Interview: ModCloth’s Danielle Bouchette – Part II

Thanks for stopping back to check out Part II of the interview with ModCloth.com‘s Danielle Bouchette.  If you missed part one, you might want to scroll down and start there first.  This is one of the longer interviews I have posted here to date, but I think there is a ton of great info!  In addition to more great insights into photography, I think Danielle provides some fantastic insights for models and those looking to break into the field.  Also some great photos below including an exclusive look at the ModCloth studio!!  Enjoy!!  And another BIG THANK YOU to Danielle for her time and efforts!!!!

So tell me about the process of interviewing as a photographer.  Is it different than for other jobs?  What is more important….your past work experience, personality, or portfolio?

That’s a good question, having more recently been thrown on the other side of things,  I have gained a new perspective on the whole process.   Starting out, the jobs you are probably going to go after are assisting jobs, which require little or no shooting.  With these jobs, your resume and portfolio will get you an interview, but your personality will get you hired.  With your resume, if you don’t have a lot of work experience to go off of,  describing personal projects, classroom assignments or courses can be a great way to outline your skills.  You could also list equipment you are familiar with.  Be specific, a resume that reads:  “Working knowledge of Boncolor, Speedotron, Norman and Profoto Strobes,” reads a million times better than:  “Experience with studio lighting equipment.”  When you get called in for the interview, ask questions!  If you are interviewing for a smaller studio, most likely the person interviewing you, is also the owner so, showing that you have a sincere interest in can only help.  Going into any job, you are not expected to know everything without some type of training, asking good questions is a simple and effective way to demonstrate your eagerness to learn.

Anytime I was going on an interview I would update my portfolio so that it was in line with the studio I was interviewing for.  Now, it doesn’t have to be 100% identical work,  if the job you are applying for is in portraiture,  you can show more than just images of people and still make it relevant. By incorporating product photography, but focusing on your ability to use natural and stobe lighting, you can still illustrate skills that are alligned with a portrait photographer.  If the studio is known for soft natural light, and you can light a pepper in the same style, I would say that shot could translate, you just wouldn’t want to show an entire portfolio of vegetables.

These days, it is not unheard of to be asked to come in for a trial session.  When I was interviewing at ModCloth, I came in 5 times before I was hired.  Photography can differ from other types of jobs because you are equally expected to be able to work independantly and within a group.  Sometimes clients rely on your unique vision and sometimes you are simply expected to make someone else’s ideas come to life.  Your interaction with all members of the photography studio is also very important, and many times it is hard to tell if someone is a good fit with only an resume and a quick interview to go off of.  One of the things  I look for is someone who is resourceful enough to seek out answers and figure out problems on their own, but also knows when to ask for help. It sounds contradictory, but the balance of the two is key.

How do you think sites such as Flickr have impacted the world of photography?

Flickr is great, although personally I try to avoid it.  The vast amount of information can be overwhelming to me.  It is a great outlet for people specifically looking for a community to share techniques and offer critiques.  I tend to waste a lot of time on sites like that, so I have taught myself to just stay away.  Occasionally, I will wander through some Flickr sets by accident, looking for inspiration for upcoming shoots, and before I know it 3 hours have disappeared.

I prefer sites like Model Mayhem, especially for fashion photographers.  I can only imagine what my portfolio would have looked like coming out of school, had these types of sites been around.  To be a photographer and have access to models, hair, makeup, stylists and assistants, most of whom just want to collaborate and build their portfolios is amazing.

The newly created ModCloth studio provides ample space for a wide array of product and marketing photography. Look at all of the Profoto gear! Click on the image for a larger version.

So let’s talk gear.  What kind of gear do you use regularly at ModCloth?

When I was initially hired here at ModCloth, we were using Alien Bee mono lights.  The studio was set up in the middle of the office, and I had a white Ikea table and a white bed sheet to shoot on.  I will admit, I was a little skeptical of the lights having worked with some of the top of the line equipment at my previous jobs.  It didn’t help that  they were bright green with a big bee on the cover, but for the price I was more than impressed.  Especially with the transmitters,  I would still be using the Bee’s transmitters if they were compatible with the Profoto packs we use now, they are simple and consistant.

