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Fashion Photography

Most photographers are interested in commercial work, but orchestrating big photo shoots can be daunting. Luckily producers — like Susan Shaughnessy, who runs SKS Productions in N.Y.C. — are here to help. We asked Susan to walk us through a recent advertising shoot she produced on location in L.A. (with an extra post explaining each crew member’s responsibilities). Whether your team is sprawling or a dynamic duo, Susan lends insight into the process and organization of a complicated shoot.

The Players

Producer Susan Shaughnessy

Producer Susan Shaughnessy

Client: AstraZeneca
Product:
Crestor
Agencies:
Digitas Health and
Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Communications Group
Photographer:
Jayne Wexler
Artist Rep:
Kevin Schochat
Producer:
Susan Shaughnessy/SKS Productions
Location:
Los Angeles
Total people on set: 30

1. Making the Call

The ad agency had three photographers in mind for the shoot, and the photographer Jayne Wexler was considered a favorite. The agency called her directly, and Jayne called her rep, Kevin Schochat. Together they talked about the concept, dates, and availability. Next, Jayne and Kevin considered which producer they wanted. Usually, the photographer or the rep has a relationship with a producer. Sometimes the ad agency has a relationship with a producer, and they will recommend one. In this case, Jayne decided she wanted to work with me.

2. Crafting the Estimate

Campaign layout

"Then and Now" concept

"Then and Now" concept

There were three bids submitted for this job, and the estimating process took more than a week, including several rounds of back-and-forth with the agency. We were trying to meet the agency budget, but we were the only team estimating traveling expenses, so our costs were higher. The agency was very fair and understood our numbers, but it took time to get the estimate and photographer approved.

I typically work with my favorite program, Excel, for bids, as does the rep. I turn my document into a custom-designed PDF, so it looks like a neatly presented document with my logo and client info on it. Excel allows you to make changes quickly and frequently, which is so useful when estimating and making revisions.

3. Getting Approval

During the estimating process, I have a crew in mind. Typically they are on hold from the beginning, especially the stylists. Once the agency awards the whole job and the money, then I book. I review the costs, rates, and expectations with each person, to confirm we are all clear. Sometimes the rates, expenses, and layouts have altered during the estimating process, so it’s essential to clarify at this point.

In this case, the casting and location line items were approved first, and then days later the rest of the job was approved. We began right away with a creative call between the photographer, agency, and myself to review layouts, casting specs, and location needs. I hired Eastside Studios in L.A. to cast, and I began researching locations with my coordinators.

Then stylists, photographer, producer, and agency have creative calls. These calls solidify the wardrobe direction and the prop needs. From there I can build a firm schedule, and manage expectations and deliverables for the team. As soon as the job is approved, the rep and I submit a request for the advance, to receive the appropriate percentage of the expenses up front. This money will get the job rolling and secure locations, studios, and all immediate out-of-pocket expenses.

4. Building the Crew
Wardrobe stylist Gillean McLeod, makeup artist/hair stylist Stephanie Daniel, photographer Jayne Wexler

Wardrobe stylist Gillean McLeod, wardrobe assistant Lauren Burns, and photographer Jayne Wexler

When assembling a crew, I consider the photographer, the project and style, the budget, and the personalities that fit with the requests. It’s also important to have crew members who can work closely together to support each other. The wardrobe stylist and prop stylist know each other, work together often, and were able to help each other styling vintage clothing and props.

With Crestor, because everything was being shot in L.A., I suggested and hired the crew for Jayne. Jayne brought her first assistant, Piero Ribelli, with her, but I introduced Jayne to Mark Gordon, digital tech, along with Ubaldo Holguin and Joe Klecker, who were local photo assistants we used in L.A. Based on temperament, professionalism, and personality, I knew they would fit great with this team.

Having team members who know each other and work well together adds another layer of efficiency. Photographers often get in a groove with certain stylists, and definitely photo assistants and digital techs.

Often the crews stay the same, but sometimes we’ll add or lose somebody because of availability. Like Jayne in New York, we’ll have almost the same crew every time we work with her. For every photographer I work with, I specifically craft a crew that seems appropriate for them, based on their personalities, needs, styles, how fast paced they are, and what they expect in terms of styling.

5. Scouting Locations More »

If you’ve ever wondered what all those people on a big commercial photo shoot do, here’s the nitty gritty details. Meet Susan Shaughnessy’s crew for a recent shoot in L.A., complete with all their vital statistics: Who (they are), What (they do), Where (they live), and How (to find them).

