The secrets of fashion photography

Posted by Tony Adams (07/03/2012)

A deep and unflinching look into the world of the fashion shoot, and how to prepare for a successful one.

You can be at any stage in your career when you come upon your first shoot as a client. It could be due to a natural, planned career progression, and after having been involved in several shoots in a supporting role… or it could be because your boss is on holiday and the schedule has slipped several weeks.

Whatever the reason (and however many shoots you've commissioned), the following set of suggestions should prove invaluable as an Aide Memoire for best practice. They are certainly based on many years of often painful experience!

Choose your Art Director

The first thing to come to terms with is that you are not the Kingpin (or Queenpin) on the shoot. That is the Art Director. In football terms they are the Manager to your Chairman, and in building terms they are the Architect to your Developer.
So, it follows that the most important (and ideally the last) decision you will make as commissioning client, is choosing the Art Director.

Do your Homework - and plan well ahead

Ideally, you and your Art Director will work together to produce the photographic brief, and at the end of which process you must both agree on it!

It's also well worth getting your Art Director to make tear sheets, and boards with photo-style, location, lighting and models indicated. All decision-makers back at your office should then agree that these boards represent the look your company wishes to achieve. You will then all be singing from the same song sheet, which really does save a lot of misunderstanding during, and argument after, the shoot!

Assemble the Right Team

Your Art Director, if they are worth their salt (and they will be because you chose them!), will be able to put together the perfect team for your project - usually consisting of photographer, stylist, hair and make up - who are properly equipped to fulfil the brief.

As the client, you should see the books of the key people and feel they are capable, but remember it is the Art Director that will have to work with them on location, so you don't need to necessarily get on with them - your role is that of client, not one of the team.

It's one of the occasions to remember that you have commissioned a professional, so you must trust their judgement. Your Art Director will be on the shoot, and you won't be (or shouldn't be!).

Team Spirit

The team dynamic is all-important. The dream team must work well together, in all circumstances, to bring back the pictures you want.

Any confusion or lack of clarity is bound to throw a spanner in the works and the team spirit will be floundering if there is more than one boss to please (that's why you shouldn't be on the shoot unless your role is as a technical expert).

Choosing the Photographer

Thanks to the tear sheets, your Art Director will have no problem drawing up a shortlist of photographers. Their experience of a particular Photographer is at least as important as the Photographer's book. These two are the lynchpin of a successful shoot team.

Choosing the Models

Model choice depends on your budget. But a good Art Director also knows the difference between what you see in life at a casting, and what the picture on the page will look like. The camera loves some people, and hates others. Peoples' characters don't necessarily translate onto the page.

This is your chance to join in what is a fun, if very long, day. Nod sagely, pretend you find beautiful models interesting - what a great way to spend time away from the office. One thing to remember here is that inexperienced Art Directors will not get the best out of inexperienced models (at least, not during the shoot!).

Choosing the location

The right location is not this season's hot destination, or where you'd like to go on holiday. Many of the best backdrops are in fairly unsavoury surroundings. The shoot layouts allow the team to choose locations where the background shown is ideal, whatever lurks just out of shot.

Producing the Shoot Layouts

This is the second real nugget. So many clients don't appreciate the value of some outline tracings with handwritten notes. They are not prepared to pay for things that are not highly finished photographic Mac visuals.

However, they represent a lot of creative thinking on the part of the Art Director. And they are worth their weight in gold. The point about these are that all key members of the shoot team will understand them, and use them to prepare in detail for the shoot, when time counts - and costs! This is the 'bible' for the shoot.

The Shoot

OK, I'll give it to you straight. On the shoot, the Art Director is in charge. You are not. You shouldn't even be there. It's the Art Director's responsibility to deliver the pictures you want to you. You must trust them, and let them work however they want in order to achieve the objective you share.

If you violently disagree with this, why are you a client? Retrain as an Art Director!

The Rules

  1. Plan well in advance.
  2. Pick your Art Director and trust them.
  3. Make sure style boards are produced.
  4. Make sure shoot layouts are produced.
  5. Step back and let your team get on with it.
  6. Prepare to be delighted with the results!

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