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 actually got my start as a working photographer through a hairstylist. I had studied Biology in University for a bit … I loved it, but I didn’t see a viable career path there, so I then did a three-year Photography program, which I loved! A hairstylist contacted me while I was still in school, and actually asked me to shoot his Contessa collection, which seems like a lifetime ago.
I’m a very clean, commercial shooter. I pay a lot of attention to small details and lighting, and I photograph the hair to showcase the intricacies of the colour, lines and texture.
How did you begin shooting for the Contessas? (When did you first start?) Tell me about that. (Who was your first Contessa client? etc.)
My first Contessa client was Reynaldo Sopoco. He was fabulous! I believe we photographed three models for the Ontario category, and if I recall correctly, he won. The next year, I believe I took on two other clients, Heather Wenman and Lorraine Wilkins. I believe they both did quite well with the collections we put together. We were all learning the ropes at the time. I think the Contessas had only been happening a couple years when we jumped in. It was so fun and It gave the stylists a chance to step out from behind the chair and explore their creative sides. I think the Contessas were pivotal in shaping the world of hairstyling today.
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?
My process with hair clients always starts with a consultation to discuss the shoot, especially if they’re a new client. I think it’s SO important to choose the photographer based on the style of their work, and the energy between the team members. I also ask the stylists to send me some inspiration photos of what they like. I always tell them the inspiration photos are NOT literal and that I don’t copy someone else’s work. What the images do, is give me some insight into the overall vibe that the stylist is looking for. Do they like bright, airy photos? Do they like dark, moody photos? How important is wardrobe going to be? Etc.
I’ve had new stylists approach me and show me another photographer’s work and tell me “this is what I want”. My answer to that is always, well, that photographer is who you should hire. I’m not big on someone showing me, for example, John Rawson’s work and asking for that exactly. He is an amazing photographer, and he has his own style and his own process. I can’t be him. I can be me.
The next step is to discuss makeup and models, this is always uber important! If they show me photos of a model that I know isn’t going to work, I tell them why. I would say that I actually try to “approve” models and makeup artists before we even book the shoot. I’ve been doing this long enough to know what works, and what doesn’t. I also know that it’s an expensive venture for stylists to put a shoot together, and I wouldn’t be doing anyone any justice by throwing it together half-assed.
I’m very hands-on from start to finish. I’ve been known to grab scissors on set and clean up a bang! This also isn’t for everyone, so during the initial consultation, if the stylist will not budge from their concept and idea, and I don’t feel that it would benefit anyone to have me shoot that, I will turn the job down. All the pieces of the puzzle have to come together for it to work. I turn down quite a bit of new client work, actually, because I don’t feel that I’m the right fit for the job. I have several teams in place now that I work for every year, and that’s enough to keep me going.
How do you deal with any differences in opinions that you may have with a hairstylist when it comes to shooting the collection?
That’s a tough one ! Usually, we have hashed out all the details before shoot day, but occasionally when on set, I see something that might not be right in my mind. I’m always 100% honest. I would stop the shoot and point out the issue and explain why it’s an issue. If the stylist says something along the lines of “yes, but that’s what I want,” I will shoot it. Usually, we meet halfway and do a second set of shots with the changes that I wanted, and then they can compare images and make the executive decision.
You have a “fashion feel” to your photos, how do you mix fashion into the world of hair?
I’ve always loved fashion. You would never say that by looking at me when I’m at work, but I love design, clothing, makeup, and hair. I likely should have been a hairstylist. I think when I started photographing hair decades ago, the wardrobe often consisted of anything the stylist could make from an inexpensive roll of tulle, chicken wire, or a few layered necklaces. I always felt something was missing back then, and it was wardrobe. I love how the pendulum has swung, and now it’s expected that wardrobe, makeup, and model choice all must come together magically to create winning photos. I think the first Contessa and NAHA win for one of my teams had wardrobe made from British newspapers. But man, did I ever twist and contort those pages into something that looked like couture clothing haha! I also think that hiring a professional or semi-professional model brings a whole new element to how “fashion” the photo feels.
