Spring fashion – the printed page


Butterflies are a sign of spring. So is a butterfly dress, as is witnessed on the cover of the Florida Magazine spring fashion issue in today’s editions of The Orlando Sentinel.

The photo of Nandini standing at a garden gate became the consensus choice for our cover after we had looked over the film for several days. The dress certainly looked like a Florida spring and the composition fit the cover needs for type. The textured lighting, created by sunlight streaming through tree branches, added depth to the photo. And the kicker may have been that Nandini herself is so very beautiful and exotic.

The pose at the gate also subtly implied a story or a moment – something that the best fashion photography achieves. The viewer could wonder where the girl is going, or is she welcoming an arriving guest. This narrative possibility involves the viewer and thereby invites them into the magazine.

click here fore full size image

The March 15 cover of Florida Magazine; Note how the art director used a typeface in the headline that reflected the spirals in the gate.


Our second choice – the one used in the opening spread, was also very pretty. Perhaps it was too pretty for the cover. As one of our magazine columnists said, the garden gate picture is a fashion photo; the other picture could just be a portrait of a pretty girl. That hard-to-define narrative wasn’t as strong.

The opening spread inside the magazine sets the tone for the layout. The photo on the left had been considered for the cover.

The slinky purple dress was the most fashionable image and it did run a full page inside. But the dress is one that could only be worn by young women with very thin bodies. There is a feeling that the women who read our magazine are more conservative so that dress on the cover would turn them away. Personally, I disagree. I think everyone would be interested in clothes that are so distinctive that they border on being costumes. But hey, they think the mythical suburban housewife wants something more practical.

The studio photos of sports-themed styles were never considered strongly for the cover because it was the secondary story. And for me, the clothes weren’t so distinctive that the photos could make a grabber cover.

A secondary fashion story opened with this spread. The look of the studio photography contrasted with the garden location selected for the cover story.


Now that it’s been printed, the issue seems to be successful. The magazine editors have already said how much they like it. The good news is that we survived it and it will be another six months or so before we have to plan another fashion marathon.

And because I’ve been too sketchy on the details, here are some tech notes;

The photos in the secondary story were all made in the photo studio, using multiple strobe lighting. I avoided using soft boxes to diffuse the light because I wanted a crisper look. Instead, I used direct reflectors with a single layer of frosted diffusion gel. The garden location utilized morning sunlight. The one exception – which was against all the rules – was the slinky purple dress. It’s one of the few lovely pictures I’ve shot at high noon. I used a reflector panel for the location photos – one side white and the other silver – to reflect light into dark areas and thereby brighten the shadows.

Both locations were photographed using a Hasselblad medium format camera. The film is larger than the 35mm we use for most assignments and it allows us to run a photo full page, or even across two pages, without losing image quality. I used Fuji Provia 100 ASA slide film which provides excellent color saturation and sharpness. When I can, I use this camera/film combination for magazine assignments because the cheap newsprint we print on sucks all the life out of a picture. The more I can put into the image on the front end, the better it survives on the page.

Tom Burton

originally published on March 15, 1998 on digitalstoryteller.com

Return to Blog 1998