There’s something about Dominick Guillemot’s voice that put his clients at ease. Maybe it’s his distinct accent, retained after years spent shooting fashion in Paris before this California windsurfer opened his studio in Santa Monica several decades ago. Or maybe it’s the manner in which he says things—a smooth, non-confrontational style that’s neither aggressive nor passive, but simply engaged with the work at hand.
“I’m never pushy, but I’m also not a pushover,” Guillemot says. “If I want my clients to listen to me, I listen to them. It’s like any relationship. I’m very aware of what they want. If I don’t think it’s going to work, I tell them gently I’d recommend doing it another way.”
And before they know it, his clients have fallen under the spell of this French charmer with the ability to dramatically light a fashion shoot like few others around.
Not entirely comfortable with the notion of turning on the charm with clients, Guillemot says, “Is it charm or just being real? I think it’s really about doing my best.” This involves not only giving clients what they want, but also what they hadn’t even thought of or expected. “Along with looking at a clothing line before a shoot, I look at where these clothes are bought, the clientele of the store, and where the fashion industry is headed,” he says.
Guillemot credits his larger awareness of the fashion industry, in part, to hiswife, who is the West Coast editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Beyond that, Guillemot simply loves clothes. And with 25-years experience in the business, his clients trust his judgment and his eye.
To anyone who’s seen Guillemot’s images, his “eye” has a very theatrical, almost cinematic flair to it, with his work recalling both 1940s Hollywood and the glory days of French Vogue.
Lighting Is My Thing
Guillemot achieves much of the gauzy drama in his images through Kino Flo fluorescent lighting, which, not surprisingly, is often used by the motion picture industry to provide convenient and portable soft light.
When he’s going on a shoot, he comes prepared for any situation, packing an entire truck with various Kino Flo systems, assorted Profoto Pro kits and tungsten set-ups—some to create the appearance of night, others to create the illusion of daytime. In addition to lighting, he brings along silks for diffusion and tons of sandbags, so his lights won’t fly away.
“There’s no one way of lighting any situation. You have to go with the feeling you’re after,” Guillemot explains. “Is it a strobe look you want or northern light like you’re in Europe at a window? I focus on the feeling first. If it’s outside in the woods, I’ll set up a little Kino Flo with a reflector. If I want the images to look like a sunset on a rainy day, I’ll put all the lights in front of the talent so it’s all blue, then warm it up later on the computer during color correction. I love lighting. That’s my thing.”
Sometimes though, as with the shot of the model walking under the bridge, natural sunlight is all that’s required. “Believe it or not, that was taken during an insane windstorm,” Guillemot says. “I have frames where it’s all white because there’s so much sand in front of my camera. I shot that right at the edge of a shadow with natural lighting. I try to create beautiful natural-looking light. If it’s there already, I just go for it.”
Guillemot typically uses two Canon EOS 1Ds Mark IIs during a shoot—one tethered to an Apple Mac PowerBook laptop so he can review the images, and another untethered so he can move about more freely.
“Usually, I shoot with the tethered one first so I can get a look on the computer screen, then switch to the untethered camera so it’s just ‘boom, boom, boom.’ When you shoot fast, you get in the rhythm of the whole thing. It’s like playing music.”
Guillemot also shoots with two Hasselblad H1s and one H2, with an Imacon digital back.
“The Hasselblads combined with the Imacon back give me a real nice color tone. I can be shooting at the beach and if it’s a cloudy day, it’ll make it a sunny day. I love digital! I tended to be too much of a perfectionist with film. Now I can just shoot and shoot and know that I have it.”