Tag Archives: editorial photographer

Beneath the Glossy

Yesterday I came across this post by Fashion Photography Blog’s Melissa Rodwell, where she talks about being screwed by Flaunt Magazine. In her post, she talks about how she started her blog to make people aware of the real world behind the glossiness of fashion photography. She unveiled how editorial decisions—or neglect—can ruin what began as a well-prepared, well-executed creative session.

The ad that came out in the same issue with model Angie Stoneking. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

Being relatively new to the freelance photographer world, I rely on seasoned professionals like Melissa to learn how this business works. For a couple years I’ve been steadily shooting a few commissions a month, on weekends and evenings (because I have a whole other full time job), and so far it’s been a steep learning curve.

Recently, I learned that sometimes, no matter how professionally you execute a job, you don’t get the credit you deserve. Literally.

I was commissioned a shoot with one of my favorite designers of Indian couture. This was the third editorial I worked on with the client, so she pretty much entrusted the creative legwork to me—scout for a location and then book it, find the models, brief the creative team, and lead the shoot.

We had a great team that weekend: my friend Hilde Marie Johansen was the makeup and hair stylist. The models were Angie Stoneking and Vaughn Newman, two of my favorites and with whom I have collaborated many times.

Vaughn Newman in the dress that was sold the day after we shot this photo. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

We all worked hard for two days, to get the editorial shots the designer needed for a couple purposes. One was to run print ads, and the other was for an article the magazine was doing on couture for the popular wedding issue.

I understand why ads don’t publish the names of the photographer nor the models and creative team.

What is disheartening is that the magazine neglected to credit any of the team that produced the photos for the article. Not one of us is credited. The photos float on those pages and yeah, that’s my work, but you don’t know that.

And like Melissa wrote in her blog, the team looks to the photographer when things like this happen. They ask, what happened? Why? And it leaves some negativity that should not be in that relationship in the first place, a sliver of doubt that has small but sharp edges.


This one was in the magazine's four-page spread as well. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

I don’t understand, really, why the editors at the magazine neglected to do their editorial responsibility. I’ve worked with both CNNGo and the publishers at Reader’s Digest and Seventeen magazine back when I was 19 years old. And one of the first things the editor goes over is how credit will be given in the publication. They ask you how you spell your name, so they can put it beside your creative work.

So, you know, I don’t understand.

The next time I work for them, I might slip this infographic on how to credit, in the contract.

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Let Shadows Speak

Dynamic lighting in a photo begins with direction and quality of light, but it doesn’t stop there. Part of the effect in dynamic lighting is where the shadows fall. You know that rule in physics that says ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’? This tension also works in photographic lighting, except that we could rewrite the rule as ‘for every light there is an equal and opposite shadow.’

So controlling the light means controlling the shadows. This effect can create lighting that is dynamic, three dimensional, and eye catching.

We can learn basic lighting conditions, whether in a natural setting like in travel photography, or in a more controlled setting like when using strobes or window light. To add to this wonderful skill is the ability to read the stories that shadows tell.

Telling stories with shadows is a great way to learn dynamic lighting. When we can learn to see where the light falls, how much it falls off and in which direction, we can start designing images that tell stories.

Where you stand to take a photo affects where light and shadow fall in the final image.

The photo of the two people was lit using ambient light, light from broken walls and holes in the ceiling of an abandoned mansion. There was light coming from above both the woman and the man, and the shadows falling around them framed the shot. If I had moved a little to the left, two things would have happened: the man would have been out of the line of sight of the 50mm lens I was using, and the woman would have had less shadow on camera left. Positioning the camera where it was, I was seeing the way the shadows would frame the scene. Moving around is one way of controlling the direction and amount of shadow in a photo.

Pools of light and pools of shadow create drama in this image.

Another vantage point that was deliberate was in the next photo where the model is below the camera; I was standing on a ledge in another broken building. The light was coming from camera left, through a broken wall. The harsh midday light created deep, dark shadows around and beside the model, making shadows on the wall, and forming pools of shadow around the path she walked. The mystery created by the shadows gives the photo a story telling quality I would not have achieved if I had the whole scene lit up.

Paying attention to shapes created by shadow can make a shot dramatic.

Lighting a scene, we know, doesn’t need to be complicated. In this shot of some Indian fashion, I only had a high window to work with, and a distant doorway some 300 meters behind the model. I found a place where the window light would directly shine on her face and side. Having done this, I also saw that the curvy geometric shapes and their shadows in the image complemented the pose and dress of the model, so I played up the shadows by underexposing the background and using a small aperture. The slower shutter speed gave me a sharper take on the dress plus created a three dimensional image. Controlling the settings to augment shadows in a shot is another way of allowing shadows to tell part of the story.

Telling a story with a photo doesn’t just depend on where light illuminates and what it illuminates. Where the shadows fall also speak stories.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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All You Need is a Window
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How to Stay Creative


How to Stay Creative

“How do you stay creative?” my friend Lance says to me in the middle of a shoot. We are setting up the lights for a set called “Frost,” a makeup and light intensive set portraying the concept of ice and cold.

