Capture the IT Factor

Capture the IT Factor
by Steve Meltzer

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Here's how a model can turn your ordinary product shoot into a shooting star!
The idea of marketing via a pretty smile goes back to the beginnings of commerce. I bet that by the Middle Ages craftspeople were already using a good-looking son or daughter to sell their wares on market day!

Today, craftspeople--especially fabric artists and jewelers--want to use models in their crafts photography. Certainly, a model wearing a scarf is more interesting than a photo of the scarf lying on a table. However, there are lots of pitfalls when photographing models.

Model Wearing a Handmade Retro-Style Wedding Dress

This handmade retro-style wedding dress was fun to photograph. We had been shooting in a 1970s-style house and none of the spaces fit with this 1930s dress. I walked around the grounds and took lots of shots. This one in front of a garden shed was the one the art director chose.

Who Is the Star of Your Photo?

Advertising agencies know that beautiful eyes, perfect skin, and a pretty smile are guaranteed to distract the viewer from an otherwise boring image of the product. A great example is the TV spot with the actress Charlize Theron. After running past a digitally included Marilyn Monroe and other stars, Ms. Theron appears in a gold dress that clings tightly to her body. It is a visually stunning ad, but I had to use the Internet to find out what she was peddling. It was Dior J'Adore perfume. Charlize Theron's ad is an extreme example of how beauty sells and how it can overwhelm the product. You don't want that to happen when your handcrafted creation is meant to be the star.

Shattering the Beauty Myth

Lots of models look very ordinary in real life. They come into the studio in faded jeans and T-shirts, and it takes a team of makeup artists, hairdressers, and stylists to prepare them for photography. However, even then their looks are deceiving. The most important quality of a good model is how the camera loves them. The lens changes the way a model looks. It reshapes their face; and when it does, the result is magical.

So let's call this Rule #1: If you are going to use a model, take photos first to see how the model looks in photographs.

Sometimes I've had to find the right model for a shoot by trial and error, once spending several days photographing dozens of models for a magazine fashion spread. I photographed each one and worked with the art director and editor to make the final selection.

Coaxing Model Behavior

There is more to a good model than just good looks. The best models are very aware of how they look. They are part actor and part dancer. They know how to project feelings and sensibilities through their faces and bodies. Working with a model who knows how to move makes my work a lot easier.

Amateur models generally don't know how they look to other people. They are pretty and they think that is enough. The result is phony posing, usually copying things they've seen on TV. They pout and you have to struggle to make them stop. (It seems that for many young people a "pout" is the one-size-fits-all expression, and that pout reminds me of a vampire's smile in Twilight.)

Working with a model is a collaboration--that means I have a model draw on her experience and suggest poses I might not have thought of myself.
This Fabric Bracelet Looked Limp Sitting on a Background

This fabric bracelet looked limp sitting on a background. It required a model to bring it to life--and the arm is all we see of the model.

Selecting the Right Clothing For a Model is Important.

Selecting the right clothing for a model is important. The blue purse, which is the star of the photo, pops out against the black dress and is framed by the arms.

For jury submission photos, a model's face can be a distraction from the craftwork. It is natural for people to look into each other's eyes before seeing anything else. With a juror going through hundreds of images, anything that takes their eyes from your craftwork is a problem. To avoid this, when possible, frame the image by cropping out the model's face from at least eye level. If done carefully, the image can look surprisingly natural.

Yes, photographing craftwork with a model is harder than photographing it as a still life, but done properly it is worth the extra time and effort.

Looking Great in the Great Outdoors

Working with a model requires a big space and a lot of light, particularly when you are doing a whole body-shot photographing clothing. Since most craftspeople don't have this kind of space, an obvious alternative is to go outdoors. While there's a whole world of locations just outside your door, you need to take the time and make test photos before shooting anything serious. I never use my backyard or lawn, because I want a location to fit the subject. I will walk or drive around looking at various possible sites and then snap a few photos to get a sense of how the space will photograph.

What I look for in a space is something that won't overwhelm the model or the clothing. Whether it is an urban space or a forest, it needs to be anonymous. Recognizable locations start people thinking about the place and not the work. And you need to avoid making the background the subject of the photo--you can do that by throwing it somewhat out of focus.

In the full-length photo of the model shown here, I found a place where the green grass and sky would showcase the violet and blues of her skirt.

Shedding Light on Outdoor Shoots

Natural light is beautiful and it changes constantly in color and quality. Photographing a few hours after dawn or a few hours before sunset, natural light is warm and soft. At midday in bright sunshine, the light is harsher and much cooler. Before deciding when to shoot, think about what you are photographing and how it fits with the light.

Shootings outdoors, I prefer to work on slightly overcast days. In full sunlight, shadows are very deep and light colors can easily be "burnt" out. The bright sun makes it more difficult to position the model to avoid having the sun directly in her eyes. On an overcast day the cloud cover softens the shadows, makes color seem richer, and makes it easier to pose the model.

It is also important outdoors to take control of your camera's built-in flash. Most digital cameras want to use their flashes all the time, even in bright sunlight. This usually ruins the shot by overwhelming the ambient (existing) lighting and making everything unnaturally front lit.

My suggestion is to turn the flash off, set the ISO to 400, and take your photos. Since you are outdoors and there is lots of space, shoot with your lens at a long telephoto setting--if not the longest you have. Professional photographers generally photograph models--even in the studio--with telephoto lenses. These lenses flatten perspective and make a more pleasing image.

Using a focal length of 135mm or longer (in 35mm equivalent) will radically change and improve the look of your model photos. If you have a small digital, just zoom out the lens all the way and take your photos.
The Natural Landscape and Lighting Worked in Concert with Showcasing the Colors of This Ensemble.

The natural landscape and lighting worked in concert with showcasing the colors of this ensemble. The model's pose highlighted the fabric and the allure of her wardrobe.