I have just recently returned from a six-week trip to Europe. I wish I could write an entire blog post just about my trip because there were so many beautiful and amazing moments. But this is a blog about fashion photography so I must keep to the subject at hand. Out of the six weeks overseas, two weeks were spent in Berlin. I can’t even begin to describe the place. It was so amazing, so much fun, that I literally could’ve spent another 2 months there. My Berlin was trip was not only about pleasure, though, as I ended up doing quite a bit of work there as well. I prepared and printed some large scale prints that were to be shown at an exhibit in my name in Amsterdam after my Berlin trip. I also held another epic Fashion Photography Workshop in Berlin. I also shot another editorial for Kurv Magazine.
I have the good fortune of naming Yoram Roth as one of my dearest, closest friends. Along with being just an amazing person in my life, he also helped produce my Kurv Editorial. Yoram is responsible for making me aware of a location on the outskirts of Berlin called Beelitz. Beelitz is an abandoned mental hospital that was occupied by the Germans during the second world war and then taken over by the Russians after the war ended and Germany was divided in to East and West Germany. The place now stands empty with it’s history, charm and alluringly jaded past. I knew I had to shoot there. I saw picture of Beelitz in Yoram’s portfolio two years prior to this and the images had just stayed with me over the years. I knew before I left NYC I was going to try and shoot in Berlin at this location. So my prep for this shoot started about 2 months before I actually shot.
The first thing I did was reach out to Kurv to ask them if I could shoot an editorial for them at this location. Once I got the approval, I reached out to a couple of agencies that represent hair, make up and stylists to see who they represent and who would be in town and available for this editorial. Once I landed in Berlin, Yoram and I drove out to the location so I could take some location shots of the place and start compiling a shot list. Just using my iPhone, I shot about 40 pictures of the hallways, balconies and guest rooms. I then reconnected with one of the agencies that I had reached out to while still in NYC, Perfect Props, because I liked the team they put together for me. We had a meeting with the team at the agency . I showed them the mood boards, the location stills and some of my ideas for the models. I reached out to many modeling agencies both in Berlin and Hamburg and I finally settled on Lina Spanenberg from Mega Models in Hamburg and Medea who is a trained ballerina and model who is living in Berlin. I wanted a lot of emotion and movement on this shoot, and I felt with Medea’s trained background in dance, she could give me some amazing movements.
We got to the location a little past 9 AM. We rented a mobile make up/location van because we needed to have a space with electricity (Beelitz does not have any available electricity) and also room for the clothes to be hung. While make up and hair was being done on the two models, Anja Niedermeier, the stylist, and I walked through the property and I showed her the exact locations I would be shooting in so she could formulate which outfits would fit best with the corresponding location.
The place is a little creepy, with it’s background and subsequent abandonment. There were some rooms I just didn’t have the nerve to go into. There was a bathroom that was just downright frightening. And the whole day I kept having the feeling that someone was watching us, someone was behind the walls, following us through out the day. Thank God we were a team of 9 people! Safety in Numbers, I always say!
And speaking of the team, they were just awesome! Karla Neff was our make up artist. Karla is a California girl living in Berlin so it was great having that Cali energy on board. Acacio Da Silva works with Karla a lot, so they were the perfect duo for hair and make up. Anja and I had spoken so many times before we the shoot that we were completely in synch with each other by the day of the shoot. So once again, I obviously couldn’t have pulled off this type of shoot without the entire team working together to make great images.
For technical aspects, I used available light. I pushed my ISO’s on my D3X to 1,000 or more. Or less, depending on the light in the space. I didn’t want any artificial light on this shoot. I wanted to capture the natural, decrepit, dark, moody available light and really pick up on the textures on the walls and floors.
I FTP’d the images to my retouch artist back in NYC and then spent the next two weeks leaving my Skype on so I could get those 4 AM skype calls from her because we were on a tight deadline and in two different time zones!
I’m back, I’m busier than ever and have some big surprises in store in the upcoming month for this blog. So stay tuned! Also, for those of you joining us in NYC for the Fashion Workshop, we’ll see you soon!