Once I got settled in at ModCloth I realized that one of my biggest contributions to the company could stem from my diverse knowledge of  equipment, having worked with so many different photographer’s set ups.  When it came time to start making decisions about purchasing new equipment,  I knew where to spend the money and where not to.  Now, of course I can get the really good stuff, but  I still struggle with the spending money part.  For a long time, we were using a clothing rack for things like holding foam core or hanging fishing line from for propping purse handles and sandles, I had a hard time rationalizing using resources on purchasing gear like C-stands to replace these.   Making the switch however, the immediate improvements in functionality, efficiency and saftey made me wish I had done it sooner.

We are currently shooting Canon 5d’s tethered to Mac’s through Capture One Pro.  We also have a Canon G10 for our blog photographer.  Personally, I was a Nikon person through school, but when I started working with the portrait photographer he was using Canon equipment and had a ton of lenses I could borrow, so I switched.  Both brands are the same in essence.  I try to avoid the “which is better” arguments,  both are great camera systems, the competition is what keeps them on top of their game.

We switched from Alien Bee to Profoto equipment about a year ago.   I really mauled over what equipment to purchase because, as a growing company, I didn’t want to make a purchase that would be obsolete in 6-12 months.  I knew I wanted to invest in quality equipment that would grow with the company and eventually fit into a larger scaled operation.  At the same time, the price tag on an Alien Bee, has a lot less zeros than it’s Profoto equivelant.  Ironically, Profoto was one of the few brands I was not familiar with before coming to ModCloth, so I tested a demo set for a week.  I was sold!  Simple and consistant.  They are also one of the top brands used in rental houses and were created with that in mind, so I knew they could take a beating.   Right now, we are running 4 product sets with Acute B packs, and I just got 2 sets of D1 Air’s which are Profoto’s portable monolights, for location shoots.   Occasionally I’ll pull out the Alien Bee’s, but I find their modifiers (specifically the larger softboxes) are a little combersome.   When we venture outside of the studio, we are using natural light with reflectors or 580 flashes, bounced into reflectors or with modifiers.

Behind the scenes look of Danielle in action with the Profoto Giant Reflector. This sucker is 7′ across! Click photo for larger look.

Any favorite light modifiers?

I’m really into the Profoto Giant Reflector right now.  You can get so many different effects with it depending on how deep or shallow you you position the light within the umbrella.  It is almost impossible to take a bad photo with that light.  With the Pittsburgh winter weather in full swing, we have been spending a lot of time building sets in the studio and this light has been a key factor in a lot of the shoots.  Especially for full body shots.

Although it is an ongoing process, we have pretty mcuh standardized our product sets, but I still get to play around with the lighting in our marketing shoots, which is what I really love to do.   I am really looking forward to a shoot we have this week at the Heinz History Center for an upcoming vintage Valentine’s campaign.  I like to use unconventional and mixed lighting techniques and I am hoping this shoot will incorporate some of that.

Are you shooting exclusively in studio or do you get a chance to anything on location?

Recently, we have been building a lot of our marketing sets in the studio, but we are starting to get cabin fever, so as soon as the weather breaks we will be searching for outdoor locations.  I love using natural light, but the weather in Pittsburgh is so unpredictable, we always have to have a backup plan, it keeps us on our toes.  We’ve done location shoots at the Cork Factory apartments, Highland Park Reservoir, Allegheny Cemetery, Brillo Box, CMU, Mellon Park, and the Carnegie Museum, just to name a few.

My first week with the company,  I was finishing up with  my normal product and getting ready to head home, when I was told we were doing a photo shoot for the homepage the next day.  We went on location to CMU and shot 2 models, in 4 locations, with 8 outfits.  Talk about a stressful situation,  I was scared to death!   I remember that it took 4 hours to figure out the shots, set up the lighting, dress the models and shoot all 4 locations, I hadn’t even seen the locations before we arrived.  I packed every piece of equipment I could fit into my boss’s Yarus and hoped for the best. In the end,  it all worked out, except they told me they thought it would only take an hour or 2!   These days, we have an entire creative team devoted to developoing and executing our campaigns.

A fun and creative marketing shoot at the ModCloth.com studio. The background was projected onto the wall behind the models.

Let’s talk a little about models.  Where do you find your models?  Agencies?

We don’t use the agencies at all.  It is actually something we try to avoid.  The ModCloth girl is not your typical high fashion model, our girls have a natural, approachable, fun look.  We have had casting calls through Model Mayhem, Craigslist and Facebook, and Susan has even been known to chase girls through airports, restaurants and carnivals.

