Behind the Scenes at a Sam Villa Photo Shoot


I just got back from a shoot in Montreal where we shot two collections and an assortment of editorial images. Being able to collaborate with talented people is vital to the growth of a stylist so I try to shoot numerous times a year, not only to fuel creativity, but to fuel my business, so it’s important for me to be extremely prepared. I need to maximize time, inspire the team, and creatively collaborate in an organized way so that the images/collections created are not only beautiful and interesting, but a representation of the brand and marketable. It seems like an easy task, but anyone who has been on set knows circumstances can sway us from our agendas – time flies, feedback on the looks need to be juggled, hours can be long, and staying on point can be difficult at times, yet essential. It’s hard work - a lot of time and effort goes into planning a shoot, but it’s also a great opportunity to learn from and be inspired by others, and is usually extremely rewarding for all involved.

Right now, we’re intrigued by warriors. Mood boards are my preferred form for communicating concepts to the group, because nothing explains an idea like an image – lighting, color, shot angles, and many other elements have room for interpretation. Mood boards help get everyone on the same page. They are also a great starting point for elaboration. Sometimes a mood board will take us in another direction during a conversation, so it’s important to be focused and open as well. Once everyone is invested in the concept, we break down each look and plan what products/tools are needed to create the best and fastest version on set, and anything that can be done before hand usually is - a bonus for saving time!

  A great concept is crucial, but you can’t have a great shot without the right model. It’s no secret that most models, especially top tier models, are not willing to have their cut and/or color altered much so to ease their fear (and their agency’s), we explain the looks and try to feature images on our casting announcement so they are aware of what we’re looking to do ahead of time. Once that’s out of the way, we look at posture, bone structure and personality which are key – and trust me, a model with a great personality makes the entire show run so much smoother.

Running a smooth operation is probably one of the most important aspects of creatively collaborating with a team, otherwise a shoot can become unproductive. A lot of the budget goes into the studio, photographer, etc., so you need to maximize your time to stay within budget and ensure a good return on your investment. Caffeine and music help, and so does having everything you need on site including tools, products, wardrobe, accessories, wefts, wigs, and all the other little things needed to make the magic happen like fishing line, sewing needles, spray paint, powder, glue, stockings, metal hangers, etc.

  On this last shoot, we served gluten-free food and it helped to keep that 3 PM drag at bay, but that’s not to say there still weren’t emergency sugar runs (wink). And with people posting things to social media, running out for last minute supplies, checking email and juggling responsibilities, it can get a bit frantic, so I like to stop what I’m doing periodically and address the group as a whole to check in. It’s a good opportunity to check in with the team to build morale and assess where everyone is. I want these shoots to be a learning opportunity for everyone on set, including myself. There’s nothing more inspiring than gathering a team of stylists to collaborate and then capturing the magic on film, forever. It truly is magical when everything is going well, but it does take management. I assign each member tasks throughout the shoot to keep them interested and on point. At the same time, shoots are crazy and very rarely go exactly as planned, so everyone has to be flexible and open to moving around, as well as able to do other things in the nick of time. When this happens, it’s a great learning opportunity. Sometimes the best ideas are spawned from embracing chaos.

And it is usually in the midst of all the bedlam that you get that perfect shot. It may not be the shot you were going for, but it could be much, much better. The key to pulling off a great shot is being open and flexible, yes stay on point, but be open to looking at achieving your vision from another perspective. There is always more than one way to do almost everything - the failure is in not doing anything at all! And, when you get the shot, you know it, you just feel it the minute you look at the monitor - it’s magic!

I want to pay tribute to all the talented artists on this last shoot (list below) – hands in the middle - YOU ROCK!! I also want to share some of their hot tips for planning and executing photo shoots:

1. What is the most important thing to do when preparing for a shoot?
“You want a trustworthy team, so take the time to cultivate relationships in your community with people you can collaborate with. The more you work and network, the more you will be on the radar for higher quality talent and your experience will grow. And you have to be willing to work for free sometimes; some of the best opportunities to work with amazing talent does not come with a fee, but it is priceless.” -Geneva Cowen

“Build a clear vision that can be communicated visually and verbally to the entire team via a mood board that defines all aspects of the shoot: hair, makeup, wardrobe, background, lighting, model posing, and even props. The clearer the vision is leading up to the shoot, the more efficient your team will be at creating flawless final images that are on point.” -Andrew Carruthers  

“It’s essential to have a story involved with each shoot. There’s no shortage of amazing talent creating beautiful content, so telling a complete story with an image can set you apart and inspire others. That’s why it’s essential to surround yourself with a skilled, trustworthy team that understands the vision.” -David Boyd

“Everybody must understand the goal of the shoot and be qualified to achieve the desired look and feel within the given timeframe. Look at the portfolio of each team member, do tests for photography, styling, props, hairstyling and make-up, and if possible, visit the studio with each lead member before the actual shoot.” -Stéphane Legros

2. What is the most important thing to do onset at a shoot?
“You can create the most amazing hair and have the most beautiful wardrobe and makeup, but if you do not have the right photographer and model, your vision will not translate. Take the time to put the right team in place and you’ll get the shot.” -Geneva Cowen

“Be flexible… sometimes when you have such a clear vision developed, you can become cemented to it even if it's not working. Some of the best images come when you admit 'this just isn't working' and you turn the shoot in a fresh direction… collaborate with your team to create a shift instead of frustrating everyone by pushing an idea that is falling flat.” -Andrew Carruthers

“Working with Andrew, Sam and Geneva taught me that maintaining and cultivating the right energy with models is essential. I have never worked with a team that places such emphasis on treating talent with the utmost respect and care. Minding facial expressions and personal energy around the models and making sure they understand how important they are to the process and how much their contribution is appreciated is so important. Their face (usually based on how they’re feeling) can make or break a shot.” -David Boyd

“Be on time with a good attitude and stay open to other's ideas and criticism. Knowing everybody is there to realize the same goal, have faith and trust in others. I also like to create a playlist of music to keep the energy and mood of the shoot up and fun.” -Stéphane Legros

  Sam Villa ArTeam
Geneva Cowen – US
Andrew Carruthers – US, Education Director
David Boyd - US
Rafael Bertelli - US
Stéphane Legros - CAN

Redken Artist Support
Mary Urban - US
Rebekah Bradshaw - US
Kevin Lewis - CAN
Emily Jacob - CAN
Ludivic Leroy - CAN

Shalem Mathew - US; Photographer -
Jeremie Cote & Pascal Sauvageau JP Concept - CAN; Wardrobe Styling -
Trevor Haugen - US; Videographer -
Jordan Towner - Assistant
Marie Laure Larrieu - CAN; Makeup

Aspire for MORE!
-Sam Villa, Founding Partner of the Sam Villa® brand and Education Artistic Director for Redken 5th Avenue;

[All images courtesy of Glow Communications]

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