This was never more evident to me until I started taking on-set production stills for movie companies, where I lacked my usual team of assistants, set designers and makeup artists. I had no hand in the production of the shoot, so I don’t get to choose the location, the wardrobe or my crew. Actually, I don’t even have a crew, so there’s no help setting up my lights, and I do most of the equipment carrying myself.
I often find that my photos end up looking flat, boring, and completely uninspired. I know that what is important is the movie, not my photos, but I still feel disappointed in the way my images come out. On these sets, my photos are secondary, but I still can’t help but chide myself for a job not very well done. On these jobs, I often bite my tongue if I don’t like the outfit the model has on, or the makeup she comes onto set wearing. This is tough for me since I’m used to being in charge and the wardrobe and makeup are a very important part of the shoot for me. This is when I realize that my role as a producer is just as important, if not more, than my role as a photographer.
One of the most important contributors is the makeup artist. I’ve tried out many makeup artists over the years, and there are only a few I will work with on a regular basis. A good makeup artist truly can transform a model from someone who looks slightly better than average — to a true sex goddess. On the other hand, a bad makeup artist can make a beautiful girl look like a transvestite.
Hair is a whole other medium, but since I only work with someone who can do makeup and hair, finding someone who can do both well is very difficult indeed. Even in my small circle of makeup artists that are proficient in both makeup and hair, each one has their own particular strength. Depending on the model, I will may book one particular makeup artist because she is good with older women, or a different one because she is really excellent with the classic pin-up look. Whatever the circumstances call for, I may make the decision for choosing the right makeup artist, but in the end it’s the skills of that particular person who brings out the best features in my models, and hides the flaws.
The next two very important steps are wardrobe and location. Though both are incredibly vital to the outcome of the shoot, often you can skimp a bit on one if the other is very strong.
For example, a set against even a simple white wall can be quite striking if the model is in an interesting outfit. On the other hand, if the location is extraordinary, then the girl can be fully naked and you’ve got an eye-catching photo. Then again, if a girl is truly beautiful, you can almost shoot her anywhere in anything and you can get a great shot.
As far as my responsibility in both areas, a stylist makes a huge difference as she puts together clothes in a way that I just can’t. And when it comes to a location — I know what I like when I see it, but I wouldn’t have the first idea of how to do interior decoration. In both cases, I have to rely upon the talents of others to help me get the right look.
And finally, I cannot forget to mention my lighting assistants — the guys who act as my soldiers on my way into war (which a photo shoot can feel like sometimes!). They not only help me do the heavy lifting and grunt work, but they help me assess a situation and point out things that I sometimes might miss (a dirty window, a tree growing out of the model’s head, etc).
When I look at my production stills versus the photos I take for my own shoots, it looks like two different people took them. It’s then that I really appreciate the crew that helps make my vision come to life. Without the people I work with, I’d just be a girl with a camera — and that’s just not enough to get the job done.