I do not like to try new things; personally, I think that it is frightening. As a person who hopes to enter a creative career post-college, this has not always treated me particularly well. Most of what we do as creative professionals is throw things at the wall until something sticks (mostly figuratively but sometimes literally). With this trial and error type of practice, failure is a common occurrence. So, when I was tasked with my first ever fashion photo shoot roughly a month ago, I panicked.
I had never done anything like it. Sure, I had taken some simple headshots of my friends from time to time and had previously used the studio lighting equipment in my basic photography class my sophomore year, but that was a long time ago. As a result of only being given a week to find the models, book the studio space, do the shoot, and get the final images processed there was no time to better acquaint myself with the lights or lighting techniques. I had to wing it; there was no other option. In school we are taught to be bold and take risks because even if we fail, those failures can teach us more than any success ever could. What no one ever told me was what happens when failure is a possibility but not an option?
It was 11:50AM, approximately ten minutes before I was supposed to photograph the first fashion shoot of my budding photographic career. I tore the last piece of gaffers tape from the roll and placed it over a loose cable that ran from the power strip up to one of two studio lights I set up. I walked over to the fluorescent overhead lights and switched them off, leaving only the glow of the modeling lights to illuminate the room.
One of my models opened the door and entered the studio; she was pretty amazed by the setup and noted its professionalism. I laughed and I agreed with her. It did look professional, almost like I knew what I was doing. Fake it until you make it I guess.
When my friend Marc, the other model, walked in the room I told them both that I had never done a photo shoot with the studio lights before and that there would be a learning curve for me. Even though I wanted to appear confident, I knew I had to be honest and tell them this was new for me. Once they understood where I was coming from, we all had a better vibe. I noticed how they became more accepting of a vague instruction and didn’t mind when I had to reshoot a few frames that had the wrong exposure.
We started the shoot with a few basic poses, but it was slightly awkward. I was awkward when giving direction and my models were clearly uncomfortable being put in the spotlight in front of the camera, fearful that they would look bad. The photos were okay but not great, not what I wanted, everyone was too tense. I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect that I could not think clearly, all I could think about was how terribly the shoot was going. What I should have been thinking about was how to make it better.
Then we started to have fun and goof around a bit. We brought out some props, blasted the song “Trap Queen”, and started to dance. It was silly and probably looked dumb but it was effective. Everyone in the room had more energy and more confidence in what they were doing. This ultimately translated to much better photos.
What I learned from doing this was that even though it is scary to do something that is unfamiliar, there are certain things that can make it easier. Step one is to always be prepared ahead of time. In my case I arrived early and made sure that all my gear was functional and ready to go so that when the models arrived we could start right away.
Step two is to always be honest with yourself and people around you. When I understood and accepted that I was not going to be perfect the first time I was less afraid to fail. I was liberated from my personal judgment and allowed myself to be more creative.When I was honest with my models they more than understood and their acceptance of my position helped me maintain my composure. It is, in fact, okay to be new at things.
Step three is to enjoy the moment and the process of learning. Whatever it takes, make sure that the mood is positive and relaxed. Whether it is a dance party, blasting music or playing with props, any way tension can be relieved is good.
Shooting portraits was scary, as is trying anything for the first time. The key to success is to turn that fear into excitement. When we accomplish that, we’ll be less hesitant to throw things at the wall.