SmugMug Films: Riding Under the Waves with Sarah Lee

The next episode in the SmugMug Films series focuses on water photographer Sarah Lee.  Subscribe to the channel now to watch and see future installments as soon as we set them free.

When not finishing up her film-production degree on the coast of California, Sarah Lee spends as much time as she can in the water. Be it Hawaii, Australia, or any coastal beach, she loves diving in to see what photos can be captured beneath the waves. Her natural love of swimming led to photographing swim meets, and her interest in photography grew until she started taking her camera in and under the water to photograph other swimmers, surfers, and good friends. Sarah’s passion has led to her work being featured in Italian fashion magazines and for adventure companies in Australia and New Zealand.

How long have you been a photographer?

I started taking pictures in high school, and I never thought I’d do it professionally. I grew up surfing for fun and swimming competitively. Someone handed me a camera during a swim meet one day, so I started taking pictures. When I started shooting, I really enjoyed the way it allowed me to interact with people and capture what was happening. And it evolved from there.

How would you describe your specialty?

What I do is 90 percent focused around the water and ocean. I grew up around it—and in it—and it’s very important to me. I would describe what I do as water and lifestyle photography. It’s people interacting with nature, in water.

My approach to photography is more spontaneous, because, for me, it’s more about capturing what’s actually happening than trying to make something happen. With water, many things are out of your control, and I love that. Whatever the water and light decide to do, you have to adapt to capture it.

Have you worked on a lot of surf photography?

Probably my favorite thing to do is surf photography, but I approach it more as something to do for fun. I was in Fiji two years ago during one of the surf contests, with 15- to 20-foot waves. I just love swimming and shooting in huge waves!

Is that the coolest place you’ve traveled for a shoot?

Actually, there’s this spot in New Zealand called Blue Duck Station. I traveled there with the Alison’s Adventures series I was working on. It was this amazing farm filled with sheep and horses and rivers—just the most majestic place. Imagine riding horses up the tallest mountain at sunrise to watch the fog separate over the mountains. It was incredible.

Are there any other shoots that are particularly memorable for you?

I did a shoot for a high-fashion design company, forte_forte. This Italian clothing company found me online, and they sent me their capsule collection that they wanted to have photographed underwater. They were these gorgeous, expensive gowns, and I told them, “You know they’re going to get destroyed, right?” They didn’t blink.

For that commission, I got some of my friends together—swimmers and surfers—and we swam under really big waves with these really heavy, long dresses, and it was an incredible feat, especially for the models. forte_forte loved it. It got published in Marie Claire Italy, too, and all over the Internet.

Did the models have to change in the water?

Yes. I swam with a huge backpack filled with the dresses, and the models had to change in the water between waves. That’s also why I use only experienced swimmers and girls whose swimming abilities I am familiar with.

It sounds challenging!

It’s extremely challenging! Especially for the models since they have to swim in the dresses, too, without fins. It can be really tiring for them.

Have you done any more fashion shoots?

I did one a couple months ago for another Italian company’s swimwear line. They had these expensive Italian leather boots they wanted shot underwater, as well as purses and jackets with bikinis. Styling is a bit impossible, but there are approaches to having a purse underwater and having clothes in motion.

And the model—huge props to that girl. She had to wear high heels and a jacket while holding a purse under the waves, and she was amazing. I tried to put on one of the shoes just to see what it was like, and it was a disaster.

How do you find models for your underwater shoots?

Mostly it’s people I meet surfing or swimming. I’ve never really used a professional model before. Because water is such a difficult element to deal with, it’s important the models are strong swimmers and are aware of what the ocean can do—and be able to hold their breath well. It takes a really special person to do that.

Do you have signals to direct the models while underwater?

We actually wait to surface to give direction. It’s all about timing so we can talk above the water and give direction, then go back underwater to continue shooting.

What kind of conditions do you look for when you go out for a shoot?

It depends what kind of shoot it is. My favorite kind of shoot is early in the morning or sunset underwater—just like any photographer’s ideal timing. Condition-wise, it depends on the spot and if it will be high tide or low tide. Each spot is different in terms of when water clarity is best. There are so many elements to consider, like surf size, tide, wind, and weather.

For shooting underwater, you want bright sun and less cloudy weather. But above the water, like for surfing, I love cloudier, darker skies with light—like when a storm has cleared and the clouds are dark but there’s so much light. That’s the best.

How far do you usually have to swim out?

It depends on the spot. For some places it’s 50 feet off shore, and others it’s a couple hundred feet. Lighting for underwater is best between 1 to 8 feet from the surface. Too deep and you lose a lot of light and clarity, and it affects skin tone.

Is everything you shoot natural light only?

Ninety-nine percent of what I do is all natural light. I’ve tried flashes underwater, but I haven’t really gotten into it. Lately I’ve been shooting underwater at sunrise or sunset to experiment with natural lighting.

Have you ever used props other than dresses and other items your models wear?

