Tag Archives: fashion

June Fifth by Bonny Sethi photo copyright Aloha Lavina

10 Things to Remember When You’re Shooting Clothing

I love dresses. Dresses that drape, dresses that dance with color. Dresses with texture, and flow.

Even though it takes a lot of time, preparation and doesn’t make me rich, I love shooting clothing, especially couture. Most of my editorial work is about clothing.

There is something fascinating about the creativity of a designer and how she combines color, texture and shape to make things of beauty that people can wear. And spending time shooting these creations inspire me every single time.

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.

1. If you’re shooting clothing, you must be shooting color.

Clothing is almost always shot in color. If the client worked hard to make a fabric a certain color, that color needs to be the same as the original in all of the photos of the clothes. So it’s important to make sure you capture the color exactly as it is in real life.

How would color change in a photograph? There are a few ways. One is through the white balance you use. Sometimes you might prefer to use Cloudy for the warmth it exudes. But this WB setting may change the way the colors look, making them warmer.

Another way color might change in your photo is the lighting you use. Sometimes, you might balance the light by using gels, just to make sure the clothing stays the same color in the photograph as it is in reality.

Still another way a photographer might change clothing color, maybe even inadvertently, is through post-processing. When doing post work for clothing, always refer to the original color of the clothes so you don’t misrepresent the product.

June Fifth by Bonny Sethi photo by Aloha Lavina

Show off the color in those clothes. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

 2. Show the cut of the clothes.

Another creative decision the designer makes is the way the dress was cut. Paying attention to the specific way the clothing is cut and pieced together is another thing a photographer has to do, to make sure the client is happy with the results.

3. Texture is also important to show.

There are ways to light specific surfaces so that they show up their natural grain or texture. It’s important to know the angles of light and how they affect different surfaces. A great resource to study about angles of light is the book Light Science and Magic. Even if I’m not much of a geek, I love this book for what it taught me about how light affects surfaces and how it behaves on different ones.

4. You’re shooting how the clothes move.

The difference between images for catalogs and images for editorial assignments sometimes lie in the creative license a photographer might receive. In catalogs, most of the poses and lighting is very consistent. In editorial work, the clothing is mostly like wearable art, and the art direction is a little more creative.

It’s important to showcase how the clothing moves. Especially in a still photo, this dynamism can be important to add energy to the image.

June Fifth by Bonny Sethi photo copyright Aloha Lavina

Movement or its illusion is often a great way to show off clothing. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. Even if the models are beautiful, they mustn’t overpower the clothes’ beauty.

Of course, you’re shooting a beautiful person wearing beautiful clothing. But remember that what you’re really selling is the clothing or the idea behind it. Focusing on the clothing rather than the face of the person wearing it makes sure that in the images, your model doesn’t overpower your clothing.

Of course, it might depend on the client’s creative brief. Some clients want a sense of something in the imagery–maybe an attitude or a feeling, and merely a suggestion of the clothing. This is important to clarify before you start planning for the shoot.

6. Show off the clothes.

The clothes are beautiful. Don’t hide them in your shots.

7. Remember the market.

It’s always good to ask about the target market of your client. If they are conservative, maybe overly sexy poses might not work. If they are a little adventurous, you might consider different poses than if they were less so.

8. Remember the brand.

Always ask what the client thinks of their brand. Even if you think you know the brand, the one source for your perception of how to make the imagery is the client or designer. Having this knowledge avoids photos the client might find mismatched to what they had in mind.

9. One lighting setup doesn’t fit all.

Everything works together for the purpose of the image. The lighting depends on a lot of factors. The clothing itself, mentioned earlier in this article, as well as the model, the location….It’s great to have a plan, but it’s also good to be flexible in case for instance, the ambient light at the location gives you added impact. Preparing well will serve you to make those decisions when you’re actually on set.

June Fifth by Bonny Sethi Copyright Aloha Lavina

One lighting setup doesn't fit all situations. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

10. Know the purpose for the photos.

It’s good to vary the composition of the photos. Often times, we might think to make our photos edgy by putting the model on the edge, following the popular rule of thirds. But sometimes, you need centered photos, too. Especially when one of your photos might become a cover, centered gives space for the text that goes into the cover of a print magazine. Another consideration is the client’s logo or any other text that might be added onto the photo later when it is prepared for print. Knowing the purposes of the photos, and changing up your composition is a good tip to follow to suit the assignment in various ways.

Now it’s your turn.

What tips would you give to make stunning shots of clothing?

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How to Make the Most of Your Photographer

Some of photoshoots require more time invested, yet they remain the most memorable and successful.

Investing time, thought and effort into a project pays dividends for the client. You not only get your money’s worth from all the people you’ve hired, but you also build strong relationships that can only enhance your brand. Giving time, thought and energy into a collaborative effort can create win-win situations that serve as fertile ground for growth, be it for the client or the creative team.

