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14-11-2008
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What makes a fashion photographer great?
I mean, the poses are picked by the model/art director, the model is styled by the stylists, the clothes are provided by the designer, everyone is fed by the caterer.

What distinguishes a fashion photographer? The only thing that comes to mind is the style of lighting but even that may not be the most significant factor on a shoot. I'm thinking they have the general look, mood and style for the shoot already planned out.

So, aside from the fact that the photog is lighting and shooting, what else does he do?

I was discussing this with my prof. who has done many a magazines shoots and plenty of years of experience under his belt, and he says its more of the personal factor; the amount of fun everyone has.

But aside from that, what makes one fashion photographer stand out from another?

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14-11-2008
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Great vision counts!

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15-11-2008
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#1 personality

an eye for detail, and the ability to `manage` the team. Sure there are editors and whatnot on hand, but in the end, usually the photog is like the `manager`. That takes skill.

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15-11-2008
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Yes ... it's his vision ... and his "eye". Anyone can snap a picture of a model, in great clothes against a dramatic backdrop. But without that eye and his direction it will fall flat. A good photographer not only knows how to light (essential), he needs to be able to get what he wants out of the model and his team (as Mishahoi said), he needs good people skills. He needs to know when the moment is right, when to click that shutter, how to crop the image. It's an art and a skill.

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Last edited by BetteT; 15-11-2008 at 12:18 PM.
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16-11-2008
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I doubt if you would need more than your fingers to count off the fashion photographers who conform to Bette T's high-minded definition, with which I completely agree. The mediocre get away with it because magazines and even advertising clients are perfectly capable of allowing their retouchers to degrade images by the top few in order to close the quality gap between the "star" photographer and his cover shoot and the run-of-the-mill smudgers whose images need Photoshopping just to make them useable. The problem would not be so acute if we did not have too many fashion and style magazines on the shelves. Gotta fill those pages! Same applies to journalism and feature-writing, with bloggers increasingly commissioned by editors because they give it away free of charge and it's better than filling the white bits between the Photoshopped images with dummy text. Hopefully, the coming crash will see the removal of around 70% of all these superfluous magazines from the arena and higher standards restored but don't hold your breath...

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16-11-2008
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Ah ... yes ... my high minded definition .... thanks for agreeing, prosperk. But then ... the question was what makes a fashion photograper "great" not how to be mediocre and to work for any old rag.

It's true .. there's a ton of mediocre and uninspiring togs out there who manage to get published ... only a select few who can realisitically claim to be "great"! Digital technology plus Photoshop has given the unksilled shooter new tools to try to make up for his/her deficiencies. Photoshop is a wonderful and an awfull tool at the same time.

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16-11-2008
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^so true. i agree with your post, Bette T. i can tell you that with the little experience i have, model-photographer collaboration and communication is most imperative. to get what you want out of the model is soo important.

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18-11-2008
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While having vision & eye is definitely important, I think a photographer needs to create his/her own aesthetic & signature & constantly be able to cultivate it & upgrade it ... be able to play around, be adventurous, twist & taking their signatures to the next levels. Having signature looks, lighting, & models etc can get so boring very quickly, so keeping it fresh & interesting is hardwork & will really show the photographer's vision. Also, I think the message the photographer conveys through his/her work is crucial ... I'm not talking about the subject of the work but rather how it's executed & how effectively it can connect & communicate with the audience.

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18-11-2008
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I definitely have to agree with BetteT. I truly believe that interpersonal skills are key to being a great photographer and technical and creative skills are tied for second

Addressing the "having a signature" topic, two photogs that I can name off the top of my head: Leibovitz and Richardson, both have a signature: Leibovitz has her signature in the post process, her pictures feel like they came out of a movie (which is fitting as she shoots a lot of celebrities) and Richardson always has his subjects shot in front of a white background with blown out highlights. I think having a signature like Richardson helps after you've established yourself? So that you're very recognizable but I feel that his gets repetitive after a while...

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18-11-2008
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Ah ... the "signature" ... a good point.

I've told this story before, but it's appropriate here, too. I have a photographer friend who was able to secure an interview (through a friend) at Vogue ... with a medium level editor. He was shown around the offices, saw the closet, and got to see some of the rejected editorials and got a lot of questions answered.

He was told that Anna Wintour selects photographers based on their "signature" and expects them to produce it in every editorial. If he/she comes back with anything other than that ... anything that might be a stretch or something different as a creative choice ... she rejects the images. She hires photographers and expects them to produce what they are known for ... and if she wants something different she would just hire a different photographer for the shoot.

That tells me that she actually stifles creativity in the top shooters that she repeatedly uses ... and that's kind of sad. Food for thought .....

But then they pay something like $50,000 to some of the top shooters for one editorial ... so I'm sure they just suck it up and do the shoot.

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Last edited by BetteT; 18-11-2008 at 10:18 PM.
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18-11-2008
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^ interesting read!

I mean i can kind of see why Anna would want the photographer to do & express their signatures, it's a formula that is fail-safe. I mean can you imagine Richardson doing a David Sims style shoot w/ Raquel or Daria and be fitting in US Vogue? Not really. Even the more avant-garde & fresh magazines like VP or VI (or what have you) have their signatures & formulas ... A part of their success is that they do successfully mix it up & surprise every once in a while. I mean, remember the May08 issue of US Vogue? With the Maryna Linchuk & Tom Welling shoot? That was an outstanding example of US Vogue mixing it up with models & ideas. Most of the time people who are complaining are complaining about the repetitivness & exhaustedness & the inablity to successfuly add a fresh spin on things.

Every magazine is for the most parts formulaic, it's their foundation & appeal. It attracts the different types of readers. For me, I always try to buy & enjoy lots of different magazines out there, because this way I could really get a bigger picture on what appeals to me in the industry. I think I've gone a little bit off topic ... Anyways, going back the signature thing ... I think the photographer could only develop their own signatures as they mature & begin to flourish.

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22-11-2008
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Everyone has a different eye when it comes to shooting. The only way I can think to describe it is relating it to how everyone has different handwriting - somewhat training and practice, somewhat guttural. Many photographers when they're starting off and developing their aesthetic shoot model tests (with new faces who need plenty of direction) without the luxury of a stylist, hair and makeup artist, art director and caterer. By the time you get to that point it's more established that you have something to bring to the table and your opinion is expected. They're often paid the most for a reason

As for ascending from mediocrity to greatness: I think it's a combination of the right signature look (as discussed above) at the right time and ambition.

Interesting that you refer to the fashion photographer as a "he", btw...

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22-11-2008
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Uh ... I didn't refer to a tog as strictly as a "he" in my last couple of posts ...I tried to keep it gender neutral, except for when I was speaking about my friend, who is a man. Well ... OK ... I did refer to a tog as a male in an even earlier post ... mea culpa.

But ... there do seem to be more males than females who shoot ... not sure why. I love the aesthetics that a woman can bring to a shoot.

Good point about the handwriting ... it's a good analogy.

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Last edited by BetteT; 22-11-2008 at 08:36 PM.
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23-11-2008
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^I was referring to bChan's initial post with the "he" remark... sorry should have made that more clear. It's not uncommon though.

Women are encouraged to get married and have kids before they're 30, which doesn't bide well with the demands of fashion photography. Plus there is the misconception that a certain degree of sexual tension is lost if the photographer is female which I think is ludicrous (not to mention one-dimensional - it implies fashion photography only has sexual tension to offer).

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23-11-2008
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The handwriting analogy is actually a really good one =] As for the "he" usage, I certainly didnt mean anything by it.

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