My "Top Five Things Models -or Anyone- Can Do To Get More Work"

I recently had a casting call for a print ad campaign and wanted to give some feedback to models who may have submitted or been called in, but could use some help on how to improve their next casting or opportunity to be selected for any project. This article is designed more for unrepresented aspiring models without professional agencies. Others looking to improve in the fashion world such as makeup artists, hair stylists and wardrobe stylists can also benefit from this post. If you're a legitimate agency represented model (not a small town scam agency represented model in which case you're screwed) then most of the info here will be handled by your booker. For those who are not represented, here's a first-hand experience look at how you can improve your success with photographers, companies and even real agencies. A lot of this is geared toward fashion modeling, so if you a are different type of model, then this info may not apply to you.

1. Be very timely in your response to those who contact you.

If someone whom you would like to work with reaches out to you, don't take days to return a communication with them. This sounds common sense enough, but you're be surprised at how many people have no sense of professionalism and readily prove it with flakiness. Nothing says "difficult to work with" more than someone who is slow to respond. People in the fashion world in particular are very busy, and by not responding quickly to them you are showing that you are careless and lazy. By the time you remember to return an email days later, the offer is no longer on the table. Don't use the "I don't always check my email or have time to reply" excuse, because it's not valid. I don't know anyone who doesn't check their email, private messages, voicemails, etc multiple times a day, and you always have time to return an email, it only takes a minute. Bottom line: You only get one first impression, use it wisely.

2. Have at least some sort of portfolio book to present your work.

Other than a new model meeting with an agency for the first time, in which a book is not needed, one of the first ways to identify yourself as a professional or at least pro-minded is by having a portfolio, otherwise known as your "book". A book is important because it shows that you are taking yourself seriously enough to place your best work in a book format where you can present it to someone in a professional context. A portfolio doesn't have to be expensive or large, it can be a regular artist portfolio bought at a local hobby or art store for a few bucks. The prints in them can even be printed with a home inkjet printer. In this digital age, a lot of people use their iPads, tablets, laptops or even smart phones to show our work (myself included). This is fine for impromptu situations where having your work on hand to show is convenient. However, I would never show up to an important scheduled meeting where I needed to impress a client or business contact without a portfolio book. If you go to a meeting and when asked to see your portfolio you proceed to set up your laptop and show your Facebook page, you've variably taken yourself out of contention as a professional. Bottom line: A book gives you and your work more validity.

3. Quality, never quantity.

I can't remember how many times I've been interested in working with a particular model or makeup artist and when I see their portfolio, it basically talks me out of working with them. A clue that it's a bad idea to work with someone is if they put every photo shoot or project they've ever done in their portfolio. A few good shots in your book can easily be overshadowed if the majority of your work is generic, boring or poorly done. It looks like you have a couple of lucky shots, but as a whole you are unusable. I've even heard people say "I don't really like these photos" to which I have to ask why they put them in their book. Your portfolio shouldn't be "the good, the bad and the ugly", it should only be the best examples of your work. Your book is your representation of what level you are on. Are you a beginner? Do you only work with the same amateur hobby photographers or are you shooting with really skilled and inventive artists? Your book communicates that. Don't advertise yourself as a skilled professional and then present a book that is full of badly produced, amateur work. It defines that you are as such. Bottom line: What's in your book directly communicates how professional you are.

4. Models, be for real.

There's nothing more obvious than someone who calls themselves a model but their photos show that they are more appropriately described as, "someone who needs photos to feel pretty". Real modeling is a business as well as an an art. Showing that you can have your picture taken doesn't do anything for showing that you are a legitimate model. Sure, it's important to do a lot of test shoots with (good) fashion photographers when you are starting out, but don't post up every amateur, boring shoot you do with the need for your friends to comment on how "stunning" you are. That's just showing desperation for acceptance. A real model doesn't need modeling to fill an empty void with compliments from endless amateur photos. If you want to be a model, show that you are for real in every way possible. Otherwise you will only be sought by other amateurs and you'll receive no interest from those who need good models for legitimate projects. Bottom line: Modeling is a skill, not a compliment.

5. Direction is not just doing what you are told.

If you are doing a photo or video shoot or other project, chances are there is going to be someone giving direction. From a photography standpoint (and being that photo shoots are about 80% of what you will be doing), the photographer will direct you. All photographers are different; some like to micro-manage you and some will let you do more of your own thing. Speaking for myself and the lion's share of photographers out there, it's very frustrating when someone calls themselves a model and then has no clue how to actually model. Unless it's your first time or you are very new, no one wants to work with someone who has to be told every single thing to do when shooting. Models are booked for their look, but more importantly for their ability to have great presence on camera. Direction is an idea, a mood, or an improvement to make the shot better. Direction is not telling you exactly what limb to move, how to stand, what to do with your head, what to do with your eyes, what to do next, etc. That's "puppeteering", and it's extremely frustrating. Modeling is not showing up empty-headed and having the photographer do everything for you to make you look good. I've done shoots where I had to use every trick in the book to make a so-called model look good, to which they gladly accepted the credit that came afterwards. I'd love to show everyone the first 100 frames and the unedited shots, then we'd see how she really was.  Bottom line: Understand direction, but make it your own movements, expressions, etc. Be a model, not a mindless puppet.

Hope this is helpful and I'll check comments for questions or feedback. Until next time, always do your best!

Avoiding Scam Model Agencies Day 3: The Photo Scam- Can You Say "Cheese"?

December 20th, 2012 (Earth's last day!!) :-D  

VISITING AN AGENCY FOR THE FIRST TIME :  WHAT TO EXPECT

When you walk into an agencies' door for the first time, what do you see?  Are you flooded with a visual sales pitch for the agency or is it an environment of business being conducted?  Let me explain.

THE SCAM AGENCY

When I walk into a small-time scam agency, the place is a sales pitch from the second I walk in the door.  The walls are plastered with big movie posters, framed magazine covers, glossy model photos and generally a lot of glitter and prestige.  It's obvious that it's a sales pitch, not a place of business.  There is nothing much going on and I feel overwhelmed by their "we're so successful" decor.   When the agent or representative greets you, they expresses a false sense of excitement for your visit.  The agent begins to tell you how glad they are you came to them, and they'll usually make sure to slip some passing line of BS about how they just got off the phone with the big-time fashion name or director who's looking for someone just like you.  They name-drop like crazy.  I mean according to them, every big name in the business is booking their models, and you're lucky you came by at the right time to sign up.  Every line out of their mouth, every sign, every false smile is based on making you feel as if though you've came to the right place.  Their biggest trick is putting stars in your eyes.  Once they've got you believing that you are on the verge of making it big, they have you.  Your checkbook practically flies out and writes itself to them.  Sometimes the chair you're sitting in is still warm from the person who just sat there before you arrived and fell for the same lies.

THE PROFESSIONAL AGENCY

When I walk into a major agency like IMG Models in NYC, I'm somewhat greeted by a receptionist who is continuously on the phone transferring calls.  The walls are plain, sans for a logo on one wall, and all you see are bookers busy in front of computers with phones to ears, working.  Hard at work booking and promoting their models.  At a real agency, they are not glad to see you unless they know you.  It's all business.  To a real agency you might as well be a bum coming by asking for money.  You're lucky to even get a "hello".  It's more like, "Who are you here to see?  Do you have an appointment?  Who are you?"  In other words, they are a successful modeling agency, and they don't need to sell you on that fact.  Their reputation is enough.  The scam agency however, IS NOT a successful modeling agency, and that's why it is paramount that they make you believe that they are, otherwise their lies won't work.

 

THE LIST OF COMMON SCAM AGENCY RIP-OFFS

So how does the various "talent agencies" actually rip people off?  Here's the most common ways that a scam agency stays in business.

