasses in the middle of a hard-back book (one of the later Harry Potter books if I remember correctly). This allowed me to hold out the grasses at arm’s length without getting that funneled “bouquet of flowers” look I was getting before.

Sagittarius Grasses

The smoke elements I simply used from the Paranormal shoot I did in September of last year. If you’ve already got it, why bother shooting it again? You can see the tutorial for that here.

That’s about it for the shooting phase. Lastly was the post-production phase, where it was all going to come together… or fall apart miserably. Stay tuned!

From Beginning To End: Sagittarius – Part 1: Pre-Shoot

October 22, 2013


I had someone recently ask me to do a blog post that showed my entire process from beginning to end on a shoot. I thought that Sagittarius was a good example that showed a lot of what goes on in my head through every stage of the creation of a photo.

Concepting Sagittarius
About a year ago I had the idea that I wanted to shoot all 12 signs of the Zodiac as a sort of High Fashion, Avant Garde look for each of the signs and I had already shot the first sign in the series, Aries, a few months before. That set the overall look and general direction of the scene. So now it was up to me to take that general framework and apply it to the rest of the series. Because this IS a series I wanted to make sure that all of the images for the Zodiac project hold to that same basic “family” feel to them. I didn’t want to shoot some in-studio and some on location for instance.

First up was finding a model. Generally speaking I get the concept nailed down first and find the model second, but with this series I’ve been finding models who are the sign and then coming up with the concept later. Madison volunteered to be my Sagittarius and since I love working with her I figured it’d be a slam dunk!

For each of the signs of the zodiac I’ve been wanting to incorporate the Grecian mythology that the sign is based upon. This has been my favorite part of each of the signs as I really love the stories behind the zodiac signs more than anything else associated with the zodiac. In the case of Sagittarius I learned that Sagittarius is a centaur archer who hunts Scorpio.

The immediate idea was to create a Centaur with some heavy photoshopping, but that just seemed like cheating somehow. Like it wasn’t telling the story in any sort of compelling way that excited me. So what could I do with the elements of the story to tell it in a new and compelling way?

I sat on the concept for a while, not really finding anything that fit until I was introduced to the wonderful stylist Meagan Lacki. She had sent me some links to the work she had done and one of them was for a video project called Ghost Boy which told the story of a Native American boy and his mother who are killed and his ghost come back to haunt the killers. The story pinged around in my brain and I saw a ghostly native american huntress with a bow, and that connected the concept for me back to Sagittarius. Originally I had the idea of the horse coming into the scene as this huntress’s stallion standing over her shoulder, but more on that in a later post.

Putting Together The Team
So I knew I had Madison as my model for Sagittairus and Megan, being the one who inspired the concept, was on board as the stylist. I had met Nikki Reign during another shoot and we had talked extensively about the Zodiac project. She was very excited to be part of it and I knew she’d be a perfect fit. I also brought along Malia Malir who did the amazing hair horns for Aries.

I wanted each member of the team to have their own fingerprint on the project, so I kept my hands off as much as possible, only making it clear what my concept is and monitoring the conversations to make sure that everyone’s pieces gel together to create something awesome. This is where trusting your team really comes into play. Making sure that everyone is on the same general page but that everyone has room for expressing themselves creatively is really key for me. It keeps my team happy, and it builds trust and confidence.

I had the idea of a beautiful braided hair look for the hair, but left the details to Malia. She brought all the pieces together in the hair herself. Nikki brought in the makeup designs with zero direction from me, and Meagan thought up the outfit based on some designs she’d seen in stores.

When I explained the concept to the team I was excited to learn that my model, Madison does a lot of mortuary work with native american tribes and that white is the color of Death in many native cultures, which really excited me and helped tie the concept to a deeper meaning. Nikki had a phenomenal makeup idea to use use patterns on the face to not only tie into the ghostly theme but also to bring in a sort of natural camoflague. I knew I wanted my colors to be primarily white on this with subtle colors of blue or some other cool color, and we all agreed this was the direction we wanted to go.

