Fashion photography: Any person, any camera, anywhere

This year I have been giving a series of fashion photography workshops across the Soho House Group in London and New York as well as The Gallery of Photography, Dublin. Incidentally, the Gallery of Photography was where I did my first ever photography course about 9 years ago so it’s really nice to have come full circle.

The workshop is entitled 'Fashion photography: Any person, any camera, anywhere' and the premise of the workshop is that you don’t need expensive camera equipment and technical prowess to take a good fashion photo. What you need do need are good ideas and if you can communicate those ideas visually, then even a smart phone will take great fashion photos for you.

Image taken with Canon 7D and Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT

Photo taken with disposable camera from Boots

These images are the premise of the workshop in a nutshell. One was taken with a professional camera and flash unit and the other with a £6 disposable camera from Boots. Although the top image is more on brand for me as a photographer (bold and colourful), I actually prefer the image taken on the disposable camera. The cheap film of the disposable camera gives the image a grainy feel, which makes the image look a bit like CCTV footage. Because the flash of the disposable camera is so weak, it means I have to stand quite close to the model. This results in the model being overexposed (and losing any realistic skin tone) and the background underexposed. I quite like this though, I think it makes the model look like she’s been caught doing something she shouldn’t. In this slide, I'm showing that it doesn’t matter if you have expensive camera equipment or not, what does matter is how you execute your idea and exploit the essence of the camera you do have.

Throughout the rest of the workshop I show some examples of my work that were taken with a really simple set up and work of some of the greatest photographers in the world that use famously simple technical set ups. What these photos show are that the ideas and intimacy with subject are the most powerful tools in a photographer’s arsenal, not the latest camera equipment.   

We then break up into groups and spend some time shooting and experimenting with ideas, concepts, poses, locations, narratives, etc. Students have said the most difficult thing can be to come up with an idea on the spot. Creativity is like a muscle, you need to exercise it regularly to make it strong. Use it or lose it! But you have to start somewhere. One idea begets another and teamwork is essential to this, which is why I recommend students pair up or shoot in groups. 

The group in action! Photo courtesy of Gallery of Photography

Me looking at the settings of one of my student's camera...and holding a bunch of balloons, naturally.  

A quick photo I took on my iPhone during the session. 

After the practical session has ended, we review everyone’s photos and I go through some quick editing and retouching tips. I’ve been so impressed by the creativity and skill of each group I’ve worked with. I'm giving another of these workshops at Soho Works this Saturday 19th November (open to Soho House members) and at the Gallery of Photography in Dublin early next year so keep an eye out here to book your place. Alternatively, if you want me to come to your company to give the workshop, get in touch

 

Interview for Adorama TV

A few months ago I was approached by a Cutting Edge Productions who work on behalf of Adorama TV to produce the 'Out of the Darkroom' show with Ruth Medjber. In this show Ruth, a music and portrait photographer herself, interviews a selection of her favourite professional photographers in Ireland, the UK and the rest of Europe about the photographers’ practice methods, their equipment, their style and so on. 

Adorama is a behemoth, one of America’s biggest photography retailers with a huge following on YouTube. The interview sounded really fun and coincided with a work trip back to Dublin (for my fashion photography workshop at the Gallery of Photography) so of course I was game!

In part I of the interview we chat about my career, how I got started in photography, developed my style, what I think makes a successful photo, the realities of being a fashion photographer and give one or two tips along the way. 

In part II, we focus a bit more on the technical side of my practise, what equipment I use, and the retouching I undertake. 

I had a blast chatting with Ruth, she’s so warm and friendly, and I intend on making her my friend post-haste! Let me know what you think of the interviews in the comments below and if you have any burning questions that I didn’t chat to Ruth about here, let me know!

Shooting for Dreamingless Magazine

 

Last month, my editorial for Dreamingless Magazine came out. As is fashon’s fickle nature, spring/summer stories tend to be shot in the winter and autumn/winter stories in the summer. With the collections shown a few months previously, this is so the stories are ready to publish in the relevant season. However, catwalk-to-shop retail models are slowly emerging, with big players such as Burberry, Toyshop, and Ralph Lauren at the helm. What the implications of this will be for shooting timelines and the fashion industry as a whole, remains to be seen. We are in the midst of a frenetic change so we’ve got to ride the tide and see how it all pans out. But I digress. My point is, I shot this dark AW16 editorial at the height of summer, on a sweltering hot day in July. My challenge was to control the light in such a way that it looked nocturnal or wintry…or at the very least, not the heatwave we were experiencing. Using flash and shooting on a small aperture always helps…as does Photoshop. 

