Monday, July 7, 2014

New Website!

Quick update to let you guys know I have a new website!! Now with larger photos and more recent work! Check it out and let me know what you think~ :D

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Profoto Blog Series: Commercial Photoshoot Walkthrough, from Request to Post-Production

A while ago, I began writing a series of articles for the Profoto Blog. And because they're super duper nice people, I got permission to repost it on my own page. :D

Here is the first post in case you missed it, I would love to hear what you guys think. :D Or if you have any questions or a topic you would like to see me cover, do let me know! Thank you for reading~

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is how a commercial photo shoot is done. In this post I’ll be doing a little walk-through of the steps involved in one of my typical productions, from pre-shoot to final product. Whether you’re an upcoming photographer or just a hobbyist, I hope it sheds some light on the behind-the-scenes and you will find it an interesting read.

Before I start, I should also mention that typically for major clients, there is usually a large team of people working on a campaign. In those instances an executive producer will handle everything related to preparing the shoot, and thus often, all that’s needed of the photographer is to prepare his treatment (more on that in a bit), show up, and shoot.

However, for many other jobs, it’s becoming increasingly popular these days for the photographer to quote and execute the full-scale production of the photoshoot themselves. This post will cover a project’s process on this scale.

1. How It Begins – Quotation Request

It begins with a quotation request from the client or advertising agency, for the sake of consistency I’m going to use the agency as contact point in this post. The typical email will include details such as the following:
  • Date of shoot
  • Date of ad launch/deadline
  • Number of images
  • Usage terms (For how long, which medias.)
  • Visual reference/layout for how the ad will look like.
  • What they’d like you to include for quotation. (Is it just photography and usage? Or also studio, stylist, hair, makeup, models?)

From here, I’ll use the above as reference to create a checklist after confirming my availability. It’s important that I can commit to the days I’ll estimate to need for production, as well as to be completely available on the date of shoot itself.

Following that, it’s time to request for rates from my team and vendors, the usual costs may include:
  • Studio/equipment/catering
  • Retouching
  • Stylist
  • Wardrobe (The stylist will usually give you an estimate.)
  • Hair stylist
  • Makeup artist
  • Model
There may be other things as well of course, depending on the scale and complexity of a shoot. Sometimes you may need a location scout, casting director, or a producer who will assist you in finding the props, things, and people you need, but other times you can probably accomplish those on your own. So while at this, remember to charge a production fee for the days you’re spending on production as well (if you can). After these costs have been added up with your photography rates, you wait to hear back from the agency

2. The Next Step – Photographer’s Treatment

This happens two ways, sometimes it’s requested during the job bid, sometimes it’s part of pre-production after you’ve been confirmed. (I highly recommend billing 50% upon confirmation.)

For those unfamiliar, the photographer’s treatment it’s a presentation of your mood boards detailing all the photographic aspects of the shoot, such as:
  • Lighting and mood
  • Color treatment
  • Makeup and hair styles
  • Model’s poses/expressions
  • Camera angles/framing
These will end up being a part of the pre-production deck for client during pre-production meetings, which will also include photos of models, wardrobe, location, call sheet, layouts, etc.

It may sound a little weird to those who’ve never done it before, that the photographer would have to go into detail with the shots in this manner. Hasn’t the client already agreed to what’s in the visual reference anyway? Well sometimes it feels like it has been, but sometimes the agency/client just need to make sure you get it too. And sometimes, because we’re good at our jobs, we know exactly what and how that drawing or composite photo mashup will look in our end product (and it’s not exactly like the drawing or photo mashup), so this is to help us express what we’ll be doing before we can provide the finished work for the ad.

The treatment will help avoid misunderstandings and mismatched expectations (I’ll always mention the things I’ll try to achieve, but also highlight the word ‘try’ for more challenging elements. You can’t control 100% of outcome all the time. So do expectation management now.)

3. Casting

When the model agencies send you quotations for the job, they would often have attached packages of their available models already. From there you can shortlist the faces you like and arrange for a casting, don’t be afraid to request for more options if you don’t see anyone that fits the look and feel you’re going for.

I want to emphasize here that casting is an extremely important part of production. In finding the perfect model and face (and attitude!), your job will be a lot easier on set and you’ll achieve great pictures with so much more efficiency. It also ensures you that you’re up to date on exactly how the model looks like and no surprises will happen (imagine if they can’t fit into the clothes)!

