At First Sight – making a shoot work with someone new

December 13, 2018

First shoots in creative collaborations are like a blind date in some ways.  You look forward to the encounter, you hope it will work out, you check out the other person beforehand to try to ensure there will be a connection (and that they are not an axe murderer or the like, at least as far as their public profile indicates!).  But you have no idea whether it will work and inevitably there is expectant tension when you do connect.  Sometimes the stars align and it works, and a linkage is established that carries through to other sessions.  Others you have a constrained good time as far as you can, produce some workmanlike images, and go your separate ways.

What do you shoot, and where for a first session?  I am not a fan of just pretty photos in a context-free environment.  Yet something very demanding or adventurous needs trust and confidence and that can hardly exist on the first shoot, unless you have known the person before in a different manner.  It needs to be a theme that the model is interested in, but that also holds my attention.  For this first session with Shelby, we went with a white themed outfit with bare midriff that she loved in a local nature park.  With late afternoon light, I knew I could make the outfit shine, and Shelby did a great job of interesting hair to make the subject more than a casual session.

Next issue with a first shoot – how do you break the ice and start? With any session, there is an awkward time at the beginning when you both are testing the setup and each other.. trying out the roles I suppose before actually entering “the play”.  There’s no point in trying the more demanding poses before you are both ready.  In this case with Shelby, I picked her up from her house and we had a 30 minute drive to get acquainted first.  We then started the session with some relatively simple images in a location that I knew would work.  From the get go, the images started appearing as hoped.  In other cases, where you just meet at the location, I start by some even simpler headshots, and a few silly warm up exercises that both get the model to release tension and, by demonstrating the moves myself, enable them to have something to laugh at.  Laughter is a great lubricant for a relaxed session.

With those images behind us, Shelby and I moved on into the park looking for other settings and light that inspired.  I saw a meadow with a vestigial tree.  Dried grass, a few leaves, and an architectural look to the tree.  Now I had Shelby begin to try some more emotive and dramatic poses, and switched between the portrait lens and a strong wide angle low to the ground to create more drama.  By now the initial tension was gone.  I find it rather like a light switch.  There’s a point in almost any session where the light goes on, the model stops “posing” as such and being conscious of the camera, and we start to produce images with feeling.  Before that point, it’s stilted.  After, we can make the better images that I am looking for.  If we click, it can be magic!

Over the bridge we went in search of more locations.  I headed for a copse of trees I remember from the summer.  Now they were partially denuded.  I thought they could look a little like a bewitched prison with the fairytale princess locked inside, lost and pining.  We tried a number of ideas here, posing up against the roughness and bareness of the tree trunks, and in the midst of the copse.

Finally, we headed to where the dropping sun was illuminating the river bank.  While I often shoot against the light  (to avoid ugly shadows on the face), it can make for dramatic imagery with the right poses.  With encouragement, Shelby pushed herself into such poses – and produced perhaps the favorite images of the session.

There’s a natural rhythm to a shoot.  We had made some great images for a first shoot, but we were getting tired.  Once you see that point, it’s time to call it.  Going past this does not usually yield good results – and ends up on a lower note than finishing on the high of success.  There’s always another day.



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