1.  SELLING YOU PHOTOS - THE MOST COMMON SCAM

So the agency has you hooked with all their BS that they told you about how you're just what they're looking for, but you don't have photos (or the ones you have "won't work"), and they can't get you started without photos immediately.   So they either:

a).  Hand you a piece of paper with their "Photo Shoot Packages" rates.  They tell you that they have an "in house photographer" and who better to shoot your photos than the agency?  So you pay them anywhere from $300 to $2500 for photos (based on what you can afford).  But what you don't know is, the agency hires an amateur photographer, gives him/her $50 for the photo shoot, and keeps the rest of the money for themselves.  I've had an agency even call me once and ask me if I'd do a shoot for a total of $300, for 25 girls ages 8-14 and they wanted multiple images, retouching and all the rights.  I found out they were charging the models' families over $1,000 each for their photos.  That's $24,700 profit for the "agency" in one day.  I declined to be a part of it, but they found someone else.  There's always a cheap photographer who doesn't do photography for a living that will do anything for cheap or free.  The photos were very disappointing from what I heard.

b).  The other way the scam agency sells you photos, is instead of shooting the photos themselves, they have a business buddy set up a photo business and the agency sends you to them to have your photos done.  They work a deal with each other to split the money somehow, but the scam is still the same.  They still hire a cheap $50 photographer, and keep the rest of your hundreds of dollars for themselves.  It just looks more legitimate because the agency will actually pretend to be doing the right thing by sending you to a "recommended photographer", but it's actually the same scam.  You're overcharged for cheesy, amateur photos, and the agency is behind the shady deal with their buddy.  Or boyfriend across the hall. :-)

2.  CHARGING YOU MONEY TO BE ON THEIR WEBSITE  (OR OTHER AGENCY PROMOTIONAL MATERIAL)

Yes, they actually have a scam where they tell you that it's a "separate company" that runs their website otherwise you wouldn't have to pay.  Well, that's a lie.  They do it themselves, and keep your money.  If they didn't, then website management would fall under any business's normal operating expenses.  I was charged $150.00 by one of my former agencies and lied to the same way.  They did it annually for each person on their talent roster.  KA-CHING!

3.  "MODELING SCHOOL"

What a joke.  Let's see, how many professional, successful models in the industry today went to small town modeling school?  None.  Now how many girls that went to modeling school became successful models?  None.  These agencies are such effective liars that they can even subvert facts that would otherwise prompt people to ask, "Why should I pay you for your modeling school when it's never done anyone any good- ever??" When they try to teach you your "runway walk"- there is no one runway walk.  How you would walk for Karl Lagerfeld is different than how you would walk for Betsy Johnson.  Their runway coach will show you what they want during rehearsals (if there are any) or backstage before showtime.  It's not hard enough for their to be an entire school for it, much less taught by people with no experience.

4.  WORKSHOPS, CLINICS AND SEMINARS

So the agency makes an announcement that they are hosting a guest speaker, acting coach, photographer or someone that you should come to hear lecture to help your career.  But there is an "admission fee".  Well, guess who's going to be keeping the money?  Yup, your  agency that you are so loyal to.  Best yet, the guest speaker is some loser who's doing workshops for free or a small percentage.  They have no credits that you have ever heard of -or can find- or it's some hack who's real job is working in a cubicle but wants to make models think he/she's someone important.  They just make stuff up and try to sound like a big deal for an hour or so and you don't even know that you're listening to complete fodder.  And you paid for it.

5.  WORKING YOU FOR FREE

So the agency calls you and says they have a big cool runway show for you!  But it doesn't pay anything, it's just "good exposure".  What that can mean is that your agent just isn't paying you for your work.  Yea they're just keeping all of your money for themselves.  An agency doesn't go into business to supply models to other businesses for free.  Chances are, your agent is charging the business that is putting on the runway show something like $200 per model.  You should be getting $180.00 after your agent takes out their %20 commission.  But the scam agent makes 100% when they lie to you and get you to do the job for free.  Legitimate models get good exposure AND 80% of the job fee.  The only time this ever may not apply is for charity shows.  But I have also seen an agency charge a charity for models and then not pay them because it was for "charity".  There are no limits to what these people thieves will do to take your money.  To this day I have never seen a model do a local runway show for "good exposure" and had any sort of career advancement come from it.

6.  BOOKING YOUR OWN JOBS FOR THE AGENCY (DOING THEIR WORK)

Every model agency knows that not everyone who walks in their door is model material.  Legitimate agencies just turn those people away, but scam agencies welcome them in with false praise and temptations of success.  If you're one of these people, not only is the agency going to put you through the ringer, but if they really think you're desperate, they sometimes will tell you that you have to go book your own model jobs for the agency to "prove" your worth to them.  Of course the real tall, pretty girls don't have to do this, they will be used other ways (agency advertising), but the shorter, 'ordinary' girls have to hit the streets finding clients for the agency.  Wow.  Now you're doing the agents' work for them- for free.  It's just their way of saying, "Hell no I don't think you can be a model, but I'll lie to you, take your money, and have you do my work for me.  Sucker."  I know a girl with a scam agency that did all her own promotion as a model- and her agency did NOTHING for her.  She booked all of her own jobs and her agent made her pay %20 to the agency anyway.  Why would a scam agency turn you away when they can use you for their own profit?  Oh yea, because they don't have those things called ethics or morals.

There are other ways that scam agencies swindle you and do nothing for you, but the underlying message here is that if you don't feel good about the way an agency is treating you, or if they are trying to sell you something, or if they sound like a used car salesman, or they generally don't seem to be showing you that they care about you, get out of there.   Tomorrow we finish this up with what you should expect from a real agency, as well as some extra tidbits of knowledge to arm yourself with as you look for the right people in this business, and they do exist. :-)

Avoiding Scam Modeling Agencies: Day 2, Website or Web-Trap.

December 19th, 2012 Agency websites: Website or web-trap.

Your first clue of whether or not a business that calls themselves a "modeling agency" or "talent agency" is going to be legitimate or a possible scam begins with their own website, current model roster and reputation around town. Chances are the first time you see a modeling agency is when you look them up online. How does their website look and feel?

THE SCAM AGENCIES WEBSITE OR FACEBOOK PAGE

Simply put, the scam agencies' website is designed to impress the general public. Their website is usually full of unverifiable testimonials of success, tons of promotion for themselves, overly-glamourous model photos, flashy graphics and the overall appearance (illusion) of their agency being very successful and in-demand. That's done on purpose. Their website is designed to lure in hopeful girls and their parents, not for getting their models booked. They want to hook you in by making up all this hype about themselves. They make it appear as if their models are being sought after by all the biggest names in the business, and that their agency is THE place to be. Now take a look at their model roster, what do you mostly see? Their roster reveals that their models are anything but in-demand.* The photos are cheesy, portrait studio-style photos that the agency sold to the model themselves at grossly over-inflated prices, or at best, test photos by amateur, weekend hobby photographers. Most of the models on their roster are obviously not working models. That's because they "sign" anyone who walks in their door with a checkbook.

*The scam agencies' SECRET WEAPONS: Now, lots of scam agencies have what I (sarcastically) call a 'secret weapon'- that is a model or two who might be semi-success stories. Yes, every scam agency knows that they have to display a couple of models who are at least semi-successful to put up front on their website for the purpose of creating the illusion of making successful models. But what you don't know is that the agency may have never had anything to do with that models' success story at all. That's right- sometimes young models find their own jobs, or are discovered by someone who actually does have the ability to put them in high places without any help from the scam agency. But because that young girl signed a contract with the scam agency at some point before she found success on her own, that agency now uses her success to lure others in thinking that they will get the same results if they sign up with the agency.  Oh and the flood of lies they tell you about how they got that model the job.  It's sad, but even the scam artists have their luck.  They have someone they never did anything for, yet found their own way into some success, and the scam agency exploits it to the fullest. Often times these agencies will just all-out lie on their websites about what these models are doing in order to really get you in the door.  But of course, what you'll never see are the hundreds of people who came through their door with the same hopes, and left months or years later in worse shape then when they arrived. Once I even read an article in a local newspaper about a new model's success story that was filled with completely false information about her contract's monetary worth and her overnight super-stardom in the industry (which of course turned out to be lies). No doubt this article was fabricated by the agency to dispense completely false information to the public for the purpose of getting more girls and their parents with the checkbooks into the agency. Think this is ruthless? This isn't even the tip of the iceberg of how immoral and driven by greed these so called agencies can be.

