Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Frankie & Johnnie – My Team!

Well, actually its Franceska and Jenna, but you get the idea of team... you know the old song??

Today I want to talk about my team – Franceska Lavaggi and Jenna Zedel. I find a lot of people out there have little idea of what it takes to put together a more comprehensive photo shoot. Yeah they may realize that it involves hair and makeup but do they know that it may also involve scouting locations, wardrobe meetings with the client, consultation on makeup and hairstyles with the client and / or models, set preparation, sourcing of accessories, prepping of clothes, ALL before a single photo is even taken?

Once a photographer wants to get into the types of photos that get published in magazines – the beauty and glamour fashion shots that you see every day, the game starts to involve more than just the photographer and his camera. Finding and choosing a team of people to work with on set is no easy matter, and almost the subject for another blog. But I’ve been fortunate to find two very talented individuals that I’d like you to know about and who have become a team that I am proud to be a part of.

I met Franceska through NUMA Models when the boys and I were out scouting for potential models on Granville Street one evening. She was immediately on my radar because of her bright personality. She is one of those beautiful women that you can immediately tell is also brainy – you can see the wheels turning!! She is quick and positive and up-beat and thinking ahead all the time. At that moment, I was not sure where Franceska would play in my work as a photographer. I thought and still do that she can be a great scout for potential models. She sizes up people very quickly and she knows modeling and fashion. But it turned out that she has a real passion for styling and she is on my team now because of her marvellous ability to put all the things together that make a “look”!

When people come to me for a portfolio shoot - whether they are being considered for agency work or not, they often don’t have the wardrobe that it takes to make a great look. Yes, even models can make bad choices in clothes! Franceska’s role in my team is to look at what the model has, bring together pieces that she has available, pull clothes from designers for a shoot, accessorize with great jewelry, belts, bracelets, shoes, hats, scarves, etc. and do it all in 10 minutes so I can shoot!! No mean feat. In one situation, one model that arrived for an agency shoot with no less than 2 large suitcases, a duffel bag and two shopping bags and literally had NOTHING in there that we could use that was right for her to look the part of an international calibre model! Another model came to us with NO dress that was usable and so Frankie made one!! She took a little black number that she herself sizzles in and turned it into an elegant evening gown using some fabric that was in the studio. The result was the photo at left – it made the model look elegant and like she was ready for Cinderella’s ball. Magic!

And Franceska has proven her worth on many occasions already – working with agency models and putting together looks for Nessa V’s shoots. Already I see such growth in Franceska – she is always thinking of the concept, the look and what we could do better. She is right beside me on set, looking at what I see, and making suggestions or stepping in to fix things without being intrusive. She has sensitivity about how the model looks on camera and makes suggestions to them about pose that maximize their potential. And she does it all with such personality and charisma, those models and clients immediately fall in love with her!

Franceska also has her own blog - and what an appropriate title – “Frank Fierce” – where she talks about styling choices – color palettes, the latest trends and how to make them work for you. Read it – you will learn:

Now Jenna came to me as part of a test. It is quite a normal thing for photographers to invite Make Up Artists to do a trial run with a model, so the photographer can see how good their skills are and to create some beauty shots for both themselves and the model. I’ve been a bit frustrated with this process, because it can be difficult to get the model and MUA together at the same time – really a good thing!! But Jenna was one of the tests I got done last year and from the get-go I could see how good she was. She’s professional, precise and buttoned down!! Now know this – I know NOTHING about make up – I know what I like to see, but I have NO CLUE as far as how they do it. And I must say that I see Vancouver being full of Make Up Artists who come out of the schools here in droves. But Jenna was one who stood out immediately. Her work is really flawless, and shows such potential to go further than the local market.

