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. 

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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.