THE PROFESSIONAL AGENCIES WEBSITE OR FACEBOOK PAGE

Simply put, the legitimate, professional agencies' websites are designed to showcase their models to large companies, fashion designers, magazines and to be seen by professionals in the industry. Their sites are usually very simple, subdued, professional and clean, without much- if any at all- frivolous and excessive promotion for themselves. They have pages that show their model roster, and many have a page about how to be discovered with all the info you need and what to send them. That's right- you don't need a small town agency to get you to the large ones, you can follow their instructions and submit yourself. You can also walk in and visit them during open calls. Now take a look at the agencies' model roster. The pro agency has very professional photos of their models which may feature magazines they've been in, ad campaigns they've shot, or for the newer girls (called "New Faces" or "Development Board") just generally striking photos usually shot by professional or semi-professional fashion photographers. The photos are scrutinized to represent the model in the best way they see fit. There are no cheesy photos taken by weekend amateur photographers (normally). There also aren't any 'secret weapons' on the front of their website. All their models are listed in alphabetical order by name. Most all of their models are working continuously, and most of their photos are from the jobs they've done. These are called "tear sheets" (pronounced tare-sheets). That's a sign of a working model who has a real, hard-working agent behind her or him. The professional agencies' website is not based in hype, it's based in real results.

You should always inquire in as many ways as possible as to whether a small local agency is someone you can trust. Ask around town. Talk to their current and more importantly, their former talent. Is the talent agency listed with the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Franchised Talent Agencies? Here is the list for the New Mexico talent agencies that are SAG/AFTRA recommended. If an agency claims to book their talent in major movies and television but isn't on that list, you might dig deeper to find out why. SAG/AFTRA does not recommend talent agencies that have been known to pull scams. Don't ask a talent agency themselves why they aren't listed as a reputable establishment, they might already have a lie fabricated for that question. Use good judgement. Remember, scam agencies make their living by being expert liars. Always have your built-in "lie-detector" on when speaking to a talent agency. If it sounds like they are trying to sell you something, well, there ya go.

Tomorrow we'll explore visiting an agency and the biggest, most obvious clues that you are either in a place that can really bring success closer to you, or if you're entering a Black Widow's web.

Avoiding Scam Modeling Agencies, Day 1: Welcome to the Jungle.

December 18th, 2012It's been awhile since my last post about avoiding modeling scams, but it's time for another refresher course on keeping yourself informed on how these so-called "model agency" scams operate. As a commercial fashion photographer based in New York, I currently work with some of the most prestigious modeling agencies in the world as well as in Los Angeles and Milan. I have casted, booked and photographed models with top modeling agencies such as Major Model Management, DNA, Elite, New York Model Management, ONE Management, Mc2, Soul Artist Management, Wilhelmina and others. I'm hired by and work with these agencies and their models on a continuing basis and can tell you that there is a vast separation between a legitimate modeling agency and a small business scam "agency". But there are just not enough educational resources out there for people to learn how to recognize the many predators posing as talent agencies and cashing in on the frenzy of young girls with modeling aspirations. The illegitimate business of exploiting these model hopefuls is now an entire industry in itself.  It makes tens of millions of dollars a year by scamming mostly young girls and their supportive parents who think their child could be bound for greatness.  The scam industry is keen on this hopeful desire and it's the key ingredient to the scam industries' continued success.  Every year there is a new generation of young upstarts with model dreams, but unfortunately the first place they usually visit are the small "modeling agencies", "talent agencies" or "modeling schools" who mostly do anything but represent and book models.  The bad places are owned and operated by expert liars that have years of experience refining their skills at scamming young models and their parents.  Like a Black Widow spider, they build their trap and just wait for their prey to come to them.  The scam agency drains them of their money and their time, while always promising them that success is just around the corner. I know this information first hand, because I was scammed by one of these predators myself once- and only once.  This fake industry is bad for everyone but these borderline criminals.  They hurt the legitimate fashion industry no differently than a sweatshop making fake Louis Vuitton handbags to sell in Herald Square for $25.00.  Fake is just wrong.  Fake agencies scam the money out of people who probably don't have money to waste, and leaves them feeling bitter and used about the fashion industry as a whole, as well as hurting their self esteem for being tricked and victimized.

The scam agency wants to make you believe that they hold the key to your modeling dreams-- and you will end up believing everything they tell you. They will lie to you and convince you to be loyal to them. They will brainwash you into putting all your trust into them, and to alienate anyone who tries to warn you away from them.  They are so experienced at lying that you will believe whatever they say.  You'll spend months if not years of wasting your time and money on them.  Your career window will close and your dreams will turn to failure while these scam agents just work on recruiting the next wide-eyed model hopefuls, leaving you to figure it all out after it's too late. This is a hard look 'behind the scenes' of the world of small-time scam modeling agencies who make their living ripping off the very people whom they are supposed to be taking care of- the young models.

DAY 1: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE.

Now, I first want to clarify that unfortunately there is nothing illegal about what these scam agencies are doing- they are operating within the law.  Calling their business an agency, lying to you and taking your money, is all perfectly legal. It's your own problem if you fall for it. The FBI won't bust down their door and arrest them. You can only report them to the Better Business Bureau, review them through online review websites, or sue them- the latter being difficult and expensive to do. I'm also not here to tell you where to spend your money. If you want to give these scam agencies your money, go right ahead. I'm just informing you of how their scams work, so you can make an informed decision before you get fleeced.

There is also an understandable contrast in how business is done at a large major-market agency verses a legitimate small town modeling agency. A legitimately run, small town modeling agency basically does two things: 1) Books models for paid local/regional jobs, and 2) finds models to scout to the larger agencies, for which they make a commission. The latter task is referred to as being a "Mother Agency". The small agency cannot (for the most part) book models for major ad campaigns, magazine editorials and all the large modeling jobs because they don't have the connections, business history, negotiating savvy or experience handling highly paid models that work on high-profile jobs. Only the large agencies have teams of people who possess that level of experience and skills.

HOW A LEGIT MODELING AGENCY MAKES ITS INCOME.

Legitimate modeling agencies represent models in exchange for a commission from the jobs the models book, normally 20%.  Real agencies do a lot of things for models, but they don't get paid unless the model works, period.  You as a model go to castings, go sees, fittings, and other "job interviews" that the agency sets up for you.  When you are chosen for a job (called a "booking"), the agency handles all the business and financial aspects of the job, plus coordinates for you all the logistics for you such as hotel, transportation, addresses, directions and call times.  They negotiate the rate you are paid for the job and handle any licensing limits of your image.  They take 20% of the job's pay for their income.  There's a lot more that agencies do for models, like print and organize your portfolio (called your "book"), make your comp cards, put your photos and sometimes video on their website, and can even set you up with a place to live.  All this costs money, but they don't make the model pay for this up front.  The model is given an account, and everything the agency pays for on behalf of the model, such as airline tickets, rent, or to print your book, is entered as a balance owed by the model.  When the model works and gets paid, the agency deducts their 20% commission, and also reimburses themselves the money they have "advanced" the model for expenses.  Some agencies policies are different than others, but this is generally how it is in the U.S.  Now- the agency is making an investment on the model because if the model doesn't ever make any money and the agency releases the model from her contract, then the model doesn't owe that money.  So the agency is taking a risk, and making an investment on the model that they may not, and often don't, make that money back.  If a legitimate agency believes in you as a model, and signs you, then they spend their money on you- not the other way around.