Here are some tips from a photographer’s point of view.

1. Communicate ideas as much as possible.


Communication is key to collaborative creativity. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Time spent in planning a photoshoot is time wisely invested. For a photographer, information about the concepts the client has in mind, the colors and shapes and textures of the products she is shooting will help in the creative decisions. For example, light reflecting off a smooth surface behaves differently from light reflecting off a rough surface. If your photographer knows what materials you used to make your product, he or she can decide what sort of lighting suits that product. Similarly, a concept cannot be translated into an image unless the photographer has all the information necessary to ‘form a picture’ of what the client has in mind. Guessing or leaving this thinking process to the last minute can greatly impair the photoshoot’s effectiveness from lack of time to think through the concept and the added pressure of  reconciling a lot of novel elements in the process.

2. Give the photographer a lot of chances to make good decisions.

A lot of considerations go into a photo session. One of the most important ones is lighting, especially when there are models involved in the shoot. Different facial structures require different lighting set ups to either hide or show certain features. Introducing your photographer to your models before the shoot can help the photographer to think of the lighting decisions for each model’s facial structure and build. Allowing for this to happen by investing time in a meeting between the models and photographer can benefit your brand because the photographer is given more chances to succeed in making images that are interesting and propel the ideas behind your brand.

Different face structures require different lighting setups. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Organize the materials for the shoot.

Photographers pack with great care. A lot of photogs clean their equipment, follow long packing lists, and prepare a lot of small items that can make a difference between a good shot and a great shot. A good photog knows that preparation saves a lot of time; knowing where to reach in the bag when needing something is efficient and good practice.

In the same way, organizing the clothing or accessories can help a photoshoot move along smoothly. For example, organizing the clothes into sets and labeling them clearly with models’ names in the order of the shoot can really speed up the work. Because some shoots require a lot of moving and changing of lighting equipment, being ready with the clothing and accessories gives the creative people in your team more time to take so they can create their magic for you.

4. Trust the creativity of your team

You hired the makeup artist whom you thought would interpret the concept well and has great skills to execute it in makeup or hair. You hired the photographer whose vision and images match your brand’s beauty.

You must trust their creativity, skill and vision, right? You hired them, not someone else.

In a moment of creativity, the creative person is drawn into flow, a state of seemingly effortless innovation. Trusting this process, for many, have produced great leaps in executing a vision. Interrupting it will stilt the creativity and ‘burst the bubble’ of concentration, and it is a difficult thing to re-enter at will. If you had planning sessions and every one in the team is conscious of the time you have to make the magic happen, trust that what the creators do, in their own separate domains of skill, are geared toward making beauty for your brand.

5. Respect talent and skill.

If everyone could do what any one else could do, all images would look the same. We would not have any moments when we look at a photo and our breath catches because it is just so what we wanted to say.

Respect a unique vision and the passion that creates it. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The creative world is wonderful because each photographer, each makeup artist, pushes him or her self to do better, to learn something else. If you took this energy and passion and channeled it into your brand, you would have power indeed—power to distinguish your product from the others of the same kind, and power to make people look at your ad twice, catching their breath.

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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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Shooting the Most Beautiful Woman in the Universe

It’s dark inside the bar, except for a few bare bulbs emitting a feeble orange light. Miss Universe is here, and I have to shoot her in brilliant Indian couture.

I love the dark location. It means the camera is only going to see the light from the flashguns I’ll use. Sometimes, you can blend ambient light with strobe light, like in this shot with a brilliant blouse in deep red with gold embroidery. There is a bare light bulb just above the most beautiful woman in the universe, and it’s mixing in with the main light I have firing with a diffuser on from camera right.

She is soft spoken and humble.

Other times, it’s good not to have too much ambient light. Controlling light from flash gives more pop to a photo—more saturated color, more detail. When you’re shooting people, for example, closeup with flash, it seems every pore on their face is visible.

Off camera flash, small and portable, have been catapulted into star status among photography enthusiasts by The Strobist extraordinaire David Hobby. I chose flash units rather than buying a studio set because the flashguns are easy to carry around to locations away from my small home studio. These flashguns are versatile, accompanying me from shoots in a tropical forest to a tabletop where I shot jewelry.

While the makeup artist Hilde Marie Johansen is working with Miss Universe 2005 Natalie Glebova, I am working with Bianca Kirn, a young model working out of Bangkok. The outfit is an orange and bright pink variation of salwar kameez, a three-piece set worn in the day time. I want the color to pop, so I use a high shutter speed to kill the ambient light from the bare light bulbs. To light Bianca, I use one light on a lightstand above her, attached to a softbox—essentially a black box with one white side through which the light comes out soft and diffused. Another flash gun provides fill light—just a little burst of light to fill in the shadows on the fabric.

