In this month’s article we are addressing the issues of model/photographer contracts and rights. I am introducing a wonderful photographer, Ted D’Ottavio.
When did you first start photography?
On May 9, 1990 I photographed a model at Waveney Estate in New Canaan, CT. That location is simply classic, I would love shoot there again. It wasn’t long after that that I dug out my father’s enlarger and trays and began mixing the chemistry and making prints.
Who were you influences and where do you pull your inspiration from?
I liked to draw from music and literature. I was always much more interested in where you could go, not where you are. There are places like Waveney mansion for The Great Gatsby, and open fields for Willa Cather’s My Antonia. There’s peeling paint for The Yellow Wallpaper, black water swamps for the Lord of the Rings, colorful motion blurs for The Lords of Acid, gritty basements for White Zombie, and sunsets for the Dead Can Dance. I like accenting characters and places, and adding a moment in a story. Movies don’t just happen to people who stroll down the streets with movie cameras, so why should still images be found when they could be created? I believe it is much more powerful to start with the clothing, the lifestyle, and the environment, and then fit in a scene and capture a moment that ties it all together. Hopefully the whole team finds some inspiration in the clothing and lifestyle, because I do. That’s part of the day’s adventure.
What event or job made you transition photography from a passion you had, to being a professional photographer?
I liked it from the first roll. It was both fast, and difficult. I remember setting up my dad’s enlarger and wanting to make prints to get into my college newspaper. I was finishing my second year commuting to a branch of University of Connecticut, and I wanted do something fun on the main campus. The tiny little yellow Kodak book I had was a great guide to taking pictures, but it didn’t have much on making prints so I went to the library and read through all 12 technical books they had. That was fine for a hobbyist, but I knew I needed some clear definitions on composition. It took me four college book stores and three libraries to find anything because in 1991 I had to use the yellow pages and a car. Now it’s written and defined quite well in wickipedia.
By the time I got myself up to the main campus I had some prints to show and landed a job shooting for the daily newspaper. It started to feel more professional when I wandered into the art department and saw the student displays of graveyard photographs, old dolls in ketchup and flowers on windowsills. I knew that no one wanted to see that in the morning paper. It was my job to hunt down people doing interesting things. Of course, originally, my idea of interesting wasn’t appreciated, like drinking in the library, mountain bikes using the classic architecture as ramps, and wild action shots of the Varsity Polo matches at a campus that just added a huge building for basketball. I was firmly told that certain subjects could not be promoted in such a public fashion if the newspaper wished to stay in good graces with the administration. There was a lot to learn to think on a professional level. I had to consider who wants to see what, why, and what would get them to pay me each time I hit the shutter release. Eventually I started setting up appointments with the local branch of Elite modeling, and although I went home with no shoots for the first year I was blessed with an agent kind enough to tell me what I had to do next. Another year after that, I found a stylist and smaller talent agency that picked me up and started sending me regular work.
How long have you been shooting fashion?
I started with people, but later I assisted for a still life photographer and tried my hand at commercial advertising stills. I learned a lot about problem solving and a lot more about setting up and making all sorts of images from table sets to car advertisements to weddings. I did try every other type of photography I could, but in time I came back to people. To me, the best part about an adventure is whom you meet. You want to know what they look like and how they are they dressed. Early on I decided that two weeks was too long to go without a shoot so I have booked and shot at least once a week since college. I’ve been shooting fashion in some sense for 17 years now.
What do you see is a common mistake for photographers (or what should models look for when seeking a photographer) when shooting plus-size models?
According to models that come my way, the most common mistake is not delivering images on time. I’ve made plenty of the mistakes I’ve seen, so who am I to judge?
When it comes to picking a photographer, I would go with a photographer that cares and accepts responsibility for making a beautiful image. I know people suggest criteria like who’s famous in the book, if they’ve shot someone like you, or how fancy the camera and setup they have seems to be, but these things do not directly relate to the images they will make of you. After all, they may have pulled favors to work with the famous faces, the models like you may be skilled at making a lame photographer look great, and that fancy camera could come from any source of cash.
Detail is important in the image, so attentiveness may indicate that the photographer is paying attention to their client, their equipment, and a million other things. An attentive photographer that has never shot a plus model can make a better image than one that just pushes models through in a cookie cutter style without caring about the model or the final image. Great photographers will help you feel great as well. That’s important because when you feel attractive or empowered it really shows up in the pictures.
I would also suggest asking a photographer whom they like. One thing that the internet has done is allowed everyone to gain a glimpse at each other. Only ten yeas ago I dreamt of seeing other photographer’s portfolios, but I wasn’t an agent or an art director, so I all I saw was end product, and not a lot of photo credits. Getting a reference from a photographer is also good because it’s a hell of a lot harder for me to impress another photographer than it is for me to impress a regular client. I’m certainly not impressed with all the other photographers out there, but there are plenty who are masters and their skill cannot be denied. These days you can offer us chocolate and show us options to help you pick the second best photographer. Obviously the world’s best photographer is scoffing up the most amazing chocolate you’ve ever purchased. You deserve quality for your money and it kills me to see people spend a chunk of change for yet another con artist with a camera.
