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Tackling Your First Fashion Shoot

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Getting into the world of fashion photography can be a tricky business. In a market full of big-budget, high-concept shoots, it can be hard to find a way in and make your mark, but no one starts at the top. As a photographer, you’ll need to prove you can produce high quality imagery before someone gives you a chance. Having never ventured into the world of fashion photography, I wanted to give it a go for myself to see if I had what it took to produce some high quality imagery.

Build a Cohesive, Seasonal Outfit

The first thing you need to do is get a outfit together that works. Your aim here is continuity. Any fashion brand shoot will immediately have cohesion because of the design and styling of the garments, which aids the overall feel of the shoot.

You need to select a set of seasonal clothes that all have a similar design ethic so the shoot has continuity. Think about the styling details that make each item stand out and also consider shoes and accessories such as jewelry, scarfs and hats. For my shoot, I asked Jon, the model, to choose a smart set and a casual set of clothes. I trusted his styling choices and it meant he was comfortable wearing his own clothes on the shoot.

I wanted the context and therefore the location of the shoot to be cohesive with the clothes that Jon had selected to allow the back drop of the images to resonate with the shoot concept. The thick winter jumper and layered casual suit suggested to me an autumn trip to the countryside, which went on to influence my choice of location.

Don't rely on your own fashion sense (unless it's something you're passionate about), and don't think that every model can choose a good wardrobe. Talk to people. Get a sense of what's going to be hot. If you don't want to do a lot of research, then find someone who already has and ask for help. Nothing says "I'm an amateur" more than having bad, out of style clothes in your photos.

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The Consumer’s Perspective

Think about how you want to engage the potential viewer, what is going to draw a consumer into the image? One of the keys is to make a connection with the eyes of your model, let them engage the viewer and tell the story of the shoot. It’s up to you to find the angles that best represent the garments on show, which may involve shooting from above or below in order to highlight details or to give new perspective to a shot that, a consumer doesn’t always necessarily want to view a model at eye level, so find the angle that best shows off the clothes.

When shooting, you need to be having an open conversation with your model in order to direct their sight line, poses, stances and gestures, all with the aim of getting a natural feel to the image. Don’t be afraid to show them shots in camera in order to explain what you’d like them to do, because what feels natural and what looks natural in camera can often be very different things!

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Image Breakdown: Jacket and Vest

Getting the lighting right can be the difference between a good set of images and a great set of images, so think carefully about how you want to work with natural and artificial light in order effectively highlight your model. I was relying on natural light, and therefore chose a time of day when the sun was low so I had some warm direct light to work with.

In order to adequately light my model, my first task was to get the positioning and angle right in relation to the low sunlight. I had him stand with the sun coming in over my left shoulder, but with his eye line over my right shoulder so the sun wasn’t in his eyes, which nicely lit the left side of his face and body.

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Adding a Bit of Atmosphere

For this first shot, I wanted to achieve a muted feel, with reduced tones. My first task was to reduce the contrast, take out some of the deeper blacks and also reduce the brightness within the sky. I then reduced some of the warmer red/orange tones, as well as toning down the vibrance of the shot.

The key to the overall feel of this image though, is in the split toning, which, when used tastefully, can transform the atmosphere of an image. For this shot, an added musty-green shade in the highlights and a touch of light purple in the shadows balances out to mute the backdrop and encourage the natural tones of the garments. Then I finished off with some added sharpening and a vignette that creeps in around the model to supply some depth that draws the eye to the subject.

The important thing to remember when processing is that you can't go crazy with the colors of the clothes. They need to look pretty similar to how they appeared in real life. No one wants to order a shirt online from a photo only to find out the color is completely different.

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Image Breakdown: Noticing the Subtleties

I wanted to try to get some shots down by the ponds of water dotted amongst the trees, but I was really struggling for this shot. We were down in a ditch and the light was relatively flat. I had the light behind me, but with the sun behind the clouds, there was very little to work with.

What I really needed was an extra pair of hands and a filter, which would have enabled me to control the light falling on my subject. However, I was patient, and when a glimmer of sunlight broke through the trees, I had my model twist on the spot until I found the best angle for the light. It also seemed natural for this shot to have the model look to the ground, which I feel only adds to it’s overall depth and interest.

There's a lot going on in the shot, and removing the eye contact allows the viewer to concentrate on the clothes.

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Monochrome Conversion

As much as I liked the structure and pose of this shot, I didn’t feel that the colour added anything to the image. In order to maximise the strength of the shot, I opted to edit the shot in black and white. Within Lightroom, I select the black and white treatment and similarly to the first image, reduced the contrast by taking out some of the light and reducing the darks to enhance the soft subtle feel of the image. This instantly enhanced the reflections upon the water in the background.

I also increased the warm end of the white balance to enhance the natural light entering from the right of the image onto the subject and the forest floor behind. Again, I applied a heavy vignette to draw the eye towards the subject. I wasn't too concerned about the integrity of the color of the outfit. Had the lining of the coat been a more saturated or more quirky color, I wouldn't have even considered black and white.

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Image Breakdown: The Catalogue Shot

Our chosen location had a path lined by amazingly tall trees on either side, the perfect natural catwalk for my model. This was a great chance to photograph a full outfit in a very natural way. There were only two downsides.

The first was the sunlight was so bright that my model couldn’t help but squint, which I feel detracts from the image a bit. The other was that each time he passed a tree, it cast a shadow over him, so timing each and every shot was crucial. As a result we had to try this shot a number of times, but I felt we ended up with a strong shot that showed off the outfit very nicely. My only regret was that we didn’t fully utilise the stretch of path and trees to add more depth to the shot.

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Achieving Even Light

My main aim here, in a similar fashion to the first shot that we looked at, was to even out the lighting. I set about bringing down the brighter areas and reducing the blacks, and employed the recovery tool to flatten out the light.

I wanted to maintain the bright warm feel to the shot, and therefore utilised a more yellow white balance setting and enhanced the highlights using the split toning tools. No vignette was used in this image as I wanted to maintain a wide and full feel, mainly because of the availability of the light.

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What Can You Take Away?

If all this is getting you excited about doing your own shoot, then what are you waiting for! Start researching and get a feel for the type of shoot you’d like to undertake. When starting out, you often have to be the art director, stylist, photographer and editor for your own shoot! This can be daunting, but you should embrace the challenge and learn about each role. It will help you later when you're actually working with other professionals.

Once you’ve got a plan, just get out there and take some shots, there are an awful lot of aspects to consider, but use the first shoot as an experiment. You can build techniques and your own personal style from there! If you're a fashion photography enthusiast, share you tips for beginners in the comments.

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