The world of fashion photography is an insular one, and newcomers to this field are often left floundering in more ways than one. From the basics of technique, to simple advice on how to break into the field, working with models, and managing and handling a business, aspiring fashion photographers often lack a decent starting point.
The world of photographic instruction, on the other hand, is a pretty saturated one. There are so many instructors out there, yet every day, it seems like yet another photographer (or dozen) is jumping into the field of teaching photography to what seems like an ever-increasing number of prospective students.
The cream, however, as they say, rises to the top. Every so often, we get a product that simply crashes through the noise and fills a particular niche. Back in 2009, Joe McNally did this with his book, Hot Shoe Diaries, bringing the mangled world of off-camera flash down to the masses. David Hobby of Strobist.com continued that trend, and since then, off-camera flash doesn’t seem as intimidating as it once did.
Photographer Melissa Rodwell seems to have done something similar for the world of fashion photography. It started with her blog, FashionPhotographyBlog.com, which opened this sort of window into a field that had always been a bit hidden by opaque walls. That blog garnered a lot of attention, enough so that Scott Kelby of NAPP and Kelby Training fame named it one of his “Best of 2011” selections.
While she’s been offering workshops for a little while now, Melissa Rodwell finally did what I’ve been hoping she’d do since I started following her blog: offer up a tutorial or book about the fashion photography business. Late last year, Fashion Photography Exposed was finally released, and Melissa was kind enough to provide us with a copy of the DVD for review.
Let’s break this down for you.
The DVD (we got the digital download version for review) has nine parts, plus two bonus videos. We start with an intro to wardrobe, then go through equipment, lighting setups for both studio and location lighting, and a couple of interviews with the creative director of Genlux magazine and a modeling agent from the Photogenics agency.
The series ends with a Q&A with Melissa, a video on the business of fashion photography, and a couple of bonus videos consisting of a BTS (behind the scenes) look at a shoot, and a “Show and Tell” where Melissa goes through a number of her photos and talks about the backstory behind them.
The digital download also came with a hefty PDF that outlines the lighting setups and the resulting images like the one in the image below.
Melissa is a relaxed presenter, and manages to be that way without sounding disinterested. She wears this sort of air about her that exudes this, “Relax, dude, I got this” attitude that immediately makes you wish you could be that way during your shoots with models.
The videos have that similar air. Through each one, you get this feeling that Melissa is taking her work in stride without breaking too much of a sweat, or getting too worked up. You also get a sense that she really enjoys her work, and delights in coming up with out-of-the-box concepts (Dogs? With Asian models in a Mongolian-themed fashion story? DONE!).
Production values are excellent, as good as they get for something like this. The 3D lighting diagrams are fantastic and the background music, which I thought might be distracting, is actually a perfect accompaniment to what’s happening on-screen.
The thing to note about this video is that almost all of the good stuff – the red meat, as it were – isn’t spoonfed to you. If you want a “To get this result, do this” kind of tutorial, this isn’t it.
Rather, the information in this tutorial is almost slipstreamed via a series of conversations and behind-the-scenes looks at the business and process of fashion photography. I’ll explain more in a bit, but it’s important to understand that outside of a few isolated examples, viewers shouldn’t look for info to be doled out in a lecture-style format.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way. At $249, this isn’t a DVD that’s going to be a casual purchase. At this price, this product seems like it’s positioned as an investment that people who are either genuinely curious about how the fashion photography world works, or for those people who intend to go into this field.
If you are one of those people, however, this is an investment you should absolutely make, without reservation.
Let’s start on the technical side of things. Lighting geeks will love the 3D renderings of her lighting setups and even beginners will find a good amount of meat in those; they’re explained simply and are pretty straightforward. Don’t expect a lot of basic explanation of what a Profoto pack is, for example (for that, we’ve got a series in progress for you). While Melissa does dedicate a chapter in the video to the gear she uses, if you’re expecting a detailed explanation on lighting ratios or a tutorial on beauty dishes, this video isn’t the right place for that.
Rather, the chapters on lighting are revealing because you get to see how the sausage is being made. How many times do you see an image in Vogue or some other magazine and think, “That must’ve taken twenty lights and an army of assistants.”? When you’re told that it was just one or two lights, that’s a bit hard to stomach, isn’t it?
Well, now you get to see how Melissa makes her images, and how she pulls many of them out with just one-to-three lights. The lighting diagrams in the PDF that comes with the video and the 3D renderings are enough to make anyone at the intermediate level of lighting and above salivate with glee, and will give beginners hope that they don’t need an army to pull off good shots.
On the process side of things, you get to see how wardrobe decisions are made, how Melissa choses locations, how she deals with models and stylists, and more.
This is revelatory. There’s just no way to understate the importance of paying attention to these interactions and conversations.
You get to see just how she deals with the team she works with. The jargon of the industry flies about and it’s sometimes like watching a reality TV show – albeit one that has a ton of redeeming educational value. The conversations she has with the magazine creative director and the modeling agency rep are especially revealing and there are so many nuggets of information there, that I’ve lost count.
Similarly, those nuggets are spread out through the shoots, too. One point that kinda gobsmacked me was how she deals with models. I won’t spoil it for you, but I was floored by the realization that models – real models, who’ve been trained properly – don’t need precise direction at all. Rather, the models contribute significantly to the process themselves.
Here’s the bottom line: buy this video.
If you’re looking to get into this business, this is a fantastic place to start. It gives you a pretty honest look into that industry without making it seem like it’s an unsurmountable task to make it as a photographer.
Melissa Rodwell has managed to create a product that delivers more information than is apparent at first brush, so you’ll want to watch this thing a few times to get the most out of it.
As always, questions and feedback are welcome in the comments below.