This article includes the back story about how I got to this day, the events of the shoot, a few sample photos, and the things I learned from my first photo shoot with a model.
How I Met My Model
Lake Las Vegas
My model, Damsel Doll, found me on Instagram. At that time I had posted a few sunset, sunrise, wildlife, macro, and, perhaps, some astro photos. My profile stated that I want to work with models for portraits, fashion, lingerie, swimsuit, boudoir and other photography genres involving models. Anyway she messaged me, telling me she wanted to work with me. We originally scheduled the session for a Saturday afternoon in May, but she cancelled because she had to work overtime. We rescheduled for an early morning weekday a couple of weeks later, but she cancelled again. I didn’t contact her again to reschedule since she already cancelled on me twice. Then in September, she contacted me again to schedule the shoot. I went ahead, figuring if she cancelled again, I wasn’t going to wasn’t going to work with her. But she didn’t cancel the third time.
Before I get into the session details, let me describe Lake Las Vegas a bit. Lake Las Vegas is a mostly open but private community. It consists of a small lake, condominiums, houses, a commercial district and some other common areas.
Casual photography is permitted in Lake Las Vegas. So is commercial, professional photography. However, for the latter, Lake Las Vegas requires a permit that includes photography insurance with Lake Las Vegas as the beneficiary. The permit only costs $50, which is no big deal. The insurance requirement is what made me decide not to get a permit and hope that no one came along asking us to leave before we were finished. I’m not ready to shell out money for insurance yet.
I didn’t consider our shoot a professional or commercial shoot since no money changed hands, except a small tip. The shoot’s primary purpose was for building our portfolios, and the marketing and promotion of our businesses. Lake Las Vegas would likely see us and consider what we were doing a professional shoot.
So we moved around rather often; four different locations within Lake Las Vegas: covered bridge, waterfall, outdoor staircases, and a tall stand of reeds at the edge of the lake. In addition, we shot at four different spots on the covered bridge: the shady side, the sunny side, in front of the wedding chapel doors, and a sunny alcove across from the wedding chapel.
I took the day off from my day job. I didn’t have to. I could have worked in the morning and just taken the afternoon off, but taking the whole day off gave me time to gather my gear, pack my gear bag, clean up and drive to Lake Las Vegas without rushing.
It takes me about 45 minutes to get to Lake Las Vegas from my home, but I hadn’t eaten, so I left 30 minutes earlier than I planned so I could hit a McDonald’s drive-through. The first McDonald’s drive-through was crowded, so I skipped it, figuring I’d hit one closer to Lake Las Vegas that wasn’t quite so crowded.
I hopped on the freeway, but just a couple of miles later it was bumper to bumper traffic. Highly unusual in Las Vegas in the middle of the day. The sign says it’ll take 25 minutes to drive 8 miles; normally a distance that takes 8 minutes. Right… President Trump is visiting today to pay his respect to the victims, injured, first responders, and all the other heroic people involved with the Route 91 Concert Mass Shooting. That’s probably the reason for traffic. The freeway I’m on runs right past the airport. Personally, I wish he’d have stayed in Washington DC to figure out how to fix Puerto Rico.
I get off the freeway and take an alternative route. There’s a McDonald’s on this route but the drive-through is backed up there too. Before long I run into more heavy traffic and I change routes again. At a stoplight, I text Damsel Doll, letting her know I’m stuck in traffic and might be a few minutes late. I finally get past the freeway congestion and get back on the 215 freeway. I make one last McDonald’s stop before heading to Lake Las Vegas. Did everyone decide to take a late lunch today? I’m starving so I have no choice but to get in line. Fortunately, this Mickey D’s is pretty quick.
I get to Lake Las Vegas just a few minutes late, but it was an adventure just getting there.