Jenna started out dong a test with me with one of my fav people – Melissa Whitney, and I’d like to share the diversity that she showed me in that test shoot: The goal is to provide me with two different looks – a clean natural “spa” look and a more dramatic editorial look where we can “play” and have a bit of fun. Jenna excelled at both and I immediately knew I had found one of the best and wanted to work with her on a regular basis.
Then Jenna worked with me on the big Nessa V shoot – (more news to come on that soon), where she created several really great looks for the already beautiful Nessa. This photo one of my favourites:
Now any photographer who does beauty retouch work knows what it is like to get down to the pore level with an image – you see EVERY flaw in the models’ skin. 
 There are some flaws that are there that you can’t do much about with make up – you are going to have to retouch them. But when you get a great Make Up Artist like Jenna- you don’t have to fight with the precision of lines, the subtlety of shading, or the balance of colors with the models natural skin.

You can see more of Jenna’s work at her own website: I love working with this woman and I really want to see her career grow and blossom.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Are Models Normal People?

OKAY ... so last week I bared my soul for the first time and you all (the 2 people that read my blog) learned how I came to be a photographer. You also learned that my photography has a number of quite different areas of focus. I started out doing landscapes - taking pretty pictures of sunsets - but I quickly branched into other areas such as sports and fitness photography, and in 2006 I took my first real step into the deep dark hole known as Fashion Photography. While in Montreal, I took the big leap of working in a proper photography studio with professional lighting equipment, a stylist and a model under the watchful eye of a wonderful fashion photographer – Karl Duarte: 

My subject was a very charismatic young man by the name of Randy Raymond and we had a great time working together. Karl taught me a lot about how to use strobe flashes, how to make ginger ale look like real champagne. I didn’t break any of his equipment and I got to work with a great stylist and a real model. We created some images that were good - better than anything I had created to date at least … and I was hooked.

In the ensuing few years, I have developed my skills in fashion photography, and while I am certainly no expert in the field, I have formed my own opinion about a number of issues surrounding models, designers and agencies. Yesterday my good friend, mentor and guardian angel: Mr. Dallas Logan asked one of his cheeky questions on Face Book: “Aren’t models "regular" people?". Now Dallas is one of the best rising fashion photographers in the North American heart of  Fashion - New York - and I am always humbled and inspired by his work: . But those who know him will also know that he is a "rascally rabbit" and loves to stir up controversy. He also speaks his mind and comes at this from the perspective of not only being a former model but being very truthful about whether the people he shoots have what it takes to be a "model". So I loved that he asked the question, but it did set my mind to thinking about this in relation to my own work as a fashion photographer and working with  new models. 

I often get people coming to me and saying they want to become a model and my first question back is: "What do you consider a model to be?" MOST of the time young men and women think “modelONLY when they see the high fashion magazines or models walking on a runway in Paris or New York. They see the clothes and the lights and all the glitter and fame and attention, and they want that. I am always quick to give them a broader perspective on the word - a "model" can be anyone who depicts a state of being for a particular purpose. So that white haired grandma down the street can be a model for photos depicting the wonders of Medicare. That overweight ... err ... Rubinesque middle aged woman can be a model for a weight reduction clinic advertisement. That child of three can be a model for the latest cloths at Baby Gap. And YES, a person who is 5'7" and has an "ordinary" face can be a model. Can they be a model on the runways in New York? Not likely - because that area of fashion is a rarefied world where designers and agencies want all the models to be close to the same height and the same body structure for very practical purposes.

So to the question - are models “normal” people? The short answer is "Yes" - they are real people with real feelings and real lives - they just happen to make a living (or a partial living) by standing in front of a photographer and "performing" for the camera. They are "regular" people with egos and (and sometimes big ones) and feelings and insecurities about their bodies and their faces, and bad days and headaches. What the successful ones do have is an abnormal ability - natural or learned - to use their bodies and faces to grab your attention. After all, let's not lose sight of what most images are meant to do - to grab your attention and then turn your attention to the product or service that they are supposed to be selling to you .... $$$$$! That’s what advertising is and that’s what makes the model world go around. Clients need models to make their products look attractive, and clients need photographers to understand their vision and combine those models and their products into real images that can be used in those expensive advertisements.

