Learning about fashion photography from being a documentary nerd.
I've always had somewhat of a fascination with people in photography. Whether it's their facial expressions or the way they move or interact with each other. There's something about people watching that is so fascinating. Everyone is so different, so unique. I started my photographic journey because of this. Street photography was the area that appealed to me. Raw, ordinary people going about their everyday lives. This documentary style captured my interest.
So How? How did I go from capturing the pure, unaltered, human essence to the polar opposite; posed, positioned and unnatural. I found myself eased into it, to a place where I never thought I would be, and boy have I learnt a lot along the way.
From my time working in family portraiture I found myself more comfortable with choosing interesting locations and backgrounds for portraits, not to mention communicating with my subjects and trying to make them feel comfortable in front of the camera and my obvious presence. This gave me a lovely advantage when it came to the transition to fashion photography. So here are some of the things I've learnt so far.
MAKE YOUR SUBJECTS FEEL COMFORTABLE:
One of the most important things that I've found about portrait shoots is to do what you can to make your subjects as comfortable as possible. Go in there full of energy, ideas and lots of chat. If you're super friendly and chatty it usually instantly makes people feel at ease. This is easier said than done for some people. Believe me I know. My best advice is fake it till you make it. Down an espresso and and work your charm.
With a family it's different, you can be energetic with the kids and play games with them whilst simultaneously making small talk with the parents. Whereas, one on one with a model is a little more intense. Maybe prepare some conversation starters beforehand in your head. If you're not collaborating with other photographers or MUAs and there's just the two of you, then you need to keep the conversation flowing and the ideas bouncing for at least an hour. Trust me when I say that the more comfortable you make your model feel the better they will look in your images. You can instantly tell from a photo if the model is uncomfortable and stiff looking and it will completely ruin whatever vibe you're going for.
Now it's time for the technical bits. Lighting. Lighting is everything. If you're using just natural lighting, you want to think about where you position the sun when taking your images. You can have the model facing the sun however this may blow out your model and make you lose detail. It could also make your model squint into the sun. Alternatively, you can use direct sunlight to add shadow behind your subject.
If you face your model the other way, with the sun behind them, it can be a lot more flattering, you can create a backlit effect, and sometimes even create lens flares, adding another level of detail to your images.
When shooting with male models you can have more flexibility with your lighting. You can side-light your subjects with harsher lighting which can accentuate their features. This can appear more flattering with more masculine features. With female subjects, it's a good general rule of thumb to keep your main source of light behind your subject, unless you have their eyes closed or are capturing some kind of movement, in that case just be careful about how saturated your images come out.
Composition with any kind of photography is a key part of creating a strong and powerful image. General photography rules still apply such as rule of thirds and leading lines. If you can incorporate these into your images then you're doing something right. Take note of what is in your background, you want to make sure that your subject is the main focus and nothing detracts too much attention away from them. Use simple, complementary backgrounds or use your settings to blur your background out.
Take multiple shots in each location and pose, try landscape and portrait, try smiling and not smiling, try looking to the left, looking to the right etc.
Think about using props or having your model wear some accessories so that they have something that they can play/fiddle with to make your images a little more interesting and less stiff looking.
Think about different angles and levels in your images. Shooting from lower down can be especially effective when shooting females in order to make their legs appear longer. Whereas, when shooting with males it is often better to shoot from more of a head on perspective in order to ensure that the top half of their body still looks broad, without shooting from too high so that their legs look short. Alternatively you can mix it up a bit by making your models change levels by either sitting or even squatting.
Another important thing that I've learnt about portrait photography in general is to constantly reassure your model, giving compliments, saying how great they look. They can't see what they look like, they can't see from your perspective what works and what doesn't. If they need to move a certain way, then tell them, but tell them without insulting them. Offer encouragement whilst you're shooting , whether it's working or not.
Just relax. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your model will be.
I hope this offers some helpful tips and insights into shooting fashion portraits for a real beginner. If you have any other useful tips to share, then please get in touch, I would love to hear them.