I get asked often whether or not my models are professionals or if I like to work with amateurs versus experienced models. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to both, but if I would have to pick one, I am usually more excited to work with someone with little to no experience in modeling given that she has visible potential. Before I list my reasons why I would choose either one, it would be best to explain my type of work. I prefer my style of photography to be intimate and feel more personal, almost a boyfriend perspective rather than a studio session. I want the audience to feel as if they are actually there playing with a real woman. I want the chemistry and interaction to be palpable. I don’t want the model to feel distant as if she were above and beyond the reach of the audience. Simply put, I want the girl-next-door feel.
When working with an experienced model, it depends what field of modeling she fits into. My least favorite type are fashion models, they have memorized ten fashion poses that are usually unnatural, sometimes uncomfortable looking, or simply just trying too hard to look different. A fashion model’s job is to make clothing look good, not their own body. Granted, if a model has the ideal height, face, and body structure, she can make any pose look good, however it still won’t convey a sense of intimacy in the photos that I am looking for. No matter how hard I try to direct an experienced fashion model to be more natural and playful, the poses are so ingrained into their muscle memory that they fall back into them and I just shake my head! On the other hand, if the experienced model usually does glamour or any other sexy genres, then I’ll shut my mouth and let her take control of the session and I become a trigger-happy-puppy. She will know how to flirt with the camera, how to tease with her outfit, and enjoy being suggestive with her poses. An experienced model in the same genre as the photographer’s interest make the session go by incredibly fast and efficient with guaranteed results.
When working with beginners, it’s always a gamble whether or not this model will truly have potential in front of the camera. The true test is when the shutter starts clicking and the model is required to start moving fluidly and interacting with the photographer. All beginners need some warm up time, some women require only thirty minutes while some might need additional future sessions. My evaluation for every model on her potential varies greatly on what I think of their looks, attitude, and personality. I might give some women more chances than others. It does seem like a lot of investment is required in terms of time and energy to work with a new model, time spent coaching and directing her. Notice I used the term investment. Being a model’s first photographer leaves a huge impression on her and usually gives me priority for future work if I make her feel beautiful, sexy, and comfortable. This is true throughout the photography world. I’ve ran into models that will not shoot intimate portraits with anyone else other than their “personal photographer”, just as I have models that are exclusively mine. An experienced model might work with me only if I can trade her final edits or if payment is involved. A beginner who is looking to build her portfolio will be my muse for the time being and I can pursue my creative path without the pressure of delivering a final product. We are all possessive in some ways. To summarize, the best things about a new model is the exclusivity of their time and image, and being able to mold them to how I work as a photographer.
I believe both experienced models and inexperienced models both have something to put on the table, and both are a gamble sometimes, so I don’t restrict myself to one group. I really just want to find the next model that I can share amazing chemistry with and really blow the audience away with spectacularly intimate photos that other photographers haven’t captured of them. I’ve had plenty of bad experiences, but each one is a learning process to better filter out future potentials, and the amount of amazing women I’ve created incredible work with far surpasses the forgettable ones.
Cassie is a true testimony to my philosophy. Treat the women you work with respectfully and generously, and you will build a special relationship that will be rewarding in your career and personal life. I was Cassie’s first photographer many years ago, and even though she doesn’t look a day older or an ounce less stunning, she was a timid and shy model during the first session. She eventually jumped into the glamour modeling world and has built a great amount of experience with many photographers while sharing an occasional shoot with me during that time. Since then, she has been concentrating more on her career and less focused on modeling. I am the one she’ll call up whenever she’s in the mood, and I can proudly say I will always be her photographer and she will always enjoy the freedom of being in a state of undress and feeling beautiful in front of my lens. Every second I’ve invested in her from the first day to the end of the last session hasn’t made her more of a professional or less of an amateur, it has made us into the ideal artist and muse pair.
Here are some leaked images of what happens at a Vegas bachelorette party! Maybe that’s not what really happens when there are a bunch of girls in a hotel room, except when you add me into the mix, I will make it happen. So don’t let your next Vegas memories be a bunch of boring sorority-sister-hands-on-hip poses with a drink. Let’s do something you’d get in trouble if your boss finds out.
The direction of Internet modeling photography is a hipster, vintage, Polaroid, spontaneous flash-caught-in-the-moment mood that conveys a unique style of sexy. With the introduction of quick and crushed image filters on mobile devices, the labor intensive skills of airbrushing and lighting correction are only preserved by print media which your parents once had to physically flip pages. Nowadays, just find a skinny white girl, put her in a bodysuit, sneakers, fake glasses, messy hair, and harsh lighting conditions, and you’ve got yourself the recipe for an Instagram or Tumblr hit.
