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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Biggest Shoot Of Your Life

For a young professional, building your book is a daunting task. Here’s how Rachel Whaley, a 21-year-old, California-based professional, planned and executed a high-concept, multiday spec shoot.

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When the shoot day arrived, Whaley and her mostly L.A.-based crew agreed to get up at 5 a.m. to meet at designer Michael Costello's home in Palm Springs. (They knew this, of course, because the photographer took the time to create call sheets containing all the pertinent crew, location and scheduling information.) All but one volunteer was right on time, and Whaley didn't let that hiccup slow her down.

"If someone doesn't show up," she says, "then they don't show up. But it won't affect me personally. It won't affect the photo shoot. I just move on, just push forward. Of course, anything can go wrong at a photo shoot, anything at any particular moment. It's just how you recover from the issues and the errors, that you're able to move forward and be a professional, and say, 'There are all these things going wrong, but I'm still going to capture what I came here for.'"

After a few hours of wardrobe selection, hair and makeup, the cast and crew drove to the first location at the Salton Sea. Whaley's professionalism and calm under fire was again tested before she ever took her camera out of the bag.

"We get to the location," she says, "and there's a lot of dead fish. The Salton Sea is known to be pretty stinky, but we get out of the car and everyone starts gagging because it was just so horrible. The first location we had to leave; you couldn't even step out of the car without vomiting. I said, 'Okay, let's get back in the car and find the next location.' Some people might break down—'Oh, no, this is the location I wanted to shoot at, and it's not working!' I never get upset at a photo shoot. I always think of what's next, what can I do to solve this problem. So we went to the next location, and it was great.

"We had my [Toyota] Sequoia and the table with all the clothes and shoes and accessories," Whaley continues, "and a chair on the side for touchups. We set up our own little booth on the location, which was really helpful. We got there around 2 p.m., which was a little bit later than I had anticipated, but like I said, I made do with what I had. So I didn't take one break. I literally just shot straight through for six hours until the sun went down. I could have shot for another five hours."

The shoot in the can, Whaley and crew retreated to the designer's home to make sure everyone left with their own possessions. Then she began the long drive home in the dark. After midnight in L.A., rather than heading straight to bed, the photographer began her download. After two weeks of preproduction and a long shoot day, it would all come down to a few hours of importing and editing followed by a week of post-production to make the images match her vision. (Whaley is passionate about capturing her images in-camera. She doesn't do much digital imaging beyond color correction, skin retouching, contrast and sharpness control.)

In the end, Whaley added a half dozen iconic images to her portfolio and was able to widen her production comfort zone—which she has maintained in subsequent shoots. It's how professionals improve their game.

"I try to always up what I've done on my last photo shoot," she says, "and I always feel like I'm learning from each new shoot. By getting a bigger crew and well-known fashion designers and stylists and professionals, this photo shoot definitely captured that."

Rachel Whaley has worked with Playboy, 944 and Nylon magazines. You can see more of her work at her website, www.raw-la.com.


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