A Fashion Shoot in One Day The Process

A Fashion Shoot in One Day… The Process

Dauphine McKee in Alexandre Vauthier Haute Couture © Benjamin Kanarek for ELLE Vietnam April 2014

Dauphine McKee in Alexandre Vauthier Haute Couture © Benjamin Kanarek for ELLE Vietnam April 2014


I would like to describe the process of photo shoots that are done for either a magazine or advertising and what happens in the process. In most cases the steps are similar for all productions whether it is me or any other photographer.

I will commence from the point at which the whole team has been hired and are present at the studio for the commencement of the day. In all cases there will be a photographer, photographers assistant or more, sometimes up to three or four, a fashion stylist, the person who chose the clothing and accessories for the photo session, the stylists assistant, a set designer, if one was needed and their crew. In most cases they had built the set the day before, but there will be someone there in case of changes that need to be executed, a make-up artist and assistant, a hair stylist and assistant, the model or models, the fashion editor and frequently the digital retouching artist, especially if there are going to be elements photographed to be added later.

In most cases the crew shows up at 09:00. There is always a breakfast waiting that usually includes juice, croissants, cinnamon buns, baguettes, butter, jam and tons and tons of coffee and tea.

The hair and make up artists set up their material in the dressing room, while the fashion stylist and the assistant start to unpack the clothing and hang them on clothing racks. This also allows the fashion stylist to present the clothing to the photographer. As there are always a lot more clothing than will be photographed, choices are often made in the morning to determine when they will be shot and how they will work together in a layout. The steamer and ironing table are set up and the assistant starts to work on the clothing to remove any wrinkles. Retouching out wrinkles is a major pain and it is preferable that the clothing are as close to perfect before commencing the shoot. While the stylist is preparing the clothes, the proverbial messengers are arriving with accessories from the different designer houses. These are usually very expensive jewelry  and often come accompanied with a security guard. I have on occasion had several security guards attend my shoots especially if the pieces are worth over 50 thousand dollars per item. It is for that reason, that it is more problematic to shoot on weekends, as it costs a lot more for the jewelry companies to hire security guards on the weekend. Through out the day messengers are coming in and out of the studio, delivering items and picking them up after they are shot.

The hair stylist has already begun and usually starts before the make up artist. This is done to avoid possible smudging of the work that has been executed by the make up artist. The two of them discuss what they will be doing and then call in the photographer and the stylist to give us an over all view of what the model will look like.  This is done to avoid any misunderstandings. Re-doing  hair and make-up is a nightmare and will usually take another two hours of precious time.

Dovile Virsilaite in Haute Couture © Benjamin Kanarek

Dovile Virsilaite in Haute Couture © Benjamin Kanarek

While the hair and make up artist, fashion stylist and assistant are in preparation, I am directing my assistants regarding the lighting I wish to employ, color of backdrop (if that is what I will be using) or the lighting being used for the set.  For this shoot, let’s say that I will be using large accessories for the set i.e. couch, large chair, bird cage etc. I ask my assistants to set up the four HMI 1.2 kilo cinema lights in their general position.  I will make the micro changes I require for each shot with the model and the subsequent clothing changes.  I now ask the assistant to set up the flash unit or units as well as their placement and the 1000 watt tungsten lamp I will also be using for this shoot. I go with one of the assistants and choose the background color I will employ, based on the color of the clothing I will use for that background.

The assistants set up the seamless backdrop and I unroll my package of gelatins that I will use on my shoot and decide on which colors I will use for the given backdrop.  I ask the assistant to place the color I requested on to the HMI cinema lights as well as a full blue gelatin affixed to the tungsten lamp. I have also instructed the assistants to place two large transparent plexiglass panels on to the floor for this shoot.  They will cover around 9 square meters.  Once the lights have been set up, I place one of the assistants in the position where the model will be standing and start to meter the different light sources.  Once satisfied I take several images and view them on the computer screen.

It is now probably around 11:00 AM and the assistant assigned to ordering lunch convenes with the team to determine what we all want.  Once the bickering ends and a decision is made the order is placed.

I get called in to have a look at what has been done by the hair and make up artist and comments are made and some adjustments may occur at this time. Once all is well, the model gets prepared for her first image and the stylist assists the model in doing so.

The model steps in to the set and a marker is place where she will be standing, sitting or laying down. The hair stylist adjusts the hair for the initial position. The fashion stylist is called to adjust the clothing to suit the position that the model will take from the onset. Adjustments will be made as the model changes positions.  The make up artist waits for the first test shot to see how the make-up looks under this particular type of lighting. Adjustments are made to the make up if it does not render well under the conditions. The look of the make up changes dramatically from the dressing room make up lights to the lighting on the set.

Once all of the necessary adjustments are made, everyone leaves the set except the model and I fire off another image. I look at it again and make any adjustment needed to get the effect I am looking for.

I now instruct the model to assume a role based on the storyboard of the theme of the shoot. I usually say, “… Do what you feel is appropriate and I will do my best to capture that moment…” Once I feel I have captured the image I usually say “Got it!” and the model leaves the set for her next change. We repeat the process and usually after a couple of shots, we break for lunch, which lasts no more than 45 minutes. I prefer not  drinking any alcohol with my lunch, as it makes me want to break for a Nap.. LOL.

I will generally be able to do between 6 and 8 images in a day, if there are not a lot of extreme hair or make-up changes. If there are, I am lucky to get 4 off. Of these  6-8 images we can see around 8-12 pages, as some are double page spreads.

Throughout the day and if necessary, I will ask the assistants to change the backdrop colour and perhaps the lighting. By around 19:00 to 20:00 the shoot is wrapped. The stylist starts to pack the clothing, all of the accessories that were of value have already been picked up by the messenger services, the hair or wig is brought down and the make-up removed by the make-up artist. My camera gear and computer gets put away. Everyone says their good byes and ask to see the images once the post prod is completed. The editor has already given me the dead line for the post production, so we know what the turn around time is.

That is a short description of a day in the studio with a Fashion Photographer.

About Benjamin Kanarek
Fashion and Beauty Photographer. Some of the magazines I have shot for include: VOGUE (China, Portugal, Brazil, Italia, Paris and South America & Mexico editions), RG VOGUE Brazil, Harper’s BAZAAR (China, en Español & Latin America, Hong Kong, Italy editions), L’Officiel Paris, ELLE (Spain, Portugal and Greece editions), Madame Figaro (France), Cosmopolitan (France and Italy editions), Glamour (France), Votre Beauté, Jardin des Modes, Dépêche Mode, New York Daily News, Fashion District News, New York Times Magazine, W (British edition), WWD, Fashion Magazine (Canada), Flare (Canada), Oyster, Tank, WestEast…