Photographers usually start out trying to produce work that follows the rules and conforms to the societal definition of beautiful and aesthetically pleasing imagery. After the photographer learns the basics, they can pursue a personal style of their own. My portrait style photography quickly evolved to evoke a personal experience of emotion. Nothing is perfect, everything in the moment, all sentimental. Real life isn’t perfect, so I wanted the images to feel as if it could happen right in front of your eyes. I wanted the image to be a moment I experienced, happening as I took the photo, not a static pose, always in motion. The lighting is never perfect too, not following the correct ratio of key light versus rim light, but a mess of over and under exposed lights that set a mood. I’ve always described myself as a sentimental photographer. Beyond the objective physical attractiveness of a subject, the sentimental value can greatly add beauty in the eye of the photographer. This is her hair, her lips, her eyes, her legs, and her breasts, so I cherish it and I will photograph it as beautiful works of art. I believe when an artist sees beauty in his or her subject, the art will tell the story.
All these factors considered, I want the audience to feel what I felt, engage with the subject, pretend that the viewer is the one in the photo. One of my most used phrases during a photo shoot is “more hair!” and any model can attest to that. Most women on a daily basis wear their hair back, or tucked behind the ears for a formal and clean look while in school or work, since it’s inappropriate to leave the house with your morning bed hair. I don’t want photos of a well prepared model posing for a headshot. I want to capture that moment after she’s all flush from a wild night or morning, with no regard to her hair or manners. I want to capture her look of absolute comfort being herself in front of a significant other. I want to capture her guard down and her world opened to my camera. That is when I fall in love. That is when I capture my beauty. This is the reason why I have always loved telling women to throw their hair in their face, nobody is watching her, take the first step into being free from formality.
Now I see the rest of the world catching up.
I had a GoPro running in the background, so here is a rare look at my behind the scene process from photo shoot to post production. The editing is not on the same day. This is not an in-depth tutorial, rather just a glimpse of my workflow. I scan through thumbnails to see what catches my eyes, drop them into Photoshop, edit to perfection, and repeat. You can see I rarely go into the menu, it’s all about the shortcuts! That’s all there is to it, do I make it look easy? Photos coming soon!
I offer two print sizes in one package, 8×12 and 4×6. You can do the math, it’s the same ratio of 2:3. That means when you get the prints in either size, nothing is cropped and nothing is missing. You are getting everything you see. If you decide to get 8×10 photo, you have to crop 2 inches off, that’s 16.66% of the image you are losing, and it becomes a 4:5 ratio.
I will apologize in advance for all photographers who do not mentally think about a 4:5 ratio in their viewfinder while busy shooting a hectic wedding day. In the worst case scenario where you happen to buy an expensive custom frame that is in the incorrect ratio, I can always do some Photoshop magic and shrink the photo to fit a 4:5 ratio and reconstruct the missing edges with the clone tool. That is if you don’t start the message with an angry and demanding tone of voice telling me I owe you a completely new set of photos.
Before the days where everyone could afford a professional DSLR and have access to cookie cutter portfolio websites, finding a wedding photographer was a local search, usually through word of mouth. It’s easy to see how saturated the internet is with aspiring wedding photographers, anyone with spare change can start up their own business and practice at friends’ weddings. The competition is fierce, the selection is overwhelming. We are in the age of smart digital shopping, the days of Fat Wallet turned to Groupons, getting the best value for your money, seeking discounts while expecting highest quality. This is good practice for mass produced products where it drives costs of products down due to demand, however, this is killing the art of photography, specifically wedding photography.
Back in the days when digital was only slowly taking over film, and internet portfolios were rare, wedding clients did not complain about not getting their money’s worth. Considering you get married once with one set of photos, how could you really know if someone could have done a better job, or even shot it differently? You accepted what you got. This is not to say you should accept low quality work even if you have nothing to compare it with, but also not to expect the entire wall found on your Pinterest to be in your album.
There was Google, and now there are massive wedding forums and Pinterest that showcase the world’s most beautiful wedding photos all in one convenient collection. As brides continue their research and soak in all these images contributed from thousands of photographers, they get more excited at the fantasy of what their wedding can and will look like if they just hire that “perfect” wedding photographer for the lowest possible cost. Brides will even go as far as sending a photographer images shot by someone else they would like said photographer to emulate. Offensive? Probably just a little.
