Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Doing ON-LOCATION Photo Shoots

Take it from us that the best kind of photography is on-location. There is simply no match for wide-open plains, rich blue skies, crisp and bold waves or a downtown metropolis as a backdrop. This is why when a client asks us to shoot on-location we are more than happy to oblige.
First and foremost is weather. You never know what you'll get. It requires more planning, watching forecast and being prepared for anything. Even then it can go wrong so have a backup plan. A sudden downpour can and will ruin a very expensive photo shoot in a matter of seconds. I am also known to watch tide prediction charts. If we are shooting on a beach, it is imperative to know when the tides are at their peak and their lowest. Why? Because the last thing I want is to have our equipment swept out to sea. Also, there are some seriously sweet places that become inaccessible at certain tide levels while others open up. For example, we have a certain little hidden gem of a spot right here in the Pac NW that when the tide is high you cannot even see it. But when the tide is low, one can see a nice little path to a nice spot perfect for a small photo shoot.
The largest hurdle in our opinion is getting permits. If you've hired us for an on-location project before then you know that some places are just off-limits unless we get permission first. Most locations will NOT permit commercial photography without a permit so know that if this is the case we will need to consider that in your quote if that is known prior to booking. A few places can be more lenient if the project is not commercial and you're not disturbing the public. Even this can be somewhat ambiguous. One day one person will tell you one thing about a location while another may tell you something different about the same spot but they both work for the same building or department You'll want to get someone of authority to give you a written permission letter, a business card or something saying it is okay. Otherwise, you may come face to face with a police officer, a park ranger or a security guard looking for an excuse to put you in cuffs and they're not always as friendly as they could be. A few will come by, give you a friendly reminder and tell you to move on. Others may opt to have you face down in the dirt threatening to confiscate your equipment and threatening to press trespassing charges. Trust me this is not a joke.
So what to do? Follow the rules. If you need a permit, get one. But the best way is for you or your talent to ask for permission beforehand. We have found that it is incredibly difficult to turn down a beautiful person standing in front of an administrator asking nicely to briefly use their facility for a few minutes. Some may see it as a potential promotional opportunity for them, their facility or their park. This happened to us just recently. We wanted to shoot in a park filled with flowers and I went about politely asking what the rules were beforehand. I received a kind reply that in summary emphasized being kind to other park users, making sure the shoot was non-commercial and staying directly away from the actual flower beds. Otherwise, I was told a shoot would be okay. In fact, I was encouraged to tell them what day I would be coming by so the facility could promote the event on social media. Now that is how you handle business. Be professional, be courteous and be transparent. Fortunately, this person saw the benefit and instead of becoming defensive and rude, she took advantage of a potentially free promotional tool should we choose to use it. Unfortunately, someone like this administrator is rare.
I fully support being able to protect your assets. I certainly would not want some unknown person profiting or loitering on my property. They could be casing the place or using my property for commercial purposes without my knowledge or consent. I get that. What permits also do is insure that people do not destroy property and unnecessarily disturb other patrons. It can be an expensive and lengthy process but in some places under certain circumstances I dare say it may be smart for some property owners to do so. You would not want someone coming into your parking lot with dozens of people in a mobile studio, shooting a full motion picture movie which blocks parking spaces and in the process causes damage the street, the curb and shrubs planted on your property or business; then that mobile studio leaves without any accountability. No one wants that. But for most of us this is NEVER going to be the case. Most photographers want a comfortable place they can go and unobtrusively make beautiful art. The best way I have found to do that is to ask first. I can't afford to apologize later. I don't have those kinds of privileges afforded me and quite frankly that is too expensive of a mistake for me. Just ask. Better yet, get your client or in some cases get the model to ask.
Every shoot we do is NOT a commercial one. In those instances I prefer the model or photo subject to obtain permission. Most often they discover beautiful locations they want to shoot on and I simply say go and ask for permission and we can set it up. Give them a day and a time and in most cases that property manager or owner will happily obliged. Let me tell you, it is difficult turning down a beautiful face, a sincere smile and a genuine non-commercial promotional opportunity.
Next time you need a place to shoot, think about the places you visit; the cafe you go to every other day. Surely the staff knows you by now. They'd love to have you do a small unobtrusive photo shoot there. Think about the bar you like to have drinks at once a week. You already know the owner or the manager. Ask about shooting there after hours or before they open. Consider that friend you have with the huge horse ranch. How about that large commercial parking lot with the colorful graffiti walls next to it? Surely someone manages that lot. Just let your model get a business card with a date and time of the shoot written on the back of the property manager's card. It's that easy. If they say no then you move on and figure out something else. Chances are if you went to them nicely and respectfully they would say yes.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

How a Disability May Have Made Me A Better Photographer

A few weeks ago I was tasked with photographing a large group of employees for their company brochure. I’m talking about 150 people so trust me when I say that it required some doing. Try getting 150 people to stand still, to look at the camera and to stop fidgeting. It was difficult but as always we got it done. 

Fortunately, I had a couple of assistants herding the crowd into a tight group and literally herding the stragglers that kept getting lost. A thought occurred to me as we were setting up to take the shot. I yelled loudly over the cacophony of raucous voices, “DOES ANYONE HAVE PSE?!!” Now if you have it then you know what that acronym means. If you don’t recognize the acronym then you probably don’t have it or have never been diagnosed as having it. It stands for Photo Sensitive Epilepsy. I’m not a doctor and not trying to be but in short it often results in seizures triggered by exposure to flashing lights, stroboscopic effects, light patterns, lights at certain intensities, etc. You can read more about at https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/triggers-seizures/photosensitivity-and-seizures. Better yet, get more information about it by talking to your actual doctor if you think that you or someone you know is at risk. My understanding is that even driving at night can be risky for some with more sensitive triggers.

