Category Archives: Instruction

Swimsuit In The Studio

Is often boring to me. If I’m going to shoot a model in a swimsuit, then I want a context that a swimsuit belongs in.

Like, oh say, a beach!

I guess if you are land locked, finding a beach could be a problem. Guess you could use a pool.

But those locations don’t lend themselves to studio lighting. You generally work with natural light. And you are at the mercy of the weather.

So sometimes you are forced into the studio.

I’ve tried a number of things in the studio that look cool.

07072007mel-1986Coat the model with oil. I actually use an olive oil solution I buy at the Body Shop. It smells good and makes her glisten without being too slick. It gives a different texture to the skin, which makes the image more interesting.

Gel the light. If ever you needed an amber glow, a swimsuit in the studio is it. At least try to make it seem like you are outside.

Use a shower. This is the new one for me. Really most models don’t wear a swimsuit in the shower, but at least it is wet. I’m going to show you images from a recent shoot I did with model Robin Bean, doing this for the first time. There will be other times to come.

Getting Categorized, or How I Ended up A Goth Photographer

At Saturday’s Fine Art workshop at the studio, my partner Fine Art Photographer Bob Warren introduced me as a “Goth, Pinup and Body Art Photographer”.

It got me to thinking. What kind of photographer am I, and why do people keep saying I’m a goth photographer?

There Are Two Ways To Categorize A Photographer

By The Subject’s They Shoot You can look at a photographer and see he mostly shoots scantily clad, big breasted, tan women with warm light and say they are a glamour photographer.

Or maybe he shoots a lot of pale skinned women, who wear black and have tattoos. Then he’s a Goth photographer.

By Their Style Style is a slippery term, but you can say someone is artistic or edgy or sexy or disturbing.

When Bob called me Goth, he was using way #1.

But when I think of myself, I think in terms of #2. So that is why it feels a little annoying to be called Goth. To me I’d be a Goth photographer if I was Goth. I’m not.

So What Kind of Photographer Are You

Strangely for me after thinking about this I realized I’m an art photographer. I always kind of thought of myself as a glamour shooter, but I rarely shoot what I’d call classic glamour. What I like to shoot is unusual and meaningful things that make a narrative statement. That sounds like art to me.

Do you define yourself using #1 or #2?

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

A lot of my work is very conceptual, meaning it is constructing an entire scene and not just taking a picture.

Where do I come up with these ideas? Everywhere is the simple answer, but that isn’t really what most people want to hear. Instead, I want to talk about what to do with the ideas you have.

I’m reading the book The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp and she talks about this a great deal. If you really want to explore where ideas come from and how to develop them, I recommend you get this book.

Start With One Idea and Turn It on Its Head.

I’ve discovered that part of my creative style – which is part of my photographic style, but not defined completely by it – is contrast. I like my images to have a strong contrast. Almost every image I shoot gets a significant boost to contrast. I like very directional light, which creates dark shadows – a large contrast between the light and the dark.

This extends into more metaphoric areas.

I like to put together things that don’t normally go together. Like goth girls and swimsuits. Most of the models I shot for that calendar literally did not own a swimsuit. When you think of swimsuit model, you don’t think pale, but that’s what my swimsuit calendar was. Nor do you think zombies, or graveyards.

Develop a Theme.

Recently I got an idea when I was at the Houston Symphony. I saw in my head an image of a female violinist, with the body of a dancer, in a open grassy field. She was nude playing the violin and it was lit by overpowering the sun to creating a dark sky.

I was able later to sum it up as “Fine art nude and fine art music”.

But I still haven’t been able to find the right model, or location to create this image. But I have explored the theme. You’ll see some images I shot of Roxy Vandriver this week exploring the theme of violin in unusual places.

Sometimes the theme can be interpreted in different ways than your original concept.

It Takes Two Ideas To Make One Great Idea

Twyla talks about this in her book. You may have one idea and it might be interesting, but it often becomes a great idea when you combine it with another idea.

Goth swimsuit is a classic example of this. I’ve shot lots of goth models. I always wanted to do a swimsuit calendar, but they are pretty stereotypical. Now combine the two and you’ve a great and “original” idea.

If you say you’ve got lots of ideas, but none of them are great, try combining a couple and see what you get.

My Co-Host Shawna Rencher

Shawna Rencher

At right is an image of the podcast’s co-host Shawna Rencher. She’s also the model of the week. We last shot together as part of my Galveston shoot.

Shawna is a multi-talented woman. She’s a martial artist (Kung Fu), a Flamenco dance instructor, has worked on films and models. She has a BA in History with a Minor in Theology from St. Thomas University here in Houston.

You can find out more about her at her new website

And you will be hearing from her soon in the new model photography podcast.