4. Your Team

This one is relatively straightforward. You should already have a few regulars you love working with, whether from doing editorials or test shoots. Unless the client requests specific names for the job, there is no reason to try getting someone ‘bigger’ or ‘better — your team has stuck with you for editorials and test shoots, you have a good rapport and know exactly how each other work, you want to thank them for their time and ensure you have a supporting team behind yourself. Hire them.

5. Risks and Backups

Almost every shoot will have a small chance of something going wrong, be it camera failure, last minute cancellations, models falling sick, or the studio becoming unavailable. Always make sure you have a backup, a second and third option on hand for someone you can call.

As the productions get larger, there will be more and more external factors to consider. Understand that certain things are simply out of your control, such as weather challenges, location limitations, travel difficulties, etc. Evaluate the risks, discuss your concerns with the ad agency and formulate plans for what to do case things don’t go as planned.

Whatever happens, stay calm and work it out in an orderly fashion. In the absolute, absolute worst case scenario, it will be a lesson learnt so you can prepare and handle it better should a similar situation arise in the future. We all start somewhere and will have to make some mistakes, so long as you learn something from it, it’s not the end. Stay positive!

6. Pre-production Meetings (PPM)

You have finished your treatment presentation, casted and shortlisted the models, confirmed your call time, studio, hair and makeup team, and your stylist has prepared a list of options for wardrobe. You sit down at the meeting with the creative team and client to go over details for your ideas and shooting schedules. These meetings will make sure that everyone is on the same page, so if you have any questions and concerns, address them!

7. Equipment Rentals & Final Checks

When everything has been confirmed, I usually have three checklists I check off from:
  • The crew: pretty much everyone that receives the call sheet, to confirm they know their call times and the shooting schedule (and that the date hasn’t been changed.)
  • The vendors: deliveries, locations, etc. Whether it’s catering, additional equipment/props, or locations we’re renting by the hour, confirm all the bookings.
  • Equipment: a pack list of my own things to bring, as well the rental list for equipment I’ll be using.
Double and triple check you’ve got everything!

8. Pre-light

Once all that’s s set, the last thing is light test. You may not need to do one if the visuals for lighting and mood are something you do on a regular basis, as you’ll already know all the nuances to those setups quite well. Personally, I like to play around with lighting for both editorials and personal work, so when I know there’s something very specific that I have to get exactly right for for a campaign, I always spend a couple hours at the studio testing the setup. It’s best to be completely prepared for the shoot, you’ll feel better too.

What equipment I use will depend heavily on the approved visuals. There’s a lot that can be done with the same gear just by varying up the set up, ratio, distance, and processing. For me, the quality of light itself depends on just a few quintessential lightshapers I always like to use:
At this point, you’re probably thinking that this list is so because this is a Profoto blog post, which hey, it is. But truth is I’ve been renting Profotos since I started shooting 8 years ago, and after trying a number of different brands, I realized I love the product design and durability of Profotos the best. They are intuitive and easy to set up, and just feel (and are) so much more sturdy and rugged for taking a little abuse on busy sets. The most important factor though, is probably its consistency and reliability. You have no idea how frustrating it is shooting with strobes that skip on flashes during movement shots. It’s bad to happen on an editorial shoot, but devastating on a commercial set, I like keep to quality here at all costs.

And so, usually from the above list, I’ll pick out my key light, find a suitable backdrop, and set up the light test. After some tweaking, changing of backdrops, and sometimes adding and removing lights, I’ll arrive at what is the perfect combination for what I need. I then mark down the positions of light, model, backdrop, and write down my settings. After that, I do a colour processing test on the spot and save the settings to my shooting computer.

It sounds like a lot to do, but my motto is to over-prepare than under. This gives me more confidence and a peace of mind for the actual shoot, and I’ll save time in setting up as well.

9. Shoot Day

10. Post Production

Naturally, how much work there is to be done here depends on the complexity of the visual. Just let your retoucher do their thing (or your thing, if you’re retouching it!), make sure markups and notes for retouching are detailed and clear, and any hours and rounds of revisions that exceed your original quote are billed for. From there on after the final image delivery, the rest is up to the ad agency. (Bill for remaining 50% here.)

