If you read my outfit post on Wednesday, you may remember I mentioned wanting to write about the process behind style photos. Well, guess what: I actually did, and this is that post.
Here, I’m going to tell you about everything that happens between ‘deciding to shoot an outfit’ and ‘getting enough pictures on my camera to call it a day.’ I’ll try to account for people who shoot with tripods and remotes, but obviously, what works for me may not work for you.
This post focuses on the non-technical aspects of photographing outfits, but in case you’re wondering, I shoot with a Canon EOS 450D I bought in 2008. Yep. My 50mm f/1.8 lens is a bit newer. All my photos are taken in manual mode and in RAW.
BEFORE THE SHOOT
The first thing I do, days or weeks before a shoot, is either a) receive a piece of clothing in the mail, or b) randomly come up with an outfit made out of clothes from my closet. If (a), then I try (b). I often think long and hard about what jewelry could go with the outfit, how I could dress things up a bit, and if I could maybe put on makeup this time. Spoiler alert: none of this has any bearing when I get dressed.
Then I need to find a time I will be going out. I tend to time my outfit shoots around errands. The thing is, I don’t do a lot of errands, so the last two outfit shoots I did happened after going to the doctor and getting my eyes checked out, respectively. Health appointments are particularly convenient because my mom doesn’t put up a fuss about coming with me to these things, and that way I don’t have to worry about my assistant’s schedule.
(My mom is fine with being called my assistant. Assisting me, she doesn’t like so much.)
The morning I picked to go somewhere, I usually can’t be bothered to get out of bed and say, “Eh. Tomorrow.”
And then tomorrow comes. (Ominous!) And I put on my piece of clothing, and the bare minimum of other items I need to go outside without dying — i.e., shoes, glasses, and a bag with my wallet, my camera and my notebooks in it. I briefly consider the jewelry thing, and remember it’s all inside a pouch in a backpack in a suitcase in my closet.
That is a hell of a lot of work. Pfft.
Let’s just work extra hard on the photography instead, yeah? That’s my selling point anyway.
THE OUTFIT PHOTOGRAPHY PROCESS
First, I let my mom know I’m going to be making her take pictures of me. I often do this days in advance, and then on the day of. It’s important because that way she can wrap her head around the fact that I will waste thirty minutes of her time.
PICKING A SPOT
We go to the thing we have to do, and then I think about what’s around: there are trees in this direction, and a park in that other direction but it’s really ugly, and a nice wall in the third direction but it’s kind of far. Eventually I pick a direction and set off in it, and walk until I find a place that meets three (3) requirements:
1. There is enough shade (in summer) or enough clear space (in winter) to fit both me and the person holding my camera (or your tripod!). I don’t mind a little sunshine getting in the way of things — it makes things fun! — but the straight line of shooting must be solid.
2. That space is also large enough for me to step away from the camera for a full-body shot when the camera’s got a 50mm lens on it. This is not incredibly hard, but it means I can’t shoot across the sidewalk.
3. It’s halfway pretty. The 50mm is handy here because it will blur things out, so you can significantly lower your standards. However, if you live somewhere with some amount of charm, you can and should shoot for all the way pretty.
This all involves switching walking modes from ‘normal’ to ‘examining the backdrop potential of your surroundings.’ Tip: pretend you’ve never seen any of this stuff before. You will look like a tourist in awe, but that’s an unavoidable job hazard.
If you already know where you want to shoot, you can skip the above step — for the most part. If you’ve decided to shoot in a park, you may still need to find solid lighting! If, however, you have a setup in your backyard, you’re three steps ahead of most.
NOTE: The deal with shooting during intense sunshine: I know people hate it. I do not. I mean, I actually like it. It means you can turn your shutter speed hardcore high, which will give you super smooth, sharp photos even if you decide to twirl in your dress and show unexpecting passersby your underwear. When you look for that lovely solid shaded spot to shoot, you will have super cool sunshine filtering through, if you choose to. I love that.
You just need to be really really careful to avoid overexposure. I haven’t fully mastered it myself (look, I know), but it helps if you have the minimum possible ISO, roll the shutter speed as high as it will go, and if you’re not seeking bokeh, narrow the aperture a lot. I never narrow the aperture a lot, especially for portraits, but just saying as it may come in handy!