Tomorrow I will be announcing the name of the new podcast.

Is One Image Enough?

I promise TFP models I shoot with at least 10 retouched images. Much of the time this isn’t a problem and I actually deliver more than 10.

But in general there is only one image per set up, per location that is really high quality. One image that belongs in my portfolio.

So I’ve been thinking, is one image enough? I mean maybe I should just work toward one image. Some people could previsualize an image to such an extent they could just click the shutter once. I don’t think I could do that, but I do know I can get “the image” in under 20 shutter clicks.

Why do I think I need to keep clicking?

I’ve got more time. When I shoot with a model in general we’re going to be at it for around 3 hours. One hour will probably be spent on makeup. During that hour, if we are shooting in the studio, I’ll set up lights at the same time. When she’s done we can start shooting immediately. If I shot 20 shots per setup, we’d be done in about 30 minutes. It just seems strange to me to be done that quickly. I’ve got more time, shouldn’t I shoot more?

I promised 10 images. I don’t think I’ve ever had 10 ideas/setups/looks for a single shoot with a model. So I have to provide more than one image per setup. I don’t get to only deliver the quintessential image.

I’m not getting what I want, but I don’t know what to do differently. Sometimes you look at the back of the camera and you know something is wrong, but not what. This is the most frustrating thing for me, something I thought I’d eventually out grow, but it still happens. My solution is often to just keep shooting.

What’s the solution?

The first problem’s solution is mental. I don’t have to spend 3 hours shooting. Getting it done quickly can be a plus.

The second problem’s solution is a matter of managing model expectations. I already tell models they are not getting unretouched images, and that I’m only retouching 10. I can change that promise to even less if I feel like it. As I say in the mini-course lesson on TFP, you can set and negotiate the terms of a TFP shoot.

The last one isn’t so simple to solve. Sometimes a shoot just doesn’t work. It is depressing and seems to be totally random. I once shot with a professional and highly experienced model whom I had wanted to shoot since I began doing model photography. We were comfortable with each other but I never could capture her the way I had in my head, nor the way other photographers had.

Sometimes the muses just won’t cooperate.

What do you think? When you are shooting are you going for multiple good images, or just working toward one?

The Dark Side of Working With Amateur Models

There is one occurrence that every photographer of models, especially amateur models recruited on the internet, deals with. Put a group of these photographers together and there will soon be stories swapped about it.


Being stood up.

No shows.


This is when you set up a shoot with a model and then she doesn’t show up. I differentiate between a no show and a cancellation. If a model calls me and tells me she isn’t coming before the shoot actually happens, that’s a cancellation. I still don’t like it, but I can deal with it. The more lead time the better.

This happen to me on Friday. I had a model booked. The studio booked. An MUA booked and ready to go. A truly impressive amount of firepower packed for the girl with gun shoot. Three hours before the shoot the 21 year old “model” calls and tells me her Dad freaked out when he found out where the studio was. It is in a part of Houston that isn’t the best, but it is also one of those transitional neighborhoods. The Astros will have a home game tonight not 5 blocks from the studio. But she can’t come.

It sucks but at least I was saved the 30 minute drive down to the studio.

I’ve had a number of occasions where a model just didn’t show up. We once had an MUA no show a workshop, that was the worst.

No that wasn’t the worst. This was the worst.


Happen in Vegas when I went to meet a model who no showed.

It is a running joke that you don’t want to be related to a model because their grandmothers, aunts, and uncles die a lot. Or they end up in the hospital.

What To Do.

So is there a solution? Not really. There is no indication you are going to get a flake. I’ve had models flake on me that I have shot with before. One flaked that had regularly shot with me and my studio partners, but she didn’t show for a shoot and wouldn’t return my emails afterwards.

You do start to develop a 6th sense about it. They stop returning emails or calls before the shoot. But you normally can’t be sure.

You can lower your costs of a flake. My friend Bobby Gilbert of The Intimate Look, requires models to call him 1 hour before a shoot. He tells them that’s how long it takes for him to get to the studio and if he doesn’t hear from them, he isn’t heading down there. It works to some extent, but you still have cancels and even models who call and then don’t show.

The only solution really is to learn to deal with it. Its an occupational hazard and only happen about 1 in 20 shoots. Don’t waste a lot of emotional energy on it when it does happen.

Well at least Ms. Cancelled on Friday gave me inspiration for a blog post. 🙂

Fashion Editorial Behind the Scenes Video

If you haven’t seen it you should go check out Melissa Rodwell’s Fashion Photography Blog. Specifcially you should check the behind the scene’s video of a fashion shoot.