I knew that I needed several things for Sagittarius. I needed a bow with arrows as my main prop. Fortunately I have some friends who happen to have stuff like this that they’re willing to loan me. I’ve also found success putting the word out on Facebook that I’m looking for specific props and had people come through for me. I also knew that I needed some smoke effects and some tall grasses. I used the same smoke effects that I used for the Paranormal shoot, and for the tall grasses I bought some fabulous pale grasses from Michaels.

Next I’ll talk about the shoot itself, and how it that stage evolved the concept and finally the post-production stage and coming up with the final image.

The Talent of Modeling

September 11, 2013

Models who have posed for me

A lot of people seem to think that all it takes to be a model is a pretty face, or a beautiful body. At the risk of sounding like a troll, I think that’s absolutely rubbish. In my opinion modeling is only 10% being prettier than average and 90% pure unadulterated talent.

Don’t get me wrong, being good-looking is part of the gig. Models tend to have nice hair, great skin, interesting bone structure, and they take care of themselves physically, but it’s SO much more than that. It’s poise. It’s comfort in front of the camera. It’s self-confidence. It’s acting. It’s knowing what angles make your body look best. It’s taking direction from the photographer. It’s knowing how to look not at the camera or at the photographer but at the person viewing the final photo months or even years later. It’s a frickin’ talent. And I completely respect that.

Seriously. I’m not kidding. I’ve worked with models who I wouldn’t have glanced at twice if I saw them walking down the street. But put them on set in front of a camera and it’s like they’ve flipped on a switch. I’ve actually seen models go from “she’s cute… quiet but cute” to Drop Dead Gorgeous in the space of several minutes. I’ve literally had guys ask me for a model’s phone number who, when she walked in the door to the studio I had no idea she was a model, I thought she was someone’s assistant.

I cringe whenever I hear people say “oh, let’s use so-and-so… they’re good-looking”. You hire a model for so many reasons and thinking that you’ll be able to get the same results from any good-looking person is a fallacy. I tell people all the time when they want to use a friend, family member, or coworker that there is a big difference between a “pretty person” and a Model. And when you want to sell a product and make a connection to a customer, hire yourself someone with experience. You don’t have to necessarily go to an agency, but find someone who knows what they’re doing. Short, tall, big, small, athletic, skinny, or stout I can EASILY tell when someone has modeling experience when they’re in front of my camera. I’ve worked with women and men of all shapes and sizes and I can say with pride that there is no such thing as someone who “looks like a model” to me.

Because modeling isn’t about what you look like. It’s about how talented a model you are.

And aspiring models… I hope that what you take away from this post is that precisely because it’s a talent, a craft, a skill, it can be learned. Some of the best models I’ve worked with have been told that they’re “too short” or that they “need to lose a few pounds” or that they are too this or too that or not enough of this or that. That is a giant load of crap. They get work and they’re amazing, and if you work hard, study your craft and hone your skills you can be amazing too.

Oh, and one last thing. I don’t make models look good. They make me look good.

How To Find Models

August 16, 2013

Becky Franklin modeling as a Water Elemental

I’ve had several people like the wonderful Shawn Miles ask me how to find models to work with when you’re just starting out.

I discovered back in 2003 and quickly found lots of photography-based meetups in the Seattle area. I began attending Meetups at a local studio that brought models in so that photographer could practice their directing skills and give everyone in attendance photos they could add to their portfolios. Some of my photos from those early days are still in my portfolio today. I was, frankly AWFUL. I relied ENTIRELY on the skill of the models for good photos. I had no idea what to say to them, no direction to give, but it gave me The Bug for shooting models and I slowly was able to figure out how to give direction. I pretty much just stood around mutely waiting for the model to do something amazing in front of my camera. Slowly at first, but then with more confidence. It also taught my a bit about lighting and getting comfortable with the very idea of controlling light but since I did not have to set it up or modify it in any way I could just focus on working with the model and giving direction.

I learned that most of the models had profiles on a site called Model Mayhem and I joined that in order to keep in touch with some of them and quickly discovered that this site was an EXCELLENT way to meet new aspiring models. You can create a portfolio there which shows off your work and your style to prospective models and pretty soon I was being asked to shoot with models I had never met before. As I upgraded my skills and my portfolio I began to work with more and more experienced models. The more experience the model has the better the photos, and the more I learned from the models what worked and what didn’t.

