Milano Diary - Fashion Shoot in the IIF Studio

A studio shooting with the theme of:  Sexy Art Deco

Jamie Lowe Photography Sexy Art Deco Fashion_5

Week one into the Photography and Fashion course at Instituto Italiano Di Fotographia culminates with us participants getting our first chance to shoot our simulated editorial for "IKI" Magazine's "Sexy Issue" in the studio at Instituto Italiano Di Fotographia (IIF) . If you have been following this journal, then you will know that I was in Milan to study fashion photography from among others, Piero Visconti, who in the previous days had led us participants through a demonstration of a studio shooting (read about this in a previous posting). Piero is also the Editor in Chief of 'IKI' Magazine and our simulated editorial reflects the brief proposed for a real issue which was published in May 2014.

Summarised here are the steps we took to achieve our first fashion editorial images in the studio. This is not by any means  a text-book approach, but merely an account of how I responded to this challenge, recounting the steps that I took, ably guided through the process by the IIF team.

Beginning this process is the brief, set by 'IKI' Magzine. It's the "Sexy Issue", we are told and it is high summer after all and the city has that carefree, devil-may-care vibe about it. the images have got to be sexy but elegant. Something worthy of the quality of clothing as well as a little risque. The first task is: 

Generate an idea and then create a "Mood Board"

We are in the wake of Baz Lhurmann's film -"The Great Gatsby", the FIFA World Cup in Brazil has the world's soccer fans in a frenzy and Milano is gearing up for EXPO 2015. Gucci's Spring Summer collection is in my mind and I am aware of a quiet 70's revival emerging in fashion. My mood board idea begins to draw upon these "first thought" ideas as I attempt to distill them all into some sort of coherent presentation.

My Mood Board begins with some selected images to set the tone of my thinking and which show my desired lighting set up as well as a broad idea of styling. I like the Harlem-meets-Deco feel of the photographs from Brazilian Vogue on this first page and I particularly like the strong colours and lighting which comes from above to frame the models up-turned face in them.

  My Mood Board: setting out the general styling and lighting proposal.

My Mood Board: setting out the general styling and lighting proposal.

Then there follows a page to show proposed hair styles,. I am really keen on the jazz singer look from the 1930's -short wavy hair which is really the only reference I want to make back to this period of the 20th century, as i still want 'the look' to be a contemporary one. Also on this page i am  identifying  the kind of make up I am thinking of, taking into account the strong lighting set-up that I have in mind.

  My Mood Board: illustrating hair and make-up ideas

My Mood Board: illustrating hair and make-up ideas

Lastly a page which I hoped would further assist the Stylist in helping to select the clothing - which would go best with the poses that I had been visualising. This page also helped me to recall my earlier ideas about how the model may be posed when it came to the shooting day.

  My Mood Board, with final images to develop ideas for poses and accessories.

My Mood Board, with final images to develop ideas for poses and accessories.

Select the right model

This seemingly simple task turns out to be anything but simple. My take -away advice for this part of the process (for what it may be worth), is to spend less time scrutinising a model's portfolio on casting day but to take more time to chat and get an early feel for the development of that essential working relationship to come. It is better to know that the person you are going to select is on board with your ideas and is responsive and communicative. So casting is as much about observing and seeing if a model's personality is right for you, as it is about a good opportunity to study their "form". By form, I mean their height, poise, their shoe size, hands and features without make up, the way they carry themselves, their gestures and mannerisms and so on.

A model, it is said, can change the fortune of a brand. There are essentially three kinds of model (we are told) : "The Beautiful", "The Expert" and (the Kate Moss league) "The Top". I'm yet to meet an example who can straddle all of these categories! But I am suggesting that an 'Expert' would be the kind of model with: experience, a willingness to be professional, work hard and who has the ability to transform themselves at will in front of the camera. Ideally it is a person who can both get along with you in a friendly relaxed way on set but follow your dictates closely when before your lens.

Casting day happens as a result of the following things being done:

  • Approaching the modelling agency and organising a meeting with them
  • Preparing a portfolio  to show to the agency
  • Being able to show them the Mood Board that you have prepared.

On the day of casting it is advised that as well as collecting a model's communication card  (a bit like one of those "Trump Cards " detailing their 'stats') you should consider taking a few shots perhaps in a pre-prepared set. In addition you should scout for a second option too, just in case your first choice is unable to make it on the shooting day.

  My choice of model: Paulina , images supplied by  the BOOM Model Agency in Milan

My choice of model: Paulina , images supplied by the BOOM Model Agency in Milan

I chose Paulina, a new face from Poland, on account of her distinctive baby-doll features ( at once innocent and menacing, with a touch of the oriental about them) and her remarkable eyes, which I felt would carry off my proposal for make-up well. As it happens, I think I chose both a 'Beautiful' model as well as an 'Expert', and I was really pleased with what we managed to create and I  am very grateful to her.