HOW THE SCAM AGENCY MAKES IT'S INCOME

Well, there's tons of ways they do this, but I can guarantee you if a business that calls themselves an agency is not continuously booking their models on real paying jobs for a 20% commission, then they are keeping their doors open some other way.  The most common way being that of hiring a cheap photographer and then charging you ridiculously over-priced rates for photo packages in which the agency makes most of the money.  Another is claiming that you need to take their expensive "modeling classes" (more detail on these later).  Other ways include charging you money to put you on their website, having you work promo jobs for the agency that they don't pay you for, making you go out and book your own jobs in order to network for the agency - without paying you, and- get this- putting on clinics, seminars or acting classes by people who absolutely don't know what they are talking about and then charging you money to attend. And yes, your agency keeps the money because the guest speaker they brought in is a moron with no experience and will do the class for free or cheap just to make a name for himself.   Another classic scam is to tell you that there's a local runway show in town that "doesn't pay anything but is good exposure".  Right. This agency just exists to supply free models to other businesses.  When your agent tells you that a job "doesn't pay anything", that probably means that your agency just isn't paying you anything.  Instead of paying you and taking 20%, they are just taking 100%, and you have no way to know any different.

So when you are searching for or being scouted by a modeling agency, how can you tell what's legitimate and what's a scam?  It can be very difficult sometimes, because the scam artists are so experienced at lying and making it seem like they are the ticket to your modeling dreams that you don't even know what to think.  But that's where their weakness is.  The scam agency always has to sell themselves to you.  They always want you to want them.  So no matter how cool they try to seem, they need you to "sign" up with them.  They can't get your money if you walk out the door.  So everything they do- even acting not interested at first- will lead to them somehow wanting you to sign with them.  The real agency doesn't need you.  They might be interested in you, but that's about it.  Since they're not going to be ripping you off, the only way they make money is if you make money.  Therefore, they don't sell themselves to you, they have to decide (usually after several days) if you are right for them or not.  The scam agency signs anyone who has the money, or whom they can use in other ways.  That's the one thing that is blatantly obvious between the two.

Tomorrow we will explore the differences between a legitimate agency or one to be warned away from in the first place you'd be looking for information on them- their own websites and online presence.  I'll show you how to see the obvious clues that a scam agency uses online verses the websites of trustworthy and reputable agencies.  Until tomorrow, see you back here then.

 

Gertrude Zachary Billboards - Holiday 2012.

November 18th, 2012

'Tis the holiday season and  I'm proud to have shot and designed the 2012 Holiday billboard ad campaign for Gertrude Zachary Jewelry.  They have a newer jewelry line (or at least new to me) called "Drusy"  which has an iridescent quality to it where the colors and intensity of the metal changes at different angles.  Very sparkly and engaging, much like a champaign.  To launch this during the holiday season, I designed the concept of a gorgeous lady wearing the jewelry pieces, possibly preparing for a holiday party and gazing out a window as snow softly falls upon pine trees.  Her reflection an afterthought of warm holiday wishes and occasions yet to come.

This board is with the Red Coral Inlay jewelry.  Another brightly textured and polished design with embedded silver.  The concept for this billboard was more of a "Got what I wanted!" theme with a beautiful warm/gold environment and some matching red holiday light sparkle in the background.  Holidays are the times for parties, and what better place to wear your new jewelry than at parties?

Special thanks to our model, Samantha from Major Model Managment/MGMT New York, Makeup artist extrordinaire Juston Paul and my assistant Max.  I hope everyone enjoys the new boards, and have a very happy holiday season!

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You Go Kate Upton!

November 5th, 2012

I, like many, have been a fan of Kate since she started as a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit rookie 2 years ago.  I've supported her in the fashion arena not only for the obvious reasons such as great looks and an infections personality, but also because she represents a significant step forward in the march towards a healthy body image for young women and especially aspiring models.

One after another, Kate has landed covers and ad campaigns for various high profile clients, and has served as a perfect example for me to reference when speaking to hopeful models who are worried or discouraged about their body type. So when she was not only booked for a spread in the November issue of Vogue, but also Vogue Italia as well as landing the cover (shot by none other than Steven Meisel himself), I was standing and applauding both Kate and the Vogue editors for their decision.  If anything will put a definite end to the treacherous notion that one has to be a stick figure to be a successful model in fashion, this will.  I'll also note that Kate's beauty cover shot for Vogue Italia was shot in bright sunlight, and is normally considered poor technique, albeit highly discouraged in photography.  I love to see rules broken.

In May 2012, Vogue released it's new Health Initiative, a six point pledge agreed upon by all 19 Vogue editors-in-cheif which includes doctrines such as not working with models who appear to have eating disorders, are underage and for fashion designers to not use unrealistically small sample sizes in their clothing to be photographed.   It's not to suggest that naturally thin models will be discriminated against, rather average-sized models will not have to feel pressured to become thin and therefore unhealthy for their natural body type in order to get work.  Including Kate for the November issues is proof-positive that the initiative is being invoked and that a normal, healthy body image is not only beautiful, but achievable.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard from models that they "weren't skinny enough" or "they said I needed to lose more weight" to a girl who is already a size 2.   Now, with the efforts of the CDFA, Britain's British Fashion Council, more publications following suit and even the country of Israel passing a law to ban underweight models, we hopefully won't be hearing those discouraging comments from models much longer.  As a photographer in the fashion field, I've often said there is a job out there for all body types, and even been the voice of reason many times to girls asking me my opinion of their physique.  Now, I can just pick up the finest fashion magazines off the shelf, and say, "Here, see for yourself.  She's a size 6.".    I hope that this industry-wide push for a healthy body image will encourage more model-hopefuls to pursue their ambitions, if they so choose.   Now, if the industry can just work on that height-thing...

Congrats Meghan Wiggins as a GUESS Model!

July 23rd, 2012

It's always a thrill to see someone that I've previously worked with find their way to landing a job that is a dream come true for them.  Meghan Wiggins is one of those people.  Four years ago I met Meghan when we were both just getting started in the world of fashion.  I photographed her first modeling test shots at a local agency in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and she was one of the first models I shot for an agency.  At age 14, she was just a pup (and still is) who was both nervous and excited for her first shoot.  Now, it's no secret that all girls like having their picture taken, but Meghan really enjoyed being in front of the camera.

I remember that shoot as one of those having an extra positive and fun energy to it, like when the subject/model really wants to be there.  Meghan was having a blast shooting and we could tell that she had been looking forward to her shoot for some time.  She followed direction well, we turned on the fan and let her hair blow around and just shot frame after frame of her blissful face and undisguised giddiness brightening the room.  She even had little ideas of what might look good, and I was happy to try them.  Looking back at these pictures now, I never think of models as being "cute", but one has to admit- especially after seeing the prowess of her work lately- that her first test/comp card shots are pretty cute photos.

A year ago Meghan was cast in a new reality show called "Remodeled".  Esteemed model manager Paul Fisher picked Meghan up at a casting and she was immediately being sent to far-off destinations to shoot stills and film the show.  I saw her walk in the Custo Barcelona show during fashion week in New York, but I didn't know they were filming her for "Remodeled".   I then visited Albuquerque in January of this year and Meghan's original agent asked if I would be able to shoot some new work for her book.  I was happy to work with Meghan again regardless that I admittedly hadn't seen the show since I just don't spend any time in front of the TV.   Wow.  What a difference only  3 1/2 years makes.  We set up a simple shoot downtown on what was supposed to be a warm day, but- as New Mexico weather goes- turned out to be freezing.  This was to be a true test of Meghan's newly acquired skill set as we gave her a bikini and poured water all over her to set the scene of a hot and sunny day at the beach.  This was also to be my test of how close I came to being mauled to death by a very (understandably) freezing cold model!   Meghan prevailed and held it together long enough in the biting cold to get the shot.  Hypothermia? What Hypothermia?  Ah, what we do for fashion.

Not long after, Meghan was booked for a new Guess campaign shot by my one of my all-time favorite photographers, Yu Tsai.  The results are making the rounds in various current issues of Elle, Teen Vogue, etc and it just thrills me to see such a great kid that I met four years ago book a large campaign like that.  I've loved Guess ads since the 80's and Paul Marciano is an inspirational man himself, with one of my favorite quotes by him leading off my portfolio book.  "People who aren't passionate about something should do something else."