Model Mayhem is also a great place to meet other folks, not just models and photographers, but Hair Stylists, Makeup Artists, and Clothing Designers and networking with these folks has helped take my photos to the next level. Photography is really a team effort. It’s a collaboration between the Photographer, the Model, and the rest of the team involved. The behind the scenes crew, their talent and their ideas all help make a photo shoot possible. I rely absolutely on my team. They have just as much right to claim credit for the success of a photo shoot as I do. Never lose sight of that fact and you will make your team very happy and they will want to work with you again and they will introduce you to new people who can help you make your photos even better.

Lately I connect with most of the models I shoot with on my Facebook fan page. I rarely attend meetups or even look at Model Mayhem anymore. There are plenty of amazing models and other talented photo shoot folks who network through Model Mayhem, but I’ve reached a point where Facebook works best for me.

The Jazz Singer

April 25, 2012

Aviona Brown - The Jazz Singer

Oh, man… I’ve got a lot of catching up to do on the blog! There’s been a lot going on with my photography over the last few months that I think are really exciting and fun, but I’ve been really terrible about sharing those things here on the blog where I can elaborate on them more then just posting the images with a caption as I do on Facebook or Google+.

The biggest change I’ve taken on lately I started about 2 months or so ago. I had started to feel like my photography was in a rut. I felt like my lighting, while it was still improving and becoming more subtle, was beginning to become stagnant. I wasn’t trying new things as much. Whenever I did a shoot with someone I was just doing the shoot, and wasn’t really pressing myself to evolve, change, or try new things. So I decided to set aside a scheduled time to play with my gear. Try something new. Force myself out of the box I had put myself in. I call it my Tuesday Night Open Studio, and every Tuesday I settle on a concept or a theme that I want to explore. Maybe it’s a lighting setup I’ve not tried before. Maybe it’s playing with a pose or a new camera technique. The purpose is to get off my duff and schedule some time to experiment. Even if I fail, at least I’ve tried and that’s okay.

So I put out the word on my Facebook page that I was looking for someone to come out and take some photos with me and the wonderful Aviona here volunteered to be my first guinea pig. This first week’s experiment was on gelling flashes. I’ve only vaguely played with gels before (for trying to gel a flash to match the ambient), but I wanted to try something new. Aviona’s a singer and stage performer who’s home from school in New York, and I had recently got my hands on an old vintage microphone, so it seemed like a perfect fit. I had an image similar to this one banging around in my brain for a little while and it was time to let it out and asked her to bring an elegant dress that we could use for an old jazz singer performance. She had this fantastic red gown that fit the bill beautifully and gave her a really classy, elegant look.

The lighting setup was pretty basic. It’s the 3 Vivitar speedlight flashes in the background gelled as you see them combined with a beauty dish on my AlienBees AB800 right between me and Aviona un-gelled to give her a natural look. The beauty dish is just out of the shot, while the speedlights are set back about 8 feet or so behind her. The power is so low on the speed lights that it’s not having a ton of effect on the photo but since the lights are pointed straight at the camera there is a bit of flare that to me really adds authenticity to the shot.

Ultimately my takeawy for this shoot is this; schedule some time to be creative. Don’t wait for creativity to come to you. Work at it, and don’t be afraid to fail. I tried lots of things that night and every Tuesday night since this that failed. But I’ve also found a lot of things that were successful and I’m feeling more energized and creative then ever.

Creating Your Photographic Style

July 6, 2011

I’ve heard a lot of people asking about creating a unique photographic style. It’s a question that is both insanely simple to answer (in my opinion… everyone has their own) and yet maddeningly complicated.

The short answer is that you don’t. Let me repeat that. In my opinion you don’t create a photographic style any more than you create a personality. To me the analogy is very appropriate as the look of your photographs reflect your vision and how you see the world. You can develop your eye, your ability to create the photo that’s in your minds eye through practice practice practice, but that’s all technical. It’s learning to pre-visualize a scene or just a moment and learning when to hit that shutter release to capture the exact moment in time you want and to set your camera and control your lighting to be what you want. But as I said, ll of that is just something you can develop and control with practice.

