Doing a fashion shoot in NYC: Maximum Uncertainty!
By: René Ewals
Do you know Murphy’s law: “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”?
Well, that is what happened to me when I was boldly planning an editorial fashion shoot in NYC in June 2018. It all began with a challenge set by Breed’s editor-in-chief Melissa, and me having a professional training in Atlanta. Originally I planned to do the shoot back home in The Netherlands, but then I discovered that tickets to Atlanta were about EUR 600,00 cheaper when I would have a return flight via New York. So why not make the most of my lay over time in NYC and plan for an editorial fashion shoot? I had exactly 12 hours as overlay time, so plenty of time for a shoot, right?
Planning the shoot
One of the elements in the preparation of any shoot is to define your theme and develop a fitting mood board. Having had these elements I was initially looking for a model in some Facebook groups and sent some e-mails to a couple of model agencies in NYC. From a fashion shoot earlier this year in NYC I quickly had a make-up artist for the shoot, so that was done. On Facebook some models applied, but unfortunately they didn’t fit the requirements that were included in my casting call. None of the model agencies responded so far. One day before leaving for Atlanta a professional French model, spending a month in NYC, responded. It so happened that she was set to leave NYC at the same day as I, and all was good.
Two fashion stylists also responded, but just when I thought it was all settled, things started to unravel quickly.
When I arrived in Atlanta (two days before the shoot) all was still well, but then one day before the shoot the model sent me a message she wouldn’t be available to do the shoot. She didn’t give a reason for that but promised that a model friend of hers would be able to step in. I later found out the French model did do another shoot that same day. However, her model friend never came through so I just have to believe that it wasn’t to be an alternative in the first place. As I was trying other models, including two that would be good models, but to which I had replied earlier that I already had found my model, time didn’t stand still. The evening before the shoot I sent a message to the team that if I couldn’t find a model that night the shoot would be cancelled.
Upon sending this message the stylist stepped up and said he was going to send a couple of agencies a last minute call for a test shoot. As it turned out, Elite Models NYC replied that evening and early in the morning (when I had just landed in NYC) we had four options for a model from Elite’s main board. Of course I was thrilled about this. We, the stylist and I, quickly agreed which model would best suit the shoot. The stylist would pick up the model and drive together with his assistant and the model to Riis Park Beach (the very southern beach of NYC). Our location of the shoot.
Upon arrival in Atlanta I read in my mail that the stylist pulled out of the shoot because she had to work late that day. The other stylist I had been chatting to didn’t respond anymore, so I was now stuck, as without a stylist I didn’t want to do the shoot. I called upon Melissa and asked whether she would know any stylists that might be able to do the shoot. Melissa was very kind and sent me a couple of names and I immediately wrote them an e-mail. All of them responded within eight hours and one of them actually confirmed he was able and willing to shoot the next day… Pff, one worry less. The only thing was that the stylist didn’t have the time to shop for the mood board matching looks… So we needed to work with the fashion readily available.
Make-up artist matters
I had a great make-up artist from the very beginning. The one thing that happened was that she was on a shoot in the morning as a make-up artist and where a dedicated hair stylist was part of the team. That wasn’t the case for the afternoon/evening shoot and we all didn’t realize this until she was traveling from her morning shoot location to Riis beach, our shoot location. So, no typical things you would need to do hair… We just needed to improvise on set with hair… I just should have been more precise in my communication as in The Netherlands it is more common that the make-up artist also acts as the hair stylist, knowing this is less so in The States.
Ranger and location issues: do you want a ticket?
I was at the shoot location about two hours before the entire team was present, so I was able to walk around at the Riis Park Beach, #bay 9, scouting the spots where we would be actually shooting. It was a quiet day with visitors, pretty windy, partly clouded (around 22 degrees Celsius) and we could do hair and make-up under one of the public parasols. Together with the make-up artist we even had some time to relax at the beach…
Then the model, stylist and assistant arrived and we carried all looks from the parking lot to the beach location when a local park ranger drove towards us, got out of his car and barked at us: “you are soliciting a ticket for an unlawful shoot”. We were all baffled by this and his attitude as he also didn’t really wanted to explain what was the case. After some questioning from our side it appeared that this particular part of the beach was ‘federal property’ for which we needed to have a permit (which we didn’t have obviously). Ouch, so where would we be allowed to shoot? We were giving directions to one or two miles down the road and we then packed everything and we stuffed ourselves in the stylist’s car.
Just further down the beach we found ourselves a spot into a ‘normal’ neighborhood with normal houses and parked our car in the middle of this district. Some curious residents came to us to ask what we were up to. We were then kindly offered to park our car on the parking spot of one of the families that were just going away for a long weekend. We really appreciated the gesture and trust confided in us!
The beach was just a couple of minutes walking from where we were parked, and because it was getting late (I just had to get my 22:15 hours plane) we had to work quickly. Make-up, hair and changing looks were all done in the car!!
But a great shoot after all…
It was just amazing what we pulled off in just over two hours of shooting: we did six looks on a pretty empty beach where we had strong winds and the model had to endure these strong winds the entire shoot time. Talking about professionalism here, as it was now around 18 degrees Celsius and a fully overcast sky! And that professionalism has to be extended to the entire team, as it seemed we were in some sort of zone of working very efficiently. The results that came back were very nice indeed. This editorial was published in the very first edition of Alice Fashion Magazine released in July 2018. We were and are all so proud to have pulled it off!!
So what did I learn from this rather stressful experience? As it turns out there are persons you can rely on and some even step up their game. Having a back-up plan is always a good idea. Also, do not hesitate to call upon ones you actually know, as there just might be someone that is willing to help you.
Also, I also learned (again) that the fashion industry seems to be used to be working ‘at the very last minute’. Even for test shoots. Or perhaps this may be typical for NYC? They do not mind last minute calls and when the prospects (a publication) are good, they just might be able to step in. Having said this, it did remind me that I do need to build more points of contact with agencies, as models from agencies are less prone to not showing up at the set.
The very last thing that this shows is that you need to be flexible as a photographer and be able to adapt to quickly changing circumstances. That includes changing shooting the story at the very last moment. And you cannot let you team know that as they may loose confidence. So as a photographer you also need to step up your game. You should also not give up easily as solutions sometimes come from unexpected directions or sources. Even when you do not expect this to happen. But as Shakespeare already wrote in the 17th century: all’s well that ends well… ☺
Should you wish to follow me around, my Instagram is: @rene.ewals.