A common belief is that you can’t do high fashion photography without expensive equipment. This couldn’t be more wrong. As long as you have a DSLR of any kind you’re ready to go.
I would suggest you buy a flash. You can buy a monobloc of unknown brand on Ebay for £150 including a softbox. I did and have worked with it for 3 years. All you need to have for high fashion photography is:
- 1 camera with manual setting
- 1 flash
- 1 softbox
This is everything that you need to produce some great work. If it doesn’t work using the above, it wouldn’t have worked on any lens, resolution or wattage. Here are some of the best lighting tips for high fashion photography. Some of the most beautiful, high-end fashion stories are lit in the simplest of ways and some are just done in natural light, coming from a window, with no reflectors.I genuinely feel that technical details can get in the way of producing good, tasteful high fashion photography if you’re not extremely confident with what you’re doing.
Saying that, of course I have my view on what lighting to use in order to achieve a great fashion look. I believe it is possible to improve your skills enormously by following three simple rules:
1. Always Keep The Lighting On The Background Different From The Lighting On The Subject.
If you’re not able to create a compelling picture with one light you will only make things worse by using 2, 3, 4 or 5 lights. Lighting doesn’t have to be complicated to be better. It has to be tasteful. The only way to master the use of several lights in high fashion photography is to be extremely fluent with what you can achieve with one light. I find that no matter how many lights are involved on a professional high fashion photography shoot, the best results are achieved when there is only one main source of light for the subject that gives shape and depth to the image.
2. Always Light The Subject Separately
In high fashion photography, having the same light falling on both subject and background can make the whole image look somehow cheap. Place the subject several feet away from it and try to use soft boxes with a narrow square, so you can more easily control the beam. Only use a second light when you need to change the brightness of the background. For your first tests, use a white background. With the use of light only, you should be able to underexpose it or overexpose it to obtain black, white and all the shades of grey in between. If you want to go black, don’t use a black background. Somehow the picture will look a lot heavier. Instead, keep the white and move the subject far enough from it.
Increase the power of the flash (making sure the beam is not spilling onto the background), close the aperture until you are able to expose the subject correctly, but heavily underexpose the background in order to obtain the desired shade of black or dark grey.
From this point, you can now introduce a second light to brighten the back to your liking, all the way back to white. For the moment correct the exposure with the aperture only (keep shutter at 1/125 as it will be safe for most cameras to sync with the flash at that speed). When you are at ease with what you’re doing, you can play with slower shutter speeds to control the amount of ambient light affecting the scene. A white wall in a large room is all you need to have a wide range of different effects, all with the use of 1 or 2 lights. If you then add color gels to the lights the possibilities expand even more, but the principles are the same. Understanding the relations and dynamics between subject/background lighting is very important in high fashion photography. It takes a bit of practice and can only be learned by trial and error, but it will soon become second nature to you and when that happens, all you have left to concentrate on is directing the model and taking pictures.
3. Using Reflectors In High Fashion Photography
Although reflectors are useful for portraiture in high fashion photography, I never tend to use them on my fashion shoots. I prefer modifying shadows and mid-tones through exposure, positioning of the light and type of softbox. Sometimes I also use ambient light controlled by the shutter speed to get the desired effect. This is only my personal way of approaching high fashion photography and there is nothing wrong with using reflectors to get the results you’re after.
Even if you worked hard on planning everything in minute detail, you need to have the critical ability during the shoot to know when things aren’t working as they should. Have the courage to get your team to change things and to try different set-ups and lightings from those you planned. In high fashion photography, if what you set out to do isn’t transporting you into a bubble of your own creation, the shoot isn’t working.