Again, I’m not doctor but something compelled me to ask the question. You see, I had a few very powerful studio strobes. I was wary as to whether or not they could light such a large group considering the challenging space I was working in. With such a large group, I was also aware that the chances of someone having some degree of PSE was very likely. One employee stepped forward and began walking towards me as the rest of the group was being directed into position. I was lowered down to speak with him (I was on a lift in the air getting ready for the shot at the time). He thanked me for asking and told me that he had PSE. It is not something he wanted to scream across the crowd. He had no reason to be embarrassed but sometimes things like that are private. I totally get that. In a low voice he told he could take some flash sequences short of stroboscopic if it wasn’t prolonged or directly in his eyes. I was totally surprised because in my many years of photography, I don’t run into people with PSE because people with PSE tend to avoid having their picture taken and for good reason. Yet, something made me ask this crowd before I got started. I really appreciated him coming forward and I told him as much.

I had a couple of choices at this point. I could reposition him to make sure he wasn’t directly in the epicenter of the flashes brightest point. I could also shoot slower and minimize the frequency of the flashes. Or I could simply see what the full frame sensor I had could do and take advantage of its high ISO sensor capabilities the manufacturer raves so endlessly about. This would allow me to theoretically photograph this crowd without the strobes. There were some risk of slightly lesser picture quality but according to the specs I could push this camera and still get a fantastic image; in theory of course. I gave this brave guy my decision and told him not to worry and that I would not be utilizing the strobes. He turned and looked over along the edge of the crowd to where the strobes were. I could tell he was hesitant to believe me. I just said, “trust me and you’ll be fine. They will not be engaged.” That must have done it. He gave me a reluctant, and yet an I believe you kind of smile and disappeared back into the crowd.

Why gamble? I didn’t want this employee feeling alienated for a condition he never asked for. He is as much a part of this group as anyone. I turned off the strobes' radio transmitter which was affixed atop the camera body. Then I removed the radio trigger from the camera altogether just to be sure there were no accidental transmissions that would trigger the strobes or me accidentally toggling it back on. I made some shutter speed adjustments, played with the white balance for the ambient light only and setup up for the first shot. Fortunately, that was about the time everyone appeared to be in place. Sure I had to yell (not belligerently but just so they could hear me), at a few people that were not in the frame to get tighter and join the rest of the group. Who did I notice in front and center of the group photo? Yep! It was the employee with PSE braving it for the company annual group photo. 

I felt really good about that shoot. I’m still not sure what made me ask about PSE that day but I made that guy’s day, maybe his week and it felt really good. It felt right. It also made me even more attentive to client’s needs than I already try to be. Adjusting to our client’s needs isn’t a chore or a burden. It is rewarding in a way that transcended how great the image turned out. It also emphasized the importance and the need to have the right gear for the right job. We can brag all we want about how good we are but if you don’t have the proper tools you’re just not going to get your shot. As a photographer (a really good photographer), you may be able to get your image but you may struggle more or it will simply be not be as good as it could have been. 

Even right this very minute I’m looking at the picture of that employee front and center of that group shot. I can always think back on how that all unfolded. I can take comfort and pride in the fact that I did the right thing. But it wasn’t just doing the right thing per se; it was the look on his face in the front row of the group photo. It said, I do not have a disability. It said I can get up front like everyone else and not be afraid. It said, I can take comfort in the fact I will not be embarrassed or scorned or laughed at. 

This particular photo shoot was profoundly inspirational for me. I read up even more on PSE and personally deduced it to be more of a nuisance than anything else. I'm sure most people that have it would say they're fine and that they just find it irritating. Yet, depending on its severity it can have a pronounced influence on how people live their lives. I was not about to deny this guy his spot on the front row because I wanted an easier shot. He strongly wanted to be apart of this group photo. Otherwise, he would never have had to courage to approach me and ask about the strobes thereby admitting his disability. This was only one example but we should all find the courage to be as accommodating as we can because that 10 seconds of adjusting my settings and having a genuinely frank and caring conversation with a client made me a much better photographer and quite frankly a much more attentive and understand person. 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Social Media Mistake for Creatives

Last night I received the most intriguing question from a model we had never photographed before. She asked, “Can you please have a look at my portfolio and tell me things I can improve on? I use to get far more likes and comments than I usually do but now I can’t seem to understand why my follower base is quiet. Has my photo quality diminished or should I be working with different people?”

I was both humbled and mystified over the question. We thought it was something best asked of a modeling agency or an experienced model. I made that observation known to her and yet she insisted on getting our input. She sent links to her Page and her website. We checked it all out. I must confess the images she has there are all quite stellar. They were all very well done and of the highest styling and quality across the board. It further baffled us as to why she would ask us considering the multitude of phenomenal photographers she has worked with. 

We looked at her Page and social media sites over and over again and we didn’t find anything wrong with the images. We scratched our heads trying to work out why her engagement and popularity had waned so much in the last few months. You would be surprised at the conclusions we came to. Read on.

The first clue came when we started to study her post dates, frequency of post and message content. That is when it hit us like the blunt instrument of a lumberjack. You must understand that Facebook changes their “reach” algorithm seemingly at a whim. The fallacy that Facebook is a free application for business is far from the whole story. It may be that you’re not paying anything in the traditional sense but it is also true that the amount of people that saw your daily, weekly or monthly post have diminished considerably when compared to when you first began your Page. They are the gatekeepers as to how many people see your feeds. Aside from your known followers, seeing your Page suggested to a non-subscriber isn’t likely to happen like it once had. They do this because Facebook - like any business, wants you to pay for visibility. They want you to pay for advertising. They wanted you reliant and fattened up on popularity and you might even say addicted to their app. If and when the most attractive feature (reach) was taken away, they had high hopes you’d be psyched up and willing to pay for that same reach you once enjoyed for free. Those days are over. It is why many creatives that once relied on Facebook for their sole social media outlet are abandoning it in droves for other apps like Instagram and Snapchat; the former being a Facebook sister-company. Essentially, being a sister-company means that once the bait and switch routine is worked out for Instagram, people will soon see that application monetized as well. 

Now that wasn’t this particular model’s only social media faux pas; far from it. In fact, it may not even be the largest discovery. The largest hit to her social media accounts were due to her infrequent inactivity. If you can’t manage your Pages and you intend to keep a subscriber base then you should probably hire someone to do it for you. Maintaining social media is time consuming and frustrating at times. It requires due diligence and an almost reverent attitude toward maximizing those hidden algorithm gems to great effect. Additionally, prospective clients and fans come to expect a certain degree of frequency after having enjoyed it from you for all these months and years. When that frequency wanes, they lose interests. So this model’s on again off again, I’m still modeling but I’m not doing anything right now doesn’t cut it. People have a vested emotional and artistic interests in following you. When you stop, you let fans down and being that social media is what it is, people quickly lose interests and move on to the next shiniest thing. 

If you’re taking a break, have someone take over your Page or sites to keep fresh content coming. Disappear for weeks or months at a time with no posts or interactions and people will soon forget even the most popular person. Some aren’t aware that if they are taking a break that they can schedule posts far ahead and have them automated. That is an option if you’re on an extended vacation or taking a much needed respite. 

Most of this model’s engagement derived from when she posted at least three times a week. She also replied to more comments that time; thus, encouraging others to interact with and participate on her site. These same people followed her other Pages as well. She created unique content on some Pages not seen on others - sparking further reach, links and participation from sources she may not have otherwise attracted. Her greatest slump came when she had not posted anything for more than six weeks. She returned with single image and disappeared for several more weeks. That engagement had dropped more than 50% from her previous post. Now when you go from posting a minimum of once a week to six weeks of absolute silence you are going to lose people’s interests. Certainly, many of them hung around but even the most entrenched fans went silent. 

We concluded that the largest hit to her social media presence was simply inactivity. Photography, modeling, designing, stylists, makeup artists, fashion or even decorative painting etc, are all visual industries. If you are to be taken seriously and stay relevant you need to stay present and out front. Unfortunately, these groups don’t get to take as many breaks and disappear from our core base as often as other careers. Unless you are out of the game completely (in which case you need to actually un-publish yourself), then you need to stay engaged with your followers. They’ve invested in you and you owe it to them to satiate their creative thirst. Otherwise, you’re another one of those people that has a currently active social media site with a “Last Activity” date of June 12, 2014. You know what we call people like that? We call them “IRRELEVANT.” 

We all can learn a lesson from this. We certainly did. You do not have to be a model or in any creative industry. This applies to all business types. You absolutely have to stay engaged with prospective clients and fans to insure you appreciate their patronage and attention. It is that simple. Did Facebook algorithm changes play a part in her engagement fall off? You bet it did. But this falloff happened across the board on many of her social media Pages and sites, not only Facebook. They all revealed the same thing; a somewhat lax and inattentiveness to her base. 


Thursday, February 1, 2018

How NOT to get a photoshoot

Each and every photographer and graphic designer gets asked a time or two to work for free at some point in their career. Whether they need the exposure, to create a book of work for creative exploration or simply doing a favor for a friend - it can, it will and it does happen. As that creative becomes more established, more popular and quite frankly the best at what they do, securing those freebies will get more challenging. More importantly overhead expenses become larger along with the popularity. We have insurance to pay, equipment rentals and purchases to make to further business interests. Some photo shops may have staff, building lease expenses, health insurance costs and we all have those dreadful taxes to pay. Regardless, notoriety and business prosperity has a price and it is seldom free. 

I can’t say how to get a free photo shoot or a free business card design or website done for you. What I can tell you is how NOT to get that free photo shoot, business card or website. For the sake of this topic, let us focus on the photo shoot. Keep in mind, we are speaking only for ourselves here as our processes are different than most.

Everyone has different goals, different objectives and varying ways of achieving them. What we all share is a biological and instinctual need for self-preservation. As an extension of that instinctual need we all have desire if not the drive, to look our best, to be our best and to realize our highest potential. That is a big order to fill. How do we do all of that? Well, you do that by managing expectations. How do you manage expectations? You determine what you want and need, you gather resources and you do research. You would then remove the extraneous and superfluous elements and choose the best option within your means. Then and only then do you execute your plan from a well versed, educated and informed position of strength and knowledge. PERIOD! You have a well thought out plan because you know what you want and  you’ve measured and anticipated the likely effects of different actions you may take. From all of this, your probability of coming to a predictable outcome is all but assured. 

What is this guy going on about you ask? Well, everything is that way. Life is all about choices and compromises which all lead to an outcome based on cause or in our case… “ constructive input” and a bit of chance. Let me give you the real world example of how one might go about improving their chance of getting anything around these parts.

“Hi, my name is Jasmine. I have been an admirer of your work for some time and I have been eager to do a shoot with you. I particularly like your work I saw on Facebook with Bethany when you mixed denim with leather and several other separates. The detail, the styling and the entire look is the path I’d like my portfolio to take. It is like portraiture meets high fashion. It is all beautifully done. I read on your other social media page that you do not often take TFs or trade work but I would hope you would consider me a candidate should a need for such work as I’ve mentioned comes available. Perhaps an idea or something creative and exploratory may spark your interests and you have a need for someone with my look and talent.

I’ve modeled for Hennessy Photography on a fashion shoot (images attached) as well as several shoots with Forte Images along with many others. I’m also sending my site link along should you like to investigate further. However, I’m very interested in the way you style and light your clients and models. I’ve gone so far as to comment on the pages of other clients and models you’ve worked with and they all say you are very professional and driven to get great results. You may have seen my comments on your Pages as well ;) I am comfortable doing my own make-up for a test shoot or trade if you would consider working with me. I’d love to hear your ideas should you think me to be a TF candidate. I welcome an opportunity to meet you in-person or message if and when it is convenient should you think I am a good fit for whatever you may have coming up. Thank you for your time and consideration and please let me know if you have any follow up questions or would need information on my schedule.”

That is ideal example of managing expectations toward a positive result. How do I know the results were positive? I know because we photographed and published that model nearly five years ago and we have photographed her multiple times since then. Guess what? I never ever charged her. We’ve improved each other’s style over time despite my having a position of superior experience at that time. She has become extremely well known and respected regionally and internationally for her style, her beauty and her extraordinary talent. She went further to become the cover model of several publications both domestically and internationally and walked in many international high fashion runway shows. Most important of all, she still models with no sign of letting up. 

Now what does all this have to do with TFs now? First of all we haven’t taken as many TFs as we once did because TFs like any shoot is expensive to NOT get paid for. They don’t always cost less. They are never free in the truest sense and sometimes they cost more. As a result, it needs to be worthwhile. But unlike paid assignments which are comparably easier, a TF candidate has to meet Jasmine’s professional benchmark and that isn’t difficult but it does require effort. That is the interesting part. Something as delicate, intimate and sensitive as how you look and your online reputation is often relegated to “Hey! Like your work. Wanna shoot?” People have simply become lazy. They want everything right now with no effort, insensitive of the costs, the workmanship, the hours upon hours of post work, the overhead, the scheduling challenges, etc. The general passerby is blatantly unmotivated to do great things. To be frank, shoots are expensive and the higher quality is that you expect, the more effort you need to put forth for it to be successful. Consider if I answered yes to a Let's Shoot free requests without any information than thumbnail images of a person. How much could I really complain if I never met or even spoke to a person before agreeing to a free shoot or I have no idea what we're shooting and I didn't ask? Just how upset could I be if a failed to convey what I considered basic information and the shoot ended up being a total bust? 

Why did Jasmine succeed? She did so because she is driven, motivated, focused and she managed her expectations. Just as a paying client would do, she expressed interests in our work. She demonstrated she had seen and even exchanged messages with people we have photographed. She told us what kind of looks she was interested in doing when she referenced other images we had done. She noticed and acknowledged the clause for “Paid Assignments Only” work - proving that she follows us and had been reading up. Yet, she tried anyway. A HUGE observation is that she didn’t let her past shoots play a part in what she wants to do with us. She didn’t have to tell us she was Ms. Universe or Ms. Denmark or whatever because we can find that out on our own should we decide to research further. Those things are only samples of what she HAS done. Jasmine was looking forward to what we could do together because she knew we didn’t care much about the past other than showing she could do certain looks, but more about what she was looking to create with Helios. She didn’t brag or boast. She simply implied that she wanted more and we were the means to getting more; more premium, more looks and better quality results with someone reputable and respected. She was upfront and absolutely clear that she is not to be considered a paying client. The biggest takeaway from Jasmine’s first message was that she was wiling to meet to discuss looks, ideas or anything that might get her a free shoot even if there was a chance we wouldn’t do it. There was humility there. That WAS HUGE!!!!!!! It shows she respects the time, the effort and the work it takes to put a shoot together. She didn’t want to waste our time with mediocre results and we didn’t want to waste hers by not trying to at least find out what she expected from her shoot. She was just as concerned about the results as we were and she took it seriously. She was and is a professional. That is what impressed us most.

Now on to the main point of this all. HOW to NOT get a free photo-shoot. Just be lazy. That will work. Send a message like, “I’m free. Wanna shoot?” Don’t provide any details beyond “my name is…” Pretend you want an estimate and then pretend you have no money after you get one and then ask for it all free. That is disrespectful of our time, effort and expenses. We spend minutes to hours and occasionally days exchanging rates and shoot details for a person to say in the end they were hoping to get it all for free. How about not wanting to meet for the proposed “free” shoot first? That is sure to get you blocked at worst and ignored at best. LOL! I mean we don’t know you. I can’t possibly risk renting gear, hauling lights out, spend hours prepping, formatting memory cards, creating a mood board, calling an MUA (if applicable) setting up a style detail all based on a “Love your work. Let’s set up a free shoot” message. Sounds kinda dumb now that you read it out loud doesn’t it? It happens. What do you want to shoot? Where? When? How many changes? How long will it take? What days of the week? What are you using the images for? Are you willing to sign a model release? Do you understand copyright law? Do you understand image use and the difference between commercial use and private use? These questions must be answered and we can’t get that from “Cool looks. I can shoot on Tuesdays after 1:00pm but before 5:00pm but only on the third week of the month after Labor Day when my escort is available to be on the shoot and the babysitter is free. Oh and can you validate my parking when I get there.” SERIOUSLY??!!!

Okay so I got a little carried away but you would be surprised what we get sometimes. The point is to know who you are soliciting for any work from lawn service to a car mechanic. Would you want a free brake job from a guy walking down the street with no car of his own in sight because he says he does great work? I’m guessing you would not. You would ask for credentials. You would at least look for references. You would want to know if they are authentic and real OEM parts. You would want to know if there was a warranty. But if you were smart you would go somewhere reputable where you would choose to pay a modest and honest price relative to the quality and craftsmanship you expect. Why is design or photography any different? For that matter why is styling or modeling any different? It is NOT. It’s your face, your body and your reputation. It is your business. That is more important than what car you drive. You can buy a different car but you only get one face and one reputation.

Do your homework. Manage your expectations and get to know who you will be working with. Find out what they expect of you and establish what you can expect from them. People deserve your respect of what they bring to the table in knowledge and talent. Understand and respect the expense they may entail even messaging you back not to mention doing an entire free project. 

We understand that everyone cannot be Jasmine. Yet, we have had a very small handful of Jasmines in our time. They are few and far between and even fewer have had her level of success because they lack her commitment. We get requests and accept paid assignments most of all because they bypass the BS. They know what they want. They tell you what they expect. They are clear about their schedules when the booking fee is paid. They want to know how long the shoot will take because you may charge by the hour. They want to know if you will shoot on location or shoot in their home or photo-friendly locations they know of. They want to know when the images will be sorted and processed. They would like to know how the images will be used afterwards or it they have a say. They want to know if they are purchasing image use as well and prints and digital copies or just paying for the shoot. They are managing their expectations. Why should free be any different?  

If you are expecting a high-quality something from nothing then just keep doing what you’re doing… nothing and see how that works out for you. But I would not recommend that free brake job from the guy you just met no more than we would recommend a free photo or design job for someone you haven’t met nor even shared any details with. But if you want more out of where you are and you have at least an idea about where you're headed or want to be… be like Jasmine. Take ownership of yourself and your path because nothing worth doing is worth doing half-assed.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Top 7 Images of 2017 by Helios

Can you believe it? The year has nearly passed us by. It has been an adventure like none other. We've had several new faces cruise by this year; a handful we have photographed, a few we did not and some we may decide to photograph later. In keeping with our normal tradition, we have done a great deal of casting interviews for future published work. As a result, we have met some beautiful people and I expect we will meet many more before we have selected any finalists for serious collaboration and publishing. Sometimes the spark you're looking for takes several dozen interviews before you find it. What we did manage to find was the top seven most popular images of 2017.

