This was one of those shoots that was destined to turn into a disaster…and yet turned out brilliantly instead! I suppose this sort of “living on the edge” keeps me on my toes. Here’s what happened:
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This was the first time I’d done a test shoot with the iModel Agency. There was some confusion in the lead up to the shoot about which models would actually be available. I was originally given something like sixteen model portfolios to choose from, which is way more than I’m used to. Since I had a particular theme in mind (see below), I selected two pairs of girls (a preferred pair and an alternate). I then hear back the day before the shoot that only one girl from each pair is available. Ok fine, that combination will work as well. And then I hear later that day that one of those girls has a shoot that day and might not be able to make it in time, and the other girl hasn’t responded to phone calls (I hate calling them “girls” and want to call them “women”, but let’s face it, some of them ARE girls…like Lynae above, who’s sixteen. And the agencies all call them “girls”…as in, “I’m emailing you some girls in the next few minutes”.). Ok, so who IS available then? They give me a short list of girls who are completely wrong for the shoot, plus Lynae, plus another model who will remain nameless for reasons that will become clear.
I had in mind a “country girl” shoot…not so much western as a deep south feel. Fishin’ in the crick sort of thing. I even had a very definite visual of one particular scene in my head (we’ll get to that in the second installment). I had found a wonderful location in the metro LA area, that seems like it’s half a continent away. And no, I’m not going to reveal that location here. I’m usually pretty forthcoming about such things, but this particular location is a gold mine of non-LA type outdoor scenes. So you’ll just have to find it yourself…or better yet, find some other location!
So I’m enroute to the shoot, and I’ve left a little late but I’m doing ok. Then Lynae calls me to tell me she’s arrived at the location. As I’m talking to her, I miss my exit! I realize my error, and take the next exit instead. But I’m quite sure it added at last fifteen minutes to my travel time, as I got stuck behind a truck loaded with hay (yes, even in LA). So I’m late, and stressing.
I arrive, and my makeup artist Eva Woodby is already working on Lynae. Now that’s professionalism! And Eva’s fast too…does a bang up job, and doesn’t futz around. I like that. Our wardrobe stylist Jackie Juniper shows up a bit later, and we sort out the wardrobe issues. This was the first time I’d worked with Jackie, but she really got some nice looks going, using her stash of clothes as well as the models’ “closets” (You know you’re a professional model if you have more clothes in the trunk of your car than you do in your closet at home).
But where’s the second model?
It’s 40 minutes past the start time, and no second model. So I call the agency and politely ask “WTF?!” I’m told they’ll find out right away and call me back. I tell the agency that we’re about to head up the hill, and to have the model wait in the parking lot if we’re not there. So we head up the hill.
What hill? you ask. Is it a clue to the location? Well maybe…but for the lead shot, it’s definitely up a hill. In fact, I had half the crew (Eva, Jackie, Lynae and her mom) moaning about the hiking trail I was dragging them up. And for good reason, as it was a tough trail! You can see a snapshot from the hike down afterward on a previous post here. But it was worth it, because I’d been on this trail many years ago, and knew there was a wonderful naturally-formed arbor of tree branches over the trail at one point. My wife used to take me hiking here before we got married. I made a point of scouting the location again a week before the shoot, since I hadn’t been there in a few years. But it was still there! You can see this in the lead shot.
Speaking of the lead shot, why the heck is it so blue? This is a rare moment where I actually planned a shot beforehand and had it turn out nearly like I’d intended. When I scouted the location, I took some snapshots on my iPhone (at least the iPhone is good for something). The images had a mild blue cast to them, probably due to the auto white balance being off. But it gave me an idea: what if I shot in ‘tungten’ mode in daylight, to give everything a deep blue cast? But then geled the strobe with a CTO orange gel (full CTO plus 1/4 CTO, if you must know) to bring the subject’s color back to normal. So that’s what I did. The blue in this shot is pretty much straight out of camera, except the foreground which showed a bit too brown and natural, so I touched it up a bit.
Alas, another problem cropped up during the shoot. I brought some lighting up the hill, which consisted of my trusty Norman 200B, a shoot through umbrella, and an SB-28 for fill. I brought the appropriate gels for both. And then as a back up, I brought two more SB-28s and a bracket to mount them together, in case the Norman failed me.
And it failed me! I couldn’t get it to fire! I later solved the problem, but I wasn unable to get it to work at the time. And to make matters worse, I’d accidently grabbed a wrong cable as part of my backup plan. So I ended up not having any fill light at all, and just used two SB-28s ganged together in the shoot-through umbrella as the main light, and dialed in the ambient as fill. I taped the gels over the front of the two SB-28s and it all worked ok. But after waiting around and then the hike and “almost there!” repeated over and over, I was really sweating it when the strobe malfunctioned. I kept thinking “all these people I’ve dragged half way up a mountain, and now they think I’m a complete dork!” Thankfully, I got it working. It pays to have a backup plan when you know you won’t be near the rest of your gear. It also pays to bring the right cables in the first place, but whatever.
Meanwhile the agency called. The other model was AWOL. Thus disproving my theory that agency-signed models don’t flake (I’ve had some problems with unsigned models flaking recently). One benefit to using an agency though: the agent said “the model has flaked, but we’ve already located a replacement, and she’s on her way and will be about 40 minutes.” I would have been quite happy to just work with Lynae instead, rather than wait on another, completely unknown model to show up. But she was already on her way, so what could I do?
Turns out iModels had sent over Irina, who was part of their “women’s division” instead of the “new faces division” (read: experienced and working, instead of just got off the boat). I don’t know what sort of favors they had to pull to get Irina to show up, but I’m glad they did. She ended up being a very pleasant surprise.
Irina (left, above) is Russian, and there was a slight language barrier…but mostly because during shoots I tend to start sentences and then not finish them. No doubt this is very confusing if English isn’t your native tongue! I think the pairing was really good for a number of reasons. First Irina looks like she could be a sister to Lynae. The original model was very smokey and dark looking, and was a dubious fit at best for the shoot concept. Irina brought some pretty good wardrobe on such short notice too. That hat is hers! And she also had the experience that meant I didn’t need to micromanage her posing. Lynae had only been modeling for three weeks, and so understandably needed more guidance (“Ok, bring your left foot forward. Now lean to the left. No your other left!”). But by the end of the shoot, Lynae was modifying her poses between each shutter click too. Seems like there ought to be a Model Mentoring program for this.
And don’t get me wrong, Lynae was no slouch either! I think she’d be the first to admit she’s just getting the hang of it. But she brought massive amounts of enthusiasm to the shoot, and was extremely easy to work with. Not to mention she’s got a wonderful look too. So I think she’s going to go far, and I’m pleased to have been there at the beginning.
Below: What can I say? I think abs are something best left revealed. My wardrobe specifications often indicate this. I’m sure it’s just a random thing…
Oh that pesky Eva and her insistence that I take closeups for her makeup portfolio. So here’s a closeup of Irina.
But let’s give Eva credit: she slipped and fell into the creek that was nearby, soaking her shoes and her pant cuffs. Did she complain? Well…yes ok she complained. And rightly so. Did she moan and cry and go home? No! She made jokes and was very professional and carried on. Oh and Eva does hair too…I had specified that the models do their own hair, but Eva put some wonderful braids in to surprise me.
The next blog post will show the conclusion of the shoot, where you get to see first hand how my pre-conceived notions are usually not the best. You also find out which piece of equipment ended up in the creek, and what happens when the shoot is over but no one wants to face LA rush hour traffic…
edit: part two is here.