My favorite way to find models is scouting trips, although it can be a little uncomfortable.  Lauren, one of our models, was discovered on one of these outings to Duquesne University.  She was getting on the elevator in the library and Vasil, our stylist, and I ran after her just as the door closed. We watched to see what floor it stopped on and ran up the stairs after her.  Once we finally found her, she was sitting at a table, quietly studying,  I remember whispering to her, asking if she had modeled before, and telling her about ModCloth, but she really couldn’t hear what I saying.  We all laugh about it now.  Another girl, Hannah, we found in a parking lot in Shadyside.  Vasil and I were pulling out of a parking space on our way back to the office when we spotted her, so we put the car in reverse, rolled down the window and asked her if she had modeled before.  To this day she will tell you, “It was pretty creepy!”

Any tips for models that would like to be a fashion model or do work for a company like ModCloth?

We get a lot of submissions from models that are completely irrelevant.  Know the company you are submitting your portfolio to and show them related work.  You would be surprised how many nude, men’s magazine style portfolio’s we receive.  Although a lot of these models may look great in a vintage inspired dress and heels, sometimes we just can’t get past the images that are submitted, and they never get called in for a test.

Being comfortable in front of the camera is also important, it sounds obvious, but we have had photogenic, beautiful girls come in and be so self conscious that we get very few useable images.  I would rather have a girl with a lot of energy and confidence try new poses and ideas, that may or may not work, than have a model who is too embarrased to even try.  I tell the girls to let loose and try new things, I will let them know if it isn’t working out and we can try something else.   We have had a lot of success using actors and dancers, both seem to be very aware of their bodies, are able to relax and have great energy to feed off of.

Any tips for photographers wanting to get into product or fashion photography?

Pittsburgh’s hard in some ways and not in others.  There is such a great network of photographers here to do personal work with, but the market is a little saturated.  You have to be willing to pay your dues.  It took me close to 10 years to feel comfortable enough to go out on my own after school.  I sort of fell into the fashion side of the industry, and I think working for a company as a fashion photographer is the exception, not the rule.  In both areas, I can’t stress enough the need to get the technical stuff down and work with as many different photographers as you can.  The biggest part of my job is making items look like what they naturally look like (only slightly better), and photographing other people’s visions, not my own.  I can offer input and suggest changes, but I have to know lighting well enough to bring other people’s ideas to life and to do it consistantly.  Anyone can get a 1 out of 10 photos to be decent.  Also, keep your options open, there are a lot of possibilities in photography that you may not even be aware of.  I started out only wanting to be a food photographer, but in working in that area, became bored and realized I wanted something with a little more variety, I took any opportunity I could to learn a different area and it eventually lead me to ModCloth.

Any exciting upcoming projects?

All of our marketing projects are exciting to me.  I am involved in most aspects from conceptualization, building sets, or scouting locations to directing the shoot and retouching the images.  Our main campaigns change about every 4 weeks, so it is a constant process.

Some professional photographers go everywhere with their camera while others only pick up a camera when they are at work.  What about you?

I went to school for photography so I could make it my career, not my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I love photography, but I would go crazy if it was all I thought about.  I need that separation in my social life.

Any misconceptions about being full-time photographer?

It’s harder than you think, especially if you are in business for yourself.  I have seen a lot of great photographers get burnt out after 10 or so years in business.  For me, I need constant challenges and inspiration to keep my attention and I was lucky to find that.  I honestly don’t think I could ever run my own studio, I like working for a company and having a separation between my work and my personal time.

If you had to pick one celebrity that has a ModCloth look and could model for ModCloth if you had the budget to afford them, who comes to mind?

Zooey Deschanel comes to mind.  She is the girl every girl wants to be best friends with.  Her vintage inspired, girl next door look goes hand in hand with our’s style, and she has actually been spotted wearing ModCloth more than once.

Any models, actresses, or celebrities that you personally would love to photograph?

Sarah Silverman.  I imagine she would give me a lot to work with.  I like photographing big personalities.  But really, I would just like to hang out with her for a day.

Make sure to check out the ModCloth.com website as well as their wide array of social networking websites!  Up next, a list of resources for models, photographers, etc as well as another photo of the week!

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