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December’s commercial photographer spotlight features Allana Wesley White. Allana photographs for an impressive client list including Walmart, Neutrogena, Elle, Parenting and others. She has worked on both sides of the camera, first traveling the world as a professional model for 11 years before picking up her first camera. She lives and works in Miami.
I began with a Canon Eos Elan 7E back in the days of analog photography. I loved that it had seven focal points, which was new at that time. I really was an emotional shooter, and I needed the discipline of more focal points to aim for an eye and figure out exactly what I wanted composed. My husband’s Nikon at the time had one big square focal point, so this forced me to think about it more.
Previously, I had been modeling for 11 years all over the world, and it just got a bit boring. I was assisting and producing a lot of the stock photography for my husband, an advertising photographer, because I just got what was needed for the stock shot. After a while he started joking at me always having an opinion of how it should look, so I ended up picking my own camera. I wanted to shoot fashion and models and since we were in Miami at the time that was great training to shoot all the time with the nice weather.
I have been shooting professionally for ten years after assisting my husband. It was a great opportunity to learn many aspects of the business: casting, conceptualization, dealing with clients, to production. After modeling for years I had developed my own clear vision of how I wanted to portray things. It was very exciting to begin shooting for myself and to see my creative ideas come to life.
Living a lot of the year in Miami, it lent itself to working with commercial models and whenever I tried to go fashion or editorial I couldn’t get that edge. My work was too sweet or pretty. Commercial was really my true voice and I found I could make more money and a career there than in fashion.
Every day is completely different, thankfully. Creatives thrive on variety! The consistencies are pre and post-production, marketing and promotion, but the actual shoots all vary because of the locations, the talent, and the assignment and that keeps things fresh and interesting.
I go between Miami and New York and I work in Chicago and Toronto as well. It’s nice to be in Miami. The weather is great and a lot of advertising clients come here in the winter. So it can be better that I’m local for them, instead of having to fly a crew in.
I love to shoot all sorts of things simply for my own interest. Colors, light, sky, faces, moments – it’s all inspiring. I know myself, though, and I always try to look at the bright side of things and that shows in my photography.
An ideal client is one that is interested in the collaboration and goes into the project with enthusiasm. There are lots of clients I would love to shoot for, ranging from commercial advertising to editorial: projects involving top-notch creatives and a budget to match their ideas.
I love seeing an idea come to life. It’s true that the shot has to be achieved in your mind even before you pick up the camera. This is especially the case with commercial photography. You need to have a game plan and be confident with it. When you know all the elements are there it frees you up to allow the “moment” to happen, and that’s the magic we all strive for when we shoot.
I really love traveling to interesting locations all over the world to shoot and I am inspired by different cultures, landscapes and light. Add in beautiful subjects and great art direction and let the fun begin!
When I was just starting we had a shoot down in Old Tucson at this old western set for my first editorial. It went so well we got the cover and the fashion story, about 10 years ago, and we barely knew what we were doing, kinda flying by the seat of our pants and it was a great time. We were playing gunslingers with the walkie talkies and yelling at each other across the set. It was basically three models, myself and two friends, going out and having fun and doing our thing.
I shoot with a Canon 5d and I shoot between a few variety of lenses. I liked fixed lenses a bit more than zoom, but I don’t have favorites. There was this old Nikkor lens I really loved many years ago, I believe it was a 50mm, but we’ve converted to Canon since.
Normally I shoot 35mm digital for the spontaneity it gives, especially when I am moving with the subject. When the image requires more definition I use medium format, and strobes both indoors and out when needed for effect. The lens depends on the type of image I need to achieve.
I think there is a part of me that never really grew up and I genuinely love to communicate with kids and teens. We just talk and I try to find that one thing that brings a twinkle to their eye. With adults, they know I want them to look their best and my goal is to make them comfortable enough to trust me and be natural. When a concept is demanding I show them myself – I am never above looking silly if it makes them laugh and really go for it.
It’s funny working with kids because I really don’t think modeling is a natural thing for them to do. Most of them are there to make their moms happy, so you have to let them have fun. It has to be genuine and I have to make it fun for them. If it’s only for 15 minutes, that’s all you get. That’s for personal testing. When I’m on assignment, we pick kids who have a lot of experience and are more used to this. There’s less time to coddle them. It’s still fun but we don’t have to coax them along as much. You have to use psychology on these kids all the time. Create something fun for them. It’s your best weapon to get them involved.
When shooting the Urban Kids campaign for winter wear (back to school stuff), we had to do 40 shots off a campaign board in one day and we had five kids. It was 106 degrees out. Just not comfortable at all for the kids and we really had to crank it. But they never once complained about being hot. They just gave me so many frames. Sometimes you get lucky like that.
The most important thing besides being a good business person is to shoot what makes you happy. If you just look to shoot what will make you money then you won’t love it for long. It’s not actually “work” if you are passionate about what you are doing. Whatever you love to shoot then really do it – shoot all the time, and show people what you can do. Potential clients are also passionate about their projects too and when they see you are just as serious about it as they are, they will give you the opportunity.
I am also really excited about an upcoming book that is going to be released in January that I collaborated on called “Face This!” I worked together with two friends, a model and make-up artist. We each wrote sections pertaining to our specialties. It is a handbook about how to look better in photos and how to take a better photo, geared towards non-photographers and beginners alike. It will be available on Amazon as both an e-book for download and as a hard copy, and on the interactive website: http://www.facethis.me. The site should be live in a few weeks and the book on sale starting January.