10 Lessons You Can Learn From My First Bikini Photo Shoot
“A bikini photo shoot! What have I done?” This was the question racing through my head when I volunteered to contribute a series of articles for Sexy Women Photography.
Not only did I choose a different style of photography than I am used to by choosing to do a bikini photo shoot, but doing it in an environment of fickle Autumnal weather. To cap it off, I’d be using expensive camera gear near sand and seawater: something any sensible photographer tries to avoid.
Available Natural Light. No Modifiers At All.
To simplify things, I elected to do the bikini photo shoot using only the available light and without any light modifiers like reflectors and scrims. My choice of natural light was for two reasons: the first is that I don’t have any strobes; secondly, I did not want to be single handedly mucking about with the lights on a beach when I should be focusing on shooting. If I had an assistant it might be a different story, but I did not have that luxury.
Many people use reflectors and scrims when they are shooting natural light, but I chose not to use these for the same reason as the strobes: without an assistant I did not want to be wasting time trying to position light modifiers. Instead, I wanted to challenge myself to get great images by working with the light I had.
So why did I put myself in this position? To challenge myself. I believe that you should regularly push yourself outside your comfort zone in order to improve. The more uncomfortable you feel, the better. The risk will be higher, but the potential rewards greater.
In this article, I’ll talk about my experience planning and performing my first ever bikini shoot and the ten lessons I learnt that will help your bikini shoot go smoothly.
So after overcoming my panic, I got my notepad and started planning for the shoot. I began by jotting down the following things that needed to be done before the shoot:
- Choose a location
- Research the topic and create a mood board
- Find a model
- Schedule the shoot
- Print out copies of the model release
Finding a Location
I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to possible locations for a bikini shoot as I’m surrounded by beaches. To help me choose, I set some criteria that must be met. Namely, that it must not be crowded, must have some interesting features for backgrounds and get full sun all afternoon. Although I had some beaches in mind, I also asked family and friends for suggestions and Forresters Beach, here on the east coast of Australia, kept coming up.
Because I was planning to shoot at around midday on a Saturday, I visited the beach at the same time. This gave me a better feel for how crowded it was and the light and shadows on the beach at that time of the day. As you can see from the video below, it was not crowded and I found a number of areas that would make good scenes to shoot.
At the entry point to the beach, there was a wooden pole sticking out of the sand that would make a good prop. Farther south of the beach, there was a rocky outcrop with many large boulders and a cave that would make cool backgrounds and props.
As I walked around the beach, I noted areas of interest and the possible sequence of locations for the shoot. In my head, I planned out the shoot to work gradually towards the boulders, returning to the wooden pole to finish up. Having such a plan is important because it gives confidence to both you and the model that you know what you are doing.
Whilst on the beach, I noted where the sun was and what areas would be in shadow. I also looked for any hills or buildings in the west that may cast the beach into early shadow. Thankfully, there was nothing that would obstruct the sun early. I estimated that we’d have at least four hours in full sun.
Now that I had found a location, I needed to get a clear picture in my mind of the type of images I would be aiming for in the shoot. To do this, I hit the Internet in search of inspiration.
Lesson 1: Importance of Preparation
Scout the location beforehand and plan out the shoot: the more you plan ahead, the more confident you will be on the day.
Looking at similar images is important because it helps both me and the model get an idea of the sort of look and feel we will be going for.
I have found that Pinterest is a wonderful resource for inspiration as you can easily find images and pin them to a board. I can then share that board to models so that they can get a clear idea about the feel and look for the shoot. An added bonus is that the model can add to it ideas of her own. With a clear idea of the sort of images I was going for, I was ready to post my casting calls on the Internet.
Finding a Model
There are a number of forums around the world for connecting with models and you may have different results to me. I’d love to know what your experiences have been like with these forums and others that you have had success with. I have ranked the following forums in order preference, based on my experience here in Australia:
My preference is based on the amount and the quality of casting call applications on each forum. By quality, I mean candidates that actually respond to you after they have applied for a shoot and who turn up to the shoot.
This is what I wrote for the casting call for all three sites.
In the casting call I included a montage from the mood board to give the potential applicants an idea what the shoot was going to be like. This ensures models are clear what the aim of the shoot is before they apply.
