Friday, July 9, 2010

Book cover photoshoot: behind the scenes

Last week, Hannah Moskowitz blogged about her latest book cover, Invincible Summer. She felt the need to clarify some things as she had already received some criticism (and read discussions on forums or comment sections elsewhere) regarding the cover. More importantly, some people said that whenever they saw such covers, it made them feel bad about themselves and the cover had an overall negative effect on their self-image.

Each time I read something like this, it breaks my heart a little. I've done many photo shoots in the past few years, one or two at least destined for a fashion agency, modeling agency or a sexy magazine ad. I know the truth about these things and if more people knew, I strongly believe a lot less people would feel bad whenever they'd see covers like this.

Before you hit me with the "don't start with the 'it's the inside that matters' bullshit, we don't want to hear it," I promise this isn't what this blog entry is about. Mainly because I don't agree that looks don't count, especially in business. Sadly, for things like photography, looks are much more important and personality, if you have any, becomes a marketable commodity. Let me elaborate further.

How a shoot like that often works is:
A company will hire their own photographer or a freelancer and makeup/hair artist separately. They will usually have scouted a location first if done outdoors and if I need an assistant (depends of the shoot) I will hire one and charge them for it.

Makeup girl usually arrives on location with the model before I do. They can spend up to two hours on the chair. Two long hours. I arrive later to evaluate the exact spot and prepare my lighting setup. Takes me a good hour. I've spoken with the client days before and have already sketches and poses in mind.

I have NEVER seen a picture perfect model right out of the box. It. Does. Not. Exist. Sure, I've met some naturally beautiful ones with a personality (and they usually know it and the agencies who own--I'm sorry, I meant represent--them charge a premium for it because yes, personality shows through camera AND IT'S A CHARGEABLE COMMODITY) but most are fake bimbos with too much Botox in the lips and there is more matter in their boobs than their brain.

Five minutes before we're ready to go, makeup girl (usually a girl or a gay guy... have yet to meet a heterosexual guy who does makeup, but that's a detail) makes the touch-ups, takes care of the spray, etc. If for lingerie or clothing ad, there's usually a stylist there as well.

Experienced models become a robotic but expressive human the moment they lay down or take whatever pose I asked them to take and from here on out, they require very little direction. They know what to do. If you ask them "give me sexy", "give me fierce", they know which muscle to work to make it happen. There's not much art to it. With all the makeup, the sometimes unnatural poses and the often exotic decor, nothing feels real about a shoot. It's all bling.

Between each segment (a drastic change in place or pose), the sand on the model will be touched-up. The makeup, the hair right up to the little curl are redone and we go again. You'd cringe if I told you some of the trick we use to make stuff "stick" or "pop". All I'm gonna say is that most of those camel toes are 100% fake and some fruits are sometimes involved. Moving on.

When I'm done (can take 2 hours, half a day or an entire day. It depends how much the company paid and what they wanted) I say goodbye to everyone, pack-up, the model gets transformed back to a regular looking human and we go to POST-PROCESSING. Post processing is when I download the negatives from my camera to my computer and spend AN ETERNITY (real time estimate: 5-20 minutes per photo) touching them up. This means:

-Brushing the skin to make it smooth "BUT NOT TOO SMOOTH PLEASE PHOTOGRAPHER NOT TOO SMOOTH. Make it nice photographer, please. You know what we mean."
-Remove all pimples, blemishes, imperfections, birth marks, sometimes even beauty marks. Sometimes their whole fucking face.
-Whiten the teeth.
-Remove any possible love handles that cropped up due to totally unnatural looking positions (I don't work with model sizes 0-1-2 'coz it makes me sick to look at their rib cages right through my 2000$ camera hole so it does happen, and it should).
-Adjust lighting if necessary.
-Color processing (we don't shoot in B&W ever these days... we transform color to B&W in Photoshop and there's no one button to do it... each color channel is adjusted individually, noise is added, etc.)
-Then the thing is usually cropped and resized for better preview experience.

I can have up to 1000 shots for a one hour shoot, but usually 20 per the same "setting pose" and only one of them is retouched. Then I make an online gallery to present all my edits and the original shots to the client. Then client makes assessment and I edit what is required.

Total time spent from start to finish for the one perfect shot on a book cover or magazine ad: up to 60 hours for my part, plus all the gazillion hours the styling crew spent on the model.

Another newsflash: most of the models I've worked with are unhappy. Most I've worked with don't like the job much. They do it for the money, not the fame or to be pretty in an ad. Most models are treated like property or animals by their agencies. When on set, they have no say. They're robots. When the magic wears off, they look like the rest of the regular girls but they're just more skinny. Rarely have I seen truly beautiful girls. Most are fake.

So why do they do it? Because society IS fake. "Sex sells". That might be true, but it's not worth shedding tears or forging complexes over. It's a stressful lifestyle that is usually fueled by bad habits and drugs and sometimes, wild after-sex. It's not glamorous and there's nothing magical about it.

It doesn't mean you don't have the right to be unhappy about your body image. Just don't do so over a cover because frankly, you might just be a lot happier where you are now than the model on the book.

However, having said all that, I do like the cover. I think it works because there is no face. Some might say "omg they have reduced the female to just a nice body" but she wears a cover-all bikini and the suggestion isn't erotic. 99% of covers that feature a human portrait or photo usually involves very weird/bad face expressions, spandex, a pack of overly defined six-abs or bad lighting/overall photography. I've yet to see any cover with full featured "humans" that I liked.

This cover reminded me a lot of a picture and an actress I love. Evangeline Lily is a fabulously beautiful woman. I've seen her in person once and she is even more stunning without makeup on. A smile that will make you melt and she's just natural.

I think the above E. Lily portrait shows that she's just that: laid back and natural (that's what I meant when I said personality shines through) and Invincible Summer's cover has the same general "laid back" quality. Simon Pulse could have had the model curve her back to enhance the erotic quality, but didn't. They could have showed some "hard nipple" (what a terrible expression tbh) or more of her ass. They didn't.

It's a sexy and curvy (yet appropriate) photo of someone laying on a beach. It's simple and clean (like the Twilight cover). The color palette is warm and perfectly balanced. The teal/beige sand/brown tanned skin all complement each other and the entire package easily conveys the message "here's a laid back book about an adventure at the beach where things might go wild" without being inappropriate, offending or overly sexy.

In a word: perfect. If I were Hannah, I'd be damn proud of that cover too. This could have went bad and tasteless really quickly, but it didn't. It's the mark of a good artist with taste. They were just smart enough to hint at a topic that sells (sex) without being bold about it.

1 comment:

aspiring_x said...

it was interesting to hear your side of the process. i can't take a photo worth half a darn, i always hold the camera crooked and my hands shake. :)