A few years ago when I was still new to the world of beauty photography and digital photo retouching, I prided myself on the ability to "fix it later in Photoshop." I would welcome retouching challenges as I was still learning, but things changed forever after I started working with professional teams and shooting for commercial clients.
There are a few unarguable reasons for getting it right in camera.
- When photography is your business - your time is money, period. If you want to run a successful business and stay in it for a long time, you cannot afford to waste your time and energy on problems, which could be prevented before or during the shoot.
- Whether you are a beginner or experienced retoucher, some things might not look as good and natural as your client wants them after you "fix" them in Photoshop.
- If you are only hired for the job as a photographer and there will be a retoucher to finalize the images you shot, you will save your client time and money if you photograph things right and well. If you don't, your client may not want to hire you again in the future.
Other than that, I personally believe that you can consider yourself a great photographer when you can light and shoot well. If you can also enhance your images in Photoshop - kudos to you, hopefully your market price is higher proportionally to your retouching abilities. But shooting things right will always come first in commercial photography.
In this article I'd like to share with you a few things I've learned from the past couple of years while working with outstanding Beauty industry creative professionals, such as the celebrity beauty expert, whose tips and advice can be found in the leading Beauty magazines all over the world, 2013 North American Editorial Stylist of the Year (NAHA) Sherri Jessee; an internationally published, multi-talented and highly skilled makeup artist, hair stylist and educator Mikala Jean Vandenbroucke and many others.
First of all, things don't always go right or the way you expect them to. I have learned from my fellow creative professionals to always be thoroughly prepared for my shoots so that nothing can throw me off and ruin it. I write down my plans before the shoot, everything from the main ideas, pre-visualized frames and looks to the order of the makeup and outfit changes. And I also always send out mood boards to my team in advance. This way we take the decision-making time out of the shoot and can focus on the execution.
My advice: even if it's a creative collaboration photo shoot, treat it just as you would a well-paid commercial assignment with a dream client.
Often you are the one to select your models and the team for an upcoming shoot, but, unfortunately, sometimes you won't have a say in that and will have to produce outstanding work with a team chosen by your client. Of course, every situation is unique, but there are still things you can do to prepare for the shoot with the team you did not choose.
Either way, every time I create a beautiful image I thank my team for making it possible. And one of the main people on set with whom I need to have the strongest connection and mutual understanding is the model. Everything your model does or doesn’t do before and during the shoot can directly affect your post-production time and results, so it makes a lot of sense to be very selective with your models.
These are the things that are Ok to expect of your model, unless you're shooting with your neighbor or a non-model friend. Not all models have the same professional experience or training, so it's your job to let them know how they can prepare for a photo shoot with you.
- First and foremost, your ideal model should take your direction well and be able to emote - there are no such Photoshop skills to help you add emotions to her face or a dynamic aspect to her pose. If you have an important shoot coming up, meet with your model-candidate for a test so you can see how she is in front of the camera. It certainly can be a nightmare when a big team of creative professionals gather for a shoot and the model has no experience in front of the camera and can't take your direction.
- Always be on time. Nobody likes to work with unreliable models and divas, and if there is a team of professionals on the set and all of you are waiting for the model who's running late, the happy excitement atmosphere may be gone for the rest of the day and affect the results. She should inform the photographer, art director or her agent if she is running late. Let your model know that this is what you expect her to do if she happens to run late on the day.
- Wear clear nail polish unless otherwise required for the shoot. Even if she has nice manicure, the color and style will not necessarily match the style of your shoot, and if the makeup artist doesn't have nail polish remover in her/his kit there will be some extra post-processing time and costs involved.
- Make sure to have clean hair with no product in it when she shows up for a photo shoot.
- Look after her lips and apply lip softener to prevent them from chapping, especially before a close-up beauty photo shoot.
- Remove body hair. When you're shooting close-up Beauty images, or even Fashion and Editorial for that matter, any hair on arms and legs will be visible in studio or outdoors in most situations, no matter where the light sources are placed. It’s not the easiest task to remove body hair in Photoshop and it may be pretty time-consuming. I love and praise my models and private clients who take care of it before they come to my photo shoot. It simply shows that they respect and value my time. It’s a delicate topic, and not every photographer will be able to talk about it directly with his or her models/clients, but I believe it should be communicated before the shoot if you have a chance to. Most models take it the right way and understand why it is needed to be done.
- Same applies to her upper lip hair, which should be taken care of a couple of days in advance to avoid skin irritation. In the images below you can see the difference a retoucher is faced with when the same model is prepared and not so prepared for a beauty shoot:
- Groom her eyebrows. This also should be done within a few days before the shoot, especially if it's close-up beauty. If the last time the model groomed her eyebrows was over a week before the shoot, you will have to retouch a lot of dark hair stumps from around her eyebrows. Not such a big of a deal, but you wouldn't have to spend any extra time on it, if she took care of it in advance, right?
- Bring nude underwear and a strapless bra with her for any fashion or beauty photo shoot. This makes it so much easier for stylists to put models in any outfits during the shoot. Some fashion designers I have worked with had nude strapless bras and underwear in their "emergency kits", but it is definitely preferable if models always bring their own personal things to the shoots where a stylist or fashion designer will be dressing them up... unless you're shooting for Victoria's Secret, of course.
- Never dye her hair, use a tanning bed, or spray tan the day before a photo shoot. Things can go awfully wrong!
- During the shoot, make sure that the hairstylist and makeup artist are on the set, right by the model outside of the frame - calming frizzy hair, fixing messed up eyebrows and smeared lipstick, and freshening up the skin. At this point, everything they miss you will have to fix in post. Shooting tethered really helps to fix and prevent all possible problems as you shoot.
All these things will affect post-production time and cost, and ultimately the results of the shoots you are responsible for. Again, it is not always possible to communicate all of this to the model you are going to be shooting with, but when it is, it's in your best interest to make sure your model knows how to prepare for your shoot.
I hope you find these tips helpful, and if there's something else you do before your shoots, please share it with us in the comments below!
And before I sign off today, I just wanted to say thank you so much for your wonderful comments and support for my previous articles. I am leaving for Moscow, Russia for a couple of weeks to visit my family, shoot with my regular clients and meet up with some super-talented Russian photographers, so hopefully I will have something interesting to share upon my return. In the mean time, feel free to check out my article on Boudoir photography and the tools I use to prepare for my shoots: Boudoir Photography, Lighting, Posing, Client Shoots and What I Think About It All.
Stay cool and enjoy the rest of your summer!