Meeting Damsel Doll
Damsel Doll is waiting for me on level 4 of the public parking garage. We meet and I suggest we drive down to level 2, which is the loading dock level, so we don’t need to use the stairs or elevator. It’s not like it a crowded parking garage. Later on, I find out there is a bridge from one of the upper levels to one of the buildings. Did not know that was there, but this is only my second time walking around at Lake Las Vegas. I get my gear bag from the back of my Mini Cooper. We briefly discuss logistics. She has three outfits she wants to shoot in, which will necessitate two changes. There is a public restroom, but that would require her to bring everything with her: outfits, shoes, and any accessories. So we decide it will be best for her to change in her car.
We make small talk as we walk to the covered bridge, the first shoot location. I explain why I want to move around: the permit thing and being asked to stop before we can finish. I point out the public restrooms as we pass them if she needs to use them.
The Covered Bridge: Made in the Shade
Of the four locations I selected when I scouted the area a week or two before shoot day, the covered bridge has the most traffic, and the most likely place we’d get stopped by someone. So I wanted to get done here as quickly as possible.
We shot on the shady side of the bridge first. Damsel Doll was in shade, but there was a very bright background behind her. While I configured the camera’s settings for the scene, I should have set up the camera for my subject. As it was, she was severely underexposed. I fixed that in post-processing, but there was a lot of noise in the darkest shadows that I couldn’t completely remove. In retrospect, we should have shot here last as it had the most challenging light conditions.
The Covered Bridge: Sunny Side Up
We moved to the sunny side of the bridge. This spot had much better light.
The Covered Bridge: Going to the Chapel
There’s a wedding chapel on the bridge along with a waiting area and, I presume, the chapel office. Unsurprisingly, the chapel was locked, but the chapel doors made for a good background. It was shady but without the bright background. Still, it was a challenging spot to shoot, but not as much as the first spot.
The Covered Bridge: The Alcove
Across from the chapel and between offices, there is a nice little alcove that was bathed in some nice light. We took advantage of it.
A few people walked by while we were shooting on the covered bridge, but none were from Lake Las Vegas. Fortunately.
Time for an outfit change before walking out to the waterfall. We make some small talk on the way to the cars so she can change. While she charges, I begin to check my model agreement and age verification.
More small talk on the way to the waterfall. The waterfall was also shaded, as most of our shoot spots were. For whatever reason, the photos we took at the waterfall are my least favorite. Her outfit was pretty, and she looked good. I think the quality of light wasn’t working at the waterfall. Early in this part of the shoot, there was some sunshine. Those photos came out fine, but later, it became shaded. There wasn’t anything to reflect light back onto Damsel Doll, so everything looked a little flat and gray. I was able to fix them in post-production though.
Stairways to the Sun
There are two staircases that mirror each other and lead to a private swimming pool for residents. We shot on both staircases. While the spot was shaded like several of the other spots, the light was good. Perhaps it’s because some sunlight was bounced off of the light-colored building next to the staircases. Many of our best photos came on the staircases.
Among the Reeds
As we walked by this spot a couple of times, Damsel Doll mentioned she wanted to shoot some photos here. It’s a spot that I noticed when I was scouting for shoot locations but wasn’t sure how well it would work out because the sidewalk is several feet higher than the lake. Turns out it worked out really well. She walked out on one of the rocks and started posing. I knelt and started taking photos. We didn’t shoot here for long but we got some really great photos here.
The Party's Over
Well, that wraps up shoot day. Back at the cars, I finalized the model agreement with her information, which we signed. We talked about working together again. She visits Las Vegas often, so I’m sure that we’ll work together again sometime. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
Before today, almost all my photography experience was shooting landscapes, cityscapes, wildlife, nature, astrophotography, and macrophotography. Sure, I’ve shot a few quick portraits of family and friends but those were spontaneous, not planned. And, of course, I’ve shot my fair share of candid photos.
Lesson #1: Work Quickly, But Don't Rush
I knew I would need to make camera adjustments and photograph quickly. After all, you don’t want your model to hold a pose while you fiddle with the camera, focus, or anything else. But I had no idea how much faster I’d need to work. At least in the beginning I felt rushed. I suppose a lot of that was self-imposed. I didn’t want someone to come up to us and tell us we had to stop. So I was rushing more than I needed to. Get a permit if the location requires it so you don’t have to rush. Slow down. Enjoy yourself.
