It has been said that coming up with the idea is the easy part, and we photographers are certainly full of them. We all dream of shoots with a million-dollar budget, elephants and trapeze artists, and maybe the occasional Playboy model. But it takes a whole lot of work to get there. This series of posts, “Idea to Image”, will document just that: the things I’d like to shoot, and the steps I’m taking to get from the first idea to the final image.
I certainly have big dreams. In five years I’d like to be shooting for all manner of editorials, online and otherwise. I want to be like Joe McNally, and tell stories with my images. And even though my client list doesn’t include National Geographic and Sports Illustrated, I can certainly still tell powerful stories given my opportunities. And if I can make beautiful photos given the resources of a sixteen-year-old suburbanite of Chicago, maybe I’ll get the chance to shoot with greater resources.
If you can show the world that you can shoot a certain kind of photography for yourself, maybe the world will pay you to shoot that certain kind of photography that you already enjoy shooting. It’s a win-win. Professional photographers often end up shooting for clients because it pays the bills. But if you can spend more time shooting the things you enjoy while getting paid for it, why wouldn’t you? That is the importance of ideating your own photographs, and more importantly, executing them.
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For a while now, I’ve been very interested in streetwear fashion. I think it’s awesome how something as informal as a t-shirt or hat can be so beautiful and interesting. I knew I wanted to start shooting things related to streetwear fashion a couple of months ago, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. I knew I’d have to start with a small brand though. You don’t just start shooting high fashion with Prada.
Of the small, up-and-coming streetwear brands I knew, none were based in Chicago, so when I took a trip to the East Coast over spring break for school visits, I checked there. The brand KidSuper is pretty small, has a lot of potential to grow, and has an awesome idea behind it. KidSuper is a brand based around the “wonderment of being a kid” and recapturing the “kid in all of us”. Already, Colm – the brand’s owner – had given me an awesome base to work from for photographs.
When I thought about shooting with KidSuper, I was laying in bed failing to go to sleep. It was rather epiphytical. My mind started cranking out ideas for photos. I wanted to shoot a lookbook with Colm for his recently released spring line with a conceptual twist. The concept was to base each shot off of a very classic childhood memory or element. I started outlining a couple of the shots in my mind loosely, and was genuinely smiling when I fell asleep.
At that point, I had about a month until I’d be heading down to New York, and while that may seem like a long time to plan, it ended up not being enough. I sent Colm a message on Facebook the next day that just told him I’d be interested in working together and would be coming down at the end of March. As well, I outlined my basic idea, and asked him if he’d like to shoot. He replied pretty quickly saying he’d be glad to, and I started talking more in depth about the photo ideas and logistics of things. One of the things that came up pretty quickly was money.
Money is always an awkward thing for me to bring up with new clients. If you all have any advice on that one, let me know… but this was certainly a difficult scenario to discuss money in. What it came down to is that I don’t think people should work for free, but at the same time, Colm’s a college student, and doesn’t have a whole lot of money to his name. Photography isn’t something he can afford to shell out his limited cash for, and I understand that. I got a lot out of doing photos for him, so I wasn’t doing them for free at all. Plus, I got some free clothes from his line!
We messaged back and forth a bunch over the next month, and figured out which photos were a little too over-the-top to pull off, what props we’d need, and locations to shoot at. Plus, I found models on Model Mayhem. In the end, despite what a head start we got on planning, things felt pretty hectic. Some of the plans were hard to communicate just over Facebook messages. But everything came together in the end!
We planned for two days of shooting. I had a very regimented plan – an itinerary even – made up for those two days that included addresses, models’ names, and run-downs for what we’d do. Along the way, a lot changed, but I just rolled with it and made the best pictures I could.
The first day I planned on shooting two shots each with two different models. One of the models was M.I.A., but the other came after a little while and we got going on the first shot.
My idea for the first shot was to have Jercarr, the model, on a tricycle in the middle of Times Square. The tricycle was our humorous, kiddish element, and putting him in the middle of Times Square made for some awesome reactions from the people there. Colm and his friends there were having a lot of fun with the tricycles, too, so I just went with things and they jumped in the photo, too.
As for lighting, I kept it really simple. I just wanted to provide a little pop to them, so I dialed in 1/250th of a second so I could freeze them in action, an aperture that promised a stop of under-exposure, and had another of Colm’s friends, Danny, stand with a bare Lumopro160 on a stand to camera right.
It’d been a really hectic day up to then, so we kept it simple after that with just a ¾ portrait of Jercarr in one of KidSuper’s hoodies and an iconic propeller hat on the big red stairs in the middle of Times Square.
It was lit and shot quickly with a flash and dome diffuser inside of a Lumiquest LPIII softbox just out of frame to camera left to provide some decently soft light and quick falloff from him.
The second day went more according to plan. I met with Cristiano at our first location, in front of an ice cream truck, and we got to shooting.
For our first photo, I wanted to use some warm, pleasant colors, so I shifted to cloudy white balance to throw the whole photo into a warmer palate and then put an LP160 in the background to camera left with a CTO gel to make it look like we were shooting at sunset, even though it was cloudy and grey out. As well, I had an LP160 with a dome diffuser shooting into a reflective umbrella to camera left, high. Again, I underexposed the ambient light a little and filled in with my flashes. The photos turned out very well, and I found out how talented of a model Cristiano was – I was excited for the rest of the day!
For our second shoot, I was looking to evoke the whole “dressing up as a superhero” idea and play off of the shirt he was wearing.
I really liked the feeling of getting low with a wide lens, especially given the super symmetrical scene of the Subway entrance that Cristiano’s in. It’s dramatic and looks like something straight out of a comic! I lit this symmetrically, too, with the big, blaring, dramatic lights in the background and a flash behind me, to slight camera right. In this photo, I underexposed the ambient more dramatically to fit with things.
We ended with shots of KidSuper’s “coach’s jacket” at a fitting place – Central Park’s baseball fields.
We shot these two at sunset, and I wanted to accentuate the colors, so again I shifted to cloudy white balance. The first shot was a very simple portrait with an LP160 and dome diffuser shooting into an umbrella to camera left. The second was a little more creative. Again, I wanted to stress the sunset idea, so I placed an LP160 to far right with a CTO. Other than that, I knew I needed to bring out the drawings on the back of the jacket, but very subtlely, so I placed a flash to camera right on minimum power and feathered it away from the jacket.
At the end, we were both pretty tired and I was definitely happy. The last thing I did was ask him what he honestly thought of our shoot as far as my direction went, my confidence, etc. I wanted to know what he thought, and I think asking a model once in a while can give a fresh insight about my “performance” as a photographer. Just a thought…
In the end, I had an awesome time. All the planning and stressing was worth it for the experience. There are certainly things I would do differently next time around, but I still have some photos that I’m happy with, and I learned a whole lot about planning something like this, and networked a bunch! Maybe I’ll get the opportunity to shoot somebody else’s lookbook. I’m already making plans to shoot KidSuper’s next one for their summer line with hip-hop artists and such.
I hope you enjoyed this first blog post… I’m already thinking that I’m going to split these posts into pieces in the future. This is very long. Haha. Please let me know what you think in the comments below!
Go check out KidSuper!