How to Put Your Inexperienced Model at Ease

I met Danielle at a jiu jitsu tournament where she was a competitor.  Although she was comfortable on the mat having someone try to break her arm or choke her out, I could sense that despite her being interested in doing a shoot, she was nervous about it.

Danielle Kelly photographed by John Ricard

This shoot was part of my “Model Test Monday” series, where I do a model shoot every Monday.  Sometimes I utilize a full team of hairstylist, makeup artist and fashion stylist.  Other times it’s just me and the model.  For a test shoot, either scenarios.  This day it was me, Danielle and makeup artist Jessica Rios.

Here are 3 steps I took before and during the shoot to make Danielle as comfortable as possible.  Note, these tips are best suited for a shoot where you don’t have a specific agenda -perhaps a shoot where you are testing new lighting techniques.

1) I allowed the model to wear whatever she likes.  I didn’t give Danielle any clothing advice aside from suggesting a tank top be included in her selections.  This is risky in that I might not like any of the outfits, but I knew there would always be things I could do with lighting and composition to keep the viewer’s attention away from the wardrobe.  But allowing Danielle to shoot in whatever she felt most comfortable in, would help give her a sense of control and comfort.

2) I gave the model input into the hair and or makeup styling.  Often, the creative direction is decided long before a model is even selected for a shoot and by the time we are on set, the model has zero input.  This wasn’t the case here.   I was open to shooting pretty much any look.  So rather than saying to Danielle something like, “I’ve worked with Jessica dozens of times and she has already selected a great look for you,” I told her, “You and Jessica can decide on a look for you today. I’m fine with whatever you both agree on.”  This helped to give Danielle a feeling of control over the shoot and helped insure she would project confidence in the looks we were shooting.


3) I allowed the model to make the image selections.  Normally, unless the model has paid for the shoot, she isn’t the one deciding which images are released.  However, when I’m doing frequent testing, and I’m make sure to keep each test to 4 hours at the most, I’m not as vested in each individual shoot as I might be if I were shooting only once every couple of months.  I wanted Danielle to be comfortable with anything we shot, so I told her, “At the end of each look I’m going to let you look through the images and select any images that you are ok with releasing online.”  I didn’t look over her shoulder as she made her selections.  And honestly, it didn’t even matter to me if she was going to not select a really strong image.  I knew Danielle would likely be contacting me a few months down the road asking if I had any additional images from our shoot, and by that time, I would have another 20 shoots completed anyway.

All of these small steps on my part resulted in not just our creating strong images during the shoot, but I also earned Danielle’s trust.  This will pay off tremendously, should I decide to call her another project in the future.

Marissa Zando for Astound Magazine


Photographer: John Ricard / Model: Marissa Zando Hair: Britney Powell /  Makeup: Jessica Rios /

Photographer: John Ricard /
Model: Marissa Zando
Hair: Britney Powell /
Makeup: Jessica Rios /

Photographer: John Ricard / Model: Marissa Zando Hair: Britney Powell /  Makeup: Jessica Rios /

Photographer: John Ricard /
Model: Marissa Zando
Hair: Britney Powell /
Makeup: Jessica Rios /

I met first met Marissa at Unique Photo where I was presenting a seminar on studio lighting.  She was 17 at the time, but she did a great job posing in front of 20 or so photographers who were present.  By the time we shot this spread a couple of months later, Marissa had tunred 18.  I think my model release was the first one she ever signed for herself.


Model: @melissa__martin

Model @feliciaverna

Hair: @alstyling

Makeup: @urbanglamher

Latest shoot from my Model Test Monday project.  Really enjoying shooting every single Monday.  

Why We Create: Carmen Lilly, fashion stylist.  @stylecarmen

I met Carmen when I was the house photographer for BET’s 106 & Park.  She was the stylist for Rocsi Diaz, who is now a host on Extra.  I used to watch Carmen use her phone to photograph Rocsi’s look of the day during commercial breaks on set.  It seemed to take her forever to get it done and the photographs weren’t very good.  While the iPhone camera is indeed amazing in most situations, it failed at capturing the correct white balance in the mixed lighting setup at BET.  So I offered to take the look of the day images for Carmen.  I felt BET should have these images as part of their daily take anyway.  

Carmen left BET about a year before I did, but we always stayed in touch. We’ve done a few shoots at my studio.  You can find a goth shoot we did if you scroll to my previous posts from the past few months.  Carmen is an amazing stylist with true vision.  Like me, she lives in Brooklyn with her spouse.  She has a daughter who is about 5 years younger than mine, and when I see her, it makes me miss the days when I could just pick up my daughter (literally) and carry her with me wherever I wanted to go.  (These days it’s more like, “Do you want to come with me into the city?”)

