Last month I worked on the biggest shoot of my career with a full crew of 9 people spread between four penthouses in downtown Boston. The kicker – we were only given one week from the magazine request and an inspiration color palette with which to submit a final set of photos.
“How in the world is this shoot going to be as big and awesome as it needs to be?”
When I stepped into the beautiful Kensington on that Friday morning not a moment had gone by where the shoot wasn’t being developed or trouble shot in my mind. I was black-out nervous and filled with anticipation. It had been a week long, non-stop search for possible answers to “how in the world is this shoot going to be as big and awesome as it needs to be?”
The absolute starting point for this shoot was finding a Stylist, in this case - a right hand woman. It was important to find someone to lay the plan out with and to be able to bounce ideas off of one another. Renata has such a fascinating sense of style with such a unique outlook on pairing clothes, there was no question she was my first choice. She brought so many wonderful clothing pulls from all around town – I was beyond inspired by it all! In my opinion, risk takers are the best kind of creative. The kind of people with a code to be cracked, or perhaps even just appreciated - the ones who create for themselves regardless to the mainstream. There’s just something really special about a person who creates holistically.
"Pre-production is a bastard - so necessary, but SO tedious."
Pre-production is a bastard - so necessary, but SO tedious. On one of my large scale productions it can take about a month to comfortably plan out and coordinate all the little details. All of that is done to set up a cushion for the final product to balance on. You seriously need to answer all the questions so that on the day of the shoot your brain can run wild with art. Where can we grab food for lunch? Where will the sun be at its highest? Which locations will be least crowded, when? Snacks? What gear do we have, what do we rent? How many looks can we fit in? Who is available when, how long of a day is it going to be? Who are we going to shoot, does the look fit? How much time can we portion out for hair / make-up / wardrobe? Where are the parking garages? How long is each lighting and scene set-up going to take? How long will I have actually shooting each shot? Make a call sheet... Grab everyone’s information and be in contact with them – the entire time. The list goes on and on, all logistics! Planning a shoot is an art form in itself; this is when it's really great to have an art director. Louisa is someone I have run all my ideas by since the day I picked up a camera and she was a perfect AD on this shoot. She constantly kept us on track, giving the supreme time restraints needed to get all seven of those shots done in one day.
We spent the first two hours on set scouting the location. We actually booked the location the DAY before the shoot – management at the Kensington really saved our butts! Luckily, they had just furnished the new penthouses for a showing and left them intact for the shoot! This place was the real deal, every time we had to get to the 27th floor we were escorted by a lovely staff member in the elevator. We had full access to their beautiful rooftop pool and lobby area as well! Personally, I wonder in a shoot - and that was helpful on a shoot like this where I was looking at everything with fresh eyes. Inspiration in the moment is magical and I’m always looking for something to sway me romantically. Whether it's something someone said across the room or a beautiful smell. The way the sun set and hit a glass on the table or how the model turned and lowered her head allowing a few strands of hair to fall in front of her eyes, taking a moment to collect her thoughts. All these beautiful little moments.
"Collaboration is such a beautiful thing, to share an idea and let it run wild; with each person bringing their own talent and vision to the table."
The wonderful Bre Welch brought such a moody, mysterious vibe to the shoot with hair and make-up. Waiting for the shoot to see what it is she wanted to create was a gift in itself. I don't like to micro manage, and wouldn’t want to be micro managed by any of the artists I collaborate with. Collaboration is such a beautiful thing, to share an idea and let it run wild; with each person bringing their own talent and vision to the table. Working this way gives you a piece of art that is completely unique onto itself, one that couldn't be replicated simply because it was a flowing idea with so many streams running from it.
I remember the first moment the shoot felt real, rather than something I was just skating through with my dear life. It was when Janna walked onto the first set-up. We had been so busy prepping the lighting and framing the first shot that I hadn’t the chance to see her since call time. She was absolutely breathtaking, adorning in the orange coat; floral dress and golden hairpiece look with the beautifully bold make-up. It was perfect, better than anything I had imagined! A huge grin had taken over my face in that moment.
As soon as Janna was put in front of a camera she lit up, she was absolutely gorgeous. She seemed to have an infinite amount of poses for me! Nothings better than a model who knows what to do with their body, unafraid to try new things in the moment.
"The lighting in this shoot was built entirely in the moment."
The lighting in this shoot was built entirely in the moment. My favorite lighting guy and talented DP, Jarvis was by my side. Thanks to the wonderful gear provided by LumoPro and their great LP180 Quad-Sync Manual Flashes and durable soft boxes, we were able to bring the shoot to life with lighting. The most difficult shot was definitely the one with Janna on the couch - I wanted to do something different with my technique… and decided to try it even though we had no clue if it would work! We kept the natural light from outside as the base for the photograph, set the camera to properly expose the window and then lit her completely out of a silhouette with the flashes. The LP180's provided the perfect amount of strength to make that shot happen! It definitely took the longest to set up with a lot of "Uh, let's just try this" moments. In the end, we created something really fun!
The pool shot was also a funny one to shoot, we were out there shooting while a family was splashing around in the water behind Janna. It was our last shot of the day, we wanted to use the beautiful light from golden hour as our only light source. We were so in the zone at that point that they actually didn’t even register in my mind until just now as I'm writing this.
"One of the most important things I have learned through my years of shooting thus far is the discipline to be flexible."
You have to be open to changes and not just shut down when things go awry on a shoot. You’d be a fool to think that with so many little elements and details - everything would turn out exactly as planned. One of the most important things I have learned through my years of shooting thus far is the discipline to be flexible. Being able to troubleshoot possible mishaps and problems out of your control as they come, is key. No matter how committed you were to an idea and plan, if things aren't working out; you need to know when to let yourself ease up and look for other options. Michael is my partner in crime with the experience of being a successful veteran photographer - he really helped me visualize the shoot and take a step back during these moments.
"I started to wake-up everyday feeling sick to my stomach, so much so I'd be vomiting by nightfall but ignored all of that happily until after the set was completed!"
As soon as the shoot was shot I became a nomad. Instead of unpacking into my new house (I was in the middle of a move) I spent days living at my boyfriend’s house just to give me extra time in the studio. I also had a 40 hour a week edit job out in Boston at that time – so I was slammed. I started to wake-up everyday feeling sick to my stomach, so much so I'd be vomiting by nightfall but ignored all of that happily until after the set was completed! I absolutely love what I get to do; it's an emotionally involved experience all the way through. Every step of the way comes with its own ride, own hardships but nothing compares to it. Taking photographs makes me happy, taking photographs helps me explain myself, make sense of things. It calms me, excites me and helps me grow. Having my job be my passion and also play such a large part in my personal growth is truly a gift. Every day is a new learning experience.
"Doing something in real life and experiencing the emotions that come along with it whether it be due to failure or success are more likely to make an impression on you than a school lecture ever could."
It was only after the shoot that I was able to take a step back and realize just how much I have grown as an artist over the past couple of years since I decided to follow my dream. I was now in charge of a full crew on a mission that seemed impossible. I was surrounded by peers I admire and they were all working together on the trust that I would be able to create something as magical as what they had given me to work with. I have spent so much time learning from experiences and mistakes and they have always helped me grow as an artist and as a person. In my opinion the things we learn by doing have the most profound effect on us. Doing something in real life and experiencing the emotions that come along with it whether it be due to failure or success are more likely to make an impression on you than a school lecture ever could.