Friday, August 13, 2010

Everything that I know

Marisa LA Models. D3/70-200mm f/2.8G 1/200th f/10 ISO200 @78mm. Large softbox from camera upper left.

If I were back in college, today would have been the last day of finals. And I would have nearly flunked all the exams if not for a single saving grace...

Let me explain.

This was my first shoot with a model that had no prior experience. I've shot models with very little experience but Marisa had zero experience before walking through the door of my studio.

I thought about this shoot for several days before today. I almost stressed over it. Almost. I don't stress :)

I thought about all that was important to this shoot and how it would be completely different from typical shoots. I'm a lazy photographer. I usually sit on a chair and after the model starts moving, I lazily press a small button with my index finger. What I normally do requires virtually no skill :)

But what if the model doesn't know how to move?

I assumed the above would be true prior to today. I imagined Marisa would be shy, probably be tired from traveling, and somewhat overwhelmed by this thing we call a photoshoot. I was correct on all counts. But I was prepared for that. So I drank my coffee, made sure I kept the lighting simple, and put all my attention on Marisa in effort to make her feel at ease.

We talked about stuff as I tried to keep the conversation interesting and lively, etc. When she was done with hair and makeup I showed her two of my previous shoots; an example of good modeling and an example of poor modeling. For my "good modeling" example I pulled Alex's (FORD) images as a demonstration of good flow, motion, and change in poses throughout the set. For my "poor modeling" example I pulled an older shoot (more than 1 year ago) demonstrating that modeling is not moving your eyeballs left, right, up and down without changing facial expression, body positioning, etc.

But one does not learn how to model by simply reviewing two contrasting set of images in less than 2 minutes. So I had this amazing idea that I would demonstrate what I wanted to see. With my assistant-for-the-day Pamela manning the camera, I stood in front of the light and ran through 4-5 poses in rapid succession in the typical tempo that I would expect my models to pose (4 second intervals between poses). Admittedly, it wasn't my best work. My facial expressions weren't on target. And my wardrobe sucked. Yes, I need more time in front of the mirror. But hopefully it was an adequate demonstration...

I suggested to Marisa that modeling is like playing a role... one that is very different from the person that you are. In essence you have to become "someone else". I asked her to choose a name for this alter-ego as an mental exercise. Once we established her new personality, I wanted her to "become" this alter-ego and "get outside her body".

But it was too much and too fast. I expected way too much out of Marisa. For a 16-year-old's first shoot, it was all too much.

So now what?

I proceeded to explain the kind of posing I wanted to see and naturally I began demonstrating the pose. As I posed, I watched her mirror me and the next thing you know, I was adjusting her poses. I've never actually posed a model (actually I have but it's been a long time). I typically don't pose my models because I prefer to have them organically develop their own poses. There's something about organic posing that is much more natural and magical although ephemeral. But being the control freak that I am, I am surprised I don't pose my models more often.

To make a long story just a little less long, this worked well for us. Along with mirroring my posing, I would catch her in camera-friendly poses naturally. With a few adjustments we had a new look. All of this allowed Marisa to gain the confidence she needed to deliver great images. By allowing me to pose her and then working within that pose, Marisa had the structure that she needed as a first-time model.

Structure was exactly what she needed.

As she develops as a model, Marisa will need less and less structure. She might even grow to hate structure. But without structure, where does any of us start. It's like giving someone Photoshop and saying, "Here you go... now go and be the next Ansel Adams!"

I failed in nearly everything I planned for today. Really, I did. But this one small success allowed me to capture the kind of quality images that I'm accustomed to getting from veteran models. See, I thought that just being goofy and creating a easy-going environment would allow for a first-time model to step out of her shell and become a supermodel. Basically I thought that my personality alone was enough to evoke her inner model. Did I have too much faith in my scintillating personality? You betcha! In retrospect, I can't imagine what I was thinking. I'm about as exciting as sliced bread. Going forward I'm going to try to remember that I'm not exactly Mr. Personality :)


  1. Hello Charles,

    I like this capture of Marisa. You can tell how nervous she felt through her eyes and the slight tension in the inclination of her head. Other than that, her body seems relaxed, which makes for an interesting juxtaposition.

    I like the simple wardrobe in this image as well. It seemed to fit the tension of the shot. With her "look", I'd definitely go with a more simple design, and this is primarily owing to the look of her eyes. They lack that level of intensity that many of your other models have.

  2. You so elegantly put into words all the things I can't really describe. I flipped through hundreds of pictures of Marisa (I think I shot some 600+) and lots of them were the same... every now and then I'd find something just a tad different with something of that Mona Lisa-esque feel to it and would begin retouching...

    She's definitely something out of my "ordinary" :) Then again she's 16...

  3. Charles,

    Yes, she's 16 going on 17, but I think she'll be a darn good model. Unlike a lot of people, the camera already loves her. I think she'll have much better shots once she gets comfortable in front of the camera.

    I've never met the girl, but from the look of her she might drop her guard a bit more if someone encourages her to cut up and play in front of the camera and do silly things. That's just my "feeling" about her.

  4. Great photo of Marisa! With time and exposure to she will definitely come into her own.