This video is part of a series I’m doing called, “Why We Create”. I love the combination of stills and video but it takes forever to shoot the content and even longer to do the edit on the computer.  The images of Carmen and her daughter run for maybe 10 seconds in the video, but they took me hours to shoot.  But I’m choosing to make this video series.  Can’t really complain about the workload 😉

Model: Divani IG: @theedivani 

Hair: Ashley @alstyling

I’ve been doing model tests at my studio every Monday for the past couple of months.  It’s a creative endeavor with no real endgame.  Usually, I don’t know how I’m going to shoot the model(s) until I get to the studio and meet her in person.  I’ve been experimenting with light, props, wardrobe, posing and anything I can else that comes to mind at that moment.  Sometimes I shoot with a full team -hair, makeup, styling and nail tech.  Other times it’s just me and the model.  It’s about being creative. It’s not about seeing how many people I can bring into my studio for a shoot.

I created a hashtag on Instagram where all these images are grouped. It’s #ModelTestMonday. I’m curious to see how many different shots I can create over the course of the next 6 months or so.

Los Scandalous.  

My favorite city.  I shot these images of Kimera Morrell on a rooftop in downtown Los Angeles.  She’s an ex New Jersey resident whom I’ve shot several times in my studio.  

We didn’t have permission to be here and our shoot took about 4 hours.  During that period, not one person came up to use the roof nor did anyone come up to tell us to leave.  Things would be different in NYC.  Any location with cool backgrounds and great lighting would have dozens of photographers setting up camp daily.

All images were shot on the Leica M9 and Leica M240 cameras.  The M9 is such a great camera, that it is still the first camera I reach for when the light is good.  Using it is much like using the M240, even though the M240 is a more advanced camera.  I give Leica a lot of credit for creating a camera like the M9 that is still worthwhile even when its superior successor is released.  


I’m back from LA -one of my favorite places.  Actually I’m back from both San Diego and LA.  I went to SD to photograph a great artist named Michael “Monstro” Amorillo.  He’s currently working on a children’s book about a sea monster who can’t swim.  I’ll post some images of Michael in a future post.

Los Angeles was the main destination.  And the main reason for the trip was to train BJJ at 10th Planet.  The vibe there is so cool, and the head instructor, Eddie Bravo, is the closest thing to a rock star that you’ll find on a jiu jitsu mat.  I always feel like I’m home when I’m training there.  I put my daughter into classes at the Gracie Academy in Torrance.  The quality of instruction there is second to none and she really feels comfortable there. I  wish we had a kids jiu jitsu program of that quality here in NYC.  I might just have to start my own…

We also made a stop at the Leica gallery.  Nots sure why.  I own 2 of their bodies and several lenses. Not much left for me to buy from them at this point.  But there is that Monochrom -an $8,000 camera that shoots black and white only.  My wife was looking at an exhibit of black and white portraits shot with shallow depth of field.  She asked why I never shot her that way.  I told her, I don’t own a Monochrom and maybe she should get me one 😉

Knowing that wasn’t likely to happen, I asked to borrow the camera from the gallery for a few minutes.  I created the B&W shots you see here a few minutes later.  


I met Nikki at the NY Open, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament I was shooting for the IBJJF a few months ago.  In the photo below, she is the one who is standing.

Despite the fact that she was trying to choke someone out when I met her, I knew she would be able to pull off a delicate beauty shot in my studio.  I reached out to her a few weeks later and she told me that she had never done any sort of modeling at all.  While I enjoy the expediency at which an agency model can complete a shoot, I also enjoy the experience of shooting an inexperienced model who doesn’t have any preconceived notions about what poses work for her and what poses don’t work.

I expected that she’s be a bit nervous coming into the shoot, but I knew the atmosphere in my studio -(non stop videos courtesy of Vevo on Apple TV), and the team I work with, would erase that pretty quickly.  

The goal was to make her hair as large and busy as possible and still convey a feeling of sensuality even though we would only see part of her face.  Needless to say, Nikki pulled it off.

Photographer: John Ricard @johnricard

Model: Nikki Mak IG@nikki_mak21

Nails: Shakinya IG@sohoxshakii

Hair and Makeup: Ashley Lee IG @Alstyling 

After years of experimenting with different methods of producing video, I believe I’ve finally produced something I’m really proud of.  Its a 1 minute profile of makeup artist and model, Nikki Phillip.  The theme is “Why We Create”.  What makes the video different from anything I’ve produced in the past, is the use of still images in rapid fire sequence to serve as b-roll.  It’s a way of doing video, without really shooting video.  I’ll be pursing this method with other subjects and I’ll see where it takes me.

