Fashion photography is one of the most lucrative but also one of the hardest genres to pursue on a professional level. Good fashion work can’t be done with a one-man band. Eventually, every fashion photographer learns the importance of such things the hard way. Here are some things that I wish I knew when photographing my first fashion and beauty images.
This is the biggest flaw my early work had: a lack of makeup knowledge. When I coach photographers on a private basis, this is exactly what I stress more than anything: you must know makeup.
Makeup, as well as hair, defines how the model looks in the images, sets the mood, and can make or break your photo. Therefore, close communication with the makeup artist is critical to knowing what light to use, how to convey mood, etc.
For example, if I’m photographing a sexy latex outfit in a party mood with gelled light, I would want to have quite eccentric makeup with fairly loose hair. That way, it plays to the aesthetic. The aesthetic of your work must be on point with makeup. If you want 80s style images, have 80s makeup.
This doesn’t replace having a dedicated makeup artist. Although I know the theory behind makeup, I can’t draw a straight line. As with any skill, makeup takes years to perfect, and you’re not a makeup artist, you’re a photographer.
Being the Perfect Model
A lot of models who start out want to be like their idols: Kate Moss, Heidi Klum, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, etc. Aspiring models consider them to be perfect and try to be the perfect model on photoshoots. Yet, this is limiting their creative expression to the small definition of “perfect”.
Very few images of top models show them being perfect. Peter Lindbergh famously photographed models with minimal makeup and hair. Attitude is far more important than perfect poses.
Not Doing Weird for the Sake of Doing Weird
A lot of fashion images are quite weird. It seems like the natural course of action if the aim is to create unique work. After all, a lot of art is weird. However, what I missed at the start is that weird images are created because they fit the aesthetic, not because the goal is to be weird.
Weird images work if they came organically from a process of creative exploration. That creative exploration is possible when the team is being creative.
Allowing the Team To Be Creative
As a photographer, one of the most important qualities you can have is humility. This is best shown in understanding that you are only one small piece of the puzzle — an important one, but still a piece nonetheless. Sometimes only photographers are credited for their work, but much of it wouldn’t be possible without the creative input given by the model, makeup, styling, prop design, etc.
Treating every team member as a creative and not as a tool to your vision will go a long way in building relationships with some of the best crew in town and in boosting the quality of your images. A happy model will pose better, a happy stylist will put more effort in, and so on.
An overlooked concept here is model posing — the model is simply posing, and how is that creative? In fact, the models’ creativity, attitude, and expression are key to the final success of photos. At the end of the day, this is what the audience sees: a model.
No matter how good the styling is, how good the makeup is, how good the lighting is, or how famous the photographer is, if the model is not there with their attitude, the image won’t be great. Allowing models to express themselves, create beauty without boundaries, imagine the pictures and bring them to life will make them more comfortable, satisfied, and ultimately excited.
As photographers, we create energy, so make sure there’s energy to capture on the day.
Not Fixating on One Vision and Allowing Things To Happen Naturally
Going in and starting out, there is always a sense of where the project is headed. This makes it easy to just look at a reference image and copy it. Frustration strikes when you can’t copy exactly what you want. Moreover, someone is bound to suggest ideas to you.
Instead of dismissing them, you should listen to them and have an open mind. Don’t be afraid to try stuff. Fixating on a vision that you want to achieve can leave other team members unhappy and your creative possibilities unexplored. Be brave and ask “What else is possible to create from this possibility?”
On my first photoshoots, I knew this: an umbrella will create smooth lighting that will make the model look good. Not bothering with the why, or the how, I used it over and over again until I got bored. In a way, I’m like a magpie in that I can’t do the same thing over and over again.
Knowing lighting, at least some foundations, will go a long way in being able to solve problems on set. Lighting pays a dividend, and a big one indeed.
This one I had to learn the hard way. My first photoshoot was captured on only one drive, and that drive corrupted a few months after. Thankfully I had partial backups.
Data recovery costs a fortune, not only in money but also in nerves and time. I found it a lot cheaper and safer to have a robust workflow that works like this:
- Capture tethered into two shoot drives that don’t need mains power. The transfer speeds are acceptable, even for large Canon 5D files. They are 4TB, which is overkill, but if I have to leave someplace for weeks doing video and stills, I am able to do that. Do I do it often? No. Don’t be like me, and get a 500GB SSD instead.
- Dump the files on two archive drives. These are mains-powered machines that are a lot faster. They keep all work in one place, backed up and sorted. They are the main work drives. A carbon copy of all data on drive A is made to drive B. They are identical models.
- Backup to cloud storage. I use Backblaze, but you don’t have to — there are other options. Should my office burn down, I still have all data nonetheless. I ended up using Backblaze because they are quite cheap and offer great rescue solutions: if your data is lost they can ship a drive with all of it to you. If you return the drive, it’s pretty much free.
Inevitably, we all make rookie mistakes. This is of course a small glimpse into all the hundreds of mistakes that I made over my first year or so.