Sean and Seng, good friends of mine in London, are renowned fashion photographers. They travel the globe for fancy photo shoots that end up in only the best fashion magazines (Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, etc). Other than being just really cool dudes… and artistic geniuses, I thought interviewing them would be a good idea for this blog because… I really like to look good in my travel photos and I thought you might as well. So, I sat down with Sean and Seng over breakfast at the Electric Diner in Notting Hill – hot tip: this is a great place to eat when you are in London.
Me: What direction do you most often give women that you’re shooting in order to get a better pic?
Sean: I think the best direction is just to get the sitter to be comfortable. So whatever that takes. I mean, there’s a whole range of like tricks, I suppose, you use. Just making somebody feel really safe and comfortable means that you’re going to get the best from them more than like getting a particular angle. That’s what I would say really.
** Get comfortable in front of the camera!!!
Seng: I guess maybe convince you you’re beautiful. It is part of like making you feel comfortable, I guess, to make them feel beautiful. And that might include hair, makeup or the way you speak to them and getting them to feel at ease with you as a photographer.
**Tell yourself you’re beautiful ( you are!)
Sean: But if that fails and they don’t feel comfortable with their hair and makeup or the clothes but you like it, then there’s another part. Convincing them to trust you. That’s also sometimes the difference with when you approach somebody for a sitting or they approach you or it’s like collaboration and they trust you more. And they trust that you’re going to make them look beautiful because they like your work.
So I think it’s about comfort, trust and feeling sexy and beautiful also.
**Got that? Comfort, trust and feeling beautiful = a great pic.
Me: Don’t be nervous that the camera is going to pick up every flaw… like let go of those thoughts and those feelings. Is that what you would say?
Sean: I suppose in a sort of a natural setting, like being in a studio or a location, and being in clothes or hair and makeup that are not your own, I think the mind just works in a way that you start thinking of the worst case scenario. How awful you’re going to look in this context or like with hard lighting or something like that.
So I suppose it’s like, as a sitter, you start thinking of the worst possible outcomes. And I suppose the photographer’s job is to turn that around and make them feel more beautiful and more comfortable. Like, oh, my God. It looks beautiful. Maybe you show them something. You show them the first three shots. You show how the lighting is going to work or how retouching is going to come into the equation later on.
Seng: Or not show them.
Me: Yeah, or not. *we laugh
Seng: But it’s worse to show them and they start freaking out because, as much as these days in the digital age now, they usually watch… I suppose, with a lot of celebrities, I think they like to watch as the shots come through on the camera. Sometimes it’s not a good thing because it’s not the shot and it’s not the finished product. Especially these days with mostly retouches being done after the shot and then that’s what they usually see. When they see the raw process of the files, they freak out. I suppose because this is not what they imagined themselves to look like.
**See?! Celebs freak out and aren’t always comfortable in front of the camera as well.
Sean: I think especially on a beauty or a celebrity job, or a beauty-celebrity job then I think the photograph itself, the actual picture you take is probably just like, you’re just 20% of the way there. It’s like everything really happens afterwards in post-production.
**This just confirms that what we see in ads and magazines aren’t reality – so trying to achieve what you see in those images isn’t going to lead to happiness… and also isn’t even real!
Me: Okay. That’s good to know as a non-model person. Like we see all these retouched images and it’s hard to not feel all your flaws… because you see all these images that you think you should be like them.
Sean: Well, we’ve been on jobs where you have to get the shot in 2 minutes for a beauty portrait. It’s really not ideal but sometimes it could just work out like that with a celebrity. Like after the hair and makeup like changes and changes and changes and then you’re left with a few minutes to take the picture. And all you can actually do is just make sure you have something on film or on the camera and then discard the work. Then the work begins to maybe pasting a few images together. Really, it’s quickly about changing everything.
Me: Yikes. That’s a lot… So segueing just a little. When you see normal women, so women who aren’t being photographed all the time, who aren’t celebrities or models posing in photos, are there any like mistakes or anything that you see commonly that you think, “Oh, if she would’ve just…” or, “Oh, why did she stand like that,” or “Why did she sit like that?” Is there anything that you think is a fix all?
Seng: I’ll say experiment and work all your angles. I think some angles work better for people and some angles don’t work with other people. I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way. I think it’s just like whatever works for whoever.
**Practice and find your best angle!
Me: How do you find your angle? How do you find your best angle, do you think? Just like take a ton of photos of yourself?
Sean: Yeah. I think even just taking like pictures of yourself could be really good. I know a few friends that are so good at that and they literally just like took pictures of themselves, like, naked. They send me naked pictures of themselves and they’ll be like, “What do you think of this? This one looks good.”
I think it’s better to find not one angle. Just find a few angles. Because you do see pictures of some people in the same pose every time. But I have some friends that are so good at it. Actually, they’re better than us. I think girls are quite good at knowing their angles. And I think it’s through experimentation.
Seng: And they’ve done it so many times. I’d just be like, “Wow, how did you even get that picture? I could never do that picture.” And that’s because they really took pictures on their iPhones.
I think you just need to do it a lot, practice, experiment. See what works for you.
**Practice! Practice! and Practice!
Me: Okay. Because I never know. I’m always like, ugh. And people will say, “Oh, that’s a great photo of you.” And I’m like, “Is it?” Because I don’t really think so. Like I’ll go through that whole thing.
Sean: The same thing. I also don’t think that people often know where they look good in photographs. I don’t think people… You know, it depends. Some people don’t know their best angle.
