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It wouldn’t be too far from the truth to think that fashion photography is basically portraiture with a small plot twist. Instead of having just the model in mind, you have the clothes, scene and makeup as well.
However, it is not that simple. There are several other details you’ll have to pay attention to. Mostly, it depends on what you're going to use the photographs for, and how you choose to adapt to those needs. Generally, fashion photographs are supposed to emphasise the clothes along with the model so let's look at that.
This is mostly dependent on what the client wants. If they want to present the clothes in a sterile environment with as few distractions as possible, then you’ll have to go for a studio shoot, with a clean background that fits the color palette of the clothes used.
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Photo by Jorge Godoy
If the client wants to have the clothes presented in a real world scnee, you’ll probably have to do an outdoor shoot. For this you’ll first have to know what kind of clothes will be used, what the style of the clothes is and on what occasion they are being worn, and then you can go and scout a proper location. The place you choose to shoot at should be clean enough to place emphasis on the clothes and the model while also fitting the color palette, but it should also match the occasion for which the clothes are being worn.
Most likely, for shoots like this you won’t be able to choose the model since the model is usually picked by the designers themselves, or by the fashion blogger who needs the photos. However, you’ll have to be able to communicate with the model properly and you need to be comfortable working with a model that you see for the first time in your life.
For some excellent ideas, see Mike Panic's 10 Tips to Working with Models on Light Stalking.
Photo by Alisa Avci
Make sure that you know exactly what the client wants, and make sure that you explain to the model exactly what the client wants. When you are both on the same page, it is easier to communicate and get the job done. If there is more than one outfit to be photographed, make sure there is a proper fitting room or an area where the model can change clothes, and no, a car won’t do the job.
Framing And Details
Regardless of which scenario you choose (indoors or outdoors), fashion shoots require one thing: every single piece of clothing in several images. Yes, even that generic small shirt cuff.
Basically, you should start off with full body shots, in several poses which look natural, like walking etc. And then go in closer and closer, focusing on different parts of the body showcasing the clothes. No matter what, you need to create several good portraits in order to give personality to everything and to avoid making the model feel like a clothes hanger.
Photograph the shoes, hats, earrings, and so forth. Use selective focus to make the shots cleaner and more appealing, play with the light to guide the eye and place the emphasis deliberately where you want it in the image.
Photo by Laurence Tan
It is wise to use longer lenses, 50mm and longer, due to perspective and depth of field. You need to avoid lens distortion here, and you need to avoid too much zoom compression as well. Somewhere in the middle is just fine.
The light is the trickiest part when it comes to fashion since it needs to be just right. Too flat and the picture is boring, too harsh and it is ugly. It needs to be just right, harsh enough to make the picture pop, soft enough to make the model and clothes look flattering, and dynamic enough so the picture isn’t dull.
Photo by Daria Konstantinova
Additionally, you need to be really careful with the color temperature of the light in order to avoid misinterpreting the colors of the clothes. Remember the orange/blue dress fiasco? You need to avoid that.
For the outdoor shoot you’ll probably need to modify the light, mostly by using reflectors, which means you’ll need a helping hand.
When you are doing the editing of your final shots, you’ll usually need to keep it natural and not too contrast-y. This is due to the fact that the photos need to look almost photojournalistic while being flattering and perfect at the same time. Colors also need to be accurate as mentioned before. Don’t smooth the skin too much – some imperfections are usually okay since it gives the photo more realistic feel. Though the client will be the final arbiter of course.
Photo by Vadim Girdey
Fashion photography is all about attention to detail and doing whatever is necessary to present the clothes as nicely as possible, while not neglecting the model. Make sure you have detailed shots of every piece of clothing on the model, even if the editor doesn’t use all of them afterwards. It is better to have more shots than a lack of them!