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February 2018

March 2018

Photography -- Model Challenges & Working Out the Details

Working with a live model requires a lot more planning than any other option for photographing jewelry or art clothing.  Finding a model is the first challenge. A close friend agreed to model, but I would have loved to have had more model options just to experiment. 

Clothing for the model becomes a critical issue. While planning for the photographic documentation of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I purchased two white dance dresses plus sewed a transparent organza dress. Just sewing up the dress was a stress test in itself.  Twelve hours of stitching double layers of slippery sheer organza without knowing if it would fit, look good, function well, or live up to the vision I had for this photo shoot. 

We started with a dress rehearsal in my living room (shown below) and practiced a full range of movements and poses.

test photo shoot with dress

adjusting the models dress at Phil Cohen PhotographicYou can not imagine my relief! The dress fit perfectly but I had all kinds of contingency plans for a nip and tuck emergency sew.  During the dress rehearsal, Jen Ohara (the model) and I reviewed underwear options and practiced the poses. Every detail counts. Ultimately we decided to have her wear one of the dance costumes and the organza dress at the same time which gave more layers of fabric. 

Before the actual photography even began at Philip Cohen Photographic, I am snipping at raw edges of the fabric edge. It is hard to know in advance what the camera will ignore and what the camera will see as a major flaw.

If I could make any recommendation when using a model in addition to all the advance preparation, it is to have an extra person as an assistant.  I knew this but didn't have anyone to help this time.  Thus you see me in the photos below at Philip Cohen photo studio making all the adjustments to the model and the necklace.  The necklace was long and heavy.  Sometimes we needed two people just to move it.working with a model phil Cohen Photographic
During a photo shoot with a live model, an assistant can step in to make each of the adjustments while you keep your eye on the bigger picture. When I had to go into the camera frame for each adjustment, it was very hard to see everything.

I would move into the frame, change the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, model, dress, fan, and move out of the camera view for an inspection.  It was all distracting and time-consuming, and I never had time to study the composition. 

photographing with a model at Philip Cohen Photographic

In two hours we tried several poses, standing, sitting, and a few unusual postures for an experimental photographic composition.  (This will be next week's post as the Photoshop iterations still need work.)  Modeling can be tiring as well.  Jen had to balance on two saw horses as just one example. 

Model balancing on two saw horses

Model photo shoot at Philip Cohen Photographic







This was the third photoshoot in five days.  Both Phil Cohen and I were getting progressively more tired.  Creativity takes energy. I am still having decision fatigue

A few of the final contending images (from over 100 possibilities) are shown below. There is some variability in the exposure. Ignore that issue. It will be fixed. (These are the proof shots for review rather than the final photos.)

Let me know what you think of the different poses of the model and layout of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace. Pick your favorite.

Model photo shoot at Philip Cohen Photographic
Model shot #2
Model photo shoot at Philip Cohen Photographic
Model shot #3
Model at philip Cohen Photographic
Model shot #4
Model photo shoot at Philip Cohen Photographic
Model shot #5




Model Shot #6





Model photo shoot at Philip Cohen Photographic
Model shot #7









I'd appreciate hearing about your opinions about the images.


Previous posts in this series:

Photography - More than Documentation?

Photography and The Plain White Background

Photography -- Mannequin Needed! Rent, Buy, or Borrow? Basic or Stylized?

Photography -- Mannequin Needed! Rent, Buy, or Borrow? Basic or Stylized?

Phil Cohen photography using a mannequin
While photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace I wanted to try using a mannequin to provide scale and to see the necklace worn with the neutral context that a mannequin can provide.

Suzanne Ramljak, t
he curator for the upcoming exhibition, Uneasy Beauty,  also told me that she would like a mannequin photo in the exhibition catalog for the Fuller Craft Museum. That declaration raises a huge expectation that the mannequin shot needs to be very good, but I am not sure the images using the mannequin shots deliver.  See for yourself in this post. (The next post will showcase the model photos.)  

Since I was committed to at least trying a mannequin photo session, the next question was whether to rent, borrow, or buy a mannequin? 

Borrowing proved to be impossible.  One artist friend did offer her inventory of many mannequins, but she only had mannequins with black painted bodies. That would not work for a black necklace.  I felt that a white mannequin form would be necessary to provide high contrast for photographing a black necklace.

Ultimately, I decided to rent a mannequin and Mannequin Madness in Oakland , CA was recommended to me.