11. The Final Things

One last checklist:
  • Get high resolution artwork from ad agency
  • Send files to your team
  • Request for invoices from your team and vendors for those you haven’t paid, pay them

When the campaign is launched, remember to get the high resolution artwork from the ad agency. You may not be a big fan of the ad, it wasn’t shot in your style and you won’t include it in your portfolio, so why bother? Well, you never know when you’ll need something for a pitch or presentation one day. It’s also just good habit to keep an archive of all your work and to stay organized. When I was applying for my O-1 visa two years ago, my commercial portfolio was one of the most important things in the application.

And since we’re on the topic of organization, file all the documents from the shoot as well! I like to keep all the casting details, lighting setups, crew and vendor information saved and organized. Once again, you never know when you’ll need a contact or reference back to an old project one day.

Last but not least, don’t forget to have your team invoice you so you can pay them! Freelancers can get lazy about paperworks, if you let it lapse, it’s only going to become a bigger pain later on. Do it right now!

And that’s it! I hope this was helpful and offers some insights to what goes on behind the scenes from my end. Leave a comment below if you guys have any more questions!


Zhang Jingna:

Article first posted on the Profoto Blog, 3rd April 2014. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Motherland Chronicles #47 - Womb

Motherland Chronicles #47 - Womb

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Gregg Brockington
Model: Germaine Persinger
Photo Assistants: Ngoc Vu, Bitna Kim, Tiffany Liu

From the same shoot as Rusalka. This one made me think of the Legend of Nüwa. The flowers reminded me of the five-colored stones she used to repair the heavens. Chinese mythos :D

Friday, April 25, 2014

Photo Professional Magazine April 2014

Happy to share that I'm on this month's cover of Photo Professional Magazine in the UK!

The inside article introduced the Motherland Chronicles and we talked a bit about my perspective on commercial vs personal work.

Interesting enough, the title "One Step at a Time" echoes a saying I love from the game of Go. Whenever I feel daunted by the million and one things I know I need to do ahead of me, I think of what one of my best friends and teachers used to say to me, "Go has to be played one step at a time". Obvious but so totally personally meaningful. :D (Also, didn't someone say to Hikaru in Hikaru no Go that "Akira is where he is today by playing one game at a time"?)

Thank you Terry for the lovely writeup!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Elle Vietnam: Elle Best Looks

Elle Best Looks
Elle Vietnam, May 2014

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Stylist: Phuong My
Editor: Quy Nguyen
Hair: Cash Lawless @ The Magnet Agency
Makeup: Deanna Melluso @ The Magnet Agency
Set Designer: Francesca Signori
Manicurist: Gerry Holford @ Artmix Beauty
Model: Isabelle Nicolay @ Supreme
Photo Assistants: Ngoc Vu, Julia Gorbach, Demi Chen
Stylist Assistant: Kade Henderson

New editorial for Spring/Summer! :D 

We wanted to echo the theme of each brand's runway from the season for this story. Floor and props were prepared during the days leading up to the shoot then assembled together on the day itself. All done in my apartment! Thank you team for the awesome job and being patient, and Isabelle for being so beautiful~

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Motherland Chronicles #46 - The Seer

Motherland Chronicles #46 - The Seer

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Alyssa Lorraine
Model: Joanna Bajena
Photo Assistants: Ngoc Vu, Alyssa Yee, Haiyin Lin
Accessories: Harlequin Romantique

So I can't remember the exact beginning now, but sometime last year I saved a few pieces of work by Georges de La Tour onto my computer. They sat innocuously on my harddrive, idling for a long time. Until one day, I came upon the images again, and suddenly was all like, candlelight is so cool! Who did this? I want to try this! And so I went looking for more of his paintings. 

The Dream of St Joseph
Christ in the Carpenters Shop - detail
The Penitent Magdalen

Sadly, planning the shoot wasn't as easy as when inspiration struck. We spent a couple weeks researching and sourcing for chambersticks I liked and ended up buying a handful -- from thrift stores, etsy, and one even came from Turkey. But lighting was a little tricky. After numerous tests and false starts I was worried that it was simply not going to work -- I didn't have anything that felt right to shoot with. The concept took a backseat after a while.

And then I scheduled a shoot with Joanna.

