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BEST OF 2013, Inti St Clair
Seattle, WA
Project: Image from a day in the life of sisters, Naiya and Anandi, from the moment they woke up until they went to sleep that night, shot as a tool for encouraging more “authentic” images.

© Inti St. Clair

© Inti St. Clair

Inti St. Clair channeled her desire to shoot more “authentic” lifestyle images into a completely unscripted day-in-the-life shoot. Planned as a personal assignment, St. Clair’s images are also being used to promote her commercial work and for licensing as stock.

“I worked with two sisters, Naiya and Anandi, from the moment they woke up until they went to sleep that night,” she says. “It being a late summer day in the Northwest made for an incredibly packed, intensely fun and utterly exhausting 15-hour shoot. Any day I’m taking pictures is wonderful for me, but this day was pure magic.”

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

Inti St. Clair: I've been working independently since 2006, but prior to that I worked as a producer and studio manager for Andersen Ross for four and a half years, while building my own business and portfolio at night and on weekends.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

ISC: As a Professional (General) Member since 2003, previously as an assistant.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

ISC: Lifestyle (kids and adults), Portraiture, Editorial and Travel.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?

ISC: My camera, of course (5D MarkIII), and my favorite lens is the 85mm 1.2.

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

ISC: I feel one of my biggest strengths is my unbridled enthusiasm while photographing. It’s truly my “happy place”, and you’ll find me laughing all through a shoot. I love collaborating to get the right shot, as much as I enjoy capturing the random, unexpected moments. I feel as if my passion and energy is infectious, and this is reflected both in how much fun everyone has on set, and comes across in my imagery as well.

ASMP: What initially inspired your idea for an unscripted day-in-the-life project in your quest to shoot more “authentic” lifestyle images?

ISC: For some time now I’ve been very interested in capturing images that illustrate feelings of realism and authenticity; images that tell an emotional story, and blur the lines between commercial and editorial. I’ve wanted to create a category of “stories” for my portfolio; and this seemed the perfect way to accomplish that. I also thought it would be a great way to showcase my ability to “see” light, and get great shots in a variety of situations.

ASMP: On practical, professional and personal levels, why did you decide to shoot a day-in-the-life rather than over a longer period of time? What did you hope to achieve within this compressed timeframe?

ISC: Actually, while this started out as just a singular day-in-the-life shoot, we all had so much fun, we’ve decided to make it an annual thing! I’m shooting the second day-in-the-life of the girls again the last weekend of August; the girls have changed so much since last year (Naiya has lost all her front teeth!), and I’m giddy about the prospect of documenting that. I’m going to bring along a partner, David Burns, to shoot video alongside me this time, so we can create a multi-dimensional visual story; I’m really excited to see how that turns out!

ASMP: You plan to use these images to promote your commercial work and for licensing as stock. Who are your primary commercial clients?

ISC: I think this style of imagery works well for my clients in the tech industry, such as Microsoft, AT&T, and T-mobile, and I’m hoping it gets me more work in the healthcare industry, and of course anything involving kids!

ASMP: What percentage of your income comes from stock licensing? What agencies do you work with and for how long have you been a contributor?

ISC: At the beginning of my career I made most of my income from stock (back in the good old days!), but with the recent changes in that market segment I have seen a big shift, and currently it makes up about 35 percent of my income. My work is represented by a lot of agencies, but my primary distributors are Getty and Blend.

ASMP: Does any portion of your income come from portraits or event shooting such as weddings? If so, how often do you do this type of work and how do you market your services?

ISC: While I don’t advertise for consumer portraiture, I do really love shooting this (any day in which I have my camera in my hand is truly a great day for me), and I happily find myself shooting for consumer clients quite a bit; I’d absolutely love to get hired to do day-in-the-life shoots for other families.

As for weddings; I don’t really consider myself a wedding photographer, but every once in a while one will come up for very special people I can’t say no to, and I do enjoy creating beautiful visual memories for them.

ASMP: What is your relationship with Naiya and Anandi? Did you know them/their family prior to the shoot?

ISC: They are in Portland, Oregon, and I originally met their mother years ago through a mutual friend, so while we’ve known each other for years, we hadn’t kept in close contact. I had only met the girls a couple of times. That said, they immediately came to mind when I hatched the idea. Obviously Naiya and Anandi couldn’t be any cuter, and I knew that Hadewych (their mom) loves photography.

ASMP: How did you approach the girls’ parents with the idea for doing this shoot? What was their initial reaction?

ISC: When I called to propose it, I don’t even think I finished pitching it before she enthusiastically said yes; they loved the idea, and were really excited I’d asked them!

ASMP: How do you broach the issue of signing model releases for stock prior to a shoot? Do parents ever express concern about how images of their children might be used? If so, how do you handle these questions/issues?

ISC: I am always completely up front about what it means to have images in stock, and I made it clear to them I wanted to do the shoot even if they weren’t comfortable with it. They recognized the value of what they were getting, and were more than happy to sign a release. Their only concern was they didn’t want any shots of the girls without clothes on to be in stock, or even on my Web site, blog, etc…, which of course I completely respected.