Mannequin Madness in Oakland, CA

Mannequin Madness (shown above) turned out to be a fabulous resource for renting or buying. They have mannequins of every kind and description. 

shape for photography session at Mannequin Madness

Mannequin Madness also has an area set aside for photography with a plain white background paper ready to go. They also have photography lights. This is all available for $30 an hour with a two-hour minimum and they will let you use 2 mannequins or dress forms in their warehouse included in the price. That is a real bargain!   

Available for an additional fee are tripods and "ghost mannequins".  Check out the Mannequin Madness website. Even if you don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area, they do ship and have other locations.  

I rented a mannequin for $90 for a week. P
erhaps if I had more time, I would have considered buying a used mannequin that needed a new layer of paint to refresh her appearance, but I had no time for cosmetic mannequin repair during the week-long photographic marathon.

The vast diversity of mannequins also raised a number of issues that I had not considered until looking at all the options at Mannequin Madness. Some of the mannequins had no heads or no arms.  Some had stylized hands, hair, and faces that would not work for this necklace photoshoot. There were other factors or potential options that I didn't fully appreciate until later.  On the mannequin that I selected, the arms detach for transport, great, but they only attach to the body in a fixed position. Nuts! I could not pose the arm differently or bend the elbow.  And the legs were ridiculously skinny, so skinny that I didn't like looking at them head on.

One feature that I prioritized was natural looking hands (despite the oblique face) when I selected a mannequin.  I also wanted a seamless neck and head for the image that I visualized in my mind before the photoshoot even began.  Here is how it turned out below. 

Mannequin close-up image

Mannequin Photo #1

I think this is a good image. The photo shows a close-up with lots of detail. The necklace fragments have a high contrast profile against the white background and mannequin. Using the mannequin in this pose also provided a more traditional jewelry necklace shot. The downside is that you can not see how long the necklace actually is -- 26 feet long. 

 Photographer Philip Cohen and I worked together for hours on the mannequin photos (shown below). Moving a 26 feet long necklace is not easy.  The Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is far heavier and more delicate than you might expect. The length was easily tangled or twisted and it does have a bottom side so that it can lay properly without damaging itself. 

Below are the best of the mannequin images from perhaps 75 shots. They present a variety of compromises.
 What do you think? Do you have a favorite? Let me know.

Mannequin 2HB61-9154-Edit     Mannequin Photo #2 
MannequinHB61-9159-FIN-55Mannequin Photo #3
Mannequin3HB61-9188Mannequin #4








MannequinHB61-9211Mannequin #5
MannequinHB61-9242-Edit-EditMannequin #6



























The final mannequin image (#6) uses the mannequin without putting the necklace on the body. While I think it is an interesting image and provides scale for the necklace, I don't think it shows the necklace to best advantage.  

Which photo would you pick as best choice? 

The next post is about using a live model and what I think turned out to be the best photographic shots despite the trade-offs and obstacles.



Previous Posts in this series:

Photography - More than Documentation?

Photography and The Plain White Background

Photography and The Plain White Background

Photo image #1

For the first photo shoot of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I used plain white paper background. This is possibly the most conservative approach to documenting the artwork.  It also gave photographer Philip Cohen practice with lighting and exposure for the challenging black-on-black textures.

Out of the 75+ images Cohen took in three hours, the goal now is to select just a few of the best.  I pay for each image that I decide to keep, therefore I need to choose wisely.  Experience has taught me that I end up using the best images over and over, but at this initial selection stage, my brain is often overwhelmed with decision fatigue.

And because I am still vibrating with concerns with the intricate details of fabricating the artwork, it is difficult to view the work objectively at arm's length to see what is the best image.   

So, of the five photos in this post which ones would you buy?
Photo image #2

Which photos capture the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace most effectively? Tell me what you think. 
Photo image #3

Here is how I went through my selection criteria:

A minimum requirement is a full view and a detail close-up -- but which ones?

Also, I'd like to have a vertical and a horizontal.  One never knows which situation may call for a particular format.  Reframing an image in Photoshop is an option, but the result isn't always the best quality photo. Optimal focus and lighting is always in the original image from the photographer.

Social networking sites add to the quandary on vertical or horizontal. The constant use of computers for viewing images has made the horizontal format very popular. Horizontal images work well for Facebook and social network banners. Vertical images work better on Pinterest.  Instagram leans toward square. There is no way to use one image for everything anymore.

The full view below is great, but it presents a major weakness  -- there is no way to know that the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is 26 feet long.  
Photo image #4

With a plain white background, there is no indication of scale.  This image provides no clue for a viewer to tell how big this necklace is at all, yet for my purposes, a plain white background is essential to emphasize the stark black and white contrast.  Typical alternative backgrounds such as wood texture, sand, rocks, or a room-like context may work for an editorial shot, but would likely distract excessively from this particular artwork and my expectations for using the photo.

