One of the advantages of having a few items of Canon kit is membership of Canon Professional Services and the occasional invitations to experience days. I've previously been to London Fashion Week where I was able to shoot from the photographers pit at the end of catwalk shows. Recently an email dropped into my inbox with an offer for a fashion experience day. I dropped my name in the virtual hat and then a couple of weeks ago I got an invitation.
The Fashion Experience Day was to be held at a location in Deptford called The Mastershipwrights House. I thought it was just going to be a studio location with a few setups and a range of lighting and models and guidance from a couple of fashion photographers. It turned out to be so much more than that. There were no studios, the whole place was a location and a stunning one at that. It literally is a Master Shipwrights house built in 1708 as part of Deptfords old royal docks. It was sold in 2010 for around £5m and is now available for hire for photo shoots, films and tv, music videos and product launches. There wasn't time to look around too much but there's a pretty good gallery of photos here.
There were about 30 invitees split into two groups taking turns to work with each of the two expert photographers Canon had brought in. My group had Tony Wellington first to tell us about how he planned an editorial shoot with all the things that should be done and sorted before even getting to lift a camera to the eye. Get a model & get clothes for the shoot (ideally borrow them from the designer in exchange for the photographs), get a makeup artist and assistant (if you don't have one), find a location. Make sure everyone is available for the shoot date and if not, the availability of your chosen model is the most important consideration.
After the seminar we moved to the bottom of the main stairs of the house which Tony has picked as one of two locations where we would shoot. Tony had procured some high fashion clothing and model Petra. We worked in pairs and had 3 minutes each pair to direct the model and take our shots. Three minutes!!!!! Wow, that called for fast thinking and acting. I worked with friend Aaron who is a creative director and between us we came up with some ideas. Come our turn at the front and we set to work. The 3 minutes went super quickly but we both had got as many shots taken as possible. Petra was a very professional model and was a capable poser, able to take direction even when shouted over a roaring fan. Did I mention the fan? We had a large fan to blow on the dress and help create some dynamicism in the dress. It was a bit loud. Petra was stood half way up the stairs with her back to a large arched window. This would leave her face in shadow as it was quite bright outside. Several thousand pounds worth of daylight balanced continuous lighting fixed that. Ctd. below
Our second location was at the top of the same stairs using the window as a background again. While Petra changed dress the group moved some furniture out of the way and prepared for our second 3 minutes. As we prepared Tony was talking us through the second setup. The new dress was a much more fitted look meaning Petra wouldn't be able to move around as easily, so we would need to think of different poses.
Again the 3 minutes went very quickly. The space for the photographers to stand was very limited so I'd switched to a 24-105 zoom to have more flexibility with framing. The first shot in the blue dress was taken while Aaron and I had our allotted time. I went for a wider angle to add some space to the side of Petra. The other two shots were taken while other members of the group were having their 3 minutes of frantic shooting and directing.
After a break for lunch our group switch to the other photographer Jörg Kyas. Jörg is a Canon Explorer which is an exclusive invite only club of photographers that Canon feel represent the very best of photography using Canon cameras. In his seminar Jörg showed us the other side of fashion photography. The less glamorous side. The side that most of us try to avoid thinking about. The working in a studio all day taking shot after shot of clothes against a white background for use in catalogs and online shopping sites. A consistent look between photographs and between different shoots for the same brand on different days. All brands have a marketing look which is consistent in order to maintain familiarity with consumers. It's the production line of fashion. The camera is tethered to a computer where someone sits editing photographs as they are taken. It's lacking any scope for creativity (even the brand of light used is dictated by the customer) but with 24 shoots a year it helps pay the bills. Thankfully after this dose of reality Jörg went on to talk about his passion for high concept fashion photography and his love for shallow depth of field and mixing daylight with flash. Due to the complexity of allowing everyone the chance to try daylight flash in the afternoon we concentrated on composition and shallow depth of field. Petra rejoined us in a pale blue silky jump suit. We shot outside which was less restricting for the group as we could spread out and take shots from different angles and for those with longer lenses shots over the shoulders of other photographers.
All in all I found it to be a very informative day. I certainly learned a lot about being a commercial fashion photographer. There are no doubt a thousand articles out on the internet with hints and tips on one form of photography or another but as was the case this day it is often much better learning experience to be in the presence of someone who actually does what you want to learn about.
Thanks to Canon and the CPS team for organising the day and thanks to Tony and Jörg for sharing their experience.