ASMP: Once the parents were on board, how was the project explained to the girls and how did they react? How old are the girls and how did you respond to any questions they had?

ISC: The girls were three (Anandi) and five (Naiya). Their mom, Hadewych, said she told them I was coming to photograph, and they seemed excited, but she feels like they didn’t really understand the scope of it. They did, however, have a great time on the shoot, and loved the book I made for them. Also, the morning after I gave them the book, we were hanging out after breakfast, and at one point Naiya went over to her mom and said, “Mom, why isn’t she taking pictures of us already?” So cute!

ASMP: Please compare and contrast your work with Naiya and Anandi versus a more commercial children’s shoot. How was your interaction with these sisters similar and how did it differ?

ISC: My intention with this shoot was to give as little direction as possible; really just capture them as they were naturally throughout the day. Of course I had the luxury of not having to “get” specific shots, and wasn’t on a time crunch, which is obviously much different from a commercial shoot. I didn’t expect that not actively directing them would be as hard as it was (there’s that impulse to want them to be in exactly the right light/part of the frame, etc…) Of course there’s magic in just capturing things as they naturally unfolded; and I believe that translates to an emotional intimacy in many of the images that wouldn’t have been there had I been directing them the whole time. I also feel like it gave me great insight on how to better direct children when I need to.

ASMP: How did you prepare for the shoot? Did you spend time with the girls beforehand so you could get to know them (and they could become comfortable with you)? Did you spend time in the home to become familiar with the layout and lighting at different times of day?

ISC: I arrived the night before, and spent the night so I could start shooting first thing in the morning, so we did have dinner together and hung out that night, but otherwise I didn’t prepare at all. I really let them run the show; so wherever they happened to be was where I was shooting, and I just dealt with the lighting situations on the fly.

ASMP: Did you have certain scenarios in mind, draw up a shoot list or scout locations in advance or did you just go with the flow?

ISC: The day was completely unscripted; I just went with the flow. Here and there, we asked the girls what they’d like to do next, but tried to just have it be a normal day for them. Fortunately for me, by nature of it being summer and them being girls, they naturally wanted to change their clothes a ton of times, and run around the neighborhood playing, which obviously lent itself to great visual diversity.

ASMP: What equipment did you use? Given the nature of the shoot (e.g., unscripted), what did you take into consideration when choosing your equipment?

ISC: I always prefer natural lighting whenever possible, and due to the unpredictable nature of this shoot in particular, I relied heavily on very fast lenses. (primarily Canon 50mm 1.2 and 85mm 1.2). I did use a reflector at times, a single strobe in the bathroom and a strobe with a softbox when they were baking in the kitchen in the evening.

ASMP: Were the sisters curious about the camera? Did they ask, or did you show them pictures on the LCD during the day? Do you generally share what you’re shooting with models during a shoot?

ISC: They were definitely curious, and I showed them images throughout the day, which they loved. I generally do share images with models and clients throughout a shoot because I feel like it gives them a sense of confidence that they look good, and it builds enthusiasm and allows for them to relax and be more natural.

ASMP: What time did you start and finish this 15-hour shoot? Please give us a brief overview of the day.

ISC: We started at about 6:45am. I actually got shots of them before they woke up, and I think I took my last shot of them sleeping in bed again at around 10pm.

ASMP: Some of your images were photographed in a park. Did the girls interact with any other children/people in public places? If so, how did you handle this coverage, given release issues in using the images for stock?

ISC: They did run into one of their friends at the park, and I got some great images of them interacting, in fact, one of my favorite shots of the day was Naiya and her friend hugging. I didn’t want to bother taking the time away from shooting to go through what stock was, and asking to get releases signed, so I just kept those images out of my submission.

ASMP: Were the girls aware of your presence throughout the day? Did they ever have their guard up? If so, how did you help them become more spontaneous?

ISC: They definitely knew I was there; they’re both social/fun girls, and they kept wanting me to play with them. It was often quite difficult for me to resist setting down my camera and doing just that!

ASMP: In some of the shots, it seems the girls are playing to the camera and you. Was this something you expected and/or encouraged?

ISC: I expected this because I feel like most kids are natural hams; they love attention, especially if they are getting positive encouragement! I tried not to influence them too much, but they were just so goofy and cute I couldn’t help from laughing and engaging in silly conversation with them, which of course escalated the fun.

ASMP: Had you planned to photograph the girls in the bathtub? What, if any, discussion did you have with the girls or their parents beforehand about this potentially sensitive scene?

ISC: Yes, I planned on photographing their whole day. We had the understanding that they would decide what pictures I could and couldn’t show in my portfolio, post online or submit to stock.

ASMP: Was there any interest by or reaction from bystanders observing the shoot in public places? If so, how do you respond to this?

ISC: Quite a few people were interested and inquired, but, to be honest, I let their mom answer most of them; I didn’t want to miss a moment! She told me everyone thought it was really cool.

