Photography 101: What Taking Fashion Photos Isn't As Easy As it Looks
Fashion Article Posted August 13, 2012


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An image really does tell a story, and in the world of fashion an image speaks more than written words ever could. Everything about fashionable clothing is visual, a fact  even pre-photography portrait painters understood extremely well. In those days, even though the subject of an oil painting was a person, the clothes they were wearing were granted nearly equal importance, describing as they did the status, bearing and wealth of the sitter. With the advent of the camera though, fashion photography and the clothing it presented became an art in its own right.


By the turn of the last century, with cameras becoming more available, photographers began conceptualizing photo shoots based solely on fashion. The 1911 dare between publisher Lucien Vogel and Edward Steichen to photograph a line of Paul Poiret designs as pieces of art in themselves is considered the classic start of fashion photography. Steichen's challenge, to be published in Art et D├ęcoration magazine, was to highlight the intrinsic beauty of the clothing in the most artistic manner possible with choice use of setting, props, lighting, models and hair- and make-up stylization.


Today's fashion photographer has to consider the same things to create a truly effective backdrop for the stars of the shoot: the clothing. Although a good camera helps, even the most expensive piece of equipment will not add the touch of artistry that a top-level fashion photographer knows to be the key to a successful spread, one that will make it into the pages of the best fashion magazines in the world. Here's a breakdown of some of the elements that a photographer combine to create a striking and memorable fashion photograph:



This is a given in a fashion shoot, of course, but not just any wardrobe will do. A good photographer will listen closely to the needs and wants of the designer or client (a magazine, for example) as to how they envision the clothing being presented and which pieces are to be highlighted, but may end up making crucial artistic decisions as to what elements of a wardrobe work best in a shot, or with a specific model or models. Working closely with a stylist, a top-level fashion photographer like Patrick Demarchelier needs to understand how materials, textures and colors will present on film, and find a way to bring out their very best, in the best possible combinations, each time.



A good photographer picks a good location for the shoot, while a great photographer discovers the perfect setting to fully illuminate the fashion they are working with. Being aware of the energy and vibe behind a line of clothing or a style  is a must in choosing the right backdrop for a fashion shoot. Some renowned photographers like David LaChapelle create whole fantasy worlds on bespoke sets to make their photos pop, while others take advantage of natural scenery or existing architecture to find the right ambiance for the fashions they are presenting. Having a strong eye for the potential in a given space or location is a crucial talent for a photographer, and even more so for the fashion photographer who needs to know that the backdrop will enhance, and not overwhelm, the clothes they are presenting.



Lighting is such a key element that, in fact, photography would not exist without it. From the early days of portrait painting it was understood that a master painter like John Singer Sargent was able to discover and pull forth, with his paints, the light and shadows of his sitter's clothing. Today's photographer is expected to be able to do the same thing with the use of ambient, natural and artificial lighting sources. Ronald James' photographs are an excellent example of how well a photographer can use the natural lighting at a well-chosen location to fully display the textures and richness of the fashions working with. Of course most sets, even outdoors, are enhanced with artificial lighting equipment. This can be a costly addition to a shoot, but is crucial to bringing out the absolute best of the wardrobe being displayed.



Of all the elements of a fashion shoot, this is obviously the most important. At the moment of the actual shoot, when a location is prepped and ready, the set is designed, and the model styled with hair, make up and wardrobe, when the lighting both natural and artificial is set, a photographer needs to know that his camera (or cameras) will be ready and working. With all the time that goes into preparing a shoot, including sometimes months of work and often many people at a potentially exhorbitant cost, it is absolutely crucial that the camera be trusted to function. Though high-end cameras can be extremely expensive, it's not always the cost that  tells a camera's worth. Rather, it may be how reliable or versatile it is, or how well a photographer knows it's strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately, though, it's how well it's utilized that matters most - even the best piece of equipment can turn out bad product if there's no talent behind the lens.

This is a guest post by Liz Conaty, Liz currently represents acrylicize, a phenomenal resource for all things beautiful.

You may also want to read the fashion article, "Is Fashion Really a Form of Art?"

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