Fashion Photographer Chris Davis Shares His Tips On Shooting Male Models
When you think of fashion photography, you typically think of women being the main subject. It’s not without reason because female models typically dominate the fashion scene. When it comes to shooting male models in fashion, there’s a lack of information out there for aspiring photographers. I reached out to my friend and colleague Chris Davis who was happy to share a few tips on shooting male models in specific.
If you haven’t seen his work yet, be sure to visit his site to get familiar with him.
Fstoppers: Chris, thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with us! Tell us a little about yourself and your history with photography for those that aren’t familiar with your work.
Chris Davis: Hey, it’s a pleasure to be here, you guys have built up a fantastic resource with Fstoppers. I’m Chris, a fashion and portrait photographer mainly working in menswear. I love working in menswear. Initially, it wasn’t thorough any decision of my own. When I realized that there was a gap in the industry, especially further north of England, it made sense for me to continue down that path.
I’m known mainly as Specular, I created the brand to start with as I was doing design and 3D work at the time as well as photography. As the photography side grew it also made sense to have a more unique name as there where a lot of Chris Davis’s out there.
I’ve worked in photography on and off over the years, starting off working mainly in computer animation and effects. Once I got my hands on the newer digital cameras I was hooked and found myself spending all my free time shooting instead of animating and sculpting. After a few years it completely took over for me.
Fstoppers: Although you also shoot female models, how do male models differ in your opinion? Is there a big market for them or do you believe the industry is skewed?
Chris Davis: I think there is a huge market for male models and it is just getting bigger. I’m sure the industry was skewed a few years back, but due to attitudes changing, guys seem happier to spend more time and money on themselves, on clothes, accessories and grooming. I think part of this is due to a big rise in the fitness industry. It’s apparent over the last ten years or so that more of the male population are spending their time in the gym. They are a lot more concerned with body image. My Facebook is now swamped with status updates revolving around the gym and nutrition, sometimes to a bad extent where people get really obsessed with it. They become very self conscious and stressed about their body image.
This comes across in male folios and the work I do as there are always more fitness and physique shots compared to girls who are still often very fashion and clothing based, unless they are with a glamour agency. It’s not that the guys are all physique models either, most of them are with fashion based agencies. There is just more of a demand for male models sporting a chiseled and well built physique.
Fstoppers: When you approach a shoot with a male model, do you do anything different than if you were to shoot a female model?
Chris Davis: First off, I don’t often use a makeup artist on male shoots as I prefer to retouch the skin as needed. This isn’t always the case but there are a few exceptions. For girls, I find makeup can really change their look, quite dramatically at times. It is still pretty essential even for natural looks. It’s fun to get more creative looks done through makeup.
Although girls can get away with being masculine and feminine quite easily, I still think there is still a huge range of looks and emotions you can get from male models, especially when a guy has quite feminine or soft features. there is definitely flexibility there when you put them into a raw or masculine story. I think genders are becoming more flexible in fashion.
Fstoppers: When it comes to your lighting choices, do you do anything differently? What are your favorite setups when shooting men? How do you decide on your choices? Take us through your thought process.
Chris Davis: My lighting always changes depending on the brief and story, it’s quite varied. A lot of my set ups are quite high contrast though. I try not to fill too much, keeping the lighting more dramatic. If I’m doing physique work, I often try and light from above to some extent, using shadow to make muscles look more prominent. For fashion, the clothes have to be seen so it is often a case adding a bit of fill or bounced light and then pushing it a bit further in post where needed.
I quite like using large beauty dishes for fashion even though it is more suited to beauty. I love the more punchy and hard light you can get. The falloff from the light is great. Possibly my most used light in the past has been my constant ring light.
I was inspired to get this ring light after getting a lighting DVD from the amazing Joey L, he used it to create these amazing hoop catch lights in the eyes of a band he was shooting. I used it in a similar fashion to start with, doing head shots and close up work with it. After a little experimentation I found it worked great as a key light off to the side or anywhere else you needed it. Due to the power, it meant you needed to either shoot with the aperture wide open or push the ISO quite far. So it wasn’t ideal for everything, but just as another option that I still love. It’s also great for video.
I think the best thing to do is to play with as many setups as possible, rim light your subject, try gels, try soft modifiers, bounce boards, whatever you can get your hands on, and good old sunlight. Sunlight is still one of my favorite light sources. It’s good to find your own style lighting wise and keep some sort of a signature that way. I find that it is also great to learn as much about lighting as possible. As more commercial work comes in, the more clients will push and pull that style. You will need to find a solution that will only come if you know your lighting.
You don’t have to use a style that doesn’t fit in your folio. However, if it is what the client is after and it brings in the money for you to keep doing the work you want to, you should definitely go for it. I’ve shot a lot of client work that never goes into my main folio. From what I’ve heard, a lot of the big names do the same too.
Fstoppers: I find that it’s harder to pose men because it feels like there are less poses that they can pull off in comparison to female models. How do you overcome this dilemma? Or should a male model always come prepared with a set of poses? Do you end up giving them any direction at all?
Chris Davis: Pose wise, I often just try and guide the models rather than be too heavy on the direction. I like to see their personalities come through. Guys can sometimes be a little wooden and too rigid, but after a bit of direction you can loosen them up and get them moving more naturally. The high end male models have always been amazing. They are fluid and creative in poses without being too cliché or too feminine. For some reason I find camp can come over as a bit cheesy in a fashion shoot, unless its part of the editorial story.
