Jul 12, 2021
6 mins read
Yesterday, we celebrated another Art Jam. Athena and I decided to be inspired by one of her recent work projects and while it was technically my turn to create the theme of Art Jam, we worked together. It had already been a long, lovely day for the four of us but Art Jam is strictly respected by any and every one of us. Tired or not, this is enforced by anyone who is still standing.
I have some experience with modeling, as does Athena. Combined, it is easy for us to teach and demonstrate every aspect of portrait photography from both sides of the camera, and the younger people in the house have harbored their (still parentally detectable) skeptical curiosities. I think that it is an interesting exercise in perception to first see beautiful photographs of handsome people posted everywhere alongside the contrast of a smattering of lackluster attempts at the same and unflattering selfies that are freakin' everywhere else.
Hang in there. I want to tell you what not to do but in my perpetual desire to be positive I will instead give you a resource for how to take a more-than-professional portrait of yourself, and I'll even do it without ranting about duck-lips and hiding double-chins with the "aerial-perspective" photo attempt.
We have all seen professional photography studios in movies, ads, and magazines. Sterile, white, institutional warehouses with a million dollars worth of unnamable equipment that beautifully interrupts with industrial and technological, black lines and squares. Invariably there is a fashionably dressed and eccentric shutter-button-pusher frantically directing a model to "make love to the camera".
Well, that's kind of real, and I have been there. I have also been in nose-offending alleyways and the trite and overused railroad tracks. I always said that I wouldn't want to be photographed as a magician with the stereotypical fanned out playing cards and raised eyebrow. Against my wishes, I have been coaxed into that several miserable times.
Athena reports that her first professional shoot was in a photography studio that was scarcely larger than a closet and that there were (especially for her young age at the time) personal-safety-alarm-raising photographs of nude and lewd women on display. Mind you, this was long before she became a Las Vegas Showgirl. She was a preteen ballerina for that memorable introduction.
Listen. I get it. When the camera was invented, the first photographs were of nude women. Hell, the camera was likely invented for capturing images of nude women. All things considered, photography is a relatively new artistic medium and it has taken some time to mature but before smartphones, I am willing to bet my eye teeth that there was a larger percentage of "adult" photographs captured than of any other subject. No kidding. Get your paper money out.
I spent many years of my life working with photographers. I did not usually shoot the photos myself but I worked in set design, costuming, and directing. I have loads of stories from those days. Ask me about them anytime.
Like Athena, I also modeled on a number of occasions in my life and I am even scheduled to model for billboards for a company in Japan in a month or so. I am not portraying a shiny (greasy) stud for Abercrombie & Fitch (which actually once specialized in clothing I truly liked) (when is the last time you saw a necktie in A&F‽) (bah. You don't go to A&F) but I am to play the role of an American magician. Big reach, right?
Eh, I need to earn some kind of income and they think I am pretty.
They have a deal.
There is a lot to the process of photographic and portrait image capturing that is generally not given thought. I am sure, though, that when you take a moment while looking at a photograph, you might imagine how much went into its creation. A person might be splashing water whilst knee deep in the ocean as it gently licks a beach with a delicate edge of white foam. Chances are that that water is absurdly cold and that the model is completely and miserably breathless.
Sparing you much of what I believe goes into a good photograph, the process of planning plays an important part. Creating a list of what one intends to capture during a session is plainly necessary to having a productive production.
Once that is determined, however specific or loose, having a subject who is any useful combination of prepared, trained, experienced, coached, relaxed, confident, flexible, knowledgable, imaginative, brave, willing, playful, skilled at acting, able to take and properly interpret direction... you get the picture... if this is not a professional model, they are going to require some instruction and coaching (and there are a lot of fingers being crossed, talismans being petted, gods being prayed to).
Plainly speaking, production is expensive and time is money. You don't want to have to coach too much during a session. You want to get the shot and move down the list as efficiently as possible. Go, go, go.
Your model is uncomfortable and has an investment of makeup on but insists on scratching their nose. Go, go, go!
This is the illusion of perfection we're after, no matter how uncomfortable.
We have, in short,
Preparation and planning
If it is to be outdoors you have to include weather forecasting, location scouting, assignment of model protection (like a Fabrigé egg).
Makeup and hair with on-hand availability for touch-up/maintenance
Set design and props
Equipment for capture
Organization of digital files
Review sessions for proofs
Post treatments for approved proofs
Approval for finals (and in the digital age this is still in the arena of one-in-two-hundred images).
Ooof. It is actually a lot of work.
Our family went through the motions for Art Jam and delivered a memorable education about the process but we had a lot of laughs and fun. There are more than five hundred images of just two young people that were created by the committee of four.
While this was a real experience and I am not really attempting to create an advertisement, I do want to tell you the Athena has created an under-priced, complete course in creating what will appear to be portraits that have been created with all of the same investments but on the same budget as a selfie, and with the same number of team members. Yep! Just you alone as the photographer and model with the equipment you already have! It will be available in a couple of days. I will post a link to that course when it is available.
I had nothing to do with it but it is a truly impressive investment! Her recent "selfie" portrait immediately doubled her listenership for her podcast. No shit.
As for our family Art Jam "shoot", the production went impressively well and all of the raw, unreviewed images are resting in photography purgatory until we have time to take them into review and "post". Each of the two subjects selected wildly different ideal outcomes and we are doing our best to honor the unique visions.
I will update you soon. I also have upcoming (as in I want to tell you about) stories of recent creations and my ! * # ‽ @ ! # $' WOODSHOP! Holy moly! It is finally usable. I will give you a tour soon!
Thank you for hanging around the coffee club. Reach me whenever my friend!