I then sat back and waited for the applications to come in. I found that a week was required to get a decent number of applications across the different forums: about ten of reasonable quality.
When assessing the applicants, I was looking for models that were in good shape and had some sort of striking feature of their appearance. For example, a beautiful smile, stunning eyes or an interesting tattoo. I also considered their experience as an experienced model can really help your shoot because they know how to pose and can even offer suggestions for styling and locations. With these factors in mind, I chose a model from the shortlist and messaged her to set up the shoot date and time.
Scheduling The Shoot
You have to allow a several hours for a model to get back to you as they tend to take this long to respond to messages: don’t panic, be patient and not pushy. When they do respond, I provide details about the shoot including the location. An excellent way is to share a link to the location on Google Maps. The model can easily click on it to launch google maps on her phone and find her way.
I explained to the model that the shoot was TFP and that she would get a number of images for her use. This leads to the next important detail that must be dealt with: the legalities.
Getting The Legals Right
A couple of days before the shoot, I asked the model to look at the model release that she will sign on the shoot day. It is important to do this before the shoot because you do not want the model to object to something on the day and find that you cannot proceed with the shoot.
I would urge you to get a model release signed for every shoot you do (read a detailed article about signing contracts here). It is not bulletproof protection from legal issues, but it is vastly improves your case if it ever goes to court.
I have found using a model release works in your favour because it portrays a professional image to the models.
On the night before the shoot, I printed out two copies of the model release: one for each of us. On the day, I got the model to sign both and she kept a copy. Again, this created a professional atmosphere with the model and gave her confidence that she was dealing with a professional.
On the day before the shoot, I got the text message that every photographer dreads. You know, the one that says the model can’t make the shoot for some sort of reason. After a bout of cursing and swearing, I rang the other models that had applied for the shoot to see if they were available. Unfortunately, none were available at such short notice. I had no choice but to cancel the shoot and reassess my options.
I was getting worried. I had to complete the shoot and write the article soon and the weather was getting colder as we moved into Autumn. Although rain was predicted for the following weekends, I scheduled another shoot, but this time I selected two models. I hoped that by choosing two models I would avoid cancelling another shoot because of no models being available.
Now I kept an eagle eye on the forecasts and hoped there would be a break in the weather. Thankfully, there was and with the date and time locked in, it was up to me to get set of decent images from my first ever bikini shoot.
Lesson 2: Learn from Setbacks
Stuff happens: learn from your failures and setbacks. For instance, models may not show up or your casting call might not get the response you hoped for. Learn from these setbacks and make changes.
If you invite two models for the same shoot with one as a backup, you should not tell them. Otherwise both may think that you have a backup planned and at the end none of them may show up.
It was as if the photography gods had parted the rain clouds just for me. We were greeted with a clear blue sky, warm sun and a cool breeze when we arrived at the beach. Everyone was on time and after brief introductions I got both models to sign the model releases. I made a point of chatting to the friends that each model brought with them as I feel it is important to set everyone’s mind at ease and create a friendly environment.
I described the shoot plan with the models, explaining the order of the scenes and what looks I wanted to get. The day before, I had asked the models to bring a couple of bikinis to choose from. From the options, we chose the bikini each model would wear that would best suit the first scene. Once the models had changed into the bikinis, we headed to the first location.
Whilst we walked, I chatted to the models. It is important that you establish a friendly relationship with the models because this sets their mind at ease and relaxes them. Models are just as nervous, if not more so, than you and to get good photos, you need relaxed and confident models.
During the shoot I kept talking to the models, giving them feedback on how they were doing and guiding their poses. When giving feedback, I always keep it positive and friendly: never negative.
As I was shooting, I kept reminding myself to move around the model in each pose and scene. Moving around allowed me to see what the light was like and if there was a better perspective to shoot from. It is all too easy to get carried away and take a bunch of photos from one perspective and never explore the other angles available. I found that positioning the model with the sun at her back and facing the sea created a beautiful even fill light from the reflected light off the sea.
The following behind the scenes images show how I worked the location by moving around the models, trying different angles to see what other images were possible.
