From posing for the lens to looking down it

Stephen Eastwood was a model now he's a photographer and a very good one at that. Here he tells ePHOTOzine how he's become a good business man and a force to be reckoned with in New York.

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Photo by Stephen Eastwood
 Photo by Stephen Eastwood.

When you work as a photographer in one of the world's iconic fashion cities you have to be good at what you do otherwise the harsh fashion and beauty world will spit you out and never let you back in. Stephen Eastwood works as a photographer in New York which, with his lack of training and his initial view that it would be a great way to meet more models, may come as a bit of surprise. What is even more of a surprise is that this model turned photographer can earn between $3,500 and $10,000 for one days work and there's usage rights of around $10,000 to $20,000 added to that too.

Stephen, who now shoots mainly beauty photographs, started out in the Maxim/FHM area of the industry where men said wow at the women with great bodies, over retouched skin and glowing hair.

"I wanted to change my style and books which were filled with what was called glamour. I was sick and tired of having to shoot bigger breasts to get people to say wow and making mediocre money. This is why I went to commercial Beauty,  I had an ego problem,  I needed them to say WOW! WOW! WOW! on every page. "

Ego aside, Stephen has to be commended for his business like approach to the industry which has given him an income in a place so many others fail.

"This is a business that many consider an art.  You can treat it like an art and die a starving artist or you can treat it like a business and make enough to be very happy, retire young, have plenty of free time to spend on your artistic endeavours and enjoy a life that has a constant flow of exciting, beautiful and fun loving young people keeping your days filled with interest.

Photo by Stephen Eastwood
 Photo by Stephen Eastwood.

Stephen is self-taught, most of his work evolved through plenty of trial and error and from looking at fashion magazines from the UK. He was a photography hobbyist and also a model before turning to the otherside of the lens. His job now is to sell a product and he is not in denial about that:

"We are not trying to help the world sadly, we are trying to create a need and desire in others to want to be like the models we portray, and that needs should manifest as a desire within the viewer to be like them, and hopefully that will lead them to the false conclusion that to use the product being shown/sold will help them achieve that in some way."

His job is to help the client make money not help teenagers struggling to reach the perfection they see in the pictures in their own lives.

"Being perfect sells, and if it changed I would change to shoot what is in demand, be it plus size, or ugly, it is what I do, not make people beautiful.  I make them appealing to those who buy the product. It's sad in some ways as the new ability and widespread use of retouching has made everyone accustomed to the perfect body, perfect face, perfect structure, and in many cases it is not perfect but rather impossible for even that model to have achieved without some retouching help. That all said, it is little different than any other time in history, we always had a symbol or ideal of beauty, often from painters, sculptors way back to the Egyptian times and possibly before. There are always some who are idealised in some fashion, that look has changed over time but the basic issue has stayed the same. Not everyone is born to be that way, and yet everyone is told they should be that way to be ideal. It can be problematic, but good parenting and upbringing can make very well adjusted people, even those who enter the field of modelling."

Like any type of business Stephen does what he has to do to make money. To do this he has to be good at networking, have some luck and most importantly be willing to work on projects he doesn't always agree with.

Photo of a model by Stephen Eastwood
 Photo by Stephen Eastwood.

"Business and marketing are the most important things for a photographer to learn and be good at.  Most photographers I know either knew people or assisted many photographers to meet enough people and develop enough of a portfolio to start getting catalogue and editorial work. This eventually led to getting mid sized campaigns then on to getting a rep to get larger and larger campaigns.  This field is very competitive and the reasons for success have largely to do with who you know, who likes you, how personable you are and an ability to deliver not your vision but what the client wants. Which is generally something that is more mainstream , commercial and broad based in its simplicity than the artistic work many photographers want to create to show their range of talent.  You get hired and rehired on your ability to deliver what the client wants and that is something the masses finds overall appealing, not what you want or find artistically challenging and creative." 

Photo by Stephen Eastwood
 Photo by Stephen Eastwood.

The ability to produce what someone else wants even when its all wrong and you disagree is what allows you to be successful and make money. Unlike other subjects such as medicine where people learn and start practising from the low level up, Stephen has found that some photographers start out wanting to create art and wont take jobs for big commercial outlets even if it means sleeping on the floor at a friends because they don't have enough money to pay the rent.

