Fashion photography is the most creative and rewarding style of photography and can be a magical experience when successfully accomplished: The perfect intermingling of art, expression and commerce. As fashion advertising has evolved over the years it has grown from utilitarian pictorial depictions of garments into something more of etherial imagery carefully crafted to stir up preconceived emotions and desires of the consumer. These desires are aimed at sales conversions of course but don't let that take way from art and creativity that lays down the foundation of these emotions ;)
The Key elements of a successful fashion photo shoot are:
It is important to have a clear idea of the desired outcome of a photo shoot. Mood boards and shots lists help stay on focus and nail down the main point of the shoot. Taking inspiration and ideas from magazines and websites is totally fine. Things to consider would be weather time of day, logistical constraints, comfort of the models, suitable make up areas, location permits etc etc.... Just winging it creatively can at times produce great results but more often than not it's just people trying to convince themselves after the fact that it was in fact an amazing shoot.
All of the key elements are very important to a successful photoshoot but none are more important than model selection. The right model that resonates with the target audience is an imperative element necessary to advance the vision of the final outcome and thereby increase sales and brand reputation. A great model that is tried, tested and experienced will show off the clothing in ways you never imagined and look fabulous while doing it. Experience is the key. A model learns over time their best features and what angles work for them with the clothing. Some models I've had the pleasure of working with even consider the lighting angles and lighting type to further flatter themselves and the clothing. Some younger designers may feel the urge to use friends or inexperienced models to showcase their lines, avoid that impulse to save money in that area. Cheap out on anything but don't cheap out on the model. Experienced models will pay for themselves in the quality of the photos produced and the perceived prestige of the brand image.
At this stage finances should be accounted for, quote approved and subsequent advances forwarded. A pre negotiated portion of the final invoice would be drafted to secure the date and procure the needed talent and resources. It is important that both parties (client and photographer) have agreed on a quote or price structure prior to spending time and finances on the shoot. It is also the photographer's responsibility to keep as close as possible to the agreed upon quote and keep the client in the loop if any circumstances arise that would alter then final invoice. Personally I very rarely go over the quote in terms of final invoice. This is an important facet of keeping good client relationships, they need to know you won't be fast and loose with their budget.
This is where all the incremental pieces are combined into a cohesive outline of the execution. Some compile it into a document and call it the "photo brief" . Things like Models , locations , clothing styles, make up styles, set decoration or locations are outlined and put into writing. The various looks are laid out and accounted for. The brief can help on larger shoots to stay organized, focused and on track. Inspirational images gathered from the web or magazines are often included in the brief. The purpose of the inspiration images is not to copy the photo but absorb a general feel of the scene and feeling.
This can often be accomplished on the day of the shoot. Sometimes if an elaborate set is to be crafted then additional time pre constriction need to be allowed. In many cases the day of the shoot is fine for all lighting and set decoration. As this is happening with the photographer and assistants the make up can commence.
The make up and hair should have a clear idea of the direction that the tone is going. This is discussed beforehand as to match the garments and vision. Usually as a photographer, I personally like talk through the lighting and postproduction intentions with the makeup artist so that we can agree on a proper level of applied makeup and control the perceived "wetness" or "dewiness". A mismatch in lighting style with makeup can result in images looking too shiny or too flat. Faith must be placed on the makeup artists' ability to deliver the desired look. Second guessing and such can start a strange tone of doubt that could resonate to the models and throughout the shoot.
As make up and hair are going to work on the model, the stylist can be checking the brief and setting up the looks, laying out accessory options and steaming clothes ect. At this time the photographer and any assistants are finalizing the lighting with test shots and ensuring the digital flow is smooth and safe. Art directors are laying out briefs and sketches for the desired executions.
Make it happen. This element falls solely on the photographer to use their experience and skills to bring all the elements together in a delicate balance of creativity, poise, technical skill, troubleshooting ability and people skills. The photographer may be working closely with an art director to collaborate on a single vision. Depending on the size of the shoot, there could be any number of support staff, financiers, art directors, designers, assistants, digital techs, and general well wishers all helping, or else closely scrutinizing the previews as they transfer to the computer.
Personally I prefer to have only essential staff on hand while actually shooting as I like to control the energy and pace of the shoot. If there are people hanging around talking in the background or bored playing on their phones, it seems to take away from the focus and intensity of the shoot. The closer to one on one with model I can be the better, although in larger shoots this i just not possible as their are many vested interests contributing. As long as everyone is working towards the same goal then it always works out perfectly. If in doubt all final decision about the set and tone should be dictated by the art director, next the photographer, then on down to other staff.
For larger productions the flow of ideas and requests is important. People can get flashes of inspiration and have the urge to blurt them out, which is inspiring and bolsters some energy momentum but requires discipline. It can become confusing or frustrating for the model and photographer if there are too many people shouting out ideas and directions. All ideas and direction info should be funneled though the art director or their assistant (similar to military "chain of command"), that way the team can implement the changes in a structured manner and keep everyone focused on the main goals of the photoshoot.
Don't forget to take occasional breaks to relieve tension, eat, hydrate and refocus.
All images are presented for selection and at this time print mock ups can be drafted by graphic designers and art directors. Usually shots are taken a little wide (zoomed out) to allow for comfortable cropping over different crop ratio formats. Proofs are usually provided digitally over either ftp or else web interface. Sometimes clients like the old school paper contact sheet style or even 4x6 proofs. I agree if time permits this can give a better feel for the shots.
File conversions and retouching is completed at this stage. This element is quite crucial to the overall look an tone of the shoot. Raw conversion, colour corrections / color grading and density corrections are all done digitally. Also any compositing and layering are worked on. The final breath of life is blown into the image at this stage and results can be fantastic. Sometimes clients downplay or undervalue the work that goes into retouching and finalizing but really it is one of the most crucial elements of a fashion photo shoot. Many things can be corrected or changed in post production but in most cases it is very worth it to set up the shot properly in camera rather than relying too much on retouching to fix issues.
The final file or files is given to the client. On some occasion conversations with the pre print production department are conducted to ensure that the correct print icc profiles are embedded and previewing properly. The keen photographer will go to great lengths to make sure the final print in in correspondence with how the shot should look. It can be a devastating waste if the all the work into retouching and imaging are thrown away due to a mismatch in profiles.
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