This shoot almost didn’t happen, for want of a wardrobe stylist. I haven’t stressed over a shoot this much in ages. But wow am I pleased with the result!
I pitched the test-shoot idea to the Ford modeling agency a couple of months ago, and after much wrangling (they’re picky…they’re Ford!) we agreed on a look and a style, went through the model selection process, and found a model who was available. I literally had this set up a month in advance, because I knew there was going to be some scheduling complexities. I needed hair and makeup artists of course, but I also needed a wardrobe stylist, so we could have some proper couture rather than just whatever was in the model’s closet (I’m sure Bianca might have a nicely appointed closet…but why risk it?) I also had to find a studio to do this all in, since my usual haunts were out of commission or too far out of the city to be practical.
Picking hair and makeup were easy: one of my favorite teams consists of Kris Young doing hair, and Naz Madaen doing makeup. They were both available and excited to do the shoot. Brooks Ayola, a amazing portrait photographer, agreed to let me use his studio in Chatsworth, California. So all I needed was a wardrobe stylist.
And that was almost my undoing.
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I talked with several wardrobe stylists off ModelMayhem, and found one who was interested and had a good portfolio. But I’d never worked with her before. I won’t name names, but let’s just call her “Brandy” (because that’s her name). I did leave plenty of time to pull this together, and had her committed two weeks in advance of the shoot. We arranged to meet the Thursday before the shoot. The shoot was on Sunday, and I would have liked to get wardrobe nailed down before that, but Thursday seemed fine. I had to go into the valley to meet with a model on a different project anyway, so I thought I’d just meet Brandy in the same trip.
But Brandy could not be reached. Not by email for a couple of days before the meeting, not by text message, not by phone…I left my meeting with the model on Thursday, not knowing where to go! Eventually I headed home. Never heard from Brandy again.
So it’s Thursday evening, less than three days to the shoot, and only one business day for pulling wardrobe etc, and I DON’T HAVE A WARDROBE STYLIST!!!!! I go into freakout mode.
First I contact models I’ve worked with in Ventura before, asking them if there are stores locally from which I might pull clothes for the shoot. One model gives me a store suggestion but then says “I’ve got a few black dresses, would you like to borrow them?” Would I! I make arrangements to pick them up late Friday afternoon, and head downtown Ventura. I pick up a couple of items at the thrift store. Yuck, right? But they were half way decent dresses and they’d do in a pinch, or perhaps augment whatever else I could get.
Off to the retail stores, but a) I didn’t see much and b) really didn’t know how to approach this. So I went to Target and bought some costume jewelry. I’m really out of my league here. I’m comfortable making wardrobe decisions when given choices, but trying to do that in stores? My mind goes numb at the retail level.
I’m also emailing and texting everyone I know, to see if they can suggest something. And then I got the most unlikely string of connections that lead to me finding my wardrobe stylist for the shoot, Jennifer Margolin. One person I contacted was Andrea over at Little Designer Book. She suggested I talk to Stacy Elder Herb, but she was booked. She suggested I talk to Luke Storey at The School of Style, which is a wardrobe stylist school. He gave me a list of former students he trusted to do the job in short notice, and one of them was Jennifer.
The story continues below. For the lighting geeks, there’s technical info at the end. For fashion geeks (hey everyone’s a geek at something!), there is wardrobe info below each set of images.
Above: Dress by Manoush. Shoes, model’s own. Bracelets and ring, stylist’s own.
Above: Jacket by Dolce & Gabbana. Vintage dress. Tights by Wolford. Ring by Marc Jacobs. Shoes, model’s own. Necklace, bracelet, stylist’s own.
So Friday evening, I arrange to meet with my local model friend, to pick up the dresses she’s loaning me. I was expecting two. She handed me thirteen dresses! Everything from club wear to full gowns. It was an amazingly generous loan to someone she didn’t know very well…we’ve only worked together once. I’m still stunned by her generosity. That right there made me relieved that I could make this shoot work. Good thing too, because otherwise I’d be trying to reach Ford on a weekend to tell them the shoot was off. So even if my replacement stylist didn’t show up, I still had thirteen dresses on loan, two thrift store finds and two dresses from my wife. We could style by committee if necessary.
But Jennifer brought some big designer guns with her. Manoush, Dolce & Gabbana etc. We used one dress from my friend and the rest were supplied by Jennifer. She really knew her stuff too. It was nice being able to delegate these things, even though I had to oversee all of it. It’s also nice having crew call out “stray hair!” or “can you see that A-clamp on her back?” (which were used to tighten up dresses so they fit better). This is stuff I’d miss for at least a few frames if I were doing this myself. Nothing like a good crew, working as a team!
Above: Dress by Monique Lhuillier. Apple, photographer’s own.
So how did I light this? It’s a pretty simple set up, although I obsessed over light modifiers while Bianca was getting hair and makeup applied. I changed my set up three times before settling on the one I used. For most of the shoot (including the first four images on this post), I used the set up or a variation that you see below. The key light is an Alien Bees 1600 in a 30×30″ ‘brolly box’, which is a softbox shaped modifier that folds closed like an umbrella. It was just the right size for the hardness and fall-off I was going for. I also decided to use fill light on the same side as the key light, which isn’t “standard”. A typical lighting set up will have the key on one side up high, and the fill on the other side down low. But I wanted a dramatic shadow on one side, so I didn’t fill it. I did however want detail on the dresses over the entire length of her body, just on one side. So I used my trusty V-card (see my guest post here for more details on that). There’s an Alien Bees 800 firing into it about waist height. Depending on the dress, I had either a white or black V-card to camera right, to either fill in the shadow or emphasize it. And I later added an SB-28 in a snoot from behind, camera right, as an edge light. You can just barely see the effect if you look at the ‘apple’ images above. On her neck, camera right, is a barely discernible line of light. It’s just enough to keep that edge of her disappearing into shadow, without drawing attention to itself.
For those ‘apple’ shots, which I knew were only going to be head and shoulders ‘beauty’ shots, I switched out my modifier and put a 16″ beauty dish on the key, with a ‘sock’ diffuser over it. The fill was pretty much the same.
Below you can see Kris doing a quick hair touch up, and Jennifer swapping out bangles on Bianca.