What You Need to Tell Models to Get Better Photos

Whether you’ve worked with models for years, or are absolutely an absolute beginner when it comes to model shoots, you can learn something from long-time expert Andrew McMeekin.

Character portrait shot by Andrew McMeekin

As a photographer or artist, working with models can be nerve wracking. (As we’ll soon learn, it’s just as nerve wracking for the models too!) How do you get the right pose to complete the image in your mind’s eye, or even more importantly, in your client’s brief?

Andrew McMeekin makes cinematic photographs with dramatic lighting reminiscent of works by Carravagio or Rembrandt. While he isn’t an “old master” per se, he has been shooting professionally for 12 years, specializing in fashion photography and portraiture, and keeping himself entertained with several series of historical photos.

I drilled down for a behind the scenes look at how McMeekin executes his artistic vision, respects the client brief, and keeps his feet on the ground in an industry that’s known to be a bit… dramatic.

Explore Andrew McMeekin’s Art Galleries.

If you want to get a sense of how McMeekin curates his galleries, you can now experience them virtually on D Emptyspace:

Fashion Photography: Ocean Ambassadors / Cinematic

Historic: The House of Desmond / Dark Side of Desmond / Traveling Vintage

Want to create your own galleries? Click here to download D Emptyspace for IOS from the app store.

Let’s talk about models — how do you handle them? Do you know what poses you want to get in advance?

Most models you work with will be terrified unless this is their full-time job and they’re doing it every day for big magazines. A mistake a lot of photographers make on shoots is saying “Well you’re the model, pose.” And that’s really not what a nervous person wants to hear.

A model needs to know what you want them to do. If you don’t know what kind of poses you want, it means you haven’t done your research for the shoot. If you want to work on commercial shoots, you are responsible for providing the end-product. You have to have the direction and knowledge to say, “This is what they’re paying me to get, so this is how we’re going to get it.”

Green Cadillac by Andrew McMeekin

What are the differences between working with professional models and amateurs?

There are five different categories of professional model. High-end models are in category one, and a category five would be someone with no experience at all.

With a high-end model you have to handle their temperament and showmanship. Like photographers, professional models have a front to play to keep up appearances. But if you cut the crap, you can get the job done quickly with minimal drama. If you’re calm, quiet without spouting the stereotypical “Oh darling, it’s gorgeous, it’s wonderful,” et cetera, then they’re good to work with.

If you go down the scale to an inexperienced category five, it’s totally different. They’re generally shy and have no idea what to do. You have to remember, this person was chosen simply because they are attractive, not because they are experienced. But if you’re nice and have a calm environment, and provide some direction, the model will respond well and you get better pictures for it.

The House of Desmond by Andrew McMeekin

Directing models seems to require a lot of confidence. Can beginning photographers pull that off?

It’s all about how you handle a model. I find younger photographers have technical ability, but no confidence when directing. You need to cultivate the confidence to say, “Well, hang on a second, let’s do this and cover that another time.”

Get that right and you’ll immediately get better pictures.

When celebrities or people in the public eye come in for photoshoots, they have a perceived idea of what they want to look like — and it’s normally wrong. You have to work to represent them with more authenticity.

You also do studio shoots for private clients. What’s the biggest difference between fashion shoots and portraiture for you?

Portrait Headshot by Andrew McMeekin

The style of lighting is the most important. For portrait shots, you need to bring in a more rounded style of lighting that doesn’t have any dark shadows. The last thing you want on a headshot is a shadow. You need to light everything very evenly.

Fashion shoots require more dramatic lighting because the brand wants the clothes to look sharp — it’s all about what the models are wearing and not the models themselves. When you do portraiture, it’s all about the person. Different situations, different lighting.

My biggest piece of advice: Don’t be in a hurry. I’m definitely not one of these photographers who takes thousands of pictures. Snapping every half-second puts people off. You need to get it right and take one picture. Models are more encouraged by that.

Do you find ways to express yourself creatively while working on commercial shoots?

