Developing Your Style
Now, in talking about developing style. And you know, we all strive for perfection, but what does that even mean? What does perfection mean? Are you gonna take the perfect photograph? Are other people gonna judge you on that picture, is someone else gonna say that's fantastic? We all put pictures on Instagram and stuff like that. Someone loves it, someone didn't comment. This picture did well, that didn't do well. It doesn't matter, to be honest, what other people think. And this is the hard part. You have to like it. That's it. You. And it is the hardest lesson I think to learn. Because we are constantly saying, do you like it? Does this work? And I've really tried not to do that. And of course you have to sometimes with clients, you may shoot a safe shot that they want, and they may like that. But I don't ever limit myself to that moment. I always try and get it, client's out there, I do try and get it, but they also know that I'm about trying this, pushing that, and making something...
else happen, and that's a part of my style. But creating a style, it's very important, when a client books you, that they know what they're kinda gonna get, as well. So although you wanna push the envelope and do something surprising and shocking, there has to be certain look and feel. If you're all over the place in the way you present yourself, and I'll talk even more about this too, that then it's gonna be, it's very hard for them to know. They wanna be able to say, this is the kind of style, the kind of look, the find of feel that you go for. And I'm gonna get that. If they look in your portfolio, and I see people's portfolios all the time, and there may be five great pictures in there, or five pictures that I think are great, again, it's my opinion here. But they are, you know, one's inside and it's close up and it's lots of crazy makeup, next one is sort of really simple, really plain, and really quiet, and black and white. Next one is sort of boudoir, and the next one is something else. Okay, yeah, you can do all of that, I get it. I can shoot landscapes too, you know? I can shoot animals, I can shoot kids. Of course, we're photographers, we pick a camera up, take the picture, right? But what do you wanna present yourself? How do you wanna present yourself, and what style of photography are you into? And you've got to start honing that look and that feel, so that when people book you, they know that that's what they're booking you for. And that's the look and feel that they're going to get. Now, this is one of my second editorials that I did. And again, it was this sort of, they were all very different, but there's a look and a feel to it. So it's up to you how you're gonna do this too. But I was never about doing great lighting. I love to light things, don't get me wrong. But I'm more of a storyteller. And the lighting is there for me to help tell the story, it isn't the story, for me. And I talk about this in my other classes, capturing the narrative, and lighting the scene, which are two other classes that I've done for Creative Live, specifically. But for me the story is so crucial, and that's what I'm trying to pull out in each one of these guys here, is what is the story in the picture? But there's a look and a feel to it, even though one is screaming, one is very stoic, one is black and white, one is having a drink. That way people can look at this and go, okay, I get what you are. I can see what you're about and what we're gonna hopefully get in the picture. The narrative. I talk about narrative all the time. When people send me pictures on Instagram, which they do, every day, thank you, I love that. I know, I do. They always say, what do you think of this picture? And sometimes I'm blown away. But quite often I think to myself, and sometimes I write it, well, you tell me. What is the story here? I don't know. I don't see any story. Or, my God, I love this picture, it made me think of this this this this and this. Or, were you trying to say X Y and Z? And sometimes they write back and, no, no, gah, I messed up, that wasn't what I was trying to do, I was trying to say this this and this. And I write back going, that's fine. But the point is you made me think. You made me think, and that's what I love. What I don't love is when I see a picture and I don't think anything. I go, uh. That's a picture of a man sitting on a refrigerator. This guy is in a car. Like, that's not an emotion. That's not a mood. That story, by putting story into your pictures, for me, that's the most important thing you can do to bring a picture alive. I mean you see pictures like this, I mean, yeah, this is a guy leaning on a rock, okay? Is it a guy just leaning on a rock? Or, what is he doing, what's he thinking? You can see he's thinking. You can see that something's in his mind. So it's that thought process, when you look at a picture, that it takes you somewhere, that it creates a fantasy, that you wonder what he's doing, that it leads your mind to start imagining and fantasizing or dreaming or creating that story, creating a narrative. And that's what pictures have to do. You know, you can make pretty pictures, nice light, interesting subject, you're shooting a model. But do you wanna just create a tear sheet? Something that you rip out or throw away at the end of the month? Or are you trying to create pictures that have emotion? That make people wonder and stop? The most successful photographers are the ones that as you're looking through the magazine you stop on the picture, and you're like, oh this is interesting, and you look and you read. And you may not be reading the words but you're reading the picture. You're wondering what's happening. You're being taken somewhere. And every shot you take has to try and do that. And I mean, it doesn't have to just be fashion shots. It's portraits, it's simple headshots. You know, when you go in tight on the