How to Become a Model Photographer in Brazil

389 Comments


Photo: Jeremiah Thompson

Before hiring one of my assistants, Charlie, I asked him where he wanted to be in 6 and 12 months.

I made him define what he wanted to have and what he wanted to do in both timeframes. At the top of the list was a mini-retirement to Thailand or South America.

Done and done.

Charlie just returned three weeks ago from Buenos Aires. It was there he developed a rather keen interest in Brazilian girls, who were visiting Argentina as tourists. Two weeks ago at around 2am, while preparing the new book launch at my house, he somehow accidentally (riiiiight) got stuck in a Flickr slideshow of Brazilian models.

The photos belonged to someone named Jeremiah Thompson.

Digging a little deeper, it turned out that Jeremiah had an incredible story. Two years ago, he decided he wanted to become a professional photographer of Brazilian bikini models. That, and he wanted to get married. Despite the fact that he was from Montana and had no training, he made both happen in record time.

This is his story…

An Interview with Jeremiah Thompson

What’s your background?

I was born in Missoula, Montana, a small college town in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. My Dad was a colonel in the Army so I grew up all over the place, including a couple of stints in Germany. I definitely have a strong entrepreneurial background and have been in business in one form or another all my life, starting at a very young age. The internet has helped me open up a number of businesses.

Did you have much experience as a photographer?

If I thought I could make it rich taking photos, I would have gone into this profession a long time ago. But really, photography has always just been a hobby.

How did you choose Brazil as your destination?

Learning how to surf was, believe it or not, a real stepping stone in my life. About four years ago, I learned how to surf behind an artificial wave put up by a wakeboarding boat. I really got into the sport and wanted to carry my surfing aspirations into the ocean. I narrowed my choices down to Australia and Brazil. A 15-minute phone call to Hans Keeling of Nexus Surf convinced me that Florianopolis, Brazil would be the perfect place for me to go.

[Editor: Some of you might recall that Hans, a recovered ex-lawyer, is a case study in The 4-Hour Workweek]

How did the calendar idea come about?

Arriving in Florianopolis in January of 2008, I was amazed by the sheer quantity of beautiful women — they were everywhere! I’d always had this dream of photographing models, so it was a perfect opportunity to make that dream come true.  I coined the calendar name “Girls of Brazil” and so the adventure began. Then I just needed to find the models.


Photo: Jeremiah Thompson

So, how and where did you find the models?

The first model really set everything into motion.

I was hanging out with Hans Keeling (the owner of Nexus Surf) at Praia Mole Beach, when we passed a super sexy woman working at a fresco paddle rental stand. I had already mentioned my swimsuit calendar idea to Hans, and he happens to speak perfect Portuguese. I asked him if he would help me talk to her and pitch the idea. At this point, I had no product or business cards — just a pair of board shorts, my camera, and some photos of wildlife I had taken in Montana. But that was all I needed. It worked. She agreed to meet me the next day! She was even going to hitchhike to my house at 5:00 AM! I convinced her to let me pick her up, and we shot the next day from 5:30 AM till 8:30 PM. It was a great start to my project.


Photo: Jeremiah Thompson

After that, I found most of the girls on my own, speaking to them in very basic (if not completely broken) Portuguese. I was able to find girls almost everywhere – at the beaches, clubs, supermarkets, walking down the street, and even online. It was too easy. Once I had a few great shots under my belt, I was able to show these same photos to other girls, and most wanted to participate just to get their own pictures taken.

Were they professional models?

The girls were, for the most part, your everyday gals. I did shoot one girl who was actually an international model. I found her while I was driving down the street. I jumped out of my car, chased after her, and asked if she wanted to participate. You would think someone like that would laugh at me, but she ended up making the photos:


Photo: Jeremiah Thompson

Quite a few of the models had experience as event girls. I had the best luck finding those girls online.

But my best photos came from the girls with no professional experience. They always came to the shoots with the most energy. Their openness allowed me more freedom to infuse my own ideas into the photo shoot. This definitely made things more fun, and the results were always great.

Did you pay them for the shoots?

