— Behind the scenes of GQ Taiwan
Working behind the scenes at
a fashion shoot is quite similar
to shooting on the street. There
are a range of characters, each
acting out their own roles as
Chiun-Kai is pursuing his vision
for GQ’s layout. The down time
between “looks” is a great time to
observe the fashion production
machine at work. With an M9,
I went between the wires and
around the assistants to find the
portrait of a photographer and
Who Does What
When I arrived on set photographer Chiun-Kai Shih was taking a breather from the morning shoot. Along with a cameraman and reporter from Sinovision, the three of them were outside of the 3rd Ward Studios catching up while the assistants were preparing the second round of looks. Each look features the model in new clothes, shoes and accessories picked from a table of goods by the stylists. While the details are being hashed out Chiun-Kai, who affectionately nicknamed himself Chunky, is entertaining the news station as they prepare to shoot the afternoon session.
Photographers are like the weather gods on set. Their mood dictates the entire feel of production. If they are rainy and overcast the shoot feels gloomy. But with Chunky, its 80 degrees and sunny year round. Walking inside the studio, the set up is moving along without the panic I have seen on other productions. Chunky’s first assistant is reviewing images on the computer, the second assistant is adjusting the back drop and the stylists are flicking hangers in anticipation of the next outfit. Everything moves under the huge Broncolor strobes sprinkled around the seamless (abbreviation for seamless backdrop).
In preparation for the shoot, the model is in the hands of the stylists. They dress him, tie his shoes, and hand him over to make up for some final touches. The interactions are charming since most of us have not been dressed by someone since we were children. The curious moments where adults assume the roles of children are repeated endlessly on shoots. This is not because the set of professionals is regressing, but the division of labor is crystal clear. While the model is having is shoes tied, make up is being applied to his face. The singular focus of each person on set keeps confusion to an absolute minimum.
If you ever wanted to see a show case of expensive photo equipment go to a fashion shoot. Between the Broncolor Scorco power packs and Leica S2 (including a 70mm, 120mm Macro, and 180mm lenses) the combined total cost of all the equipment on set could be a down payment on a decent Manhattan apartment. In a sea of the tens of thousands of dollars of gear on set, there is almost no technical discussion. In spite of fashion photography’s technical nature, nothing on set is revered for its capabilities or specs. The packs, cameras, and lights are tools no different than a plumber’s pipe wrench. All of the fascination with image quality and color balance are never mentioned.
Before the shoot starts, the lighting is set up in advance as the first and second assistants fire test shots. The images are screened by Chunky, who adds his opinion. A few tweaks are made, but there are no major changes. Ideally his assistants should be able to anticipate his needs and meet them before he asks. In this case, there were only a handful of preliminary shots before the model was ready.
People often ask what do fashion photographers really do if all of the technical aspects are handled for them? What I have seen, and this is only my opinion, is you can teach anyone technical lighting, camera features, or set up. What you can’t teach is charisma. A good photographer does not have all day for a model to get comfortable. In a matter of minutes Chunky needs to make the model Zhao Lei feel like they are in a room alone. I have seen him do this before and its still fascinating. Chunky is completely disarming and can make anyone feel at ease. This is the real talent of a fashion photographer.
M9 Goes to Work
The afternoon shoot took place in two studios at the 3rd Ward. The lower studio was used for all the strobe work, while Chunky decided to take advantage of the sunlight upstairs. In order to follow the action, I brought a 50mm Summicron mounted on the camera and carried a 28mm Elmarit. The 28mm is actually small enough to bring in a sweater or jacket pocket, which is super convenient. The wider focal length and increased depth of field allowed me to shoot Chunky and Zhao Lei in the same frame.
Without meaning to fly the Leica flag too high, there are a few things I really enjoy about the M9 on set. When the shoot is going on, everyone is silent. Chunky is the only one talking. The soft release mode on the shutter of the M9 allows me to capture him at work and carefully time the re-cocking so I do not disturb the scene.
Most of the action happens behind Chunky. As the shoots proceed, there are small clothing switches and make up touch ups that enter from the side lines. Especially while using the 50mm, the rangefinder window allows me to watch people in the background and catch them as they are walking in and out of the shot. Its a relief to have a bigger picture, one that would be difficult with an SLR. I notice that in comparison to the S2 the M9 works well in multiple directions. The superiority of the S2, in terms of color balance and image quality, come with a caveat. The camera works wonders on a model in front of a seamless, but if I need to work within a crowd the M9 has the advantage of portability and a wider view. And when all the lights were out as the shoot was happening the rangefinder window still focuses perfectly in a dark studio.
As the sun set the shoot came to a close. Chunky sat down to interview with Sinovision, who was filming the entire shoot. They were featuring Hipstamatic’s Chunky Lens” for iPhones. The interview was conducted in Chinese, so needless to say I only caught the occasional english word. But it gave me a few minutes to shoot the news team and wrap up the afternoon.