Elizabeth Skadden did the great Behind The Scene Video on this Kurv shoot. A very special thanks to her! She has since moved to NYC and we have some exciting news to share with you in the upcoming weeks but in the meantime, check out her work at www.elizabethskadden.com !! Also a very special thanks to Yoram Roth! Check out his photography website: http://www.roth-photo.com/. Also, last but not least, a very, very special thank you to Proyecto Oniric for letting me use his music one more time. I can’t tell you how much this man’s music has inspired me over the years. Go to his website, show your love. Feel his genius: http://www.proyectooniric.com/
Who wants another workshop? How about having one during one of the best times in NYC….NYC Fall Fashion Week? Well, you got it! On September 8th and September 9th, which is a Saturday and Sunday, I will be teaching another famous Fashion Photography Workshop at the fabulous SUN Studios located in New York City’s Soho neighborhood. The format for Saturday’s class is pretty much going to stay the same forever: Beauty Lighting Workshop in the morning, Fashion Lighting Workshop in the afternoon. Sunday however we have the special honor of having our original retouching megastar David Skyler joining us again after a 2 year break! So on Sunday mornings, we will all meet again at SUN Studios and make sure to bring your Wacom Tablet and a thirst for learning as much information as you can possibly cram in your head because David is going to show you how to retouch for beauty and fashion and your work will never look the same! After retouching we jump right into the business segment where I will go through marketing your work and budgeting your jobs. You can read more about the workshop and order tickets directly HERE. I just want to add this: The last two workshops have been so rewarding for me and SO much fun. I have to say, too, that the students attending both my LA workshop in April and my Berlin workshop in June were absolutely wonderful! I have started to form lasting friendships with a few of the students, keeping in touch quite often. I think that’s the most rewarding part of teaching the workshops: I get to meet you awesome people and watch you guys grow leaps and bounds just by learning a few lighting and retouching tricks! And not only do I form lasting friendships, the students form them with each other as well. So come join us September 6th and 7th in one of the most exciting cities in the world, New York City! See you there!!
Some of you might know that I have been traveling and shooting in Europe this past month. But most of you should know that on July 3rd, 2012 Park Hotel Amsterdam will hold an exhibition of some of my fashion work. It’s always an honor to have your work put up on a wall for people to come and see. But this is very close to my heart for many reasons. For one, my dear friend Yoram Roth is a very close friend and he invited me to show in his premier gallery space at the Park Hotel. I met Yoram several years ago when I was teaching workshops in Dubai. We met the first day of the first class and we clicked immediately. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. His personality is larger than life, his energy fills up the room and everyone who has ever met him or ever come into contact with him, will never forget him! Plus, he is an accomplished photographer himself and very proud of the diligence and passion he has thrown into his photography over the past 2 years. So to be invited by him is just so awesome! Another reason why I’m so excited about this show is that I have a lot of personal history in Amsterdam. It’s a city I have visited often and have had incredible experiences in. So to have a show there just really touches my heart.
The show is part of the events that kick off Fashion Week in Amsterdam. Holland has some of the world’s most famous fashion designers: Viktor and Rolf, Marlies Dekkers, Addy van den Krommenacker and Koos Van Den Akker to name just a few. I’m very excited to be a part of Amsterdam’s Fashion Week and to have my work shown at one of the biggest kick off gala’s of the year.
If you are in Amsterdam or live near it and want to come to the opening, RSVP HERE before the 28th of JUNE. And hopefully we’ll see you there!
“How can one live without hope and longing?”
Sara Moon and her work have always been a big inspiration for me. Her work is soulful, it’s work that obviously comes from a very deep and emotional person because it provokes the viewer in a deep and meaningful way. Her work is pure. I’m sure she has never had her work in photoshop, ever. I love that about it. It’s grainy, soft focused, blurry at times and utterly flawless. I recently found this video and 5 seconds in, I was hooked. To hear one of the great masters of fashion photography speak her mind about the art and the craft is a gift. And so I listened and learned. I replayed one section over a few times. It was so beautiful, the way she described her process of shooting fashion. It reminded me of my own process, my own desire to capture a moment, an instant where everything makes sense to me and the line between reality and delusion is blurred. I believe magic resides on that line, and magic is what I as a photographer, try to create. I want to seduce my viewers and please my audience with visual pleasure. The section I am speaking of is where she talks about how she has the model in front of her but she’s not “seeing” the shot. So she waits. The model becomes discouraged. She take a few photographs to appease the model but still, nothing. She begins to panic, telling herself she doesn’t want to be a photographer anymore ( I can’t tell you how many times I say this to myself and others. You’d be surprised, probably). But then something changes! Maybe, she says, I’m at the right place at the right time. Or maybe it’s because she starts to believe in it. But for a split second she sees a sparkle of beauty passing by and then everything goes so quickly within that stillness and she’s carried away….at last she likes what she is seeing and she can’t stop finding it and then losing it. All day long she keeps on, because it once existed.