Video was shot using the Fuji XE-1 while the still images were take with the Leica M9.

Street Photography #FAIL

I just walked in from 30 minutes of street shooting.  I didn’t create a single worthwhile image.  The image above may have been the only thing I even shot. 

When I posted on Twitter that I had failed to get a good shot today, the question was asked of me by @gcahal, “Do you go and look for a shot? Or do you go and just see what happens? I’m usually looking and don’t find it.

I don’t look for a certain shot.  I’m open to anything.  Almost.  My personal rules for street photography is that I don’t shoot kids because they aren’t fair game in my mind.  I don’t shoot homeless people or anyone down on his/her luck because they don’t have the ability to stop the intrusion of my camera if they don’t want to be photographed.  I don’t shoot signs, textures and lights because I don’t care about those things, and it’s just so easy, anyone can do it.

My actual technique for street shooting isn’t even focused on photography. It’s focused on interacting with people.  I call it Photo Sarging -named after a term used by what is now considered, the “Old School” Pick Up Artist community.  In a nutshell it works like this.  I go out for say, 30 minutes, and I try to talk to as many people as I can.  It doesn’t matter what I say.  Often I remark on what they are wearing, or what they are carrying.  When I see a couple, I might use a canned opener like, “Who causes more problems in a relationship, the guy or the girl?”

It doesn’t matter what they say in response to my opener.  All that matters is that we are talking.  I might even change topics without warning.  The goal is to create the feeling of us having the type of conversation that we would be having if we were friends.  I want to avoid introducing myself or asking them the standard, ‘Where are you from?“ questions because that reinforces the idea that we are strangers.  At some point in the conversation I’ll say, "Can I get a shot of you?  I love your scarf,” or whatever it is that is interesting about the person.

All of that is the easy part…

Here’s the thing.  For this to work you have to be in a certain state, or zone.  You have to create a reality that you are living in.  A reality where everything is happy and carefree and there’s a small party going on around you.  You have to believe in that reality so strongly that you infect the people around you, and they start believing in that reality.  Imagine a subway car where everyone feels safe and is reading their iPads and smartphones without fear of robbery.  (Happens all day long in NYC).  Suddenly one thug looking gentleman enters the car.   Everyone’s mood changes.  Now the subway is a scary place. That is what you need to do -change the mood of the people around you by your mere presence.  You need to make people feel they are in a happy, safe, fun/party place because that is the zone that you are in.  You need to believe that taking pictures of people you don’t know is the most normal thing in the world.  You need to believe that to the degree that the people you are talking to start believing it as well.

To reach this state you are going to have to go out every single day.  Maybe for 10 minutes, maybe for 30.  But every day.  You need to focus not on the photography but on the interactions with the people.  Free yourself from outcome.  Don’t worry if you don’t get any good photos, or any photos at all.  Just be in the moment.  And that moment is a freewheeling happy, casual, friendly moment.  It’s as if you are drunk and you have lost the self conscious feeling that dominates your thoughts when you are sober.  You’re smiling and talking to everyone, and you aren’t the least bit concerned with their reaction.  You’re not hurt by the rejection and frankly, you aren’t even turned on by the positive reactions.  You are self amused.  This is crucial.  You can never communicate to the people that you meet that they have control over your emotions.  You need to be in control of your emotions -and their emotions as well. 

You will always fail on your early approaches each time you go out.  But with each rejection, you’re getting closer to a success and the successes are cumulative.  This is also crucial.  When you leave one successful interaction, you’ll start the next interaction deeper in your happy/party/friendly zone and be more likely to succeed again.  And if you succeed on your second approach, you are more likely to succeed on your third.  

So that, is my approach to street photography -Photo Sarging, if you will.  It’s an approach developed from studying “The Game” (book) and “Annihilation Method” (video) by Neill Strauss and numerous videos including, “The Game is an Odyssey of the Mind” by Owen from Real Social Dynamics.  But it’s all backed up by Orwen Klaff in his book “Pitch Anything” which has nothing at all to do with picking up women but has everything to do with creating a “frame” that you believe in and overpowering someone else so that your frame becomes their reality. 

This doesn’t mean that you won’t have #FAIL days like I did today.  But I assure you, my hit rate on street photography is much higher than most.