Can everyone be a model? No … and it is not just because they may not have a look that grabs our attention. It may be because they think that having a “look” is everything they need to do. So the second question I always ask prospective models who come to me: “Are you prepared to make the changes and sacrifices that you will need to make to be a successful model?”  

Let me illustrate with a little story about one of "my" models - Jon Hylton. I like to say that I "discovered" Jon and it is accurate in the sense that I saw his potential and convinced him to give it a try. But it is what he did to become successful that really illustrates the effort that it takes to become a professional model. 

I ran across Jon on-line one day and was impressed with his face - the most important part of any model. So eventually I met him in Calgary and we took some pics just to see what he was like in front of the camera. Now at the time, Jon was quite shy (still is in some ways), and carrying a few extra pounds, a lot of body hair, and a big case of insecurity about his looks. Oh and he had braces too!  But he had an incredible natural presence in front of the camera, and he was an athlete with a good body and was a bit of a ham with a wide range of expressions. So I knew he had "it" and I encouraged him to use the next few months until his braces came off to really think about it, look at the possibilities and then we would talk about doing a real portfolio shoot. That took 6 months.

We agreed to do a proper shoot in a studio, I hired a wonderful stylist named Aleece Camille, rented studio time and got Jon all dressed up and started the shoot. WELL …. what I didn’t know was that in those months, Jon had really taken my encouragement to heart. He had worked out like a mad man, toned his body, worked on his skin, looked at fashion magazines and practiced in front of the mirror. He stepped in front of my camera and started giving me poses and expressions and angles without hesitation, with confidence and presence to the point that I put my camera down after 10 minutes and said ... “What the hell just happened here?” Well what had happened is that Jon had "become a model". He had gained the self confidence he needed through sheer will power and had “learned” to act in front of the camera. He had made the changes and effort needed to go from being a handsome man to being capable of being a professional model. 

Was it all easy from there? No... and Jon will be the first to tell you that. While he was signed almost right away to NUMA Models in and he got some local work, it took quite awhile for him to achieve success on a broader level. Trips to New York where he was rejected by more agencies than he would care to remember, going to cattle calls with hundreds of other models, spending many days away from home, sacrificing financial security, etc. etc.  But now he’s been successful with another agency in Toronto, been a key model for Sport Chek, been published in KRAVE magazine twice, been in Kohl's commercials in the US,  and is currently on assignment in South Africa. Is he a supermodel yet? No – but he has quit his regular job to pursue modeling full time and he is now dedicated to making it as a model and to pursuing it as long as it is lucrative for him. He wants it

So is Jon “normal’?  Yes … in the sense that he is a real person - a sweet, shy gentle man who is really modest about himself and not at all egotistical as one would assume about someone that attractive. No … in the sense that he realized early on that it is not all about his “look” and that he must devote hard work to being a model, that he must endure a lot of the tough stuff – the discipline of diet and exercise, the constant scrutiny and frequent rejection, the hours, the discomfort, in order to earn the benefits – the satisfaction of being a successful model.

Models are as normal as the rest of us – they have to work at what they do – it is not all natural gifts. So if you think you are model material and you’re secretly wishing to become a model but you’re afraid people won’t think of you as normal any more, fear not. But… as the saying goes – be careful what you wish for!

Always more at : including more of Jon Hylton. 

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why Do I Do What I Do?

Okay ... so everyone has a blog these days. And I have to admit I've been thinking about it for awhile - especially in terms of the power of social networking and trying to figure out how to make this crazy "second life" of mine work. So why now? Well ... as I often do during my insomniac nights, I tune into the Knowledge Network and watch the "Landscape as Muse" program which is followed by the "Recreating Eden" program. 