For one shoot, I really wanted to build something that looked like a jellyfish. We found a plastic umbrella, bought some beaded chandeliers that go over windows, took them apart, then stitched them onto the umbrella and added ribbons. That was really intense to deal with in the water.

Was the umbrella easily tossed around by the waves?

We didn’t take it into the waves because of the risks of having a huge umbrella underwater, so we took it out into deeper water for that shoot. It worked out pretty well—and no plastic pieces were lost in the process!

What gear could you not live without?

If I could just have one lens and body to walk around with, it would be my Nikkor 50/1.2 and 5d MkIII.

Lately I’ve been using an Outex, which is a silicone camera cover. It’s rad because you can use different lenses in it and it has a tripod neck strap. It’s worked really well underwater in lots of situations.

And of course fins—and goggles, sometimes.

Do you have to decide on which body and lens you’re using before you swim out for a shoot, or do you ever swim back to shore for a lens change?

I have to choose one and go out for the entire shoot so no; I have to make a choice and stick with it and shoot it all on manual, adjusting aperture and shutter speed as I go. I’ve done it enough that, based on the conditions, I know what’ll work best. For anything underwater, you’re usually shooting fisheye or wide angle.

It must be like manual zoom, too, but instead of walking you’re using your fins.

Totally! It’s cool because you can just be underwater, floating and swimming. It’s not always just a “walk in the park,” and that’s what I love most.

Any advice for an aspiring photographer?

I like to approach every photo session as an experiment. Be open to whatever nature and the elements give you, and work with it. Take it easy, and adapt to whatever happens. So far that approach has worked out for me.

Find Sarah online:

The Muse: Modeling in the Fashion World

Next in our short series of posts from Dallas Nagata White’s amazing team is Katharine Schuette, a recent university graduate and model extraordinaire. Her perspective is the final corner of our fashion shoot trifecta. What’s it like to be a professional model in the industry? Is it everything we envision it to be? Here’s what she had to say!

What is your story? How did you get into the modeling industry?

Model Kate Schuette
Photo by Daeja Fallas

Modeling just happened to me, I didn’t seek it out. One weekend while walking to Waikiki beach, I picked up a local fashion magazine. The back page featured a raffle for a free haircut – and as a college student, I found this offer enticing. I won the raffle (I was probably the only person that responded), and when I picked up the gift certificate, the editor asked if I’d ever thought about modeling. Although I’d vaguely recognized my own bone structure in those of the models in advertisements, I never really gave it much thought. Especially since I live about five thousand miles away from New York, and am in the exact opposite time zone as Paris. I didn’t know at the time that Honolulu has a small but thriving fashion scene.

The editor set me up with a few test shoots with local photographers, and helped me shop around for agencies. My career unfolded from there, and in 2011 I had the opportunity to work with Wilhelmina LA, so I left Hawaii for awhile and tried my luck in the big leagues. I’m winding down now because I’m focusing on my “real” career, but I’ll still shoot if I get a booking, or if friends or skilled photographers want to work with me.

I love that with modeling comes travel, new faces, clients from all over the world. I’m saturated with wanderlust but tied to the second most isolated place on the planet, so when I spend the day with a group of Norwegians posing with Tahitian kids at Sandy Beach, I’m a happy girl. “Wow, how is this my life?” always hits me in the middle of shoots, or when I land in a new city. I’ll never forget standing in Shanghai and looking out at the Pudong skyline by night, trying to communicate with tuk tuk drivers in Thailand, or driving past thousands upon thousands of windmills on a road trip-themed shoot from Vegas to Palm Springs. I never would have had those experiences in my early 20s if not for this job.

It gives me a chance to get away from my typical daily life, wear clothes I’d never wear, and basically pretend to be someone else who is far more glamorous than I, with better hair, for a day. I’ll miss my job when it comes time to claim the inevitable title of “former model.”

Who takes creative lead on the shoot? Who contacts who?

It depends on the client. I wouldn’t be the person to ask about this, I just show up at call time. There’s might be an art director on larger shoots who handles a lot of that. My responsibility is to communicate with the client and photographer to understand their inspirations, vision for the finished product, and especially the emotion they want to convey.

Model Kate Schuette
Photo by Henrique Gendre

What’s the most important bargaining chip for models?

A model needs to understand what emotion the photographer wants to portray at any given moment, and know her body and face well enough to make sure a large portion of those pictures come out well. She needs to be able to do ridiculous things like hang from unsteady tree branches or splash around in the ocean in December (in heels, probably) while appearing completely “relaxed” and “natural” (these two words usually come up when I’m in a particularly precarious situation).

It helps to be friendly, never complain, and be professional. I had a client who booked a model with this great sullen, bored look that would be perfect for selling clothes to teenagers. Unfortunately for them, this was actually her personality and she ended up storming off down the beach mid-shoot in their sample clothes, never to return.

What happens on the day of the shoot?