When makeup artist, designer and stylist Hilde Marie Johansen and I meet to discuss the concepts for this shoot, she and I brainstorm everything, from the clothes to accessories to the lighting and the materials to use for each set. We sketch and write notes. As our ideas takes shape in that meeting, our enthusiasm and excitement for another creative day grows.

Hilde has created an illusion of frozen lips on the model using sugar granules. Her dress is white and light blue fabric. My goal for the shot is to set the

"Frost" by Aloha Lavina.

camera so that the photo comes out cold, with some blue tinge, and have the light just pop out of the softbox white and even, making shadows light and not overpowering. The photo comes out the way I had dreamed it would, and showing it to Lance, who is assisting me, he asks me the question.

Staying creative is a challenge every photographer sets him or herself. Whether photographing families or fashion, it helps to exercise creativity to stay fresh, design dramatic work, and maintain enthusiasm and excitement for each and every job.

How do you stay fresh as a photographer? Here are some tips on how to stay creative.

1. Find your passion.

Discovering what makes you excited as you create an image is key to staying creative. Many people with cameras learn technique by trying a lot of things. It’s great to take risks and give yourself plenty of opportunities to discover your favorites. Whether you are creating still life shots or macro, portraits or panorama landscapes, notice the elements of the shots you consider your favorites. Is it content—what you take photos of? Is it the quality of light? Is it genre? Finding out what you enjoy photographing is key to enjoying a long and happy relationship with your craft.

2. Shoot a lot.

When you’re first starting out, you want to find your niche, that particular brand of photography that helps define you. To help yourself find this corner of your creative happiness, take a lot of photos. Anything that interests you: capture it. When I first started carrying my DSLR every day, I took walks in the evenings. What I found was that I loved capturing vignettes, little stories told by things and light around me. Digital images are cheap – you don’t need to spend money developing them in a shop, and you can set up a “negative” contact sheet electronically in your computer, easily weeding out what doesn’t work and what you liked. The growing portfolio you develop as you shoot will help you to define your creative drive.

3. Surround yourself with people who are passionate and learn from them.

Not just photographers, but musicians, painters, and others have to find their wellspring of inspiration in order to stay creative. Hanging out with creative people gives you a support system for your creativity, and it also helps you tap into the enthusiasm and love that creative people have for their art. This support system is not essential but it helps you keep fresh. I once wrote a poem after hearing a musician play an Indonesian drumming song, giving the

Pamela. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

poem the cadence and tone of the drum (“Bangkok Street Stall”, published in The Chariton Review). Another time, I shot a sequence of images based on someone’s interpretation of anomie. Both times I was inspired by something that was different from the medium I used to express ideas, and the source of inspiration added resonance to what I created. Hanging out with artists not only is fun, but being in a creative atmosphere can spark imagination.

4. Pay attention to moments, and stay in the present.

When I first started with portraiture, I would be so future oriented that I messed up my shots. What happened was, I would be thinking of the next shot I wanted to do while shooting the current shot. The photos often came out blurry from my impatience expressing itself in quick movements. Reflecting on my impatience later, I found out that I have to stay in the present to make each image count.

Besides being patient, paying attention to moments ensures that you are ready to press the shutter release when an expressive moment happens. Taking a series of shots, hoping to get a good one, is wasteful and unnecessary. Waiting patiently for all the elements to fall into place is a creative trait. Yes, art can happen by accident, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if art happens as you act deliberately, making you an active and engaged creator?

5. Don’t be afraid to fail, and stay persistent.

Like in other things we do in life, fear of failure paralyzes us. The part of the brain that deals with stress takes over, and the part of the brain that controls our creative, associative skills freezes. We over-analyze. What results is stilted performance because we have frozen our minds and shut it from flow.

Flow is “optimum performance” given a challenge and some skills (Cszikszentmihalyi). We express flow as effortlessness, when we allow it to happen. Because we already have a

"Somewhere You've Never Been" by Aloha Lavina.

set of skills, given a challenge, we are able to engage in meeting the challenge using all our skills and perhaps be pushed into learning new ones in the process. The key word here is engage. Fear disallows engagement because it creates inside us a stress response (run away or fight). Openness, on the other hand, allows engagement—it is an attitude that helps us to use our perceptions, concentration and skills to perform the necessary actions to meet a challenge.

There is nothing more joyful in photography (and other learning) than the aha moment. Yesterday I assisted my student Soofia in her first conceptual shoot. At one of the sets, lighting was very difficult, but I pushed her to persist in trying different settings or lighting positions.  It took almost half an hour before the lighting worked, but that moment we found the perfect setting and lighting was a moment delicious, full of accomplishment.

This moment should be our goal as creative people. When you stay fearless and persistent, the aha moments you meet along the way will fuel your creativity and enthusiasm, and inspire you to shoot again.


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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