Get to know some of the industry’s top photographers, and learn what it takes to capture that perfect shot!
How did you get your start as a photographer?
In 2006, I used to work as a hairstylist in a well-known salon, where they did a lot of photoshoots and won all sorts of hair competitions. Being around that environment naturally made me want to participate in photoshoots and competitions. I had a basic idea of photography, but I asked my good friend and boss at the time, Daniel Benoit, for help and we worked to come up with a concept together and started shooting. We ended up entering a hair competition and actually won so since then clients started approaching me for work.
How would you describe your style of photography?
I like to work with models who have a lot of expression on their faces and I like to use certain lighting to create dramatic looks. I’ve always liked Avant Garde photography because I like my models to represent the past, present and future.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get a lot of my inspiration from moments in mundane daily life whether that’s the sunrise or a rainy day.
I’ve noticed some of your photography has a “glitch” effect and geometric lines. Can you tell me more about these effects?
I’m very visual when it comes to photography. I always look for geometric shapes and straight lines like jawlines or cheeks. I like to focus a lot of attention on the face and I think that’s very important because facial expressions are everything. Sometimes, I try to bring more attention to the face and highlight the hair by adding glitch effects and geometric lines.
You also do a lot of fashion and editorial work. Tell me about that.
I like to explore when it comes to photography, so I don’t limit myself to just shooting hair. Hair photography requires the photographer to pay attention to all of the elements (like body shape, face, posture, etc.) not just the hair and incorporating fashion makes the photo much more interesting in my opinion.
Tell me about how you first started shooting for the Contessas (who was your first Contessa client? When did you start?)
I started shooting for the Contessas in 2008 when hairstylists from Salon Pierre approached me. My vision and style have always been to bring out something that the hairstylist wants to highlight in their work.
What do you like most about shooting for the Contessas?
I like when clients come to me with a concept in mind and we work together to improve and materialize it by putting both of our input and ideas together. During the shoot, a lot of things can change due to the fact that concepts look different on camera, so we just work with what we have and try to improve it by looking for geometric shapes within a shot. I think communication and problem-solving between myself and the entire team (not just the hairstylist) has to be my favourite part.
Tell me about how you work with your clients on a Contessa shoot. Can you walk me through the process? How hands-on are you throughout the process?
The first step usually involves me and the hairstylist brainstorming to see what ideas we have in mind. Then I share my vision to get a lot of ideas together on how this is going to translate on camera. During the photoshoot, I make suggestions on how we can make some changes whether that be minor or major changes to make the hair stand out more on camera, sometimes that can take hours other times its as quick as three shoots.
I also share my input with the makeup artist on the kind of makeup that will shine through and make the hair the major conversation of the photo. I would say the process is very similar with almost all clients, the whole team should be focused on the hair because that’s the focal point and all other decisions are made based on that.
From my understanding, you work closely with makeup artists. How does that compare/differ when shooting hair collections?
It’s the same process for both but instead of focusing on the hair, you highlight the makeup. My wife is a makeup artist and we’ve worked together for 10 years so I feel like we don’t even need to communicate when we do shoots because we understand each other’s style.
Can you tell me about the relationship between makeup and hair? How does that impact you as the photographer when shooting the collections?
Usually, the makeup has to compliment the hair but sometimes the makeup can also just stand out on its own without necessarily marching the hairstyle. Ultimately, I think the model’s confidence is the most important element but sometimes you can do something abstract with the makeup and have a very simple hairstyle and that works well.
You’ve shot many Contessa collections throughout your career. How do you feel when a collection you work is a finalist or wins a Contessa? What does it mean for you? Is there a specific collection or winner that stands out to you (and why)?
It means a lot to me. We can’t win all the time but when we do, it’s great for the brand of the photographer and the salon as well. I feel like all of the effort, time and stress has gone to something and materialized in a win. But if not, I take it as a lesson and an opportunity to be more creative.
What are your top tips when it comes to shooting for collections? Any tips on how to plan a photo shoot? Any tips for new stylists who are looking to enter for the first time?
Have a concept or idea that you can find on Instagram, magazines or even in your daily life. Then find a team that matches your style and one you’re comfortable working with. Always share your ideas and communicate with the hairstylist (and the entire team) to find a good balance and middle ground.
Invest in the models if you can afford it. Experienced models will help the overall quality of the photos.
One last underrated tip is to sleep well and stay focused before the shoot, although know this can be hard with all of the excitement that photographers feel before a shoot day.
How does entering competitions like the Contessas help your clients when it comes to building and promoting their brand? How does it help get their name out there if they’re new to the industry?
I think entering competitions helps the whole team (not just hairstylists and photographers) to network and work with other creatives in the industry. It can also be very helpful when building the business of the salon or the brand of the photographer because it gets their name out there and increases their chances of working with new clients.
To check out Ara Sassoonian’s website, click here.
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