For beauty photographer Caesar Lima, presentation is everything. From his hip studio decor to his high-tech equipment, Lima is meticulous about keeping everything looking novel, innovative, and fresh. His images evoke both sensuality and power, with a modern edginess often tagged the "Lima look."
Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Lima brings some of his native Carnivale spirit to his work—starting with his 5,000-square-foot studio, located in Calabasas, California. With high cathedral ceilings, his studio is home to pinball and slot machines, a wet bar, life-size statues of super heroes, urban toys, a firemen's pole, and an Apple Macintosh museum, displaying Apple computers from an earlier millennium—circa 1980.
"I call my studio my Disneyland. Usually I don't go on appointments, I try to meet new clients at the studio, because the space plays a big role in telling my story," he says. "When the client sees the work, then visits my studio where the work is done, 95 percent of the time they're hooked." Which may begin to explain his bountiful client roster, which includes, for starters, Cherokee, Discover Card, Capitol Records, Walt Disney, FX Channel, Hilton Hotels, MacDirectory, Nokia, Pioneer, Redken, Reebok, Sanyo, Sharp, Sony Pictures, Skechers, Time, and Yamaha.
Behind the "Brazilian Way"
Lima is driven by what he calls the "Brazilian way," which he describes as "respecting all who are involved in the assignment," and getting everybody in touch with his vision—"not to mention lots of caffeine, loud music, and a great sense of humor."
An important ingredient in Lima's approach is food. "You have to make people feel comfortable. I have food, we play music, and I create a happy ambience, so everybody feels special. It's a group effort in which you are the director trying to get the best performance from your crew and models." Lima relies on two assistants and a studio/production manager to help him juggle tasks.
"My assistants set the light and props, and triple-check hardware and software. My studio manager helps organize the flow of photo shoots, making sure people show up and props get delivered. He also keeps us on schedule, handles the catering, etc. I need to have a clear mind, so I can think creatively about the shoot," he explains.
Stories Without Words
A man of few words—even our interview was a series of emails—Lima prefers that people focus on his images. A believer in the proverb "talk is cheap," he avoids fancy slogans and rhetoric, refusing to make cold calls or practice price-slashing.
"I don't want to be hired because I promise that my work will be cheaper or faster. I want them to hire me because they like what they see," he says. Instead, he sends out a 32-page promotional brochure, which he calls his idea book, packed with his images.
"I use my idea book and advertise a lot in Workbook, Black Book, Archive magazine, and RAW. We do podcasts, mailings, and monthly emails. My ads don't include an address or phone number. They showcase an image, my logo, and my web address," he explains.
His website, developed in house, includes amazing full resolution images at any screen size "The site is super fast and looks amazing on a 30" Apple Cinema Display. My website was all done in flash. It's very clean and most important, it's all about my images," he says.
Lima has found that the trick to putting together captivating photographs is telling a story without words. "The more you can communicate with a single image the better," he explains. "It's a combination of shapes, shadows, body expression, and lighting—this is what makes a shot unique."
Process & Preparation
Before each of his three or more assignments each week, Lima consults with the client to get a sense of what he or she wants to achieve at the photo shoot. Then he selects the wardrobe, makeup, and hair styles accordingly.
"Everything has to be in perfect harmony," he says. "I like to meet with the client a day before the shoot so we can go over the lighting setup. It's good to go over lighting in advance, so at the actual shoot, variables like wardrobe and makeup just need to be fine tuned. I like to nail what the client wants (the safe shot) as fast as I can, so I can ‘play' and explore something more edgy."
Choosing a model is a collaborative effort, and Lima likes to photograph models he has worked with before.