A long time ago, I made a living as an illustrator. I made editorial illustrations for the interiors and covers of various magazines, like Time, the Atlantic, Travel & Leisure, Businessweek, New York Times, and many others. I then drew comic books for Marvel, DC, and Harris Comics, where one of my creator-owned properties became a short-lived TV series called Harsh Realm. From there, I worked in the feature film and video game industries as an artist, animator, and later as an art director. From this experience I developed drawing and painting skills that I regularly put to use as a photographer. I don’t discuss this much, nor advertise the fact, because to me it is natural to make a few sketches before a shoot. Recently, however, I ran into some people who happened to see some of the comps I’ve made and they thought they were very interesting.
I make comps quickly, rarely spending more than about ten minutes to make one, primarily because they are for my own use and don’t need to be at a presentation level of finish. That said, compared to the comps I saw when I (briefly) worked at Ted Bates Advertising in New York City, they are about the same level of finish as some of the looser, more stylized comps I saw there. Their finished, photo-real comps, on the other hand, were very different.
For my most recent shoot, I made four types of comps. They were:
1) Styling inventory. This sketch depicted rough images to represent all of the clothes I purchased for the shoot up to that point. I could have laid them out on my bed and taken a photo but the colors would have been wrong unless I brought up my lighting gear and made a significant effort to shoot it right. Making a comp was faster, more accurate color-wise, and fun to make.
2) Lighting concept. These sketches explored the look of the kind of lighting I wanted to use. They include information on: specific models, styling for the models, poses, and lighting effects. The primary goal of these images is to explore the lighting but to do that, a model, the styling, and a pose had to be present. For that reason, none of those factors are definitive in these sketches. The only thing I’m really looking at with these is the lighting. Of the models I was thinking of for the five sketches below, I only shot one of them on the day of the shoot. Her styling was different and so was her pose.
3) Styling. I did the styling in two stages. The first was to buy the non-cycling fitness wear, the second was to buy the cycling jerseys. The reason I did it like that is that the fitness wear could be bought at local stores but the cycling jerseys had to be purchased online. Therefore, there was a gap of a few days between receiving the garments. After I received the cycling jerseys in the mail, I made a set of new sketches where I imagined what each of the models would look like in the clothes I’d selected for the shoot. By this time I knew who the models would be, their sizes, and skin tones. That additional information was put into the styling comps, to yield a more accurate picture of what I could expect. For these sketches I only cared about styling, so the models are not posed in the sense that I didn’t expect to shoot them in poses anything like what I drew in the comps, nor did I put in any approximation of the lighting. After making these sketches, I decided that I needed a few more jerseys, so I found some and ordered them, then made a sketch where they are shown but not attached to any specific model.
4) Poses. I dislike making pose illustrations because I don’t like to lock myself into a specific mental image of what the model will do on camera. This is because most models are capable of doing any number of things that I wouldn’t think of but that look great on camera. If I try too hard to lock them into a predefined pose, I may miss out on better poses. The reason I made these sketches anyway is that I wanted to have some idea what I could ask them to do to start off the shoot. In other words, instead of saying, “Put your hand here, your knee there, and touch your nose with your ankle”, I can say, “Let’s start by having you jog in place.” At the same time, I put them in the clothes identified in the styling comps and with various lighting treatments. Of the poses in the images below, I shot seven of them but not always with the same model, styling, or lighting used in the comps.
Last, I made a schematic sketch of the lighting plan I had in mind, to give the studio. They could take it and start getting the lights set up before I arrived.
I put all of these images plus a few others into a PDF “deck” that I sent the modelling agencies and studio. This would give them an idea of what I wanted and how it would be achieved. Like every other time I’ve done this, the character of the comps is carried forward into the final images, the comps make the shoot go faster because I can use them to quickly decide on styling changes during the shoot, and can show the sketches to models for posing ideas and to the lighting assistant for lighting changes. The biggest difference between these sketches and the final photos, at least for me, is the intensity of the background color. Some are relatively close but most aren’t. This was due to a mixup regarding the kind of gels I wanted to use on the lights. I wanted color effects gels but they only had color correction gels. This meant that their gels either modified the color temperature of the light source to a neutral gray, or they added a very weak tint, even with several layers. To save time and money, I used two modeling lights to get yellow, blue seamless for blue, and two layers of red color correction gels to get salmon/pink. Because of this issue, I look forward to my next shoot, where I will be sure to have the right kind of gels on hand.
Below are some of the final images from the shoot:
I would like to thank everyone involved for helping produce these images:
From Stetts Model Management: Ashley Stetts/agent, Chloe Corpuz/model, and Kathryn Avery/model
From Wilhelmina Models: Jay Tedder/agent, Topher DesPres/agent, Michael Lyden/agent, L.B. Charles/makeup and hair, Cynthia Thorne/model, and Danielle Wright/model
From Daylight Studios: Shari/studio manager, Louis/equipment manager, and Omare’/lighting assistant