The fashion shoot

Jennifer Hale.
photo by Tom Burton, 1998

Fashion photography is at odds with the basic tenets of photojournalism. While photojournalists seek to document the reality of their world, fashion photographers conspire with beautiful models and clever stylists to create a fantasy.

So when newspaper photographers are called upon to shoot fashion photos, it calls for a major shift in perspective. Next week, I will be spending several days working in this alternative style as I shoot our Spring fashion edition of Florida Magazine, the Sunday magazine of The Orlando Sentinel. I have a goal to make daily postings to this site and hopefully, I can share some of the behind-the-scenes work required to pull off such a project.

Before we start shooting next week, there has been a certain amount of planning beforehand. The spring and fall fashion issue of Florida magazine are important showcases for us and we try to make each one as unique as possible. It’s not something we do off-the-cuff.

First, there are decisions to be made. In fashion photography, there are three main elements to work with: the clothes, the models and the location. In our earliest meetings, these variables are decided.

Jean Patteson is the Sentinel’s fashion editor. She decides on the clothes we will shoot and the trends we will feature. She has been to the preview shows in New York, monitored what the major fashion magazines local stores to see what clothes will be here.

Jean also looks for models. I work with Jean testing models on earlier, less intensive shoots to get a feel for how they work. It’s not just a pretty face we are looking for. We need someone who can bring a personality to the shoot.

For shoots in the past, we have sometimes used models who were on their way up. Jennifer Hale was on one of her first shoots when I took her to the roof of the Sentinel several years ago to shoot a cover. Within a year, she was in Guess advertising and I’ve seen her doing cameo roles on the television show “Just Shoot Me.”

We also make some unconventional choices. We have shot an entire section with “everyday” people for models. Another time, we shot a cover with a plus-size model who wore a size 22. (most of our models are a size 6 or smaller.) One time I suggested we use professional ballet dancers for formal wear. This year we will be using Magic Girl dancers for one day’s shoot.

With models and clothes in line, Jean and I meet with the magazine editor and art director to select locations. In the past, we have used fancy hotels, downtown at night and private homes. This year, we will shoot one day at our in-house photo studio and two days on location at a fine art sculpture garden.

When we get going next week it will be a collaboration of talents, a compromise of agendas and a fast-paced dance that sometimes verges on being out-of-control. It can be exciting but it can also be as stressful as many a spot news assignment where police officers are yelling at everyone. The difference is that with a fashion shoot, the people are prettier. And if we’re lucky, there will be no yelling.

Tom Burton

originally published on February 19, 1998 on

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