Tag Archives: photoshoots

House of Jarvis jewelry Copyright Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

When You Have to Wing It

What do you do when you have to wing it during a shoot and you have little or no prior information?

Making it up as you go along is one of the most pressure-filled experiences you will have as a photographer. But remember, travel photogs and photojournos do it, so if they can, so can you.

The key is to be open and prepared for all the possibilities. One key to being able to wing it on location is to have all your gear ready. If it’s a portrait photoshoot, you need to pack all the light equipment you think you might need, something which you learn from experience, and once you’re on location, you need to summon every ounce of your creative problem solving to make your images work.

Here are some tips for when you have to make it up as you go along.

Don’t pack light.

I mean, weight-wise. For a shoot I did for a magazine cover, I brought six lights, so I would have twice as many as I needed in case something happened and some units failed. In the middle of the shoot at the location, a half-finished boutique hotel, there was a tour of the premises for a group of about ten employees. As they walked through the room where we were shooting, one of them knocked down one of my lightstands and the strobe and receiver attached to it broke into pieces as they hit the floor. I didn’t have time to stop except to glare at the offending person; I quickly removed the broken equipment to look at later, and replaced them with backup items.

Bring all kinds of light shapers, just in case.

I also brought a lot of light shapers. Good thing, because I had to do a reasonably wide portrait including the environment. The walls were dark, especially the black granite with the hotel logo which absolutely had to be in the shot. I couldn’t use a softbox because it would create a large reflection on the black granite. Also, I wanted to use the mirror in the shot, and had to have lighting that included the clothing, face, and everything else in its range. To light the subject’s face and clothes and have some nice fall-off around her, I attached a honeycomb grid to one strobe and used the mirror to reflect some of that light to light the environment.

Vachini Kraikrish for Muse Hotel Copyright Aloha Lavina.

A honeycomb grid made this shot possible. Copyright Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

Create the look using the environment.

For another shoot, I had never been to the location. All I knew was, the client wanted the photos to look ‘mysterious.’ So while the model was going through makeup and hair styling, I walked around with a flash unit and lit it at various rooms in the location. Even the bathroom. The bathroom had a ledge with some candles on it, so I decided to light the candles to create separation between the subject and the wall. Then I used one light to light the model and the jewelry for which this image was a branding shot.

House of Jarvis jewelry Copyright Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

Scouting the location on the spot with a flash unit helped with this one. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Bring a range of focal lengths.

I’ve preached about the advantages of using just one lens, but at times when you have to wing a shoot, you don’t want to be caught without a focal length that will give you the images you need. Bringing a range of different focal lengths makes sure you have the right lens for the shot you want.

One of the questions I always ask before a shoot is, what type of shots does the client need? Usually you will be asked to do a variety of shots, for example, some wide full body shots with environment included, half-body shots, and closeup shots. This range means you might be using from 24mm to 85mm. When I am shooting for a jewelry company, I always ask if they want product closeups as well. If they do, I remember to pack my 105mm macro and 60mm macro lenses along with the 24mm-85mm range.

Aysha with necklace copyright Aloha Lavina.

Bring a range of focal lengths when you don't know the types of shots you'll be making. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Bring useful accessories that have nothing to do with lighting or lenses.

I always bring safety pins, hairpins, double clips of varying sizes, and clamps, and bungee balls with me. Safety pins are useful for clamping down dresses that are too big. Hairpins take care of hair that’s stubbornly distracting in a shot. Double clips are good for holding up reflectors if you don’t have an assistant. And the most useful accessory for me is the bungee ball. It’s elastic and attaches around objects, so I can place flash units onto poles, branches and other objects when it’s awkward or impossible to use a lightstand.

Winging it might not be advisable for a portrait photographer, but if you absolutely have to make it up as you go along, it is not impossible. With thorough preparation, you too can create on the spot.


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You might also like:
From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively
Finding Good Photos Where They Hide

Chloe Lane copyright Aloha Lavina

6 Questions to Ask When You’re Casting Models

The right model helps a photographer produce awesome photos. How many times have you photographed someone and come away with technically superb photos that just didn’t have that extra something? That elusive awesomeness in your portraits is inspiration, and inspiration can begin with casting the right model for your shoot.

Here are six questions you can ask when you’re casting models for your photoshoots. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so if you have tips to add, please don’t hesitate to add them in a comment!

1. Does the model fit your concept?

Unless you’re just starting out in portrait photography and just want to practice using the camera, you will want to have a solid concept before you shoot. There’s nothing like a strong concept to enhance your technical skills and help you produce compelling images. Making sure your model ‘fits’ your concept is a choice you can have. Because you’re not Tyra Banks trying to mold a modeland train her to be able to interpret concepts, you want someone who already gives you a head start toward awesome photos. Talking to your model beforehand, looking at their portfolio, and seeing if your vision and their look and personality match is a place you can begin when casting for a photoshoot.

Vachini Krairaksh as Gaga Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Does the model match the clothing you will be using during the shoot?

Models come in unique dimensions. Someone could have a perfect face for beauty shots because any close-up of their face from any angle stuns your lens. But you’re not always shooting close-up photos. You’ll sometimes want to show off the clothing—a short skirt, for instance, requires nice legs, and an evening gown might demand that someone has miles of legs. Matching your model to the clothing you want to photograph is a way to ensure that you will get the shots you need.