So I just want to congratulate Meghan and wish her all the best for many more dream jobs to come.  She never forgets nor downplays her New Mexico roots, is loyal to her family and friends, and overall does a great job as a professional and role model who loves her work.  Congrats Meghan, you've come a long way in a short time from being that excited kid in the studio to a confident and refined working model.  Here's to many more jobs and dreams fulfilled, especially the one with the big 'secret'.   Shhhhh....   :-)

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Back in July...

October 23rd, 2011 You might have seen my earlier post about watching the Express Holiday 2011 Ad campaign being shot in Times Square.  I just saw the November issue of Vogue and the ads are finally starting to run.  I thought it would be fun to show what it looked like from my perspective.  So here's the official ad shot by Greg Kadel, and my shot from the sidelines.  Express holiday store window displays always get me in the Christmas spirit, and it's funny to me now seeing these ads come out knowing that it was over 100 degrees outside and something like 90% humidity when these were shot.  I remember how the models were baking in those clothes!

Ambition: Believing in yourself in the face of adversity can overcome great odds.

September 6th, 2011

January 2009. I had just finished having lunch at the Olive Garden when one of the employees caught my attention. Blonde super curly hair, high cheekbones, graceful face and neckline. I always hate walking up to women and asking if they would be interested in trying modeling because it seems like such a schmuck thing to do, but when you are trying to build a fashion and beauty portfolio in Albuquerque, NM you have to seize any opportunity to find subjects that have "the look".  Amy was very nice, with the standard amount of apprehensiveness that any smart young woman should have when a guy walks up and asks if she would be interested doing a photo shoot. I gave her my contact info and she called me a few days later with interest in shooting. She was still cautious, waiting for the part where I either bushwhack a way to charge her money or some other "catch". But there was no catch. I just had this idea for a shot where a model is holding the moon and Amy really had a great, very unique face that I thought would capture well. From there she didn't need experience, just the ability to follow direction.

We scheduled the shoot and she came down along with her Dad for support to the studio I was renting. I remember how nervous but willing to try she was. The shoot went great and she seemed to really enjoy the creative process. She was very easy to work with, had enough confidence and a great look on camera. I was quickly interested in working with her more in kind of a developmental way. The only problem was, she wasn't interested in modeling. Amy was a decorated high school varsity athlete who's scholastic sports career was abruptly ended due to a broken back injury. She's a person who is focused and driven toward goal achievement, with her strongest competitor being herself. You tell Amy she can't do something, you better prepare to be proven wrong. I think she was mostly interested in doing this shoot to test herself to see if she could do it. Even her Dad didn't watch one minute of it and couldn't care less about this silly thing his daughter was dragging him away from Sports Center for. Her sights were set on a useful career in nursing, with no interest in prancing around in front of a camera or on a runway. But that all would change.

A year and a half later I called Amy to see if she would help me update my swimwear portfolio. I didn't think she would be interested in this one iota, but I had to try. To my surprise she was cool with it, as long as it was classy. There was no problem there- if it's not classy and sophisticated, I don't want anything to do with it either.  We set up a test shoot to try it out, and again she was able to get past the shyness and produce the expressions that I was directing- just like acting. We set up the real shoot in the Jemez mountains a week later and it went really well. We shot some beautiful island-style looks in the waterfalls, and even when I wanted to have her completely covered in mud, which grossed her out entirely, she allowed it and proceeded to hit some of the most beautiful and perfect looks in my work to date. I could sense that again, she was looking at this task from a challenge point of view, and that's how it was working for her. It may look easy at a temporary glance, but it's not, especially when you are inexperienced. When a photographer casts you to model in his project and needs you to think and feel a certain way so that your eyes and body language can tell a story, it becomes more far difficult than a portrait session. Many hours are spent on getting the right shot, so for Amy, this was a new level to achieve. I discussed with her that I really thought that she had the ability to do this, and that a modeling career is not only a great job but also a great way to pay for the expensive education that the medical field requires. Even if not in fashion, then definitely in swimwear. But again the answer was the same- no interest in modeling.

In December of that year, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show made it's annual appearance on TV and one can't help but be entranced by it's production value, beauty and positive energy. The very next day, I got a call from you know who. Amy was a re-invented girl on the phone. She was obsessed with becoming a model. She wanted to know where to get started and what to do. I could hear the drive in her voice and it was even inspiring me. "You saw the Victoria's Secret fashion show didn't you- and now you're hooked!"  I said, laughing.  But you know what?  Amy is someone I could see doing it.  My standards are high, and if I think she can do it, maybe someone else out there will too.  So we took some simple no-makeup test shots for agencies and I helped her with a few online resources of what agencies to contact and how to go about it- and better yet, how not to go about it. Now there was a new problem. At 5'7" and 3/4", Amy is 1/4-inch below most of the the pro/legit agencies' height requirements. That's like trying to get into medical school with a 4.0 average but without a degree- close but not enough. It was going to be hard for her to beat that. During the same time I had a client that I was shooting a jewelry ad campaign for. They didn't have a big budget for pro models and asked if I could recommend two girls from my experience who might be interested in shooting it. I immediately recommended Amy and told them that I believed in her ability to pull off a great shot, plus she could use some good ad tear sheets for her portfolio and as well as experience shooting for a client- something that is more critical than a portfolio shoot.

Again, Amy did quite well and I could see a maturity in her movement, her understanding and her ability in front of the camera- she had been studying modeling. The client was pleased and the ads ran. However, the 1/4 inch was keeping Amy out of agency interest, and therefore her own interest was starting to fade. Growing taller is a goal no one can achieve through any amount of hard work or study, and when girls that are competing for the same job are 5' 11", it's even more bleak. But Amy's key aspect is not her height, it's everything else. Features, fitness, personality and intellect are the first things that come to my mind- and that goes a LONG way with an agent who needs to send over a girl to a big client who's looking for someone new- someone unique. So we talked a few times, and I just encouraged her not to give up. If you want something, you have to pursue it, not wait for it.

This summer I moved to New York City and kept in touch with Amy with small nudges of encouragement so that she would still at least continue to submit to agencies. One night I had a dream that she came to NYC and went running around to all the agencies here. That was a weird dream because when I told her about it, she replied with a plan to actually do it. A couple of weeks later I met her and her Dad again, fresh off the plane in the heart of NYC in the pouring rain- a long way from the Jemez mountains. Over a slice of pizza, her Dad asked me, "Do you really think she has a shot at this?". "Absolutely", I replied. "I wouldn't advise you to have spent a lot of money to come to New York of all places and run around here for a week if I thought it was just a lucky shot.  You're going to get turned down by a lot of agents here, but you don't need a lot, you only need one." She did see a lot of agencies, and as it turns out, one of them called her back. They obviously saw more potential than a quarter-inch deficit could affect. After months of trying with no results and only a fading glimmer of hope of ever becoming a working professional model, Amy was signed with Major Model Management in New York City.

That's what believing in yourself applied with an intelligent approach can do. I wished I could have just picked up the phone and told my agent colleagues to make it happen, but I can't.  She did it on her own with no help. I think that's really cool, and a testimonial for anyone who doesn't believe in themselves enough to try- you should. Even when you don't necessarily fit the rules, then break the rules.

Now the journey begins. Getting signed is just the first real step, developing a career is the next maze to navigate. But as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quoted, "You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the next step." I have all the confidence in Amy now as I have before to find her way to success.  It takes the kind of person that doesn't believe in the odds, only in themselves. Welcome to the next chapter Amy, now show us what new goals you're capable of reaching.

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Hello New York!

August 14th, 2011

I should have posted this about a month ago, but in my desperate method of dropping myself in here and hitting the streets to find a place to live, this blog post got moved to the waaay back burner.  What I thought would only take a few days to find a place ended up taking a month.  I'm a deal shopper and I learned quickly that there aren't a lot of deals to be found on places to live in Manhattan (they're out there, but you have to leave no stone unturned).  Basically what you can get for a mortgage payment in New Mexico will get you a closet space here- in an old building with bad water pressure.  So I searched and searched until finally two weeks ago I moved in to my new, really cool apartment with a nice view.