During the first year, I never paid any of the models. By the second year, I started paying a little. I had been dating one of the models and she helped me realize that many of the girls were actually using their own money just to prepare for the photos. They were paying to get their hair done, manicures/pedicures, new bikinis, etc. It was expensive. I started paying them 500 Brazilian reais, which amounted to approximately $250 US dollars. And because I shot many of the girls multiple times, it was a very small price to pay. However, I’m convinced that even if I didn’t pay anything, I would have just as much success or possibly even more. The girls, especially in the first year, really got excited about the opportunity, even though there was no money involved.

Critics might say you were taking advantage of them. What would you say to that?

One of the cool things about this project is the success they’ve had using my photos afterward.

Four of the girls went on to pose for Playboy Brasil. One of the girls got hired on as a dancer for the top television show in Brazil on Sunday afternoons. Many got modeling jobs. And they’ve all appreciated the opportunity, so that’s one of the best things about doing this.

Furthermore, it is not as if I was making money myself. The first few years of this project were big losses. Frankly I couldn’t afford to pay the girls to participate. This was a project I started more out of my desire to be a swimsuit photographer than to make another dollar. The girls loved the project and the photos. Many participated in multiple years. There weren’t any victims here.


Photo: Jeremiah Thompson

For those who’ve dreamed about being a swimsuit photographer but have never had the chance, can you describe the atmosphere of a shoot?

The atmosphere is definitely one of the best things. It starts when the girls come to my house. I need to see them in their bikinis before we head out so I can prepare for the shoot. In the first year, all of the girls used their own bikinis and that worked great 90% of the time. But I started buying bikinis for the girls in year two. So the first step was always to pick out the best bikinis. We would usually find 2-4 bikinis that we would take to the shoot. After that, we either walked to a nearby local beach or took my car to a more private beach.

Usually, we would arrive before sunrise. This meant the girls had been up since 2:30 AM preparing! I typically rolled out of bed around 5:00 AM. Not an easy thing to do, but when the moment comes and those first rays of light hit a beautiful girl in a tiny bikini, it’s worth it.

Posing the girls was always the most difficult part. I wanted to bring out the best in each girl. I would put them through as many poses as possible, mentally noting how they looked best. Then when the best lighting conditions occurred, I would get the girls into what I already knew would be their best pose. This system worked great.

After the shoots, the first question from the girls was always: ”When will the photos be ready?”

They were thrilled to have shots for their portfolio that would otherwise have cost them at least a week’s pay.

Were there any methods you used to produce better results (i.e. humor to loosen up the model, etc.)?

I enjoyed bringing out the genuine smiles of each girl.

Most model photos always have that super serious look, which is supposed to be sexy. I don’t know if I’m different in this regard, but I always enjoy seeing a girl’s smile more. So for half the photos, I would get the girls smiling their biggest smiles possible, and the other half I would let them revert to that serious but “sexy” look you see in all the magazines. Getting the girls to smile was easy: I would just say “mais sexo!” For two years I thought that phrase meant “sexier!” but I guess it really means “more sex!” So it usually made the girls laugh before going into an even sexier pose. That’s how I discovered the girls’ natural smile and how great it looked in the photos.

What have been some of the more memorable moments from your shoots?

I’ve shot something like 30-40 girls now, and there are so many memories with each girl.

Fernanda was my first model and she will always be one of the best memories of this project. Actually, the first photo I took of her is, to this day, one of the best I have ever taken:


Photo: Jeremiah Thompson

Then there was Iris, who showed up an hour and a half late to our shoot. We jumped in my car and she changed into her bikini as I sped off. When we arrived at the beach, I quickly put her into a pose, and we made this photo [below] in about 10 minutes. It was not a minute too soon, as the sun set right after.


Photo: Jeremiah Thompson

When I think about how much preparation goes into a Sports Illustrated shoot and compare it to some of the photos I’ve taken, I’m amazed by the results I’ve had as a one-man operation. It really is a credit to the beauty of these girls and the environment I am working with down in Brazil.

Last but not least, there’s Dayana. 

She and I ended up getting married, so how could I not mention this as one of my best memories?!  We were really connected right from the beginning. It was a goal of mine to find a woman like Dayana to marry, so having this dream come true as a result of this project was incredible, to say the least.


Photo: Jeremiah Thompson

What sales channels have you used for distribution of the calendar?

