Spring fashion – day 2

Today was kind of day that makes tens of thousands of Northerners flock to Florida in the winter. The skies were clear and the purest shade of blue imaginable – perfect for vacations and not too bad for fashion photography. But it was still a bit chilly at 9 a.m. when we started shooting at a sculpture garden in Winter Park, Fla. The overnight lows had dropped to about 50 degrees and it was nearing 60 when we got to the gardens. However, In the shade with a brisk 20 mph breeze, it still seemed chilly.

Our only model today was a young girl named Nandini. She’s from India and she has great cheekbones and expressive eyes. She seems quiet and reserved when you first meet her but when it’s time to shoot, she becomes animated and engaging.

Nandini’s first outfit included a light jacket but I also opted for a full sun location which would be warmer for her. Gotta avoid those goose bumps!

Those first photos – especially the lighting – would set a standard that I would have to keep in mind throughout the day. These photos would be published together so there needs to be a “look.” The photos won’t be identical but they need to compliment each other.

During the course of my typical assignments, I never use Polaroid instant film. Many commercial photographers use the film to check their lighting and exposure on assignments but photojournalists work more by experience and luck. We shoot now and check the film later. But during a fashion shoot like today, I shoot Polaroids proofs on everything before I load Fujichrome Provia in the camera.

For my shoots, the Polaroids also help because I’m the only one who can really pre-visualize the photos. With the Polaroids I can share what the photos will look like with the other people involved in the shoot as we make the pictures.

It’s most important for Nandini to know what the photos looks like. As the model, she brings the most important elements to the shoot. If she can see what the results might look like, she can be more excited about the results.

Debra Leithauser, the art director, also wants to see pictures on the scene. She has the final say on how the magazine will look so her input is not only critical but final. No one wants to reshoot on another day if the pictures aren’t up to expectations. Debra even serves as a stand in while she and I scout locations for each outfit. While Nandini changes clothes and has her hair redone, Debra stands in front of sculptures or next to gardens as I pull off a few more Polaroids.

Fashion editor Jean Patteson also looks at the Polaroids, seeing how the clothes look. Jean is most interested in how the dresses appear in the sun, and what details we feature. She is most interested in the fashion.

Once Debra and Jean give their input, I put aside the Polaroids and start my work. The real photos stay within the range of the Polaroids in terms of content but the pictures are always better on traditional film. The model is working and looks great, not just standing there with a towel over her shoulders to keep her warm as she is in the test shots. And I fiddle with the composition and framing as I shoot. I never promise Jean and Debra that the photos will look exactly like the Polaroids – just somewhere in the ballpark.

Tomorrow we have an “off” day for shooting so we will certainly make a first edit from the film shot on the first two days. Our most important goal is to decide if we have a cover photo. Sometimes, that proves to be the most difficult decision to make.

Tom Burton

originally published February 24, 1998 on digitalstoryteller.com

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