The time I shot a Big Brother contestant | A GQ Style Photoshoot with Clay Honeycutt

Last month, I accidently hired a former Big Brother contestant as a model for a personal project.

 
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Prior to that, I was burned out and on the verge of giving up completely. In many ways, 2015 was a great year. But by the end of it, I had stopped creating. Instead, I was just busy making money. Earning a living is important, of course, but as an artist, it’s dangerous if I let it be my primary objective. I make better art when I’m more focused on pushing myself and growing than in sticking with what I know I can do well.

When I get stuck in a rut of repeatedly shooting the same way, I stop feeling inspired. When I’m not inspired, I have a tendency to procrastinate. I become paralyzed with fear, and I look for distractions to keep me from thinking about what’s important. I turn to Netflix marathons, reading endless articles about photography gear, binging on social media, or just moping for days.

Lack of inspiration, procrastination, and fear are all tied together in my struggle with perfectionism. When I give in to fear (which is really the fear of not being perfect), then perfectionism wins and I’m not able to do anything until I’m ready to go out, try something new, and risk not being perfect. 

In December, I noticed that I was sinking into discouragement because with the holidays and being busy with family, I was losing the drive and momentum to find inspiration. But I did the opposite of what I normally do. I was looking through all of the photographs I had taken in 2015, and I realized that it had been a long time since I worked on a personal project without the pressure of pleasing a client. 

I decided to produce my own photo shoot. I called up a few friends I love working with and asked them to join me.

For a long time, I’ve wondered what it would be like to shoot GQ-style images in my own style. The only problem was there was no way I could do it alone. I also know nothing about fashion, unless you call a black t-shirt and jeans “fashion.”

I created a Pinterest board of ideas and sent it out to the team. They all loved the ideas, and we got to work. I had worked with Ashley Akins at the Campbell Agency before. From the selection of headshots she sent me, I found one who looked like he would fit in a GQ ad. So I booked him for the shoot.

The morning of the shoot, I still didn't know who he was. But Bella, our studio manager, told me just before Clay arrived that he had been a popular contestant on Big Brother last summer. Knowing he was famous made me nervous. Suddenly this was less of a fun concept shoot and more of a risk. I tried to shake off the pressure, knowing that more people would be interested in these images.

I try to keep the shoot light and fun.

I try to keep the shoot light and fun.

Clay was easy to work with and a humble, nice guy. He got along with everyone and we got some great shots. If Bella hadn’t told me he was famous, I wouldn’t have known from working with him.

Ricky putting finishing touches on Clay's hair and makeup.

Ricky putting finishing touches on Clay's hair and makeup.

Courtney's looks for Clay were on point the whole day.

Courtney's looks for Clay were on point the whole day.

Don't ask why I am standing like that.  I am trying to explain to him about the emotions he should feel...

Don't ask why I am standing like that.  I am trying to explain to him about the emotions he should feel...

He was never boastful about his fame that he had with being on Big Brother show.  You would never notice he was a popular guy unless you knew the show.

This shoot was a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with talented people and create great images. I like working alone, and I do it well most of the time. But I always enjoy creating with a team. This team inspired me and challenged me to create better work.

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These first shots only happened because Ricky, the makeup artist, thought it would be interesting to wet him down with water bottle. The rest of the shoot went smoothly because our talented stylist brought the right outfits and Ricky matched those concepts perfectly.

 
 

Here is the team:
Model - Clay Honeycutt
Agency - Campbell Agency (Ashley Akins)
Makeup - Ricky Flores 
Styling - Courtney Walker
Assist - Imani Chet Lytle


Here are the technical details for my fellow photography nerds:
Camera: Fujifilm X-T1
Lens: Fujifilm 56mm & 35mm
Lights: Einstein E640 (I used 1-2 lights for each photo. To save time, I had 3 lights with different modifiers set up at all times)
Modifiers: Paul C. Buff 22" Beauty Dish (when I want to slap someone with ton of light, this is what I use), Cheetahstand Rice Bowl (lovely contrasty light), Lumopro Strip (dramatic light), black v-flats (to cut light), and natural window light.

Background: Grey Seamless paper (Savage), cyc wall, and white wall.

The goal with the lighting setup was to create dramatic light.  To pull it off, the lights were close to the subject for a quicker fall off, and the modifier was a deep parabolic shape to create more contrast.  At times, I used the beauty dish to flood light with more of a punch.

I shot tethered to Lightroom via Macbook Pro.

