Recommended Gear for a Fashion PhotographerAugust 16, 2016
Getting started as a fashion photographer can be pretty daunting. Not only is there a lot to learn, but this particular side of the industry can be cutthroat. When you line to shoot a show at Fashion Week, you could find yourself jostled around and even pushed out of the press pit if you don’t have professional-looking gear.
Becoming a respected fashion photographer isn’t just about getting great street style shots. It’s also about having a style of your own and keeping up with trends. You need to be able to spot emerging designers and looks, as well as recognising trends within the way photographic equipment is used. What’s the in vogue editing technique right now? And what kind of lens should you be using?
Here’s a guide to the gear you will need, from fashion show to street style to studio shoot.
Let’s start off by addressing the obvious: your camera. It doesn’t necessarily need to be top of the range, but it should be high-end. Fashion shows can take place in gloomy areas, so the better your sensor, the easier it will be to deal with lighting situations. If you can handle situations that require an ISO above 1600 without having horribly grainy images, you’re off to a good start.
It goes without saying that your camera should be a professional DSLR. If you are using a point-and-shoot, you will be laughed out of the room. You can get away with using film, but again, it must be high-end. There’s not much use in trying them for a fashion show, either, as things will move too fast and you will need to cover far more than 36 looks in most cases.
Your camera also needs to be able to shoot fast. Consider trying JPG rather than RAW – even though you may lose some quality, it will increase your processing speed. You should be capturing three shots for each look on the catwalk (full body, half body, and detail/portrait), so you need to be able to fire off perhaps double that during the length of time it takes for the model to approach you, which can be a matter of seconds. If your camera is too slow and you can’t fire because you are waiting for it to process, you will be in trouble.
Two lenses at the most will give you everything you need to shoot fashion. One should be a 50mm lens, the highest quality that you can afford. This is perfect for street style and studio photography, creating a flattering look even when you are close up to your subject. You will also be able to use it at fashion shows if you are trying to capture a wider view – at most catwalks, you will find that a 50mm captures the model’s head, shoulders, and perhaps waist. Be sure to research your venue before deciding on your lens, because there may be situations where the press pit is further back, in which case the 50mm won’t cut it.
Your other lens should be a zoom. You don’t need to go mad in most cases, but the bigger name shows can tend to have longer catwalks. This gives you more time to capture each look, so long as your lens gives you a good frame further away. You can probably go up as far as 600mm, but a 300mm will be better in most situations. Make sure you have some range so that you can go in for those closer detail shots as well as capturing the whole look.
A zoom lens is also good if you are a little shy when just starting out. It will allow you to capture street style almost secretly, from far away. Find a good place to sit or stand and snap away without attracting attention.
If you can afford a whole range of lenses, consider an 85mm and a 35mm, as well as perhaps something in the 100-200mm range. This gives you a whole arsenal at your disposal to adjust to the slightly different scenarios you may encounter.
For a studio set-up, the lighting requirements may differ. It’s all about what kind of style you want to shoot – one single light for a powerful directional statement? Two equally positioned lights with a backlight for even lighting? A beauty dish for closer make-up shots? There are a lot of possibilities here, but start with a basic lighting kit with at least two heads and some umbrellas or softboxes. This will allow you to manipulate light well, but you will want to expand your kit as you become more professional.
What about standing in front of the catwalk? Many photographers might recommend that you get a flashgun, but right now it’s not considered fashionable to use them. You should try to use the lighting present in the room and adjust your settings accordingly. Unless you are in a very poor lighting situation, you will currently be frowned upon for using a flashgun and viewed as an amateur.
The general rule should be this: pack your flashgun in your bag, but don’t get it out unless you absolutely can’t cope without it. Professional photographers are fed up with flashes from other cameras ruining their shots, and in many situations, they will be happy to tell you off for using it.
There’s some debate as to whether you need a tripod. In the studio it can be a great asset – pair it up with a shutter release cable and you can shoot just about hands-free, using your LCD screen to view the shots rather than bending down to the viewfinder and hurting your back. It gives you a steadier shot and takes less effort to shoot, so it’s a great investment.
On the catwalk, however, views differ. Models can walk either side of the stage, and some photographers prefer to be able to move freely instead of being limited. Others prefer to use the tripod as it allows them to line the shot up in the right place every time and avoid getting wonky shots. It’s generally a case of personal preference, but if you are using a tripod, be prepared to fight for space.
These are your basic equipment pieces that you would need to start off as a fashion photographer. Getting more advanced means adding more to your repertoire – but it can also mean stripping things back. When shooting on the street or at a show, consider reducing your equipment to the essentials only to give you better mobility.