I show up at some ungodly hour even earlier than necessary because I am prideful about my punctuality. I find the coffee. I find the client. Now I am ready to sit in hair and makeup for up to three hours, usually two; then, the stylist gets me ready for the first look. By then the set of the first image is prepared and the photographer and I get to work. There are assistants around, and stylists maintaining the integrity of the look. But there is an unbroken line of communication between the photographer and the model – the photographer has a vision and an inspiration, the model understands that vision and does her best to create the image he or she wants.

We’ll work our way through however many looks the client needs, and by the “golden hour” are ready to shoot the final image. This one is always my favorite because the light is easy to work with – all angles look better! – and also, I’m about to go home. On the best shoots, the whole team will go out to dinner afterward to celebrate.

What contracts, insurance and other business details do you need to make sure get handled?

My agency handles the business end, which is why I give them a 20% cut. My agency in Hawaii is especially reliable and I’ve never had a problem getting paid on time, unless the client was delinquent, but they’ve never failed to claim payment eventually. The mainland was a little different because there were so many girls; if I didn’t keep track of every invoice I probably wouldn’t have been paid for several jobs.

I also have to take out all of my own taxes and keep track of business expenses, of which there are many. I’m lucky because I can include expenses such as bikini waxes and gym memberships on my expenses each year.

I signed a 2-year contract with my agency but it’s kind of a charade because they can drop you at any time if you gain weight or you lose a limb or something.

Model Kate Schuette
Photo by Jackie Meiring

What is your opinion on TFP (Time For Prints)?

It’s great if you’re just starting to model and the photographer is experienced. If you’re an inexperienced photographer, I can imagine it would be difficult to book a professional model, so you might have to find a new face to work with. By the time a model is established, she should be able to book enough editorials where she won’t have to do any TFP. I wouldn’t do it now unless it were with my close friends who are photographers.

Do you you ever initiate projects with photographers?

My agency vouches for me if a client is interested; I do not initiate jobs. By the time the model is booked, the shoot is probably completely organized, and then a couple of weeks (or even days) before, they’ll hire me.

What does the ultimate dream job look like for you?

Oh wow, this is great. Okay, I am in Tokyo, I’m thinking something involving a Frida Kahlo inspired look, on the streets of Ginza in the spring on Saturdays when the roads are blocked off from traffic.The photographer is my favorite in the world, Harold Julian (who is off in New York now!). Whenever I felt nervous on a shoot in LA, I would pretend Harold was actually the one behind the camera. He’s kind of a quiet guy, but when he starts shooting he gets really energetic. And while he’s shooting, he’s explaining what attitudes or emotions he’s envisioning for the shot; he lets me use that inspiration.

Some photographers will have a certain vision they want to fulfill and tell you exactly how they want you posed, down to your fingertips, and it can be really suffocating and drags a lot of life out of the image. Harold gives more vague ideas or asks me to try certain things, but it’s never strict, and he lets me work within that framework of what he has in mind. It’s such a positive, creative atmosphere.

Model Kate Schuette
Photo by Anna Wolf

If you had to pick 3 things that you wish photographers would consider when working with models, what would they be?

I can only really speak for myself because I’m not sure how all models feel, but I like when photographers act relaxed and friendly and take the time to get to know my personality before we start working. I also want photographers to be able to get the right rhythm between when I pose and they shoot. It’s difficult to hold a facial expression or pose for longer than a half a second without the expression falling flat or looking unnatural. I like to be able to move fluidly between poses. And third – play music! I love when the music matches the theme of the shoot, how it helps you get into that headspace of acting like someone completely new.

Is it generally expected that you’ll get copies of the photos to use for your own portfolio?

It doesn’t always happen and sometimes I have to go out and buy the magazines to use in my book, but really great clients are conscientious about sending me a few copies. If I’m shooting for fun or testing, it’s important that the photographer sends me the pictures because that’s the whole point of giving up a day, or morning, to work. If they take forever to return the finished images, that’s a sign that they’re unprofessional and it’s unlikely I would work with them again. How hard is it to use Dropbox?

Model Kate Schuette
Photo by Anna Wolf

Everyone has their “best angles” in photos. How do you find a balance between what works for you vs how the photographer wants to pose you?

If the photographer wants me to pose in a very specific way, I just have to work with what he or she is asking. They have the final say, but I try to angle my face or body in such a way that it will still look good. If the photographer is more lenient I can pose how I see fit and play around with different looks until I hit on something that inspires them. Then I’ll work within that more narrow range of poses and attitudes.

How would you suggest up-and-coming photographers get started with finding a model to work with?

Don’t find a model. Shoot people – friends, family, anyone. My friend Ja Tecson, in Los Angeles, is a great example of what can be done without using a “model.” His images are crisp and colorful and full of energy. And although many of the people he shoots are really attractive, they have a genuineness that makes the images interesting.

We hope that all of you budding photographers are as inspired as we are after seeing what happens behind-the-scenes of the great fashion industry. So tell us what you think. Have your experiences been any different? Are you inspired to try adding more fashion into your portrait shots?