Whilst I was taking the photos I kept reminding myself to avoid shooting tightly framed too often, and instead shoot more loosely framed. By loose, I mean leaving plenty of space around the model to give me options when cropping in post. This might be a controversial view, but I feel that the modern camera’s high megapixel counts enables us to shoot like the commercial photographers with medium format cameras. They will frequently shoot loose to allow flexibility with the cropping applied in post necessitated by the layout demands of the publication.
Mistake: Changing Camera Modes Mid Shoot
Towards the end of the shoot, I had moved from manual exposure to aperture priority mode. This was a mistake, I was shooting in a shaded area and my shutter speed had dropped to below my focal length resulting in several blurry shots.
After several shots, I realised my error and I had to get the model to resume the previous poses and retake the shots. In hindsight, it was unwise to change modes mid shoot. This highlighted another area that I need to focus on a lot more: slowing down and taking the time to review shots more often during the shoot.
To Improve: Checking Shots Every Now And Then
I’m guilty of getting so consumed with shooting that I can forget to check the shots I’m getting as frequently as I should. If I had done this I would have noticed a couple of things:
- One of the models had really long false eyelashes which cast large shadows over the eyes. In hindsight, I should have asked her to remove them as she has beautiful eyes and the false eyelashes detract from them.
- That a couple of my images had the horizon not level and I could have adjusted my grip to correct this. Thankfully because I shot loose, I could crop to correct this without too much trouble.
- That one of the models was pulling on her bikini in a way that was not flattering to her and could have corrected it.
Before the shoot, I was concerned about bystanders gawking at us and making comments. To my surprise I found that although we’d get the occasional curious glance, no one paused or said a word. Even if they had, I would not have noticed as I was so consumed with the shoot.
At the end of the shoot, I set both model’s expectations around how many images they could expect to see and how long it would take me to deliver them. As it is a TFP shoot, the models are keen to get the images for their portfolios. Everyone needs to be clear about how long it will take to get the images to avoid misunderstandings.
Lesson 3: Confident Communication With The Model Is Vital
During the shoot, keep talking to the model and act confident. Tell the model what the plan for the day is. Ask them about their careers: they have hopes and dreams too. Make sure you listen to the model’s wishes and ask if they have some shots in mind that they would like to get.
Lesson 4: Work The Scene
Explore the angles at each scene. Move around to look for the better light or angles as there are many possible shots in each scene.
Lesson 5: Shoot Loose, Not Tight Framing
The high resolution on current cameras allows more flexibility to crop in post. This can save your image sometimes.
Lesson 6: Shoot With A Critical Eye
Regularly pause and review your photos: it will help you to assess and make adjustments if required. Check the model’s makeup to see if there will be any problems: avoid long false eyelashes as they cast ugly shadows (unless you are using a fill light.) Also watch the horizon and try to ensure your photos are level.
Lesson 7: Be Considerate Towards The Models
If you have two models, be careful when posting photos online of both at the same time. They can compare themselves and this can sometimes cause issues with self-esteem. Check the water temperature forecast. If it’s cold, get the model to bring a robe to wear between sets to warm up. The model will get tired: posing for a shoot is like a full yoga workout and you need to be mindful of this. Try and get the model to change poses frequently: don’t keep them in the same pose for too long.
Lesson 8: Nobody Gives A Crap What You Are Doing
I was worried that bystanders would heckle or make comments, but in reality no one said a word. I wouldn’t have even noticed if they had as I was too busy.
Lesson 9: Bring The Bare Minimum Equipment
Carry as little kit as possible and minimise lens changes because sand can get in your lenses and sensor: if you can, take one lens only. I found that majority of my shots were taken with my 70-200mm.
Lesson 10: Work With The Available Light
You don’t have to bring flashes and scrims. You can use the sea as a fill reflector. Embrace the strong sun and the shadows it creates, beach culture is all about embracing the sun. Also, you don’t need to always have the sea in the background.
It’s now your turn
Overall, the experience of shooting my first bikini shoot taught me quite a lot: not only about myself, but also what is involved in such a shoot.
Now it’s up to you to get out there and challenge yourself to do a bikini shoot. I would love to hear how you go and if any of my lessons helped the you. Post your story in the comments and we can get a discussion going and learn from each other’s experiences.