Continuing on with YOUR Questions!
Kevin Pohl Says:
Ok so, I seem to have a trump card opportunity with this weeks blog request. And I’m sure you are tired of me nagging you with this question, but you did say that you were gonna blog about this, and you still haven’t written me your thoughts on this so here it goes. I would like you to blog about: “How does a photographer go about defining his/her creative vision? Is it something that you just have or do you need to develop it? And, if a photographer struggles with finding his/her own voice as an artist with a vision, can that photographer take certain steps to develop and define that creative vision? ” Hope you’ll blog about this soon, as it’s an important question on everyone’s lips. Everybody says, create your vision!, build your portfolio!, and market like crazy! But nobody tells us HOW to create that VISION part of the equation. Love your work, and this Blog! It’s Awesome!
Poor Kevin! He’s right…….he’s written to me personally a few times with his question. And I kept writing back to him promising I will blog about it soon. I don’t know why I keep putting it off…it sort of hits a nerve, I guess. He asks, “How does a photographer go about defining his/her creative vision?” Is he asking, how do you define your vision or your Photography STYLE? Your style is the look and feel of your work as a definitive and continuing stream. Is your work moody and surreal? Is it bright happy? Is it colorful and smiley? Or is it dark and thoughtful? These are words that would be used to describe the look or STYLE of your work. And yes, as a photographer that wants to compete in the market, a style is something that art directors and editors look for when they look at your work.
First of all, before you start defining your style, you need to figure out what facet of fashion photography you like shooting the most. Do you like “Lifestyle”? Happy, shiny teenage girls playing frisbee on the beach with maybe a dog; golden retriever or dalamation is perfect for this! No pitbulls, please. Throw in a couple of jock looking teenage boys and a picnic blanket (bright pink, ok?). I personally disdain this kind of work. Therefore, you don’t see it in my book, or anywhere near my name. I’ve nothing against it but if I was forced to shoot this kind of work in order to call myself a fashion photographer, well, I’d rather go into something else, like criminal profiling (yep, secret fantasy job). But Lifestyle work pays and pays WELL. I absolutely hate showing you an example of a fashion lifestyle shot, but here you go: ( I didn’t shoot this! )
Images by Larry Bartholomew
Another facet is Beauty. Big, huge cosmetic campaigns. Read: $$! Do you like faces, tight shots, beautiful lips. Fabulous make up work? Beauty is another facet of our industry that you can focus on and become known for that work. Or, does Haute Couture make you faint? It makes me faint and that’s where I wanted to place myself in the spectrum of fashion photography. I’m a glutton for talented fashion designers and I go weak over exquisite fashion design. Pleats really do it for me. Tulle? Gets me going! But it’s not for everyone.
Once you’ve figured out what type of fashion photography you like doing, you then set out to shoot work in that vein. Big dramatic, sweeping gowns in a studio with beautiful light! That would be the kind of shoots you would focus on to build a portfolio geared toward high fashion. If you want to be a lifestyle shooter, then gather the teens up and head to the wheat fields, the lakes, the beach, whatever fab nature is near you and shoot in that late afternoon sun! Make sure everyone is smiling and happy!
I suppose it’s a regional thing too. I’ve always been based out of big city where defining your style is a must. However, if you live in areas where there’s not a TON of fashion work, then you’ll probably want to cross into other areas so you can get work in all facets. I personally feel that this confuses potential clients. You think you’re showing them work that conveys that ” you can shoot it ALL”. But art directors don’t look for that. They look for the books that come in that are defining the ad campaign they are working on. If an art director is working on a big perfume campaign, he’s not going to call in books from photographers who shoot lifestyle or catalogue. And vice versa, of course. My book doesn’t get called in to lifestyle. Unless it’s a friend and she knows I can very well shoot it and I’ll do it for the money but I am not going to start putting that kind of work in my book because I don’t want to be “known” as a lifestyle shooter.
Now, if Kevin is asking me how do I define my vision, then that’s a completely different answer. My vision is what makes me move throughout the day as an artist. And it’s hard to describe in words. I was talking to my assistant, Carmen, about it because I was a little confused by the question. Carmen helped me break down the thought process behind a concept for a shoot by asking me what inspires me initially and then where do I go from there, step by step. So let me give you an example of just how that goes down:
I recently went to an open call that an agency here in LA set up for me to come in and see their new faces. I met a model there named Lulu. A tall Chinese girl with a beautiful face!