What rights does a model have vs. the photographer when submitting her pictures for contests, magazines, etc. and what is the best way to avoid a conflict?
This question comes up a lot, and the typical answer is that you have to figure it out for yourself based on the shoot. That’s an annoying, frustrating, and useless answer because you may be a pro at something else, and you don’t know a thing about copyright law. The best answer I can give you is to sort of define the landscape of what matters. When all is said and done, most of this comes down to money and reputation.
To begin with you’ll arrive at a shoot and be presented with a modeling release form, which is a contract. At that point both you and the photographer have some notion of why you’re all together so I’m going to say that a contract happens after negotiations have already taken place. A contract does formalize things and adds a signature, but at that point you’ve probably already verbally agreed and by speaking so, you have become legally bound.
The contract will also list and detail aspects that you may not be aware of. Read it slowly, that’s a great way to learn. Perhaps you can see copies of other people’s contracts, or even surf the web and look for standard modeling release forms. If you have time to stop into a bookstore, there are books of pre-made contracts. It’s horribly boring, but in a model release form you can see how things are broken down.
Without any paper work, on the most basic level, a model can use images for self-promotion and non-profit contests, but after that there are many other places for images, based on the media, and how the image is used. Also, on the most basic level, no one can use your image to make you look bad (slander). You are protected from people seeking to destroy you with your own image. If you don’t have written permission, then it is generally bad to use an image to sell something other than you. That’s the part that comes down to money. Keep in mind that people make buying decisions with images. Think of how many times you bought a product when all you saw was a catalog or image on the box before you spent your money! If you’re wearing an accessory, and that company wants to use it for an ad, or even on their website, then check with the photographer.
Submitting images to magazines is something entirely new. Perhaps digital technology has out paced the legal system so at the time of this interview we have some curious side effects. The rewards of being in print might be so great that it means a lot to both you and the photographer to get that tear sheet. It’s one less thing the photographer has to do, and you both gain prestige (reputation) from the press and credentials. Things have not always been like this so people’s opinions and positions vary widely. Prior to digital files the image’s copyright was attached to chromes (chromes or prints are referred to as final artwork) because each chrome is an original, and each print was handcrafted from a negative. Chromes and prints cannot be copied perfectly, but a digital file stays the same as it is duplicated. Digital cameras have ripped this structure to pieces by putting top quality images into anyone’s hands for an incredibly small amount of money.
At this point photographers are no longer valued solely for their skills at delivering professional quality. Anyone can do it – just put the sun to your back, the camera on automatic, and you can replace a four-year college degree. Now that models can duplicate, own and submit top quality images to magazines we have a whole new environment. In the past, if the photographer got annoyed he or she could simply submit an invoice. I spent many lunch hours as an assistant furiously flipping through every page of many magazines to catch my boss’s clients using images. I found enough images that he invoiced that more than pay for my time. But now, who cares, the magazine would pay so they could avoid a lawsuit, or stay in good graces with the small community of professionals (reputation). Now neither matters. If presented with a problem, the magazine can refer to the model and claim he or she granted permission. The legal issues would roll back onto the model case by case, which adds to legal fees, and directs lawyers to the model’s savings accounts. There’s not as much money there compared to hitting up a magazine for using several images over time. Certified letters get sent out and lots of models say “oops, sorry” but the magazine is safe because they were told by the models that the rights were clear.
I don’t know how widespread this is, but I’m running into too many web publications that target models for their images. I see photographers spitting mad about it, but maybe I’m just noticing a small faction of the real world. It’s hard to say. So, you know what you have to do? You have to talk to the photographer about these things. You might be more concerned about your reputation than the law, and never be afraid to ask because sometimes asking for rights will thrill the photographer. If someone asked me for the rights to put one of my images on Vogue, I would party hard.
What is the most common direction, or advice that you give most plus-size models that you shoot?
No one gets the same direction. Each person moves differently. To begin with, feeling good looks much better than feeling worried. Trust the fact that the bad images make everyone look bad so they should be canned, and no one is setting out to make bad images. In posing, shoulders and chin affect a lot. The next thing to pay attention to is posture and the small of your back. Touch things soft, move gentle, and you’re going to look good! I’ve always loved the effect of dance lessons. That can be a lot of fun as well as helpful to your career. Acting is another benefit. Perhaps you’ve seen the movie, Zoolander? He has one face that works well, but that’s all he has. Watch some cartoons, and you can see how illustrators draw the movements of the characters so that you can understand what they are thinking. When you are on the set you can try to carry on a little monologue in your head. Be pretty, be elegant, be dramatic, be you, and that is advice for any model. I would love to say you’re special because you’re a plus model, but I find that people are beautiful because of who they choose to be. An experienced team can work with that and make magic every time!
Any words of wisdom you would like to give to aspiring models?
Learn everything about the industry and have a second career. You can model full time, and get back to the second career later, or you can grow your portfolio and contacts in a timely fashion while working a second career. Either way you win.