For those of you that keep tabs on us (and we hope you do), this is about the time we select a model of the year - this is usually the person that has been exceptional all year long, producing captivating take after take of riveting imagery session after session; someone driven and passionate about what they do and has a strong sense of purpose about where they are going. This year will NOT be a year for a Model of the Year we're afraid. We simply didn't photograph some people enough or didn't work with many at all for several reasons. Sometimes it's a bad vibe, incompatible scheduling or it just didn't work out. But every year we have chosen someone the bar is raised. The next year selection gets even tougher because when the bar is raised the selection criteria becomes more difficult. Additionally, we have had a handful of great collaborations this year and I'm fond of them all but MOY candidates usually come from a pool of the year's published work which was minimal this year because of the aforementioned reasons. Hey, it wasn't due to a lack of trying. We just didn't feel it this time around as often as we would have liked.  

Now about those images... it took some doing. We combed thru our Flickr metrics, Google analytics largely from our www.heliosimaging.com website and several other media sites to find out what has been trending the strongest all year. There were seven images that reigned as the most popular among of all images taken this year. Based on views, comments, shares, visits, likes, favorites and a tiny bit of barely perceptible personal bias, these are our best images of 2017 chosen by fans, followers and maybe a few Page or Site stalkers. LOL!

We always obsess over data so it was interesting to note that some of the images were of people we had never photographed before this year. We drew a few conclusions from that. First, our fans and followers like new faces and they want new and interesting ideas from us even if it comes from familiar faces. People just aren't content to see gorgeous people in gorgeous things if they're the same sorts of things. They want shock and awe. They want interests, variety, intrigue, mystery with great styling and new locations. Also, the images that are the most popular this year for us had looks and styling not representative of that model's normal look or her normal portfolio which again emphasizes their followers' and fans' desire for variety and newer points of view in our humble assessment. I guess people want to be awed all the time. Otherwise, they get... well... they get bored. I can see that. We do too. What was surprising is that these were simple collaborations were not like our normal more complicated published shoots which goes to show great things can come from simple ideas if your styling is on point and you have the right people. Most of the looks are simple and yet incredibly stylish. We attribute that perfect balance to the models' keen talent to project the mood of the looks and their expressiveness along with relevant composition and location selections.

In all their magnificent splendor the top seven images of 2017 are as follows: 
Model: Shweta Pandey

#7 with model Shweta Pandey. It was our first time ever photographing Shweta and she did not disappoint. Following a brief and productive face to face meet-up prior to the shoot, I knew upon meeting her working with her would be amazing. She is very expressive and her friendly personality and willing attitude made all the difference. She exceeded every challenge put before her without complaint. Despite not having tried looks and posing such as this before, her trust in our eye, our style direction and compositional style with her confidence made all the difference in creating such a riveting masterpiece of fashionable sultriness. 

Model: Yuliana Kelley
#6 with model Yuliana Kelley. Yuliana is a gift from the fashion gods. Here in her fashionably casual delectable goodness, she demonstrates a complete and total mastery over her environment; casual look equals casual pose with casual and summery location. Seldom do I meet someone that understands the association of expressiveness to location to styling as well as she does along with an ability to project the appropriate mood in the context of her garment and overall wear. The comments included with this image were things like, "beautiful and casual." "Great location. She really knows how to pose to show the best of the clothing." "Laid back but stylish." "Phenomenal shorts!" "Summer love." The list went on and on and you had to be there to appreciate how well she emoted that scene. One look/change equals one location/scene is a philosophy her and I both share. 

I had never photographed her before and I can't even imagine where we would be now had we ever worked together or met prior to more deliberately coordinate our ideas. She is extraordinary!
Model: Shweta Pandey
#5 There are few things in this world more precious than working with someone that gets what you're trying to do with your look; not with words but with feeling. I often explain what I'm looking for using abstract emotional concepts or phrases like, "How does the romper make you feel? Where do you imagine you would be if you're wearing it? How would you look if you wanted to capture attention or how would you move if no one was looking?"

Understanding is key to such a well executed look and Shweta SLAYED it. Even before going there I gave her some idea of the location; a location she had never been to. Sure I had shown her a mood-board but I didn't tell her how to pose because when you have a great model you don't have to. I told her simply to "feel" her way thru the look because once she saw the location and we started shooting that she would understand. I had confidence that she would understand what to do. Emotional intuitiveness is so huge and I can't stress that enough. 

Having the pleasure to have met her in-person prior to the shoot tells me so much about how a person might react to a certain look, their level of skill, their confidence and what they are comfortable doing. I knew beyond any doubt she would fully embody the look and feel of this garment and this location the second I met her. She will tell you herself that when I met her that within seconds I had a ton of ideas I felt she could be great with despite not having tried them before. We can confidently say that she is one of the best discoveries of the year.
Model: Yuliana Kelley

#4 Yuliana again?! Damn right it is and for all the obvious reasons. "OMG! She is a doll." "Her eyes..." "Her hair is so thick and luscious." "The light is perfect." "Love the background against the strong contrast of her garment." "Beautiful jewelry." The comments went on and on and on. I must confess it is one of personal favs photographs this year. Her gaze, the guarded but innocent stance is yet warm and approachable and yes she does look flawless like a doll. LOL! But perhaps her stance isn't guarded but embracing. Love of self perhaps? See? That is what wonderful images make you do. You're engaged and thinking and longing to know what is transpiring in the scene. What is she thinking? What is she looking at? 

I don't know what else to say other than it was a fantastic day with great light, good company and positive vibes all around. It didn't take long before I began envisioning Yuliana as a SIRCUS magazine cover model someday. I'm just saying. It is possible. She is THAT good.

