Making Denim Look Sexy
I have said this before and I’ll say it again: fashion photography is about photographing fashion. If you can’t make the clothes look amazing, you can’t shoot fashion. Of course, all of the other elements have to be there. Great model, great hair and make up. But we are hired to shoot the clothes by the designers and manufacturers, magazines and art directors. So if the clothes don’t look GREAT, you’re basically not shooting fashion. You’re shooting model pictures. One way to conquer photographing fashion is to understand fashion. In another post I wrote called Styling and Fashion 101 I spoke about reading up on the history of fashion and costume design. I recommended some books, just to give you a strong base in communicating with clients. And to understand how fashion has evolved and how it mimics our social and political status. What is one of the most important elements to a garment? The FABRIC. What is your job then? You need to undestand how to LIGHT the fabric in order to make that garment look incredible! So everyone that sees your photograph wants to buy those clothes. That’s why you’ve been hired. To make those garments SELL.
Today I will address just one kind of fabric: DENIM. Denim has a tooth. It has a grain, you can see the threading. Most clients are going to want that detail. There is a huge market for denim and it’s terribly competitive. How many jeans can you just name right now while reading this post? Dozens? In the last 10 years the denim market has exploded and it’s not going to end anytime soon. Remember the good ol’ days of our beloved LEVI’s 501? Well, maybe that was before your time, but when I was growing up we had maybe three choices: Levi’s, Ditto’s, and Wrangler. Now when we go shopping for jeans we have literally dozens and dozens to choose from. And we have dozens and dozens of styles to choose from: straight leg, boot cut, high waisted, low cut, stretch jeans, pre-washed, waxed jeans…..you get my point. And when we get into the different washes and dyes, we’re talking about the fabric. And what your client is going to want to convey to it’s potential buyers is that their particular brand of denim sets them apart from their competitors. The way they wash it, or don’t wash it, or bleach it or acid wash it, or pre-shrink it, or double pre-shrink it. The manufactures are very proud of their brand of denim and the painstaking hours of testing the different washes with the different denim materials to give it the look that they are known for. What does this all amount to? Your client is going to want you to capture that detail when you photograph their denim.
I have found a good way to photograph that detail. One way that I use, and I used it on this shoot, is to use a broad light source and side lighting. When you light from the side, as opposed to straight on, the light will pick up the detail on a garment. The detail can mean the tooth of the fabric, the threading, any folds or pleats, and the general pattern on a garment. On this shoot I used an Elinchrome Ranger RX strobe with one head and a Deep Throat (there’s a name you won’t forget) softbox with double diffusion. I set the pack (which is 1100 watts) at it’s lowest setting giving me about 200 watts of light from the side. To light the models’ face I used a Profoto compact 600R with a Profoto beauty dish. I used a scrim on the beauty dish so I could direct my light better on to the model’s face and upper body. So in other words, the softbox was used to pick up the details in the denim, and the beauty dish gave me a strong, sexy lighting on the girl. The Profoto was set between 1/4 and 1/2 of it’s full power making that about 200 watts of light.
I used my Nikon D2xs camera, alternating between my 85mm lens and my 24mm lens. I shot at F8 at 125/seconds. I shot at an F8 so I could get the detail sharp. But not “too sharp”. There’s a fine line in getting too much detail. Let’s face it, some garments aren’t that spectacular ( don’t tell your clients that, of course ) but you want to have your photography represent the best look and feel to the garment you’re shooting. Less is more, even with F stops. Or in the middle, like here. I didn’t want to shoot at F4, losing more detail, but I didn’t want to shoot at F16 giving way too much. You following me?
On this shoot I used a girl from LA Models, Sara Smith. Sara wasn’t too thin, she had a body! We like that, especially with jeans because you want to “fill them up” so to speak. She works out and it shows! Fantastic body! Fantastic ass! Read: she made the jeans look sexy! If you get a girl who’s too tall and too thin, the jeans don’t look as good. Sara also has a gorgeous face and knows how to move! Jeans are fun! They’re sexy! You live in jeans! You go to work in jeans, you play in jeans. Hell, we all LIVE in our jeans, right? Jeans are worn on the red carpet and they’re worn to Starbucks! And we all know how it feels when we put on our favorite pair and we think we look pretty hot in them. You want to convey that same feeling when you shoot them on a model. You want to convey confidence, sexiness, comfortability. Jeans should be comfortable, that’s why we wear them all the time. So finding a model who can give that look of confidence AND comfortability is key. Casting the perfect model for the job is also very important. I know I’ve spoken about that before and I can’t stress it enough! Robyn Goldberg styled the shoot. You remember Robyn from my Genlux Winter Fashion shoot. She pulled some great pieces, and they weren’t all pants. We had a jeans vest. We even had a denim bathing suit! Because denim isn’t necessarily just used for jean pants. They’re using denim for everything now! Hair was done by the very talented Tine Ibsen from Next Artists and make up was done by Burke Daniel who just signed with Artists by Timothy Priano. He’s also done quite a lot of work with Sebastian Cosmetics, which I don’t know about you, but I love their beauty campaigns. I write all this information to show you that I hire the best talent, the best model, we get the best clothes and then it’s MY job to light the clothes so the whole job is a success!
I am going to end this by pointing out, again, how important it is for you to understand fashion. This is FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY. I can’t tell you how many times I get asked to review someone’s portfolio who is an up and coming fashion photographer and while their pictures are technically well executed, their models are hot, even make up and hair are awesome, the clothes don’t stand out. The styling is the weakest part of the pictures. They are often times wrinkled, poorly lit, poorly styled, they hang improperly and overall, they are a third or fourth reading on a photograph. In other words, it will be the third or fourth or even fifth thing I notice. It’s gotta’ be the first! They all have to stand out strong! So practice lighting different fabrics. See how black velvet responds to side light? Does it work? You tell me! How does silk light with paramount lighitng? Does it look expensive and luxurious ( as it should because it IS ) or does it get washed out? I’ll discuss more fabrics in future posts! Oh and a word to the wedding shooters out there: Wedding gowns are big business in the fashion world. I’m waging a bet that if you made sure the gowns are lit properly, you could put together a website and/or a portfolio and start hitting up some wedding gown manufacturers. Just my 2 cents!