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The Art of Choosing Content

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“The Art of Making the Right Choice”
Written by Rick Trottier – RJT Images

 

StephanieMarieCOVERThere are few experiences in life more disappointing than the crushing realization that a birthday party you had been waiting for and expecting to be as wonderful as is possible is something else entirely and turns out to be nothing that you hoped for. Promises were made, expectations were raised, emotions soared and then came crashing down when all that dreams could wish for turned out to be something rather distressing. A shoot with a photographer can often be exactly as disappointing for a model, especially novice models who have so little experience and such big expectations. But even seasoned veterans can stumble into messes from which extracting themselves is harder than anticipated. There are numerous reasons why a shoot can go horribly wrong, but the most common reason for sour feelings, sometimes on both sides is when there is miscommunication over content that is to be shot. Too often, content is either dictated by a photographer, assumed to be something as opposed to being a known commodity by either side, or ideas quietly but irresistibly foisted upon a model, all to the detriment of the creative process and future photographer-model relations.

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_20 - Carah.jpgTo start with, the shoots that I am going to examine for choosing content are not commercial shoots, contracted shoots or any type of content that is arranged or requested by a third party client. In those cases, freedom of content, even sometimes lighting and backgrounds does not lie with the photographer and/or model and what is to be shot must be clearly and carefully communicated by the client so that model and photographer are 100% on the same page with the needs of the person or entity that has hired them. The shoots that I wish to explore for the sake of understanding how content should be determined are “portfolio” shoots. Notice the wonderfully obvious quotes around that oh-so manipulated term. Bear something in mind when “portfolio” shoots are mentioned or discussed. Models are in need of regularly updating their portfolios. Hairstyles, hair colors, makeup styles, physiques and even physiognomy change with trends and time, requiring a serious, professional model to consistently maintain fresh imagery in her portfolio. For her portfolio must display her ability to portray a wide variety of looks for commercial and artistic projects. Once a photographer reaches a certain level of experience where they have demonstrated a mastery of lighting and editing techniques and have as wide a range of styles in their portfolio as possible, “freshening” their “portfolio” isn’t a regular requirement. First-rate imagery doesn’t age or lose its impact. Just look at the enduring works of Herb Ritts and Annie Leibowitz. What was incredibly profound then is still just as poignant now. So when a top-flight photographer says “he needs a girl’s look for his portfolio”, there is a euphemism being offered there with a dubious and debatable meaning.

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IMG_12 - Carah.jpgSo as a result of models needing to update portfolios more often to get jobs through auditions, castings and other means, fresh imagery that suits their needs is often the rule of order and as such, it benefits the wise photographer to listen with open ears and heart to what the model is asking instead of jumping on their high horse and espousing what “needs to be shot”. There is another euphemism there. What is really the case when those words come forth is that is precisely what the photographer wants to shoot for his own purposes. I often tell models what the needs of magazine features and articles are, based on the nature of the magazine I am creating content for. From that point, I let the model decide what she wants to shoot. Some gravitate towards fitness, others choose sexier glamor, while others prefer more fashion-oriented content. While I may have my opinions on what might be best, I let the model ask for my advice if she wishes. For I learned long ago, that most people are not interested in hearing unsolicited advice, and often times even when advice is asked for, most people really don’t want to hear what you have to say, only what they wish you WOULD say. But therein lies the problem. As was said in a book I love, “Everyone has an agenda”. And learning to listen to that agenda and sublimating your own can raise your game to a whole other level.

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IMG_4 - Nicky replace.jpgThe first place where I listen to the model and let her choices drive the content is in relation to outfit selection. I know MANY photographers who suggest or even require models to bring certain garb with them or will clothe them in attire they have selected and bring to the shoot. Not too many models have the backbone necessary to tell a photographer they are not interested when handed clothing at the onset of a shoot. Most young women are people pleasers by their nature and don’t want to rock the boat or upset someone. So they go along to get along. But this robs from a girl one of the most precious qualities she was given at birth, the uniqueness of her personality. Each and every model who steps into a photographer’s studio brings her lifetime of interests and ideas to that shoot. As such, each girl has her own set of moods, inclinations and affectations that can bring a whole level of creativity to the experience. Many is the time a young lady has unpacked her things, hung them for me to see and I have been taken aback by the stylish choices and ideas that I would never have thought of, was entirely unaware of and as a result superbly pleased by because I trusted in her ability to make those good decisions. That is not to say that it isn’t a good thing for a photographer to “weigh in” if there is a choice that may not fit the situation. Often times a model will bring a preponderance of one color, or has chosen a style that you have already seen too often in a season, has an outfit or theme that doesn’t fit the time of the year, or is just not flattering to their figure. I tell models right up front that I reserve the right to advise strongly if I see a potential mistake in the offing. But that is also why I counsel models to bring far more than what we have agreed to shoot. If it is a three outfit shoot, my hope is that she will bring five or six choices that we can narrow down. And that in itself is a lot of fun and a great way to get to know your client better. For the atmosphere of a shoot should be light and enjoyable, life-affirming and validating.