Lesson #2: Expose for the Subject Not the Scene
The first spot we shot at was shaded with a bright background. I set up the camera for the scene. The background was exposed properly, but my model was severely underexposed. While I could fix that in post-processing, I couldn’t fix everything, especially the excessive noise in the darker regions of the photo. I started exposing for my model instead of the scene once I realized my mistake.
Lesson #3: Move Around The Model More
I asked my online model and photographer friends for advice about shooting with models. One of the things suggested was to move around my model, get different angles. I shot standing up and kneeling, but I didn’t move around my model much at all.
Lesson #4: Don't Be Afraid to Direct My Model
While my model was experienced and didn’t need much direction in her posing, I should have suggested some poses or slight adjustments occasionally.
Lesson #5: Make Small Talk & Play Some Music
We talked while walking to the different locations and to our cars, but not much while we were shooting. I’ve read talking is one way to help the model, and the photographer, relax during the shoot. This probably would have helped me be more relaxed. This one could be difficult for me because I struggle to make small talk sometimes.
As for music, I didn’t have any portable speakers. Plus it might have drawn attention to us.
Lesson #6: Better Focusing
I know to focus on a model’s eyes. I tried to do that. I tried manually focusing and autofocusing. But some of my shots were slightly out of focus. My camera was set for multi-point autofocus when I should have set it for single-point autofocus. I wore contacts (multi-focal) for this shoot. Maybe I should try wearing glasses instead of contacts too. And I should practice manual focusing more to get better at it.
Lesson #7: Better Composition & Framing
After downloading the photos to my computer and reviewing them, I noticed I had more than a few photos in which my model was close to an edge and facing the edge with lots of space behind her instead of in front of her.
Lesson #8: Review Photos More Frequently
Many photographers have a bad habit of checking the camera display after almost every shot. I have the opposite problem. I don’t check it often enough. That probably comes from the fact that I learned basic photography skills with film photography, well before there were digital cameras. If I had checked more often, I wouldn’t have had so many severely underexposed photographs from our first spot.
Lesson #10: Avoid Hyper-focus
When I get in a groove with anything, I enter a hyper-focused state. It can be a good thing because I don’t get distracted and get more “stuff” done. But it can be a not so good thing. I can lose track of time; that is, I get so focused on what I’m doing that I don’t look at the clock. While shooting, I tend to forget to do things I know I should be doing, such as framing my subject properly, reviewing photos on the camera occasionally, talking with my model, moving around, and more.
In Agile Software Development, we normally have a retrospective meeting after every sprint. In that retrospective, we are asked to answer the following questions:
- What went right?
- What went wrong?
- What can we do better?
So, an article in the Retrospectives category wouldn’t be complete without answering these questions.
What Went Right?
- I completed my first photoshoot with a model without totally messing up or frustrating my model.
- I got several great photos (well, I think they are) that I can use for my portfolio and submissions for publication.
- I got more good, but not great, photographs than I expected that I can use for other opportunities.
What Went Wrong?
- I took a lot of photos that were unusable out of the camera and required a lot of post-processing in Lightroom and/or Photoshop; even then, some just didn’t work out.
- Some photos were just flat-out unusable. Nothing could save them.
What Can I Do Better?
I’ve already written about the 10 lessons I learned, so I won’t repeat them here, but suffice it to say, there is plenty I can do better.
Despite my inexperience, underexposing some shots, and poor light at the waterfall, I think the photoshoot was successful. We got some good shots at some of the locations. Damsel Doll seemed pleased with the shoot. She suggested working together again, which I’d like as well. I enjoyed myself and the experience. I learned a lot. I think with more practice, I could be good at photography with models in a variety of genres.
I want to thank Damsel Doll for putting up with my inexperience and nervousness, shooting with me, and giving me the opportunity to get some experience.