Brilliant orange and pink on Bianca.

Later, Natalie comes out in a beautiful lehenga choli, a traditionally red outfit worn by brides in the Northern part of India. This lehenga is ice lemon and turquoise,  so lovely on Natalie. To light Natalie, who is already very tall and is standing on a staircase, I have to prop my lightstand on three bar stools and tie it to the rail of the staircase with a couple of bungee balls—these nifty little elastic bands with large plastic balls at the end. The main light is the softbox on the lightstand camera right. Two other flash guns provide fill, one below the camera for the dress, and another camera left for the shadows on the model.

Although a celebrity in her own right, Natalie is very down to earth.

We shoot six outfits, and the last set is with a white salwar kameez with fringe made of 19 meters of fabric. To show off that fringe on the skirt, I ask Natalie to hold the skirt beside her. To light this shot, I place the softbox on camera right and the fill light three yards on camera left, zoomed to 85mm. The great thing about the flash guns these days is the zoom function. Some flashguns can zoom up to 200mm; this means the light is stronger coming out of the unit, and it can be thrown a long way.

Natalie is one of the classiest famous people I have ever met.

I could have been there all night, shooting away. It didn’t matter what the light outside looked like, or what light was available on location. There was a way to make light, and this is always, always a good thing.

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Shooting Winter Coats in a Tropical Country. Outdoors.

So of course I said we could do it.

It wasn’t exactly a textbook case—the client wanted fur coats in a setting that would generically look cold, and we were shooting the coats in Thailand.

Someone asked me today how it happened, and I decided to tell the story of how we conceptualized the shoot, how it developed, and how I processed some of the shots.

The brief

The concept of course, was hot babes in cold weather kept warm by their winter coats—plush, luxurious deals slated to warm wealthy clients from Europe and Russia.

Choosing the models

Natalie beautiful against an 'autumn' background.

The client wanted European looking models, so I scrolled through some photos of models who work out of Bangkok for the look the client wanted. We wanted coolness, legginess, and the ability to contort in somewhat high fashion ways.

I emailed my choices. “Get your yoga poses ready,” I told the girls.

The makeup and styling

We thought the makeup should be bold, purples instead of outright reds, and pale blush to add to the cold effect of the images.

I was quite proud of the stylist, my friend Hilde, who thought to tell the girls to bring leggings and tank tops to wear under the heavy clothing, some accessories and shoes that fit our style, a kind of breaking out of the stereotypical wearing of winter coats. We didn’t want closed shoes. We certainly didn’t want the sunglasses. Our girls were going to wear these coats in ways they felt like, unconventional, adventurous, spunky.

The location

I frantically called a friend in the Eastern Seaboard. Help! I yelped, I need a location that could look like a winter scene. Trees. Water. Earth. Stuff like that.

In an hour, Gilbert sends me an email with around 30 photos he took of two locations. I liked the one with the eucalyptus trees. “Great,” he emailed back, “that’s close to the city.”

He gives me directions, I email it to everyone. One less headache.

The goals

Now that I had the logistics out of the way, and a great team to work with, I sat down to figure out the results I wanted.

I knew that the client wanted to get away from the studio-catalog kind of image, so I wanted something different, something that would make the market say they never thought about that before but that’s a good idea. So I sketched out the colors that would dominate the shots. The coats were brown, black and other drabbish colors, so I thought I would add a little punch by processing the photos like it was either burning autumn or cool winter. Lots of oranges and

Vaughn climbs the root.

cyans would dominate the finished shots.

But I had to light the scenes in ways that would simulate the cool atmosphere we wanted; I also needed to shoot as if it was cold.

So I chose to use Automatic White Balance. In the Nikon system, Automatic white balance gives Caucasian skin a translucent paleness with a touch of pink. If I had chosen my favorite Cloudy WB instead, the models’ tans would have shown up a lot warmer in tone, and we would not end up with cold looking people wearing winter coats.

I also thought about the lighting setups I needed. I knew that the forest my assistant found had the Eastern shore to the right, so if we shot in the late morning we would have directional light coming in that way. If the shoot lasted all day (which it did), what I had to do was remove shadows or wait until the light was coming from the other direction, and then shoot. So I opted to bring a large softbox and an umbrella along with five SB-900s with lightstands. I figure even if the ground was uneven, my assistant could be the ‘boom’ and tilt the softbox where I needed it.

I didn’t bring any snoots. With coats that big that had to be shot in detail, I didn’t need to limit the spread of light; the umbrella or the softbox or both could help me create the highlights I wanted in the right places.

When I shoot on assignment, I always make a checklist days before. The list grows, as it should, until I feel that every single item on it is necessary. Then I pack and tick of the items as I place them in the bags or cases. I bring it with me in the bag, to tick off the inventory as I pack up after the gig. That way, I keep track of the equipment.