How can a photo of a large object reveal detail, materials, scale and the artist's intent all at the same time?


Photo image #5

Lacking any reference for scale, this close-up section could be 2 inches or 2 feet.  This can be a serious issue when a curator or juried situation is looking for something bigger or smaller if they don't fully comprehend the description.

Out of the five photos in this post, which ones would you select?  Each choice adds expense.

Would you change your choices by knowing that I have additional shots on a mannequin and a model?   These will be shown in the upcoming posts.




Background information about hiring a photographer (below.)

Here are a couple of very practical issues when you hire a professional photographer.

Professional photography is an expense that some artists and makers may consider optional, but there is no doubt that professional quality images will elevate your work when seen by exhibition sponsors, curators, and potential buyers. Professional quality images can open doors and provide opportunities.  Lacking professional quality images may incur an opportunity cost that an artist may not even realize. 

Once you've chosen to have professional photographs of your art or craft, ask photographers about their fee structure.  Philip Cohen charges by the hour for the photography session, and then I pay an additional amount for each final image that I choose.  But money is not the only issue. You need quality photographs and a photographer that is familiar with your medium. A working relationship with a photographer that understands your intent is paramount.



Previous Posts in this series:

Photography - More than Documentation?


Photography - More than Documentation?

When an artwork is finished, a new creative process begins -- how best to photographically capture the essence of the work beyond rote documentation.  For the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I definitely wanted to convey a much larger context far beyond the form and materials alone.  During fabrication, I contemplated quite a few problems and uncertainties to accomplish my photography expectations. 

So when the fabrication and assembly were finished, I mentally committed to photographing the necklace in four scenarios:

    1) a swirling gyre on plain white paper without props 

    2) a mannequin to provide scale

    3) a live model shot

    4) a model in a photographic experiment fantasy with water.

A week-long marathon was about to begin.

Advanced planning started with making sure that my photographer Philip Cohen had the studio and time reserved.

large roll of photo paper

A large roll of white paper was the first requirement. White backgrounds are generally the standard these days.

Roll of paper & mannequin

Shall I buy or rent a mannequin? I decided to rent a mannequin....but had to schedule a pickup time when Mannequin Madness would be open.  (More on mannequin resources in a future post.)

A professional photographer with a quality camera, tripod, and proper lighting is a minimum for the quality images I need and expect.  

Due to the size of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace (26 feet long), the camera had to be as high as possible to shoot down and include the entire large swirl.  Hence, photographer, Philip Cohen, is up on a ladder. 


The lighting and exposure are always critical issues for excellent photographs, but when photographing black objects, these are especially difficult issues. The light meter in the photo below helps determine the proper exposure with the photographer's strobe lights.  


The light meter can take a reading right next to the artwork (shown below) to check the light exposure, rather than trusting the light meter in the camera.   Still, on the first day of the photoshoot, Phil Cohen bracketed every shot like crazy to ensure a proper exposure.    Phil Cohen checking light exposure

The set of color swatches and palette of grays (shown in the photo below) can help determine proper exposure and help adjust the color or light in Photoshop. This is just one more incremental tool toward perfection in professional quality photography that can make the difference between average and amazing. 

There is nothing more difficult than photographing black on black while trying to capture the varied textures in the materials.  I knew it would be a challenge from trying to photograph the Black Plastic Bracelet.  In this close-up (image below) taken with my phone, the black-on-black texture completely disappears due to poor exposure and improper lighting.  Black mud . . . .
black on black texture is difficult to capture

While most of the professional photography is done using a tripod, a few hand-held shots can work well for close-ups.
Hand held shots for close up images

During the first day of the photoshoot, we only photographed the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace on white paper.  Standard documentation, but I am worried that these will not be the best images because a viewer will have difficulty comprehending the scale of the finished necklace.

This is why I planned a second day photographing the necklace with a mannequin, and a third day with a model.  Photographing with a mannequin loses the human touch which can be a plus or minus, but occasionally, juried exhibitions, curators, or books do not allow model shots.  
Mannequin ready for photoshoot with the black plastic gyre necklace

Photographing artwork with a model can be extremely complex with too many variables to list here.

Harriete Estel Berman with model at photoshoot for black plastic gyre necklace

I'll be highlighting more of the issues and techniques of photographing with mannequins and models in the next few posts.

In the meantime, what do you expect works best for photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace?  Plain white paper? Mannequin? Or a live model? In the next three posts, I will show the processes and finished shots of each.  I'd like to hear your comments or questions, either before or after the posts.