Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Three Act Model Photography

Whenever I'm shooting glamour/tease models, I take them through a range of physical poses and projected emotions. I'm guessing many of you do as well.  In spite of the overall range I take them through, I don't usually begin a shoot with too many directions that have much of an emotional context.  I'll admit that when I'm shooting glamour and tease the range of emotions (which make the most sense for the genre I'm shooting) aren't too varied or extensive.  The images are intended for fairly narrow purposes, after all. But there's still plenty of wiggle-room, emotion-wise, to include a decent-sized range of emotions.

For the most part, I don't begin my shoots with much in the way of emotional directions. Instead, I work my way towards adding emotions later in the set. For me, my shoots have distinct beginnings, middles, and ends. I like to think of them as shooting models in three acts. (Hey! Whatever works, right?)

Generally, when I begin shooting a model, I just want to start out by seeing (or getting a feel for) the model's skill, experience, and level of comfort in front of the camera. This represents the first act of my shoots.  During this first act, this Act One, I've found most models don't offer too much in the way of emotion anyway; they simply bust what they think are their best moves and poses. And, at this point, I don't ask or direct them towards much emotion.  Act One is kind of a warming up period or the getting-to-know-each-other portion of the shoot. (If that makes more sense.) I figure the beginning of the shoot is simply a time to allow the model to start getting into her groove and become accustomed to the flashing lights and the talkative, ego-stroking, guy with a camera pressed to his eye in front of her. (That would be me stroking their egos, not me stroking mine.)

Things change, of course, as shooting continues. At some point -- I can't say exactly when or put an elapsed time to it -- I sense the time is right to begin directing the model in more specific and descriptive ways, albeit it's still mostly in terms of physical posing. This represents, in my head, the beginning of Act Two.

Act Two is usually the longest act of my shoots. During Act Two, many models will begin displaying emotions all on their own. (Via expressions and body language.)  It's almost as if they suddenly remember there's something missing in their posing performance (emotion) and they instinctively and automatically add it to what they're already doing in front of the camera.  This isn't true for all models, of course. But I'd say it's true for the majority of them. It's also my cue to begin directing them in much more specific ways.

Once the model seems to be responding more easily and effortlessly to my Act Two directions, I add an emotional context to what I'm asking them to do. In other words, Act Three begins.

It's all fairly calculated. It's almost by-the-numbers in a progressive or hierarchical sort of way. It's not that models can't emote earlier-on during the sets. They can. It's simply that, from where I'm standing with my camera, their emoting often appears forced or contrived and less natural until they're ready to let it happen more naturally. (Most of them aren't ready until sometime further in to the shoot. Leastwise, that's been my observation.) The best projected emotions, of course, are those that appear most honest even if they aren't truly honest. It's the acting part of modeling. Act Three, in a sense, is when I'm looking for good acting, that is, believable acting in terms of body language (physical posing) as well as emotional projection.   It's not like all models have to suddenly become great actors. Their "acting," after all, only needs to happen in tiny spurts of no more than small fractions of a second at a time.

For me, Act Three is generally the most important part of my shoots and it's when I often capture the best images. That's not a rule set in stone but it seems to work out that way much of the time. Act Three also has it's own progression in terms of the range of emotions I direct my models towards. When I first being giving directions that are of an emotional nature, I usually start with upbeat emotions. Why? Because upbeat emotions tend to be the easiest for many models to project in honest and natural ways and I want to start them out with the simple stuff first. Conversely, the darker or more intimate emotions, those low-key and subtle emotions, are the most difficult for them to honestly portray. But, once they're in that groove, that physical and emotional groove, it's very satisfying how well some of them pull it off, even much less experienced models.

In the end, it's up to the photographer to elicit, direct, encourage, inspire the kinds of poses, expressions, and emotions that make for great portraits, glamour or otherwise. For all kinds of portraiture, it's not simply about lighting and composition. It might be that way for landscapes and still life and other genres of photography, but for shooting people the added elements of pose, expression, and emotion are often more important -- certainly equally important -- to lighting and composition. That's why communication between photographer and subject is of paramount importance.

The low-key head shot of the pretty girl at the top utilized three lights: A Mola beauty dish for the main and a couple of kickers, in the form of strip lights, either side from behind. I'm not a fan of the finger-in-the-mouth schtick but, for some reason, at least for me, Aveena makes it work without it being too cheesy.

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