Fashion Photography Tips
A real Fashion Emergency

By: Scott Umstattd
Date: August 28, 2016

Fashion Photography Tips

For the past year, I have been designing fashion photography shoots with a dress maker in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Under her Sindashi label, dress-maker Angela Nasta oversees a staff that hand paints every dress. Here is a previous article where I share some more fashion photography tips and how we work in the streets to get the shots.

I mostly do these shoots alone but from time to time I get some help. Having someone to hold a reflector or flash gives me a lot more room for creativity. Ron Van Dyke is a friend who has helped out several times and has seen how I work these shoots.

While I was out of the country a few months ago, a true fashion emergency presented itself. Angela needed new photos of a dress and the photos had to be submitted to a group in Spain in just a few days. Luckily Ron is a photographer and when asked, was ready to accept the challenge and photograph the new dresses.

What follows is mine and Ron's emails to one another over the course of a day to prepare him for his first fashion photography shoot.

Fashion Photography Tips (email chain)

Between Scott and Ron 

Hi Scott,

Angela set a shoot time for tomorrow, Wednesday, at 5:00PM. Turns out her fashion show in Tepic was an all week affair last week & she was/is still sick & run down. Not sure who the models are yet. She was talking about the twins or possibly Mittie.

I noticed that your exported jpgs in SmugMug are pretty big, 10-15 MB. I upped my export resolution in Lr but they only go up to 2-5 MB. My raw's are around 30 MB. For the sake of consistency how does Angela need them? Are there other export settings I should be using? 

Hey, I'm a "little" anxious about this, I have to say.....I hope I can come through. Wish me luck.



Hey Ron,

Sorry to be quick with this email. I'm at my parents house....

I shoot raw. Then edit. And then export using 100% JPEG. (And I think 300dpi)

Angela has no requirements. A 5MB image is more than enough for how she uses the pictures.

Go get 'em!!


Thanks for getting back. I realize I have very big shoes to fill here and readily acknowledge I don't have your level of skill or experience nor the gear. I'm not totally clear on Angela's thing right now. 1st it was just shooting the 1 dress that wasn't completed yet on your shoot. She made it sound like she just needed a couple of quick shots. Now it could be that the contest people in Barcelona have actually picked the dresses that will go on in the contest. So,now there's 2 dresses to be shot & it's sounding more serious. Re the models, I'm not sure who she got. She was talking about maybe Mittie possibly being back or the Queretaro twins. I'll find out today. 

It's all sounding more serious now & and aside from embarrassing myself, don't want to let Angela down because of the importance of the contests. What would you do here given the situation? If Mittie is here isn't her boyfriend a pro photographer? 

Also, regarding the all important editing. You have a particular style that makes the images what they are in the end. Would you be game to get involved there?

You know I'm shitting my pants right about now...


From what I gather Sean and Mittie are still in the US.

One model can model two dresses, no problem. So she doesn't need two models but that really doesn't matter. 

Are you taking the pictures in Centro near her store?

As far as advice and editing, I can edit the pictures if that is something you are comfortable with. I would prefer to get your raw images but can work with JPEG. I won't be at my computer again until tomorrow evening. Maybe you can send raw files through Dropbox.

When taking the pictures, look for even (dull) lighting. Stay away from direct light (even if it's in the background).  If there is a hotspot in the background it can interfere with the subject (model) when editing begins. So, shady areas with shade in the background will work best. 

Also, if you can try to match the background color with the color of the dress that will add a little something extra to the shot. That doesn't mean a red dress gets a red background. But a red dress with a blue or yellow background color can add a little spice.

Also, the models I've worked with are pros. I let them do what they do and it falls on me to catch them in the act. Of course you can direct them too. But (for me) I typically direct them toward or away from light or to get the background right. Head turns and stuff are on them. But don't be afraid to tell them to spin to make the dresses come alive also.

I would shoot slightly overexposed. Underexposed shots tend to bring out more pimples and facial bumps. If you are shooting on the bright side it's easier (for me) to smooth out their skin in editing.

I forget, what lenses do you have?


My lens is a Nikkor 18-200mm 3.5-5.6. It's my travel lens. I have my original kit lenses as well, 18-55 and 55-200mm. That's why I bought the 18-200 as I was always changing lens, wanted the range. Non of these are perfect. My cam is the Nikon D5200, a cropped sensor.
I was planning to stick with the 18-200.

I usually shoot auto but I've been playing with manual but with auto-ISO engaged. It seems to work quite well & allows me to just worry about shutter speed & f/stop stays at around 4-5.6. Also, I've been testing my auto sports mode which does everything auto. That gives me a very fast SS which is great for freezing action, like a model twirling around etc. It's been surprisingly very good with histograms been where they should.

I see your ISO's all over ranging from 100-640. Is your ISO on auto or are you manually adjusting?

Angela wanted to stay close to the store I think. I checked out the area a few times & especially in that church parking lot where you took a lot of shots. Went into Bellas Artes with Brenda but lots of shadows it seems.

When your shooting a model in a doorway you are standing way across the street right & you focus on the eyes..


I always look for focus on the eyes. But if I miss it (a little) I'll let it pass for these shots. 

I shoot manual exposure everything for these shoots. I get burned sometimes but I also get burned by using auto. At least in manual I know how to get myself out of a jam because I know where my settings are. 

You may want to go to the church across the street (next to Bellas Artes) to avoid street and sidewalk traffic. Actually, Bellas Artes may be a good place too. Should be easy to avoid direct sunlight there.

Also, I don't put any additional saturation, sharpness or contrast on my images in camera. I shoot raw and neutral. I want as clean of an image as possible going into editing.

Your 18-200 will work well. Push the shots to between 150-200mm to help blur the background more. Also, don't put the models close to a wall if you want to blur the background (your lens can't open up enough to get nice bokeh).


Just got a another call. Now Angela's thinking about another location, somewhere up toward Liverpool Mall, a park setting of sorts, cactus "Charco El Del (Elgenios)"????? Do you know it? That's going to be in the wide open with no shade I think....SHit!!!! So it could be the twins then on Friday or.........maybe Ella Mae now because shes available & Angela's under a deadline. What do you think of Ella. You captured some amazing shots of her, eyes. I encouraged shooting Ella sooner just to see if it works & have time for changes if need be.

Now they asked me if I know any models? I made it very clear on the 1st call that this is growing into something bigger & that this is not my profession, I'm not Scott & I'm willing to help if they still want. 



Not sure about that location. I would tell her to keep it close to town where you know what to expect. You don't want to just be placed in a spot and told to make it work. Angela and Maru have always been respectful in that regard. If you tell them what you want I think they will be happy.


They're gonna go with Ella for tomorrow, 5:00 PM, starting at the parking lot by the church. I encouraged getting it done ASAP & to keep it close to the store. This way there's a little more time buffer if it's needed. Maru said they'd have the makeup person put the makeup on more heavily to make her look a little older rather than the light powdery thing she normally sports. I think that could work.

I've been shooting RAW for sometime now & only in neutral, nothing added in camera. 

Anyway, feeling a little better about things now that I leveled with them today. Also, Scott, you have no idea how much I appreciate your help, guidance & encouragement here. It's incredibly generous of you. Thank you!

Hey Scott,

You don't have to guess what I was doing all last night & all today after the shoot yesterday. Big job.
Initially it was just supposed to be 1 dress. Then 3. When I got to the store yesterday for the shoot it was 5 outfits, the last 2 still being finished in the painting room when I arrived. We were starting to run out of good light, so the last 2 outfits got the short shift right in front of the store. I don't think they're for the contest.

Well, my 1st ever shoot of any kind....a lot of things I'd do different now - better backgrounds, more longer focal length shots but it didn't seem like I had room to get back that far, faster, better glass, I've got shaky hands so wondering if a monopod would be useful for getting better focus. Live & learn. The shots & the editing are no where close to your standards but I hope there's some that will work for Angela. I figured I'd do &/or die by my own hand. I just sent them a minute ago & wanted to keep you in the loop.


Not a great way to end it all.

Kinda seems like it needs a dramatic finish. But this is a real email chain and not a docu-drama based loosely on events. 

But wait. There's more!

Of course there's a dramatic ending. Here are some of Ron's pictures from his first-ever, not-at-all-planned and totally unexpected fashion shoot that he pulled off in 24 hours.

Many thanks to my buddy Ron Van Dyke for allowing me to share this story and his photos with you.

And thanks to Ella Mae Mackee for modeling the dresses and braving the streets.


Fashion Photography Tips

Fashion Photography Tips

Fashion Photography Tips

Fashion photography Tips - Final thoughts

I think Ron did a fantastic job with these photos.  The Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 is great when you have lots of light and its 18-200mm focal range means you won't have to change lenses - which means you don't have to carry extra lenses. Which is what makes it a great travel lens. But not a great fashion or low light lens.

Ideally for fashion photography you want to work with a lens with a constant aperture at or below f/2.8. The wider aperture will allow for more light (critical) and it can create a better bokeh (background blur).  But no one makes an 18-200mm f/2.8. 

And, Ron has never done a fashion shoot.  I can tell you, as one that has done a few, it takes a while to get your footing during these types of shoots where we work in the streets. Active real world streets.

Here's just a few of the things going through the photographer's mind when shooting fashion pics in the street:

  • You've got to nail your focus and exposure in a lighting environment that is constantly changing. 
  • You've got to direct the models to give you what you need right now. 
  • You've got to be looking at the background to make sure it works with the model and her dress. 
  • You have to notice when the dress is not hanging right. 
  • You have to be thinking about the next series of shots. 
  • And, since these fashion shoots are on the streets, you have to look out for cars, bikes, people and dogs. It is quite maddening. Which is why I love shooting this way.

Check out Ron's website. He splits his time between the waters of western Canada and the mountains of Mexico. 

And visit Sindashi on Facebook to see a wide range of hand-made clothing.

Are you prepping for your first fashion shoot? Do you have a story about your first shoot? Let us know in the comments below.

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