Sunday, February 13, 2011

Falling in Love

I wonder if other photographers have had the feeling of "falling in love" with their models before.  I know it might sound a little bit silly, but as I was reflecting on my own feelings around the time of a photoshoot (before, during, and after) I think it's not such a far-fetched notion.  I can understand how these kind of feelings would emerge. 

How could that be?  On the surface the entire episode is grounded in nothing more than externals: appearances and even heavily produced and edited to elicit a desired effect.  Ah - but what is that desired effect?  I suppose it's different depending on the photographer, but for me one of the things I try to create is a hunger, a thirst, in the viewer that is left somehow unquenched.  So, if this is really the end product, perhaps it's not so surprising that I can fall under the intoxicating effects of my own "drug".  Maybe this is like the occupational hazards a bartender faces...

I want to explore this experience a little bit, even by writing about it.  So some of these thoughts are just coming to me as I write; that's something of a disclaimer.  Let me also make clear that I've always prided myself in treating all models with a great deal of respect, never touching them in any inappropriate way, or making any kind of advance on them.  Maybe the shroud of professionalism that envelops the model-photographer interaction adds to the mystique in some way.  Something like the teacher-pupil relationship.

Let me also clarify that this feeling does not exhibit itself at all occasions of doing a shoot, not does it manifest to the same extent.  I clearly remember one photoshoot where I really was looking forward to the end, and I scarcely get myself to look at the pictures (let alone spend time post processing them) after the shoot.  It was that bad.  But that is definitely the exception, and I'd have to admit to some degree (more or less) of lingering fondness after the shoot ends and the model slips away, leaving only her images.

The reality is, the photographer-model interaction is, in fact, a relationship.  For me, it starts when I first encounter the model through an online or in person introduction.  Perhaps I'm looking at her portfolio for the first time.  As I look, and I do this conscious or subconsciously with every model portfolio I view, I'm imagining how we might do a shoot, what her personality might be, and if her and my styles would resonate.  If the answer isn't an immediate "yes", I might let her images float around in my mind for a bit, and try to imagine her with a different look under my own direction.  For those times where I sense the potential, there's already a bond forming.

Most of the models I've shot have come through networking via something like Model Mayhem.  So I'll typically contact the model through the portal and mention my interest, and invite her to check my portfolio.  Sadly, there are times when I don't so much as get a response, but other times I'll get an enthusiastic reply.  If she demonstrates a lot of appreciation for my work, this is of course, flattering and brings me one step closer to her.

I've mentioned elsewhere in here, I prefer to meet a model before we do a shoot to get to know her a bit and find out what kinds of themes we'd both get excited about.  Even if we don't meet, it's pretty much a minimum that we exchange a number of emails to clarify what we have in common in terms of a desired theme, what her comfort levels are, location and wardrobe ideas.  By the time we've squared things away for the shoot (in person meeting or otherwise), we're getting to know each other a bit, and invariably kidding around while building up excitement for the day of the shoot.

During the final days leading up to the shoot, I'm often busy rounding up things we might use - props, wardrobe items, etc.  I'm typically making notes about different ideas I want to try, specific details about locations, getting my gear ready.  By the day before the shoot, I'm fully engaged.  If it's a studio shoot, I'm probably cleaning up the house, moving furniture around, and setting up the backdrop and lighting.  I'm not so lucky to have a standalone studio, so I have to convert my domicile for the purpose.  By this time I've invested a lot in the project which my model and I will collaborate on.  All the way along, the model is somewhere on my mind.

So, finally the day comes where we do the shoot.  In some ways, it's a matter of getting down to business and going about executing on the plans for the shoot - getting to the location, changes of wardrobe, adjusting lighting, etc.  Beyond the mechanics, though, there is some measure of interplay between the photographer and the model.  I frequently show the model the pose I'm looking for, for example, and continually dialog with her about what she's doing that's "working", and what to tweak to be more effective.  Of course, I think part of my job is to help her be as attractive as she can be, so I like to praise and encourage her - all these things to build her confidence and comfort with me.  For her part, the model is in a way "making love to the camera", or at least exerting her powers of seduction towards it.  As the man behind the camera, it's possible (probable?) to deceive myself into thinking she's directing that look at me.  Of course, on an intellectual level, I know better.  Despite the logic, though, there's something very powerful and intoxicating about a beautiful woman fixing her stare upon me - even if there's a camera between her and I.