At the end of the day, you’re doing work for a client. You always have to think “What do they want to achieve from this?” and then keep the answer in your mind’s eye. You need to deliver what the brand wants and needs. That’s what you’re being paid for.

On smaller shoots with a tight budget, you have to find the balance between the brief and creatives for yourself. But if they’ve employed an art director, you can push for what you want a little more. The art director’s job is to make sure that they deliver what the brand wants, so they’ll pull you back or push you further to serve the desired outcome.

Ocean Ambassadors by Andrew McMeekin

I’ve just done a shoot for the Ocean Ambassadors that comes to mind. The topic was centered around marine life eating and dying from plastic. The brief was to make it dark and deep with a very strong meaning. They wanted it to be hard-hitting, with mermaids, and on the beach.

So we had these mermaids and merboys all done up on the beach and a whole team of people — prosthetics, makeup, and lighting all set up on the sand — it was quite a production! And we were all there to execute the vision we’d been working on. The photos came out striking and impactful. Needless to say, the client was thrilled.

How does your experience working with models translate into your personal passion of historic portraiture?

I have a very good model for these shoots, his name is Desmond (pictured above). He’s not a pro model, but he’s an absolute master at playing the part. He turns up with all these costumes, goes into our props room, and comes out as a completely different character. It’s amazing to work with him and he makes my job a lot easier.

One photoshoot I did with Desmond was almost a disaster (Dark Side of Desmond). We were shooting historic portraiture in the old underground tunnels of the Ministry of Defense Radar system. It’s miles and miles of pitch black tunnels underground the East Coast of England. It’s really atmospheric down there… it’s so dark and full of history.

Dark Side of Desmond by Andrew McMeekin

So I was down there with Desmond in full costume, a bunch of heavy equipment and assistants. We walked quite deep into these tunnels to get to a good spot. And then suddenly, the [radio] triggers on the camera don’t fire! Turns out there’s something in the walls that blocks the electronic signal. It was a really tense moment — to click the camera and have nothing happen. It’s not what you’d call a ‘regular’ problem.

Desmond got claustrophobic and panicked a bit. So he went outside for a breather while we figured out the signal problem. We literally had to go nearer to the entrance and open a door to get the camera to work.

Photography wasn’t your first career. How did you come into it?

I started out as a hairdresser and did a lot of work preparing models for fashion shoots. When I finally decided to get photos taken to promote my salon, I couldn’t find photographers who did anything the way I wanted. Then I thought, Andrew, why don’t you just do it yourself?

Traveling Vintage by Andrew McMeekin

I went on a very expensive whirlwind of a learning curve. I got the top people on the net and the top private photographers in my area to teach me how to use a camera. I was in the fast lane — it was all very quick. I knew the hair side, the makeup side, and the fashion side — in a way I was already half-way there. There are more parallels than you think.

“Hairdressing and photography are very similar in the way you see face shapes, you learn how to look at people and their aesthetics in a different way.”

I found that the top guys were extremely good at photography, but fell apart when trying to handle a model on set. If you’re not in the fashion industry, it’s like learning another language — and I already knew the language from hairdressing.

When people come in for a photo shoot, they have much the same psychology as someone coming into the salon for a hair consultation. There’s this hidden body language and psyche that you learn as a hairdresser.

If you’re quiet and listen then people relax and that’s good for getting repeat business.

Thanks to the hairdressing salon I started out with a big client base. In the beginning, I did lots of free photo shoots with competitions and things like that — and we just progressed from there. Now I have a big five-story building that’s a one-stop-shop.

Do you have any advice when it comes to creating an effective portfolio to show off your work with models?

Keep it simple. Don’t go on about yourself and about how you were a photographer when you were four and your grandma bought you your first camera. No one is vaguely interested in that story.

“People want to know what you can deliver for them. They don’t care if you’re clever. They just think, what can you do for me?”

If you check some statistics on websites, you’ve only got about 3 lines before someone gets bored and switches the page. So make sure your vision and portfolio is very easy to navigate.

If I employ you as a photographer, what can you do? For me? That’s the crunch line.

