Thursday, May 25, 2017

Who is To Blame When Your Photos Turn Out Bad?

We have been fortunate not to have these things occur. Yet, we hear about them all the same. We’ve had a misunderstanding or two over the years. Who hasn’t? Usually it’s about start times and styling choices. Even after all these years there are some things we still simply refuse to photograph. There can be a great deal of finger pointing when things go bad on or after a photo shoot. When the pictures aren’t of the quality and caliber of what everyone expected then who is to blame for that?

Is it the subject, the client, the photographer, the creative director, the makeup artist or hair stylist, the agency, the wardrobe stylist, the retoucher or the booking agent’s fault that these images are so horrible? There are several people blame can and will be assigned to. 

The photographer wants to blame the agency for sending him such an inexperienced model. He says she doesn’t understand his instructions or that he has to almost babysit the model and take him or her thru every single pose like a baby having to be guided through taking it’s first steps. Or the model came unprepared, she didn’t bring the right clothing discussed, she didn’t wax, she was unable or unwilling to do the required looks. I’ve also heard photographers say the model simply can’t model. She can’t pose or move. Everything was jerky or incomprehensible and out of context with the theme. It happens but is that all the model’s fault? Read on.

The stylist or booking agent might say that the modeling agency sent the wrong model. Or the agency will say the model is exactly what the creative director asked for. But someone will complain that she's too tall. She’s not expressive or that she doesn’t have the dress size or hair color we requested. Is it the stylist’s fault or the agency? Read on.

The model blames the photographer. He was too pushy. He was weird. He spoke too fast. I couldn’t understand him. He was not communicable. He was too quiet. I didn’t want to do lingerie. I thought we were doing lingerie but he wanted swimwear. I told the agency I only shoot nude. I don’t shoot nude; why was I asked. I was cold the entire time. I was too hot. The location was far away. He wasn’t good with lighting. He focused too much on lighting. The list goes on. Could she be right? Read on.

I think you see where I’m heading with this post. Everyone has a complaint about someone at some point in time. The simple answer is that it’s your fault your pictures are terrible. What do I mean by “your” fault? I mean anyone reading this. In short, it’s everyone’s fault. It is no single person because pictures can’t make themselves. If there are humans involved in their creation and a human is on both sides of the camera then it took both and all involved to create that image.

Most of the problems associated with photo shoots is a lack of preparedness and a failure to manage expectations. This all starts with communication which is why I cannot emphasize enough of knowing and preferably having an open dialogue with everyone involved with your project. Blind photo shoots are like blind-dates in that you don’t know who you’re getting. Why set yourself up for failure? Study a port. Look for inconsistencies in shooting styles. Models, check the photographer’s work ahead of time and look into the ports of the models he or she has worked with in the past. Message one or two and ask how he shoots, if he’s communicable, if he’s difficult and then decide for yourself if it’s worth your time. Ask how long it takes to get pics, do you get to choose them, how will they be used, how much are his or her photography rates? Ask if you’re expected to bring your own clothing or will you have help. 

Models… go further and ask the photographer if you can bring an escort ahead of time if you need one. In fact, for many photographers its a deal breaker. Not because they’re up to no good but largely because they can manage one stranger in their home or business but not two. Additionally, that’s one more distraction he or she doesn’t need. Don’t surprise us. We hate unexpected tagalongs. A photographer shooting from his home or basement isn’t unusual. In fact, it is common. If that freaks you out then choose another photographer. But you better believe some of his best work was created in that same garage or basement. Do you believe every single image the photographer created was in a $20,000 per month ocean-facing loft studio? A great photographer can create an incredible image almost anywhere if they have enough space, enough light and a willing model. But if someone is too high brow for a basement then go and pay someone with a huge posh studio willing to shoot a start up model with zero experience. You never know. Maybe you’ll get lucky that way. Besides, that option is readily available to you here as well. But that is what portfolios are for. If you saw a scene you like in his portfolio then ask about it ahead of time. Be clear that’s the kind of look you’re interested in and communicate that is what you’re expecting within your level of resources. If that isn’t possible with your resources then be sure the photographer communicates that to you. Don’t assume they can and will do that just because you brought it up. If you wanted a twentieth floor ocean front balcony view as your background image and you’re not paying the photographer, you haven’t spoken to them or referenced them with another model or artist that may have worked with them, then you have reason to be suspicious; but that’s on you. You have reason to be concerned if you’ve been told escorts aren’t allowed and you’re being led into a dark basement in the middle of Idaho looking for the ocean. Some things are just common sense. 