And that is absolutely the process for me of taking photographs. Chasing something I see that lasted a second. A moment of grace. A moment of beauty. Sometimes it can never be recaptured.Sometimes it’s gone, disappeared, never to return. But I’ll tell you what….. I’m going to die trying.
Some of Sarah’s work:
Sarah Deanna and I got together last week and sat on the rooftop of her Soho loft to discuss her career. She explains what helped her in the beginning when she started out and was testing with new photographers, giving some great advice to those of you starting out in the industry and working with agency models.
I remember the first time I met Sarah Deanna. She came to a casting I held for a NYC handbag client about 4 years ago. I loved her comp card and had wanted to work with her for a long time before I met her. What struck me the most about her was not only was she really beautiful, she was a lovely person. Warm and compassionate, she really appeared to be beyond the outer beauty notion of gorgeous…..she was a awesome girl all around. We’ve worked together on a number of projects since our first meeting and there’s a great chemistry between us. She takes direction well, can move like a champ and she’s as professional as a model can be. The camera loves her, no doubt! She’s done editorials for Italian Vogue, German Vogue, French, L’Official, Amica and Elle. She’s walked runway shows for Dolce Gabbana, D & G, Oscar, Versace, Armani, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein. And her partial client list includes Stella McCartney, Neiman Marcus and Versace! She’s definitely risen to the TOP of her field!!
It was fun to sit with someone in our industry and talk about how she was discovered and how she has made it to the top! And how she wrote a book while doing it! The thing I love most about Sarah Deanna is that she gives back to the industry, helping other models learn how to achieve the weight necessary in the modeling industry in a healthy manner. Her book Supermodel YOU is coming out next year by Hay House! You can follow her on Twitter @SupermodelYOU! I’m so proud of her and I’m excited to share with you guys this short but sweet little interview we did. This is the first interview video and I promise more to come!
Photo by: Eli Dagostino – Workshop Student April 2012
After a year and half of taking a break from doing workshops, I decided to hold one in Los Angeles this past April. It was so successful and so much fun, that I have decided to do two more this year. The group of people that attended last month’s Fashion Photography Workshop were incredible! Not only did they come thirsty and eager to learn, they joined forces with one another and really helped each other out to make it a thoroughly enjoyable working experience. I can’t say enough good things about that group of students! It warmed my heart to such an extent that I’ve decided, “what the heck, let’s do another one in Berlin!”
Photo by: Katy Winterflood – Workshop Student April 2012
So moving forward to Berlin, Germany, the next workshop will be held on June 16th and 17th. I know that I have a lot of blog readers in Europe who just can’t make the trip to the States for the weekend long workshops. And my good friend, and someone that I also mentor, Yoram Roth, has been kind enough to offer me his studio in Berlin which is also a BOXeight Studio just like the one we worked out of in Los Angeles last month. BOXeight was a beautiful space and the people behind BOXeight are amazing!
The format is going to be relatively the same with a few small changes. Saturday will stay absolutely the same. From 10 AM until 6 PM we will learn studio lighting. We will work with professional models, hair and make up artists and a killer wardrobe stylist. We’ll go through the different basic lighting set ups and then we’ll get creative with those set ups and learn how to play with lighting and break some rules! I’ll show you what modifiers I use to get the results I get and we’ll experiment with whatever you want to learn. It’s a fun and creative day and many students walk away with some portfolio pieces. At the very least, you’ll learn about lighting! Which is key to understanding and accomplishing photography!
