I don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I say that working with live models is what “separates the men from the boys” where it comes to marketing and promotional design. Sure, one could find an image online to use but in my experience, I’ve never really found quite what I was looking for. I’ve always preferred to use my own models so that I can direct them to get exactly what I need for a particular project. I’ve worked with women, men and kids. I have stuck to a credo that has proven invaluable over the years: Use amateur models in front of the camera and pros behind it. And, too, to listen to their advice. It’s not unusual that the photographer, the hairdresser or even the makeup artist might have an idea that ends up being brilliant. So here are a few examples of images that I’ve had shot over the past several years for all sorts of clients and a few notes (and odd stories) to go with them.
This shoot was for one of the biggest clients I’ve ever done work for to promote their home sharpening stone products. They had a well-established name in the industrial and commercial markets but were trying to break into the home gourmet kitchen market and hired me to develop and produce everything from packaging, in-store displays, sales sheets and advertising to their massive trade show booth (which is shown elsewhere on this website).
For the design of the trade booth back, which was twenty feet wide and ten feet tall, I wanted to brace it on either end with a top-to-bottom image of a “happy homemaker” using their products. I hired two models, one blonde and one brunette, used an upscale home kitchen as a set, and got some white and some dark colored aprons. The wardrobe included white shirts and blue shirts (the company’s logo color was blue). Both models wore glasses which we swapped in and out throughout the session. When they’d pose with a white machine, they’d wear the dark apron with a white shirt and with the black machine, the white apron and the blue shirt.
I hired one of the best professional photographers in the area, George Mitchell of Littleton, NH, who is not only a great photographer, but a very creative guy and had some of his own ideas for poses and layouts. The brunette model was an employee of mine who worked as a designer and also had some very creative ideas. As usual, I came with my shot-list as there were certain images and poses I knew I needed and then we shot any on-the-spot ideas as well. I always get “extra” poses at a shoot to use for future projects, promotions, etc.
Sometimes models have their own sets. The client wanted to promote a more industrial sharpening machine that would be overkill for a home kitchen, but really ideal for an institutional kitchen. One of my other clients was a gourmet bistro in town and I had developed a good relationship with its owner/chef. We had talked about hiring a model and purchasing the chef’s garb and then find a restaurant that might let us use their kitchen as a setting. We considered a local pizza joint but I thought I’d call David. Not only was he happy to let us shoot there but also volunteered as a model – if he could keep the snazzy sharpening rig when we were done. No problem! This photo appeared in a number of national cooking magazines including Gourmet.
Directing a model to pose with something that isn’t actually there can be a little challenging. I’d used this model before and when we did the shoot for the trade show display panels, I had her take this pose so that I could use it to place any product in (or hovering just above) her hand. She had always shown great flexibility and imagination and we got this shot in just a few minutes. Sometimes even amateur models turn out to be real naturals and are great to work with.
I first used this model for one of the most challenging projects I’d ever done in a studio. She answered an ad that I’d placed looking for a photo model.
I used George as my photographer again and we set up in his studio. My crew consisted of Michelle, who worked for me, George and one other helper. The first step was over an hour of preparation in painting the model. For much of it, she laid on her back on a table and then for the rest of it, stood like Frankenstein’s monster with her feet spread out and her arms stretched out in front of her. The paint was easy to work with, dried quickly, but needed constant touch-ups.
The primary image was the frame-holding picture for the front of a brochure and a rack card. The model stood as I directed her to pose and held a gigantic cardboard frame. When we got her just where we wanted her, I removed the cardboard and George shot a bunch of images. Later on, a close-up photo of a much smaller frame was combined with the model photo in PhotoShop along with the background images – in color inside the frame, black and white outside. At the same time, we shot numerous other poses, some that I needed for other related promotional projects, the art gallery’s website and for advertising.
George had an ornate old chair in the studio and suggested some shots with that. If she looks uncomfortable in the chair, she was. She told us later that there was something sharp in the cushion that kept stabbing her. Some of the outtakes with the chair are hysterical.
He also had a roll-away platform that he used for some of his yearbook photo sessions so we had our model cross her arms across it while George did some unique portrait shots in various poses. The image with the Russian fuzzy hat and the Mona Lisa smirk ended up being used for all sorts of things and most often appeared atop the gallery’s logo.
Amateur models are by nature at least a little self-conscious. No matter how secure one might appear to be about their looks or their physique, when they get in front of a camera, they can become unsure of themselves (at least a little bit). So it’s important for everyone around them to be professional, reassuring, complimentary (without being creepy) and totally transparent and friendly.
I asked the model to bring a friend with her to help her feel comfortable. Paint brushes can be ticklish and cause the model to squirm and giggle when painting sensitive areas. Constant retouching of the paint had its moments which we made light of to keep the atmosphere easy. We reviewed the images from time to time on a laptop. As with any shoot, small adjustments need to be made like brushing away hair or taking a hand or a chin and gently pushing it into place as the camera needs to see it. Always that needs to be done with great a professional touch and, too, try not to smudge the paint!
Finding amateur models “on the street” is really not all that difficult, most are flattered when I ask them to pose for me. The key is to be complimentary and to be sure to have business cards in your wallet to prove that you’re legitimate when you approach someone. There are plenty of predators out there who can sometimes make our jobs as designers and legitimate photographers a bit difficult. For example, one day when my wife and I were at a car dealership waiting for our salesman to return to his cubicle with the next batch of papers to sign, I glanced over and saw a red-headed young woman in a black leather jacket, the salesperson in the next cubicle. It was a slow day and she didn’t have a customer with her so (to my wife’s unending embarrassment) I walked over, introduced myself and asked if she’d like to pose for a book cover. I don’t think she thought I was serious but when I reached into my wallet and realized I didn’t have any more business cards with me, I had to just hope she didn’t think I was a creep. I took one of her business cards and e-mailed her a link to my website and when I told her she’d be posing with guns, her eyes lit up and, as they say, the rest is history.