In the bride’s defense, most of my clients are not like this. They have followed my work for years or have a personal connection with me just by looking at my work. They have not been saturated with fantasies. They accept reality and respect an artist’s personal vision. I am talking about the brides that try to be a smart shopper and think too logically. They want the photographers to be robots and artists at the same time. They want high quality portraits, artistic vision, unlimited group photos, a documentation of every face, and a customer-is-always-right mentality. You should see the typical photo-list that clients used to show me, it’s a joke how long it is. I personally don’t believe you can have it all.
If you want an artistic vision, an artist needs space and room to breathe, relaxed, and not feel the pressure to also include cookie cutter portraits. If you want full documentation of every guest, then hire a studio with 5 photographers and you’ll get 250 great passport photos. Do not expect a photographer to have the ability to switch on and off the artistic side to match your hectic wedding schedule. Your entire day will set the tone for a specific mood, and a photographer will inherently feed off of that mood. These brides do not treat photographers as artists, they have no feelings for people they paid to serve them on the most important day of the entire world. They are never “satisfied customers.” There is always something to complain about, and when they do, it’s a poopstorm. As a smart consumer, there is no excuse for a photographer who tried his or her best. Disregard the fact that this person was willing to spend 10 hours documenting your silly little day, and that he or she took some amazing photos, but maybe had difficulty with certain situations. Mind you, weddings are not an assembly line of the same product, it is a day of unlimited combinations of lighting, environmental, and personal factors that change how a photographer works. For a bride to nitpick what she sees as faults in her wedding photos and have the audacity to say her memories of the entire day is forever lost or ruined because one or two photos cannot be cropped to her liking, really says something about her character and how she treats her friends and others.
Finally to my point, brides, be realistic about the unique circumstances every wedding photographer has to approach on a weekly basis, and are trying their best to produce something they would be proud of. You cannot expect a 100% success rate on all of the images, and you have to accept each artist for their strengths and weaknesses. This is the human element. If you research a photographer, really get to know his or her work instead of congesting your mind with the “best images” from the internet. Art requires you to have an emotional attachment or a personal connection with the artist, not a checklist of requirements. In the end, you are only doing yourself a disservice to yourself if you love to find the faults in everything. If you appreciate the positive things in life, then you will cherish the moments captured by even the simple photographs.
Here is my long over due review of a wireless flash trigger system I have been using for the past year. I was lucky to get in touch with Jesse from Aputure (yes, Chinese brand), and I was given samples of the Aputure Trigmaster Plus 2.4G transceivers for my Canon system to review. They work exactly like my previous Pocketwizard Plus II system, each device can perform either as a transmitter or receiver. The purpose of a wireless trigger system is to use off-camera flash for either a more flattering, natural, or even dramatic lighting – basically anything but on-board camera flash! The system allows for 1 or more flash, in my case I use up to 3 flashes.
South Africa is definitely a beautiful country with all seasons to experience, from hot summers to cold winters. I was able to feel it all in one trip, the hot sun beating down on us in the village, to the cold winter frost on top of the mountains in Drakensberg. The most unforgettable sight was the stars and Milky Way galaxy at night. The night sky was so bright it felt unreal.
One of the must-do’s in South Africa is to see the wild life. Our first stop was the town of Saint Lucia to see crocodiles and hippos. Surprisingly hippos are probably the most dangerous animals in the area, but I assume it’s due to the fact that these large beasts are allowed to roam the city streets day and night. Nothing was cuter than seeing the baby hippo take a nap next to mom and stretch his little paws. If you come to South Africa, you can expect to eat very well, just look at the photos! After lunch we visited a beach that meets the Indian Ocean where the sand is littered with titanium deposits.
Our next stop was the cheetah farm where we saw wild cats and cheetahs feed and pet them after they weren’t so hungry. Don’t be fooled by the cute cats on the fence, they look and sound ferocious in person. The only actually cute cats were the cheetahs. A few simple rules, never approach from behind, and don’t play with their paws. They were so fun to pet and rub, I wanted to hug it like Hobbes.
Our last day out was to the safari in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. We started off early in the morning, and drove around for 8 hours trying to spot animals. The most abundant were the impalas and zebras, and it was always a joy to see some giraffes. The lions were quite a distance away and they usually just lay in the sun, so not much action there. We were all hoping to see some elephants all day long, but it wasn’t until the final hour on our way back did a male elephant stopped us on our path. Our driver informed us it was angry and it started walking toward us as the driver slowly backed up the truck so we could maintain a very uncomfortable yet close up viewing distance. Seeing a giant up close and personal with unknown angry intentions really puts the fear in you. Imagine wanting to let your mouth release your fear but knowing you have to be silent so you don’t agitate the elephant even more. We were all done with seeing elephants ever again after this experience! When we finally got passed the elephant, our last spotting gave us a chuckle – the ever so tame and harmless donkey!