Photo by: Dante Bell – Workshop Student April 2012
Sunday is where we are going to change it up a bit. Since I don’t do my own retouching, I am going to forego the retouching segment of the workshop. Unfortunately I don’t have the mad skills of Tyler Mitchell or David Skyler at my side when I will be in Berlin. So if the retouching segment was the only part of my workshops that interested you in attending, this workshop isn’t going to be the right fit for you. Instead of retouching in the morning on the second day (Sunday), we will go heavy with the business side of fashion photography. There will be a portfolio review in the morning where I will go through everyone’s work and critique your portfolios. I will tell you where your strong suits are and where your weaknesses are. It will be an open critique, where all students will be involved and learn from each other’s work. After we’ve gone through everyone’s work, we will break for lunch and then reconvene to learn about the business side of fashion photography and how you can market your photography business. The same things I have taught in the past will be taught on this day: marketing and promoting, estimating and budgeting a job, approaching modeling agencies and advertising agencies and magazines.
Photo by: Eli Dagostino – Workshop Student April 2012
You’ll need to bring a good DSLR camera, at least a 50mm and 85mm lens and any other gear you want to use. Plus for Sunday, bring a notebook and be prepared to take a lot of notes!
So for those of you who live in Europe or anywhere else in the world and want to attend my Berlin workshop in June, go to this link for the details!
Berlin has become one of the most interesting places in Europe to visit. With its fast growing artistic community and incredible night life, I am SO excited to be visiting Berlin. I also plan to do some shooting while I’m there! Europe 2012 is going to be a blast! Hope to see some of you there! xoxo
In keeping with my commitment to stay true to my vision and to continue shooting in a style that is my own, I shot this white story for Kurv Magazine’s spring issue in a way I’ve always wanted to see a White Story.
Shot and Edited by: Marty Martin
I’ve done plenty of white stories over the years, but I always sort of compromised here and there because whoever I was shooting for didn’t want to go exactly in the direction I wanted to take it in. In the end, I was always a bit disappointed in the results. But not this time. This shoot, I’m fairly pleased with.
Again, I collaborated with Rodney Burns from Church Boutique in Hollywood, California. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it is to work with Rodney. He’s on my DVD, I write about him all the time, and yet every time I work with him it feels so magical, as if it’s the first time we’re collaborating and I can’t believe my eyes! He’s THAT good! He pulled these pieces from designer blah blah that truly blew my mind. And he coordinated the clothing to compliment the pieces. I trust his eye completely and just KNOW that my shoots are going to rock because of his amazing taste.
I wanted two blondes for this shoot. I’ve worked with Sarah Deanna before and she’s just amazing. She’s as beautiful on the inside as she is on the out! She also is publishing a book soon called Model Skinny. She writes about her healthy secrets on how one can get skinny and stay skinny the healthy way! I love a girl who gives back to our industry in a positive and loving way! I thought Jennifer was a good match for Sarah Deanna because, well ,she’s a stone cold fox as well! Both girls were on point and really knew how to emote for the story. James from Photogenics helped me cast this shoot. It was nice to work with “the old team”, so to speak.
I worked with make up artist Camille Clark from AIM Artists. I’ve worked with Camille many times when I lived in LA and she’s a very talented make up artist. I was excited to work with her again and ended up using her on 3 out of 4 editorials that I shot in LA. Hair stylist Jonathan Mason came on board that day. This was actually the first time I worked with Jonathan and that day we sort of bonded to the point that now when I am in LA, he’s my go to hair stylist. Thanks again to Timothy Priano, owner of Artists by Timothy Priano, for making that introduction!
I used window light and Christmas tree lights behind a silk against a backdrop from Fashion Backdrops as my lighting sources. That’s it! I know, I’m sorry I don’t have some great big lighting set up to break off for you. This is my lighting and how I see fashion shot and I never have liked seeing things over-lit. I’ve said that numerous times. Over and over, I’ve reiterated how I use one light, or “less is more” or keep it simple. Well, I’ve gone even more simple now, using available light from a window or the continuous light from the room we are shooting in as my key or main lighting source.
Of course, I used the Nikon D3 and my 85mm lens for the shoot. I also used my 24mm lens and a 50mm lens as well. I think what makes this shoot really work is the amazing styling from Rodney and the emoting from two very professional models, Sarah Deanna and Jennifer. And me staying true to my vision! More to come and excited to continue to share with you my vision! Keep it real! xoxo
“All you can do is be confusing. Don’t ever empty the bucket of mystery. Never let people define what you do. It’s not about zigging when you should zag. It’s not about doing something unprecedented and unpredictable. It’s just about never being a word, or something that is not in the process of transformation.”