Ask for examples of ideas ahead of time that the photographer or director expects you to do. If you’re working through your agency then ask them to be specific. If they can’t be specific then adapt but don't complain. Beforehand and if applicable, ask if you need to sign a model release and what is in it. If you don’t then why or why not? Ask your contact about image use and how many images within reason you can expect. How long will it take until you get images? How will they be delivered? As professionally as possible ask the photographer if nudity is expected or if implied is okay? Provide a visual example of your level of nudity that you find appropriate or inappropriate. Ask the photographer if there is a changing room or if there are bathroom facilities there. Exercise due diligence and work with creatives that consistently gives the kind of quality and performance you want from the beginning. Even if it means working less or collaborating less - choose high quality projects and be deliberately discriminating on your choices. It only takes one bad image to ruin a reputation and scores of extremely good ones to recover your reputation if it can be recovered at all. 

Agencies… what can I say about an agency? They’re very good until they’re not which is to say most often they’re not. Call the agency, email them a call-sheet with the ideas along with the model you’re requesting. Ask the agency if they can send the model’s current pics (this should be automatic and already current but don’t assume) to be certain her look hasn’t changed. Be sure to cover the aspects of how the images will be used and share your expectations to them as to what you expect them to do and the model that you are expecting to arrive. Confirm arrival times and duration of the project. Do this all and do it twice more. Agencies can be notoriously selectively forgetful and inconsistent. Furthermore, agency turnover is atrocious so who you spoke to this week may be a different person the following week. Therefore, manage your expectations by keeping a trail of documentation of your correspondence. 

Make up artists and stylists… share, share and share again. Make sure you know exactly what the creative director or photographer expects of you. Be sure you are familiar with the look and have your kits and your clothing accessories on par with what was shared, planned and discussed. DO NOT assume autonomy over how the makeup and hair will look. Chances are the people you’re shooting with will want full creative control over the end result and how it got there. Ask ahead of time which looks will be first and the order of shooting those looks so you're prepared. Suggest but don't demand a sequence more efficient for your application. Why not demand? Well demanding is rude for one and there are things beyond your station in-play. In cases like mine, I've had to take into consideration tide forecast times levels if we're shooting on the beach. If it's the tide is too high when the model is there we're doing indoor looks first if it's on the menu. As it the tide subsides, there are areas we can now get to  they were not available when the tide was at the maximum level. Photographers have to consider sun position. Backlit images are best for certain parts of the day. That means shooting a certain look may need to be earlier or later. No one should assume they know everything that's going on. You have to ask, email, call and/or message each other. You’ve probably been given a mood board of a plethora of styling ideas supporting the theme you’re expected to execute. If you're not sure who you’re reporting to then ask. There is no shame in getting it right and asking questions if you don’t know. Too much pride is often times are greatest enemy. Ask your primary project contact about what you’re expected to do and what, when and where you’re doing it. Ask for a mood board and ask specifically how much latitude you have on the look and who will manage your applications. 

As you can see, most problems can be addressed before a shoot ever begins. When that image didn’t turn out like you expected it to then it’s probably something you didn’t do or neither of you talked about. When model’s tell me that they worked with a terrible photographer and the images weren’t that great I have to wonder. Did the model even look at his portfolio? I mean really really look as in study it? Did the model reference other ports of models that this photographer worked with? Were they prepared for the shoot or did they just bring what they had or what they wanted to shoot without discussing it with the photographer? Quite frankly I wouldn’t work with a photographer I didn’t know well if he or she didn’t ask me what I was bringing. Wouldn't that photographer want to be reasonably prepared for what the model was bringing even if it’s something casual and carefree. I would want to know which background I need to put up or even if I should gas up the car for a location shoot on a collaboration. 

When the photographer says a model was stiff and inflexible and just overall inexperienced and haughty, I think… did he meet her first? Has he spoken to her at all aside from her “Hello, I love your work; let’s shoot this weekend,” messages many upstarts let themselves get entrapped by because they're so eager to get pictures of a beautiful new model they haven’t worked with before.