Who: Susan Shaughnessy, Producer

What: Manage people, schedule, communicate, delegate, problem solve, have fun, take responsibility; write checks; provide deliverables/links to casting, scouting, and visuals that need approvals; take care of photographer; organize everything; insure everything; handle travel, catering, transportation; create production books; answer questions, ask questions, provide confidence; do due diligence; be flexible; stay on budget, get overages approved as needed; work closely with art buyer-producer/agency, accept praise on behalf of crew.

Where: Brooklyn is home, but I produce anywhere

How: www.sksproductions.com

Who: Jayne Wexler, Lifestyle and portrait photographer

What: I find a producer if the budget allows one. Go over the layout, all the details, and shot list. Discuss the casting with the producer. If a location is needed, we find a scout and start scouting. On shoot day my assistants and I set up lights. Then they usually get the set ready and shoot a digital-Polaroid for me to see. In the meantime, I discuss the details with the prop and wardrobe stylists and the hair and make-up artists. Once we are set up and I’m happy with my lighting and composition, we start shooting. After the shoot we edit the images and choose the best selects for the job, then we either make a website or send a disk or hard drive to the client with jpegs. Depending on the size and complexity of the retouching, the client will either retouch in-house or I will use one of my retouchers. Then there is the billing, which can take as long as the production.

Where: I live in NYC — “Nolita” — been in the same apartment for almost 23 years! My studio is on Vandam Street, west of Soho.

How: www.jaynewexler.com

Who: Kevin Schochat, Photographer’s agent

What: When a request comes in, I  go over the specifics of the job with the creative in charge. I then work closely with the photographer and producer to prepare a detailed photography estimate. I negotiate all fees and rights for the photographer. Once the job is awarded, I follow it closely to make sure everything is running smoothly and we are staying within budget. I also go to the shoot, if it is local, to see how it is progressing, meet the client, and deal with any last minute questions or changes. After the shoot, the photographer and I usually review the invoice together. Then I contact all the key people involved to make sure they are happy with the results and thank them for their business.

Where: New York City

How: www.kevinschochat.com

Who: John Robinson, Prop stylist and set designer More »

Gene Higa is a destination wedding photographer based in San Francisco, but he’s got great tips for all kinds of photographers. In today’s Tip of the Week, Gene talks about the one light that always comes along when he packs his camera bags.


“I like that nice, available-light look.”

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Gene has some great tips lined up, but we’re always eager to hear what you’d like to know more about. Leave your questions in the comments (with a link to your website, of course) and Gene will be happy to respond.

When I heard that editorial and commercial photographer Jeffrey Thayer was heading to New York City for his first round of face-to-face meetings with editors and art buyers, I was eager to have him share the experience with RESOLVE. The NYC pilgrimage is an important (often nerve-wracking) right of passage for many photographers. Through Jeff’s eyes — with posts on preparing for the trip, the meetings, and the follow-ups — photographers planning a similar trip can get a peak inside the process.
©Jeffrey Thayer

©Jeffrey Thayer

I arrived at JFK Sunday afternoon, got dropped off at my hotel, and went out to meet with some friends who were in charge of my nightlife while I was in the city. Six in the morning the next day my alarms went off and I looked over my list of things to do.

It wasn’t the best week to get meetings with everyone I wanted — blame it on Fashion Week — but I got some. I was familiar with the first two publications I was to meet with, so I hopped on the train and headed downtown with my portfolio and leave-behinds in hand.

The meetings were short and good. I was able to discuss the publications’ visions and to show where mine could complement it. They both enjoyed my work and, the greatest compliment, said that some of my images “are such (insert magazine title here) shots.”

I was close by some other people I wanted to meet with but could never get on the phone, so I called everyone in the photo department until I got a human voice. I explained what I was doing, “in the city to meet with some reps and other creatives,” and asked if they had time to meet. Most didn’t but wanted a copy of my mini-book. So I dropped them off at different offices this until my feet were angry with me.

5:30 headed back to my room to shower and get ready for a little party. 1 a.m. back at the hotel to review tomorrow’s to-do list and a little sleep. Tuesday got up bright and early again, re-reviewed my list, and hit the street.

Portfolios, mini-books, and camera can get pretty heavy, but luckily the city functions at the same fast pace as I do and it fueled me on. That day I had meetings with a couple reps to get some insight on what more I could do. They looked through my book, gave me some great ideas, and told me some things that are always hard for me to believe: “Your work is strong, you have a good eye,” things like that.  I get bored with my images and I’m always super critical of myself but I think that is what keeps you progressing and growing.