But what you can’t create is your style.

That’s the bad news.

So what’s the good news?

Photographic Quote of the Day

July 5, 2011

I just got back from a vacation at Yellowstone National Park last week with my wife and in-laws. It was my first time visiting the world’s first National Park, and it was a really amazing experience. More on that in a later post.

Having just got back in town yesterday, I started reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography today at lunch and found this wonderful quote:

Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on. The method especially appeals to people handicapped by a ruthless work ethic — Germans, Japanese, and Americans. Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.

It’s not an analysis that makes me feel happy about my shutterbug-ness. But I can’t say it’s inaccurate . Plus it made me laugh, and made me sound insane to anyone walking past the lunch-room.

Giant Freakin’ Negatives!

February 27, 2011

Today was the first day that I went out and played with the Calumet 4×5 view camera that I got last year. Part of the problem was that I did not have any film for it, but the bigger problem is that I had never used one of those cameras and did not even know how to load the film into the trays until a friend came over to show me how.


A Cycling Allegory

June 14, 2010

For those of you who don’t know me, I cycle to and from work every day (well… almost every day). Today as I was cycling home I was just exhausted. I had worked a half-day over the weekend, not gotten much sleep last night, and had to go in an hour early today, so I was just pretty drained. I had been cycling the past several miles with lagging energy and sore muscles, slowly shifting to lighter and lighter gears to try and keep momentum.

In short I was lagging badly.

Then suddenly this cyclist whips by me at a good clip. I had passed her on the side of the path as she was chilling a few miles back, and she was chugging along.

I’m a fairly competitive guy, and I make it a personal goal to at least keep pace with people in front of me. I push and push till I just can’t do it anymore, and I thought “I’ve got it in me to go a ways at her pace”, so I switched my grip to the lower bars (I’ve got the “ram’s horn” style of street bike handles where you’ve got several options of grip) and started chugging along. After a fairly short amount of time I had caught up to her and was keeping pace with her quite handily.

Two minutes ago I could barely keep the slow pace I was going and now I was hauling tail and not even feeling it. Why? Because I had someone to push me.

And it’s the same way with photography. Reading blogs and taking classes and reading books is all well and good, but sometimes I need someone to come along and just fly by me to get me jazzed up and motivated. That’s why I love going to photo meetups or doing organized photostrolls. I get to see first-hand the work people are doing and how fast they’re flying past me, and it pushes me to be more creative. Not to be better than them, but to keep up. You see, I’m not competing with them. I’m competing against myself. They’re just the thing that gets me off my butt and gives me a target to shoot for.

So get out there and find someone. A friend, a Meetup group, a student, whatever. Just go out and find someone to shoot with. Someone who will push you to be better than you are.

Semi-Random Photography Business Tips

May 14, 2010

This is going to seem pretty random, but my theme for today’s post is about various photography business tips, so they’re all kind-of sort-of related. Bare with me.

First up, my friend Tasha, an incredible portrait, wedding and concert photographer in Chicago posted this great FAQ on her blog about Affording Your Wedding Photographer.

Next, I read this interesting post on Scott Bourne’s PhotoFocus blog about Who’s Your Audience. There’s somewhat of a dispute about this among photographers. On the one hand, I see what Scott’s saying, and in a certain way, he most definitely is correct. On the other hand, having your own vision and following your own vision rather than your audience’s will often lead to better results because, as Chase Jarvis says, “you’re not a monkey pushing the shutter release”. The client (or audience) is paying you for your vision, so I’d definitely agree with Scott (and Mr. Jarvis says this too) that you have to give the client what they want. Get that in the bag, but then take a little time to step away from what the audience wants and try something new and different.

And lastly, here’s a marvelous piece of advice that I found on David Ziser’s blog that talks not specifically about photography, but about success in a general sense. It’s a little overly-religious for me at the end, but it is very well worth it.

That’s it from me today. Have a great weekend!

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress