By Scott Umstattd
First off, I am not a fashion photographer. So, don't read this and think that it is a manifesto on fashion photography tips.
But I recently had the chance to shoot my first fashion show and I came away with some ideas on how to improve my pictures next time out.
OK. I didn't learn this fashion photography tip because of this fashion shoot. I knew going in that I wanted to use my lenses with the widest apertures.
Opening your lens' aperture will create more blur in the background and since I knew I wanted some nice bokeh, I left behind my trusted Canon 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM and brought out my Canon 200mm f/2.8L USM.
There's a big difference between f/3.5 and f/2.8. The difference is also great between f/2.8 and f/1.8. If you want to make the most of low light and if you want to blur the background, a lens with an f/stop of less than f/2.8 is what you want.
Another big advantage the Canon 200mm f/2.8 has over the Canon 15-85mm is the extra zoom. I knew I would not be close to the models in this shoot (at least I assumed that) and came prepared to shoot from a distance.
A longer zoom also helps to produce more background blur. The background is compressed and this results in subjects being able to stand out more in the picture.
The drawback of the Canon 200mm f/2.8L USM lens is that it is a fixed focus lens. Using it, I was stuck at 200mm and could not pull back for a wider shot when the models came closer to me.
An ideal lens for fashion photography is the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. It produces some of the best images of any lens out there. But it is big and white and it will lighten your wallet substantially.
The Canon 200mm f/2.8L USM lens produces pictures on par with its zooming counterpart but at half the cost. And it's not big and white and screaming "Look at me! I'm taking pictures."
Fashion Photography Tip: Use a telephoto lens with a wide aperture.
Something I noticed on my first fashion photography shoot was that I shot a lot more images than I expected. Things were moving kind of fast and I didn't do a lot of chimping (looking at my LCD after every shot).
But one of the things I did notice early on when I was getting into the swing of things (and doing some chimping) was that I was getting a lot of pictures where the models eyes (or one eye) was closed or their face was a bit contorted. Once I knew my settings and understood the light I was working with, I set forth on taking rapid succession shots to make sure I had plenty of pictures to ensure I had ones with both eyes open and faces that looked comfortable.
Fashion Photography Tip: Take a lot of pictures. Then, delete the bad ones.
Speaking of settings and understanding light sources: I used to play baseball in another life and before each game we had time to warm up. This got the blood flowing and gave the mind and body a chance to line up in order to prepare for the game.
The same is true with documentary or event photography. It takes a little while to get used to things in order to be at your best.
The first model that came out was pretty much my warm up. I had already set my exposure as best as I could without actually seeing the models on the runway. It wasn't until the first model came out that I was able to settle into the shoot feeling confident that my exposure was where I wanted it.
Fashion Photography Tip: Don't show up and just start shooting. Wherever or whatever the event you are covering may be, spend some time before you have to shoot getting loose, getting settled in. Then, when the lights turn on and the show begins, you'll already be in the right frame of mind and able to handle the motions needed to get the best shots.
Much like a wedding photographer, I could have used two cameras on this shoot. Since I was happily stuck at 200mm for the entire shoot I missed a lot of atmosphere and full body shots.
It would have been nice to have another DSLR (preferably one that is quick to focus) and a Canon 24-70 f/2.8L USM. This would have provided me with a more robust portfolio after the shoot.
But as it stands, I don't have another camera or that lens. I'm just saying it would have been nice to have another camera/lens set up because changing lenses means missed pictures.
Fashion Photography Tip: If you can bring a second camera and lens, do it.
What is in the background of your pictures? Is it a solid wall? What color is it? Is it an open door to a bathroom? Kneel down. What happens to your background? Stand on a chair. Now what?
Think a lot about your background. It is the first thing to consider when are finding a place to shoot from.
The background establishes drama for your pictures.
If you are shooting with a wide aperture lens (f/2.8 or lower) you will likely be able to blur the background. One cool thing about shooting with lenses that offer wide apertures is that you get to blur the background. In this case, it lets the photographer isolate the subject in the picture.
Colorful items like lamp shades, pillows, cars, trees, etc, can be turned into a smooth background of colors. When shooting with your lens wide open distracting background objects become complimentary dramatic elements. Look for them and use them to your advantage.
Once you've figured out how to use your background begin using the rule of thirds. Basically, don't put your subject/focal point (most often the head) in the center of the picture. Look for lines and shapes and box them in within your frame. Don't be afraid to move up and down the body. Every shot doesn't need, nor should be, to have the model's head. It's a fashion show after all and a lot of fashion goes on below the knees.
Fashion Photography Tip - Use the background to your advantage.
Photography is about the same thing no matter what adjective you put before the word. To create a compelling picture fashion photographers and sports photographers use their backgrounds to add drama. They must consider where they are positioned. They need to spend a little time warming up before the first pitch or first runway walk.
A wildlife photographer and a food photographer have to consider lighting and colors and proper subject placement within the composition.
Ask yourself these questions when you are taking pictures. What is my background doing to my picture? Is this the most interesting way to show what I am seeing?
I don't think a career in fashion photography is in my cards. But I enjoyed the chance to challenge myself and help a good cause. This fashion show benefited Mujeres en Cambio in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.