I needed the shot of her with the pistol near her face looking back over her shoulder for the cover of the book. It would be heavily manipulated in PhotoShop. The other images I wanted for inside the book and for promotional images on the website, social media, posters, bookmarks and all sorts of other things.
The image that would be on the end page of the book needed to show her with the sword, sitting in the ancient seat of royal power and holding one of Elijah Browne’s journals (which are the subject of a previous book). The chair lives on the platform at the front of a local church. No way I could borrow it, though I could easily get a photo of it. In the photographer’s studio was a low stool that was roughly the height of the chair’s seat. We did the photos on the stool and then I brought my lights and tripod to the church on a Saturday afternoon and shot pictures of the chair from a few angles. I silhouetted both images and put them together and put the queen on her throne. The image is on the last page of the novel “Ascention.”
When I did the photo shoot for the book “Lilith,” I had a kind of unique project scenario. First of all, my amateur model wasn’t entirely amateur. She was herself a photographer breaking into the pro market and wanted some experience on the other side of the lens. She looked good for the images I was looking for so I agreed and told my new photographer, my son Shawn, that he should share any tips with her that he felt comfortable with and thought might be helpful. He warned me that he wasn’t much of a teacher (but I think the experience was great for both of them). This would be Shawn’s first professional shoot for me.
I had scoped out the locations for the pics and sent sketches and snapshots that I’d taken of the places to the photographer and the model. I also arranged for Veronica who had done hair for me on other projects and a new makeup artist, Leanna, to be part of the team. We all met on a hot summer afternoon on top of a parking garage for the first location shots. The model brought a fair amount of wardrobe with her and we experimented with a few ideas. Shawn and the model hit it off immediately and the results speak for themselves.
One of the most important things that a professional photographer needs to be able to do (aside from taking breathtaking photos) is to disarm and quickly develop a rapport with a model. George, who shot the painted model above along with numerous other projects for me, is an old pro. He’s a real teddy bear and people just warm up to him naturally. Shawn is a young, opinionated go-getter but in his own way, also has that same ability. On the rooftop during each pose, he would call out to the model “give me sad,” “give me angry,” “give me pensive,” “give me confused!” It was by far one of the most fun photo sessions I’d every done (while we all melted in the sun).
As I’d mentioned before, I love to give my photographers and other crew members complete freedom to recommend and try out various ideas. When we were at out last location, Shawn said he wanted to take the model to an old church a few doors down and try a few shots so two photographers – one on either side of the camera – disappeared for a while and came back with a bunch of really creative images including the two on the left (causing me to completely re-think the cover design idea).
When I had scouted the locations for this photo session, I went down to Federal Street and envisioned a shot along a long, blank brick wall with some run-down buildings in the background. When we got there on that hot summer day – months later – the city had torn up the sidewalks and the block was criss-crossed with yellow “caution” tape and orange cones. I was just going to skip that shot (we had three more locations to get to) but Shawn said “let me try something”. So he sat down in a doorway and got the model to walk along on the shifting, uneven gravel in her high-heels. The angles he got picked up a lot of the desolation that the construction created behind her. This will be the back cover image for the book. Better than what I had envisioned. Just proves that one should hire professionals and then listen to them.
Our model loved working with Shawn. I think if he had asked her to stand on her head, she would have (her husband is a fitness trainer so I’m sure she could have). Nearing the end of our sessions, we were waiting for the makeup artist to come up the steps and do a quick touch-up when the model just looked over at Shawn and smiled a broad smile – quick on the shutter, he grabbed this image. I know he’s my kid and I love him to death but I wouldn’t use him for projects like this if he couldn’t deliver the goods. As a professional, I can recommend him for just about any sort of photo work. He’s the best I’ve ever worked with.
We all celebrated after that at an Italian restaurant across the street. Air conditioned, of course.
The one thing that makes any designer lie awake at night is when a client insists that you use images of their actual employees. Inevitably there will be those as easy to work with as any amateur model that you might hire, others will be eager to please but just not very good at it and there will always be a few that are just plain impossible. I did a series of newspaper ads for a bank chain whose marketing director wanted to use images of the bank’s tellers, loan officers and others in the ads. I made arrangements with George to have them shot in his studio. There had to be a couple of dozen of them. I set him up with the first batch and hung around and directed the shoot. After that, as small groups of them were able to get in from their various branches around the state, I just set up appointments with him and let him do his thing without me. The coward’s way out, I know (not proud of that, I’ll admit), but it got the job done and I knew that my client’s people were in good hands.
But the marketing consultant that was reworking all of the advertising and promotional imaging for a large country department store contracted me to do all of the production work. First step was to take a field trip and photograph every employee in their natural habitat – the departments where they worked throughout the sprawling campus. The jeans people in the jeans department, the kayak guy with the kayaks and the furniture warehouse guy in the warehouse. Yeah, that’s him. For the brochure’s cover, I needed a couple of smiling faces wearing some of the products that they actually sold there. I picked out these two from among the employees there and shot them outside in the sunlight. That’s right, I did my own photography – I’m actually pretty good at it, but I’m more comfortable doing product photos and scenics.
I shot them separately in the sunlight outdoors and then put the two images together in PhotoShop. I took a photo of the side of a weathered old barn down the road and laid the image of the two young models against a background of gray barnboards for the cover. Dozens of other photos then scattered throughout the rest of the brochure inside. All in all, it went quite well. The marketing consultant who had hired me came along and the owners had prepped all of their people that it was “photo day” so everyone was prepared and very cooperative. I slept okay that night.
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