Spring is springing! I returned from a week long trip away shooting for my sister site to find that even though it was night time, I could smell the blossom on the trees and I woke up in the morning to early sunrise and the annual “East side/West side nesting goose turf war”. The weather has improved and I cannot wait to shoot outside again- I’ve even picked up some new floaty pretty things and am working on improving my art-nude pose repetoire to really wow everybody this year.
I began writing this post as the weather turned in Autumn and though I am optimistically hoping we’ve seen the worst of the really bad weather, March and April can still be windy and cold so… better late-ish than never, right? 😉
Here’s my guide for getting the best from your model in a freezing situation:
All images by Imaginary Revolutionary unless otherwise credited
BEFORE THE SHOOT
1) Keep a ‘model kit’.
An experienced model will have many of the things listed but supplies can run out and sometimes there just isnt enough space in the suitcase for everything. 🙂 I’ve been so grateful if the cold has really got to me, I’ve slipped on a rock and I’m hungry and the photographer has been able to offer me a plaster or water to wash the cut as well as a blanket and a snack.
– A towel (for changing and/or wet feet)
– Cereal bars or Mars bars (Food is always good but Mars bars are for serious sugar crashes- hopefully it shouldn’t come to that!)
– A couple of bottles of water
– Loo roll. (Especially if you’re in the middle of nowhere!)
– Plasters and painkillers
– A blanket and possibly hand warmers if it’s REALLY freezing
– A flask of hot drinks and a hot water bottle if you know you are really going to suffer for your art.
2) Book an experienced model.
I know professional models charge higher rates but you will get a wider range of poses and more usable images in a shorter amount of time with a model used to cold weather photoshoots- especially when it comes to art-nude work. Overall, the extra cost is offset by the level of productivity.
If you really want/need to work with a new model, bear in mind that a lot of ‘tips and tricks’ come from experience and what may seem obvious may not have occurred to a total newbie- even down to the fact that they are going to be very uncomfortable in the first place! Tell them to bring warm stuff and food.
3) Plan ahead
Have two or three overall images in your mind that you would like to achieve. Work on getting those first and then consider everything else a bonus. This counts doubly on windy days when your model will freeze much faster than on still days.
4) Remember that shooting as a duo or group may halve the work for you…. but it doubles the work for your model.
If you’re working with another photographer who can act as assistant, your model must pose for you, wait for your assistant to set up their camera and then pose for them too. You may feel rested and ready to go again after your break from shooting but your model will not have stopped. This is not to say that duo shoots cannot work- they definitely can and I have had some fantastic and memorable times. Comfort is relative and we won’t be warm and cosy but this is how to help models out and get the best from us:
– Offer your model regular fully-clothed, snack-eating warm-up breaks even if that means waiting an extra 5-10 minutes for them. Cold muscles are stiff, tense muscles and you’ll get better results if your model can warm up to a degree.
– Understand that standing still in the cold, half naked while somebody does a lighting test does not count as a break.
– The second you have your shot, chuck the model their clothing or blanket (especially socks or something to warm their feet) and ask if they want a snack or some of whatever is in the flask.
– Your model will be far more willing and happy to push for the extra shot and pose if they feel you care about their safety and comfort.
5) Check out the location beforehand and have a Plan B.
Certain places- especially involving water- are often extremely dangerous depending on the time of year. It’s a good idea to check a day or so before to make sure the pretty little brook has not become a rushing torrent. I highly recommend the fantastic Marmalade- Urbex Model’s article about shooting in watery locations. This woman knows what she’s talking about and takes stunning pictures.
If the location is absolutely impossible in the conditions, have a backup location- even if you have to postpone the nudes in sweeping landscapes in favour of arty beauty shots using the reflections in your car mirror. ;P
I was shooting a project with Magpie Tommy many years ago- we returned to the same bit of woodland and I posed in a similar manner by the same tree. One day, in biting wind, we arrived to find somebody had driven a tractor through our patch. Cue us frantically replanting bracken with numb fingers.
