It might sound crazy, but this shoot marked the first time Cat Malatack had modeled in her life. She was encouraged to give it a try by Philly-based photographer Julia Lehman, who met Cat at a yoga class.
I couldn’t stop noticing how insanely fit and pretty she was, so I approached her after class to find out if she was already a model. She said she had never modeled before but was excited to try.
It was a win-win experience for us since I really wanted to improve my fitness portfolio [in order to] go after larger clients like Athleta, LuLu Lemon, and Nike. I also encouraged her to try fitness modeling professionally, which she was flattered by and excited about. She’s a pretty humble girl and probably never gave [modeling] much thought. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.
Due to Cat’s lack of experience in this field, she let Julia guide her through the shoot. The key to getting the best out of a subject, in Julia’s view, is creating a relaxed environment and gaining the person’s trust in the process.
I will do pretty much anything I can to make people relax in front of the camera. Often, I’ll talk with them openly about how uncomfortable it must feel to have a stranger with a camera in their face and that I don’t like my photograph taken, either. That tends to make me feel more relatable to people. It also softens them a bit.
Another thing I do is I’ll make them a part of the creative experience by showing them the images that I’m taking on my camera. That way, my subjects can see how good they look, which tends to get them excited and more into the flow of the shoot. Next thing you know, they’re ‘working the camera’ and coming up with their own ideas, which I totally love and support.
I also get the best facial expressions this way, and the many sides of a person come out. Creativity mixed with passion and fun is a great recipe for a portraiture photoshoot. It’s infectious!
Julia takes extra care to make sure her collaborators feel comfortable in their own skin on camera. She emphasizes this aspect of her work for many reasons, not least of which is that it’s good for business.
It’s been proven time and time again to me that, if I give a little more to a client, they will love their time and experience as well as the photos I took of them. That’s the way my business has been built and the best clients are streaming in because of that. My business is all word-of-mouth.
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this by now, but Cat is in pretty good shape. Knowing this, Julia scouted a part of Philly that allowed her to try different fitness-based shots, like this one:
I don’t think she rock climbs at all! That was my idea and I knew she could do it. Cat was up on the rock for 30 seconds to one minute(!) each time.
I often rollerblade and run that loop on Kelly Drive and always wanted to shoot there since it’s a great scene with the bridge, river, bike path, and that awesome rock. I’m always on the lookout for new places to shoot and I wanted a location in Philly that wasn’t the typical iconic locale but still very recognizable.
Since Cat is, shall we say, in a different stratosphere genetically than most humans, people who see her in public just assume she’s a celebrity of some kind. As a result, some of the folks who happened upon Julia and Cat’s shoot wanted to photograph the work, a development which surprised the portraitist.
I think the most interesting experience of this shoot was the number of people who were mesmerized by what we were doing. Cat is so gorgeous and insanely fit, so it’s no wonder that people thought she was famous and wanted to know more about what we were doing. They thought we were shooting for a magazine! It was just a trip how people wanted to document us working, too.
The toughest part of this project for Julia was picking her favorite shots. She says she often “fall(s) in love with lots of the photos,” which makes it difficult to winnow down the work to the cream of the crop. Julia tends to get swept up in the “creative flow” and thusly shoots and shoots and shoots until she’s created enough pictures to fill a photo album. Ultimately, Julia determines her best work by identifying in which images the necessary elements of a quality photograph coalesce.
I narrow it down to my favorites by choosing the ones with flattering facial expressions, poses, lighting, etc. When shooting fitness photography, there will be a moment where everything lines up in the fullest expression of the action and that will be the winner.
For example, when having Cat run, I wanted to make sure we got her arms and legs staggered and both feet off the ground and her face looking intense but still pretty.
This project proved beneficial for both parties. Julia diversified her portfolio, while Cat got a chance to try something new and perhaps gained a measure of self-confidence as a result. Julia’s ability to see the best in other people — and expertly capture it — made this an all-around fruitful endeavor.
[Cat’s humility] made me want to help her see herself in a new light and empower her to go for something totally different in her life. I’m someone who loves to help good people when I can and show them their gifts.
She is a beautiful person inside and out, and it was truly a pleasure to help her see this in herself.
Model: Cat Malatack
See more of Julia’s work at julialehmanphoto.com.
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