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Taking great fashion pictures

Taking great fashion pictures - Bruce Smith is a fashion photographer with over 30 years experience in the industry. His new book, Pro Digital Fashion Photography tells you everything you need to know to succeed in the fashion industry. Here he offers some advice about taking great fashion photographs.

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Category : Portraits and People
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Bruce Smith photographing a model Travelling the world and photographing beautiful people in exotic locations is a dream job which has allowed Bruce to take many stunning photographs.

"Fashion is about beauty, creativity, energy and excitement, and this must be reflected in the pictures. But it's also an industry, and the bottom line is that it's about selling clothes. If your pictures make people stop what they're doing and take a good look at them, you will not only have made your client very happy, you will have achieved something special as a photographer," said Bruce.

To succeed as a fashion photographer you must not only be good at taking pictures you must also be prepared to research, source models, prepare shoots and of course you must know how to use your equipment, after all they are the tools of your trade.

"Creating great photographs isn't just about the size of your digital files. It's about the content of the pictures. It's about what you do with your equipment and if you haven't got content, your pictures will fail, whatever the resolution of the sensor in your camera."

As with many photographers, fashion photographers tend to use DSLRs to take their pictures but which camera they use depends on what they are shooting.

Models face photographed by Bruce Smith"For magazines where the single pages are on average 12in × 8in (30cm x 20cm), you can shoot with entry-level DSLRs that give you a minimum file size of 24MB when saved in the industry standard TIFF format. If you need to shoot for a DPS (double page spread, usually 12in × 16in (30cm × 41cm) you must use a digital body that gives an image size of at least 50MB."

High-end fashion photographers use medium-format cameras when taking photographs for advertising campaigns that feature on billboards. "When doing this work, I use a Mamiya 645 with digital back connected to a MacBook Pro with a firewire cable when shooting on location, or my main computer if I'm in the studio. This allows me to see the images immediately on screen, which gives me far more information than the camera's LCD screen," said Bruce.

Of course lenses are an important component of a DSLR and having a variety to choose from will make your job a little easier. Wide angle lenses are a favourite choice for Bruce as they let you get close to the model.   Also if the location you are in is limited in size a wide angle lens will allow you to capture a full-length picture. Just remember the wide-angle lens can make the models look unflattering if photographed from the wrong angle so always ensure you capture them from waist height level.

"This approach creates a much better flow of energy and communication between my model and myself. I can see and control so much more in my pictures."

If this is your first fashion shoot and you're short on ideas or you just need some inspiration go to your local shop and browse the many fashion magazines that can be found on the shelves. These will give you a good idea of what photographers are already doing and may spark some unique ideas all of your own.

Black and white photograph of a model by Bruce SmithOnce you are brimming with ideas you need to decide where your shoot will take place. If you want to do it on location remember you may need to ask permission to shoot there and if it's a public place are the public going to get in the way and interfere with your work? You also have to consider where the nearest power sources are, if there are places for the model to change and does the location suite what you want to shoot. These questions don't have to be asked if you choose to use a studio. There are studios of all shape, size and colour you can hire or if you want to save a bit of money you could always set one up at home.

"A studio can be created in any good-sized room. To set up a home studio, all you need is a big floor space and a high ceiling. Obviously if you have a small home it's more difficult, but you don't need very much space to shoot portraits and beauty pictures."

Lighting is the key for all photography. There are many ways to light a fashion shoot including studio flash and natural sunlight but Bruce says there are no rules on what or how you should use it.

"There are no rules, just the choices you make, good or bad. The more good choices you make, the better you become as a fashion photographer."

It doesn't matter if you're shooting on location or in a studio simple lighting is the key. Not only is it effective but if you're working outdoors it means you have less kit to carry too.

"If you're starting out as a studio photographer I would suggest buying a three-head monobloc kit, consisting of one 1000 watt and two 500 watt mono lights, a medium softbox, a beauty dish, and a 65-degree reflector with a set of honeycomb grids. With this setup you can shoot most of the lighting situations you are likely to use. I would also recommend that you buy a large diffusion screen, plus a Zebra gold/white large reflector. They will allow you to shoot on location using available light."

Never underestimate daylight. It's free and easy to use, if you know how. Early morning or late afternoon are the best times to shoot when using daylight. Early morning light can be quite hard and crisp while evening light can make your images appear soft. "If the light levels get too low you can use a hammerhead flashgun off camera, or a travelite, and bounce it off a gold or Zebra gold reflector at low power as fill-in. You should take a reading from your highlight and use the flash at 1-1½ stops down. That makes your fill-in flash look like sunlight." If your indoors on location a lighting kit will replicate daylight, which means you can continue to work even if the light is low.

Model on beach by Bruce SmithReflecting and moving your shoot according to the direction of light is also a good tip to remember as is remembering to start with the correct exposures.

"When you're shooting fashion, where details of clothes are often vitally important, you need to start with correctly exposed images. You need to be in control of your lighting ratios and keep them within the boundaries of what your camera's sensor can record. If you're using studio lights or on-camera flash, you can control your lighting ratios by either increasing or decreasing the power output. If you're using natural light, you can allow or limit the strength of the natural light."

A hand-held light meter is a useful tool for the fashion photographer and this is how Bruce uses his: "In most situations where light of different strengths is hitting your subject, take your first measurement from the highest light source and a second reading from the lowest light strength. If your readings are more than six stops different, you will have a problem with losing highlight or shadow detail. Therefore, you will have to adjust the power of one of your light sources so that you reduce the range of difference in your readings to 6 stops or less."

Double fashion spread example by Bruce SmithComposition is something you must always consider when taking your photographs. Not only must the photograph hold the viewers attention and be pleasing to the eye. If you're shooting for a magazine or advertisement there is also text placement to consider and how the photograph will look when placed next to another one. If you take a variety of shots where your model is posed in different places and you move to take photographs at different heights and angles the magazine or client will then have plenty of options to choose from.

Pro fashion photographers usually have an entourage a celebrity would be proud of. From assistants, to stylists and make-up artists, the professional fashion photographer has someone for everything. Unfortunately not everyone is so lucky, but don't let this put you off. Instead of having a stylist to create your sets and hunt out props you can do it yourself. Charity shops, markets, friends and family will all have items you can use. These items may even spark an idea to base a whole shoot round too. Never underestimate the usefulness of a plain white background either. Shooting on a white background not only keeps things simple it will allow clients to cut the model out of the background and use them for other projects too.

Hair and make-up is a little different to props and backgrounds and for these you will need a professional. Local hairdressers, yellow pages and the internet will all give you ways to search for a make-up artist and once you have found one you want to work with remember you have to communicate with them. They don't know what look you are after unless you tell them. Another important member of your team is of course a model. If you don't want to pay for a model many new models will "test for pictures" which means you get your shoot without paying them any money but they still get something out of it too. If you don't want to approach a model you could always ask a friend or family member to help out too. Remember, you have to make the model feel comfortable. Treat them how you would want to be treated and if they are a little nervous you could always work on a closed shoot to make them more comfortable. Make the shoot enjoyable too.  That way you will be happy, the model will be happy and you will achieve the results you Pro digital fashion photography book cover by Bruce Smithwant.

"I strive to make my shoots exciting for myself, my model, the other members of my team, and, most importantly, for my clients. As a photographer, you are the conductor, your models are your orchestra, and your clients or viewers of the pictures are the audience. So you have to direct and entertain."

Finally strive to create your own style. Use the advice others give you but aim to be unique. "Your individual style is your signature." This is what will change how people feel when they look at your work.

Pro Digital Fashion Photography is out on the 3rd of December. Click here to find out more about it.

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