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What Photoshoots are Actually Like

What Photoshoots are Actually Like

Update: I changed my name from “Mimi” to “Marty” and started using he/him pronouns in July 2019. This article keeps the original “Mimi” self-references in order to maintain a sense of timeline.

Photoshoots are my favorite form of escapism.

I’ve been toying with the idea of having two narratives per post, one through photos and one through text. Now, when I’m shooting photos, I think about the story I’m trying to tell. What kind of feeling am I conveying through the setting, the clothes I’m wearing, and the poses I’m using?

That sounds a lot more poetic than it is. Photo shooting in general sounds really glamorous — it conjures up thoughts of exotic settings, beautiful clothes, flawless makeup, and a dedicated photographer/crew following you around. The reality, at least for me, is pretty different. I use my iPhone 7 camera, my entire “photo studio” fits into a tote bag, and I find time to take photos between classes in obscure spots where there are no people. The majority of my photoshoots are done for fun with my own clothes, although I do sometimes work with sponsors and local boutiques.

I’m lucky to live in a gorgeous area with lots of tropical plants, beaches, colorful walls, and beautiful houses, and am taking advantage of the Sarasota scenery during my last semester in college. I’m the stylist, visual director, photographer, and model for all of my shoots, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That being said, I sometimes bring people on shoots, and there are always some aspects to the process that tend to surprise them. Here are the main culprits:

My Instagram husband is a an iPhone tripod

 My full-time Instagram husband‘s name is Christopher. He gets his name from Alan Turing’s mostly-fictionalized childhood love interest from my favorite movie, The Imitation Game. Although I can’t say “higher, babe” and have him shoot a stunning aerial view of the top of my head (not that I’d really want one), Christopher is very versatile to take on shoots and has been with me everywhere from Florida beaches to Philadelphia murals to California train stations.

When I first started out, I’d have my mom or my friend Angelo take my photos, but I feel awkward/vain as fuck holding poses in front of other people, and I don’t like wasting their time asking for retakes, so I decided to take the pictures myself. Now, when I go on shoots, I clip in my phone, set Christopher up a few feet away from me, grab the Bluetooth shutter, and snap away. Low maintenance, low fuss.

I keep all of my heels in the trunk of my car

There was a time when I actually did wear sky-high heels everywhere, but ow, did my calves and feet paid the price afterward. These days, I’m more of a flip-flop and UGG person off camera. The heels are still pretty for shoots, though, and I keep all of them in my trunk so that I can easily switch them out between takes. This way, I’m never constrained to only bringing a few pairs along with me to a location, and I don’t waste any time being indecisive.

A lot of randos stare and judge

I call this “Mimi’s First Law of Photoshoots”. It states that if you’re in a nice outfit striking poses in front of a glorified selfie stick, then the people around you will stare and judge. Sometimes, they will stand there and look at you for uncomfortably long periods of time. They may also point, laugh, and talk in loud voices about how vain you must be.

This no longer fazes me (although the staring did totally creep me out when I first started). I just don’t shoot in sketchy areas and have learned to block everything out when shooting. I put my photos up on the public Internet for people to stare, judge, and talk shit about anyway, so there’s no reason I should give a damn about them doing so in person.

Some of those randos come up and talk to me

On occasion, a few of the aforementioned looky-loos will come up and talk to me. Sometimes they’re creepy, sometimes they’re rude, and sometimes they’re actually really nice and just curious about what I’m doing.

I used to be all OH-SHIT-NO-TALKING-TO-STRANGERS, but now I answer them cordially without giving away any personal information and/or letting them distract me from the actual photo-taking. It’s not a crime to be curious, and again, I’m essentially already talking to thousands of strangers on the Internet. If the questioning gets to be too much, I politely ask them to leave, or I finish up quickly and leave myself.

The wind constantly blows Christopher over

You know those shots where my hair and dress are dramatically windswept? That effect comes at the price of Christopher being knocked over every five shots. He’s not too bottom-heavy, so the wind is his mortal enemy. This is especially true when I’m shooting by the water.

To combat this problem, I prop him up with a chair, a tree, my bag, or whatever else I can find in the area. When I’m at the beach, I half-bury him in the sand.

I recently bought these weight bags and am waiting for Amazon Prime to deliver them — hopefully, the wind will be a non-issue in the future! The bags are literally just well-structured containers that you can fill with heavy objects and attach to your tripod’s stand. I plan on putting my algorithms textbooks in mine ?

I sweat a lot, like a whore in church

Although posing isn’t a particularly intense physical activity, I come back from almost every photoshoot covered in sweat, with my makeup running off my face. #soGlam

This is partly from being in the swamp-like, humid Florida heat for an hour or more at a time, and partly from squatting a lot in heels to check shots every few minutes. I don’t really mind it — it’s absolutely worth it to be around such pretty scenery.

Most poses are highly unnatural and awkward

Striking the perfect pose means standing up as straight as you can, and then a little more, turning my head just the right amount, et cetera. Since I have no photographer to give me instructions, I’ve learned how to pose through a lot of trial and error.

Using props means … finesse. I shot these photos yesterday at a local tea shop, and to every employee/customer/my own amusement, I tipped the orange table over and fell on my ass the first time I tried to shoot this pose (I should’ve known how light the table was going to be!).

I also can’t count the amount of times I’ve knocked shit over, fallen, tripped, or gotten my clothes dirty because of poses that required props or leaning against stuff.

Photoshoots are really therapeutic

Unless the weather is awful or I’m so swamped that I can’t even take an hour off, I do a photoshoot every day. It’s a way to dress up, go outside, and take time for myself, all things I probably wouldn’t do otherwise. When I’m in “the Zone” of taking photos, I forget all about the upcoming deadlines, tight schedules, and other obligations I have, and always come back with plenty of creative energy.

Shooting photos has made me think about details such as proportion, color theory, and balance, and I’ve noticed tons of little things I would never have caught before. Despite the weird and not-so-glamorous things that can happen during a photoshoot, taking pictures (of both myself and others) and telling a visual tale is one of my favorite hobbies. I’m constantly learning, experimenting, and improving, and I’m grateful to have this outlet. ♚

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© 2019 by Marty Noel Chenyao. All rights reserved.

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