 

The other side of the coin of letting a model choose her outfits and drive that side of the decision-making is that is allows the photographer the chance to wholly focus on coming up with posing suggestions, backgrounds, lighting schemes and editing approaches for the imagery. By exploring those elements and marrying them to the personality of the model, more diverse imagery is create, differentiating each and every model’s imagery and not running them through a gauntlet of the same attire, same lighting, same pose and same background. That creates an image mill which is the fastest way to creating ruts and existing in a state of stagnation that I know. Being put into a position where you are forced to innovate, required to differentiate and then ignite that need to create is challenging, but a wonderful blessing.

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IMG_2 - Shauna.jpgThe next step in determining content for a shoot is so very obvious but is often even more important than choosing outfits. It is the task of deciding upon genre, whether it is sexier or more conservative, what specific types of interests can be explored based on portfolio needs or personal desire, all of this must be addressed. Before any final decisions are made, make it very clear to the model that she really needs to be sure about what kinds of reactions she is likely to receive in her private and professional life from images that are posted in public places for general viewing. Actually having conversations with family, significant others, colleagues and other people of importance is one of the most vital steps a model can take. Preparing those whom she values for the kinds of imagery she wants to shoot and knowing how those people are likely to respond is far better than a surprise on either side. For having those discussions not only helps forge stronger bonds with those people, it often leads to the model doing some serious soul searching as to why she has chosen the content that she has shown interest. Sometimes a model really has to get to the heart of her reasons for modeling and whether this is a professional, a pastime or a passing interest in her life.

 

The choice of whether a model shoots fashion, glamor, fitness or some other type of genre must be hers in the end for a variety of reasons. First, each and every person has a set of inclinations founded upon the manner and the environment in which they were raised. I have known some supremely sexy young ladies who would look simply incredible shooting implied nudes and other forms of that sexiest glamor, but asking them to do such a thing would be as productive and comfortable as expecting a snake to successfully spend a day tagging along as a mascot on an ice-fishing trip. Some girls are just not interested in shooting certain types of content and asking them to do such a thing puts them in a position they shouldn’t be asked to accept. Beyond inclination, there is also the element of need. Some models really only need certain types of looks to promote themselves or the business that has hired them. Going beyond that content, even if that little demon on your shoulder is urging you to do so, is counter-productive and often times harmful to establishing a warmer, more enriching professional relationship. By letting the model choose the genre, you establish trust and show faith in her decisions. One of the most successful sexy glamor models of my studio started off shooting fairly conservative fashion and some incredibly tame glamor. By letting her author the nature of our shoots as the months and years passed, it allowed her to warm up to the idea of experimenting with sexier content. As such, once she embraced the decision to shoot implied nudes, she went into that world full-force, and we have seen many rewards that may not have come had I pushed her into that kind of content.

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By opening lines of communication, relinquishing the need for control, exploring avenues of expression that are “outside your comfort zone” and letting the model drive the choices of content, the wise photographer can double the creative input, which doubles the chances of more enticing imagery. As such, that can lead to pictures that are far and away more interesting and exotic than the normal looks that you show favor to. Posting such content for the world to see shows a commitment to creativity and a respect for individuality, both of which will cause clients and colleagues to view your work and you with greater esteem. All of this is worth the effort of putting faith in the model and seeing what it is she is trying to achieve and helping her arrive at that destination. For a professional photographer must always ask themselves what their true aim is. Is it their own personal interest or is it the needs of the client? Being driven primarily by one’s own interests is selfishness at best, arrogance at worst and is the province of the amateur. A professional listens to the wishes of his clientele and knows how to blend commercial designs with artistic aims and please everyone involved, including himself. Creating an atmosphere where people feel valued and empowered as well as supported and energized to follow their dreams is what any teacher would want for their classroom and any photographer would also want for their studio. The two are far more alike than anyone would ever suspect.

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Managing Editor, GlamModelz Magazine I’m a Central New England photographer based out of Worcester, MA, just one hour west of Boston. I specialize in fashion and glamor commercial imagery as well portraiture of all types. My style is a blend of commercially viable work melded with artistic innovation, whether on location or in studio. I prize collaboration quite highly and am proud of the fact that most of my work displays the ideas and designs of my models as much as it does my skills, efforts and planning. Rick has published 86, articles with GlamModelz Magazine.

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