Like any top elite model she changed clothing and became a different person; a person that emoted the personality of the garment. Yes folks, garments have personalities whether you want them to or not. You can make the garment or the garment can make you. The key is understanding the difference and controlling the contextual relationship. Okay, I may be losing some of you but Yuliana understood and projected accordingly. I barely know her but I can't help but love this girl and it would seem everyone else does as well. She rocks!

Model: Tanya Sonkin
#3 No "best" image lineup will be complete without my bestie, my friend, my rock - fashion, runway and beauty model Tanya Sonkin. When spoken about in creative circles, Tanya incites an almost worship-level reverence from fans who speak of her from jaw dropped mouths and glazed over eyes. She is the one person I can't seem to photograph enough for obvious reasons. She is one of those models that the more you shoot the more you want to shoot and I see no end to that so as long as I can lift a camera. 

This image is the most commented on from all the images of her by Helios this calendar year. I've been getting..."The most beautiful model I've ever seen." "This is your best work ever with Tanya." "This image is all I would need to work with Tanya forever." "Why aren't we seeing more Tanya?" "What is next with Tanya?" "When is Tanya coming back?" Only her denim looks from last year, that has an almost religious following is commented on more. That is saying something because despite not creating half of what I had hoped we would produce together this year including vid, we still created some of what I consider some of our best work this year. 

It is that look of hers here -that glance towards you that stills your heart. Honestly, she sort of surprised me with this one; stepping out of her comfort zone a bit and nailing us with some serious fire emanating from her thru softly parted lips and tousled hair. She was fully engaged on this shoot and it speaks volumes as to Tanya's skill and incontrovertible prowess in front of the camera when it counts. It is spicy enough to show you that she can go there if she wants to but not so much that you'll ever have enough. It is as she is... insatiable.

The styling is point perfect -screaming of casual upscale elegance with a splash of sexy that only Tanya can bring. 
Model: Trexie Dorrell

#2 with Model Trexie Dorrell. The one who is many. Fitness, fashion, beauty, glamour, art and everything in between. Except she can't sing and she can't dance worth a damn. LOL! Believe me I've seen her try. Otherwise, Trexie Dorrell is my one tried and true everything model. No one understands me as much as she does and for this reason it takes us all of 10 minutes to shoot any look in any location in any kind of weather. Emoting? Check! Styling? Check! Makeup & Hair? Check and Check! Posing? Double Check! There is no one I trust more with my brand image. She truly understands the scope of everything I try to achieve with every look no matter the genre. Perfectly sculpted, beautiful and religiously driven she is the singular person that can step in for any look or any model from lingerie to avant garde. Cocoa_pecan complexion, chiseled high-born cheek-bones with abs to match, she has no equal. For posing, styling, fit-level and expressiveness she garners the most attention than most of the models I have met and/or photographed combined with few exceptions. She has the most no-nonsense casual and laid-back attitude about it all despite being the Cover Model of SIRCUS™ magazine Issue 12 in the editorial "Doll Play"and a key player in the making of Issue 11 "Fitness is in Fashion." 

Arguably the most accomplished in terms of her role around these parts and her widespread everyday offline popularity, she, not unlike the aforementioned Yuliana Kelley, has a strong sense of style and natural affinity for aesthetics. Trexie simply doesn't take any of it that serious though. She is as casual about her looks and her personal style as she is about her rainbow fuzzy sock collection she wears around her apartment throughout the week. I believe her followers can sense the "this is so easy but I'm not stuck up or haughty about it" attitude coming thru on her images and they are draw to her authenticity. That laid back relaxed aura says I could just as easily take a nap here rather than get all bent out of shape about how I look right now. Yet, she looks ravishing and completely content. But she would also lie down in the same spot in the pouring rain if it meant the shot would be perfect. That is the commitment you want on every shoot - relaxed, stylish, beautiful and it will be done when it's done as long as it's perfect kinda attitude. That is my Trexie and the people that worship her as I do get it.

Model: Yuliana Kelly
#1 One more time with Yuliana. I know I know. She accounts for three out of the seven top 2017 images and I'm not even making this up. The numbers don't lie and it shows our followers have great taste. She owns her space is the best way I can sum it all up. You had to be there but everyone that attributed to these numbers and given us this feedback was NOT there and they are as enamored with her as I am. 

I can only explain it as natural ability coupled with gloriously heart-stopping beauty. It still amazes me how much she reminds me of Trexie in that she seems so "in the zone" on the shoot. Being as I've only worked with her once I can only guess that it is simply who she is. 

You can fake a great many things but talent isn't one of them and I can say she is definitely born to model. Whether she is smiling or not, standing or sitting, leaning or reclining; each image conveys a sense of belonging, a strong sense of style and environmental awareness. 

"Angel." "Beautiful." Beautiful work." "Great styling." "That smile..." "Very fashionable" etc etc. The comments are carried the same message and the views were astronomically high. It is definitely a I wish I was there kind of image. I want to do what she is doing. I want to wear what she is wearing. I want that happiness and comfort. I want that hat and bracelet. I want to get to that location. I want that life. That is what modeling is about. People need to want to be the person who the model seems to be; the lifestyle, the scene, the moments and the feelings that emanate from that world. 

Despite not having chosen a single Model Of the Year for 2017. We had a fun time assembling the top images of 2017. Thank you Shweta Pandey, Tanya Sonkin, Trexie Dorrell and Yuliana Kelley for making 2017 such a special year. Extra special thanks to all of you that made these images possible and for everyone else for collaborating with us this year. It has been an absolute pleasure meeting new people and I look forward to continuing to work with some of you again. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Lingerie vs Swimwear: The Great Debate / Style or Trash

I had no idea lingerie and swimwear was such a controversial topic when it comes to modeling and photography. I mean sure, I know some people are more… “conservative” isn’t the right word; maybe timid or paranoid might be more appropriate. It is true that nothing you put online is private despite the number of filters and blocks you put up. It is impossible to perfectly block a picture that is online from a committed person. I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal. Some people model swimwear. Some people model lingerie. But sometimes I can encounter someone that doesn't do both and it is baffling and a bit befuddling to say the least.