Andrew McMeekin pictured at the Salt Flats in Bolivia

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Exploring Timelessness With Painter Freya Purdue

Exploring Timelessness With Painter Freya Purdue

Artist Freya Purdue next to her work “When there is no more”

This week, we catch up with the award winning Freya Purdue, a UK-based oil painter whose work draws from a wide range of sources — from the most obvious classical themes in painting to the subtlety of philosophical and mystical thought.

“From childhood I knew I was going to be an artist,” but it wasn’t until she was 26 that she enrolled in Saint Martin’s School of Art (now Foyles). She then earned an MA at Chelsea School of Art, and was awarded the Cardiff Junior Fellowship in Painting.

“It was the tail end of an era in art schools where students received grants for travel, living, and materials. Anyone who managed to get a place was able to go and focus wholly on study and painting”

Khipu by Freya Purdue

Her other grants and awards include the Digswell Arts Fellowship and the Boise and Villers David Travelling Scholarships.

Freya was fortunate to study under some of England’s artistic luminaries, including Gary Wragg, Jennifer Durrant, Albert Herbert, Henry Munday, John Hoyland, Patrick Caulfield, Albert Irvine and John Stessica in her undergraduate years and Ian Stevenson, Roger Ackling, Victor Willing, Paula Rego, and Patrick Heron during her Master’s Degree.

“This is how my story began and I have always felt grateful for those early formative years which were both a great life experience and a period of development, learning and experience in painting which enabled me to develop my own language and approach.”

Our interview with Freya Purdue picks up after those halcyon years and focuses on her career as an artist. And it’s a career that has been unquestionably successful. Along with countless solo exhibitions, she has exhibited with Gimple Fils Gallery London, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, Vimonisha Gallery, Madras, L.T.G. New Delhi, Galeria Stara Bwa, Lublin, and Christie’s, London.

Turning Point by Freya Purdue

Life as a fine artist (or any type of creative for that matter) isn’t often classified as ‘easy’… What’s the journey been like — have there been any memorable highs and lows?

Following my MA at Chelsea, I won the junior fellowship at Cardiff School of Art for a year which was a very rewarding experience. This was followed by a good range of excellent exhibitions, opportunities, and awards over the next few years.

Of course, there were difficulties along the way — mainly to do with earning money for studio and supplies as well as making a living and living life. Lecturing at Chelsea and Hertfordshire University whilst enjoyable but was both demanding and time consuming. I think this combination of difficulties is familiar to many artists.

Promoting artwork was very difficult and expensive before electronic media and it was difficult to exhibit work… due in part to this and in part to a lack of opportunities.

Gallery in D Emptyspace by Freya Purdue

Things are so different today. It’s so easy to publish work online and instantly communicate with people.

It is easy to get more information about galleries and all kinds of exhibition spaces — everything has speeded up including the procurement of material and for me, it makes more time for painting.

You form such vivid details and wonderfully complex juxtaposing shapes. Do you have a general process you follow? How long does it take for you to complete a work?

I have no set formula, I would have to say there is a range of processes I use to start making a new painting after having established the main idea for the work.

Taijasa by Freya Purdue

I work in response to the nature of the idea.

So that means either drawing directly on the canvas with a brush, or wash on a colour. Sometimes I make a little drawing on paper (but I don’t make sketches) to work out the structure or format, or make monoprints to look at possible colour combinations.

I look for the atmosphere or spirit of the idea as the core of the work begins to form. I often start working on the painting first and then explore the possibilities by doing some visual or cultural research to support the expansion of the visual aspects of painting.

Sometimes an idea can lead to a clear method of making and the painting reaches conclusion relatively fast (2 or 3 weeks, which is fast for me).

As for the time it takes to complete a work, this varies immensely.

Some work is clear from the beginning and it can just be the time it takes to make it.

Some visual decisions can take a long time to percolate before the next stage of development is decided, so the time it takes me to finish a work ranges from a week or two or sometimes up to a year or two.

Do you prefer to work in series rather than on stand-alone pieces? How many artworks do you have in progress at any given time?