I mean, I think that’s the funny thing with Instagram is that celebrities have suddenly got like direct access to their public. And you see some people like maybe Madonna or something and you’ll be like, gosh. And she, she doesn’t really know her best angle or she doesn’t really…
And some people don’t come across so well on a platform like that, where they have so much control. Sometimes they’re really good at picking people to work with but they’re not necessarily best in picking their own…
**Guys?! Celebs aren’t always great at taking photos of themselves, either… don’t beat yourself up.
Me: They’re not objective. Yeah.
Sean: Yes. Sometimes what you’re looking for, like maybe Madonna, what she’s looking for herself is still like a young girl, which might not be an image made because you have her best self. I think that could be something else.
Me: Yeah, she needs to be like a really strong woman. She’s holding onto her past… Is it better to stand or to sit in photos? Like travel photos, casual travel photos.
Sean: It basically depends. If you don’t… really… I don’t know. It really depends. Because say we don’t have the best figure, maybe it’s best to stand. But I think that’s the other thing when knowing your angle, also you’ll be knowing your body.
If they’ve got short limbs maybe sitting is not a great idea because they’re going to like always sink into… your body is going to sink into itself. It’s just really knowing your body type as well as knowing your angle. It’s like you’re going to have to know how to work your body and what’s best for you.
It also depends what you’re wearing.
Seng: Yeah. I suppose then there’s a few tricks, isn’t it? I suppose like you want to look a bit slimmer I guess you’re going to stand 45 degrees at an angle to the camera. Simple things like that. I suppose your body posture. Don’t slump or slouch your body if you’re already skinny and you want to look cool. I don’t know. Things like that.
But obviously, if you’re a bit curvy and you don’t want to look dumpy, don’t slouch and just sit. Like you’ll have to have a good posture, I suppose.
Sean: But, then, I guess like sitting could hide some sins. If you’ve got potbelly but you’re quite slim everywhere, I guess sitting could be a good idea where the arm drapes over your lap or something like that. I think it really depends.
It really depends what you want to appear to be as well. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter like if you’re a different body shape or whatever. Maybe you should be like really…
Seng: Ture to yourself.
Sean: True to yourself and just like…
Me: Yeah, just embrace it.
Sean: Embrace your flaws. And that’s what makes you you. It’s what makes you interesting. It’s what makes you different to everyone else.
But if you want to appear to this like what we perceive as like the idea, yeah, it’s really like playing around. See how you feel comfortable.
**We’re back to feeling beautiful the way you are.
Me: Yeah. And give me some more of those tricks. Like standing 45-degrees toward the camera.
Seng: Well, I don’t know much about tricks, because I suppose a lot of people that do selfies, they always take it from above so that they look top-heavy rather than bottom-heavy.
Me: Oh! I do that.
Sean: Like guys at clubs, they always want to be photographed to the side of pictures because it makes their arms and shoulders look bigger than if you’re in the middle. So I suppose like it might be the opposite for a girl. Maybe she’d want to be photographed in the middle.
Me: So go to the middle.
Sean: I think the iPhone like distorts things with wide angles. So it distorts things at the side.
Seng: So if you’re over the side you look bigger whereas in the middle you’re best.
Sean: In a group shot, they all look smaller than you.
Seng: So if you’re a girl who wants to look slim, you probably want a shot in the middle.
Sean: If you’re a guy that wants to look bigger on the shoulders and arms, you want to stand at the side.
Me: I love that.
Seng: That’s one trick I learned myself.
Me: I had no idea.
Sean: Also I think people that are into doing selfies, it’s not really part of what we do or are really interested in, but I know that my friends that are, they’re so good at it. That’s why I guess they must be experimenting all the time to know these sort of things I’ve got no idea.
But also at club recently, we were doing this sort of group photo and someone was like, “No, don’t use your flash.” But then there’s not enough light. And so they used the light from a torch from another phone to light the picture. And I’m like, “My God, you’ve got all the tricks.” And the pictures looked amazing. Everyone looked so good.
Seng: Because they have two lights from their iPhones and one little camera taking a picture without a flash. So it’s like they’re being lit by two iPhones.
Me: That makes sense because you’re getting all the light.
**Blanche DuBois was onto something…
Sean: Yes, exactly
Seng: Yes. People that are really into this culture of selfies, they know much more than we do. I don’t know. We’re really not that on top. I was so surprised with these new techniques people are doing. It’s just quite brilliant.
Me: I didn’t know that. I need to up my selfie game. I saw a case where like lights from the front. It’s like when you’re taking the selfie it like lights you nicely. But anyway, let’s pause and eat.
Okay. So before I ask you about travel photography, because I want to ask about that, what are your thoughts on iPad and iPhone pics and selfie sticks? Love them or hate them?
Sean: Selfie sticks I think they’re probably something you should keep hidden under your bed. I never show anyone. Never be seen. I think the look of having one is pretty worrisome. Ask a stranger to take your picture.
But I think, like in the privacy of your own home, why not? I’ve had photos on iPhones that largely look great. The cameras are so good I just think they’re really, yeah, they’re so great. I love taking pictures on the iPhone and iPad.
Seng: Less is more.
Sean: Yeah. That’s the thing. Experiment with everything. Experiment with the quality of pictures also. Sometimes less detail could be better. I think that’s the thing with the big change in TV. Like cheap soap operas used to be comfortable with the way they filmed it. Now, everything is filmed on high definition. I hear that they’re really scared and having all sorts of surgery.
Me: A bit of the mystery. A bit of the softness.
**We’re back to Blanche DuBois…
Next week I chat with Sean and Seng about another passion of theirs: travel photography. Where they discuss getting an amazing travel pic, what cameras they use and lots more.
**To see Sean+Seng’s work check them out here!