[Image Description: A collage on lined notebook and pink paper. Two polaroid-style photos sit overlaid on top. One shows a red telephone booth; the other many smaller polaroids laid out among a necklace with people smiling into the camera]
Have you ever wondered what it really takes to get those final glossy images you see in magazines or online? Well, keep reading because today we’re taking you on a virtual plane ride to London for a behind-the-scenes peek at our very first photoshoot. No boarding pass required. So grab your favorite fuzzy neck pillow & some snacks while we take you through our travel diary.
Editor’s Note: We were lucky enough to complete this shoot the week before the Omicron variant shut everything down again. However, out of respect to our team & our models, we had a rapid test done upon arrival in London and remained masked throughout the entire photoshoot. Additionally, we want to thank all the models, our Photographer, Makeup Artist, and Videographer for their effort, talent, and professionalism during this crazy pandemic. Their credits can be found at the bottom of this article.
Day 1, Part 1: Flight to London | Train Ride from Paris
[Image Description: A polaroid photo of a nighttime cityscape sits on top of a pink background. In the corners are some pen swirls added for decoration.]
Photoshoots are all about the 3 P’s: Planning, Preparation, and People! Our team worked for months, selecting the perfect agency, location, models, team, and planning the props. One of the biggest challenges was making sure the photoshoot location would be accessible, so we settled on a hotel that had a wheelchair-friendly entrance, accessible parking & bathrooms, and an elevator.
The night before the shoot, Maddie caught a red-eye flight from the USA to Heathrow Airport. It took about seven hours (in the middle seat!) to get there, but stepping out into the city streets of London was well worth it. Meanwhile, our founder, Emma Butler, hopped a train from Paris. They met at the station, did their rapid test, grabbed some snacks, and headed to the hotel where the shoot was taking place.
Day 1, Part 2: Arriving in London
[Image Description: Two polaroid photos sit on a white background with more decorative pen scribbles. The photos show the sun peeking over a glistening city street, as cars race along with it. The photo layered on top shows a wooden tray with plants sitting in the middle of a town square.]
London is such an interesting mix of modern and historical architecture, tradition and pop culture. Also, in true London fashion, it was almost always raining, even when the sun was out. Here are some of the sights we saw along the way:
[Image Description: More collaged polaroid photos on a textured white background. They show more sights of London; some historic-looking buildings with fancy windows and a shot of a castle-like building peeking from the other side of a bridge. A river flows underneath and it looks cloudy.]
When we arrived at the hotel, the staff at Park Plaza Riverside were kind enough to show us a few different upgraded rooms so we could determine which would be the most accessible. While some of the rooms they showed to us were beautiful, the entrances and floor plans ran a little too narrow for our models who used wheelchairs, so we opted for our original room on the lower floor. (Which was perfect anyway!)
After some creative furniture rearranging to make the space as large and obstacle-free as possible, we freshened up and hit the local boutiques to shop for props. Our favorite store was in Waterloo Station (see below). They had everything from HomeGoods to clothes, and we even found a super cute porcelain teapot! When planning a shoot, it’s important to have a clear theme or vision to follow, and our talented COO, Alyssa Silva, did a STUNNING job of creating our aesthetic. We shopped and checked everything off the list she made, then headed home to catch a few Zzz’s before the big day.
[Image Description: A polaroid photo on a light pink background. The polaroid shows a shop, with shelves lined with decorative boxes, candles, and jars. The shop walls are pink and the walls are lined with white frames of artwork.]
Day 2: The Shoot
Photoshoots take a lot more time than you might think because there’s a lot of room for error and experimentation, so they usually start fairly early in the morning. Emma and Maddie woke up at 7:30 am and jumped straight into prepping for the day: laying out a breakfast buffet, pressing samples, and selecting accessories. (Featured below: A shot of Maddie ironing in a bathrobe. Not featured? The jumbo-sized coffee she was trying to finish as quickly as humanly possible before everyone arrived.)
[Image Description: Maddie faces the camera with a smile, holding up an iron. She is wearing a white robe and black glasses.]
9:00 am–-Our models and the team show up promptly and after a few minutes of breakfast nibbles and chatting, we get down to business. Everyone is moving around, setting up equipment, and unpacking bags. A pop playlist blasts only slightly louder than the hairdryer. Emma takes everyone’s coffee order as we all try to wake up together.
[Image Description: A polaroid photo against a dark pink background. A young woman with long blonde hair sits in a chair as the makeup artist applies makeup with a brush to her face. In front of them is a table covered every inch with different makeup products.]
