Working with models

After having worked with portrait models for a little less than a year I would like to write about my approach and my experiences. 

When I shoot portraits I am currently limited to outdoor areas because I don’t have a studio and no lighting equipment. Apart from depending on the weather this does not seem a major disadvantage to me. I can work with natural light and using the streets and parks for shooting certainly works for me.  I would still like to have a place where I can create light and where I can set the atmosphere and have shooting conditions that I can determine myself. Maybe a little later,  currently I travel so much between Greece and New Zealand that it does not make sense to have a studio in one place anyway. 

But I mainly wanted to write about working with models. I currently only work with people that are no professional models. They are people that I either find in the streets or friends or acquaintances of mine. In other words, my models have only limited or no shooting experience which means that I should direct them and tell them what to do and how to pose.  And exactly that I don’t do. Very purposefully I don’t give them directions as to how to move, to strike a pose or to show a certain facial expression.   The reason is that I am interested in finding out who my models are as a person and I am trying to capture this person when I shoot. Poses or directions would only distract and lead us away from my goal. 

I tell my models before the shooting that I am not going to tell them what to do and how to behave. Instead of giving instructions I start having a talk with them. I ask them about their lives, about ideas, attitudes, things that they love or dislike. And I tell my story, tell them who I am, what I do, how I have developed my photography. It often develops into an exchange of experiences, of life stories and opinions. I learn a lot about my models and I love getting to know them a little. 

I do tell my models where I want us to go, where I think the light is good and what kind of backdrop I like and want to shoot them in. But from the moment we find a place it is mainly a situation of interaction and shooting the model during this interaction. A disadvantage is that during talking faces are very difficult to shoot, often features are distorted or eyes half closed. So I need to wait for little breaks between the interaction. This is actually nice because often I find that emotions from the last topic or sentences remain in the faces of my models which enhances their facial expression.  

It often is also interesting to watch with the camera what a person is doing with a certain situation. A few days ago I went with my model Ioanna to a long open air stairs in the neighborhood of Exarchia in Athens. From the stairs you have a look from above over a part of Athens. Ioanna sat down on the stairs spontaneously and watched the city with a kind of far away glance in her eyes. This coincided nicely with the talk we had about her traveling and living in many different places. And the pictures that I could take had a very special and particular mood.

Ioanna with the “far away glance” in her eyes

Ioanna with the “far away glance” in her eyes


Keeping the situation open and letting the model develop within this situation is something that I like very much. We create a little human laboratory situation where the interaction between photographer and model and the environment become the basis for visual story telling. 

Is it possible to grasp “the essence” of a person in a single picture? The question is more if we can even talk about “the “ essence of a human being. Every situation, every social interaction evokes a particular atmosphere which influences the mood of a model and his or her facial expression. Yes, there are recurring traits of character that we can try to find and to depict. But reducing a person on one single picture appears to be very difficult and even a bold task to me.  However, maybe that will change if I develop more experience over the time. 

During one photo shoot I take between 200 and 300 pictures of my model in different locations. I take about two hours for this task, a time that my (unpaid) models are usually willing to dedicate to the experience. Later when culling, curating and processing the pictures I reduce the number to 10 to 15 pictures that I process. After the processing I send the final JPEG versions of the images to my models via WeTransfer, together with a big thank you. 

I find the human interaction between myself and my models interesting and fascinating. This allows me to dip into the lives of people that I don’t know and have never met before. And it appears that even sometimes some lasting relationships or friendships can develop. This experience is at least as important as the photographic one and the pictures that we can create together.  

Shooting Musicians

In the past few months I got involved into taking pictures of musicians. Starting point was that I met a group of street musicians in the streets of Athens. I asked them if they were ok with me taking some pictures of them. They agreed and subsequently I met them again, attended some of their scheduled concerts and took some portraits of some of them.

From there on it snowballed and I got deeper involved in the scene with a few musicians being interested in me taking their pictures. A week ago I could attend a radio contest show with the blues guitarist and singer Tom Yosi and his band. I could take pictures of their preparation for the concert and of the event itself. Here is the link to Tom’s Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/thanasis.klabanos

Taking pictures of musicians is special. It is artistically satisfying. And I will tell you why. Musicians live their passion. They love what they do. They love their music and they love the social interaction that ensues from it. And all this shows in their faces. Musicians are people that are ‘easy’ to shoot because they have a lot of expression on their faces.

Tom Yosi in concert at red fm in Athens

Tom Yosi in concert at red fm in Athens

I have made the experience that during concerts musicians live their music. They dive into it. And every twist and turn of the music often shows in their faces. So it is an adventure to follow them during a concert and to capture what the music does to them and to their facial expression.

Ηώ Δάδα singing at Dafni café in Athens

Ηώ Δάδα singing at Dafni café in Athens

Shooting during concerts in cafes and bars (and that is what I do mainly at the moment) is photographically a big challenge. The light is crap (as you see in the picture above), most of the time there is no stage light at all and you can be glad if you find a ceiling light that illuminates the scene in a random way. Not easy to shoot good pictures that way.

With the radio concert it was a little different. This happened on a stage at the broadcast centre where they had professional equipment and also stage light. However the lighting was actually far away from anything you could call professional. This was radio and not a TV show.

Anyway - the experience of getting involved into Athen’s music scene, of having the opportunity of taking pictures of musicians on stage and privately and of encountering their love and passion for their art is providing big joy to me. I hope that this will continue and that I will be able to expand on it. And I also hope that the interruptions by me working (I need to earn money, and I can’t do this with my photography) will not have too bad an influence on this development.

I have been waiting for this kind of photography for years. Now it is happening and I am very happy.