©Jeffrey Thayer

©Jeffrey Thayer

Next I got to spend some time with Gray Scott, a great fashion photographer who creates amazing fine-art and conceptual fashion stories. We talked about all sorts of things: photography, what inspires us as artists, the relationship between recent vampire mania and the economic climate. Even though our styles are very different, the driving force behind why we create is similar. It always makes me feel good to meet someone who I see as passionate and inspired, as I hope people see me.  Thank you again, Gray, it was truly a pleasure.

Then I wanted to take a little break so I left my book back at the hotel and went out to see what I could see, to shoot a little, and to drop off some minis for more people who simply couldn’t meet up. Life felt good sans the couple extra pounds.

Wednesday I met with another rep that pointed me in the direction of a freelance editor I should meet because she works with a lot of people. All the reps I met and spoke with were great and helped me immensely — one even said she would pick me up in a heartbeat if I was living in NYC.

Hit the phone a little more. Met with another editor and we chatted and had fun. The general consensus from everyone I got face time with was that I have the right attitude, some definite talent, and they could work with me.

More »

Doug Menuez launched his personal blog, Go Fast, Don’t Crash, in March after receiving an overwhelming response to an article he wrote for Editorial Photographers about building a creatively satisfying life as a photographer. During his 28 years in the industry, Doug has achieved incredible success in the documentary and commercial realm, and he shares what he’s learned in this “Seeing Money” column.

From the new ad campaign 'Meet Dubai' for Emirates Airlines. Photo copyright 2009 Doug Menuez

Ross Perot once told me that when he was starting his new company, no one would invest in his idea except his wife and mother. “And that’s why I have 3.3 billion dollars!” he said, with his characteristic ear-to-ear grin. “It’s all about equity son, equity.” His risky hard work paid off, but Ross was also lucky that he had some money from his wife and mother to start out with. That’s not realistic for most people starting a new photography business. You’ll need to use other people’s money to do that, the kind you find in a bank.

In my last column I mentioned writing a business plan and getting an SBA (Small Business Association) Loan. The good news is, the Obama administration recently beefed up the SBA, and there is a new push to give out a bunch of $35,000 loans. What are you waiting for? Write the plan! You might qualify for more.

Tell Them Who You Are
One small problem you might run into is that most bankers know little about photography and are skeptical that there is much money to be made with a camera. They understand restaurants or furniture stores, but they usually don’t get many photography businesses applying for loans. (That’s probably because, unlike furniture store owners, photographers expect money to arrive via magic, without the normal agony of sweating up a five-year income projection.)

In order to overcome the banker’s doubt, your business plan has to be solid, satisfying their need to understand what you are selling, who you are selling to, and how much money you expect to make over a set period of time. They need to be able to asses the risk for the return of their loan. It will help to clarify your vision for your future to the point that you can explain it in a mission statement that is 25 words or less. Tips for writing business plans are all over the internet, especially at SBA.gov.

Show Them What You Do
When I first heard about the SBA in 1993, I was technically bankrupt, having spent my life savings on my first book project. I won’t deny that learning to create spreadsheets and to write marketing and sales stuff was a nightmare. Like being stabbed in the eye over and over.

On top of that, I felt completely out of my element as a photographer going in to meet the banker. Although I’d been trying to build a relationship him over the past few months, I was sure when I asked for this big SBA loan, he would laugh me out of the bank. But I was pretty desperate, with a mortgage, a wife and child, and a ton of debt. I had to try.

“When I went to the bank, I took my photography portfolio.”

On my way out the door for my bank meeting, I did something people might laugh at: I grabbed my portfolio to show my banker. I knew my business plan might not get through, but I was pretty sure I could get his attention with my images of news events, sports, and celebrities. Turns out, I was right. A banker’s world is fairly predictable; lots of numbers. It was a welcome break to go through my work, and it gave me the chance to connect on a basic human level with this critical decision maker. I got the loan — $100K — and never looked back.

Get Them On Your Team
An important part of this story is the concept of “relationship banking.” I had gotten to know my banker over time. It’s important to identify a bank in your town that is actually supporting small business through it’s lending policies — even in this economy — and then make friends with the bank manager.

Build a relationship as you would with a picture editor you want to work with. Take out a small loan, even $5,000 and repay it regularly over three months. Take out another loan for $10,000 and repay that quickly. Build trust. Then bring in your plan, along with your portfolio, and make it happen.

After I got the SBA loan for $100K, and knowing I could get my business going with half of that money, I turned around and asked my banker to put half of it in a savings account and freeze it to collateralize a 50K line of credit. That told him how serious I was and how hard I intended to work. It also gave him another incentive to help me grow into a larger customer. And I asked him to agree that if I handled that credit line properly, that line would be unsecured in a year. He agreed and a year later I had both the SBA money and the credit line, giving me ample capital for further growth: new equipment, portfolios, and serious marketing campaigns.