A change of venue like this means a change in my productivity as a commercial photographer.  One doesn't just show up as the new kid on the block in the most competitive and high-standards photography market in the world and just start taking over photo gigs.  It's a world of difference in how things work here, but I knew that coming in.  I'm here to learn and reach a higher level as a photographer, and to work with other professionals to create visuals that I could not achieve in New Mexico.   I still have my clients that I earned before the move, but now it's more of a commute schedule to work out.

On any given day there are more than 30,000 working photographers here doing photo shoots for various commercial and editorial projects as well as video.  Some would see that as a glass half empty, but I see it as a good thing- it means that there are clients here and an economy for good photographers.  Just need to jump into the mix and start somewhere.  New York is a fashion photographer's playground anyway, so at the very least it's a great place to shoot for portfolio- just ad models, makeup, hair, styling.....wait what's that?  Where does one get those people?  Well, if you want professionals or at least people who know what they are doing, that indeed is a task in itself.  If you want to see what a professional set looks like, see my previous post on the Express label shoot in Times Square that I attended.

Here's a few shots that I've taken along the way during my first few weeks in Manhattan.  Some are touristy post card shots, but some took quite a bit of late night subway rides across town to some dodgy areas, and a few with a special photo rig I had to use because tripods aren't allowed on tops of certain buildings.

Here's to new beginnings, cheers.

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Express F/W '11 Fashion Show and Photo Shoot in Times Square

July 24th, 2011 Walking down 42nd street the other day I saw a runway show being set up in Times Square for the label 'Express'.   I came back for the show, which was in conjunction with a photo shoot for their fall catalog.  I love how productions are done in New York.  Everything is perfected- the sound, the lighting, everything is made to impress.  And that they did.  I'm not the most savvy of fashion experts, but I was very pleased to see the effort in designs for the fall season women's line.  There was a large crowd, and overall the energy was there; with people clapping and cheering for various different models in styles that hit the mark.  I took some shots to show anyone who wasn't there what they can expect to see in the malls in only a couple of months.

The thing is, the summer temperatures that night were around 95 degrees with ample humidity.  I mean it was hot.  The crowd was wearing shorts and T-shirts and wiping the sweat out of their eyes.  Most of the models were wearing coats, wool scarves and basic full winter gear.  They were absolutely baking but still kept their cool on the runway (in December there will be another outdoor show with the models wearing skimpy summer clothes in near-freezing temperatures).

Big ups to Express and the production crew for putting on a great show and for allowing the public access to view the set and to take photographs- which is something seldom ever allowed.  I'll be looking in the mail for my catalog to see what shots made it in (as well as checking the stores for that 3/4 length mens wool jacket that the model was wearing in the shoot)!

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Behind the Scenes: "The Mirage" shoot.

July 8th, 2011 I recently did a shoot involving a lot of location research, specifically targeting endless desert roads for a fashion editorial story titled, "The Mirage".  The idea was that the viewer/reader was has the point of view of  being stranded along a desert highway, in the middle of nowhere, and enduring incredible heat.  Your (the reader's) mind starts playing tricks on you, and mirages appear through the heat.  Instead of the mirages being water, or refuge from the heat, it's chic styling being worn by a playful and seductive model.  She pulls you in closer, but becomes transparent and eventually fades away as you get within reach, only to reappear again further along the road, tempting you to continue.  Essentially she's everything you want; beautiful girl, fresh fashion, a cold canteen or glass of ice water, but none of it is real.  You can see the works in my editorial gallery

Finding the locations took some effort, even though the New Mexico desert has lots of great endless roads, it's almost impossible to know where they are since maps don't show you what they actually look like.  Enter the iPad with Google street view.   I could take my iPad and look around using Google satellite view, then zoom in to street view and see what the road looks like.  Once I made my selections to what locations I wanted to see, I could take the iPad and use it for navigation for seeing where what roads go without actually spending time and gas driving down all of them.  Although not all small roads in the middle of nowhere are available on street view, it gets you close enough to know whether you want to check it out or not.   I chose several locations, mostly around the old abandoned Route 66 highway complete with cracks in the road and faded paint, stretching to the horizon.  Theirs almost a magic in those areas, and when you're alone out there driving around, you can almost feel the history still existing, and the spirits of those who used to be there watching you.  Very cool.

What wasn't cool was the tremendous wind that showed up on every day that we wanted to shoot.  I needed sunny skies to produce the heat on the road and horizon, and on those days the winds were around 60 mph, gusting and blowing sand in everything.  I brought along a really sweet, patient and talented makeup artist named Stephanie Walsh, model Shannon Murphy whom I've shot with several times before, and my assistant Sarah.  We had to make use of every day as best we could, and the wind  caused a one-day shoot to turn into a four-day shoot.  Once it was all finished however, we were pleased with the results.  Here's some behind the scenes shots from that shoot.  Enjoy!

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Don't be Afraid to Embrace a Little Failure

June 21st, 2011 It's the new "F" word. "Failure" is a word no one ever seems to want to mention or discuss, yet we all deal with it on a constant basis.  I get so burned out reading people's Facebook status updates and 90% of the time it's about how successful they want everyone to think they are, when you can easily see that they aren't really getting anywhere.  When the only mouth you are hearing about someone's greatness is from their own, you know they aren't turning any heads.  No one can stand the idea of admitting, "I'm struggling right now."  "Times are tougher." or "I didn't get the job."   But you know what?  It's okay to admit defeat now and then.  No winner in life has a perfect record.  It's okay to embrace failure, no one ever said you have to be prefect all the time.  Failure is a part of succeeding, and you might as well get used to it because there's plenty of failures that are going to happen.  Victories and successes wouldn't be worth striving for if all you had to do was apply for it.

If there's one thing I learned from being a pilot, it's for sure that when you screw up, you analyze the mistake, and apply the necessary corrections for the next time.  It's the only way to get better.  But never admitting fault is a critical mistake all it's own.  One has to be okay with saying they didn't make the mark.  It's what allows one to see the measure for improvement, or plan a strategy to meet the goal on another attempt.  It's not cool nor progressive to just put on a fake personification that you are always winning.  It's a diminishing quality, a sign of a insecurity and no one respects someone who has to lie to look important.

So stop worrying about what others think.  Everyone is in the same boat.  Everyone has stories to tell of failures.  Don't be afraid to let people see the real you.  Life isn't all about who is the most perfect, it's more about taking the good with the bad, and building yourself into a better person with both.

My Philosophy on Retouching Models in Photos.

March 19th, 2011 Yikes!

 

Wow!  It's been awhile since I last posted but it's been a busy start to 2011.  Since a large part of digital photography these days is image retouching, and the over-use of it, I thought I would offer some insight into what my particular thought process and goal for retouching a photo is.  As you can see by my high-tech illustration above, that seeing a person in real life verses in a digital photograph are two very different things.  I was on a commercial shoot awhile back and the owner of the company I was shooting an ad campaign for was there to supervise the shoot which involved a model wearing the company's products.  I had a monitor set up to show what the camera was capturing so the client could view as we went along.  After a few shots, the owner told me, "I don't like the photos, she looks better in real life than in the pictures."  Yikes! (pulling my collar)  Every crew member in the studio just looked at me at the same time- and the air in the room got real heavy and silent. I quickly had to give a short explanation to the client that the camera "sees" differently than we do, and that the post-production process fixes flaws that happen in camera.  It wasn't a problem with the lighting or the camera settings, we got it right in camera, it was just the circumstances of the strobe lighting that resulted in different capture image vs. real life image.  Of course in other situations, lighting/exposure  can be manipulated to hide flaws in a subject, but this was one of those cases where it just was going to take retouching to fix the digital side effects of high-resolution capture.   Check this out.

"THE CAMERA DOESN'T LIE."     Oh yes it does.  (FYI, it also loves to make you look fat.)