I’ve never had the opportunity of getting into the main calendar distribution channels, due to my lateness of releasing the calendars.  I learned afterward that most calendars get released almost a year before the calendar year.

That meant the calendar had been shot as early as two years before. Since I was doing this more for fun than to make money, I decided to release the calendars as close to the calendar year as possible. The models were happy with this, as they didn’t have to wait two years to see their photos debut.  It wasn’t smart business on my part, but again, I wasn’t doing the project to make the most money.

Having said that, we’ve enjoyed being one of the top calendars through Amazon for a couple of years now. We’re giving “Sports Illustrated” a run for their money (at least with Amazon) and I feel a great amount of pride seeing that and knowing how small my operation is compared to them.

Have you done any unique promotions to get the word out?

In 2009, we sent 20,000 calendars to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, we sent approximately 3,000 (I was working with a bigger personal budget in 2009 than in 2010). I hope to get these numbers back up in future years if I stay involved in the project. I always get troop requests and have a list of soldiers who have already requested their copies for 2011. It feels great helping these guys out. Hopefully seeing the beautiful girls on their walls keeps them motivated to stay strong and finish out their missions safe.

What’s the “Girls of Brazil” contest you mentioned to me?

The idea behind the contest is to give someone the chance to live the dream of being a swimsuit photographer. There really is no better place than Brazil for this.

I’d help the lucky winner of this contest along with each step. First, we’ll recruit the girls and find the models he’ll be shooting. Then I’ll give him my camera equipment and teach him how to photograph the girls. The winner will be shooting the girls on his own, but I’ll be around if he needs my help. And afterward, we’ll celebrate the results “Brazilian style”!

The contest doesn’t exist yet, but I’m hoping to get sponsored by a magazine who can feature it. It would make a great story and fill several issues of their magazine with content guys will love.

That sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If a magazine doesn’t pick up the contest, perhaps we can make it happen :)

So, how did his calendars turn out? Take a look at Girls of Brazil website or visit Amazon.  If you want a taste of his photos on Facebook, here’s your fix.

Question of the Day (QOD): If you’re happily married, how did you meet your husband or wife, and do you think someone could engineer the same? Share in the comments!

###

Odds and Ends: Blogging Lessons and New Stickers

This post produced a lot of strong responses. Please see my comments below in orange, as well as Jeremiah’s. Related to that, here are a few guidelines I follow while blogging:

Blog Lesson 1 – Please Everyone to Interest No One

If this post put your knickers in a twist, before leaving a snarky comment, realize this: when everyone is your customer, no one is your customer. This is true in business and writing. Bloggers often make the mistake of trying to generalize every post to every person. This is slow suicide and results in plain vanilla posts that offend no one and interest roughly the same. Expect that blog to disappear within two years, whether from reader attrition or blogger boredom.

I prefer to write posts that strongly appeal to at least a portion of my readers, and simply rotate to hit different demographics/psychographics with different posts. If I perfectly hit the nail on the head by educating (or entertaining) 20% of my readership, and they share it with their friends, does it matter if I lose 2-5%? Not in my experience. From what I’ve seen, this is precisely how you build an uberstrong community comprised of readers who actually speak their minds and show an unusual degree of tolerance (by Internet standards, at least).

If you’d like to read the female perspective on the mating and marrying game, here’s another post on this very same blog.

Blog Lesson 2- Strategic Redating of Posts

Some of you have asked, where did the last two posts go? The posts on GetGlue stickers and book promotion parties?

Here’s the answer: I redated them in WordPress so they wouldn’t appear on the homepage. Once time-dependent promotional posts have been up for 48-72 hours, and my core audience has seen them, I redate them, as these posts aren’t valuable to new visitors. There’s only one chance to make a first impression, so I always want strong stand-alone content to dominate my blog homepage. I’d used redating in this fashion for more than two years. Some bloggers go so far as to ensure one of their most popular posts is always displayed first on the homepage, followed then by their most recent.

Hope that explains things.

Eat drink and be merry. Happy Thanksgiving!