Overall, the hours of shooting can be a very powerful experience.  It isn't always this way, but when we connect, we have a great time together and share some very intimate moments.  It's quite a unique experience, this level of confidence and intimacy shared with such immediacy, and little foreknowledge of each other.  Add to that the fact that both of us would tend to be creative people, working to create a joint work of beauty, and when it comes together we're jointly celebrating in that creation.  One of the greatest moments of the whole process for me (and I suspect, for her) is when we upload the shots to the computer for the first time, and see a full sized view of what we've accomplished together.  It is really a gas, and I just love seeing her reaction when she see's herself in some of the best shots.  Yeah, it's a very seductive experience, working in an intimate setting and creating something we're both pleased and excited about.  It creates a special kind of bond.

Alas, all good things come to and end, and at the end of the photoshoot the model packs up her wares, hops into her car and is on her way down the road and, for the most part, out of my life.  That in itself is a strange feeling - going from a frenzied pace in a highly stimulative environment with this other person to suddenly being on my own.  I'm usally exhausted by this time, and still have a lot of cleanup to do (putting away studio gear, unpacking things if we did a location shoot, etc.).   Then there's the fairly onerous task of managing all the files - importing them into Lightroom, making backup copies, etc.  It's a palpable letdown compared to the shoot and everything leading up to it, but part of the job and something that must be done.

Even with the model well on her way, and off to the normal routine of her regular life (or another photoshoot) several days later, my affair with her lingers on.  Well, I guess at this point it isn't really even an interaction with "her", but with an image created with her as the foundation.  She is no longer with me, but her image is there.  Is it really her?  No, not really.

At this point, as I work on post processing to perfect and shape this image of art, the person who was the object of the original photograph is left behind in deference to the image that's being created.  An image intended to arouse emotion or desire.  To accomplish this, we photographers rely on all kinds of tricks - changes in color tonal balance and saturation, strenghthing shadows here, adding highlights there, removing slight (or not so slight) facial blemishes, smoothing skin, enhancing irises, whitening teeth, moistening lips - you name it, we'll try to do it.

As I'm making these tweaks to the photographs, including which shots to set aside and which to promote, I'm doing some kind of gesture of "love" in that very action.  That is, I'm putting my energies and efforts into making that person look as good as she can.  Yes, it's not really the person anymore, but rather the image of that person, but the feelings to get intertwined and mixed up to some extent.  Spending hours or portions of hours looking at closeups of a model, I get to know every freckle, birthmark, pimple,wrinkle - all of the little things that make this person uniquely who she is.

At some point in the process I sometimes develop some doubts or questions about whether or not I'm doing the right thing.  After all, her I am involving myself with divorcing the real person that was originally photographed from the person represented in these images.  Is that the right thing to do?  Am I in some way saying this person isn't already perfect in the way they are?  I comfort myself in acknowledging that, in fact, they might be perfect in their true skin in my eyes, but in modern times nobody in the modeling world is presented as who they really are.

Sometimes I wonder what the model is thinking.  Does she ever have any misgivings about the images promoted on her behalf are not really a true representation of who she is?  Does she ever feel any sense of attachment with the photographer through this somewhat intimate, if short, engagement?

Not long after my immersion in post processing, I'm on the path of setting up a shoot with another model.  Soon my suspended reality, my fantasy, gives way to the reality and the hard work of preparing for that next shoot.  And so, the cycle begins anew...  ;)


  1. I just left a long comment saying how much I appreciate this blog post, and how I can certainly relate. I've been in that situation.

    You have hit the nail on the head with the feelings you've described. The relationship between model and photographer is a very unique interaction, one largely of trust and vulnerability on both sides.

    I don't know if these feelings become easier to avoid the more we shoot, or with the more models we work with. Thanks for this great post. I am absolutely there with you!

  2. Wow! I can't believe I didn't see or read this before! This is great stuff and I concur totally with almost everything you have said! Wow again!

    Asian Impressions Photography

  3. totally agree with a lot of your statements :) i've no doubt fallen in love with some of my muses, and i've wondered too if they're looking at me as they're looking into my camera during the more intimate moments. it's even worse when i find myself attracted to the model (which is strangely rare for me).

    i'm a fan of your work, by the way! great, creative stuff you've got going on there. :)

  4. Some of your posts resonate greatly with me. This one is a good example. Like you, when I shoot a model that I seem to have a connection with, which seems to me to come down to an understanding of what we are trying to accomplish in a shoot, it can be a powerful experience. Some models I would love to work with over and over again, and there are others for whom I can scarcely summon up the energy after a shoot to finish the five pictures I might owe her.

    As with any collaborative endeavor, it's that sense of teamwork that elevates the experience. Some models are so good at what they do that the whole process just seems so easy. With others it's like work and the magic never happens.

    It never occurs to me that my models are looking at me as they pose (well, with one exception). I assume they're thinking of a boyfriend, if of anyone at all. For me, it comes down to that feeling of wanting to work with a model more than once. That's my way of falling on love with a model.

    Thought provoking posts in this blog.

    Andy (andy_57)