I spent most of my summer drinking cocktails in rooftop bars, journaling in a hollow of a tree trunk somewhere deep in Central Park and hunting for cafes where I could sit in a corner with an iced coffee and sketch. In between, I was asked to direct and produce photo shoots for independent apparel or accessories brands. This one in particular featured handmade, bejeweled clutches by ‘Al’ain by Annie’, a Pakistani designer I met while interning in the heart of busy, overcrowded and glamorously dirty Manhattan.
On the day that our boss came in late to the office, we dipped out for an extra coffee break where we exchanged our Instagram information. Cigarette poised delicately between her parted lips, she was excited to find out I specialized in avant-garde-esque makeup art. Showing me the bags she designed in a digital collection, the first thing that caught my eye was her use of embellishments—beading and crystals, floral and regal East-meets-West patterns. Each gem had a purpose. I asked her to bring samples in for a closer examination, my mind running wild with ideas just from seeing the photos.
When tilted at one angle, a purse was forest emerald, and when tilted at another angle, the light caught a beautiful melted chrome. I combined this with the idea that ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ as well as a darker concept that romanticizing wealth becomes a toxin. Considering that I was nearly broke at the end of every month (the curse of having an unpaid credit-based internship in one of the most expensive cities in the world), I bought the cheapest dust respirator masks, two boxes of flat-bed gemstones from Michael’s and began gluing in a spiraling motion that night, without a single sketch completed. Despite the raw materials, I was hoping for this editorial to evoke luxury. The fear of using crystals and abundant beading is for the final product to appear cheap. Being known to go overboard, I trusted my instincts to edit just enough for the customer to associate luxury when wearing Al’ain by Annie.
The Day Of the Photoshoot:
Apparently you are not allowed to use a lounge space in an apartment complex to do your model’s makeup, even if you live there. Apparently I was disturbing the peace of tenant space, even though there was clearly no one there (and was during a weekday where everyone was at work). After a long stare down between me and the security guard, I decided to shrug it off with a disgruntled attitude. The models and I proceeded to leave the building and head straight to Central Park in order to continue the shoot. Things I learned on the way there:
1. Do not keep your designer’s bags in a gigantic plastic trash bag.
You will look like Santa with a dumpling-shaped sack that is way bigger than you are. You, more importantly, run the risk of the plastic ripping from a tiny invisible slit in the middle of the entire thing and end up having to ask your models to help you carry the bags in three bundles to protect it from dribbling into New York traffic. Do not let the cars fart pollution on you!
2. If you do not have a set-up tent, always sit down in a spot with shade, meaning under a tree. Especially if you’re shooting in the summer.
Not only because the sunlight will melt nearly everything off your model’s face before you even get to the photo-taking part, but also because sometimes the weather app lies to you and doesn’t tell you it will rain as soon as you leave your house. Having so much sunlight on your makeup set is also terrible for the product and worse if you don’t have something to cover it with when it rains.
3. Do not start your day shoot at twilight because the sunset will limit your how much time you have to photograph.
You have enough to worry about, why have to fight against time? Light changes as you shoot will be very prevalent in post-processing of the photos unless you adjust your camera settings to keep up the exposure.
4. Bring snacks and water to wherever you go.
You don’t know how long you will be outdoors for on a shoot and as the director and photographer it is easy to lose track of time. Basically, don’t starve your team, even if you don’t really eat.
5. Know when to stop.
After photographing a few looks and realizing that you might be running low on steam, it is okay to stop. In my case, I made the executive decision to save the garments for a different shoot with different models and brought the girls to a Thai restaurant for dinner.
I was lucky to be able to find more models with completely different looks for the follow-up photo shoot a week later, which was held at the Belvedere Castle in Central Park. The makeup was completed in the Shakespeare Garden on a very humid day, but through the glistening beads of sweat, the models had a great time snapchatting the experience and curious passers-by enjoyed snapchatting them. Within the week, I had made three more masks, lighter floral ones this time, to create a new ambience with the other clutches. What wonders a clear head and enough food in your belly can do for you. So, although I had two very different shoots for one designer, I was pretty satisfied with the end results. A studio shoot might have been smarter, but then I wouldn’t be able to tell people how I awkwardly stand over my models, as they lay down on the ground in public, to capture a beautiful photo.