Success Stories: Matthew Jordan Smith Photography

The Model: Fashioning a Niche in Celebrity Portraiture and Beauty

Name: Matthew Jordan Smith
Position/Title: Owner
Company: Matthew Jordan Smith Photography
Location: Los Angeles
Market: Fashion/Celebrity Photographer
Bragworthy Factoid: Having a client list that reads like a People magazine table of contents (Oprah Winfrey much?)
SmugMugger Since: 2011

Career Highlights…

  • Publishing his first book, Sepia Dreams: A Celebration of African-American Achievement Through Words and Images
  • Appearing as a guest photographer and judge on the hit TV show, “America’s Next Top Model”
  • Teaching at Manhattan’s prestigious School of Visual Arts and the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops

Favorite Features…

Yin yang black white red profile by Matthew Jordan Smith
All photos by Matthew Jordan Smith Photography

A Beautiful Beginning

Scanning Matthew Jordan Smith’s subject roster, which includes such luminaries as Halle Berry, Jennifer Connelly, Michael Jordan, Vanessa Williams and Jamie Foxx, the last word you would ever apply to this explosive talent is humble. Nevertheless, the high-profile fashion and celebrity photographer traces his success to a simple yet formative beginning: an involved father and a basic camera. “My father taught me how to process film. It was a hobby until I read a book by [photographer] Gordon Parks,” he says. “That was the first time I saw a photographer making a living. From then on, I wanted to be a photographer.”

Purple glitter eyes by Matthew Jordan Smith

Want a Unique Look? Cultivate a Vision

Smith, whose specialties are magazine editorial and beauty advertising, attributes his success in part to knowing who he is and where he comes from—to cultivating his own vision. “Whoever we are, it has a big impact on our work,” he says. “What pulled me into fashion and beauty was that it was one of the few industries where I could tell my story. You see that in my images.” Smith says having a clear vision of what you want to communicate with your work is key to developing a unique style. “Everybody can become a photographer,” he insists. “It’s more important to work on your vision. You can take a great picture on an iPhone and have no idea how you did it—the camera does everything for you. But once your vision is clearly defined, people will come to you for that.”

Yellow butterfly eyes by Matthew Jordan Smith

How SmugMug Helps

Smith’s focus is laser-guided when it comes to getting the most out of SmugMug. “My site is very clean,” he says. “I can make changes easily. It loads fast, so clients can see what they want and jump off — I love that about it.” Smith says the compliments he gets on his site design “changed everything,” increasing interest in his work. His other favorites? Secure archiving, privacy and display options. “All hard drives eventually fail,” he cautions. “Backing up is every photographer’s nightmare. Storing my work on SmugMug is a big plus for me — I can’t express how important that is.” Finally, Smith enjoys the ease SmugMug’s gallery features have added to his routine. “Once the images are up, I send the client a link to SmugMug – it’s a vital part of interacting with the client and keeping everyone in the loop,” he says. Often, his client is an advertising agency that turns around and sends the link to their client. Maintaining privacy and controlling feedback and versioning is critical.

Aretha Franklin feathers by Matthew Jordan Smith

Getting Behind the Beauty

Smith is an expert on working with models . Before shooting a subject, whether celebrity or CEO, Smith researches her extensively—and not all the research takes place alone at a computer. “A lot of the digging happens in hair and makeup. Find out what books they’ve read, movies they’ve seen—ask about them as a person. Get to know them before they get in front of a camera so you can pull out that knowledge later,” he advises, pointing out that this type of casual data collection also makes models more comfortable with you once the lighting goes up.

Three models with dark eyeshadow by Matthew Jordan Smith

Don’t Just Talk; Get Visual

Smith is a big proponent of using visual aids to communicate a concept to models and clients alike. “Give them something they can hear, see, touch,” he advises. “Then they become part of that idea. They’re all looking for direction and it’s your job to give it.” Smith cites a shoot based on the film From Here to Eternity, in which he showed models sketches and storyboarding of movie scenes while describing the mood he sought (“romantic” and “musical”). The models in question hadn’t seen the film, but, with props, he was able to bring alive the iconic image of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kissing in the crashing waves. Another time, he guided actress-singer Vanessa Williams through a successful shoot by pulling her aside mid-shoot and showing her a tear sheet of the look he wanted, which she was then able to replicate. “It’s not enough to just tell someone your idea,” he says. “Always show some them something tangible.”

Want more inspiration? Check out our Success Stories and our Photography Perspectives series!

Making Magic: Stylists in the Fashion Photo Shoot

We talked with fashion photographer Dallas Nagata White the other week and she primed the pump for a great month of behind-the-biz fashion secrets. Our next post is an interview with two of the key elements behind every one of their shoots: the wardobe and hair stylist.