I didn't plan on shooting this concept at all initially (I had something else in mind entirely), but once we were done with the hair, makeup and styling, I knew I wanted to try. I took out the candles and candlesticks and started testing to see which ones worked best. The team probably thought I was just trying out the idea, which I often do on set for Motherland, but will then discard and go back to my original concept. When I carried on with this and eventually said, "Ok, we're done." I think everyone was pretty surprised haha. Yay for spontaneity on set?

A few days later, Toby and I went to check out the Vermeer exhibition at the Frick, and guess what, they totally had a de La Tour painting in permanent collection! When I saw it I was like, what, how did I not notice this the first time? I stared at it for a long while in disbelief. Because dude, this is fate. And I totally experienced a boatload of feelings here. Life was awesome.

When I finished up the picture some days later, I couldn't shake this special sense of affinity I'd come to feel for the picture because of the experience. Just ahh, life can be so interesting sometimes. 

And that's the story for this piece. :D Working on the last 2 now~~ 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Motherland Chronicles #45 - Rusalka

Uncensored image can be viewed on my Tumblr.

Motherland Chronicles #45 - Rusalka

Photography: Zhang Jingna zemotion
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Gregg Brockington
Model: Germaine Persinger
Photo Assistants: Ngoc Vu, Bitna Kim, Tiffany Liu
Necklace & Body Chain: Harlequin Romantique

At the beginning of last year I did a self portrait in water. Motherland Chronicles had just started and the only model I had was myself, sometimes I just edited old photos for weeks I didn't shoot self portraits. I've been meaning to reuse the kiddy pool and shoot a model in it ever since then, but at the same time, I'd been circumspect about doing it because the water gets very cold, first hand experience and all that.

Eventually though, I was just like, omg screw this I want to shoot in water again! And so I made as much preparations as I could, and did all the things I didn't do the first time -- lined the floor with carpet, tarp and blankets, turned up the heater, and hoped for the best. And with more assistants, we were also able to constantly add hot water to the pool and that definitely helped with the water temperature. So thank you my lovely team for the great effort in keep Germaine warm.

Besides water, the other key element here are the flowers. There's not much to say about it other than I just arrange them however I think will look good for the shot depending on the model's pose. But I do however want to share a random interesting thought that occurred to me the other day. :D

So pretty much every time I decide to use flowers in a shoot, I buy them from the deli/florist down the street on the day itself. And since the choices are based on the season and what they stock at the shop on that very day, it means the store's inventory kind of influences and decides how and what I'm shooting each time. Take a moment to absorb the significance of that.

It basically goes like, here is a complete stranger deciding on what flowers to sell at his stands on any given day, because he thinks they will sell, I go there, make an arbitrary selection, bring them home, shoot something that's kind of important to me, post it on the internets. That person literally set the direction for a part of my life for a day, and affects what you see in the end artwork. Isn't that kind of awesome and mind-boggling? Just a little bit?

So anyway, random thought is random! But it makes me really thankful for these guys selling flowers, cuz if not for them many of the pieces for Motherland Chronicles wouldn't have happened at all. Thank you deli market strangers, you're awesome.

And that's that! A really super random anecdote from doing the series and shooting at home. Hope everyone's having a great week so far~ 8D

Monday, February 24, 2014

Motherland Chronicles #44 - Germaine II

Motherland Chronicles #44 - Germaine II

Photography: Zhang Jingna
Hair: Junya Nakashima
Makeup: Tatyana Kharkova
Model: Germaine Persinger
Assistants: Tiffany Liu, Melissa Castor, Evenlyn Liu
Dress: Leonid Gurevich.
Necklaces: Harlequin Romantique
Shot with Profoto's new Umbrella Deep XL White~ Check out the post feature here. :D

Monday, February 10, 2014

Portrait Photography Cover & Interview, Feb 2014

Chinese interview! My first in a long long time. I'm embarrassed to admit that I had to do it in English because my command of Chinese is so atrocious. :( So thank you Demi for all the translation work! 

It's an introductory sort of interview about the way I work and stuff. Uploaded the text pages in hi-res for those who understand Chinese. Below, I also have my almost-original interview answers to some of the questions, edited because I wrote most of it in broken English to make it easy for translation. If it sounds cold/weird it's only because I meant to add personal touches in Chinese. :D 

Can you tell us more about you? How did you start photography?

