Erwin Canlas, the photographer who lensed Wonder’s lockdown beauty editorial, talks rules to shoot by
This new chapter in the country’s stay-at-home saga really means more of the same: social distancing, postponed in-person projects, still no mass testing (no matter how hard and long we’ve been demanding it) and coming to terms with the reality that the bills, unfortunately, don’t stop coming just because the work does.
For those in creative industries, this is a time to see content in a new way. It turns out, what people are lacking in shared spaces and face-to-face collaborations, they’re making up for in refreshing renditions of remotely produced work.
This is the case for fashion photographer Erwin Canlas who Wonder enlisted alongside makeup artist Sylvina Lopez and model Janine Luna to put together a FaceTime beauty editorial while on lockdown. In the same way traditional photoshoots come with their own challenges, this remote editorial serves as an eye-opener for what purely digital collaboration is and could be. From Zoom brainstorming sessions to the actual FaceTime photoshoot, see how it all came together in one episode of Wonder Works From Home below and scroll through to learn the tricks of the trade from Erwin Canlas himself.
See what’s already out there to see what you can do differently
Having the World Wide Web at your disposal means you can––and should––allot time for thorough research. On the technical front, this allows creatives to see what worked and didn’t work with others.
“I looked up photographers on YouTube who already did remote shoots. What was their setup? Were they using their phones or their laptops? How did they direct the model on the other side of the screen?” muses Canlas, touching on how this step doubled as preemptive troubleshooting. “I also made a moodboard to help the team visualize the end-goal. This served as a guide for our model Janine Luna with regard to the overall vibe we were going for and posing ideas.”
To sidestep technical difficulties, cover your bases
According to Canlas, internet connection and communication were two of the team’s primary concerns. “The week of the shoot, people were on social media ranting about their slow internet speeds at home,” he recalls. “This is something that greatly affects the stability of the call and the quality of the photos taken.” As this would result in pixelated or blurred output, checking internet speeds prior to the shoot became part of their pre-production process.
On communication, Canlas admits that being an introvert means he has to work doubly hard to ensure he's able to explain his ideas properly and in detail. “For online shoots, the model is reliant on the vision and how a creative director communicates that vision,” he says. “It’s unlike an actual shoot where you can physically move the camera to adjust to the model and get the angle you want or, conversely, literally point out adjustments in the model’s poses.”
Recalling the times he would sometimes hop on the set to adjust the model’s head or arms, or posture with their permission, he points out that this FaceTime photoshoot was a test of verbal communication. “Remote shoots require you to give clear and precise directions: where and how the model should position the camera, how the model should pose. I even had to pose myself and have Janine imitate what I was doing,” he adds. “That was a very fun part of the experience though.”
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Consider holding a pre-production session
“A day before the shoot proper, Janine, the makeup artist providing beauty direction, Sylvina Lopez, and I met on Zoom to plan everything,” shares Canlas. This smooth brainstorming session was something he attributed to the team having worked together before.
Bringing to the table the moodboard he initially curated, Canlas stresses the importance of then getting on the same page and getting everyone’s buy-in to bring the vision to life. “To have a successful pre-prod session, in this case, everyone in the team—from the photographer, makeup artist and model—should come ready with ideas,” he says. “There has to be a sense of comfort and trust, sure, but everyone has to be professional, still.” After bouncing around ideas with the team, he put all their ideas together on the final moodboard.
Settle on a lighting arrangement: Natural? Artificial? Both?
“This part really depends on the photographer and how he or she sees and visualizes the shoot,” says Canlas. “Since most of us are limited to a phone as the main camera, I highly suggest that you go for natural lighting. It allows for much sharper image quality.”
This, however, comes with its own challenges. Using natural lighting means timing is of the essence. “There came a point in our shoot where we ran out of natural light and opted for a ring light,” he says. “The quality was still good but it wasn’t as sharp. When using artificial lighting, you might get grainier photos as your output. This is just something to think about. It really depends on what your vision is for your shoot. Different light and quality of light help in telling your story.”
Schedule your shoot with your lighting in mind
Canlas reiterates that lighting all depends on what look you are trying to achieve. “If you want a much softer image and quality of light, shoot during the morning where the sun isn’t as high,” he says. “If you want more dramatic lighting, where there are sharper shadows and harsher highlights, shoot in the afternoon where the sun is at its highest.” Again, different lighting conditions and qualities are variables that affect the story you are trying to tell.
Explore your options: FaceTime? Zoom? Skype?
For this part, “to each his own” is the only rule to keep in mind. In the case of the lockdown beauty editorial, Canlas was set on using his iPad Pro and FaceTime. Here’s why: “I was thinking that with an iPad, the images I capture are larger. So if I shrink them down, they would get sharper, allowing me to get more details from the photo,” he explains. “Shooting my iPad with my camera would have been more taxing and time-consuming. Besides, the quality of the image that mattered [the one of Janine] would have been the same as the iPad quality.”
Keep the following in mind for art direction
“The first thing to consider is establishing trust and rapport with the model before the shoot begins,” says Canlas. “It helps if you already know the model or at least have worked with him or her before. It can make all the difference.”
More than coming prepared with ideas, coming on board with patience is key, too. “In our setup, our model was the makeup artist, hairstylist, fashion stylist and photographer in one,” adds Canlas. “Remember that as a photographer, your model sets everything up for you: checking on lighting, getting the desired camera angles, posing.” Models participating in online photoshoots essentially have to flex a lot of the creative muscle.
In addition to providing clear and concise directions, Canlas advises that if communication fails, don’t be afraid to model by example.
Learn what makes a money shot
As it goes in traditional shoot settings, taking a handful of shots per layout is ideal. And it’s better to have extra options than come up short.
Even when Canlas, for example, knew he had great shots already shortlisted in his mind, he waited for the money shot. “In my opinion, a good photo should satisfy you aesthetically where lighting, framing, pose and emotion are on point,” he says. This, according to him, has to go hand-in-hand with following his artistic gut. “It’s this feeling I get when I confidently know a photo makes the shortlist,” he adds. “You just know that it is a good shot. It’s magic.”
Edit the images according to your narrative
Back on the technical side of things, Canlas used two applications for editing: Adobe Lightroom and VSCO. For this shoot, he also completely steered clear of his laptop. “After culling and selecting photos, I used Adobe Lightroom to isolate colors I wanted to enhance,” he says. “When I shot everything, I gave myself allowance so that I could crop images later on if needed. I also exaggerated colors by saturating them.”
Next, he moved on to VSCO to sharpen the images and add a subtle faux grain to his photos. He adds: “I think it took me an hour to edit the photos right after the shoot. Adobe Lightroom allowed me to batch process photos where I can replicate the settings I created for one photo and apply these to others in the same layout. It allows for a much quicker process and workflow.”
In another Wonder story, we meet Filipina photographer and graphic designer Sandra Dans who staged self-portraits in quarantine. Tap here to check it out.
Photography and Creative Direction Erwin Canlas
Beauty Direction Sylvina Lopez
Makeup Artist, Hairstylist and Model Janine Luna
Produced by Wonder
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver