My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer

Are Photo-Shoots and Hairdressing Competitions Irrelevant?



As we are now inundated with nearly countless new hair images each and every day, I am starting to think that the conceived, budgeted professional photo-shoot lacks real value to today’s and tomorrow’s hairdresser.

Each and every day, hairdressers are loading images of their work to Instagram. Some of those hairdressers take their imagery very seriously, shooting with a studio light and a professional camera and then transferring the higher quality image to their phone for uploading. In one of my salons, we have a studio light and area dedicated to shooting in-salon images.

But a hairstylist doesn’t need any of that if they have a newer phone with a quality camera and understands light. It’s pretty simple really. Have your model face the light, or have the light coming from behind you as the photographer. This is a basic principle of portrait photography and why you see some people get amazing shots with their phones and others with the same phone never seem to get their shots looking clean and punchy.

Salons also can have a sweet spot for photos, where the available light falls in such a way that the images look amazing every time. We were at Butterfly Loft salon earlier this year and watched a few stylists taking images in front of their iconic concrete wall, and as a photographer, I was shocked to see the images looking incredible straight from the phone, no editing. These guys have a perfect sweet spot for hair imagery. It may be a fluke but I suspect they knew what they were doing.

Obviously, the strength of a hair image is rooted in the work itself, followed by the attractiveness of the model or client. But with this type of imagery, we can frame a focal point of a cut or colour and angle the shot to include as much or as little of the model’s face as we like. But the point here is not about how to take a great hair shot in the salon, it’s about whether traditional hair shoots have become or are becoming irrelevant. And I think that they are.

Instagram has become the social media platform of choice for just about everyone these days, and hairdressers have absolutely embraced it as a way to promote the type of work that they love to do. It is an incredible marketing tool for new business and has become a way for hairdressers to finally take the power away from product companies and has changed the industry in just a few short years. I love what Instagram has done for equalizing the playing field and opening doors for everyone who uses it well, but the side effects of new media are having much larger implications. I cover some of this in a previous blog post called The Dumbing Down of Hairdressing. In fact, this is almost a Part 2 of that article.

Traditionally, the way a hairstylist would gain national and international attention was through being published and winning awards. There was nothing more coveted than winning North American Hairstylist of the Year (except for winning British of course) and many winners of these awards were often tied to larger brands as ambassadors or educators. Through NAHA and the Canadian counterpart Contessas, industry icons were born. That is not to imply that they weren’t awesome and known before their awards, but these awards made them household names in the industry. Charlie Price, Nicholas French, Tony Ricci, Edwin Johnston, Daniel Holzberger and many others became famous outside of the cities they worked in and the brands they educated for.
And a man named Dimitros Tsioumas became a legend.

Before Instagram, we would wait for each month’s hair publications and then stare at the 8 x 10 inch image and absorb everything if we liked it. We would pass it around the staff room and celebrate or critique the image in detail, from balance, makeup, wardrobe, model, literally everything. I can recall almost all the images that I loved over the years down to the finest details.

Fast forward just a few years and today the industry is moving at a much faster, almost break-neck speed, not in progress but in how we “consume” imagery. We have become conditioned to absorb and view an image in a few seconds on a 3×3 inch box on a 5 inch screen. When we log in to our Instagram feed each day, we are only exposed to who we follow and then we quickly scan the images and like what appeals to us and maybe spend a few more minutes staring at the things we truly love if we are studying how it was accomplished. This has created an industry-wide situation where a stylist must produce new imagery each and every day in order to maintain and build a following.

With Instagram, a new generation of artists have emerged who don’t care about NAHA or an award. Not in a,
“I don’t care about that shit,”
but in a
“That’s awesome, nice work! But I’m not interested in doing that,”
kind of way.
They care about doing work they and their clients love, and emulating today’s stars; fabulous stylists like Iris Smith, Ricky Zito, Linh Phan, Jenny Strebe and of course, Guy Tang, and hopefully it translates into likes and followers. Because for the first time in our history as hairdressers, commercial hairdressers are being celebrated as the new industry leaders, (excluding Allan Edwards, Chris McMillan and Sally Hershberger changing how an entire continent wore their hair of course), and the previous generation of industry icons are essentially irrelevant when it comes to the industry as a whole. Unless they can gain a meaningful following.

Today, a hairdresser’s stock is based on how many followers they have. Case in point, a list of the 20 Best hairstylists in Vancouver just came out. Of the 20 mentioned, I have only heard of four of them and personally know or have met just three. I’m not saying I’m fully in the loop and that they aren’t all awesome, I’m sure some of them are, but Vancouver is home to some major, award-winning stylists, several Canadian Hairstylist of the Year winners, and none of them were even mentioned as the Top 20. To ignore Chad Taylor is ridiculous and irresponsible.

One of my own team members, Alina Friesen (who a few days ago moved to New York to pursue a career in real editorial hairstyling), was not mentioned. Alina is a 4 time Contessa winner and 3 time NAHA finalist. She would be considered a giant in any city, fully booked with a waiting list and charging $200 for a cut. She is also responsible for nearly all the editorial work for Aritzia and Kit and Ace over the last few years and she is only 28. She doesn’t have a large following because she doesn’t really care to, but I do know she was insulted to not have been mentioned as one of those 20 stylists in the city she kicked ass in for the last decade.

So here we are, in an incredible place where everyone has a platform and everyone can achieve their dreams in the industry without having to go to the trouble, expense, and creative efforts to create something brand new for each collection in order to stay on top. That may read as bitter but it’s the truth. Ask any award-winning artist about the time, creative energy, the team and the expense needed to create 3 images for a collection and you will understand. This is not to say that there is not an incredible amount of work and creative energy put out to create a fantastic Instagram shot, and it is amazing that some of those barriers have been removed in order to achieve industry recognition.
But why invest all that time, energy and money in creating imagery that is all but forgotten a few hours after it is released. There is so much noise out there today that almost nothing has the chance to become important. An image simply doesn’t have legs anymore.

Today the trade magazines realize that there is more power in social media than in print. All you have to do is look at the work they are sharing in their social accounts to see this.
Unless the trade magazines and the competitions can figure out how to evolve while still celebrating the importance and value of traditional hairdressing editorial work, the amount of stylists willing to truly test themselves and push boundaries is going to become smaller and smaller. This type of styling is not important to the stylist who wants huge success and accolades in a world where reach is everything.

The truth is that if I were a new stylist entering today’s industry, I don’t know that I would even be aware the awards and that level of hair artistry even exist. It certainly wouldn’t be worth the efforts because other than for personal satisfaction, it is not really going to do anything for my career in the short term. And we all know that we are living in a short-term, instant gratification world, and yesterday’s work is truly ancient history.


2 thoughts on “Are Photo-Shoots and Hairdressing Competitions Irrelevant?

  1. Pingback: Are Photo-Shoots and Hairdressing Competitions Irrelevant? | Patricia Lynn Laas

  2. I am also guessing in a few years there wint be the hairdressing stars of my generation, whom i would have poured over in the magazines everytime they came out. But I did buy a new phone with a kickass camera.

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