Image by Rodney Ray
I knew immediately I wanted to shoot Lulu but didn’t have the concept for it. I told her agent just that! “I want to shoot Lulu, let me figure out how and what and where and I’ll get back to you.” I then walked out and I let it go. A couple of days later, with Lulu’s card sitting on my work bench to remind me that I want to shoot this particular model, I start thinking of what I want to do with Lulu. Studio? Location? Lighting? Clothes? I show her card to a few stylists to see their reaction, maybe it will get the juices going and we can start throwing ideas back and forth. But nope, nothing earth shattering came out of the stylists mouths even though every one agreed she’s got something unique and they’re happy to style it so let them know when I have the concept! A few more days went by and I am not sure how I got to this point but I remembered a shoot I did with another Asian girl where I shot her in a studio against a green screen and then went down to Chinatown on my own and shot long shutter exposed background shots.
I learned a lot from that shoot. I learned it looked too “shopped” and I should’ve just taken the girl down to the actual location and shot her there. It looked to “posed”. Plus the girl then was way too young, like 14 and she looked uncomfortable in the shots. She was too shy for the sexy, dark, steamy atmosphere that I was trying to convey. I always wanted to re-shoot the idea because I have this fascination with Asia ever since I read Maguerite Duras’ “The Lover” when I was 19. Her descriptions of the room where the lovers met and the scenery of Vietnam in that particular era are just a exquisite.
Voila’!! There’s the concept. Take Lulu down to Chinatown and take the original concept I had from years ago and shoot it the way it SHOULD be shot. I will learn from my past mistakes and do it right this time. At least that’s the goal! What do I do next? I will head down to Chinatown with David one night with my little point and shoot which will probably not have the battery charged, so then I’ll attempt to shoot it with my Blackberry which takes pretty mediocre snapshots, eat an overpriced Chinese meal and walk around looking for backgrounds to shoot the model.
I want to shoot at least 6 shots. Why 6? Well, even though it’s just a “test”, there’s a possibility of submitting it to a magazine somewhere at some point. But more importantly, I shoot tests with the goal of it landing in my book and I’m “DEFINING” (there’s that word again) my fashion photography towards fashion editorial. So the shoot should have a theme with continuity. Okay, so let’s say I’ve found a few backgrounds that will work, what do I do next? I come home and start knocking out a shot list. I actually pull up Word on the computer or if I’m not at home, I’ll use a paper napkin, any damn thing, and start numbering the “pages”. Shot 1. Shot 2. Shot 3. Sometimes it pours out of me and I fill in all 6 pages in one sitting. Sometimes I stop at 4. I don’t push myself. Maybe we’ll let it grow organically on the shoot and let spontaneity be our driver. I mean, it’s test! No client is breathing down my neck. And it’s for my book so I can get as creative as I want. Okay, what’s the next step?? What have I blogged about over and over again?? Who’s the most important person a fashion photographer aligns themselves with? Your STYLIST! I will call a couple of stylists and run the concept by them. We will talk about logistics: No budget since it’s a test so no honey wagon because I’m not forking out hundreds of dollars for a trailer. Which means the model will have to change in the car or public restrooms, which means we have to be careful with the clothes. We talk about location permits, which again I won’t fork out the moola for so we’ll have to shoot it guerilla style. Hair and make up needs to be started out at someone’s house before the shoot. We’ll figure that out closer to the shoot date.
Right now, I haven’t shot it yet. I haven’t even gone down to Chinatown yet with David. But that’s sort of how a shoot begins at birth and takes on the evolutionary process on “defining a vision”.
Now Kevin, I hope I’ve answered it all here for you! I hope it was worth the wait!! ; ) Okay, I’m going to go jump in my friends pool and not think about work for the rest of the day! A much needed break away from phones and computers! My brain won’t stop thinking, though. A Creative Vision is something that never leaves you. It’s part of your soul! And to quote one of my favorite rappers, Nas, from One Mic: ” if you need some soul searchin’, the time is now”.