"They are artists and want to create art, medical students are workers and want to work. Medical students can have photography as a hobby and create art on the side, I know many in my own area that do so too. Photographers can work at photography and make a good living and create art as a hobby as well, but they generally do not want to, they want to be hired for a lot of money to do what they consider artistic. And that is the reason why photographers do not have a better success rate at making money. Being a famous fashion shooter is a very limited market for very few, being a successful catalogue, commercial, still life or event photographer is an easier path and is far more open, as the field is larger with less specificity needed, but the fame and prestige is not there. It seems that unlike many other walks of life modelling, photography, acting to a degree, seem to generate in people a certain level of pride at the expense of ethic. What I mean is they would rather not work at all than work at doing something that does not give them complete artistic freedom, they want to get paid to do what they want! Period! And that is not how the world works, even at the highest levels."

Stephen shoots both studio and location work. He likes studios for how easy shoots are to set-up. Locations are more of a challenge, they can make or break a shot.

Photo by Stephen Eastwood
 Photo by Stephen Eastwood.

"A great location cannot be beat, for fashion its far more important than for beauty however. I shoot beauty more often, as such we focus tightly on the face, face, head and maybe face, head and shoulders are about as much as we see in most of my beauty work. At that framing, no matter what background it is you don't see much of it.  If you do it's often very out of focus and at times no matter how beautiful, just not at all seen in the final shot. That all said, it comes with its drawbacks. Daylight creates issues that need to be dealt with, more power to overpower daylight is my normal option, but scrims to cut the light is sometimes an option as well. Next the location may not be perfect for what you want, and you have to work around it since many times you can not move or remodel the location. Timing on a location is rarely as free as a studio either."

Of course stress is something you can not escape when on a shoot. You could have taken the best picture you have ever taken, with the most beautiful model to find that your client doesn't like them and if this happens there's not really much you can do about it.

"You can hand the images over to the person paying your bill with a smile only to hear "that looks like that cheating, stealing ex wife of mine!" at which point he is not likely to be as enamoured as you and that's just the way it is. That little bit of uncertainty is always there no matter what, and that keeps you on edge and looking to improve and up your game as best you can."

Equipment wise Stephen likes the Canon 1Ds Mk III or the Phase 45 on a Hasselblad H2.

"I find that for nearly all work the Canon 1Ds MK III is more than enough and allows a much faster workflow and more versatile system to use. I have used everything from 8x12 and 4x5 down, and also some larger Polaroids for fun. I mainly used 4x5 and long 800-1200mm lenses, or an RZ67 with the 350 and longer lenses, mainly Astia film, but have since been all digital for several years."

Photo by Stephen Eastwood
 Photo by Stephen Eastwood.

As for lighting he chooses mainly Broncolor and Speedotron Blackline. He has a large collection of equipment from softboxes and beauty dishes to ringflashes and other random items.

"Additionally, I use HMI's fresnels, both HMI and Tungsten, Kino Flo and Cool lights from, LED litepanels, Lowel lighting, and a variety of other lights from flashlights to mini slaves to candles depending on the look and feel of the shoot."

When it comes to post production work it's something Stephen did in darkrooms so he isn't going to stop just because he turned to digital. He does most of his own post production work particularly when it comes to retouching skin and higher end fashion work.

Photo by Stephen Eastwood
 Photo by Stephen Eastwood.

"Never be afraid to use retouching to complete the job. It is what is expected in today.  People don't like to see what's real. They see perfect people and perfect skin, that is not possible in a day to day job, so being able to create it is what it is, and it is what will make you successful. Clients do not want to hear excuses, no matter how true or whose fault it is, they don't care. Make sure you realise that going in and make sure you can respond to everything and supply what they need and or want.

As a career, never make it about you or your views of beauty. If you want to succeed, understand that the client and the market the client is aiming for decide what is beautiful. You simply have to be able to accept that and make it come to life in your image despite many things that will work against you. At the end of the day it is all your responsibility to supply a great product, which in this case is an image that sells what the client wants to sell."

Visit Stephen Eastwood's website for more details.

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