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? How would you describe your style/aesthetic as a photographer?
I started off as a makeup artist, then I learnt how to do hair back in the 90’s. I started working in the hair industry in the late 90’s early 2000’s, and I worked with a lot with salons because I was doing a lot of bridal makeup and I would freelance with a lot of different salons and got to create relationships with them.
Then I started doing makeup for photoshoots when competitions started becoming more popular. After a few shoots I found myself becoming an interictal part of the shoot in terms of makeup and hair, as well as becoming a part of the team and giving advice for the stylist’s collection. After doing that for a bunch of years, I decided to pick up a camera and start shooting because I had the experience working one on one with all the salons and helped them be successful, so I wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted to take the photos and help guide them because of all of the experience I had, and then it just took off from there. That was in about 2007 I would say.
I was all self-taught. I was working with a couple other photographers when I first started, and we would learn together and work together, that was a really valuable experience for me. A one-man show can’t always make it work, so I learnt a lot of their tips and tricks, and then through practice and the fact that I continue to learn every day, I got to where I am now. I chose hair photography, and I want to be a master at that, I want to be really good at that one type of photography because that is what I am passionate about, that has made me better.
My style is balance. Everything I shoot I try to pay attention to balance, proportions, and I always say that when I look at a hair photo, they need to cover at least five of the necessary aspects to make them successful. Those would be cut, colour, style, texture, and shape. Those five things have been my motto for years, and if there’s something in each of those five things that are represented as much as possible in the photo, the chances of it being successful and beautiful are greater.
How did you begin shooting for the Contessas? (When did you first start?) Tell me about that. (Who was your first Contessa client? etc.)
The first shoot was either Frank Dicintio, or Margary Clark, in 2006 or 2007, so about 15 years ago.
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?
A client will contact me, and I will immediately ask them, what are your goals (including: What are you shooting for? Competition? Personal? Commercial? Advertising? Etc.), and if it’s for competition, what categories do you have in mind? How many models do you want to shoot, and how many days? I will do three to four models in a day max. Then I’ll ask them if they have makeup and wardrobe, and if they’ll be using wigs or natural hair? Then I’ll ask them to send me their ideas so I can see the look and feel that they’re excited about. That would mean the look of photography, the lighting, and the mood. They’ll send me their inspiration and I’ll create a folder of all the ideas they’re excited about. I also ask them to send me inspiration for the hair they’re going for, so that I can give them advice on if the ideas are achievable or not. Visuals are super important, and it starts to storyboard the whole photoshoot, and that helps us create the greatest number of possibilities for success.
I am 100 percent hands on because my goal is to create images for the stylists that they love. Whether they win or lose, the end of the day they need to love their work. I want them to feel good about what they’ve created.
How do you deal with any differences in opinions that you may have with a hairstylist when it comes to shooting the collection?
The key is to listen, whenever I work with stylists, I listen. I really have to be sensitive to their needs and wants so I can make an educated decision before I suggest something. I know that it has always worked if they know you are sympathetic to their vision.
I understand that you also do makeup and will often do the makeup for Contessa shoots. Tell me about that and how it can help to work on both the makeup and photography?
Now, because I’m busy with the photography and because the shoots have gotten bigger, I suggest that my clients get a makeup artist to come on board. I’ve been doing less makeup and have been focusing more on the photography and creative direction of the shoots, I find it can be overwhelming to put my hat in every aspect. I’ve been helping out a lot in wardrobe more so than makeup because I find that an area in which stylists struggle sometimes.
Having a background in makeup allows me to be obsessed with details. It’s about proportions and balance and making the person the best looking they can be. Those details are huge when it comes to photography.
What do you like most about shooting for the Contessas?
It’s a platform to which our industry has the ability to express themselves on a level with no limits, and to be acknowledged for all their hard work, whether it be behind the chair or doing a photoshoot. The Contessas have created a platform which celebrates somebody’s creative spirit and ability to make people happy by making them look amazing. They allow us to share and grow from others in the industry.
I understand you’ve been teaching classes about photo shoots and entering competitions. Can you tell me about some of the highlights that you teach in the class?
I’ve done the class over the years and it’s been amazing. I would say the most important thing is to start slow. If you start with one model for your first shoot, I think
that’s great. Through my classes I have told stylists to focus on what they’re good at and what they’re passionate about. Take baby steps because when you try to do too much all at once, sometimes it can become overwhelming. When you’re first starting out it can be better to do something small, but to do it really well. Focus on the categories for new stylists, for example, freestyle is a great place to start.
I know you have shot for the winning Freestyle collection two years in a row, which is amazing! How do you help stylists pick out that one winning shot? What do you look for in the “perfect” photo?
To make as many people happy as much of the time as possible. You’ll never make everyone happy; I mean from a judge’s perspective; you’re always going to have people that may not love it. However, the key is to imagine what the most amount of people will appreciate versus just a specific few. I rather have a lot of people saying, “I really like that” versus a small amount of people that say, “oh my gosh I’m in love with that.”
It should also look like worthy of being on a cover in our industry.
How do you feel when a collection you work on wins a Contessa? What does it mean for you? Is there a specific collection or winner that stands out to you (and why)?
It’s amazing! Not only for me, but I am so happy for them. There’s an underlying machine of emotions always happening in salons – whether that be because of business, clients or staff, but I’m so happy for them because they take all of that emotion and it adds this energy of positivity that runs through their veins. It’s a really happy experience. When they don’t win, I feel sad for them sometimes, but it’s important that they still love their work whether they win or not.
What are your top tips when it comes to shooting for collections? Any tips on how to plan a photo shoot?
- Assistance: You need people helping you. Whether that be to help wash hair, put in rollers, hold cans of hairspray, you need people helping you. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed and to let time get away from you, so having people to help you is important.
- Good hospitality on set: I mean, good, healthy food and drinks for everyone on set. Make sure everyone is staying hydrated and that there’s food there in case they need it, that’s important. Have options for everyone. That way everyone will feel like they’re important when they’re on set.
- Come to set with a clear plan: Your schedule should be planned down to the minute. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
I understand that the pandemic was especially hard for photographers. How did you get through this? Was there anything creative that you did to still be able to work with clients during the lockdowns? (examples: shooting with multiple people/teams on the same day, offering special pricing/packages, travelling to them, etc.)
All of the above. The pandemic didn’t inspire a lot of people to shoot. The lockdowns were destroying people’s ability to feel open and free to create. So, I had to be patient, and wait until people where excited to shoot when the lockdowns were over.
To check out Giancarlo’s work, click here.