Neusa Neves, our hair and makeup artist, sets up in the middle of the main room, spilling more makeup than I’ve ever seen in my entire life onto the table. It was so fun watching her work with each model and watching the full thing come to life. Instead of the typical fashion industry editorial look, we opted for a softer, more natural makeup style and Neusa did a wonderful job at executing this.
We also made a point not to cover up any skin differences, bumps, or textures because our Liberare team wanted to be as authentic as possible. Somehow, Neusa managed to highlight the innate beauty within each woman, while making them look fresher, brighter, and bringing the look to life.
[Image Description: A polaroid photo shows a tiered cake stand sitting on a bed. The tray is loaded up with different treats. White swirling meringues sit next to red strawberries and strange pink cookies that we learned later from our British teammates are called “party rings.” The whole thing sits on a mirrored silver tray next to a blue and pink floral teapot.]
While the models got their hair and makeup done, we set up the props, including this super cute teapot purchased the night before! The pink cookies are called party rings, and they were definitely our favorite! In the space around the bed, Anna, our photographer, arranged the cameras, screens, and wires to maximize the potential angles we could work with.
[Image Description: A polaroid sits against a dark pink background. In the photo, the viewer can see the camera’s screen as it takes photos of a young brunette woman sitting on a bed in the background. She is holding a teacup and slightly blurred.]
9:30–Photography and videography began. It was really cool watching the two women work in tandem with each other and the models. Jessica (featured above) was a pro at incorporating the props and made the whole thing look totally natural! We played around with different poses, facial expressions, and props, checking each in live-time on a laptop. Alyssa, (COO) called in via Zoom to give us some instruction as we experimented with different angles and lighting.
[Image Description: Another collage of polaroids sits on a light pink background. The larger image shows a woman’s profile. She is dressed in black with a blue surgical mask, huddled over a tripod camera, and diligently working the controls. In the smaller polaroid style photo, a group of models smile, facing the camera. A natural, warm light is falling over their faces.]
One of our favorite parts about the shoot was seeing the models get to know each other. At one point, Jessica (Ambulatory WCU, Limb difference) and Fashia (Above Knee Amputee) chatted about how nice it was to connect with other disabled models, and swapped tips on prosthetics. Renee (A Wheelchair User) and Mollie (limb difference and Stoma User) also found common ground, sharing stories about the stigmas they’d experienced in dating & sex.
[Image Description: Two polaroid photos are layered on top of each other on a mauve ground. The larger shows the group of models playing with the teapot and pastries as they chat. In the foreground, Jessica sits on her electric wheelchair and raises a teacup to her lips. Behind her, the others sit of the bed, caught mid-laugh. The smaller polaroid sits on top and shows a white woman and a black woman sitting back to back and leaning on one another casually. Their eyes are closed and a warm yellow light falls over their faces.]
Overall, the shoot had a vibe of community, support, and kinship. For Maddie, it was a rare moment that she hadn’t experienced much of in other areas of the fashion industry, where things are more clinical and critical. It was the kind of photoshoot that is possible when creatives come together in a female-oriented, inclusive, and non-judgmental space. (Y’know, the way it should be.)
[Image Description: A polaroid style photo sits against a light pink background. Within in, other smaller polaroids sit against a white fur rug with perfume bottles and dainty gold jewelry scattered between. The little polaroids show photos taken on set; people smiling into the camera or striking a model pose.]
5:00—The sun set in the blink of an eye. With the final shots complete, everyone claps and cheers, tired and excited at the same time. The models scramble to get changed back into street clothes while the photographer disassembles her equipment. The room is a hot mess of makeup brushes and hair ties; jeans slung over the arms of a wheelchair, crumbs of pastries scattered across the table. Hugs and social media accounts are exchanged, tube tickets are purchased. I help everyone pack up and say a million goodbyes. The shoot is done, but the work is just beginning. In the coming days, we will sort through thousands of photos, make notes, and review again until final edits are done.
It’s a huge amount of work, and it wouldn’t be possible without this amazing team. So credits & a HUGE thank you to……
Enma Butler, Liberare: Chief Executive Officer
Maddie Highland, Liberare Product Designer
Alyssa Silva, Liberare Chief Creative Officer
Emma Bailey, Liberare: Social Media & Graphics
Zebedee Management, Model & Talent Agency
Neusa Neves, Makeup Artist, Hair
Jessica P, Model
Renee B, Model
Mollie Pearce, Model
Fashia Shuhimi, Model
Anna Neubauer, Photographer
Emily Grannon, Videographer