I don’t prefer to work in series. I do work on a range of paintings at the same time, but they are not always a series. Most of my work is on standalone pieces with an occasional series when a specific idea needs more than one work to fulfill its potential.

I can have up 20 paintings on the go at any one time, all in different stages of development and this is mainly due to my research process and sometimes and slow visual decision making. I take time to discover the right visual aspects or components.

My artistic decision, coupled with the practicalities and the time consuming aspects of the oil painting process mean my work can take a long time to complete.

The Edge by Freya Purdue

You’ve said that when painting you’re “absorbed in the discovery of an energized sense of connection and consciousness”. Has the ever-growing prominence of technology threatened or enhanced that connection?

I think the developments of technology have in many ways speeded up the painting process — it’s so much easier to research visual ideas, to order materials and to promote the work online. These are all big positives!

Painting takes a new place in relation to technology.

In many ways, painting is an old art form that is much challenged in this current digital climate, but there’s still a lot of people making paintings — why is that?

Painting remains still! And it promotes quietness, reflection, and even meditation. It takes the consciousness into a different space. It retains its mystery and although the image of the painting can be communicated online it is always a surprise to see them in the flesh. There’s almost always so much more to the work than the digital image. The true power can only be experienced when standing directly in front of the work in real life.

Gallery in D Emptyspace by Freya Purdue

Usually, I pick a work and ask artists to give me a breakdown behind what they were thinking… but every single one of your artworks is so evocative that I just can’t choose! Is there a trick to building in such a deep sense of fascination in the viewer’s mind?

Each of my works is about attaining clarity in relation to a source idea. As I see it real ideas are living energy and can be translated infinitely.

Ideas are timeless and have been explored by human beings since the very beginning of time, from the very first known human marks right up to today’s creators.

Of course, no one has a prerogative over these ideas so people working in all the arts and sciences are using them everywhere.

This is where each person must find their own identity and creative voice, their own special vision, their unique magic that can be shared with others who may have affinities with the spirit of their work. Every moment is a mystery and is different from the last, so why not take advantage of it and create something new!

For me then, each painting is the expansion of my own voice that builds a connection with who I am and with my fellow human beings, past and present.

Nemet by Freya Purdue

Creating magnificent artworks is only one piece of being a successful artist. How have you navigated the more commercial side of the art world? And in particular, do you do any sort of online marketing of your work?

‘The art world’ — whatever that might mean — is an anathema to me and I have never really entered it. The commercial side of things is another world and not one I wish to spend my precious time thinking about.

I like working towards putting on solo exhibitions because it’s a chance to really take in what I have been exploring in one go. It’s also an opportunity to let others catch a glimpse of my vision. Selling work is fine, but it’s not my focus.

I am always keeping my eyes open for venues to show work, but exhibitions take a lot of energy so I don’t want to do too many. I have one at the The Yellow Edge Gallery in Gosport in October and two coming up; one at the Quay Arts near where I live on the Isle of Wight and one at the New Cut in Halesworth. That’s quite enough, I need my quiet time in the studio most of all.

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Developing a unique (and marketable) style of art with Veronica Wong

Developing a unique (and marketable) style of art with Veronica Wong

D Emptyspace Gallery by Veronica Wong

Veronica Wong is a Texas-based artist who’s unique, award winning painting style is striking to the eye.

This week we caught up with her to get to know her story. She shares some valuable tips on how to market your art, staying financially viable when everything isn’t going to plan, and be prolific on social media.

What led you to decide to be an artist? How did your passion develop over time

Being an artist was never something I wanted to do when I was young. I loved to dance and being a ballerina was my dream.

I became interested in art when I was in high school, but after my very first assignment, the teacher suggested I switch to sewing! I was really disappointed… but it never stopped me from loving art.

In my spare time, I would go to museums for hours and hours — just immersing myself in the joy of art. I also dived deep into the world of theatre and expressed my creativity by making props and costumes by hand.

When I got married and had childrenI put my artistic self to one side and focused on my family. But once my son left for college, like many mothers, I wondered what I would do with my life.

I happily stumbled back into art. Starting with abstraction and then developing into other styles, I’ve been exploring my artistic style ever since. As you can see from my galleries in D Emptyspace, my art varies from one form to another. As I began to learn and grow, I developed my own unique style.

Singapore the Garden City by Veronica Wong

You create a lot of ocean-themed artworks. What’s the inspiration behind that?

I lived in Queensland, Australia for 5 years, surrounded by the ocean and the wonders of the great barrier reef. I was fascinated by the intricacies of corals and marine life. There is so much hidden beauty under the ocean with a multitude of shapes, colors, dots, and lines all moving in complex but fascinating rhythms.

Do you have a creative space or a studio? What gets you in the right space to start working on your art?

The sunlight beaming into my studio is something that helps me want to paint. Natural light is very important for me as an artist as it reveals vibrant and natural hues I try to capture in my work. I turned a room in my house into a full-time studio because it has such wonderful natural light throughout the day.

To create, I need silence with absolutely no disturbances. No phone ringing, no people talking or walking around. Just me and my painting. That’s really important to me and it’s a struggle to get.

I really love discovering other methods of art and continue to learn and grow. My favorite style is to combine different techniques and mediums. I love using a mixture of acrylic painting, dot art (pointillism) and repeated lines (or zentangle) to create unique structures.

D Emptyspace Gallery by Veronica Wong

How did you start to sell your work? Talk us through that experience and journey? What’s it been like?

I started off selling my art in marketplaces. I choose to do markets because I like the interactions I have with people. I love talking about my inspirations and the techniques I used, especially if I use an unusual medium, like eggshells or shoe polish.

It has not been as rewarding as I hoped financially or in exposure, but it’s been a great learning experience nevertheless.

In order to carry on doing what I like best (painting), I’ve diversified into functional art that has a stronger audience at markets. I have started to make lots of trays, ring dishes, cheeseboards, tea boxes, and even tables. These became my best sellers and helped me cover expenses like exhibition fees, curators’ fees, and competition fees.

D Emptyspace Gallery by Veronica Wong

You’re so busy setting up exhibitions! Can you tell us about some of your most memorable exhibitions (good or bad!)?

We all have to start somewhere, and I started off at some real bad exhibition spaces. They combined art with pancakes, booze, and chocolates — you can imagine the kind of atmosphere that created.

I quickly realized people who come to that kind of exhibition were not the type of customers I wanted.

My best exhibitions are those organized by art centers and galleries. These are experienced venues who have a large clientele of serious art collectors and designers who are out there searching for professional art pieces.

What thought process do you go through when deciding which artwork to put where?

I go to reputable websites like PublicArtist.org, Zapp(R)Management, CaFE Management, Juried exhibition by galleries to submit my art. I also look out for online magazines or galleries like Camelback Gallery and Lightspace & Time, createmagazine.com to submit my art for a feature or competition. That’s how I built my resume and reputation as an artist. It is also a good way to gain exposure with the numerous galleries out there.

Has technology influenced the way you create and share art? In what ways?

Technology has been a great help to me as I have no prior art education. I am a self-taught artist and technology has helped me learn several techniques. I have also learned a lot by watching other artists paint online.

It is through technology with social media that I was invited by newyorkart.com to participate in their group exhibition of their opening of their new gallery at Franklin Place New York.

D Emptyspace Gallery by Veronica Wong

What advice would you give an aspiring artist who’s just getting started?

It is not easy to get your art out there — there are so many great artists in the world.

Let your art be unique, let it be your unique style so that it defines you. Don’t get discouraged, keep on painting, keep on learning, keep on growing and keep on dreaming.

Diversify so that you can keep painting.

Find a good art mentor who will sharpen your skills and be honest with you. Talk to other artists, build your resume, get yourself in as many social media platforms as you can.

Dream, and dream big.

Follow Veronica on Social Media

Instagram | Facebook | New York Art | Laguna Art | And multiple other platforms via the @artbeatbyveronica

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