Study Abroad: What I've learned

 Papercity is a Dallas/Houston based publication and one of the few creative editorial opportunities in the Texas market. 

Papercity is a Dallas/Houston based publication and one of the few creative editorial opportunities in the Texas market. 

 i-D is a highly influential publication based in London and represents the style of the UK market. 

i-D is a highly influential publication based in London and represents the style of the UK market. 

Dallas has been my home for 21 years. I had never "lived" anywhere else for an extended period of time before I left for London. It was scary, exciting, and all of the other things you hear in every study abroad blog post. Despite a few dips of nerves or doubt, I don't regret a thing. I had never worked in a major fashion city. I've never shot in LA or NYC let alone an international fashion hub. It was nerve-wracking to be surrounded by the top people in my industry but equally an honor. I was able to not only learn more about the technical side of photography but better understand the fashion and content creation industry as well. 

My goal was to understand aesthetic and cultural differences in digital and printed content in magazines and brands in the US and UK. Of course, that is a very broad topic that is full of intricate answers that are also completely subjective. That being said, I think I have found my answer to the question. 

London is a place to grow and find your voice. The UK market is full of experimentation and homage to your experiences. There is something dream-like about much of the work in their editorials. It feels like how fashion in the US used to be prior to excess consumerism and over-saturation of content; fantasy and creating a reality in which a character exists in these clothes. I think the biggest difference in the London market was the constant push to create art. The photographers in the UK wanted to say something with even a basic product shot. In America, the focus is less on art and more about creating content that will sell and what represents a brand or company the best. While that still exists in London, I feel that the duality between artist and seller is more balanced.

From a standpoint of emerging media and communication, I noted a few differences in the distribution of content and use of technology. The United States is technologically superior. We are more in tune with using digital communication and expressing ourselves to an audience. I think the average digital citizen in the US is able to adapt more quickly to changes in social networks. A few of the photographers I worked with in London mentioned that they never used Instagram stories or posted behind the scenes photos because they didn't know how to do it in a way that would respect their art but also push them as a brand/personality. Distribution in the UK is also different. There are many more magazines and printed content especially specific to London itself as a city than there are in other markets. I would even notice locals reading magazines and newspapers on the trains to work, something I rarely see across Dallas. 

My biggest takeaway from this trip and study has been understanding the power of the consumer. In our current digital society, we have options. We have the power. We are able to curate a feed of products we enjoy and search for things (style, aesthetics) we feel are missing in mainstream brands/companies. The fashion industry is changing. It's exciting. Consumers give the final say in if a trend continues to move through stores or if a magazine can stay relevant and in business. 

In the future, I think the consumer will be able to make more and more decisions. While we will always be influenced by our environment, there is a shift happening in creating your own cultural identity. We are no longer limited to what "Dallas" or any other city says is popular. The individual can create their own style and aesthetic using methods of digital communication. As a content creator, this leaves me with more opportunities. I can be selective about brands that I work for, the images I would like to produce, and better myself as an artist in the digital landscape to grow and change. This idea applies to both a market across the ocean as well as the one I call home. 


Assisting on a commercial product shoot



Most of the work I was able to observe in London was for a publication or at least involved a model. As a portrait and fashion photographer, I typically deal with a model in the images. However, product photography is a very large aspect of the industry. Photographer Marie Valognes allowed me to intern alongside her while she photographed product for a hair color company. I cannot reveal the final images or the products themselves, but we photographed about four new hair care items in addition to some existing items in the company line. 

Photographing product is much more involved than photographing people. Every last detail has to be perfect to show the product in its best light. For one of the images, we highlighted four tubes of dye. We had to show the exact color of the bottle, the sheen/texture, and scale using other objects. The tube was made from aluminum, but was very smooth. Marie had to light the product in a way that made it appear "perfect" but also communicate to the consumer that the tube was made from metal. 

Prior to the shoot, Marie showed me the storyboard and shot list for the day. We had nine major images to capture, some of which were simple variations of just changing the background or prop. Some of the shots were simple stills and product details, others were short gifs to be used on social platforms. We had a representative from the marketing team on set to send previews to the rest of the company to make sure we were on the right track with color, composition, and an accurate portrayal of the product. She would tell Marie to try different backgrounds, angles, so the team would have options when making the final selections. 