She talks about using the Profoto beauty dish with a grid on it. We used to have one of those at the studio and I used it all the time. I provides a very interesting circular light with cool fall off behind the subject. It also make very “fashiony” shadows on the models face, especially under the chin.

This image was taken with the gridded beauty dish. I think it was the first time I ever used it.


Model Questions Answered

Last week I said I had writer’s block and asked for questions. Only Richard Turner had any, so here’s his answers.

What do you say to a first time model?

This is a pretty broad question, but I’ll give you a few tips.

First, just be friendly and helpful. When they first get to the studio I introduce myself and my assistant and offer to carry help stuff in. I introduce them to the MUA and show them where they’ll do makeup.

My move slow spiel. A common problem I have with models, both beginners and experienced models is movement between poses. Experienced models hear the shutter, or see the lights go off and quickly move to another pose. Beginners don’t move on their own, but when you say “Move your head to the right.” they quickly look in the opposite direction. I end up giving this speel.

“When I ask you to move can you please move slowly. If you move real fast, you sometimes move to far. If you you move slowly, I can tell you when to stop. Also don’t move immediately to another pose but give me a second or so to let you know if I want you to hold that pose.”

First time models needs lots of complements It is easy to get into the zone of shooting and just get quite. Remember the model wants feedback and is often worried they are doing it wrong. So make sure you are giving them lots of positive feedback. Also when you get something good on the back of your camera, go show it to them. It gets them excited and they do even better.

Do you have “standard” poses or questions that you use to help them relax and get in to the shoot?

I don’t have standard poses per se. I do have some in my head and I normally just demonstrate them, which is always good for a laugh.

Recently I heard an interview with a photographer on the LightSource podcast who used to be a hypnotist. He said when he wanted to get a sexy expression out of a model, he told them to remember the smell of fresh baked cookies. That got an expression of desire on their face.

Music can also help with the shoot. Encouraging dance can get you some good poses as well, though catching them can be an exercise.

Hope all that helps, feel free to include new questions in the comments below.

What Do You Want To Know?

I’m having writer’s block.

Normally I write a long post on Mondays about something having to do with photographing models, but I can’t think of anything right now.

So I’m asking you….

What do you want to know about photographing models?

Post a comment and I’ll que them up for posts. Won’t guarantee I’ll answer everything, but I need ideas.

Golden Hour in the Studio

This is a reprint of a guest blog I did at photographer Nate Lawson’s blog The Photog Formula.

Golden Hour

For those of you who have never heard of golden hour, it is the hour right after sunrise and right before sunset. Because the sun is very low in the sky, the light has to travel through lots of atmosphere and this lengthens the wavelength and turns the light a golden color. This golden color is much coveted by people photographers.

For some reason we humans love the look of this light. We love the way it makes skin look, and most glamour and swimsuit photographers will only shoot in this color light. Everyone looks good in this golden light.

I remember way back in college – yes I can remember that far back – seeing a friend looking out the window. She had this beautiful golden light and I ran and got my camera, telling her not to move. But when I took the picture and got it developed, she didn’t look like my eye had seen her. At the time I had no idea why, but now I can make a couple of guesses.

First the film processor may have thought my image was too yellow and adjusted the color. The other was I may have waited too long and lost the golden hue.

So if you want someone to look extra good when you are shooting outside, try and capture at golden hour.

In the Studio

To me there is two big drawbacks to shooting at golden hour.

First is happens only twice a day. You have to catch it during that time or it is gone. What’s worst is one of those times is God-awful early in the morning. A time I don’t want to be up at all.

Second, is you can’t control the rest of the weather or scene very well outside. It’s just one of those things that shooting people outside means the light is out of your control.

Which is why I shot most of what I shoot in the studio.

But I and other glamour photographers still want that golden hue that humans find so appealing. So we fake it. We use a gel over our studio light source to turn it gold.

Golden hour light isn’t really orange, or even gold. So finding the gel is another challenge. Lucky for you I’m just going to tell you want gel to get. It’s the Rosco Bastard Amber. Hey, I didn’t choose the name. It works like a charm.

Another trick is to change the white balance of your camera. Just make the whole image warmer. Problem with this is that’s not natural. You might have another light source that isn’t warm in the image and changing your white balance effects it as well. Nor is the warmth directional, its the whole image. Lastly, my Fuji S3 doesn’t let me have that kind of control over the color temperature.

Yes, I know I could shoot RAW and change it in post. But I like to get everything I can in camera, so I don’t do that either.

While we’re talking about white balance, if you are going to use a custom white balance, set it before you gel the light. Otherwise the custom will just take all the gold right out of the image.

Hopefully this will help you improve your people photography by capturing that warm glow you get at sunrise and sunset, either in the wild or in the studio.