Wednesday, February 8, 2012

It's All About a Mood - Working With A Model

I think, as a "builder" of visual art who wants to convey meaning and emotion in my images I have discovered that the most important aspect of creating what I see in my mind successfully is to be sure
the subject I place in the image is tuned in to the same idea.

I began shooting models to incorporate into my work 5 years ago.  It has taught me so much about how to successfully create the work I envision. And how to "listen" visually to the expression of another and to let ideas come from that perspective instead of just my own.

Now, let me reveal this about my imagery that you may not know. If you see an image of mine that includes the human form, I almost always shoot raw images of the model in the most mundane of settings; a living room, a plain backdrop, a simple floor. I choose to create my images from heavy editing and compiling of several/many photos and not from setting up a complete scene to shoot as one image.

In starting down this road I quickly realized how important the mood and presence of the model is going to be to what I do. What they project in their posture, eyes and body language is what the camera picks up.  And that I cannot edit that away so easily.

This is true of all photography using models and, I believe, as much if not more so in the context of product photography. It's not enough to have a "stand in" hold your product and pose. It has to be the right person, with the right energy, because no matter the product you will usually find that they dominate the frame. This is great if they are really present and alive in the frame and, no matter the work of art they are modeling, terrible if they are not.

So it is important to have a model who is comfortable and who is able to be very natural with the product or in the setting you've place them in.  I am not a big fan of the blank, supermodel, indifferent, detached look. I find mannequins far more interesting to view actually. I WANT the human component in every one I shoot to come alive and help create the image. To guide my imagination into the visual experience.

Over time I have moved away from having a slate of concrete ideas when I photograph someone and, instead, it's important to me to learn about them, how they view life and themselves and who they truly are so that I can transform the images into ideas based on what they have revealed as well as what I see in them as the observer.

Sometimes I go back to work I shot three or four years ago and suddenly see something in the raw image that I did not before. Then the idea is born and I get to creating it.

Below is an example that I wanted to share of how I go from raw to finished work.

I shot these images of Corrie back in 2008. She drove from Boise ID to Portland to work with me. We had several long conversations and many email exchanges before the day we spent shooting. We settled upon this idea together of  "The Dollhouse" which is a series about how people are often treated as the new toy in someones life and then, over time, as interest is lost and new toys come into play, discarded.

The fact that Corrie is double jointed allowed for some of the most wonderful and surreal poses to come through. Below is the title page for the series with the original photo of Corrie and then the constructed image as completed.

The bookcase in the finished images is actually a little toy wooden one I bought at goodwill for 3 dollars. It is only 6 inches high but the drawers pull out and I filled it with the items shown one by one from photos I took along the way.

What is never lost throughout this series is that Corrie pulled the doll "look" off to perfection.  Not easy to do when you think about it. Not quite blank but wide eyed and singularly emotive. Perfect in the lack of a "self". The images get disturbing as the series goes on, using her double-jointedness to cram her figure (in editing that is) into the wardrobe side and into drawers and, finally, bent in half head and feet almost touching BEHIND the dresser. . . staring up with the same blank look.

This is the ONLY person I have worked with who could have pulled this off. I listened to what her story was. Her input was crucial to making this truly work.

For products OR images, finding the right model to show off your idea or your handmade dresses, jewelry or tote bags is just as important. Especially for online shopping where the visual image and description are the ONLY interaction people have with your product. Remember that your product has a mood. Everything does. . . so think about what you want to convey, what style, what age group is it for, is it casual or formal, serious or quirky, is it an outdoor or indoor product, etc etc and, in all of that, find the person who best fits those qualities and let them shine!


And here is another set of wonderful posts you can check out on working with a model from the product photography world:


  1. Love the read Nicolas :)

    Thanks !

  2. Nicholas, thank you so much for sharing this experience. It's interesting and inspirational to hear how different artists view the role of a model in displaying their work. The settings you describe are edgy and off the beaten path, and by merely describing them, you've piqued my interest in viewing the entire shoot. Very intriguing.

  3. Interesting to read!
    This sounds really like "working" with a model! It´s sort of director´s work.

  4. An enjoyable insight into your conceptual and technical process! It is intriguing that you use personal stories from real people to create somewhat surrealistic images. It has the power of dreams, which use objects from our everyday reality to explore emotions.

  5. Wonderful insight, Nicolas! I love learning about the process. I too would love to see the rest of that shoot. I'm fascinated by Corrie and her doll "look"!