I think more than anything, I try and keep the poses more natural and candid looking. If the pose looks unnatural or too forced it can make the shot look fake and you lose the connection with the model.
I find that I try and get the same connection with both male and female models. It may be the amount of male folios I shoot now, but I don’t often find males harder to work with pose wise. It really does help to use models from good agencies and models that have been in the business for a few years, you can just let them go for it. Some can really surprise me by pulling some pretty odd ball poses that can seem a bit too quirky on the day of the shoot. However, in the edits these poses can often make for a great image.
Also, make sure you cast well for your brief too. Casting the right look makes a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to be picky and spend a lot of time going over agency books.
Fstoppers: As far as post processing goes, do you typically have a different work-flow as well in comparison to shooting a fashion spread with a female model?
Chris Davis: Yeah, I definitely try and keep more detail in men’s skin. I find you can retouch a lot more with female models. If you go too far with a male model, unless its for a deliberately perfect looking editorial, it can look a bit plastic and a bit cold.
I used to Photoshop the hell out of my shots when I started! It’s quite funny when I look back at my earlier work. At the time, I came from an editing and CGI background so it looked okay to me. It was another photographer that I knew at the time, an Italian girl, that was extremely blunt with me regarding her feedback. She basically told me to redo my entire portfolio because the skin was overly retouched.
It was true, I’d somehow just thought of it as a ‘style’ at the time. Making my editing more subtle was one of the best changes I made. It was tough to get that right balance, but the time was worth it.
Fstoppers: Tell us a little about preparing for a shoot. How much planning goes into each shoot and what does it entail?
Chris Davis: it depends, I do a lot of folio work for agencies now, which is all done on the fly. I’ve done enough now that I know in my head what setups to do lighting wise. Location selection depends upon the weather. It’s nice that way, it makes some of the shoots more spontaneous.
Editorial wise, there is a lot more work that goes on. I often create mood boards for each area such as hair, clothing, poses, lighting, etc. I’d chat with the team to see what their take on the ideas were and just evolve the ideas from there. I have a few stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and other team members that I work with quite regularly now. It’s nice to have a few creative teams set up that you have worked with before that can pull off the brief you have in mind.
Depending on the job, I sometimes do some test shoots, especially if it’s a change in lighting or other variables just to make sure it will work on the day. It can also be to find out if any different lighting modifiers or equipment will be needed.
Fstoppers: Since there are less male models out there, do you also find it equally difficult in marketing your work? With your images, do you mostly shoot them to submit for editorial intent? Where do you typically look to submit work?
Chris Davis: I’ve been lucky enough to work the the lovely Alexander Beer, who’s a photographer as well as a great model (annoying right? ha ha) and he’s been amazing in terms of hooking me up with magazines like Homme Style, Exalt, Beige magazine, Bello, etc. So I’ve shot quite a bit with Alexander and its opened quite a few doors for me.
I try and shoot commissioned editorials when possible, but I’ve also been through the submission process many many times. It can be hard, especially when you have put a lot of time and money behind a shoot just to get knocked back, or more often, zero response from the magazines. It can really get you down if you let it. I find the best thing is to just keep going, find a blog for the work, and look at how you can make it work more tailored to specific magazines.
One of the best outlets for my work has been the blog Homotography, it’s now one of the best known menswear and male model blogs and the audience for it is huge. It has around a million or so readers a month. When I’ve had work on the blog it tends to get reblogged everywhere, which is great for exposure. I even landed one model I worked with a huge underwear campaign after an art director saw the shots on another blog.
Most of my paid work at the moment comes from folio shoots for a few agencies. I’ve been lucky enough to get a name for myself for shooting guys, or at least to become reasonably well known in a few agencies. So I get quite a few model now and they are often of a standard that I can use in my book.
Also, a lot of my bigger jobs are for makeup, which is funny as I worked so little in the field up until a year or so ago. A stylist I work with quite a bit, Joey Bevan, passed me on to makeup brands Kryolan, and Charles Fox. Since then I’ve been shooting Trend looks and some campaign images for them. They have been fantastic to work for, just really lovely people. The makeup artists and teams that have been involved have been unreal. Working with some of the biggest make up artists around has been a great experience and I hope to continue it along with my menswear shoots.
Ffstoppers: What is your overall goal? You have an incredible book, where do you see yourself in the future?
Chris Davis: Ahh thank you! I think like most photographers, I’m always wanting to improve my book. I’d love to keep up with editorial work and hopefully get into some bigger magazines like i-D, Vogue Hommes, Hero etc, and start shooting for more menswear brands. I love designers like Bodybound, Calvin Klein, Gareth Pugh etc, too many to mention really.
I’d like to shoot more portraits too. I recently shot with Bollywood star Upen Patel for a load of different magazines, including and hopefully, Vogue China. It’s great to work one on one with actors and entertainers and to try and capture some of their personality in the images.
I’d also love to see myself move to NYC in the next few years. It’s my favorite place to shoot and it’s an amazing city. I still love London and enjoy shooting there, but NY definitely has a feel that at any moment, anything can happen.
Fstoppers: Chris, thank you for taking the time out to talk to us today! We’ve all learned so much.
You can find Chris at the following sites: