My Guide For a Fashion Photographer on Location
I have worked as the Fashion Photographer James Nader for the best part of my photographic life. I have on occasion worked within other genres but fashion has been the one that I feel more closely drawn to. I love in particular working on location and the more extreme the more I enjoy. Many fashion photographers in the UK feel working on location is just a little too much to manage, but I thrive in location fashion photography.
It takes a certain type of person to get involved in the production of a location fashion shoot production also, but having my own small production company helps supports me in the production of various fashion shoots.
From memory, the biggest location fashion shoot In which I was the photographer, happened a few years ago and involved me being away from the UK for a total of 27 days and working on 24 looks and other supporting content in over 12 countries. See more in this link here.
Recently I was lucky enough to be asked to co-produce and shoot a Calendar campaign on location in Iceland, a 3-week shoot exploring the south and west of Iceland. A beautifully natural place Iceland is it also offers a really challenging production opportunity. How do you get this all together and shoot 9 models with a full team of 24 people? I was offered the Fuji GFX 50S medium format camera loaned by Fuji UK to take on location with me and try it out. You can see what thought of the camera and how it performed in the Fuji Camera Global. Interview is here
MY 9 TOP TIPS FOR WORKING AS A LOCATION FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER
1. WORKING WITH A TEAM
When working as a full team, the most I have worked with is 29 people all buzzing around creating and contributing to the overall finished pictures. Even though you will work with an Art Director, Production Director and representatives of the brand you are working for, you are really the team leader and will take responsibility for achieving the final captured images. You are the one the buck stops with. If for some reason you are not on form then the team and the pictures will suffer. I am a photographer who knows what I need from the shoot, models, and team. I direct the shoots and its important that you as the photographer are diplomatic and reasonable. You cannot afford to be prickly and bossy but happy, resourceful and energetic with a positive attitude no matter how you feel. This air of relaxed authority is what drives the team’s creativity and you are the lead.
It’s important to work with the Creative Directors’ vision for the client, however, what is created back at base in the agency’s mind doesn’t always translate to your location and indeed with the team who may have their own agendas. You have to be able to make changes quickly on the fly and bring your creative photographic team on board with your changes. Sell them the vision.
2. MOOD BOARDS – PLANNING – CALL SHEETS
Although the composition and landscape are important components to the overall photograph, you are working from a creative vision. These are often represented in a set of mood boards. They present the outfits from the stylist and their vision but also the overall creative vision which was presented to the client to get the commission. It’s not always easy for a client to buy into a shoot like this but with mood boards, they can also see a creative vision.
It is important to realise that the mood board is just a guide really and the guide sometimes changes with realtime fluid situations. The model doesn’t fit the look, the outfits are not good in this scene and the hair plan won’t work with that outfit, etc. The call sheet will guide the overall requirements of the shoot, who will be needed in what and where with time constraints but these in my experience really do change over time.
3. CONTINUITY WITH THE THEME AND STICKING TO A BRIEF
When working as a location fashion photographer, a theme is part of the overall content production and requirements. Wherever the pictures are taken over a three week period, they will need to fit in with the continuity of the overall shoot. They have to be seen alongside the post-production and retouching which is to be applied. Are grades to be applied, Is there any composite work to be added? The lighting may need to be similar and not mixed so possibly like me on location in Iceland we decided that a good underexposing of the subject would create a sense of drama and so many if not all had a portable battery-powered light applied to the finished look. The continuity was set and applied and it worked.
4. WORK WITH THE NATURAL BEAUTY OF A LOCATION
One of the main reasons I love working on location is the fact that you have no prior knowledge and what to expect so even though you have an overview from online research you most do a location scout or location recce. Normally we would travel out a few days in advance of the rest of the crew. This would normally be the producer and me. It allows us free time to wander and explore the location. It allows us to understand the best places and the problem places. The logistics of getting the team to the locations and really what to expect.
I take my small camera and we document everywhere that seems of interest and then later over a beer we discuss the images on the computer. I also help create an updated mood board of the locations and with a little photoshop assign models and outfits to the board which then gets sent back to the stylist, Makeup and of course the client so they can see how it all looks.
5. WORK WITH THE LIGHT – ADDING IN LOCATION LIGHTING IF NEEDED
Whichever you choose, always remember to work with the light instead of against it. Natural lighting is your friend through the photo shoot and it can play a vital role in the end result of your pictures. For natural luminescence, position your face towards the light at a 45 degree angle. To highlight just half of your face or body, turn at a 90 degree angle from the sunlight. It is usually not wise to face directly towards the sun, since you will likely squint and the light will cause shadows that make your eyes look tired.