Tyson Joines has been dressing the some of the industry’s biggest celebrities for the past 4.5 years, including Bruno Mars, Kimora Lee Simmons, Kat Graham, Debbie Matenopoulous and Holly Madison. Hawaii native Mel Mariano sculpts show-worthy hair from the salon to the runway, transforming models into muses. Both have taken the time to shed some light about what it’s like to work with photographers in the fashion business, and just why it’s best to let pros like them handle the heavy lifting when it matters most.

Photo by Dallas Nagata White. Makeup by Lorena Takushi. Hair by Mel Mariano.

With so many talented people working at once for the final image, who takes creative lead on the shoot?

Mel: I’ve noticed that the photographer is the “creative lead” in all the shoots I have done in the past. But what I truly appreciate is when they allow me (the hairstylist) and the makeup artist to use our own creative ideas to help bring their vision to life.

Tyson: If there’s a Creative Director involved on a shoot, then they would take the lead. From my experiences, on smaller projects that don’t have a Creative Director, it’s usually the photographer that takes the lead creatively.

What kinds of questions should the photographer consider for you before the shoot?

Tyson: Communication can be really natural and easy, or it can be like pulling teeth, depending on the team you’re working with. I have experienced both spectrums myself. Some questions I’d need to consider before the shoot are: What are the photos going to be used for? What is the concept? Is their pay involved or is it a trade shoot? If it is a trade shoot, how soon can I expect to see the photos? As a stylist, it’s also important that I know the models measurements, too.

Mel: If there are any changes to be made then communication on that part must be good and clear. I listen and adapt well to different ideas while still following the concept we discussed. So if there are any styles they want me to create, I usually am good in thinking on the spot if its a sudden change or a “spark” of a new idea happens!

How much time is needed to plan and execute a photo shoot? How much input do you have in crafting the mode’s look?

Mel: The makeup artist and I have a little system: I usually start and set up the hair, depending on the look, while she sets up her makeup. Once I have completely set up the model’s hair she then starts on the make up. Then once the make up is complete, I come back in and finish the hair style and mold it to desired look.

Tyson: The time span when planning a shoot really depends on the urgency of the shoot, and your connections when putting a team together. The stylist has a fair amount of say in the shoot; the clothes after all, are the first thing you notice when you look at a photo.

What are the tools of your trade?

Mel: I keep things simple, I don’t like complicated things. Using the right product for any job is key, as well as the technique in hand. Always want to “work smarter, not harder”. A simple setting of the hair can lead to various hairstyles I can create in the end.

Tyson: My tools as a stylist are really simple and accessible. A wardrobe stylist needs a steamer, garment racks, pins (clothes, safety), double stick tape, masking tape to tape the soles of shoes, garment bags, hangers, a sewing kit, and a retagging gun for merchandise tags.

Photo by Orlando Benedicto. Makeup by Lorena Takushi. Hair by Mel Mariano.

How do you manage outdoor photo shoots and the dramatic Hawaiian weather?

Mel: Sometime we play things by ear, keep updated with weather reports especially if its an outdoor shoot. Or if worst comes to worst we change location. Not a difficult task since most of us are from the island we always have a “Plan B” location in mind already, or a default location/studio if available.

Tyson: Outdoor shoots are really tricky to execute. You obviously can’t control the weather, so you need to work with what you’re given. For instance with regard to wind, hopefully the models hair would be pulled back out of her face or in a similar style that works well with movement so she doesn’t have to fuss with it.

What happens on the day of the shoot? Walk us through a typical day on the job.

Tyson: Hopefully when the day of the shoot comes around, the stylist has already done a fitting with the model, and the photographer has scouted the location. On the day of the shoot, the make up artist and model usually arrives first to start hair and make up. The stylist typically arrives next, sets up their garment racks, and starts steaming clothes and picking looks to wear from his or her options. The photographer arrives last and shortly after shooting should begin. Once every look is finished being shot, the stylist will change the model into their next outfit, and the make up artist will do touch ups as needed.

Tyson on the job. Photo by Orlando Benedicto.

Mel: We arrive on location for call time with the hairstylist, makeup artist, and model. Then we introduce ourselves if its a first time working with the model and typically we always compliment the model right away. A “good vibe” from the start is the best impression and helps keep the mood that way during the shoot.  The model can produce great pictures if she feels good the whole time! Then I would get started on her hair, setting it with the curling iron and prong clips. Once that is done, the makeup artist can start on the makeup process. Then towards the end of makeup being done I start taking down the set I created and mold and style the hair to the desired look. If they will be photographing multiple looks, I can easily build those on as the look changes. And while the photographer is shooting, I step in when needed in-between shots to touch up the hair. Our goal is to make her look perfect in every shot!

What contracts, insurance and other business details need to be looked after?

Tyson: Typically more established stylists have some sort of business insurance. That tends to cover lost or damaged clothing which sometimes happens on shoots. The photographer may have a release form for the model to sign stating the stipulations of photo usage.

Mel: I am not too aware of contracts on my part, but if their is a model release form required by the photographer then that gets taken care of between them.

