I just read this article on Tim Ferris' Blog (www.fourhourworkweek.com) and was inspired to re post this story on my blog about a guy who moved to Brazil to travel and start his own photography business, shooting models on the beach.
Its a tough job, but somebodies gotta do it...right?
Why don't they teach you how to do that in university hmmmmm?
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 wife-hunting 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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!"
Thanks for the great article interview Tim & Jeremy!