New Stickers – The 4-Hour Body

The 4-Hour Body is almost exactly three weeks away, which means a new sticker from GetGlue! This one is of reader, Nathan. To learn how to get it (and all the others) for free, read this:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

389 comments on “How to Become a Model Photographer in Brazil

  1. I liked this article very much and, unlike some american women, this hasn’t offended me, instead it made me very happy! It was like a kind of personal justice to me because I also was born in the State of Santa Catarina just like those gourgeous girls on those pictures. I remember one night at a bar one man speaking out loud that there were only ugly women in Santa Catarina. His comments offended me because I’m from Santa Catarina! And I am not ugly I know that! His lack of respect let me upset. And then I finally see my vengeance day has come! This american photographer is showing the world how beautiful the catarinense women are! And I like when someone tells me how beautiful I am, I don’t feel myself down, I feel myself flattered indeed! But I must say it’s been very hard to find flirtatious guys… I don’t like to be compared when I’m approached.
    There were no victims there and then! And brazilian women are correct and they have morals and ethic, they are not whores!

  2. i am a commercial photographer in India, rather more like a cook in mc donalds, i shoot the same kinda of stuff everyday, 26 days a month, money is good, but after reading this article, and going through images of Jeremiah Thompson, inspirational work, and for a photographer like me, something very new.
    its more like a breeze of fresh air…..probably i need to find my way to brazil…..

  3. I made a comment over a year ago on this post, and have made a shift since then. So I thought I’d share it with you.

    If you read my comment (just do a ctrl-F and search for “Cassandra” if you like) – you’ll read that I was feeling guilty about not devoting more time to my looks and concentrating more on my hobbies and adventures, etc.

    I no longer believe that beauty is something to “work” on. It can come naturally with the right frame of mind wherever you live in the world.

    What I’ve come to learn in the last year is that, here in North America, we live in a very commodified culture that emphasizes earning money to buy things that are supposed to make us happy, etc. etc. etc.! …and as a result the advertising, media and whatever else have filled our brains with negative thinking and memes that give us stress and affect our thinking.

    Candace Pert says that “your body is your subconscious mind”. This is what I learned in the last year. If you think ugly thoughts, feel ugly, and are negative, then you will look ugly.

    That picture of Dayana made me smile. She looks so very much in love! I think that if we focus on beautiful things like this we can feel more beautiful and therefore look more beautiful.

    One perhaps need not travel thousands of miles to Brazil to feel paradise. Yes, these warm countries are wonderful (I lived in Greece for six years) but there’s a lot of positivity to be found here as well. Perhaps by embracing beauty (and allowing it) you too will meet your Dayana on the way to the grocery store tomorrow. I am almost sure of it.

    Best of luck to everyone :)

  4. On the subject of mini retirements, I’ve been a little late on the Ferriss train, but have been getting great results with the methods found in the book and shared by the extended family here. I’m working less at the jobs I don’t enjoy and spend more time doing what I love.
    My question is about having newly freed time. I’m not sure if anyone else has experienced this, but I’ve arranged to only have to work a few hours a day. The rest of my time I try to fill with interesting hobbies.
    What do you do about your friends? I’m the only one of my social circle and family that has made efforts of lifestyle design, so now I’m always free when they’re not. This might be one of the best problems I’ve ever had. I understand it’s like someone complaining that they’re sleeping with too many supermodels, but I was just wondering if anyone else has experienced this.
    Thanks to Tim and the 4 hour peeps for the constant quality of blogs and comments.

  5. Great example of going beyond the existing paradigm, the supposed “rules” about what’s ok or what is believed to work. If I hadn’t already met the woman of my dreams I would most certainly consider this approach (I know how the story ends – read the original email ages ago :)

  6. Wow there has been a lot of controversy over this post.

    I believe that many of the women feel this is creepy because PUA’s do use this tactic in North America to try and have sex with women.
    When I still lived in Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) I was out at a friend’s birthday party at a club called Vinyl. Near the end of the night a fairly intoxicated man approached me and said something to the effect of: “Hi, I couldn’t help but notice that you are very beautiful. I am a photographer and was wondering if you would like to pose for me?” I am not a model and had never been approached like this before. My reaction was to say no that I was not interested. He persisted so for interests sake (and also to be slightly rude and perhaps prove what I already was thinking – creep alert!) I asked him why he was trolling the bar for potential models at this hour and what kind of photos he was taking. He replied “lingerie photos, I am working on a calendar.”
    He did not answer as to why he was looking at a bar at closing time (when people usually look their worst) for his candidates.
    I can only say – CREEPY!