I was born in Beijing and moved to Singapore when I was 8. I was an air rifle shooter for 6 years in the national team growing up there. I'm based in New York now.

I started photography during foundation year of art school. We had a small photo project in our visual studies class, and from there I toyed with the idea of experimenting with photography. I started shooting fashion-focused images when I went into Fashion Design for my major.

What do you think about fashion photography? Are you a fashion person?

I've always liked art. I think of fashion photography as a medium where I could in my own way create a beautiful picture, I like the idea of being able to do that. I'm not very obsessed about fashion or trends, but I greatly admire the artistic value, aesthetics and innovation of great designers. 

How would you describe or define your work?

The foundation of my work is beauty. Built upon it are hints of fantasy and romanticism followed by a painterly touch.

Does your personal shooting style change with time?

Certainly, I'm inspired by different things at different periods of my life. Change is constant, I don't try to fight it.

How did you find your style as a photographer?  

Like anyone else I suppose, my style comes from simply shooting a lot and doing what I think will make a good image, the taste of which I guess comes from my preference in art and who I am as a person.

What is the most important elements in your photography? Composition, space, time, light, feeling or emotion?

It's a combination, with feeling and composition at the foremost of it. Feeling comes from the experimentation of lighting most of the time, and composition wise I usually sketch out what I have in mind beforehand.

What kind of light do you prefer? Do you use strobes or mainly natural light? If it's mostly natural light, how do you find such a great lighting conditions?

I do a lot of studio work with strobes, but when on location it's mostly just natural light. I like both.

How do you pick models and make decision of their styling and makeup? Do you communicate with your model often and how?

If it's fashion or commercial work, I discuss picking the model with the stylist, editor or art director. Clothes and makeup are usually decided by the magazines for editorial work, while commercials would be a team effort in decision-making with the client's input.

For personal shoots it's all up to me. I pretty much get to pick whoever and whatever I like for model, styling and makeup direction, though of course sometimes my team contributes with suggestions or ideas for their specialization.

Communication wise, I'll let the model get familiar with my work and show them photos with mood of what I'm shooting, then direct them accordingly.

Who are your favorite photographers or artist? Is there any influence?

I love so many painters and illustrators, but John William Waterhouse and Yoshitaka Amano were my first influences. I'm also very much affected by friends who are illustrators and concept artists for movies, books and games. Paintings are generally more interesting to me since I can't draw.

How do you prepare for a photoshoot? What happens during the session?

I usually start with an idea or concept and go from there. Once I've decided on something, everything else is a reaction towards making that vision a reality. The right model, clothes, and hair and makeup all come from having the concrete idea first. On the day of the shoot the team will be prepared and know what we are going to do based on references I've already sent, so I just let everyone do their job. I'll check on hair and makeup from time to time to make sure the looks are what I want since everyone's interpretation of an idea can be different. And then we shoot.

Do you work alone or with a large team? Could you please do a brief explanation?

I work with a moderately small team for personal work, usually hair stylist, makeup artist, model, and 2-3 assistants. But there are definitely times where it's just me and the model, where I'll do her makeup and hair then we just shoot.

Fashion and commercial shoots will be bigger, there is usually a stylist and their assistants, hair stylist, makeup artist, manicurist, and sometimes the hair/makeup artists' assistants as well. Depending on the scale of the shoot, there may also set designers, editors, art directors, creative directors, etc.

You have cooperated with a lot of fashion magazines and some big brands. Which experience impressed you most?

Harper's Bazaar Singapore was the first major fashion magazine I shot with. My beauty editor Alli Sim had an incredible eye for style and details, I learnt to be very meticulous with hair, makeup, nails, clothes and accessories from shooting with her. Those are definitely some of the most memorable experiences for me.

What do you like to do in you spare time?

I like reading and video games, I guess travelling too, but it's more like a way of life. I love ancient cities and old towns.

If you could go back in time and tell yourself something that would have made the start of your career as a photographer easier, what would it be?

Nothing, my motto is to never regret. Whatever was difficult, I would have had to experience it to become the person I am today.


And that's pretty much it~ I've answered some of these questions in the past before, but I feel like it's been a couple of years and the way I work has definitely changed, I used to just wing it for so many things. Hope you enjoyed the read!