Send a copy of your Mood Board to your Stylist,  Make-Up Artist and Hair Stylist

Yes! You will need to find these key people as well. We were lucky enough, being on this course, to have these people provided for us for this exercise. My take-away advice here is to find a Stylist, Hair Stylist and a Make-up Artist at your level (of your career) and get to know them well. Making this happen seems  a little like one of those story lines in an action film where the concept of putting together "a team" for a bank-job or some such endeavor seems similarly tricky.  To do fashion photography, you need a team of specialists to assist you and half the battle is being able to select and identify the right team in the first place (I'm thinking along the lines of "The 'A' Team" here after witnessing Serene the stylist arriving at the studio with a similar black transit van packed with clothing accessories and props -goodies one morning).

Organise with your Assistant(s) the equipment list and the physical layout of the lighting set up.

Here's my hastily sketched proposal from the first discussions with my fantastic assistants from IIF below:

  A crude starting point to organising my light set-up.

A crude starting point to organising my light set-up.

In my set up on the day, I actually used one main light: (a strobe with a beauty dish on a giraffe) to light my model from above, with a secondary light (a strobe directed onto  the coloured background  to create a spot of highlight behind my model, creating a bit of  depth along with going between a third light off to the right hand side with a soft box light to catch the model's profile or a wall of white reflector panels.

Scott Kelby's book: "Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It" has been a really useful guide for me in the past and is definitely worth reading if you want a very simple and user-friendly introduction to studio lighting.

Using a digital light meter and my camera on 'M' Mode, I was able to establish a precise f stop somewhere between f11 and f8 with a 1/125 shutter speed.

Another useful trick was to make use of a grey card so as to establish  a desired white balance in the camera by accessing the option to create a pre-set white balance in camera (your manual should explain how) . if you don't know how to do this then you can set your white balance to "cloudy".

  I was ably assisted on set by co-participant and  Fashion Photographer, Gabor  Herczegfalvi

I was ably assisted on set by co-participant and  Fashion Photographer, Gabor Herczegfalvi

Shooting Day

Prepare to make everyone feel comfortable and at ease. Offer refreshments, point out changing areas, rest rooms, smoking areas, make clear the timetable and establish a good rapport right away.

Get your "deck" organised - in other words have a landing space somewhere on the set for your camera(s),  lenses, your laptop and hard drive, so that you may better organise the transfer,  back -up and archiving of images. Since its always best to view your shots on a bigger screen it is a good idea to transfer from your camera to your laptop after each segment of shooting which is usually precipitated from a change of clothes / styling. That way you have time to transfer to a folder for each segment, back- up and view the feedback.

Also, don't forget to select some appropriate music to have playing to put your model, your team and yourself in the mood. I even made a "Sexy Art Deco" -playlist, which has subsequently been expanded and improved upon by lots of cool Brazilian music courtesy of my fellow particpants on the course.

Jamie Lowe Photography Sexy Art Deco Fashion_1

It is important to remember on this day, that you are the only person who gives instructions to the model. In short you are the director on your own film set, and maintaining pace to the day, order, breaks  and efficiency of the work flow is your job.

Jamie Lowe Photography Sexy Art Deco Fashion_2

One of the things that I learned was the importance of establishing in which order the make-up and hairstyle changes should happen (in line with the clothing changes), so as to make the transition as trouble free as possible for the stylists and make up artist.

Jamie Lowe Photography Sexy Art Deco Fashion_3

What follows the shoot is a list of important jobs which can perhaps be covered best  in another article and it looks something like this:

  • First selection of the images
  • Second and final selection of images
  • Retouching and post production
  • Credits
  • Submission
Jamie Lowe Photography Sexy Art Deco Fashion_4

As a fledgling fashion photographer, I realise that I still have lots to learn but found this experience, being involved in a simulated exercise to shoot an editorial, to be really valuable and I can't wait to do more of this sort of work. I am thankful to Paulina and wish her well in her career.

Special thanks to our Stylist, Marco Di Ciuccio, our Hair Stylists and Make-up Artists: Giovanni Estra Maurelli and Gerry. Our great and patient team of studio assistants at IIF Studio : Vinicius Amarai da Silva and friends.

Many thanks also to my fellow participants : Gabor Herczegflavi, Caroline Porter, Fernanda Mantoan, Maisa Mendes, Biruta Freimane, Elena Smirnova, Anya Klyueva, Anna Koroleva, who, when we were not supporting or assisting one another through this process in some way, all created great images for "The Sexy Issue" of their own in the studio on that day too.

Of course thanks to the course leaders: Piero Visconti and  Sara El Beshbichi, Maria Christi Lani and Lucja Hrvat for their fantastic input.

Ciao!