What is your opinion on Trade For Prints (TFP)?

Mel: TFP is basically working so that everyone involved will share the final images to use in their own portfolios. I have done a few for the purpose on building my portfolio, and I don’t mind doing it at all.

Tyson: I think TFP shoots are great in certain situations. If you’re just starting off, a stylist TFP is a great way to hone your skills and work with people who are at a similar talent level. I do think there is a time when TFP shoots need to be stopped. When you have a solid amount of work under your belt and after you have established yourself as a respected worker, it’s time to set monetary rates and launch your business!

Photo by Orlando Benedicto. Makeup by Lorena Takushi. Hair by Mel Mariano.

What does the ultimate dream job look like for you?

Mel: Ultimately, I want to work on big jobs and big time shoots. Locations of the shoots would probably be all over the nation and even international private and popular spots or studios. Everyone would be so professional that I would only take 5 hours, tops, for multiple looks and shooting time.

Tyson: The ultimate dream job for me would be a really intricate high fashion shoot with a supermodel, and a world renowned photographer. I can just imagine the couture dresses that would be on set, and the amazing locations we would shoot at.

Is it generally expected that you’ll get copies of the photos to use for your own portfolio?

Mel: I always would expect to use the photos because it is always my work in the photo. I wouldn’t sell them for any reason but simply use them for my portfolio work. I always ask permission from the photographer first.

Tyson: If it is a TFP shoot, yes, it is expected (and pretty common knowledge) that photos will be provided to the entire team. If there is no monetary compensation, then photos would be my payment.

Tyson in the studio. Photo by Orlando Benedicto

If you had to pick 3 things that you wish photographers would consider when working with stylists, what would they be?

Mel: Every photographer is different in how they direct, so it varies with most. If they aren’t thinking about any aspects of the shot except lighting and angle, then as a versatile hairstylist I look out for the overall look and appearance of the model. For example, if the hair needs to be fixed or out of the model’s face, if the makeup got smudged and needs to be blended out, or if the clothes are a bit off or look awkward then I would help out with adjusting that, too. The best part of working with a team is having that extra help, even if its not your job. I don’t mind at all.

How would you suggest up-and-coming photographers get started with finding a stylist to work with?

Mel: Work of mouth is the best way, and networking at the same time. For every shoot I do I make sure I pass out my business cards to everyone. You never know who may need my hair expertise for future work, and I’ll always be up to get more experience and meet more artists!

Tyson: If you’re just starting out as a photographer, you can find stylists on websites like, etc. Be sure to check with the other creatives involved in the shoot, (hair, make up), as they will probably have several references for you.

Photo by Dallas Nagata White. Makeup by Lorena Takushi. Hair by Mel Mariano.

What are the benefits of hiring pro stylists for individual client portrait sessions?

Mel: Hair and makeup stylists know the vision and how to execute the desired look effortlessly. And when you fully trust in their knowledge and skill, it makes everything go smoothly!

Tyson: Hiring a stylist will really benefit everyone involved in the shoot from the client to the photographer. The client gets a shape flattering, (hopefully) stunning outfit, and the photographer gets his or her photo’s enhanced to the fullest visually. The outfit the client is wearing is one of the first things that will pop out at you when someone is reviewing your photos.

If there is anything else that you want to comment on about the the fashion world, working with models and photographers, or anything you’d want to suggest to up-and-coming portrait photographers?

Mel: Fashion is everywhere we go, everyone has a different eye for art and creativity. The one thing that connects us all together when working as one is that “creative eye.” All artists (hair stylist, makeup, photographer, stylist) need have an “open mind.” Once you close your mind to other artist’s ideas, you lose all possibilities of the work being even better than what one could imagine. Always have a good personality and keep it professional while having fun! I’m sure we all LOVE what we do, and thats what makes everything worth it!

Stephan Bollinger Speaks on Why Models Are Made

Think the models in those fashion spreads are gorgeous? Of course you do, but it’s no secret that the standard of beauty has done much to change the way we talk about self-image. As photographers, we walk the line between capturing life’s moments and creating something beyond reality. Successful photos grab the eye, usually because we see something that we think is physically impossible. But with actual people as the subject, that line becomes harder to see and we get fooled into thinking we all need to look that good right out of the box. 

Australian photographer Stephan Bollinger’s “Models Are Made” video pulled at our heartstrings, and we loved that he took such an important matter into his own hands. As a master portrait photographer and a father of two little girls, we knew that he had great perspective and the power to shed some light on both sides of the matter. How exactly are models made? We asked, and here’s what he said. Scroll down to watch the video that inspired us all.

Black and white model fine art photo by Stephan Bollinger

Photos by Stephan Bollinger Photography

At several points in my life, I was confronted with people suffering from depression, eating disorders, and suicide. In late teenage years, I became close friends with a young woman, who was bulimic. She was an expert in hiding her problems, and for over 6 month, I was under the impression she was one of the happiest people alive. Another friend of mine was under the exact same impression, until his girlfriend committed suicide, and his “perfect world” fell apart overnight. She was a young, beautiful and energetic young woman, with a dark secret: depression.

