Last month, I accidently hired a former Big Brother contestant as a model for a personal project.
Prior to that, I was burned out and on the verge of giving up completely. In many ways, 2015 was a great year. But by the end of it, I had stopped creating. Instead, I was just busy making money. Earning a living is important, of course, but as an artist, it’s dangerous if I let it be my primary objective. I make better art when I’m more focused on pushing myself and growing than in sticking with what I know I can do well.
When I get stuck in a rut of repeatedly shooting the same way, I stop feeling inspired. When I’m not inspired, I have a tendency to procrastinate. I become paralyzed with fear, and I look for distractions to keep me from thinking about what’s important. I turn to Netflix marathons, reading endless articles about photography gear, binging on social media, or just moping for days.
Lack of inspiration, procrastination, and fear are all tied together in my struggle with perfectionism. When I give in to fear (which is really the fear of not being perfect), then perfectionism wins and I’m not able to do anything until I’m ready to go out, try something new, and risk not being perfect.
In December, I noticed that I was sinking into discouragement because with the holidays and being busy with family, I was losing the drive and momentum to find inspiration. But I did the opposite of what I normally do. I was looking through all of the photographs I had taken in 2015, and I realized that it had been a long time since I worked on a personal project without the pressure of pleasing a client.
I decided to produce my own photo shoot. I called up a few friends I love working with and asked them to join me.
For a long time, I’ve wondered what it would be like to shoot GQ-style images in my own style. The only problem was there was no way I could do it alone. I also know nothing about fashion, unless you call a black t-shirt and jeans “fashion.”
I created a Pinterest board of ideas and sent it out to the team. They all loved the ideas, and we got to work. I had worked with Ashley Akins at the Campbell Agency before. From the selection of headshots she sent me, I found one who looked like he would fit in a GQ ad. So I booked him for the shoot.
The morning of the shoot, I still didn't know who he was. But Bella, our studio manager, told me just before Clay arrived that he had been a popular contestant on Big Brother last summer. Knowing he was famous made me nervous. Suddenly this was less of a fun concept shoot and more of a risk. I tried to shake off the pressure, knowing that more people would be interested in these images.
Clay was easy to work with and a humble, nice guy. He got along with everyone and we got some great shots. If Bella hadn’t told me he was famous, I wouldn’t have known from working with him.
He was never boastful about his fame that he had with being on Big Brother show. You would never notice he was a popular guy unless you knew the show.
This shoot was a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with talented people and create great images. I like working alone, and I do it well most of the time. But I always enjoy creating with a team. This team inspired me and challenged me to create better work.
These first shots only happened because Ricky, the makeup artist, thought it would be interesting to wet him down with water bottle. The rest of the shoot went smoothly because our talented stylist brought the right outfits and Ricky matched those concepts perfectly.
Here are the technical details for my fellow photography nerds:
Camera: Fujifilm X-T1
Lens: Fujifilm 56mm & 35mm
Lights: Einstein E640 (I used 1-2 lights for each photo. To save time, I had 3 lights with different modifiers set up at all times)
Modifiers: Paul C. Buff 22" Beauty Dish (when I want to slap someone with ton of light, this is what I use), Cheetahstand Rice Bowl (lovely contrasty light), Lumopro Strip (dramatic light), black v-flats (to cut light), and natural window light.
Background: Grey Seamless paper (Savage), cyc wall, and white wall.
The goal with the lighting setup was to create dramatic light. To pull it off, the lights were close to the subject for a quicker fall off, and the modifier was a deep parabolic shape to create more contrast. At times, I used the beauty dish to flood light with more of a punch.
I shot tethered to Lightroom via Macbook Pro.
One thing I learned is that I need to watch the time more carefully. My first setup took more than 40 minutes, which is longer than it needed to be. I got way too excited and kept on shooting until Ricky tapped me on my shoulder. After that, I had Bella remind me of the time every 15 minutes. Lesson learned: Get the shot you need and move on. Trust your instinct that you got the shot! You only need one or two “safety” shots, not ten.
Behind-the-scenes photos by Chet Photography