Let me level with you on a little secret. Photographers are prideful and models are even more prideful. They really don’t like contacting one another for advice on a model or photographer. They want everyone to see, believe or think they did this all on their on. Yet, the regional photographer and model community is a small one and people talk - if not now then soon. Eventually every nuanced thing, bad habit, good habit, preparedness, lack of professionalism, flirt, whisper or word of encouragement gets passed around. So why not, just manage those expectations, talk to each other and share your experiences to improve your projects. I’ve been more than disheartened about how many photographers fail to contact us about models. Yes, it has been several over the years but you’d think it would be dozens of times a week at least. Then they complain and whine about what they didn’t shoot or couldn’t shoot. Or they whine about a lack of image quality or that the model was this or that or didn’t model lingerie when they talked about lingerie. Well I might have told you she would do that. Well that’s the photographers’s fault. We’re the one’s pulling the proverbial trigger. Even though it’s everyone’s responsibility, the pressure is on us to perform despite the circumstances that led to the bad images or lack of images. 

Retouchers retouch. Stylists style. Models model. Photographers manage, direct, orchestrate, adjust, manage people, often times style, produce, help to design sets, and create the circumstance by which the entire project will be executed. It stands to reason that we would take every single measure to insure the results are nothing short of stellar. Sometimes despite our best efforts, something or someone falls short. But it’s not our time to point fingers. It’s everyone’s fault but ultimately we have to get up, dust ourselves off and see what we can do to keep such things from occurring again. I have found that in the end, it still comes down to communication, preparedness and managing expectations of every single project.  

In conclusion, whose fault is it when an image fails? It’s everyone’s fault. I can’t take a picture of another person all alone without the other person. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

All Time Favorite Model Finally Revealed

I said I would never do this. I said it was disrespectful. I carried on about how it’s a slap in the face to everyone I know and everyone I’ve worked with. But after days, months and years of thinking about it. I decided to unveil who my favorite model is/was. 

First of all why the change of heart? Well people deserve to know because I think she is a source of great inspiration and a magnificent example of poise, grace, beauty and endless professionalism. Additionally, I spoke with one of the most well-known photographers in the world and he chatted publicly about his fondness for one particular model and even raved how she is his absolute favorite. I thought “Wow!” He just shocked me and went against everything I’d ever said and I admire this guy’s work like crazy. 

I realized, that much of my apprehension in admitting such a thing was because people have a way of disappointing you when you throw all your weight behind them. The second you build them up is the moment they tear you down and crush your every expectation. But I don’t own her. She has no obligation to live up to any idealized view I have about her beauty and her infinite talent. She is her own person and I have to accept that and take the gift she bestowed upon me; that is the gift to collaborate with her and create some of the best images I’ve ever done. Perhaps it was her personality, her confidence or her willingness to simply put her trust in me to basically try everything I threw at her. That’s a special and unique thing; not to question, not to get overly disturbed about the unknown but to have an open mind and a willing disposition. 

Not to put too fine a point on it but I went back and re-read her interview from SIRCUS™ magazine Issue 10 at Her interview reaffirmed my conclusion that she is the best model I’ve ever photographed. That interview reminded me of why I was drawn to her in the first place. If that wasn’t enough praise, I can easily say that only my wife has impressed me more as a model and that is no small feat. I read and then re-read something in that interview that shook me. In paraphrasing she said, “I decided to be beautiful.” You have to read that interview to get the full context. It’s one thing to say such a thing. But it’s quite another to live it. It was clear it wasn’t just idle talk but a philosophy of life. That sat with me. That sentiment grew n me and changed me as an artist. She raised the bar to a height few will ever achieve. That is not to say some will not. I’m scaling back but I have a few more shoots left in me yet. I just believe that Lauren Moon is the best model (to date) I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. With the combination of beauty, talent, personality, confidence, adaptability and talent, she is/was my absolute favorite model. 

It’s not all about beauty, talent or just ability. It’s all of those things and yet none of them. She’s a special blend of perfect attributes that simply makes everything or everyone else seem a little dimmer in comparison. There were unexpected last minute personnel changes on our shoot with her and yet Lauren never wavered. Without showing the slightest bit of hesitation or doubt she forged on. Creatively malleable without end, she didn’t frown with challenges, she accommodated change and even welcomed the unknown. She did it all with a regal disposition and fearlessness I’ve rarely seen in a single person. 