2012 started with an upheaval of change. Painful, gut-wrenching, seismic change. From January 1st, my life began a new journey. Part of that new journey was my reconciliation with the way I see. The thing is, I’ve always been a little weird. I’ve been told my work is “edgy” since my college days. “Dark, mysterious, seductive, depressing, edgy, suicidal, achingly beautiful, tortured, cathartic”…..these are all words I’ve heard over the years describing my work. So I tried to conform, to shoot in a style that wasn’t mine but would appease the masses. I shot freckled girls in denim jeans on white backgrounds holding puppies and smiling toothy grins of teenaged innocence. I’ve shot long legged girls in itsy-bitsy bikinis on pearl sanded beaches with come hither eyes. I’ve shot commercially acceptable, masses approachable, clean, honest and totally sans “edge” fashion photographs.
But it hasn’t been my vision. This work was not mine! So with the upheaval of change that this year forced upon me came the renewed sense of my own Self, facing me again, asking myself, what’s it all about. I came up with this: if I can’t shoot what I love and how I see, what’s the point.
I flew to my hometown, Los Angeles, on January 9th and I threw myself into work. I know, ironic right? I leave NYC land of fashion uberness to go to tacky LA to throw myself into work. I find it very odd that NY’ers hate LA people but LA people LOVE NY’ers. I think when you’re laying in the sun on January 15th in the backyard sipping on a mojito planning the menu for your outdoor barbeque that evening, there’s really nothing for an LA person to hate on a NY’er. But that’s just one theory. Any way, back to me going home: I shot 4 editorials and 2 video commercials in 6 weeks. I collaborated with my dear friend Rodney Burns who styled all the shoots. Ben Trovato being one of them.
The technical specs on this shoot can’t be any simpler. I shot with no artificial light. I used a large window to the right of the set as my key. That’s it. I shot with the Nikon D3 with my 85mm at 1/160th of a sec at about F4. I shot anywhere from 400 to 1000 ISO. I was inspired by a picture I found of Keith Richards. One picture. That’s all it took. What really tied the shoot together for me was shooting the story on a Fashion Back Drop. I have mentioned my friend, Sedi Pak, in previous posts. Her back drops are amazing and really embellish my shoots! You can view the full editorial on Ben Trovato here.
I look at the results, the final pictures, and I’m pleased. But the feeling goes beyond being “satisfied”. I’m home. If that makes any sense. Shooting what I love and how I see fashion. My greatest wish for myself is that I can stick to this and not listen to people anymore telling me I must conform and change to shoot in a style that isn’t mine. I guess we’re all going to find out together if I can stick to my guns and stay true to my vision now. I’ve shed a lot of baggage so far this year. A lot of negative, heavy, cumbersome baggage. And I’m continuing to shed more. The excuses to NOT stick to my guns are getting fewer and fewer. Since my blog is very public (haha….understatement of the century) you’re all along on this journey WITH me…….so as I like to say…..stay tuned.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time now, you know that it’s no secret: If you want to get ahead in this industry, you need to be located in a major fashion market. If you’re not, you need to find a way to get there. But what to do in the meantime? Not everybody has the capacity to uproot themselves and move across the country or the world. Don’t fret. There’s still a lot you can do to get the ball rolling.
You can start building a portfolio right where you are now.
If you live in or near a medium to large sized city, chances are there is a modeling or talent agency you may be able to get started with. It may come as a surprise, but not every great model comes from Europe or Brazil or New York or Los Angeles. Lindsey Wixson is from Kansas. Karlie Kloss grew up in St. Louis. Arizona Muse hails from…. you guessed it, Arizona. But apparently she grew up in Santa Fe. Doesn’t matter because many great models get started at smaller agencies that often wind up placing them with larger agencies in the major markets. Call ‘em up. Let them know you live in their area and are looking to test with some of their models. Testing with these smaller agencies is a great way to start building your book and working with better models. The other potential benefit is a result of your local agency placing models in larger markets. Chances are the booker in your city may place their next best model in a major market and perhaps if you build a solid relationship with them, they will be willing to connect you to other agencies in the cities you are interested in pursuing.
