Breaking into the world of high-fashion photography is tough. There are models, agencies, designers, fashion trends, doting parents, and styles-several factors to count and keep up with. With a lot of hard work, a professional photographer trying to break into the world of high-fashion can do it.
There are three main types of high-fashion photography. First, there is magazine shooting, which can entail editorial work, storyline shooting or clothing shooting. Next there is client shooting. When shooting for a client, a photographer is capturing the season's newest clothing lines, either on a mannequin or on a live person. Finally, there is portfolio shooting, which entails working with an agency to photograph a model, and then compiling the best shots for that agency to use to market the model to their clients. In my opinion, portfolio shooting is the easiest way to break into the world of fashion photography because you can collaborate with models to build your respective books. The goal is to use your book to secure magazine and client shooting.
Working with agencies is straightforward and simple because they give you clear guidelines on hair, makeup, clothing, and poses. Agencies will send models to photographers to either put together a new portfolio or update an old one. If an agency likes a photographer's work, they will become one of the photographer's repeat clients, which is profitable for any business. For an agency to consider you worth its time is like a badge of honor. It means it has confidence in your abilities and trust you to deliver high-quality images representatives can pitch to their clients.
One of the best ways to get started in portfolio shooting is to form relationships with bookers who schedule work for the agency's models. This is because bookers are the liaison between you, the model and the agency directors and can tell you the desired direction the agency wants to lean toward in regards to marketing the model. Some basic questions to ask are: Is the shoot for editorial or commercial purposes? Is it a simple test shoot or are you adding images to an already developed book? What features of the model are they trying to accentuate? Your job is to take your unique style of photography and mold it to fit the agency's expectations and needs.
The first thing I do when a model comes in for a shoot is take a series of Polaroid pictures of her with no makeup, wearing plain clothes, and sometimes in a swimsuit. I then look over her with my makeup artist and stylist to develop a plan for shooting. We then decide how we want her makeup to look and what clothes she is going to wear. Remember that it's your job to sell the model to the clients, who are the art directors of publications the agency will contact. Working with your team, you must make sure all aspects of the shoot, including makeup and clothing, are near perfect.
I like to get an early start to shooting, so I prefer the model to be in the makeup chair by 9am. I sometimes meet briefly with the model (and a parent, if applicable) to discuss the kinds of shots we will be taking, and also use the meeting to put the model at ease so that she appears natural in the photos. It may seem harsh, but it is important for the model to know that I am in charge. As the photographer, make it clear that you are directing the shoot and that you will choose the different looks, lighting, and poses. You are the professional after all!
For a basic portfolio, I like to shoot three different "looks" for a model, with each look different from the last. The first look should be simple and classic with minimal makeup. The model should be posed naturally, wearing body-conscious clothing so that nothing distracts from the model's features. Avoid dramatic poses, accessories, and artsy lighting. The second look should capture the model in more pronounced clothing and makeup. There is more action involved with this look, wherein the model is actively engaged in posing and has more animated facial expressions. Finally, for the third look, I choose a dressier theme. The model's hair, makeup and clothing form a cohesive style, and we create a dramatic setting to bring out the model's character. I shoot these three settings in order to give the model's portfolio diversity. This shows the agency that the model is versatile and flexible enough to be used in a variety of campaigns, be it commercial, editorial or beauty. One of your goals when shooting for portfolios is to make the agency's job easier.
When I am photographing a model, I like to use ten shot bursts at 4 fps on my Canon 5D. I do this because sometimes there are brief moments when a model has a certain expression or pose that is hard to reproduce, so I want to avoid missing out any of those hard-to-capture moments. I also like to change my lenses frequently, usually switching between my Canon, Tamron, and Tokina lenses so I can achieve variety in my shots. Don't be afraid to try out different lenses or burst shooting; you may find something you didn't know was there!
Once the shoot is over, I typically have three weeks of editing ahead of me. If I have worked productively up until that point, the edits I make are minimal because I'm confident I've captured the right style of images. This helps to avoid having to shoot a series for a second time. Often, I make edits during breaks in shooting and will show the model the edits so that she is involved in the entire process. Making spontaneous edits also helps my work flow because I am a step ahead when I finally sit in front of the computer and jump into my editing software.
New professionals often forget that a steady and efficient work flow is an important part of the shooting process. It's essential that you seamlessly combine taking photos and editing so that you can deliver a comprehensive final product to both the model and agency in a timely manner. I have only used Lexar cards to capture and store my images because they allow me to move the images from the card to the computer quickly. Remember that your business must be productive and results-driven in order to be successful.
What it all comes down to is that as a new professional, you are trying to build positive relationships with models, agencies, bookers, and your team of makeup artists and stylists. This helps to ensure repeat business; eventually, a model you previously shot will need to update her portfolio, or an agency will need more images of a model and you will be a steady, reliable and valuable source to them.
*Behind-the-scene images taken with Canon 5D with Lexar cards, no flash
*Erin photos courtesy of Ford Models - Chicago
*Valentine photos courtesy of Ford Models - Chicago