We got the shot though… 😉
DURING THE SHOOT
1) Timing is everything
If you’re working with a team of stylists, start somewhere warm, well-lit and indoors so they can get the first look ready in relative comfort and don’t have to contend with numb fingers early. If not, advise your model to arrive ready to shoot so that she doesn’t have to do her make-up outside.
Set up your shot before asking the model to change or undress. Clothes should come off at the last possible second after all the experimenting is over and you have the perfect light and exposure.
2) Check on your model
Experienced models know their limits. Still, it is nice to be asked if we’re okay or need a minute to get warm again. (Though don’t worry- you don’t need to check every moment- we’ll tell you if we need to take five.)
When I first began modelling, I was so fixated on doing a good job and being ‘professional’ that my safety would suffer and I’d push myself to the point of danger especially in the cold. Newer models may be more worried about saying they’re in pain or too cold so check on them at slightly more regular intervals (but not every 30 seconds!) and reassure any model of any experience level in advance that if they are uncomfy or need a break, to say so and they can take a few minutes out.
3) Be on the lookout for warning signs.
Has your chatty, enthusiastic model gone silent? Are they shaking with cold? Pale, or flushed? Ask them if they are okay. Take anything other than an immediate confident “yes” as a signal to wrap the shoot. Most photographers I have worked with have been fantastic if we’re both too battered by the cold to continue but I’ve heard a fair few horror stories about models being asked to stay in the same place with the cold getting into their bones, while photographers shoot and shoot and shoot. I assume anybody reading this post wouldn’t be that photographer in the first place but I couldn’t not mention it.
ADVICE FOR MODELS
1) Be prepared
Carry snacks and buy a hot drink before you arrive. Make sure you have a warm jumper or coat in your bag as well as plasters and any other medication you want to have. Keep snacks close by as they can make all the difference. The diet may go out of the window but I find a protein bar, chocolate or something like a flapjack is better than nibbling on nuts and grapes, which are healthier but don’t really fill you up.
2) Know yourself.
I know it’s one of my ‘suits all situations’ pieces of advice but seriously- what can you cope with? If you’re okay with cold, still weather but not roaring wind then take that shoot in a freezing, snowy but sheltered mountain valley- not the one with blowing material and streaming hair on the top of the cliff. 🙂
At what point do you need to stop and warm up. When you start to shiver? When your fingers go numb? When can you tell that the cold has reached your muscles? Once the cold has reached your bones, it’s all over so listen to your body and warm up before that.
3) Don’t be afraid to ask for a break.
You’re entitled to a break! Especially if your ears are going to drop off and your nose is gushing water down your face. You’re a human being and being warm(er) and less hungry will make you feel so much better- even if you know the pictures will be beautiful anyway.
4) Relax your face and try not to tense your jaw
I wish I had known this earlier! It’s one of the things that I notice about myself as a new model vs now. Luckily my tensed face suited the style on the left (my first mostly-nude shooting trip back in 2010) as I was going for the water vampire/evil siren look but there were plenty of other pictures from earlier shoots with this same expression and they did not work! The right is a later shoot- 2012. I was memorably freezing during this shoot and running around to keep warm in between shots but I’d learned how to relax my face more.
Left pic by John Downs, right pic by Imagesse
GENERAL GUIDE: (This may be different depending on your level of health.)
Shivering, goosebumps: You’re cold. You can usually work through it or do some more active poses to warm up.
Stiff muscles, fingers and toes going numb. The cold is in your muscles. Take a warm-up break and wait for your fingers and toes to regain a little feeling.
Actually shaking with cold, fingers and feet numb, you’re clumsy and cannot get warm: The cold is in your bones and this is dangerous. Stop the shoot immediately, if not sooner.
Over to you guys! Any more tips about shooting in the cold? Anything I’ve missed? If so, I’ll add things to this post. 🙂
Thankyou to all the photographers I’ve worked with who have been wonderful in freezing conditions, especially Imaginary Revolutionary who was a perfect example of how to shoot in the cold on a dawn photoshoot with me last month and whose images are the illustrations for this post! 🙂