From Rangefinder Magazine June 2014
Many of the photographers I meet, argue that it is not possible to create high-end shoots in their markets; they believe that unless you are in a major city like Los Angeles or New York, certain types of shoots are out of reach. Lack of creative talent—including hair stylists and makeup artists—or the inaccessibility to clothing (as well as a slew of other excuses) are reasons that a specific type of fashion shoot seems unattainable.
My argument is that there is always an opportunity to create stunning images for those willing to get creative on finding solutions.
For instance, this past March I had received commissions from Elléments Magazine and the Dubai-based Velvet magazine to produce new content and editorials. I decided to give myself a challenge and shoot these editorials in my hometown of Orlando, Florida—hardly a place I’d consider a “high-fashion” mecca.
Would it be possible to create that high-fashion look without being in the “Big City”? I decided to take my challenge further and photograph four editorials in two days with a team I’d never worked with, in a studio I’d never seen and with assistants I’d never met.
Fashion editorials often involve producing a minimum of six to eight strong images, featuring a different outfit for each “story” or editorial. Emerging fashion photographers like myself shoot editorials on spec for the experience, exposure, to build our portfolios and to create new work to show clients our capabilities. They become marketing pieces and also lend credibility to our work. Furthermore, having images in magazines may draw the attention of advertisers (or other art buyers reading the publication), and the true profit is in landing advertising and commercial clients.
When I decided to make these editorials happen in Orlando, it was going to either be utter genius or a train wreck. Either way, it was a challenge to address the concerns of the “smaller market” photographer.
THE RIGHT TEAM
To grow your business, you need the right team. When you work with hair and makeup professionals (instead of doing it yourself or leaving your subject “as is”), you can focus on your strengths: composition, lighting and directing the subject.
But what happens when you live in an area with a limited number of talented creatives? For my shoots, I discovered it was all about networking, and social media became invaluable.
Because I’m so open online with providing photography tips for free, I’ve amassed a great group of photographers in my social network, some based in Orlando. They were able and willing to provide me contact information of stylists and makeup artists in exchange for business advice over a cup of coffee. Simple.
I reached out to each creative individually and asked them to participate in my editorial. Although that sounds easy enough, I had no budget for this shoot. So how did I get professional creatives to work for free?
First, I made sure I was clear in communicating my shot concepts. I provided them with a series of images expressing the direction of the shoot so they could envision their contributions and anticipate the final images. I described the passion project they could be part of and communicated my own excitement for it to get their creative neurons firing!
Next, I reminded them that although they wouldn’t be monetarily compensated (and neither was I), their work would be published in international publications. The resulting tear sheets would be great for resumes and as bragging rights in getting future jobs.
Luckily, this tactic worked, but if I’d had no contacts in the city where I was shooting, I would have gotten a bit more creative. To find makeup artists, I often visit a local mall and network with staff from Sephora and MAC Cosmetics—many of whom freelance on their days off. The best part about being able to visit a storefront is that you can see first-hand their work and their personality with clients. My recommendation is to not go into a store graciously handing out business cards; instead consider “shopping” around for products and casually discussing your work with the staff. (Nothing scares off people faster than a quick hard sell.) This could work similarly with hair stylists at a local salon.
THE RIGHT SUBJECT
Orlando is a lifestyle/swimsuit market, plain and simple. The female models were curvy and often surgically enhanced, and the male models were generally too muscular and didn’t fit the esthetic for the photo shoots I had in mind. I started cold-calling local modeling agencies with my exact criteria for models one month before beginning the project. I explained that I was looking for models with a sophisticated and high-fashion look, not traditional “sex appeal.”
By being specific, clearly explaining my concept and reaching out to agencies more than a month in advance, I had ample time to research and make model selections. I didn’t, however, get all my models from modeling agencies. If you live in a smaller market, you may not even have an agency to reach out to. What do you do then?
Before planning my shoots, I also looked through Orlando-based photographers’ Facebook pages to see if they had previously worked with a model I was interested in working with. Sometimes I’d contact the model directly by searching his or her name or tag. Other times, I’d ask the photographer in my network for an introduction.
By the time I was in Orlando, I had many local aspiring and professional models seeking to work with me for their portfolio and for tear sheets, like others on the creative team.
Finally, I was able to find wardrobe stylists by speaking to other photographers and doing research on Model Mayhem (a social network for photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, models and wardrobe stylists). I found two aspiring stylists who sourced clothing from local designers, created some of their own pieces and borrowed from designers in other cities.
THE RIGHT SHOOT
By the time I arrived in Orlando, I had gathered my entire creative team. I had planned four shoots with two female models from agencies, one male model from an agency and one female model through Facebook. I was even able to find several local assistants who worked for free.
Through talking to other photographers, I found a local studio to rent called Studio One, and this was my only true cost for the entire shoot.
I shot two editorials a day, each lasting five hours, making for long but exhilarating days. Everything ran smoothly, and I was fueled by the passion of my creative team. While shooting, it was thrilling to show everyone the images on my laptop—I could see their eyes light up about the images we were creating.
THE RIGHT PUBLICATION
For each editorial, I selected about five to eight final images to retouch and turned those images into the magazines that had commissioned the pieces. I also began shopping around to new publications for the other two shoots.
Since I began shooting fashion, I’ve been compiling a list of potential magazines. I send low-resolution images to publications I think would be a good fit via PhotoShelter.com, which has made it extremely easy for me to provide editors with access to low-resolution and high-resolution files with a click of a button.
I also shared these images with some of my “dream clients” via email, and to art buyers and editors. I even sent sneak peeks of the shoot to designers I want to work with, and art buyers at commercial companies with whom I hope to collaborate. (So far I’ve gotten lots of good feedback and I’m talking with some magazines about future collaborations.)
The resulting images shot in these four editorials are slated to come out in four different international magazines in the next couple of months, including Velvet. Not only will this help my credentials, but the images we created are some of my favorites in my portfolio.
The bottom line? All of this was achieved in a smaller, non-fashion market. Even though it was a lot of work to put these shoots together, you don’t need to be in a city like New York or Los Angeles to find the right resources and produce striking fashion imagery; you can make it happen anywhere—even in your own hometown.