Although people often see the photographer as the one “just pressing the button”, our job involves many aspects besides the purely technical side.
Producer, creative director, manager … and if you are lucky to do that in Japan, there is an added layer of cross-cultural communication to make sure you get the best of all involved.
I will describe the process to do a shoot like the one above.
It starts with an idea. An image in your mind you would like to see.
What does it involve? What skills do you need to get there?
I am not very talented so I need to find people who can fill the gap and bring their ideas and twists to make it even better. At this point, a mood board is useful to define the goal and explain it to people who may collaborate.
I use Pinterest and Instagram for that but there are many tools out there. If you are old fashioned, shear some pages from magazines.
Assemble a team
I love to shoot people, really, with a camera. I enjoy landscapes and street photography but it is the human in the frame that makes it interesting to me.
So I often start with the model and ask myself some important questions:
How does the personality of the model fit the vision? Do they have the energy needed to make it come alive?
Try to see in your contact network (friends and friends of friends) who could match the vision. Get in touch and pitch the idea.
Scheduling, especially in Tokyo, is always tough. Everybody is busy, busy, busy, so it is a good idea to get more than 1 person interested so you can have back up. If you cannot find a model at all, check Instagram with the tags #モデル (model) #モデル募集中 (looking for model).
Professionally contacting people, explaining your project clearly and not being a jerk about it does wonders. Never take rejection or a lack of response personally.
Next, the Make-Up Artist (MUA) and Stylist. There are many great MUA in Tokyo. They are people with amazing skills and ideas. If you do not know any, ask your models. I can guarantee that they will let you know who they enjoyed working with.
Wardrobe stylists are in charge of the outfit and accessories. They can help you to get what you need for the photoshoot and will also be in charge to make the outfit shine. Like all professionals, working with a good MUA and Stylist can be expensive. There too, the strength of your vision, the quality of your network and the clarity of your explanation will be key to get people to collaborate with you. The more people you already have on board the better your chances.
Now that you have your team lined up, the project is starting to take shape and moves closer to reality. You are not there yet though. I recommend at least one staff meeting with everyone involved to exchange ideas, list up necessary items and ballpark time required for their tasks. You do not want to shoot on location and realize that no one brought the batteries for the iron curler or safety pins for the clothes fitting.
When all is clear, set up a schedule for the shoot. Do you need to be ready by a certain time to catch the golden light? Make sure your team is fully aware of it and have lots of time to get ready before that. You may have found the perfect location, got the most awesome model and skilled MUA and yet miss the shot because someone’s train was delayed by 20 minutes.
A shared Google calendar or something similar will do the trick. Print the day’s schedule and give it to everyone on your team.
Shoot and be flexible
Here it is, the long-awaited moment of truth: your time with the model. You had a vision, you assembled a talented team of people who will be working together and … things change. Maybe it is not exactly what you had imagined. It is OK. Be flexible, absorb your team’s input, try different things, adapt and enjoy the creative moment.
It is very important to be positive during the session, as your energy will directly impact everyone else. Shooting should be fun. Shooting should be exciting. I love to have music in the studio or on location, if possible, to set the energy. Read the room and see how your model feels.
Take breaks often, and be sure to keep people hydrated. If you can, show the shots to everyone on a big display to get real-time feedback and direct more effectively
After the Shoot
The unseen and unsung part of the work: retouching. Adjusting and tweaking. Maybe doing composite work. That would be a whole different article to get over that part but you can always test a few variations and share them with your team.
If your work is for a publication or contest, try to see what style they might expect. For example, some websites/magazines have a clearly defined visual style. The saturation, sharpness, and/or color palette may need to be adjusted for the audience. You can always post here in #Images-Showcase with the #critique tag to get feedback. Once you have a final result you like and that fits the goal, share the data with the team. If you are allowed to share it on social media, be sure to credit all involved.
A nice dinner is always a nice touch too.
Let me know in the comment if you have other ways to get people to collaborate and produce great images.