Marie's team consisted of a digi tech and a lighting technician. The digi tech (digital technician) was hired by the client to observe the images coming into the computer, making selects, cropping, and backing up the images while we were shooting. The lighting technician suggested to Marie the best ways to light the product and then put everything in place while she focused on the creation of the image itself. My role for the day was assisting all three of the these key players. I helped set up equipment, getting things for Marie, and helping the digi tech transfer files between different devices. 

Looking at Marie's personal work, this was outside of her usual aesthetic. However, most of the work you do as a content creator is usually for someone else. Marie had to satisfy the client's needs for perfect images, but also her own creative needs for building sets and making images with her point of view. At the end of the day, most of the images were made with the question: will the consumer understand this image? Will they associate this blue background with coolness of a blonde hair dye? Will they identify with this packaging? 


Assisting on a shoot for POP Magazine

Lena C Emery is a fashion and editorial photographer born in Germany and living in London. She has done incredible work for the Wall Street Journal, Vogue China, Dior, and even published her own photobook. All of Lena's images are shot on film, giving them a very analog finish and softness. Lena offered to allow me to be a production assistant on a shoot for POP Magazine. The shoot itself was...ambitious. It focused on environmental sustainability in the fashion industry. We were to use designers that were eco friendly/sustainable, vegan make up products, and be as conservative on the day as possible with how we ate and disposed of waste. The spread was given 45 pages, which is an extremely large amount of space for one shoot. 


As a production assistant, my job was simple: keep the shoot going. I had to make sure the model was being taken care of, everyone was fed, answering the door, calling ubers, making returns for the stylist, picking up items for the prop stylist, and (most of the time) assisting Lena's assistant. I helped Rachel, Lena's assist, with moving equipment, loading film, keeping everything tidy, and keeping track of time. 

For 45 pages of content, we had a lot of images to capture. Lena blocked out the shoot for three full days of production. We ended up with 37 fashion outfits with three different models as well as a number of still life images from various sets and props. Each day started around 8am and finished at 8pm. 

The current fashion market, London especially, is known for using film in photographic work. Analog style is very current and gives the images a finish that is timeless and artistic. The advantage is obvious in the style of the images, but there are some drawbacks to shooting film. First and foremost, the medium is expensive. For 37 outfits, we went through at least 2-3 rolls of film (10 exposures per roll) per look. We shot well over 300 images and each of those has to be hand processed and developed before Lena is even able to see the end result. The commercial industry tends to stay away from film because of the inability to see the results from the shoot on set. You have to trust the photographer to get what you want and leave it up to their eye and vision to deliver. Rachel was vital as an assistant. It takes a long time to load each roll of film onto the medium format Mamiya and the light must be constantly metered and adjusted. 

This was the largest set I was on during my time in London. POP is a very well-regarded publication and the pedigree of artists on this job was very high. That being said, I learned a lot from my time interning. 

Often times on shoots of my own, I rush. I take into consideration the value of the team's time and never want to waste it setting up lights or (even worse) failing to get the shot. However, I have to remember how even the biggest photographers take their time. On set we were constantly adjusting make up, changing clothing, light, etc and sometimes the prep for each outfit could be close to an hour. I have never done an editorial that takes more than five hours but often times I find myself rushing through it and not planning. While a lot of elements for this shoots were spontaneous, the team took their time to get things right. So much work goes into each and every image of a shoot and you wouldn't think of it that way just thumbing through a magazine. 

In our over-saturated digital media market, we consume an image that took hours to create in less than a second. We swipe. We turn a page. We double-tap and scroll. At the end of the day I found myself asking, why are we spending so much time on something that is going to be negligible to the common viewer? Fixing make up or adjusting a tiny part of the light seemed trivial at the time. I'm used to an American way of working which is shooting fast and plenty, choosing later. In London, perfection is everything. The artists here strive to fix every detail like a masterwork.