When we view a person, our eyes and brains adjust to the light we are in and we usually aren't standing 6 inches from someone's face examining them.  We just see them normally and they look fine in general.  However, when you put someone in front of a high-resolution camera, an expensive lens designed to magnify detail, a big bright strobe light (or multiple strobes) and zoom in on them for a closer, larger image; what happens in the 1/3000th of a second while that strobe light fires and the camera clicks is not in any way the same as what you and I see normally.   For that split second, the model or subject is in front of a magnifying glass and a super-bright light.  The camera is set to capture a normal exposure of that light, but it's also capturing an enormous amount of detail that we don't see when the strobe is off and there is normal light on the subject.  Skin pores, wrinkle lines, dark tones under the surface of the skin, makeup particles, red veins in the eyes, and small bumps and blemishes on the skin are just a few of the things that are brightly exposed like a dermatologist's lab.  It's not the way a person normally looks at all.  It's the way they look with that much light power hitting them, a powerful lens taking in that light and putting it on a powerful digital sensor that records every detail and assigns it a binary number, then picks a color for each pixel and sends that all through a computer for more processing, then to a monitor where either LED's, or phosphorus crystals render the digital numbers into electronic light amplitudes for you to see.  Not the same as just saying "hi" to someone in a room standing a few feet in front of you.

Furthermore, I can swear that the camera makes stuff up and throws it in as well.  You've heard of that word "photogenic" right?  Or "the camera loves you".  It means someone who looks good in pictures, versus someone who doesn't.  How can it be that some people don't look as completely accurate in a photo as they do in person?  It's beyond science I think, but it is a real phenomenon.   I think that somewhere between the lens slightly distorting the light passing through it, the camera capturing and recording that light into pixels or the computer's handling of the image, a person's image can become misrepresented.  I've seen it thousands of times.  When I shoot with a beautiful model with perfect features and in the photos her nose looks like a potato, even with the most pleasing focal length and lighting, something's up.

Ok, so what do we do about it?

Digital retouching is the only viable solution for these instances where the subject's digital images, whether due to to technical side effects or mysterious gremlins in the camera, end up looking less accurate than the actual subject does in real life view.  Retouching has always had a sort of negative reaction from people, mainly because it's mostly used to make certain people (mainly celebrities) look better than they really do.   Furthermore, now that the internet has enabled all the amateur and hobby photographers to learn quick and easy retouching methods, everyone is out there snapping away pictures and over-glossing them up like crazy, to the point that it's not even about the photo anymore, but more about how much retouching was done.  That in turn makes the market flooded with photographer/retouchers, and lowers the aesthetic and monetary value across the entire board since everyone does it, and the quality is the same (poor).

When I retouch a photo, I'm essentially interested in just putting things back to the way I see the model with my own eyes, and removing all the digital flaws associated with the capture process.  Unless there is a specific look in mind for the retouch work such as a Dior ad where the models are supposed to look futuristic and sort of plastic, I want the retouch to not reveal retouching.  I find that to be one of the biggest giveaways of a non-pro photographer, is that they use massive retouching for their signature style and that's it.  You know it as soon as you see the photo, and people even commonly say "That looks so Photoshopped.".  Sure, I do plenty of post-production work such as compositing several images together, and special effect stuff, but as far as work on people, I just want the image to meet fashion standards but still keep the model real in the image's final form.   I've found that the best way to capture a subject and not have to deal with abnormalities, is by using natural light.  Most of the time, it just looks great as is and very little post work if any at all is required.  However, if I'm required to use strobes either for creative effect or job purpose, then I'm aware that there could be some artificial additives that are part of the capture process.  It's a mixed bag of elements that can determine how much or how little retouching is needed, but the best strategy is to avoid things that you know are going to lead down the path of a photo ending up looking fake.  For instance I follow a few simple rules:

1.  Use models with great skin.  Bam.  Done.  In the bag, no retouching needed when you have great skin.

2.  Whenever possible, use natural light.

3.  A few flaws are ok- leave them in.  I'd rather have a photo look perfect with flaws in than artificial with every flaw removed.

4.  Don't ever follow formula-matic retouching methods. Meaning, don't retouch every photo with the same procedure.  Each photo is different, retouch it to retain it's individuality.

5.  Retouching isn't what makes a photo compelling.  If you think it is, then go right ahead and keep thinking that it is.

So there ya have it, I prefer a cleaner approach to the whole retouching thing when it's my choice.  What goes in the camera isn't always what the human eye sees, so retouching can get it back to normal.  When used properly retouching is a great thing, but when used excessively for any other reason than creative vision, it can get pretty ugly.

Giving Back

November 24th 2010 Today I had the honor of having one of my photos hand-chosen by world class photographer Russell James for his themed photo entry, "Giving Back".  Russell hosts a friendly photo submission contest on his Facebook page which he created to give photographers a place for their work to be seen.  He will create a topic to be represented in photographs and then open his page to the public to post their photos on how they interpret that theme.

The theme this time was "Giving Back", since the Thanksgiving holiday was approaching and I believe the idea was to generate more awareness toward giving as opposed to self-indulgence.   I wanted to create and enter a photo that represented "giving back" in the usual ways that one thinks if giving back.  Perhaps a photo of someone shaking hands with a military person, or volunteering at soup kitchen or helping out at an animal shelter.  It can be  a real challenge to come up with a compelling image in a short amount of time, especially when you want it be a real capture of giving and not something "posed" or otherwise conjured-up.

I decided on an image I took in Pistoia, Italy of two older women walking down a street, one with a cane needing assistance from the other.  They were unaware I was taking their picture, but to me it represented a glimpse of a story.  I entitled it simply, "A Daughter Now Helps Her Mother".  In this case, it fits "giving back" perfectly.  I realized that one area we don't often think of when it comes to giving back is our own parents.  They help us throughout our lives, and there comes a day when they will need our help.  To me, this photo represents that change.  I'm proud to have it chosen among thousands of entries to be one of the final 30.

The public votes on their favorite photo, and the winner gets a copy of Russell's new V2 book. I'm not going to go fishing for votes though, because as much as I would love to have the book, I want this contest to be more about generating momentum in people to give, rather than me winning a contest.  I'm grateful and appreciative to have my photo chosen to represent this topic by the eyes of such a master as Russell James.

I hope that this holiday will start becoming more about giving rather than just a day of excess.  Gatherings of family, friends and love are important reasons for holidays, however I hope that we can start giving of ourselves as well.  When a whole bunch of people do this, it will really turn the world in the right direction.

"Giving Back: A daughter now helps her mother" Italy

New Models: Tips on how to find a legit photographer to work with.

November 16th 2010 I saw this article online and thought I would share it with new models who might not know whether a photographer is really interested in photography or just getting girls over to his "studio" (house).  It's kind of funny, but so very true.  Thanks to Chris Grymes Cantrell for posting a link to this.

"How to Tell the Difference Between a Legit Photographer and a GWC (Guy With a Camera)."

Playing With Shadows

October 26th, 2010[gallery link="file" order="DESC" columns="4"]

I love pure inspiration when it happens on it's own. My latest shoot was one of those occasions when it all comes together creatively and practically. It started when I met 17 year-old, 6' 0" tall new model Nori Crain. She was looking for a local photographer to work with for some better portfolio shots, and mentioned that she was considering moving to Milan to work in the European market. Knowing what she was looking for from my experience shooting in Milan, I new of some location ideas of where to shoot with her. Just some white walls in shadowy sunlight but nothing more than ordinary. Then while I was standing on my back patio the night before we shot, an idea came to me from out of nowhere that I have never seen done in print or any fashion editorials- I could make her shadow have a personality of it's own. Thus "Shadow Play" was created and I began putting together the styling and looks immediately. I've seen this concept done in Bugs Bunny cartoons, but just never anywhere in the kinds of fashion magazines I read. It's not to say that it's never been done before, it's just that I didn't get the idea from something I saw, it happened out of thin air. I love when creative energy just whispers in your ear, and something original comes to life. It's what being an artist is all about.