TESTING THE SPOT
Look around. Where’s the best background? Make your mom slash assistant stand in for you. Last time my mom was like ‘fuck this bullshit, make your sister do it’ and my sister did, though I rarely use her because her hands are shaky as hell even on 1/1600 shutter speed. My family are a prime example of how having a good camera does not, in fact, make you a good photographer. (I love you, mom and sister. Also cat, you absolute babe. One day I will put your paw on the shutter and click.)
If you have a tripod, you’ll have to stand in for yourself and take test shots. Obviously.
1. Where the light is coming from. I tend to take pictures from a few angles to find this out, though occasionally I’ll take one and be like, ‘Eh, that’ll do’ if I’m somewhere open plan where the lighting isn’t cut in by walls and whatnot. If you’re in a patio or a porch or a cul-de-sac or indoors, this matters a fair bit more. As a general rule, make sure you’re fully or mostly facing the light. (If you’re going for a silhouette photo, turn your back on it. There, you showed that light who’s boss.) Otherwise you’ll have to lower your shutter speed, and the background will be washed out in light while your skin is dark and gross. Not a good picture.
2. Light intensity. Check how your skin is coming out, the details on your dress, your hair, everything that’s a tricky color. White is super tricky in intense lighting. Make sure you’re not washing out the textures at your current shutter speed. Pull it up if necessary.
3. Potential backgrounds. If you’re using a wall, you can skip this part. But if you’re in the middle of a street or a park — somewhere with a busy background, even if you’re blurring it out with a wide aperture — shifting yourself and/or your camera five centimeters to the left can make a huge difference to the composition of your photo.
Once this is all tested, you should have your adjustments set up solidly enough to pawn your camera off on somebody (or leave it on your tripod). You’ll also know where to stand, and where the photographer needs to stand.
HITTING THE SPOT
(I couldn’t resist.)
Well, now I pawn my camera off on my assistant, make her stand where I stood, and go stand where she stood.
Then I pose. My assistants (eh) like to press the shutter and just… not lift their finger for a while. I try to hold poses for at least two clicks and delete them after, mostly because I’ve found that if I move too fast, even with high shutter speed, I may end up with a lot of awkward faces.
I’d love to give you some tips on posing, but I need to go over my shoots and write down what I normally do, because I have no idea. I won’t say I’m An Amazing Model, because I don’t know much, but I have a ridiculous amount of fun with it and it really comes naturally. I’m not afraid to look ridiculous because those photos can be the funnest, and I can delete anything I don’t like afterwards. Sometimes I’ll remember a pose I saw on somebody’s blog and try for it, but for the most part I improvise.
Sometimes I have to remind myself to smile. I can be a bit terrible at that. I like smiling pictures, especially for outfit posts; I’m not actually shooting a super serious fashion campaign here, and even if I were, I like to see people smiling.
Anyway, I pose and shoot a few full-body photos. I look at them and adjust the settings if necessary. I also check whether there are any photos I can use yet, or if there are any I want that are missing. I make sure you can see my face in all of them so the post won’t look like a shampoo commercial.
I do a few more full-body shots. I bark orders at my assistant to move further or closer or a step to the left or five milimeters back diagonally to the right. I check in again, adjust, run over what I have in my head.
Back to my place, and this time I ask my assistant to stand a little closer and get shots from the thighs up, or from the chest up, or from the waist down. I look over those to make sure I have what I wanted, and often do a few more full-body shots just to be safe.
Sometimes I’ll repeat the entire process, or part of it, somewhere else. When I shot Wednesday’s outfit, I looked for a green background I could shoot the back of my dress against, but sadly I didn’t find one. It was very sad. I tend to rush through the testing if I’ve already done the main shoot, mostly so my assistant(s) won’t kill me.
AFTER THE SHOOT
Then I come home, delete everything that already looks bad in the camera, transfer my photos to my laptop, and edit! Okay, first I go through them and wallow in how pretty I am, sometimes I tweet about that, and then I edit.
Next on this not-a-series: Lix’s Ultimate Guide to Post-Processing Outfit Shots. Or something a little less ultimate, and therefore less work for me. Give me some time to decide.
Check out all my past outfits here!
Have any questions? Leave a comment below! And if you found this helpful or interesting, I’d also love to know.