face, what is the mouth saying? What is the eyes saying? And it's one thing just to ask the question, but one of the things that I do and you'll see in other classes is I have tricks up my sleeve on how I make that happen. What I do to push the person potentially, or make that person feel comfortable enough to reveal that emotion, by asking questions, by being in the moment with them, by having that relationship with them. And sometimes you have to do it quick, right? You've never met this person before. Brand new model on set, there with me. I can't just say, stand there. You can. And you might, if you're lucky, get something. But guess what? You're not hired to be lucky. No one's saying to me, maybe get the shot today. We have all those models, you saw like 30 models and I got 15 lights and I'm gonna maybe get the shot. Oh, yeah, great, that's my last job, by the way. But I don't do it for that reason. I do it because I'm passionate and I love it and I love story telling, and that's what you guys are. You're storytellers. That is the magic of a great picture. Avedon, one of my favorite photographers of all time, portrait photographer. He's got loads of pictures of extraordinary people, and many of them really aren't that flattering, actually. As far as being pretty. But pretty can be pretty boring. And it isn't about pretty. It's about what is the story? Well who is this person, what are they doing, what was the life that they led? And so even in these sorts of fashion shots, I'm thinking, what's the drama? She's walking down the corridor. There's the light in the background is glowing, and she's marching towards me, and am I feeling that she's sort of coming to get me. And the other picture you see that she's leaning up against this what looks like a cupboard but the door has, it's an old safe, and the look in her eye is maybe sort of come hither. There are all these thoughts that go into the picture. And I'm creating sort of a cinematic moment. It's not just, go and lean. Walk towards me. You can't, not just can you not direct someone like that, but you have to literally have a thought process in mind as well. They are acting, and you are acting and directing. You are part of it too, you're in the picture, you're in the moment. And by doing that, by creating that emotion, and if you don't it's very hard for the model or your subject, whoever they are, to get passionate too. I talked about that, you've got to be almost as excited. And quite often when I'm shooting a model if they're cold and it's outside and they're wearing a t shirt and I'm wearing a jacket, I'll take mine off too. And I'll roll up my sleeves, and I might, ooh, yeah, I feel it. But then I feel it and I'm like, use that. Feel that cold. Feel that wind. Wake up, use that, everything. You hear something. Did you hear that? And all of a sudden I'm like, you have to be in touch with the world, you have to be in touch with the moment. If you're gonna capture the moment, you've gotta be in the moment. Sometimes keeping it simple, right? So, but there's still stories being told here. I was known in my earlier days for shooting in this very simple manner. And you saw a lot of black and white in what I did, and that first series of all those young men in different outfits. I was still learning how to light. But I had developed this one style of very simple lighting and it was all about personality for me. And all about structure, and creating these narratives. But simplicity is not a bad thing. Don't think that you have to do these, really go bananas, and like some of the shoots that I do where I've got a thousand things happening at once, I didn't start there. And nor do I think that those shots are better than the others. A great picture has very little to do with how many lights you used, how many people were in there, the location, how famous the person is. That doesn't make a good picture. That makes it a picture of a famous person in a great place. It's like, I get it. What is great, for me, is when you take someone who you've never heard of, you shoot them in a nondescript place, and people stop and go, God, that's really beautiful. Or, wow, that's tragic. Or, they say something. You need to make people think. And you know, you may think this is over the top, it's not. If you really want to separate yourself from the pack, that's the difference. These people see hundreds of pictures all the time. All of a sudden, why is it, next time you're looking through a magazine or you're looking at pictures, ask yourself. Why did this picture stop you? And by asking yourself these questions, you're like, huh. I like this, why do I like this? And then maybe that's something that you can do too. Or maybe that's something that's gonna inspire you to do something similar to that. And that's how I've always worked. And of course then it leads to a picture which is opposite of what I was just showing you. This of course is the very first photo shoot that I did for America's Next Top Model. And has become probably one of my most requested pictures, or series of pictures that I've ever done. We actually created this entire forest in a studio. Lit it, the models were all nude and then painted in what was a nine hour makeup job, for the model. It was lit, everything was super lit. And that doesn't make the picture great, right? But the story does. And what this makes you think. And so, people love these shots because of everything, where it takes their mind. Where it makes them imagine, my goodness, this is this girl, this beautiful Asian girl, who looks like she could be a princess, which maybe she's a goddess, or maybe she's a spirit. And then there's this strange guy lurking behind her. Or is he a strange guy? Is it the Adam and Eve story? And is she a futuristic Eve? It's the fact that it makes people think. And that's why I get asked more questions about this series of pictures than any other.