Post processing

I wanted to go through one of the shots and look at how it was done.

First of all, I shoot in RAW. I know some photographers prefer JPG—it saves space, they feel confident about their skills, etcetera. That’s a choice. For me, I like to retrieve as much color and detail from a RAW file as possible. And I treat skin with RAW, a little before the detail work begins.

When I open a file in RAW, I always check it at 100% magnification. Check the detail in the hair, check the detail in the clothes. I adjust the sharpness and luminosity, and always also check the edges to see if there is discoloration. If there is, I will remove it as much as I can before opening the file.

Usually, if I use luminosity, I can smoothen the skin a bit. Then my next step is adjusting levels. What I want is the blacks to be black, the whites to be white, and the middle values to look the way I want them to look. Sometimes, I just click on “Auto” and it works. Other times, I play it by visual taste and adjust opacity to get the balance I want in the values.

The next step is working on the skin. These photos were going to be blown up to around 10 meters high, so I need the skin to look fabulous. In a layer, I use the healing brush and clone stamp at opacity 21% to adjust discoloration and remove blemishes. I zoom in and out a lot while doing this. It helps to see what you’re doing in relation to the big picture, so to speak.

When I have the skin tones I need, I work on the background.

For these shots, I wanted to bring some orange into some shots and some cyan into others, to create the concept of changing seasons and the reason for wearing the winter coats.

Anna looking very cool in the woods.

Using a new adjustment layer for “solid color,” I chose the tint I wanted. Then, I used the Multiply blending mode to blend it onto the image. I tweaked the image by brushing back the skin and clothes with a layer mask and a very soft brush, until I had the person and clothes standing out from the background.

Lastly, I selectively sharpened some areas, mostly the clothing and sometimes the textured areas of the shot, and I was finished.

And that’s how I shot winter coats in a tropical country.

What I learned from this shoot was to be resourceful, to trust my vision and my team, and to abandon all fear that we simply were limited by geography and climate.

The client is happy, and so am I.

When It’s a Wrap

5 Ways to Effectively Work with Models

“It’s a wrap!” are three of the most important words for a fashion photographer. Knowing that you’ve done an excellent job and that the day has been productive, fun and creative

(c) Aloha Lavina

makes it worth while to wake up early for 6.30 am call times and the lifting of some hundred pounds of equipment to the location. But getting to the wrap of a shoot involves more than just being able to light and compose shots. You have to learn how to care for your models, too.

Caring for your models means great relationships in the industry, and great relationships could translate to references later on. Because of my wonderful relationship with Anna, a Swedish model living in Thailand, I was able to work with her and Christian Dior’s Omar at a fun and fabulous photoshoot at the Sukothai hotel.

Caring for your model during a shoot is actually a really important part of being a portrait photographer. Here are some ways you can make sure your photoshoot is fabulous and your model is happy.

1. Wait for the moment

When you’re photographing a beautiful person, it’s easy to get carried away with the shutter release. Because you’re excited, you want to get everything down. But do you really want to get everything, even the blink? Keeping yourself calm and waiting for a moment which is expressive and emotive is key to getting artful images instead of hoping to get lucky and getting 3 good ones out of every 10 shots.

2. Encourage the model

Models want to know how they’re doing. Feedback is a great way to shape how a shoot goes; it’s vital to improvement in most things people do, including modeling.  If you like what the model is doing, say so. Conversely, if you find that something doesn’t work, tell the model. It’s better to avoid a bad pose than spend time weeding out shots later because the

(c) Aloha Lavina

model’s knee looks like a yamcha dumpling.

3. Learn how to direct in concrete ways

When you’re photographing a model, it’s very easy to say things you feel about the shot you want, like “Can you look like someone whose quantum reason for existence is no longer a quark but has broken up into photons without mass?” or something similar. Remember that the model has no mirror to create a pose that works. Also remember that the model doesn’t read your mind but needs clear direction. So if you want the shot to look like what it does in your head, tell the model how to move their body and face. Say things like, “Can you move your head to the left and close your eyes a little.” Clear directions help a shoot move along and when a pose works, it’s a lot more fun.

4. Take breaks

Yes, time is money, but when you take care of someone, they work harder. Take breaks—wipe sweat when it’s hot, let the model drink some water. A little kindness can establish you as a caring photographer, but most of all, it makes you human.

(c) Aloha Lavina

5. Know when it’s a wrap

When working with models it’s easy to keep shooting, especially with a DSLR since memory is so cheap these days.  Dominique, a model with Elite Switzerland told me on our last shoot, “I really like photographers who know when they have the shot.” Modeling is difficult; it is work. Holding poses can be extremely athletic, and looking happy for eight hours for the summer wear catalogue can wear a person down.  Know what you want before the shoot, and know when you have got it. Then you can say the three most favorite words of photographers and models.