Tonight was no exception - the insomnia is getting worse not better - and it was an interesting program on an installation artist who works a great deal of her time in the Great Bear Rain Forest of the Pacific Northwest. But it was followed by an episode of Recreating Eden featuring the great fashion icon: Nicole de Vesian who left her life in the turbulent world of Paris fashion at the age of 69 to create an amazing garden in Provence. It really hit me how similar this was to my own life experience. Maybe now I could explain my passion better to people. Maybe now it was time to create a blog to do so. 

My second life is a visual one. I have come from the corporate world of food quality assurance and safety where I had devoted the first 38 years of my money-earning, tax-paying life.  So HOW does one get from a six figure income in that corporate infrastructure to being a starving artist in the world of visual arts?? Ahh Ha ... hence the compulsion to explain myself in a blog!  

There are those who drift through life scarcely noticing the patterns and colours and visual tapestry that is all around us. BUT there are those, like myself, who are drawn in and captivated by the detail, the complexity and the fascinating diversity of visual highlights in our lives. When I search back to my childhood memories, I have realized that my life was always very visually oriented. Growing up on a farm in the Prairies surrounded by nature, confronted with the stunning sunsets, terrifying thunderstorms, quiet peaceful vistas of flowing wheat fields and gently swirling aspen leaves - one could not help but be conditioned to the visual poetry of life and nature. 

I know now that was always there, but when I finally got frustrated in being able to capture that so I could hold it a little longer - that was when my second life began. A trip to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest in 2002 - bereft of a good camera - left me feeling that I had missed a huge opportunity in my life experience. The ability to capture what I saw - what fascinated me about this amazing country - and  hold it with me for a little longer - was gone. So as I always say to friends - Santa went out that Christmas and bought me my first real camera - and my second life was underway. 

But I digress (what a surprise I hear my friends saying ) ... this is supposed to be about why I do what I do - capture images and try to make a living at doing it. Well - I do capture a lot of different types of images - from fashion to physique - from landscape to miniature natural worlds. To me - they are all a part of the same world - where I see things as patterns and movements, as detail and complexity. Whether it is the beautiful detail of a couture designer gown  or the patterns of light and shadow on a human body. Whether it is the grandeur of an amazing spot on this wonderful planet, or the minute detail of an organic life beneath our feet - to me it is all about finding and capturing that detail, the pattern, the light and the colour. 
Hence, the past few years of my life have been devoted to exploring and understanding how I can capture that world. Technically I am pretty much self-taught. I struggle with how my life could have been different if I had gone for a fine arts education instead of a degree in Chemistry. But this is not about salty tears - it is about how I am compelled to make the best of my second life - however long that is. So I learn every day - I learn by doing - by experimenting, by reading, by spending hours behind my camera and in front of my computer. 

But now things have changed. Being thrust (a year and a bit ago) into trying to make a living out of my photography has been a terrifying journey to say the least. How does one translate what he likes to do into food on the table? Yes I could take portraits of children at Sears - nothing wrong with that - but what I'm striving to do right now with my life is to make some economic and practical sense out of my love for the visual arts - in particular - photography. NOT easy in times of economic recession, in times of amazing competitive pressures and where everyone has access to amazing technology in the form of digital cameras that do everything but make your morning coffee. 

What now? Well I know in my heart - I will survive and I will be a happier person for trying to do so. I am still not sure where my future will settle. But I DO KNOW that it is all connected - by my love of visual poetry So if I am trying to create an image for a fashion magazine or a piece of art that conveys the power and beauty and complexity of nature - it is all the same in my minds eye. I am blessed to have this opportunity, this gift, so I must make the best of it. 

So to answer my own question - why do I do what I do? Because every image I take and work with enriches my life. It makes me appreciate and respect the beauty and complexity of Nature - be that man or beast or plant or planet. Our lives are so fleeting and so fragile. The world around us is so enduring but at the same time fragile and vulnerable to man.  What better way to spend the second part of my life than in focussing on what is really important - bringing that vision to others. And if I can make enough money to buy a good bottle of cabernet sauvignon and sit on my balcony overlooking the ocean - so much the better!

Until tomorrow ... 

Always more to see at Leonard Imagery