How Ben became Aurora
The first time I met a drag queen was about 4 years ago in Key West and I have to say I was just amazed at the whole concept! I watched a drag show totally enthralled by these guys who looked and acted so much like women.
My main thought was that it must be wonderful to take on a whole new persona and be able to be someone else. My second thought was “it’s not fair – how can they have such long legs and amazing asses!!”
But actually many of them don’t have long legs – they wear very high shoes, and can suddenly become confident and powerful when they loom high above the rest of us mere mortals, in their high heels and tight dresses.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea – but I was totally absorbed thinking that if I can make women look fantastic in photos, maybe I could make these guys look amazing too. Most drag queens do not like being photographed in natural light because they are afraid their make up will not look good without studio lighting.
So that was my challenge – to show a guy that I could really make him look like a woman – not in a sparkly dress, looking like Liza Minnelli, more like a real woman.
It took me a long time to persuade someone to do it, but eventually Sushi allowed me a 10-minute shoot and these are some of the results.
Fast forward a couple of years and I met Aurora (aka Ben Teague) at the Key West Miss Closet Ball Pageant (don’t ask!). What amazed me about Ben was his androgynous look – he is not a professional drag queen; he just loves doing it for fun. He was not dressed as a sparkly drag queen – he looked totally different – because he was dressed as a woman but without the fake boobs – you could see his chest – so you knew he was a man. I was so inspired by his look that I asked him to do a full day shoot.
He asked a friend to do his make up and I was fascinated by how much make up it requires to cover up male stubble! I knew I would need plenty of soft light and softening in Photoshop later to take away the strength of the make up, but men do require a lot of skin cover and shading to make their face look finer; and the make up can look rather theatrical (which is why drag queens don’t like being photographed in natural light!). I would love to let my own make up artist loose on a drag queen one day and see what we could do – but at the time of this shoot, I went with the way they usually do it, and concentrated on shaping the face with light and positioning.
Once the make up was complete, Ben went to work on his boobs! Although I really wanted to shoot the androgynous looks later on, I knew I needed to go with the flow and get Ben into the shoot first, so we started with dresses and fake boobs.
What an eye-opener! I had no idea they were made from 8 oz. of rice and a pair of stockings! (Apparently they are much more flexible and realistic!).
Next it’s into the closet, out with the clothes, wigs, shoes and tiaras – and off we go!
We started on location at an old petrol station, with a canopy which is perfect for top shade, creating soft flattering light. Note, we are also starting the shoot looking “fairly normal(!)” so as to get Ben into it, and not attract too much attention! Once we put on the black tutu, it is going to be a bit more obvious that there is something a little different about this shoot! We did have people wolf whistling from a distance, and one guy actually came over to ask me if it was a man or a woman!
Now we’re into the shoot, and Ben is perfectly relaxed about everything (including random people popping over to look constantly!), so we can do the shots I’ve been waiting for! When I first saw Ben, as I said earlier, I loved the way he was dressed in the black tutu but with his chest showing; as it was then obvious he was a man – and I loved the androgynous look. But as with every shoot, I can never start by shooting what I want to shoot first – the results will always be better if you ease someone in gently! These shots were what I was aiming for, and I can’t afford to have him looking un-relaxed in them – it’s a case of building up to that point bit by bit. I also use the earlier part of the shoot to practice and work out the best positioning for each individual, so that by the time we do the most interesting shots, I know exactly how the subject looks best.
Ben had also brought along a white dress which I thought looked quite bridal – so was inspired to do something alternative. I had seen a school building with blue concrete block walls, which I thought would work well behind the dress, so off we went to shoot outside there. We had to work very quickly as we hadn’t asked permission (we didn’t think we’d get it!) – so we leapt out of the car, and spent 5 minutes taking a few quick shots, then jumped back in the car and sped off!
Tips for making men look like women
- Sounds obvious, but they need to shave right at the last minute before their make up – as if the shoot goes on all day, shadows can appear around their chins. And if you are showing their legs, these need to be shaved too.
- Watch the hairline around the wig. It’s pretty obvious this is a wig in the shoot above, but I constantly had to keep making sure it was in place. It’s really easy to forget it’s not their real hair. Something that needs checking constantly. Make sure when you put the wig on that the hair is combed off the actual wig and onto the face slightly – so there is not a solid line onto the face – this looks really false in close up pictures.
- Make sure the eye make up is not too heavy around the eyes because its hard to see the proper eyes if it is – I’ve found that drag queens often put really heavy black shadow around their eyes, and then with false eyelashes on, the eyes look like dark sockets in the pictures and can look very unreal.
- Put a bit of shading down the sides of the nose, and under the jawline – as it makes men’s features look finer and more feminine.
- Soft lighting looks best – position your model under a tree, porch roof or doorway – the light is much more flattering. If you are in bright sunlight the pores will show up on the face, and they will look less feminine. The biggest difference with drag queens and women (apart from the obvious!) is their skin – and if the skin looks masculine it won’t work as well. Standing in soft light – i.e. shade, not sun – will soften this out naturally.
- If you do use bright light – make sure you shoot from a long way away – not close up – it will look terrible close up (on anyone!). Or get someone to hold a coat or towel to block the sun – the light will be much more flattering.
- Use F4 or F2.8 to blur the background, so the subject stands out.
- Study magazine pictures of female models to see how they stand. Someone who is used to being a drag queen will have practiced and will know, but you need to position men in a feminine stance otherwise they will just look like a man in a dress!
- Shooting full length shots from below will make people look taller, as you can see from the last set of pictures above (in the white dress).
- Shooting close ups from above, will make their eyes appear bigger.
Make up: Ben Healy
Hair, eyelashes and boobs: Definitely NOT model’s own!
Behind the scenes shots and assisting: Jeff Leap
Location: Key West
Ben is a Cover Girl!
After reading this blog, Guy deBoer of Konknet Radio (a US radio show broadcast from Key West) asked if he could talk to me about Ben, live on his radio show! Watch the video below:
He also published the article in a Key West newspaper, Konk Life, and used Ben’s picture on the front cover during Gay Pride Week!