I learned then that it pays off to engage everyone on my team as a partner in my success — insurance agents, lawyers, and all my labs and equipment vendors. By getting them invested in my endeavors, since they were also relying on me for their business, they all had a vested interest in my continuing success.

This seems obvious in retrospect, but so few photographers take the time to really build relationships with the people they most rely on. A few lunches, gift prints, and keeping people abreast of your new projects and successes can go a long way when times get tough. And if you can get an insurance agent excited about the photographs in your portfolio, imagine how easy that next meeting with an art director will be.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Doug is eager to hear what questions you’d like him to answer. What do you wish you knew more about in regard to running a photography business?

Gene Higa is a destination wedding photographer based in San Francisco, but he’s got great tips for all kinds of photographers. In today’s Tip of the Week, Gene explains how a promo video on your website will not only help you get clients, it will help you get the clients you want.

“We are just like our clients.”

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Gene has some great tips lined up, but we’re always eager to hear what you’d like to know more about. Leave your questions in the comments (with a link to your website, of course) and Gene will be happy to respond.

Gene Higa is a destination wedding photographer based in San Francisco, but he’s got great tips for all kinds of photographers. Today’s Tip of the Week is great idea for wedding photographers — or any photographer with a busy client — that will help reduce stress and increase client satisfaction on shoot day.

“I want to make sure I have enough time to take care of everybody.”

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Gene has some great tips lined up, but we’re always eager to hear what you’d like to know more about. Leave your questions in the comments (with a link to your website, of course) and Gene will be happy to respond.

When liveBooks interviewed top fashion photographer Gray Scott for our Photographers in Focus series, he talked a lot about the importance of understanding your artistic vision. Like many photographers, he describes the constant centering he has to practice to stay true to the path he has decided to walk. We wanted to hear more from Gray, who has gotten so far by staying true to his own vision, and he explained more about his love of polarity and how it’s playing out in his new work.

For a longer interview from Gray, check out this podcast from F-Stop Beyond.

Carmen Suen: You say that you are not a photographer, but an artist. What do you think is the difference?

Gray Scott: Obviously, photography is my medium now, but I didn’t start as a photographer. I actually started as a painter. My background is oil painting. I come from a very trained, technical background. Using the medium of photography has been really interesting for me because it’s faster. It’s immediate gratification.

I’m actually starting to realize now that the concepts that I have in my fine-arts series are very similar to if I were to go back to painting, or do both — that’s always a possibility, for me to do both, they would probably be very similar.

I’m interested in the human form. I’m interested in psychology, mythology, icons, symbology, and all of that. I guess for me, it’s just a difference in medium choice. I’m technically a photographer by trade, but in the scheme of things, the entirety of my work, I feel like I’m an artist.

You can see from my work that I’m not just taking pretty pictures. There is subtext to my pictures. And I’m hoping to push that further with a new series of fine-art photography that I’m working on. I’m hoping to push that to an even more aggressive place. Hopefully in six months to a year, I’ll be able to produce that.

An image in Gray's new series of work ©Gray Scott Studio

An image in Gray's new series of work ©Gray Scott Studio

CS: Could you tell us about your fondness for contrasts?

GS: I like polarity. Hot and cold; good and bad. I like switching things around and pushing polarities around. I have a new piece in my latest promotion campaign that is a good example to explain that.

In the picture [above], the woman is the executioner. You seldom see women in that role. And when you look at the man in that picture, he’s naked and vulnerable. But she’s also exposing herself. To me, it seems that in our culture, for a woman to be that aggressive, she has to bare everything. She has to expose her entire self. Whereas men don’t have to do this. Men could just be aggressive without being exposed.

CS: When you want to refocus yourself, you’ve said you like to read art books. What kind?

GS: I read a variety of books, but I go to Caravaggio all the time. I think the reason I like Caravaggio so much is the drama in his paintings. The characters in his work are always in some sort of trouble. They’re either being executed or suffering. It’s not just a pretty picture. They’re actually going through some traumatic or beautiful experience.

Outside of art books, I read a lot of psychology. And I also like to read Aldous Huxley because he has such a dimension to his work. Some people would call him jaded, but I would say he is indifferent to people’s false morality, which I really enjoy. I think for any young photographers, their work is going to be stronger if they have some stories to tell.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: When have you felt like you were losing hold of your original artistic vision and how did you get back to it?

