Dominique James, Photographer

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A professional shoot for models and talents

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Model Caroline Heinle photographed by Dominique James. Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved. For authorized use only.BY DOMINIQUE JAMES

Have you ever been approached by a police officer to be told that you cannot do a photo shoot on a location you have selected because it’s a public park and that you needed a permit? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me recently. I didn’t think it would, but it did. Have I known that we needed a permit, I would have gotten one. That’s just how it’s supposed to be done. But because I thought there was no need for it, considering the very small size of the shooting production, of which we were only a handful, our little group was literally thrown out of the park—unceremoniously, almost. I was caught by surprise. I was baffled because we weren’t obstructing anything and we weren’t bothering anyone. We were in fact very careful and very conscious not to be too conspicuous. And, the fact is, we didn’t have any thing that resembled a major production setup—not one of those things that has hundreds of people all around, with parked cars, trucks, trailers and generators. There were only five of us during the shoot. But apparently, because the photo session we were conducting looked “professional” enough, we were firmly told that we needed to get a permit to be allowed to shoot. Without the permit, we cannot continue with the pictorial. Thinking back on what we were doing, I still couldn’t imagine that it would have merited a permit.

Being directly responsible for the shoot, no matter how small, I had to think, find a way, and act fast. For one thing, I didn’t want the people I was working with to get into trouble. Heck, I don’t want to get into trouble myself! I had to figure out a way to make sure that we get to do what we wanted to do without getting into trouble. The last thing my little group wanted was to stop shooting, but the last thing that the police officer wanted us to do was to stop shooting. Clearly, we were in a bind, but I wasn’t just about to give up, pack up and call it quits. That would have been unprofessional, and I didn’t want to end a shoot this way. I had to find a way.

The name of my model (and client) for this shoot is Caroline. Caroline wanted to come up with a professional portfolio. It wasn’t a photo shoot for a huge media or production company. We embarked on a simple project to produce a simple portfolio that Caroline can bring along and show around.

Caroline was about to make her big move. She made some plans, had things figured out, and was slowly ticking off one item at a time in her personal to-do list in order to move things along. She has her sights on a goal. She was very organized, methodical, and determined. And, she was also very beautiful. A mutual friend, who felt that we can work something out, introduced us to each other. Caroline and I hit it off well. We got to talk and exchange emails several time for about two weeks before we finally decided to schedule a meet for the pictorial.

Along the way, the many details of the shoot were ironed out. Though what we wanted to do for this pictorial was something simple and straightforward, it was quite surprising that we somehow found ourselves ruminating through a mountain of details. Usually, a typical pictorial involves figuring out what kind of images to produce, who to work with for the hair-and-makeup and wardrobe styling, where to shoot, and how many layouts to do. From experience, these details can be worked out quickly and easily. But what surprised me all the more is that I actually didn’t mind all the in-depth planning and discussions we were having. To my mind, the more we plan things out prior to the pictorial, the better it would be. For one thing, this will give us a chance to really be ready and to concentrate fully on what we wanted to do during the shoot, and we’d be able to minimize unpleasant surprises or snags. Of course, we were well aware that we couldn’t possibly be ever 100% ready for anything, but we tried nonetheless.

Because both Caroline and I wanted to make sure that we cover everything so that we can have a productive and creative session, we communicated constantly, sharing ideas and concepts. Personally, I was thankful that Caroline knew exactly what kind of images she wanted. This helped a lot because, along the way, we were able to refine what we wanted to achieve. And, it probably helped too that we somehow got caught in the excitement of what we were about to do. So, we simply let it grow. It sometimes help to start with a blank slate where both the photographer and the subject can thresh out details through a series of pre-production meetings, but in the case of Caroline, it was better to focus right away on what she wanted since she had to leave New York for Hollywood in the next few days. Besides, on her own, Caroline already had much time to consider the concept of the shoot. She just needed a photographer who can help her make it all happen.