Nori was a pleasure to shoot with, and one of the biggest reasons why is the fact that she was so into being a part of cool projects.  She was on time, enthusiastic, gracious in her demeanor and just so very willing to dig in and do whatever needed in a very professional way.  For all you potential models out there wondering what you can do to get more shoots- in short, be as valuable to the photographer as you can be.  Nori was able to take direction easily, and was also able to take the good with the bad.  I'm particular about not just letting models use a bunch of fake-looking poses to call it a fashion shot.  I want an energy from the model that can be recorded on film.  Nori was able to listen to me try to get that out of her, and she did her best to see what I was wanting.  When she "got it", boy did she get it.  Some of the most stunning editorial shots I've gotten yet.  Really pro stuff from someone who is only 17 years old.

I styled this one myself.  Out of necessity, I've had to learn a bit more about styling since being in the desert southwest there aren't many (any at all) stylists here.  In L.A. and New York there are as many as there are photographers because a good one can make a living at it.  It's not really my thing, but I do really enjoy putting together my own outfit designs into my shoots.  I think good styling is a talent all it's own, and a skill I definitely like to include in my abilities.  It's just not something I see myself doing full time!

I really love to just get out and create.  Explore ideas and let my own "idea generator" rev up.   It keeps me dialed in to what I can dream up for commercial clients and gallery exhibitions.  I keep lists of specific ideas that come to me on a pretty consistent basis- so much that I can't find time to shoot them all. Some of these ideas will become upcoming ads for the companies I shoot for, and others may be editorial shots for magazine spreads, modeling agency work or whatever.   I've got some pretty innovative ideas for up-coming shoots, so we'll see what happens.   I want to thank Nori for being a very talented and amicable model, and Audrey (who has done makeup and modeling for me before) for putting together a very fashion makeup look together for this shoot.  Looking forward to the next one.

Model 101: Building Your Portfolio- and Do You Even Need One?

October 9th, 2010 One thing I get hit with all the time by aspiring models is that they think they have to "build their portfolio" before going to see an agency.  Or worse yet, hearing a young model tell me that her "agency" told her that she needed photos for her portfolio and then charged her big money to shoot them -which is a scam by the way (see my previous Model 101 post on how to avoid scams).  Here's the thing; your portfolio is a collection of prints showing your looks and ability in front of the camera to (hopefully) get you booked with a client for work.  When you're starting out, you are not required nor expected to have a full portfolio book of professional photos to get signed by an agency.  Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting to build experience, and collecting photos of yourself as you get practice, but don't think that an agency won't see you unless you are a "pro" with a full portfolio book of work.  In fact, it's totally the opposite.

Now before I go on, I need to say that you don't necessarily have to have an agency to be a working model.  You can represent yourself if you want to.  In some smaller markets, you can't even find a legit modeling agency, and don't even need one if you can get work on your own.  I know one model that works locally and nationally and doesn't have an agent, she just promotes and manages herself.  But for anyone who wants to work in fashion, or  any "high-end" market, I would strongly advise getting a good, respected agency to represent you.  They know all the big clients, can get you booked with them, and handle all the business for you.

Ok, so to get into an agency, what do you need?  Simple snapshots.  Even the largest fashion and commercial ad agencies in the world only need to see a couple of simple, no-makeup snapshots of you to consider contacting you.  If you really want to know the specifics, go to an agencies' website.  Yes, it's that simple!  I can't believe how many people who want to be models have never even gone to an agencies' website to get info.  Internet generation my a**!   Professional agency models are basically expected to have and carry their portfolio with them at all times.  The photos in it are there to show potential clients what the model looks like in print, and what other work the model has booked and with what other clients.  However, for you though, (without an agency since I assume you are reading this because you are just starting out) you don't "need" a portfolio at this point.  At most, you may be required by an agency to get some professional test shots.

Test shots are photos by a professional photographer whom is one of many who are recommended by an agency to shoot their model's pictures for portfolios, comp cards and website images.  A test shoot is just what the name implies- it's a shoot put together to see how you photograph, and also to get some images of you that fit the agencies' style of how they represent their models.  Most of the time a model has to pay the photographer for a test shoot, but sometimes the agency arranges for the shoot.  If you're new, expect to pay for your first test shoot.  Or if a major agency is interested in signing you, and you're a 5'10" potential supermodel from Russia with no money, the agency may front the money for the test shoot, and you'll repay them when you start working.  Once you're listed with an agency, sometimes approved photographers will contact the agency for a model to test with.  This will be a free shoot if the photographer chooses you. However, you might have to pay for the prints yourself, as many photographers will just supply you with the digital images from a test shoot for free, but not the actual prints.

Essentially there are going to be two ways to build a portfolio.  One is by signing with a legit agency, testing with various photographers until you start getting real work, then you can replace your test shots with working shots as you go.  The other way is to just go out and find photographers and either collaborate with them to get free shots, or just outright hire them to shoot you.  NOTE: I've heard some self-proclaimed "models" claim that they would never pay a photographer to shoot them.  These are not real models, they are non-professional TFP (Time For Print) "models" who think that they are so "hot" that they deserve everything in life for free- and their photos usually suck.  Real, working models have started out just like you, and many top-models even paid for their first photos to start their careers.  But here's the important part: the only thing that matters if you hire a photographer, is YOU.  You getting very professional and legitimate high-end shots which can get you to that next level in your career that the free photos may not.  I realize it sounds biased coming from a photographer, but again, it's not about the photographer, it's about the photos your going to get.  It's an investment in your career.  If you can manage to get real model shots for free, then all the better.  But I would strongly urge you not to let your ego keep you in the same career-less league with those people who tell you to never pay for photos.  Just make sure you are hiring a legit model photographer who is recommended by real modeling agencies.  Don't end up paying for cheesy "senior photo" looking shots or amateur glamour photos with bad Photoshop retouching- that's IS a waste of money.  A real photographer who shoots professional models will know how to shoot you that way.   Whether or not you will need a portfolio will in large part depend on the industry you want to work in.  There's lots of different types of modeling.  Both male and female models usually want to work in fashion, so a really impressive, professionally shot portfolio is essential to show fashion designers and big companies, but again, not necessary to be signed with an agency.

If you're going to build your own portfolio, the biggest thing I can advise you on is to make sure your photos give someone a reason to want to book you as a model.  Having a local photographer call you up to do some trade (TFP) shoots is flattering I'm sure, but sitting there in front of the camera doing some fake pose and hoping the photographer will make you look good is NOT modeling.  Think you're pretty? Great. No one cares by the way, except your your friends.  In this business, models are not only usually very gorgeous, but they know how to make a great shot.  Just standing there in front of a camera relying on your looks will only get you compliments from your Facebook friends, but is worthless in the fashion and beauty industry.  If you're a girl and it's cheap-looking glamour portraiture you're interested in, then you can pretty much just stand there and let your boobs carry the shot.  A portfolio will be helpful for this kind of work because you probably won't get any real agency to represent you, so you'll just be marketing yourself.  Your portfolio can be full of those glamour-portrait shots, and although boring and talentless, you can book that kind of work based on your lack of clothing alone because those types of jobs don't require any ability anyway.  On the other hand, if you're wanting to model swimsuits in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, then you will need to know how to really bring an emotion to the shot in your eyes and body language- and that's what you would need to show in your portfolio.  Make sense? Let your portfolio show your ability to convey emotion and personality, and not just another generic girl trying to look hot (yet clueless) in a photo.  Make photographers want to shoot with you, not want to hit on you.  Make them want to call you back because you make their portfolios better.

Again, it's great to get out and work with photographers to create beautiful images, build experience, try out new ideas and make connections.  For most young women, shooting a portfolio will never have any more purpose than just fishing for compliments on their Facebook page (it shows in their work). But for the very few who actually want to pursue the hard uphill climb of a real modeling career, a portfolio is a valuable tool in getting bookings.  For the most part, you don't need a portfolio to get started in fashion.  You just need a positive attitude, very thick skin, a very hard work ethic and a professional acumen.  More to come..