When I first took up photography in May 2012, I discovered New Zealand Photographer and Educator Sue Bryce. Immediately taken by her modernized glamour photography and amazing teaching style, I bought her Glamour Photography Course and never looked back.
I connected deeply with this new take on glamour portraits. I could do makeup. I could learn hair. Sue Bryce made everything look so easy, I was sure I could figure it all out eventually. So I asked a few friends and my mom to enjoy a free makeover and photoshoot. Once I had done five modern glamour shoots, I knew I had found my true love. I also realized that it was not at all as easy as it looked, and that I needed some major practice if I was going to become great at this.
So I cleared my calendar for two solid months, hiring a full-time nanny and conning my husband into taking over most of my mommy duties temporarily. We stocked the freezer with dozens of meals from Costco, and the fridge with my favorite caffeinated juice drink. I emptied out a spare bedroom in the basement, bought some sheer curtains, polyboard reflectors, a futon, ottoman, and stool.
While preparing my family, home and studio, I started the process of booking in photoshoots. I posted my new, very small portfolio on Model Mayhem. I then searched the Model Mayhem website for women whom I wanted to photograph, trying to find women over 30 and/or over 135 lbs. Once I had a list of over 60 potential models, I sent each one the following message:
My name is Emily, I'm a local photographer based in Provo. I've recently decided to specialize in contemporary portraiture, and would like to set up some TFCD shoots to build up my portfolio. I came across your profile and think you are very beautiful and I'd love the chance to work with you.
Check out my current portfolio, and if you like my style, let's schedule your photoshoot!
Because I prefer to shoot in natural light, and lighting is best in my studio in the mornings, hair and makeup needs to start at 8:45am.
Right now my next opening is in mid-July.
I then booked a shoot on almost every weekday for about a month and a half. I also signed up for a makeup course at a cosmetology school in my area. The course was for ten days, and since it was in the evenings (5-10pm) I was able to go to my classes right after my shoots wrapped up.
What followed was a brutal boot-camp style two months that kicked my ass and taught me so much. About 30% of the models rescheduled, cancelled, or didn't show up for their shoots. Since I was pretty overwhelmed, I was usually glad when they didn't. I would use the time to edit or sleep. By the time it was all over, I had done 24 shoots, gotten a certificate to be a makeup artist, and built a respectable portfolio.
I also learned a few key things that anybody attempting their own Glamour Bootcamp should know:
If you plan to do hair and makeup for your shoots, check your local laws about licensing requirements. In my state, there are no requirements, and therefore, taking a makeup course was not necessary. I had hoped to learn a lot, but honestly, it was a waste of $2400. Each of the ten days of class contained only one hour of instruction (once you factor in lunch and practicing on each other). After I had finished taking the Makeup Artistry Course, Sue Bryce launched her Hair and Makeup Course, where, for about 5% of the cost, I was able to learn about 200% more. Youtube is also chuck full of free education for aspiring makeup artists.
I also learned that 20-30 images was far too many to promise for free. Most models would be game to work for 10-15 images, and with this kind of volume, editing 30 images per shoot was wretched. Looking back, if I had to do this over again, I would promise to show 20-30 unedited photos, and to provide 10 of their choice, fully-edited, for free. Then if they wanted to buy any extras, I would be happy to include (and edit) them for $10 each. (No unedited photos would be provided.) This way, I would still be learning how to shoot for 20-30 great shots, get some practice with showing and selling, hear some legitimate feedback about which images actually sell, all while still providing a fair trade.
My final lesson was that daily photoshoots are exhausting. I'd suggest to space your shoots to every other day, instead of back-to-back. That way, you can fully edit your last shoot before the next one takes place. The main benefit to this (besides staying caught up) is that you'll be able to critique your shoot, make note of problems and mistakes you made, research what to do differently to fix them next time, and make an actionable plan/goal list for your next shoot. (Example: "Damn. Her hand is a claw in every single shot when she was in that position. I can't believe I didn't see it in person. Note to self: Look at hands tomorrow.")
To answer the question of why I did all these shoots for free: I considered this boot camp to be my photography education. I was brand new as a photographer, and so had to learn everything - lighting, posing, composition, makeup, hair styling, which clothes suit which poses, which poses suit which people, and how to cull and edit photos. I did not ask for any compensation from the models, because I had absolutely no photography experience and felt uncomfortable with representing myself as a professional. I was still a student, I made a lot of mistakes, and they were helping me out.
For seasoned photographers who are transitioning into the glamour genre, and have less to learn about lighting and composition, and more to learn about posing and pricing; promising to do 30 TFCD photoshoots for free is over-kill. You're already a professional, and your work is already sell-able. A more reasonable way to learn the new components of glamour specifically, would be to set your prices and implement a voucher system.
I'll share my own experience with a voucher system in my next post. This was for my second round of portfolio building, when I was able to produce my strongest work, and create the images you see on the website today. Included will be how I became comfortable with my pricing, how I presented myself to the models and clients, and the formula I used to consistently improve with each shoot.