Shooting the Psychotic Sister of the Girl Next Door

Demari Vi Syth describes herself as the “The beautiful girl next door’s psychotic little sister!” on her ModelMayhem page. So when she contacted me to see if I was interested in booking a shoot date, I found it hard to resist. She was in the Zurich/Winterthur area for a week, so it was just all to convenient for her to stop by my place to shoot.

I had a few goals for this shoot, one was the development of Protestlove imagery for my book, “Revolt from the Singles Table” and the second was the Barbie Hunter theme, which I originally thought up for Alexandra, who I worked with earlier in the year. Demari came with some Goth-styled latex from Jane Doe Latex a cool latex designer from London. Latex and fetish is the type of stuff I had never really desired to shoot, but figured it would be cool to experiment with (cheaper than going to art school).

Demari actually had the honor of being the first model I’ve paid to shoot with. If you’ve moved beyond the initial stages of photography, tooled around on Strobist for a while, and decided to setup a ModelMayhem account, then you’re probably looking for models to do Time for Prints (TFP) or CD shoots with, as I was (and still am). But I’m now sort of the opinion that dropping money on a model isn’t such a bad way to go. For many projects, unless you know the person before hand it’s hard to know what to expect. Pro and semi-pro models bring a certain level of professionalism and self-awareness, which is extremely valuable when time is of the essence (like if you’re taking the afternoon off from your job to shoot). You can get this from new models as well, but there’s also the question of art direction and motivations. With a TFP shoot there’s generally two motivations, that of the photographer to get their shot, and that of the model to get their look. Maybe the photographer wants head shots while the model wants full-length body shots, etc. But if the model is there on your dime (as a photographer) then it’s all about you and your vision. What can I say, I’m egotistic in this way, I want the shoot to be about my vision.

Demari also offered a new visual direction for me. Her portfolio has a lot of Goth imagery, and when you’re defining a style for yourself (which is a constant for me), then it pays to experiment with different shooting concepts. Goth is something that is actually very hard to do well and too often executed poorly by photographers who think an image will be cool and alternative just because the model is wearing skin-tight latex. Just like the misguided visionaries who think that posing a sexy woman with a gun will automatically make a strong image (they’re usually weak and lack authenticity). Good Goth imagery is hard and requires a lot of attention to detail. I wasn’t out to make these images (through my direction), but rather let Demari do her thing with posing and just shot away with different lighting setups.

I shot Demari primarily on a white seamless background, using a pair of Elinchrom BxRi 250ws strobes coupled with a Sunpak 383 in a Kacey Beauty Reflector, and a large silver reflector. I was shooting with the Elinchrom Portalite softboxes (well why not, they came with the lights). These are my main lighting tools of choice at the moment for things in the studio. Lots of light shaping ability, and easy to position without an assistant. This was the first time I was using my now favorite camera-lens setup, a Sony A900 with a Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 HSM lens. Naturally, I used Elinchrom Skyports to trigger the lights, they’re integrated in the BxRi strobes and make like oh-so-easy when fine-tuning the exposure.

The A900+Sigma 70-200 combination really leaves little room for improvement for portraits and sharpness. Focus is spot-on, and you can see the texture of the skin better than in real life. This is the reason I like the A900, I never have any problems with the camera and can focus on getting the exposure I’m looking for. I focus on the eyes, press the shutter release and know the results will be tack-sharp.

Shooting with Demari was a cool experience. She knows how to carry herself, and is aware of her pose. For me one of the most important things with a model is that they have a good awareness of their body and form. Without this awareness the images can come out looking fake, without that certain element of truth and realness which makes a portrait look real. It’s a certain talent some people have and others learn to develop, and is essential for models to have. Of course, someone is bound to say the images look contrived, but nearly every photograph is.

If you’re interested in working with Demari Vi Syth, she can be contacted via ModelMayhem (#748253).