One thing I learned is that I need to watch the time more carefully. My first setup took more than 40 minutes, which is longer than it needed to be. I got way too excited and kept on shooting until Ricky tapped me on my shoulder. After that, I had Bella remind me of the time every 15 minutes. Lesson learned: Get the shot you need and move on. Trust your instinct that you got the shot! You only need one or two “safety” shots, not ten.


Behind-the-scenes photos by Chet Photography

Baby Addison + My Faithfulness

I really didn’t know how to start this post. In my heart, this story has been written a thousand times over already. The story in my heart is so dear to me that I didn’t want to ruin it with words. 

Baby Addison was born with a heart condition and cancer cells in her body.  At first glance, you would never know she was going through any kind of treatment.  

I met Addison for the first time back in March - Sojung and I were in Houston for the weekend with our friends, Amy and Scott. After a night out, we came back to our hotel around midnight. As we crossed the parking garage to the hotel lobby doors, we ran into a young couple, Jose and Jennifer, with Addison seated in a stroller and several suitcases.  Their suitcases were fairly large and looked as if they were planning on staying at the hotel for weeks. I couldn’t help but ask if I could help, so Scott and I each grabbed what we could and helped them to the elevator.

We quickly learned that they were also from Dallas and that created an instant connection.  Expecting them to tell us they were vacationing or visiting family, we were shocked to hear that they were in Houston for Addison’s radiation therapy. My heart seemed to stop for a moment. Addison looked so normal - just minutes before, I had been joking about how Addison must be a night owl because she was bouncing around and smiling in her stroller.

By this time, we were in the elevator, going up. In that short moment, I didn’t know what to do. I felt very compelled to do something, and I found myself struggling to open my mouth. I wanted to say, “Will you allow me to tell your story?” I was mad at myself for whatever held my tongue. The elevator stopped on their floor and we said our goodbyes.  As the doors began to close, I heard God say, “GO! Be faithful!” and I stuck my hand out to stop the elevator and ran out to them.

“I am a portrait photographer and I feel very compelled to tell you this. Could I invite you into our studio and photograph Addison? I would love to tell your story.”

I was sweating; what if they thought I was being crazy, or worse, being rude? 

Fortunately, they were very excited and we exchanged information and promised to keep in touch.

A hope I have for my career is to tell meaningful stories. But honestly, offering up my photography in faith is hard - my brain takes over my heart and I wonder if I’m good enough, if my photos will tell their story well. However, I knew that it wasn’t just coincidence that we had met them in the elevator. Addison’s story is filled with their love and courage and I wanted to share it.

The rest of the trip, I couldn’t stop thinking about Addison. I set up an email reminder to follow up with the family on a weekly basis.  Even Sojung wanted me to make sure to keep in touch with them; Amy and Scott also wanted to help out in any way they could.  This young family had touched all of our hearts.  

A couple of weeks later, Jennifer emailed me:

"Would you be available on Saturday, April 12th? Addison's last day of radiation is the 8th and she starts chemo in a few weeks. If it's possible, I'd love to have pictures of her with her hair. It's been a long time since her hair was this long and she'll lose it with the chemo…”  

I was so excited to see them again.

The time we had with them in the studio was unique. There were smiles and tears from Addison. It was a very new and different environment for her in the studio. At the beginning of the photo shoot, Addison was afraid of me and my camera. Her main doctor is an Asian man; as I approached her with big black object she’d never seen before, she immediately associated me as being just another doctor that might hurt her in some way.  She burst out crying.

Thankfully, I have learned a lot about how to make young children comfortable so I can photograph them in their natural state. I put my camera aside for a little while and played with her. I quickly learned that her attention level is amazing. Amy had brought some bright colored boxes and confetti for Addison to play with - it was such a great idea! Addison loved playing with the little pieces of paper and was able to concentrate on one thing like I’ve never seen before.  I work with a lot of kids and this is unusual.  

Later, Jennifer told me that Addison has learned to play with limited toys and space for long periods of time because she often does extended stays in the hospital.  

For everything she’s been through, Addison is full of life and character, so much personality. She has this fake laugh. It’s so adorable and I can’t describe it with words - you just have to see her do it. And when she actually smiles at you, your heart will melt. I still smile just thinking about it.

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Addison loved playing with the confetti and the boxes...

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but had no interest in any of the toys we had brought for her. She literally threw them aside.

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Thank you for being such a great model, Addison!

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Keep up with Addison and how she is doing by liking their Facebook page, Pray for Addison Grace.

Floral Crown made by the talented Amy Kerstetter. Contact us if you would like to get in touch with Amy or learn more her work.