We love to forget about such issues, because they are hard to understand, and we feel helpless. Not talking about it doesn’t make them go away, unfortunately. Of course – most of them are not related to photography or advertising, but some are.

Dark profile photo with negative space by Stephan Bollinger

While shooting a fashion series in Singapore, one of the models looked so thin and unhealthy, I was afraid she would faint any minute. As a result, I refused to work with her. About a week later back at my studio in Australia, I talked about the incident with a group of young models, and one of them told us about her friend, who nearly died from eating disorders and required intensive hospital care.

Without a doubt, advertising and fashion stories have had their influence for a long time in creating a false and negative body image for some women, resulting in eating disorders and depression. As a photographer producing such images, I am guilty as charged.

At the same time, I love creating such images, I love the fashion industry, I love highly styled editorials and advertising campaigns.

Nude model  dance fashion photo by Stephan Bollinger

I often feel as if I wear three pairs of shoes at once, those of a producer (who works with clients, to produce flawless images for their advertising campaign or magazine editorials), those of a photographer (who works closely with models of all ages), and those of a father (who wants to protect, teach and inform his own two young daughters).

The question I ask myself: Is the problem the polished images many young women compare themselves with, or is the problem that many don’t understand how these images were produced. If they would see the models in real life, would they still feel the same way? The term “photoshopped” has turned into a bad term for “creating fakes”, but there is so much more to high-end glossy pictures.

Ballet garden by Stephan Bollinger

There are initiatives for “positive body image” out there, mostly done by activist groups. The problem with such initiatives is that they blame Photoshop and retouching for everything, and demand change in newspapers and magazines. I don’t believe that such “negative” approach and the demand for change reaches those who need to be informed and educated: the young women. If effective and believable, this should be done by those “guilty,” those actively working in the industry, those with a positive outlook, those who want to educate, not complain.” That means us, photographers.

“Models are made” as a concept is the summary of all the above.

In a perfect world, I would have loved to take a few months off of work and hold presentations at high-schools around the country. But as much as I tried, I could not find any organisation or company who was a) interested in the subject or b) helping with funding such an endeavour.

I produced the short 4 minutes instead, illustrating what really goes into the production of a high-gloss beauty or fashion image. It’s not just retouching, it’s a combination of many factors, from naturally beautiful people to a group of creatives who produce the final product.

My goal is to educate, not change, and to deliver a positive message.

You can see more of Stephan Bollinger’s work on his website,, and follow him on Google+ to see previews, news and his beautiful photo updates.

Stay creative, stay inspired and stay strong!

What Pro Fashion Photographers Can Teach Us About Taking Jaw-Dropping Portraits

Fashion photography is just one of those things that inspires us all, whether you’re a photographer or not. The glamour, the lighting, the beautiful models, clothes most of us will never wear, and the notoriety of the rich and famous… who hasn’t dreamt about living that life? This month we’re going to take a closer look at what goes into making those incredible pictures, and we talked with Ed and Dallas Nagata White, two fresh, young and incredibly talented fashion photographers from Hawaii. Here’s what they had to say about what it takes to create magical portraits and how you can bring a little glam into your photos, too.

Black and red fashion photo by Dallas Nagata White

Photos by Dallas Nagata White

Fashion photographers tend to get a lot of attention for their images. It’s not hard to see why, since those photographs strive to portray glamorous moments within the four corners of a poster or glossy magazine spread, unfettered by the everyday stresses and worries of the real world. The truth is, though, those moments are carefully crafted illusions that no photographer can create alone, which is why SmugMug invited me to talk about the crew I work with and how they can help other photographers bring a touch of that same magic to their own work.

You are a professional photographer, that that’s what people hire you for, but there are other professionals in photography that don’t take pictures, but are essential to helping you craft the most polished, professional image possible. When I started doing fashion photography, I tried to do everything on my own, which was very expensive and not nearly as effective as working with people who make a living in each of these photography niches. You are hired by your clients because you are an expert at photography, so you should encourage you to do the same for your clients with models, stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists and producers who can take your work to the next level.

Here are my thoughts on how to work with what I consider essential crew, and how they can help you improve your craft, even if you are not in the fashion industry. I also don’t claim to know it all, so I’ve also invited a few of my friends from the Hawaii fashion community to write their thoughts about how they think photographers can make the best use of their skills. Please watch for their guest posts over the next month!

Sepia mountain fashion photo by Dallas Nagata White

The Model

A model is much more than a pretty girl. In addition to being in possession of striking appearances, a model must be able to convey the right emotion and body language at the right moment, and know how to connect that emotion to the viewer. In that way, modeling can actually be a little more complex than film acting.