I thought of all the best traits of every model I know beyond my present company and thought what a model might be when it’s all put together. In less than a second, I thought of Lauren Moon. Thank you for a great experience Lauren. May you continue to enlighten us all with your grace, your gift and your beauty.

Also a special thank you to model Chanel Alexis and The One that is everything, Trexie Dorrell. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

"I Don't Want To Look Chubby"

I’ve amassed a litany of platitudes from people over the years; platitudes designed to help them cope with their never ending self-loathing and other perceived inadequacies. While many are simply par for the proverbial course, others grate on my last nerve like the dragging of fingernails down the chalkboards of the past. The complaints began even before the shoot day arrives.

“What about the weather? I’m so worried about the weather. What will we do if it rains, blah, blah, blah?” Guess what? Weather happens. There isn’t anything I can do to control the weather. Rain chants and dances, sun worship and the deity of light don’t do my personal bidding. If you’re a smart cookie then you have some contingencies for that eventuality. First and foremost, we live in the Pacific NW. Rain is inevitable. Whether it be right now or later, it’s just something you have to get over. If you’re waiting on the perfect weather for every single photo shoot you intend to have, then you will not get much done. Our advice is to stop deflecting your inadequacies or your lack of confidence to things beyond your control. You probably just don’t want to be outside or get your hair a little damp. But if you’re a real model then you’ve done your homework. Have you ever seen running makeup, or flattened hair in this photographers port because it rained? Likely not. Are you worried about looking bad? Have you seen a picture from said photographer where the model looked “bad?” If not, get on with the shoot. If it rains, it rains.

If there are indoor portions of the photo shoot planned then focus on those. At worst, you get to spend more time on perfecting poses, enhancing and trying out different angles and quite often getting more out of the shoot than you originally planned. If there is an impending deluge in the forecast then one can simply shoot all indoors and save the outdoor segment for a later date if possible. But don’t complain to me about weather for a shoot that is weeks away. Not even a meteorologist can forecast that far out so why are you nagging to me about it? Some people I just don’t get.

Don’t get it twisted. I’ve had shoots rained out before when and only when the entirety of the shoot was outdoors and it was nothing short of a downpour. A sprinkle here and a sprinkle there never stopped a dedicated model or a committed photographer from getting it done. Situations vary, but if it must be done, there is a good chance that it can be with some adjustments. I’ve had models shoot in the rain and the pics were epic. Of course, one was swimwear so that worked to our advantage. The other was fashion and the rain wasn't heavy. It was a very recent shoot no more than two weeks ago and the dreary gray skies actually enhanced the general atmospherics I could never have gotten without the dismal looking sky. A bleak sky meant drama and contrast I would never have dreamed of. The images turned out gorgeous. But the model was absolutely incredible. She knew rain was likely but forged on. She refused to cancel. That’s dedication. In short, that’s a true professional model that understands what it takes.

The second biggest gripe is the “chubby” factor. “I don't want to look chubby” she says. Chubby?!!! Chubby”!!!! If you don’t want to be chubby then go to a gym. Wear a girdle. Go on a diet. Does anyone look any more “chubby” (as this prospect says) than they are in pictures I have personally ever taken? Or more to the point, do you consider yourself “Chubby?” Ahhhh! Now we get to the meat of the problem. You feel that YOU are chubby and are worrying and stressing about how you will look on your shoot that has been over a year in the making. But you’re an experienced model and you’re stressing about looking chubby and then telling the photographer and stylist about it? That’s just wrong. What were you doing during that time all those months ago before meeting this person? Apparently it wasn't worrying about being “chubby.” Are you not prepared for a photo shoot you have been pleading for and begging for all that time?

Now before any of you get your panties in a bunch, I am not bullying nor body shaming. This person used the phrase “chubby” herself. I personally found her to be gorgeous. I never even noticed anything beyond what I can shoot with her. I don’t box people into anything based on some made-up societal stereotype. But I’m gonna do a meet-up regardless. In large part, a meet-up is to set expectations, discuss copyright, image use, take measurements (if applicable), go over looks and ideas and address concerns. But any concern of me making her look “chubby” never came up during that face to face. It came up in a text from her weeks later. It wasn’t brought up by me because I saw something in this alleged model that promised extraordinary. Something in her that screamed premium but had yet to be let loose and tapped into. I had some reservations but looks wasn’t one of them. My reservations were about personality and the very thing that has occurred. The complainer. The excuse maker. The person looking to find fault with a picture before a picture has even been taken; a self assigned fault that she herself has absolute and total control over.

