The in-between stages of fashion photography can be knowing which ideas for stories serve best as test shoots and which are worth pushing forward as a full editorial. Do the benefits of a cohesive editorial outweigh the efforts required to make it? This article breaks down the steps required from idea to execution.
Test Shoot Versus Editorial
Test shoots are mainly done as a means to create solid content for both your portfolio and the models involved. Test shoots, however, can be simply for that — to test out a new idea, equipment, or model before booking them for something more substantial. This is the time where you ask yourself is this newfound idea one that would serve best in a portfolio or as webitorial/editorial. I say this because there has been times where I really want to push for an editorial on an idea that is not cohesive enough to build a story on or thought out enough.
Get to Know Your Magazine
Get to know the audience of the magazine you ultimately want to shoot and submit for, as that will dictate what stories you approach them with. This can be done by doing a quick investigation of their websites and social media outlets. I wouldn't approach an edgy or dark magazine with something light and airy if it completely misses their usual aesthetic. So get to know them as far as what they are looking for story wise as well as submission policies and deadlines. Some magazines would prefer more times than not that you shoot for the upcoming season, so by the time the story is released it is cohesive and keeps up with the current trends.
What Is Your Goal?
What is truly your goal? Is it to portray your story, a love child of your vision and work? Or to get your name out there with what could be a magazine with a huge census of viewers? Understanding the end goal can make it easier to sift through who will be a better match for your work at hand. Some indie magazines and web-magazines cater more to a niche base but best benefit passion projects that you'd like to push out there, whereas larger magazines may be more inclined towards you creating a story from the ground up that caters to their creative direction. This may feel creatively stifling, however work as a proper foundation and service to your work.
Once you've gotten through the floor work of who you'd like to submit to and what exactly, a mood board will be very important to see that vision to fruition (just as I've discussed in my previous article). For the shoot that I did, it was heavily influenced by the first season of “Stranger Things.” It was extremely refreshing and had this element to it that was both nostalgic as well as gripped you with this tension that made you feel like someone is always watching. I tried to convey that in a way while keeping up with fashion that spoke of 1980s but with a twist of today. It may be necessary to send a copy of your mood board to certain magazines who like to pre-approve the stories that are going to be shot and submitted to them.
Choosing Your Model
I stress this often as it can make or break the vision you had, or even cost you to have to go a completely different direction. Send your mood board to the modeling agency so that you can get a package of different model comp cards to choose from. Luke Armitage, the model I went with, is someone who's always been cinematically inclined and enjoying the art of photography just as much as modeling. He had a very versatile look that would complement the retro styling I had picked out. When I told him I had an idea for “Stranger Things” it didn't take much else description wise for him to understand the type of realm I wished to dive head first into. The biggest things I look for in models, when I am able to, are models who are just as engrossed in creating and executing the project. They want their hands in the shoot, the overall feel, and emoting that it will require.
Next is location. When creating this idea in my head I already knew what kind of location I wanted: a rundown motel with old wood furniture and possibly a corded phone, miss-matched carpet, drapes, and tacky comforter sets. I intended to utilize everything in the room to create some form of atmosphere that seemed vaguely familiar but of a time now past. I combined this with a set time; I wanted golden hour's light and the hour before and after to capture these picture. In my head I knew I'd color grade with more greens in the shadows and red highlights to get the type of vintage vibe that fit.
I will say the location we ended up shooting at didn't feel the safest. So definitely keep that in mind when shooting. A sense of situational awareness when on set as well as making sure your model is comfortable with the environment. For us we joked about the fact that we'd like to wrap up shooting before it was dark out. I also made sure that the door with my equipment was locked at all times and that I was constantly walking around with only the amount of equipment necessary.
Normally you'd very well have a team. A team consisting of a stylist, hair stylist, and possible makeup artist depending on the story and model you're shooting. For this particular story and how much of it I had fleshed out and felt comfortable executing I went ahead and did it as a shoot only requiring myself and the model. This was later specified on the call sheet.
If that wasn't the case, however, various call sheets would be sent out. You want to ensure that all members of the team have a clear and concise idea of what you are trying to execute as it ultimately becomes a shared idea that you will materialize and birth. So make sure if you are shooting something light and airy, the makeup artist is comfortable with creating looks like this. It could require you to pass ideas back and forth between one another. Also check in with the stylist frequently to see if the looks are cohesive with the makeup and hairstyles. The looks are ultimately the lifeline of the shoot, considering the fact that we are shooting fashion photography. So make sure that it is either as you've envisioned it or holding some form of flexibility to your overall request so that they can be as well kept as possible. The most important parts to working with a team is making sure you guys are all on the same page for the sake of day of shooting as well as retaining some level of creative flexibility so that ideas can shift, mesh, and create new ones.
Due to the type of shoot that it was and that styling is perhaps one of my favorite parts of the shoot besides shooting itself, I went ahead and got together the looks accounting for his measurements and overall body type. I didn't require a hairstylist for the type of look I was going for so I had several photos of the hair style I wanted so that he could go ahead and recreate it himself. This was simple as it didn't deviate from his daily look. I got together my looks, set them up on hangers so I could have them prepared and timed it to make sure I gave myself enough time for each shoot and for him to change.
Also it is important to check magazine submission criteria as they will usually have a list of brands they will like you to utilize, authorization for a pull list if applicable, and most importantly the minimum amount of looks necessary for them to run your story. Sometimes they will make an exception if applicable to the story.
Vulkan submission criteria as shown above: “Fashion editorials require a minimum of six (6) images, three (3) looks, styled in minimum of three (3) different designer brands for consideration, unless the editorial requires less looks in order to convey the message.”
Day of the Shoot
This is a time where you have a mixed sense of excitement and dread, hoping everything goes as planned without hiccup. I'm getting better though knowing that I shouldn't walk into a situation like that. Anything can go awry at anytime. I do say from experience, please make a check list. I was worried about the motel room being ready to go at the right time, having all my camera stuff, the looks, and having all the necessary props. My secondary camera card was left at home. Most importantly, my bigger of the two camera cards. Myself and the model laughed it off and quickly went to a nearby convenience store to see if we could find a USB cord to at least offload photos during outfit changes. We found a cord but unfortunately it wasn't compatible. We decided to make it work with what we had and made every shot count.
Pushing that aside, we began. Music is very integral to me as far as setting up the right atmosphere for a shoot and helping get the model more into exactly what I'm looking for. We went over the mood board one last time and I gave some hints, and he gave me constructive feedback. I wanted him to let the paranoia build, quite like what happened to us watching “Stranger Things”; a feeling that someone was in fact watching us, someone or something. That this motel was simply a ripple in time that felt familiar but alien to us all the same. He honestly took that, had a specific character in mind, and ran with it. The results were everything I wanted at the time and more.
Looking back on everything, I'd say there were some things that could've gone better but for the most part the entirety of the shoot went well.
In regards to sending off my pictures, I edited a series of about eight images and sent it over along with an email detailing what the shoot was about, the brands involved, and the team utilized. I would strongly advise against sending out universal emails to multiple magazine submissions in hopes of one biting. Spacing them out will make sure that your work gets received in the right manner and appropriately. It is also during this time that you cannot post any of the selected photos on social media as they can be declined simply for that reason. You wait for your approval or rejection and go from there.
I believe we all have the tools to create substantial work. It is a matter of putting forth the challenge and the proper team for execution.