ASMP: Given that a lot of your subjects are children, have you ever encountered bystanders who are concerned by or suspicious of your photographic activities? If so, please describe a situation and how you handled it. Do you carry any documentation to indicate your status as a professional photographer?

ISC: I have never had anything like that happen. I never do shoots without a parent present, and I also feel like I could easily handle such a situation by showing them some of my work on my phone, and giving them one of my cards.

ASMP: How many images did you shoot during the course of the 15-hour day? Looking back, were there any “I wish I had shot that” moments? If so, what were they?

ISC: I shot just under 3,000 frames. Editing was really tough; there were so many wonderful pictures! I got it down to 265, out of which I created a beautiful book as a thank-you for them. As for “I wish” moments, I’m sure there were many, but at this point I don’t recall details.

ASMP: A 15-hour shoot with small children must take a lot of stamina. Were there any moments/situations where you found your energy level lacking? If so, what were the circumstances and what did you do to reboot?

ISC: Yes! It was by far the most exhausting shoot day I’ve ever experienced; their energy levels and stamina are astounding. I certainly had my moments of energy slacking, but then they would move on to doing something else and I would just snap back into shoot mode again; we’ll see how I hold up next time!

ASMP: In retrospect and thinking about the entire day (not just the images), what aspects of the shoot worked really well? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

ISC: I think I got really lucky that the light was so amazing all day, and that the girls had such a great time. I can’t think of anything I would have changed, but knowing their house better now, and what the light would be like on a less than perfect day, I am definitely trying to be prepared for how to deal with that.

ASMP: Please describe your post-processing workflow.

ISC: I convert the RAW images into DNG as I ingest and back-up the images. I then use Lightroom to do all of my culling and initial color work. After that I open the images in Photoshop to do the final color work and retouching.

ASMP: Once the images were edited, how did you share the work with the family? What were their reactions, particularly the girls?

ISC: Right after the shoot I created an app and Web gallery of a few of the shots for their phone. One of the greatest compliments of my career came minutes later when Hadewych (their mom) sent one of the shots back to me with the words “This is perfection.”

ASMP: Do you compensate your models financially for a shoot or give them images, either as digital files or prints? Please describe what you do to offer valuable consideration for the signing of releases.

ISC: For this particular shoot I created a beautiful book for them. For other shoots, my subjects run the gamut from trade for print models to paid agency talent.

ASMP: Your photographs have a very lively, fun-loving, free spirited feel to them. Can we assume this is indicative of your personality? What message(s) do you aim to convey to viewers through your photographs?

ISC: Yes! I feel like my images are absolutely a reflection of my personality. I am happy, goofy, and full of passion and positive energy. The truth is I’m never happier than I am when I’m taking pictures! I think that can be infectious on shoots, which I think in turn is reflected in my imagery.

ASMP: How are you using the photos to promote your commercial work? What, if any, results have you seen so far?

ISC: I’ve created and sent out a few printed and e-promo/promo pieces from the shoot. I also make it a point in meetings to direct people to the image gallery from this project. The response has been wonderfully enthusiastic. I feel confident these images have helped me get work, although nothing yet involving kids, which I would love.

ASMP: How did you allocate images from this project among the stock agencies you work with? Did you select a specific agency for all images or split the work among several distributors?

ISC: I split the work between my two primary agencies. You have to be really careful about “similars,” but it wasn’t that hard considering all the different locations and outfit changes. Even stylistically, some of the scenarios are very different. For example, the images of them baking in the kitchen have a much more produced/commercial feel than a lot of the other images, which portray a more natural/editorial feel.

*ASMP: How was this work received by your editors? Have you seen any sales results from these images yet? What are your expectations for image sales from this shoot going forward? *

ISC: They loved the work; I’ve never gotten so many selects from a submission. I started seeing sales right away, and with so many of the images being such a great representation of pure joy and happiness, I definitely expect they will continue to sell well for quite awhile.

I’ve also been getting texts and messages from people who see the images around, which is really fun. One of the best yet is a shot of Naiya that is an ad for NYC EasyLearn that says “Today I conquer the playground. Tomorrow I’ll command the boardroom.” I love it, and it’s so true!

ASMP: What are your plans for the near future in terms of promoting your commercial business? Any ideas for more personal projects?

ISC: Well, obviously continuing to promote via printed mailers and e-promos, as well as (and most importantly) continuing to meet with people and create that personal connection. I really believe that photographers are hired not just based on the quality of their work, but based on whether or not the client connects with your personality. They want to be confident that you’ll create the imagery they are looking for and also have a great experience. I’m also working on a new book, and after that I plan on revamping my Web site.

As for additional personal projects, I really want to create a food portfolio. I’m a former chef and a total foodie, and would love to start shooting in that market segment as well.

ASMP: Where do you see yourself, both personally and professionally, in five years’ time?

ISC: One of my greatest passions is travel, and I see myself incorporating even more of this into both my professional and personal pursuits. Travel feeds my ability to capture moments that resonate and grant the viewer a special sense of place; one that I hope strikes an emotional cord and allows them a special connection to the stories in my images.