You’ve seen me type “alleged” because a real model wouldn’t complain so much. A real model might be body conscious about her weight or height but she brings her confidence and her daring. Or he brings his talent and his looks. He or she knows how to pose and angle themselves in such a manner so as to de-emphasize those things they want de-emphasized. Furthermore, he or she would seek out collaborations willing to accommodate their self-proscribed flaws about themselves. Well, I’m not that guy. I shoot people that are ready and able to do what needs to be done. I work with people that are confident, bold and daring as they are beautiful. But what I won’t do is appeal to a person’s sense of self-loathing as an excuse for looks and posing they can’t do or don’t want to do. Modeling isn’t a field for the docile, the tame and the fearful. It’s brutal. It’s cut throat and it’s beautiful. A model is only as good as the next model who is more bold, more daring, more beautiful and more fearless. It’s that simple. I don’t care for complainers. I don’t get to complain when my lighting doesn’t work. I have to look for ways to solve it. I can’t say oh it’s raining so no need on shooting indoors either. That’s a waste. I don’t have excuses so I don’t allow them from anyone else.

If you don’t want high fashion looks then don’t pursue collaborations that do high fashion without doing what needs to be done for such looks. If you don’t want Guess style looks then you probably shouldn’t work with a photographer that loves those looks and want to such looks with you if you think you’re “Chubby” and then stress, moan, nag and complain that you don’t want to look chubby. Get over yourself. You’re not a model. You’re a fake. I need to move on to people who KNOW they’re models. 

One of the things I stress in this particular meet-up is that fact that the model had to trust the process. She has to trust the styling that has been selected. But no one has to do anything they don’t want to do so as long as it’s made clear at that meet-up or shortly thereafter. You get to change your mind. You get to say, I was caught up in the moment but on further thought, I don’t feel comfortable doing that look because I feel chubby. You get to cancel and never call me up again. That’s everyone’s right. Unless we have a contract signed prior to a shoot, you get to back out and I’m hoping beyond hope that she says she can’t do it. I can’t cancel. It’s just not my thing. Once committed I stay committed even if I don’t like a situation because that’s what professionals do. But I hope this model cancels if she doesn’t feel comfortable. I hope she messages and says I appreciate your time but I need to feel more confident in myself before I’m ready to shoot with you. Maybe she thinks she needs to lose weight. I don’t know and I can’t speak for her. I wish she would say she wants to take more time to be sure she’s ready. 

Don’t ever say you’re ready when you're not. Don’t pretend to be a attuned to what we are looking for when you’re not. Some people aren’t ready for Helios and there is no shame in that. Cancel your shoot before these weeks we have left turn into days or days into hours when my niceties turn into vehement disgust. Cancel your shoot and come back when you’re absolutely ready - when you can at least fake being bold. Any less than ABSOLUTE confidence shakes my own confidence in a person. I don’t want to spend hours post processing, or dollars in gas going from one location to another hauling equipment because you’re gonna think you’re chubby later no matter how much effort I take in this prospective collaboration.

But if you must continue, speak nothing ill of yourself in my presence. I need you to know you’re beautiful. Don’t just think it. I need to see yourself as I do. I see possibilities. I see stunning and breathtaking. I see windswept hair when I see you. I see backlit sunlight glistening against raven colored hair. I see endless creative depth. I see you in slow motion wearing red against a ocean colored sky. I see you lying in a pond suspended on lilies. I see your face with scarlet lips surrounded by white orchids. I need you to believe beyond a doubt you’re amazing. I need to YOU TO KNOW that you are Helios material. Do what must be done. Ask for tips. Look for ways to resolve the problems rather than complain about issues that have yet and may not ever manifest themselves. 

Worried about a less than narrow waist then get  a girdle and practice poses until it’s a non-issue. Worried about your hair color then seek a person willing to touch up your hair in line with the look(s). Not sure your hair is thick enough then look for extensions and request to have them added or ask if you should have them put in. 

Otherwise, take some time and get your head in order and build some confidence. It’s okay to put this off right now; tomorrow not so much - the next day less so and so on.