On the day of the shoot, everything started smoothly—selecting the clothes, doing the hair-and-makeup, preparing all equipment. We breezed through the first two outfits with impeccable timing, moving along at a comfortable, steady pace. It helped that the weather was great. We were getting really good shots. But as we moved on to the third layout, that’s when a police officer unexpectedly came up to us to tell us that we have to stop shooting, pack our things and move away. Many unexpected things can happen in a shoot. I know this because I’ve been through countless pictorial sessions. But getting thrown out wasn’t one of the things I thought would ever happen. Life, as they say, is full of surprises.

At that moment, I didn’t quite know what to do except to comply. The first thing on my mind was the safety of those whom I was working with, but at the same time, I didn’t want to abruptly end the shoot and walk away empty-handed. I was determined to finish what we’ve started. That’s when an idea hit me.

As everyone was packing their stuff while the police officer was sternly looking at us, I figured that we’ll just move to a different nearby location, away from the constantly patrolled public park where we were started shooting. Having walked around the area a few times, I know that there was one particular spot where we can continue doing the shoot. I didn’t know if we were going to be stopped too, should an officer come along, but I had to give it a shot (so to speak).

With feigned confidence, and without really explaining what I had in mind, I asked everyone to gather their things. The only thing I told everyone was that we were moving to a different location. For one thing, I didn’t want them to lose their hope, with things ending badly.

I did my best to keep up the mood as I led our little group out of the park and into one of the streets across a multi-lane highway where I thought we can continue from where we left off. I can sense that a couple of the members of my team was becoming disappointed and confused, but I happily (and bravely) chatted on. As we arrived at the new location, an open street, I announced right there and then that it was on that exact spot where we will continue our work. Everyone was surprised but I simply told them that we have a job to do and we should get back to work to finish it. And so, right there and then, and without a fuss, everyone started to get right back to work as if nothing happened.

As we were all set for the third layout, a patrol car with two officers unexpectedly crawled its way slowly into the street where we were. My little group, fresh from the embarrassing and disappointing sting of being thrown out just a few minutes ago, was suddenly quiet, trying to keep a very low profile. You know the feeling when you wanted to just disappear? That was exactly what we were all feeling. Having been in New York for quite a while, I’ve seen what can happen when an officer stops to take notice, and instantly call for backup. In a matter of minutes, the area will be teeming with police cars, firetrucks, and an ambulance, with lights going on all at the same time. There’d be so many people gathering and yellow ribbons would have to be put up just to mark the perimeter off. It would be an instant crime scene!

But then, another unexpected thing happened! The patrol car didn’t stop. While the police officers glanced at us for a much longer time than usual, they simply drove past us without stopping. Can you just imagine our collective sigh of relief? That’s when we sensed, finally, in the new location, no one’s going to bother us for the rest of the shoot

And that was when the magic really started happening!

On this new location, a seemingly unassuming street, we were able to work our way to the end of the shoot. As a matter of fact, we were able to add a couple more layouts that during the planning stage we thought we wouldn’t be able to pull off. And the really nice thing is, probably because of the adrenalin rush for all the “excitement” that happened, we were able to finish on time. It turned out to be a really productive and creative shoot. Because of the new location, many other creative possibilities which were unavailable to us in the previous location simply opened up. We were able to do layouts that, while far different from what we originally thought, proved to be much better. The new location, with the many textures that portrayed different moods, depth and character, proved to be a blessing in disguise. We managed to create some really amazing images that was very much in line with our original concept. And, because we got inspired to try out other things in the new location, we were able to achieve something more.

Back to my studio a few hours later, as I was looking at the shots, I felt (oddly enough) glad that we were thrown out. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to create the many images we ended up making. A major part of it of course has something to do with the bunch of people I was working with—they had been the most unflappable professionals who continued to do what needed to be done despite the odds. What can I say? Nothing really shocks New Yorkers anymore.

As for Caroline, she got her pictures—another thing ticked off from her to-do list. And just as planned, she moved on to Hollywood to embark on an exciting new career in show business.

[Note: For inquiries and for information on professional photography assignments for editorial and/or advertising purposes, as well as for post-production digital image editing and enhancement, please send email to Dominique James at dominiquejames@mac.com or call 912-246-1131. For information on models and talents portfolio shoots, please click here. Thank you.]

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