First, let me give you a bit of a background with the kind of person writing this. I come from a very conservative and religious background. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being hardly ever seeing the inside of a place of worship except for on Easter or just saying you’re a Christian during Christmas, and 10 being a totally dedicated to convert everyone or the world will go up in flames… I’d say I grew up in a household around a number 7; 8 in a pinch. So you might say, I know a bit about scripture, morality, ethics, burning in hell or not (depending on what your interpretations are), idolatry, family responsibilities, chastity and everything in between. I still hold many of those truths close to heart like not living with someone unless you are married to them. I’m not so demented as to think burning bushes will start talking to me in this day and age but once those things are with you those sense of moral don't go away. 

Now that you know something about my level of “letting it all go” if you will, you can take comfort in the fact that I’m not to be taken casually when speaking on a topic as sensitive as lingerie and swimwear. First, I’ll address the first part of the topic. The "I will model swimwear but not lingerie" group. This group is the most mind-numbingly baffling. Why? Because swimwear is lingerie on the beach. Not only is it that, it is public for all the world to see and it shouldn’t bother you. The more we make something forbidden, the more people glorify it, taboo it and think it's dirty. The more any degree of freedom like swimwear or lingerie becomes labeled as dangerous or wicked, you give it its power. 
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You might say I’ve been desensitized over the years because of working with so many people. That might be somewhat true. But that further proves my point. That theoretical desensitization doesn't make it any less private, personal or intimate, but it does lessen the impact such draconian ideology has on society and human sexuality as a whole. I would never want a child of mine to think somehow the human body is not a work of art. It’s imperfections and its perfection co-existing in unending upswept curves, tips and lines are to be marveled. I asked several people why they would do swimwear and not lingerie. The answers I got all started with, “My husband…,” my boyfriend…,” “my culture…” or “my religion…” Do you want to know what no person in the history of photographing people for nearly 15 years started out aying? No-one started out with telling me what "they" wanted or thought as an individual. They had convinced themselves that the opinion of someone who had no true control over their decision making to make them feel unclean and dirty to even consider such a thing. They were being treated like property. That shocked really shocks me to my core. What year is it anyway? We don't own people anymore nor should we ever.

Having been around art much of my life, I’d long developed in appreciation for art in all forms; not despite my conservative upbringing but because of it. You see it was never a topic shunned in my family but rather respected, protected, discussed and revered but not by wrapping oneself in chastity belts and wraps but my instilling values to respect yourself first, then other people, their opinions and their values even when they do not coincide with your own. That laid the foundation for me to see the world in a broader context. Such as, knowing that in many parts of Europe nudity is no different from riding a bike down the street on a hot summer’s day. Yet, in other countries it may be a public beheading offense. I respect that like I respect anyone’s opinion about even modeling lingerie, swimwear or even nude because I believe anything that has an appropriate level of tastefulness and style applied that can make any and all things beautiful and visually palatable and that such things should at least be considered with an open mind. 
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What do I mean by the latter? I mean anything not done well will be bad for your reputation and your career considering how paranoid and Draconian the sometimes overly-righteous US can be about such things. I’ve seen some of the most distasteful swimwear in poses that would make my grandmother roll over in her grave. She would say, “why is that woman outside in her drawz with her business in the street? That is just filth,” or she would say worst things. Just go online and you can see swimwear models in extremely compromising poses, horrible styling, inappropriate clothing and it is not always a matter of skin coverage. It is a matter of style and appropriate taste for what is being presented. Consider that I can show a fully nude photo of a model posing in an appropriately beautiful and artful way and yet another fully clothed in a less than flattering way and the clothed one will offend far faster than the nude. Why? It is because of style, appropriateness and quality not how much skin is showing or where the model is or what she's lying on or if she's inside or outside.

You might conclude that this notion of not modeling lingerie but openly modeling swimwear because lingerie is too closely related to sex is dumb in hindsight is it not? Is that what your small minded husbands, wives, boyfriends and girlfriends are thinking? That seems more like a trust issue. To say such a thing means that I can take a model dressed in nothing but lingerie out to a public beach and it would be just fine. That is the logic people that model swimwear but not lingerie is using isn’t it? Swimwear is in fact lingerie outdoors exposure-wise and modeling one is no more controversial than another. I’ve seen far more revealing swimwear than I have lingerie in my time. But even so, skin visibility isn’t the issue. It is that fear of getting it wrong. That fear that they might be shown in a most sexualized and unflattering way that sends the wrong message; a horrible message that objectifies instead of empowers. A message that says I’m easy trash. It is that along with a paranoid boyfriend, girlfriend, wife or husband right? Can it go down like that? You bet it can. But any kind of clothing or lack thereof can do that, swimwear included. 

People often project how they feel and assume they know how other people will feel. That other husband thinks my wife or girlfriend will look like a slut they think. But that is only what he would think in such a position. But let’s get to it while it’s fresh on my mind. I know you’re all wondering so I’ll just lay it out there. Would I let my wife model lingerie? You’re damn right I would with very few conditions. My only rule is to do it well. I may want to help her choose the photographer and have some idea of the set or theme of it. I would like to be sure it’s extremely high quality, fashionable, tasteful and resembling of something from Victoria’s Secret, SIRCUS magazine, Vogue or Harpers. Other than that I trust my wife completely to make reasonable decisions that would not endanger her, her career and put either of us in harm’s way. I don’t treat her like property. She is as smart and intelligent as I am, perhaps more. If she chooses to she can do whatever she likes and I’ll be sure to support her fully should she want me to. 

Now that elephant has left the room what about modeling lingerie and not swimwear? This was a rare one; far rarer than the first but I encountered it once several years ago and once again no more than three weeks ago. This is a far simpler explanation. A lingerie shoot is far slower. There is time to think, consider, plan and organize. It is more private, there is more interaction with the team and above all else it far less public. There aren’t strangers walking by and despite the fact she may be wearing more or less, every pair of eyes may feel like eyes of judgement for less than confident model. I get that. It is far more believable and valid a reason than the “swimwear not lingerie” crowd. Outdoor photo shoots are a whirlwind at best. Things are happening fast because of changing light. There can also be great deal of moving, the weather changes constantly and people going to and fro gawking and commenting aloud. Unless of course you have a private space to shoot, I imagine that anxiety building and interfering with concentration is difficult. But for the most part this type of fear is far less common than the aforementioned one. 

Like anything each and every person can make their own decisions about what is and what is not appropriate for them. I can’t possibly understand everyone’s motivations for doing or not doing anything. Something as private and deeply personal as lingerie and swimwear is a personal decision that I respect one way or another. I would never and have never asked anyone to model anything they don’t want to. I heard the horror stories of other photographers that have but I will say even those instances are very rare. Once a model makes her limits known, they work it out or she walks away. It is that simple. 
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We have been fortunate to work with some viciously gorgeous people over the years and hope to continue to. Some model only fashion, some beauty, others lingerie and swimwear. We love them all. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and different life circumstances that dictate their decision making. No marriage is worth losing over a pic and no job is worth risking because you look beautiful in La Perla. Okay maybe if it’s La Perla it might be worth considering because I’ve never seen anyone look bad in La Perla. LOL! In all seriousness, the decision is your own and no one should be able to make you feel bad for doing so or not doing so. 

I have done my fair share of lingerie shoots, boudoir, glamour, fashion, art-nude, beauty, fitness, swimwear, avant garde, implied, cosplay and other ideas that defy genre classification. Boudoir is most popular largely among wives and girlfriends and guess what, they are not even models in the traditional sense. They give them as a gift to their husbands or most of them gift it to themselves as a gift of empowerment, bravery and strength. Many have commented that it is as if shackles have fallen off. They feel braver and more empowered than they ever had before. It is not a dirty thing. It can and often is a source of strength if you let it become so.

We love it when people that may not model lingerie or swimwear themselves can look at a Helios image of someone that has and appreciate its style, beauty and attention to detail. I’ve seen the comments and read them. “I don’t model lingerie but this is very tasteful and beautifully done” is often said. Or we read “I do not model lingerie or swimwear but I would like to do so with Helios if you would consider giving me a quote and explaining your process.” We appreciate that level of trust and understanding because before I am anything I am a professional. My concern is not only that you get the image or design that you want, but that we also exceed your expectations.

That same model I mentioned earlier that told me she has modeled lingerie but that she never considered modeling swimwear flipped thru SIRCUS magazine Issue 9, the special swimwear edition we submitted to and changed her mind on the spot. Before, she was worried about not looking classy and decent in public. Well, her worries were dispelled immediately and she decided on the spot that making a gorgeous timeless image is less about what people think about you. She realized that it comes down to style, taste, appropriateness and finding the right people you can trust to give you the high quality you need. 

There is nothing trashy about swimwear not more than lingerie and vice versa. This is about perspective and managing expectations that will insure your success with either or both. Nothing is beyond your control when you have the right people supporting you and not making you feel lesser than you are.  

Monday, October 2, 2017

Are You a Helios Model? And What is a Helios Model Anyway?

Who or What is a “Helios Model?”

To be completely honest with you, we didn’t know this phrase was a thing until about the third time we had heard it from at least three different people. We’re not a modeling agency but I do believe that over time we may have indirectly chosen or maybe created a different classification of models and clients.

I don’t believe it is a look. I personally think everyone we’ve photographed is beautiful. I really mean that. Everyone we have ever photographed in uniquely gorgeous in their own way. Our portfolio is far too varied to say it is just blondes or brunettes, dark hair, asians or blacks, whites or otherwise. But I do think that most of the models who collaborate with us have a refinement unseen anywhere else. It’s not a job, or a label. It’s just something people tend to remember the model by. We guess it’s a thing now. 

For example, I did a follow-up with a model two weeks ago. This follow-up was long after my initial shoot with her. We met just to discuss future ideas and just to see how her shoots with other photographers have gone since our first shoot together. She is having a blast. However, it was the recent photographers she had worked with that also gave her the label as a Helios Model which in essence meant, she was in a different and more elite class than normal. Hey, we’ll take that. Again, it is not our saying, this seems to be public opinion. We’re not an agency but we do often brag about finding the absolute best people to photograph. To be honest, even the paid assignments are exceptional in our opinion. I believe good people are simply attracted to good things. You want the best then you should always strive to be the best. If I want the best models I try not to beg for them, pay them extraneous amounts of money. I put my time and effort in honing, improving and perfecting my skill as a designer and photographer. In time, if it is meant to be we will simply cross paths; if not, we will not. We certainly don’t have a monopoly on premium people. In fact, we would say that there have many more people we would like to work with; all of which are well-suited to the ideas we have planned. Are they “Helios Models” before we even work with them? We can’t answer that if we don’t know why the label exist.

We don’t happen upon active photo shoots from other photographers very often so we don’t see their process with how they select, engage and direct models but I can’t imagine it would be that different. You select, research, schedule and shoot or you reply to a message or an email, agree on a rate, schedule and shoot. Simple right? Or so we thought. Apparently, somewhere along the line we seem to develop these new classifications and what some are designating as a higher echelon of talent than what is normally found. 

We honestly don’t know what is going on. But what we do know is that we are eternally grateful for every single paid assignment and collaboration that comes our way and we have fun doing them. As you might also be aware, we often credit the talent and clients themselves with how well the images manifest. We couldn’t be who we are without their skill, vision and talent. 

So what is a Helios Model? I still don’t really know. Perhaps someone else can define why people we photograph just seem so categorically premium and elite. If I had to guess we believe people decide to become a Helios Model when they make that first email, send that first message or make the initial phone call to setup a shoot. It’s a mindset not a look. They’ve decided to take a leap and see what happens and that within itself suggest a creative and more open minded way of approaching art and photographically specific. If the label derives from the results then that is most certainly our theory. Full trust in the process is over half of our successes. 

Our final theory on what constitutes a Helios Model is a person that constantly strives to improve their craft. They encourage others to be the best they can be while they themselves work hard to expand their creative opportunities. They want to forge productive relationships and work with other people like themselves that respect style, taste and refinement above all else and they would much rather have quality above quantity. If that is a Helios Model then I believe nearly everyone we’ve ever had the pleasure of working with suits that label.