  • After a 4-month hiatus, the photo-sharing community magazine JPG is back in action. The last few months were a roller-coaster ride: since the announcement of its closure in January, there’s been news after news of possible buyouts, but nothing confirmed until late February. JPG sent out its official “back in business” announcement on Tuesday, May 12, to its community members. Expect the new JPG to hit news stands soon.
  • We were glad to read that Iranian American photojournalist Roxana Saberi was finally released from the infamous Evin prison Sunday, after the court reduced her conviction from 8 years in prison to suspended sentence of two years as a result of a five-hour appeals hearing. Saberi was detained by the Iranian government in January and subsequently convicted of espionage charges. Her release comes at an opportune time — the film she co-scripted, “No One Knows About Persian Cats,” just premiered at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday.
  • The much-anticipated Richard Avedon retrospective opens today the International Center of Photography in New York City. The exhibition includes images that the master fashion and portrait photographer created between 1944 to 2000. The New York Times has a great article and audio slideshow about Avedon and the exhibition.
  • The latest NASA mission to fix the Hubble telescope has been all over the news this week. Last week NASA released some of the last pictures produced by the 16-year-old camera on Hubble — the new ones will take a little while to hit the internet. These ones are so breath-taking, we can’t imagine how stunning images from the new $126 million camera will be.

The high cost of studio space is a plague to emerging photographers everywhere, but especially in New York City, where space of any kind sells at a premium. Gray Scott, a fashion photographer based in the city, recently opened a 1,300-square-foot studio in the emerging-artist petri-dish of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as a low-cost alternative to big-studio prices. It seemed like a great option for photographers, a self-supported studio space for Gray himself, and a potential community builder on top of that all — so, of course, we wanted to find out more.
Avalence Studio

Avalence Studio

Carmen Suen: Why did you decide to open Avalence Studio?

Gray Scott: For me as a photographer, it’s just almost impossible to financially keep up. A lot of times you’re scrambling to find a studio when a magazine contacts you to do a shoot. When I first started, there were several times where I couldn’t find a studio to shoot in, and I had to turn down the magazine shoot. It’s not a good thing for any photographer to turn down work because they work so hard to get their name out there and get work. I wanted to provide an affordable space for photographers to do their shoot.

CS: How is the studio an affordable option for photographers?

GS: One of the most important things about the studio is that for a $750 day rate, from 9am – 5:30pm, you get an Octabank, a stand, a power pack, sandbags, V-flats, and a wardrobe styling station with a steamer, robes, and slippers. So basically a young photographer without a lot of money can come into the studio with their model, their hair and makeup person, and their stylist, and they can produce a shoot without any extra expenses.

For one price, you’re coming in to Avalence Studio and you can produce your whole shoot. Whereas a lot of times, when I have gone to other studios, the base rate is just for you to be in the space. It could start at $1,200 to $1,500, and then every single thing costs more, whether it’s a pitcher of water or an apple box. You think you’re spending $1,000 to be there, but when you walked away, you ended up spending $1,800 for the shoot.

The idea of this space is that it’s sort of an artist workshop where everything is provided. You come, and you shoot, and you pay your day rate. That’s pretty much it. The only extra is if a photographer has specific equipment they want to rent, that is added on top. They have the option for us to rent the equipment for them; or, if they want to do it themselves, they can have the equipment delivered here.

CS: Aside from the price, what makes Avalence different from the average photo studio?

GS: One of the things that I think is very exciting is that we are in a neighborhood where we are surrounded by other artists. You are constantly bumping into artists that you know: stylists, hair and makeup people. There’s an independent record label right beside us. There’s a video production beside us. So it’s a community of creative people in the building, which is really exciting.

The studio itself is a very clean open space. But it’s not concrete and sterile. We have hardwood floors that have been painted white. There’s an industrial feel to it, but it isn’t cold. The place has a warm feeling.

CS: What are the future plans of the studio?

GS: I’d like to eventually have 10 to 15 photographers that we work with on a consistence basis, who fit into the studio space, who have the same goal as the community that we are trying to create, which is sort of a younger editorial feel. That’s how the space is.

The space is very private. We try to find photographers who may be working on books, or private work, or some of their editorial work is very sensitive and they don’t want people to know they’re working on certain things or certain campaigns. Our first client was Spin magazine. They said they loved shooting here and that they look forward to shooting here again. I have a feeling that they will be a repeated client.

Another goal is to have the studio also be a gallery space for young photographers. We have such a great space and so many white walls here that I think eventually I would like to have an addition to the Avalence website where we do private showings of young photographers’ work. In the next few months, I would like to find photographers that are doing fine art photography. We’ll do an opening ceremony for them and have 10 to 15 of their pieces presented in the space. It’s nice to have a space where you can have all your peers together and show your work. I think that’s definitely down the road for us.

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