Even if you are not in fashion, you may benefit from hiring a model every so often. For example, a portrait photographer could hire a professional model to showcase what their technique looks like with an “ideal subject,” allowing you to focus on shooting instead of directing. Working with models will also give you more experience with seeing how professionals pose and emote, which will help you direct your clients later on.

Fireworks and model in denim by Dallas Nagata White

The Stylist

The stylist is probably one of the single most important members of a fashion crew, because they are in charge of the clothes! In fashion or editorial work, your client will usually fill that role, but there are also independent stylists who work on supporting bigger shoots, magazine editorials, non-clothing brands, and test shoots.

A stylist goes a great distance towards improving your photography, even if you’re not shooting fashion or editorial images. The great majority of photographs include clothes; by extension, fashion is a nearly unavoidable element in photography and it exists in a spectrum of good to bad. Hiring a stylist makes sure that balance falls on the “good” side, and will absolutely make a difference in your photos.

Besides having good fashion sense, a stylist’s job is to ensure he or she has access to clothes that would ordinarily be out of reach for most people. Your client may not own a $4,000 Oscar De La Renta outfit and $2,000 worth in accessories, but a stylist with the right connections can make it available for the shoot. Barring that, a stylist can consult with your client prior to the shoot and put together the best combination of their own clothes…or help your client buy a new set!

Rainbow mural and makeup by Dallas Nagata White

The Makeup Artist

Whether I’m doing commercial work, editorials, or test shoots for new models breaking into the industry, I insist on making sure a professional makeup artist gets hired. The time a makeup artist saves you during post-processing alone makes hiring one worth it, but good makeup work has the potential to totally transform the appearance of your subject and make your photographs far more cohesive.

On the side of saving you time, professional makeup goes beyond covering up acne or blotches. One of my most memorable makeup moments was watching makeup artist Jessica Hoffman explain what the techniques and colors she was using on that day’s model, and watching very slight circles under her eyes–things no one else would have noticed–disappear on one side, and leap into existence on the other as the difference made it possible for our brains to finally notice they were there.

Makeup artists who work with photographers also know how their various products photograph, which your client may not. This helps prevent unflattering artifacts in your images (which you’d have to fix), and can help you nail a particular look in the process of transformation.

On the side of transforming your subject, a makeup artist is able to minimize some aspects of your client’s and emphasize others. A slight darker tone under your subject’s cheekbones in real life can translate to sharp, contrasty features in photographs. The right shade of eye shadow can make a your subject’s eyes jump to life and convey the sultry attitude of a rocker. A different brand or variety of makeup can create the dewy glow of an athlete or the shimmery aura of a clubber. Most importantly, a trained makeup artist can achieve these looks without overdoing it and distracting from your final images.

Black and white two models by Dallas Nagata White

The Hair Stylist

Hair is often described as the one accessory you have to live with every day. While makeup artists are generally able to style hair, having a dedicated hair stylist on set allows you to push the polish much further with their specialized tools or their ability (or willingness) to actually cut hair with confidence. This is particularly important when a particular look absolutely must be achieved for a commercial client. Some hair teams may also have wigs they can style instead of cutting the subject’s own hair.

Even if you’re not a fashion photographer, you can suggest or offer professional hair styling in your packages. This will give you control–or at least input–into hair styling right before the shoot, so you have the freshest, most polished hair possible for your shoot, and your client leaves with a whole new cut from a hair professional!

Street and bus fashion photography by Dallas Nagata White

The Producer

A producer’s job is simply to help you get things done. I don’t generally have to use producers, but sometimes it’s easier, faster, and cheaper to pay someone who has the appropriate knowledge, connections, and relationships to help you complete an assignment. A big role producers play for most photographers is helping scout and book locations, especially private locations that are not generally available or advertised for commercial work. Even if you can’t hire a producer to play this role, you may be able to consult with some if you are looking to change up the places you shoot for fresh and interesting locations.

Producers also help with other production work, such as acquiring props, vehicles, catering, and accomplishing other non-photography tasks that make the shoot come together in a timely manner.

Model, stylist and photographer on location

Putting it into practice!

So, where can you find all these adjacent-industry professionals?

It varies a lot by city, and finding fashion crew is different going from Honolulu to Maui, let alone from Los Angeles, California to Bartley, Nebraska, especially given that a lot of fashion people don’t necessarily advertise their services due to the close-knit nature of most fashion communities.

The best and most universal place to track down fashion crew is to start with local magazines or publications that use editorial images. The editors and creative directors will probably know a few fashion professionals and could give you a couple of contacts, and those connections can potentially give you a foothold into the entire network of people in your area. In larger cities, the usual places–agencies, marketing firms, and places of that sort–will probably provide you contacts as well.

Thanks for reading! I hope my advice was useful, and I hope you find the guest posts from my friends over the next month helpful as well. If you have any more questions, feel free to reach out on your social platform of choice (I’m on Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook) and I’ll do my best to give a useful answer, and if you’d like to keep up with my work, please visit