6. WORK WITH THE STYLISTS VISION
Despite popular belief, following all of the recent fashion trends will not always result in capturing superior photographs. When you choose your outfit, it is essential to think about how it will appear with your background and overall theme. For instance, prints and patterns can be terrific statement pieces to make your pictures pop against more solid backgrounds. However, when that same print outfit is positioned in front of a more dramatic background, it can become distracting and off-putting. If possible, it is always smart to carry along several different outfits that inspire you. Consider adding in some accessories and props for some added flare too, as long as they correlate with your overall theme.
7. DONT OVERWORK THE LOCATION -THE TEAM OR THE LOOK
It’s really important that you don’t overwork firstly the model and the location. It’s possible to do this when you get your eye in on the look and when you feel it’s going well, but it’s important that you learn to recognise when you have the shot in the bag. NO COVERAGE!!!!!
I am guilty of doing this sometimes but you can soon get the feeling that the model is getting restless as are the team. You are in control, the front manhowever, you need to realise that the shot is in the bag and you can readily move on to the next location.
You should get a feeling inside tht you have the shot, if not you need to find this!
Location Drain!!! as well as overshooting the model you can easily overshoot the location. If your chosen spot is large its easy enought o finsh one look and then turn to the right and shoot another model with another look. This can work for editorial and if you are shooting an story. A productio such as the Iceland trip needs divesity from a location that in general is similar overall. Make sure you change it up and diversify the images. It cab be a little boring your photography all looks similar.
8. BE INCLUSIVE WITH YOUR IMAGES – INVOLVE YOUR TEAM
In the old days of polaroid this was easily done, pull the polaroid and then show the client then the model and then the stylist. This was a longer process than today. It for me is really important to get a buy-in from the model. Explain what I am looking for so I always show the model the test sots ion the back of my camera. I discuss options and how I wished to proceed and what I didn’t really think worked.
I always become inclusive at this stage and feel its good to get a round of feedback. I do this and then in my mind work out if there are valid comments and then I make my changes and then stick to the plan that has just changed, This works for me and being inclusive with your team and aking for feedback allows then to feel part of the shoot. The buy-in and feel that there has been a contribution. I also ask during the shoot and this ismy way of finding feedback as I go along. I don’t need it as my mind is mad up but a share of the camera back makes the photographic machine work well
9. MAKE SURE THERE IS ALWAYS A BACKUP PLAN
A contingency plan is always advised. bad weather can be a hassle. Make sure on your initial recce or location scouting that you take this into account. Find locations for an alternative look. If you think that a client has paid for 7 days photography for branded campaign capturing say 10 images then they need those 10 images regardless of the weather. There is no excuse for turning up back at the agency door with shots missing as this 7 shot makes the campaign. Plan, plan, plan and then plan some more. It can blow your credibility and your opportunity if you didn’t make a contingency
I C E L A N D – In the Field Story
WORKING WITH THE LOCATION – ICELAND FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER – CALENDAR PRODUCTION
It is always important to find a photographer that has an admiration and understanding of the theme or purpose that you are intending to capture behind the camera lens. In addition, it is crucial that you find someone that allows you to feel comfortable. Cameras have the amazing capability of clearly conveying all negative emotions, like discomfort or nervousness. If your funds do not allow you to hire a professional photographer, ask an artistic friendly or a creative family member to play photographer. Whichever fits your budget, find a photographer that you admire and enjoy being around for the most natural portraits.
The Iceland challenge was to create 24 images for the 2019 PURE Calendar for Lambertz in Germany. I had worked with them before and that was for 29 days in 12 countries. Part of the campaign involved meeting up with Nena and Larissa Kerner for a 2 days shoot and then towards the end of the shoot to meet up with Rurik Gislason who is the Icelandic footballing legend. I was to create 6 pieces of fine art photography for the Calendar
The weather proved rather changeable at times but really it was a super place to be. In the first week it was just me and the Producer Marco from Germany. We drove around planning and searching for the best locations but to be honest little did we know that the best locations actually could appear from no where and on route to the main attractions.
I was fortunate to hook up with Fuji Film and @fujifilm_uk who loaned me a FUJI GFX50S for the whole 3 weeks and what a camera. In another post I will talk about how good the camera was and how it surpassed any other medium format that I have used.
Working in the Iconic locations of Iceland was not always about stress, trials, and tribulations, I did get a chance for downtime, usually but really you are there to do a job and time soon vanished in a day shoot based on travel to and from locations. Shooting fashion in Iceland has been one of my most challenging locations and we didn’t really get much downtime. There were always stresses with the team becoming more apparent day by day and eventually it became a man-management project on most days of our Iceland trip. Important I might add not through the organisation of the trip more with the Production and the lack of from the German Production.
Below you get a feel for the way the location actually mapped out over the duration of the shoot. It gives an insight into the logistics of the locations we went to and how we went about getting the final images. I will be posting the full image review later on the Blog so you can see the final images.