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San Diego Magazine Swimwear Shoot

A couple of months ago, I posted about a big shoot that I had coming up. Well, I can now post the photos from the shoot since the magazine has finally been published.

Doing a shoot like this is a lot of work - as you can probably imagine. It all started with a call from the art director a few months ago asking if I wanted to do the magazine’s swimwear fashion. I could have done a typical shoot with models on the beach, but that would’ve been too predictable.

Instead, I put my little thinking cap on. I have a collection of photography books in my house - from Avedon to Salgado. But the work that really stood out was that of Helmut Newton. I love his mix of nudity, fashion, and composition - Helmut Newton became my inspiration.

Next, I decided to go for more of a high-fashion look. I didn’t want to stick with just the swimwear. Instead, I wanted to layer the clothes with dresses and coats. I knew that I couldn’t show nudes in the magazine. Having the bikinis peaking out of the clothes gave the shots some of the voyeuristic feel that inspired me in Newton’s work.

The next thing to decide on was the location. I thought of everything from expensive homes to the desert. The art director told me that there was a chance of getting the cover. The catch is it’s easier to get the cover shot if it has something to do with San Diego. The desert was out if I wanted a hope for the cover shot.

Last year, I’d been condo shopping and checked out some condos near the ballpark in San Diego’s downtown. The salesperson took me to the roof where I was blown away by the view. I knew that I wanted to shoot there at some point. As I was brainstorming for a place to shoot, it came to mind. That in turn gave me the idea to shoot at a variety of rooftops around downtown and make that the unifying theme for the shoot.

Once I had a look and a concept in place, I needed to assemble the right team. I’ve worked with a lot of great stylists, but I needed people who really understood fashion and weren’t afraid to push things. I did some asking around and got a couple of recommendations to the same guy for makeup. Once we met, I knew that he was the perfect fit. The magazine referred us to a new stylist in town. She’d just moved from LA where she’d done styling for celebrities like Sharon Stone.

The final step was casting for talent. That was a lot of work. I did an entire round of casting and didn’t get anyone. I finally ended up bringing in every single girl located in San Diego that was represented by the agency I worked with. I insisted on actually meeting with every girl I was considering because I didn’t want to just go off of their photos. Seeing how the talent works with me and how they look in the final image is super important in making the final decision.

The shoot day was long and tiring. But everything went perfectly. I shot with my camera tethered to my computer so that I could see what I was getting as I was shooting. I had two very experienced assistants (and a volunteer) helping me to set everything up and then take it down. I don’t travel lightly on these shoots so it’s a lot of work.

There’s never enough time on these shoots so knowing my equipment and how to get the looks that I want is the key to making it work. Trying to figure out what you’re doing in the middle of the shoot is just not possible. Before taking on a shoot of this scale, it’s important to test everything out in advance so that there’s no guesswork on the shoot day.

In the end, the art director loved the shots. Unfortunately, they were a bit too much for some of the powers that be. The shots were originally supposed to run in the July issue but got killed instead. I guess, upon further reflection, the magazine decided not just to run the photos, but put one of them on the cover.

Honestly, as long as I was happy, my creative team was happy, and the art director was happy with the shots, the rest of it didn’t matter. Trying to do something different and new necessarily means that some people are going to be uncomfortable with it. That’s actually a good thing.

In the end though, all’s well that ends well.


5 Responses to “San Diego Magazine Swimwear Shoot”

  1. TONY Says:

    Nice cover!

  2. delphine Says:

    beautiful job!!!!

  3. Brandon Says:

    What a great shoot John and an awesome cover too.

  4. rachel@mergeweddings.com Says:

    gah! these are great. it was really interesting to hear it from the back end as well. I’d love to do a shoot like this for a boston publication - I just need the art director to call!

  5. Paul Hodgson Says:


    Some of these images are superb. For any future images would you consider illustrating in words and perhaps diagrams, how you choose to light the subjects? Being an analytical by nature I love factual information and so as an extension to this request would you be willing to also share your shooting info such as flash/strobe power settings etc?

    Again - thank you.

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