3. What’s the budget?

Unless you have oodles of disposable income and can pay someone from Elite for a fun photoshoot, you have to think about the budget for your photoshoot. As a general rule, models with experience modeling for fees will charge money, and they can be pretty expensive, too.

Models who are just starting out might agree to do what is called a TFCD or “time for a CD” of photos. This means you exchange benefits—you get a model for a photoshoot, and the other person gets a CD of their photos. This is not a bad way to begin, but you also have to think of the modeling skill of the person whom you have an agreement. Do you have time to train them? What are you using the photos for? If it’s for practice and portfolio building, TFCD works for you.

4. How much experience does the model have?

Since experienced models have higher fees, you might consider casting family and friends to model for you. But having your beautiful family and friends model for you is sometimes not the right choice, especially if you are casting for a paid photoshoot. If the client casts their family and friends for the photoshoot, that’s out of your hands. But if you are the one casting for the shoot, it is better to cast experienced models. Why? Well, people you know might be beautiful and all, but will they know how to pose, how to use their face, which angles are flattering, how armpits are not good in a pose, etc.

Irina Lysiuk for Khoon Esmode copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. How much post-processing do you have to do after the shoot?

Time is money, we know. A good photog also knows that every hour spent zapping skin blemishes is an hour docked against the fee. Perhaps seeming cruel, but honestly, a model with a lot of spots and hasn’t shaved means you spend hours in front of the computer, and if this is a real job, you’d be getting less than minimum wage unless you charge for the time in advance. Knowing your model’s features before you cast them is essential if you are not planning to spend hours on each image meticulously retouching.

6. What experience does the model have?

It seems strange to be asking this question because why would a model’s motivation affect your photoshoot? In my experience though, it does, so you can take this with a grain of turmeric if you wish. Here is why.

Some actors feel like they can model. If your shoot has a kind of storyline and that is the creative thrust of the whole production, an actor could be the right choice. But at times, what you need is someone who can use their body and face to sell a concept or clothing, not to emote in front of the camera. Acting is a mostly a large muscle, large movement activity, whereas a good model will give you small movements, small changes that change the way the overall photo looks. You can argue that a good actor has subtlety in their facial movements—doesn’t that help them model? Yes, it does help them in a motion picture or on stage, not a still photo. Also, sometimes actors turn a photo into a snapshot by doing their ‘signature smile,’ and that’s just another shot you can’t use.

Chloe Lane copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Dancers are also sometimes cast as models. Dancers have great physiques, so if you are photographing an art nude shoot or something where you are sculpting with light, dancers would be great to cast. But if you are doing clothing once again, dancing is a large muscle activity, and you really might not want a dance move with arms in positions that might take attention away from the clothing.

Casting the right model for your photoshoot can give you that added inspiration to create magical images. By paying attention to your criteria when you’re casting models, you can ensure that you have one more of the right ingredients to create those awesome photos.

What questions do you ask when you’re casting models?

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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10 Things Tyra Banks can Teach You About Portrait Photography
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Different face structures require different lighting setups. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

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.

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

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.

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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"Trapped" Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Be a Photographer, not a Lens Changer

Years ago, I had a conversation with my brother about what equipment to bring to a photoshoot. I was all into gear, and I proudly named the lenses I would lug to the location. Prime this and zoom that. I listed 4 lenses, but before I could add a macro lens into that list, he asked me, “Do you really need all that?”

I thought I did. What if I wanted a closeup of an eyelash?

Then he asked, “Do you want to be a photographer, or a lens changer?”

That question changed my outlook on gear.

Lately I’ve been wishing for a really wide lens to use with the 7D, for those tight shots in crowded markets and temples. But often when I go to a photoshoot these days, I find myself bringing just one lens. Yes, that’s right. One lens.

My bag is lighter, my shoulder and back love me more.

One lens forces me to move, to ˜zoom with my feet” and think about my compositions. Ultimately, I know I will learn something about photography if I don’t think too much about changing lenses. Here’s what I learned recently.

Change vantage point

“Trapped” Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

I saw this tree that had fallen during a wild storm. The branches were clutching the ground. It was a perfect setting for an image of being trapped. I asked the model to sit in the middle of the branches and stood up, opening the lens to 18mm to include the branches in the foreground. What I got was an unusual interpretation of the portrait using the environment, an illusion of the branches closing in on the model.

Frame the shot with what you have

“Winter butterflies” Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

The 17-55mm lens at a location where you can’t really move around a lot, forces you to frame your shot a certain way. At this location, I had a lake behind me. One step back and I’d have been wet. So I decided to frame the shot like how I felt—that any time, I could fall. The root on which the model stood helped me create the illusion that we were high up. In reality we were beside the lake, on its banks. I just crouched really low, and leaned back as far as my poor back would go, hoping I wouldn’t fall, and pulled off an illusion.

Normal focal length with tilt is cool

“Storm” Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

On this shot, I had about 4 feet of space around me, the model, and a softbox plus a couple more lights on lightstands. I really didn’t have a lot of moving space. So to add a bit of drama, I used the 35mm focal length and then tilted the camera. This way, I could add just a bit of distortion to the image and give the illusion of movement, almost like the model was bearing down on me as she ran from a storm.

On these shoots, I didn’t have the option of changing my lens. And I was able to learn some new things about how to work the lens to get the shots I wanted.

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.

You might also like:
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo
How to Stay Creative