Monday, March 28, 2011

The Chi Factor in Collaborating

Photographing models is a collaborative effort. (D'uh.) The collaboration can be between as few as two people, model and photographer, or might be a team effort between a photographer, a model, MUAs, art directors, stylists, assistants, graphic artists and retouchers, as well as clients all collaborating to produce great images.

It's true that photographers get the lion's share of the credit for those images. It's much the same way with motion pictures where most of the credit goes to the director even though so many others were involved: writers, actors, producers, plus a vast array of technical and crafts people.

The Chinese word Ch'i or qi (pronounced "chee" so I'll spell it, "chi") refers to the natural energy of the Universe. While practitioners and proponents of chi might be as diverse as acupuncturists and New Age spiritualists, a key component of chi is harmony. Harmony, as you're probably aware, is often a key element for successful collaborations, including those between photographers, models, and other artists and crafts people.

While it's sometimes easy to think of models as simply subjects (even props) used by photographers to help fulfill their photographic visions -- I'm sometimes guilty of that myself -- subordinating models to that status risks losing the potential of chi (think "harmony") and its impact on producing excellent work. Even inexperienced, first-time models can be valuable team players contributing to a photographer's (and the images') success.

The ancient Chinese sage who came up with the concept of "chi" probably wasn't thinking about photography when contemplating chi but some of the tenets of chi still apply. If you're a photographer and you're leading a team, you should also be working to create harmony amongst that team, that is, working in ways that allows chi and harmony to manifest itself in the process. It can be key to producing awesome photos of models.

How can you, the photographer, promote harmony?
I write a lot about the importance of developing rapport with models. But models aren't the only people you should be developing rapport with when there are more than just you and the model involved in the process. Simply acknowledging the positive contributions of other members of the team can go a long way towards encouraging those people to apply themselves harder (and in more successful) ways to the end result. Listening to suggestions is another way of doing this. That's not to say always incorporating those suggestions is a good idea, it's your vision after all and how you realize it is (or is not) likely going to be (mostly) by your way. That's also not to say you should give away your role as the team's leader. But letting other people know that you consider them valuable assets, even when it comes to their suggestions, even when those suggestions aren't practical or workable or likely to produce the result you're looking for is a good idea for helping to maintain working harmony.

Treating those on your team as important contributors to the overall effort, rather than a bunch of minions or servile pairs-of-hands, can yield very positive results.

Sorry for going all "New Age" on everyone today. For some reason, I'm craving a cup of warm green tea and a bowl of rice for lunch.

The pretty girl at the top is Tara from a shoot about a month or so ago. (Click to enlarge.) She can have chi (and tea) with me any time she'd like.

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