    That said: Legitimate models ARE discovered in diners, on beaches and at shopping malls. The difference is that the photographer is not drunk or trying to sleep with a woman/man.
    You can find people willing to model for you for a variety of things (for FREE) without taking advantage of them or using them.

    For my final runway show at Fashion Design College this is exactly what my friends and I did – approach people on the street. Cariwest (A festival) was happening in Edmonton at the time and three of us went out on the streets with our phones and contact numbers in hand and approached any girl we saw that we thought would work for our show. We then invited them to our model casting, took their phone numbers and gave ours (if they were willing).
    If you are professional and act professional people want to participate. Any aspiring model/actress/designer/artist knows that there is a give/take relationship in the creative world.

    *I do agree with Jeremiah though that the part about seeing them in their bikinis before the shoot could have been left out as it seemed to offend a lot of people. In a teeny bit of defense for Jeremiah: Before our show (at the casting) all of the models had to try on outfits for the runway show. We did this at our school so perhaps what made it creepy was that he said his house instead of his studio?

    Either way I don’t think (I hope) the post wasn’t meant to encourage men to go and pursue women by lying to them nor that it was meant to objectify women. I think it was meant as a study of how one person took an idea and turned it into a business and a lifestyle.

    To answer your question: I met my husband in high school and my mother and father instilled in me from a young age that you should chose a life partner very carefully based on a set of predetermined criteria, not based on whim or infatuation.
    When I began dating my husband they sat me down and asked me really important questions about him, the most important of which (in my mind) was this: “Think of the most annoying thing that he does. Can you live with that for the next 70 years?”
    They knew that you should marry someone for who they are. Not who you hope they will become.
    I think that if more people would approach their search for a life partner in this way the divorce rate would be much lower.
    We have been together now for close to 12 years, married for almost 7.
    My sister also followed this advice and has been married to her husband for close to 5 years.

    I did not intend for my comment to be so long! thanks Tim for opening both of these discussions.

  7. What I love about this post is that this guy had a dream, and he went after it. You have to be a hustler to have that kind of drive, and it’s admirable, whether he was photographing beautiful women or starting an orphanage in Africa. Neither one is “better”, and we’re not here to place judgements on other people’s dreams. He saw something he wanted and he went after it – good for him.

  8. MY STORY

    I read 4HWW under protest in June 2008. Based in London and was running a one day course in Perth Australia, I was staying with the guy who organised the course, he gave me the book to keep and read; I passed it back to him and told him I have been reading self-help books for 25 years and I had not read anyrhing in the last 15 that taught me anyrhing I had not already learnt in the first ten.

    He insisted, and I read it on the plane back to London.

    In eight months I went from 50 to 20 hours work per week without dropping a penny in income.

    The timing was right: my wife (Paris)was recovering from cancer treatment which was going to get her one day- she was a strong girl so we hoped not for some time and I wanted to free up the time to spend with her doing stuff.

    I always had a plan to reduce working hours every decade from when I was 20 (100 hours a week) but at the age of 49 was wondering how to get it down from 50 hours;

    And I always from the age of twenty aspired to the concept of mini-retirements but never found or learnt the tools to permanently achieve other than on a sporadic basis.

    I will cover the business side on another comment, but on the personal front my wife’s demise was quicker than expected; in March 2009 the cancer had gone to the brain and after nursing her for a year she passed away peacefully bathed in love with very little pain.

    I have absolutely no doubt that the intervention of reading this book allowed me to free up my time without financial distress to take care of her 24 hours a day: I now know I would have done it anyway but without reading the book, severe financial distress would have ensued.

    Now because of my 4HWW model for work, I take the time out with my now13 year old son to have extended holidays; in the summer of 2010 after his mum passed away we spent eight weeks travelling Cornwall, Devon, Portsmouth, Isle of Wight, Wales, Shropshire and Norfolk.

    He feels better loved for me having read the 4HWW.

  9. What an amazing story… well from a guys perspective. Tim everyday i read one of these mini retirements and everyday i get more and more excited to start my own… cannot wiat to share mine