Fore more info on the safari trips, check out Heritage Tours & Safaris
All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4
One of my favorite experiences in Swayimane was brick building for a new rondavel. The bricks are made from the dirt and water straight from the land. We dug up the dirt into a pile, then added water as we used gumboots to stomp and mix the mud. It was a great workout for our legs. The next step was to fill a brick mold with the mud, tap out the air pockets, smooth the top, then score. Liz and I decided to make a design on top of each brick. It was one of the few chances we were really able to get down and dirty, but also experience the labor that the local women do all on their own.
Photos taken by Scott Kwak
During the weekend when we had time off from the village, we took a trip up to the Ukahlamba Drakensberg mountains to stay overnight. While biking along the trail, I found a beautiful lake with a mountain view, so I made my group wake up early the next morning at 6AM to catch the sunrise. It was freezing weather in the morning, the windshield was completely frosted over, and we brought extra blankets to stay warm. It was worth the effort, as the sunrise was awe inspiring. I was so excited by the landscape, I was literally running around the field getting all different angles as the sunrise time was limited.
All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4
The heart of the trip was to visit the village of Swayimani in the province of KwaZulu Natal and teach the Zulu women trade skills to establish better living conditions and sustain their own economy. We came as the Zimele team. Each team member would teach finance, another fashion, baking, medical, daycare, and I taught photography and computers. The skills they learn would help improve their quality of life, and even help them grow or start their own business. Zimele does not give hand outs, instead, they encourage each adult to find a way to generate and save money as a community.
I was assigned to teach two classes a day for three days. Each class had just over a dozen women, eager to learn. While their native language was Zulu, some spoke broken English and we had a translator in each class. The women were donated a handful of new digital compact cameras, yet they’ve never held one before. It was amusing to watch them fiddle with the devices, and humbling to watch their eyes light up when they were able to take their own photos for the very first time. One of the youngest students had the greatest potential, as she immediately grasped the concept of composition and light/shadow. Once I assigned homework for them, the women spent the rest of the day taking photos of everything. This was by far the most rewarding lesson I have ever given anybody.
We brought as many extra luggage per person possible with donated items such as medical supplies, sewing tools, bake ware, calculators and toothpaste. We would ride in the back of a “bucky” every day back and forth from our B&B to the village. It was quite uncomfortable flying through the rough dirt terrain, and even worse after a full day of sweat and dirt, however we made the best of it. Being dirty and uncomfortable in a group made the experience a lot more tolerable, sometimes funny, and always a bonding moment. The number one thing that kept the group intact was our sense of humor.
The kids were one of the greatest joys of being with the Zulu people. While we didn’t know their language well enough to communicate verbally, it was not necessary for us to bond. The act of being there, playing soccer with them, taking photos of them, was more precious than words. They lit up when they saw us, as did we.
There were two nights we stayed at the village in their rondavels to experience a small taste of their living conditions. It was close to comparable to camping, no electricity, no plumbing. We just roughed it out for 2 days and 2 nights with sleeping bags and air mattresses. Being guests at their village, the hostess Thanda would prepare amazing meals for us with a full table setup. We were very honored how much effort they put in to make us feel comfortable.
While the community lives in poverty, none of them acted like it. They were always cheerful and were always grateful of what they had. Their lands were beautiful, the people even more so. We felt so welcomed, as time passed we were feeling like this was our second home.
All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4
Our flight took us from New York to Zurich, then to Johannesburg and finally landed in Durban. We would then take another hour drive to Pietermaritzburg, our bed and breakfast lodging. Miranda owns the B&B with her husband Max, and their dog Tessy. Tessy would wake up late at night and bark at all the porcupines eating their garden. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any porcupines ourselves. You can see Scott, our trip leader for Zimele, sitting in the back of the “bucky”, which is how the rest of the team would be traveling for the remainder of the 2 weeks. Xolani was one of our main drivers, he is the funniest man in South Africa, incredibly dedicated, and drives like a madman, like me.
Every morning Miranda would cook us a delicious breakfast, and the nights we spent there, an amazing dinner. We were absolutely spoiled by her meals and desserts. The dish which I will forever be fond of the name, bunnychow, is chicken curry in a loaf of bread. We can see the distant rolling hills from the back yard, and chicken and ducks would wake us up early every morning.
I have to admit my impressions of Africa was dirt and brown, however I was completely wrong when I witnessed all the lush green hills and trees that surrounded me. It was a beautiful land, but unfortunately segregated between the rich whites versus the natives.
All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4