Shot on Location in Dallas
Forgo your poolside vacation in Cancun in favor of a
week of tests in a major market.
So you’ve been shooting tests with some of the local models and you’re starting to put together a book? Ready to take the next step? It’s time to put yourself out there. Try planning a short trip to New York, Los Angeles, or maybe Miami to do some shooting for your portfolio. But how do you go about booking models in another city? Same as back home. Call the agencies. Email them. Reach out and tell them you’re going to be in town and are looking to shoot a few tests while you’re there. Before I took my first trip to LA, I called every agency I could think of. Some said no. Some never even responded. But a couple said yes. And there’s the foot in the door.
Attitude is everything.
In my experience, how you approach people will heavily influence the outcome. My first agency experience started from a “what can I do for you” standpoint. If you walk in the door making demands and expecting the booker to cater to your wants and needs, you’re probably not going to get very far. Being from a non-market, you’re already starting out in the hole. Don’t make it worse by having a bad attitude. Ask them who they have that need pictures. Does he or she need a new headshot for his or her comp card? Does the model need a cute smiley picture? Is her book too heavy on a particular style and lacking in another? Don’t get me wrong. What works in a model’s book may not be the best thing for yours, but there has to be a trade off. Get that simple, clean headshot out of the way so the booker is happy; then shoot something that’s going to look great in your portfolio. They’ll love you that much more. And maybe for your next test, they’ll send you a package with more experienced models. Win-win situation. I highly recommend doing this in every major market if possible. This will give you a better feel for which city might be the best fit for your style and for you personally when the time comes that you are ready and able to move. Yes I know travel can be expensive. But if you plan well, maybe you can go to a different city a couple times a year and cram several shoots into a week or even a long weekend. And if you’re good at bargain hunting, it’s definitely possible to do it fairly cheaply. And when you leave, stay in touch with the agency so they don’t forget you.
Worry about what you can control.
It’s easy to get discouraged about things out of your control, especially when you’re first starting. Yes, it’s hard to gain access to good models and good wardrobe, particularly for an unknown from the middle of nowhere. But if you continuously push yourself and your pictures get better, you will eventually gain access to these things. Good stylists want to work with good photographers. Keep working relentlessly on YOU and the rest will come with time. During those times when you’re not visiting your soon-to-be new home, you can still shoot and improve. Maintain the relationship with that local agency. Find a model in your hometown and try out some new lighting ideas. Constantly building up your skill is only going to make you that much better prepared for the day you can finally move.
Show your book as often as possible.
Every time you visit an agency or meet someone, you should be showing your book and graciously accepting criticism. You’re going to have to develop thick skin. It’s never easy being told something isn’t good, but it’s going to happen. Get used to it. Get to a point where you thrive on it. Take the feedback, make the changes, and go back and see what they think about the changes you’ve made. But seriously, show it to anybody that will look at it. Other photographers. Bookers. Editors. The models. Always take the critique, but don’t take it personal.
A few final thoughts.
These are merely my thoughts on what it’s like to try and get started as a fashion photographer when you don’t already live in a major market. I’m not shouting from the mountain top either. I’m on the same journey and what worked/is working for me may not work for everybody because there is without doubt, no set path to success in this business. Times are going to be tough. Trust me. But don’t get discouraged. Keep pushing yourself to get better, and if you want it bad enough, it’ll happen. And trust me when I say, this is me telling myself these things as much as I’m telling all of you.
This post was written by Denver based photographer Dana Pennington who studied photography at Metropolitan State College of Denver and The Art Institute of Colorado.
All Images are Property of © Dana Pennington Photography 2012
After a year and half break, I’ve decided to hold another workshop. I’m going to be in Los Angeles during the middle of April so I thought it might be nice to hold a workshop while I’m there. This time, I’ve partnered with Box8 Studios in downtown LA and I’m really excited about this because the space is amazing! The workshop will have the same format, Saturday is a heavy shooting day, Sunday will be about fashion retouching and business. I won’t get into the details here in this post but you can read all about it here and sign up for it if you want! Space is limited and I know it’s almost a month away but I’m really looking forward to meeting those who decide to attend! See you in Los Angeles, homies!