What do you like most about shooting for the Contessas?
Every August I swear, I’m never doing it again, and by October, I can’t wait to start planning next year’s shoots. I love the teams I’ve created over the years and I’ve met amazing people that have enriched my life. I love working with stylists to help bring their creative vision to life, and I work hard to give them the best of me. I’m not competitive by nature, but I understand completely how important the Contessas are to my clients, and I love nothing more than creating collections that they not only love and are proud of, but also get recognition for.
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 always amazing to win. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not competitive by nature, but most of my clients want the win for sure. However, for me the recognition that goes along with just being up there with other photographers and stylists that I have admired for years is worth more than the win. I always tell new clients that I can’t promise that they will win, but I can promise that their work will be recognized.
We all know that most of the work that ends up in the semi-finals, or finals, is solid work. Any of those collections are winners. I can’t say that any of my winning collections or stylists stands out in my head, because so many do, and each one has a story for sure. Every one of my winning stylists started at the bottom.
Julie Vriesinga is one that I’m particularly proud of. She was actually one of my first hair models while she was still an apprentice. That girl worked SO hard year after year to win, and year after year, she didn’t. I couldn’t figure out why … her work is SO solid, SO technically proficient, SO beautifully styled and executed. Out of all my clients, her work is the work that I barely had to retouch. Years went by before she was “winning”. I think she was ahead of her time, to be honest. But every one of my clients has a story like this. I’m proud of each and every one of them, and that is seriously all the “win” that I need.
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?
Start with lots of conversation. Mood boards, clothing samples, and model selections. 80 per cent of the shoot happens before shoot day. Have a solid plan going in and expect it to sometimes morph into something else once it starts to come together.
Don’t get too caught up in theatrics or “concepts,” perfect your skill, and make it shine.
Never, ever wait until shoot day to do a first run of any hairstyle. In my early days, I had stylists show up with a model they had never met until they colored their hair the day before, and then they would spend hours on shoot day trying to do a style that they had never attempted. It doesn’t work. Do a trial run at the salon before shoot day, if possible.
Learn to use wigs and hairpieces when you can! It takes so much stress out of shoot day. Most competitions allow wigs now. When my stylists use wigs, they sew every weft into the wig cap by hand, then cut and color them. I think it’s more work than doing natural hair, but on shoot day, it definitely cuts down on time and stress.
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.)
The pandemic pretty much decimated my business. I’ve done two hair shoots in two years. I have a pretty solid portrait and headshot business as well, but my bookings there were down to nothing as well. I have been okay with it, because I’m decades into my career, and have prepared well for a rainy day (this was torrential). I’ve actually settled into my slower pace quite nicely. I’ve been wanting to slow down for a very long time, and don’t know that I would have if I hadn’t been forced to.
I don’t do any travelling for work and I have always just maintained a pretty good local client base, although I do have stylists who come to London to shoot with me. I’ve always had an amazing studio space that accommodates a lot of people and I’m a creature of habit and prefer to work in my own space. I wasn’t really able to “pivot” with hair shoots during the pandemic because stylists just didn’t want to shoot, finding models was a nightmare, and salons were shut down for so long the stylists just couldn’t afford to shoot. I did, however, do quite a bit of commissioned editing and retouching for stylists in other parts of Canada, who were able to either shoot their own collections, or hire a photographer to get the images captured. I’m a solid retoucher and have 30 years of beauty editing experience, so I really enjoyed that extra creative work. I’ve never retouched other photographers work until COVID hit.
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 the Contessas are so important to stylists who are looking for a little more than just working behind a chair. Most of my clients who start doing photoshoots end up working for a product company, and/or becoming part of their education and creative teams, in conjunction with still working in their salon. I think it’s definitely a game changer when a salon becomes associated with winning a Contessa. All of a sudden, they’re “the salon team of the year,” and people love that they’re having an international competition winner or platform artist doing their hair. Even having something published in Salon Magazine, clients LOVE seeing their hairstylists work published.
To check out Paula Tizzard’s website, click here.