Thursday, January 28, 2010

Building Bridges

This is not a post about building an actual bridge (see Building Walls reference). Although that would be very cool, I think it falls outside of carpentry and perhaps into masonry.

No, this is about building bridges to your model. Maybe it's different with other photographers (but somehow I doubt it...) but during shoots, I don't get to spend much time with the model. She gets here, we chat for at most 20 minutes and off she goes into makeup, hair, wardrobe and I don't see her until hour(s) later. We shoot for maybe 30-45 minutes and the process is rinsed and repeated until we finish all the looks. At the end of the day it adds up to maybe 2 hours of non-continuous time spent.

Why is this important? Because the connection between the photographer and the model is critical. It's the same with any "performance" related field, such as dance, music, or even public-speaking. As an example, one of my long-time heroes Conan O'brien says that there's a great interview to be had with everyone (i.e. even non-celebrities). which is to say it's the host's responsibility to create that interview by drawing out the incredible stories, or the "interestingness" (in flickr terms) out of that guest.

But there must be a connection.

Sure, if you watch ANTM enough you get the reverse perspective where the models need to inspire the photographers (according to my wife, you hear about this all the time from Nigel), but you can't control the model. You can only facilitate this connection.

What connection? It's the same connection that you get when you meet someone and sometimes you just "click". But unlike random meetings with strangers, as a photographer you
have to "click" with the model. To make matters worse, there isn't much time.

I'm not going to define "clicking" or "being on the same wavelength" or what I call "a connection" because I can't really put into words what "it" is. Perhaps "it" is
je ne sais quoi at its essence. But that level of "communication without words" and that energy can make a good shoot fantastic.

Talk to your models. Find out what makes them tick. Find a way to draw their personalities out into the frame. Or find a way to use the knowledge you acquire (through conversation) to accentuate their poses and their expressions during the shoot. Do I know the answers? No. I can only tell you that there are times when I'm definitely on the same wavelength and there are times that I'm definitely not on the same wavelength as the model. The times where we don't "click" leaves me feeling disconnected and bothered. I can't explain it fully but the experience is deficient and I need to remedy it so it doesn't happen again.

Do I truly think you can always "click" with every model? No, however I do think that as a great photographer you can "extract" the most out of the model during the shoot. It takes a special photographer to do this and therefore the photographer's skill is not always with the lighting and the traditional photographic elements but also in their ability to interact with people. I think I'm good with people, but I can be better with models.

If I had to come up with a short list of things that might contribute to the connection here it is:

-Pace/tempo. Getting in tune with the model's tempo. Some of them like shooting quickly and some slowly.
-Energy level/temp. Some models are high frequency and others are more demure and on a lower frequency. You gotta "tune in".
-Comfort level. The model has to be comfortable with the photographer. I don't know how to expedite this in the time frame though.
-Preparation. I suppose any sort of preparation is good. Talking to the model beforehand or by email before the shoot will give you a head start. I should probably do this.
-Models get tired and they need breaks. I often see models "drift off" towards the end of the shoot because they have to work with everyone and they're "on" all the time. I should probably give them a breather now and then.
-Verbal communication. I do this a lot and I'm not sure if it's appreciated but I'm constantly "pinging" the model to get feedback on what they think and feel. Much in the same way that women are always asking "What are you thinking?" and "How do you feel?"

You know what? I don't have all the answers. In fact, I don't have many answers at all... I'm going to beseech the experts and return with some results later.

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