I was so excited to book Lexi from M+P for this shoot. Lexi got down to the final five in the most recent series of Britain’s Next Top Model and has a girl-next-door-gorge look. Lexi was energetic, versatile, full of creative ideas and possessed a steely determination to do anything to get the shot. Ideal! I'll definitely work with her again in the future.

Natasha Freeman styled up some amazing looks for this shoot and make-up artist Erica Schlegel created some smokey eyed deliciousness for us. Both Natasha and Erica have seriously impressive client lists so I was thrilled to have such a brilliant creative team on board. Here are some of the tear sheets plus a selection of some of my favourite shots that weren’t published. Hope you like them!

 

It Takes Two - shooting with Radley

 

A couple of months ago I was approached by luxury leather brand, Radley, about a collaboration. Being a huge fan of the company, I was delighted. I get a lot of emails about shooting for brands but I became a little confused about half way through the email when I realised that Radley didn’t want me to take the photos, they wanted me to be in the photos. Bit of a role reversal pour moi!

Radley were running a feature called ‘It Takes Two’ about how women seem to carry a crossbody bag for valuables and a tote for shopping and laptops to go about their day. They wanted to shoot some inspirational women (their words!) with a matching Radley tote and cross body and they wanted me to be one of those women! Being on the other side of the lens is not my comfort zone but it was such an honour to be asked by a brand I love so I jumped at the chance.

Radley wanted to build a story around the shoot (which I delighted about, I think is really important to have a narrative in a shoot) so we shot a story about a day in my life as a photographer. I’m often running from meetings to location reccies with my laptop and camera in my tote bag and a lens cloth and batteries in my cross body (for quick access).

I was keen to know who would be shooting and a bit nervous about being shot by another photographer.  I was also conscious that I wouldn’t be in control of how things would be shot because I was on another photographer’s 'set'. I don't relinquish control easily! But I needn’t have worried because Kylie Eyra is wonderful. She made me feel really relaxed and confident before we started shooting, was encouraging throughout, gave great direction, and took beautiful photos. I’m thrilled with the results and to be in the excellent company of author Laura-Jane Williams and founder of Quill, Lucy Edmonds. Thank you so much to Lauren and Sara from Radley for having me! 

All images by Kylie Eyra

 

Shooting for Sukeban Magazine

About a month ago I shot a metallics editorial for Sukeban Magazine. Sukeban means ‘boss girl’ or ‘delinquent girl’ in Japanese. Obviously I’m choosing to interpret the meaning as ‘boss girl’. What I really like about this magazine is that it only features photos of girls taken by girls (or women, in my case!) In an industry where only 2% of the photographers on agency books are female and only 5% of the photos published in magazines are taken by women - Sukeban is doing its bit to level the playing field. 

Metallics are a huge trend for SS16 seen at Victoria Beckham, Paco Rabanne, Lacoste, Maison Martin Margiela, Isabel Marant, the list goes on. I wanted to shoot an editorial about this trend and match the concept and location to the clothing. After brainstorming for a bit I thought the phrase ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ was an inspiring place to start. I booked Sunset Studio in Peckham because it has access to the roof, where there are power sockets, so you can bring the lighting from the studio to the roof. With fingers and toes crossed that it wouldn’t rain I headed down to the studio, but knew I had a back up that we could just shoot indoors if the heavens opened. 

Thankfully the day we shot was the nicest day of the year so far and the clouds were white, fluffy and perfectly formed set against a bright blue sky. I used a fairly simple lighting system, of a single Bowens light with a beauty dish and a shower cap plus my lovely assistant, Paris, held a large gold reflector. This created a gorgeous shimmer on our model, Maria from M+P, but did run the risk of hurting her eyes so we had to be careful it didn’t shine directly into her face.

I know when to bust out a few moves on set

I know when to bust out a few moves on set

And I also know when to chill

And I also know when to chill

But mostly I know when to get the job done

But mostly I know when to get the job done

With my dream team Gem on make-up and Dani having pulled some fabulous metallic inspired pieces from brands such as Maison Scotch, Kitty Joseph, Renli Su, Gayeon Lee, and Miss Sixty, PLUS a smoking hot model with a kick ass attitude - no wonder the photos turned out so fabulous. Remember it's the team that makes a great shot and we were a veritable band of Sukeban.  You can check out the rest of the shoot here.

How to light a beauty shoot

A couple of months ago I shot this beauty editorial with MUA Gem Tyler and the gorgeous Ishika from M&P. We focussed on 6 hot beauty trends for SS16, perfectly executed by Gem and beautifully modelled by Ishika. 

In my apartment I have big white walls and lots of natural light so I often use it as a studio as well, especially for something like a beauty shoot where the frames are quite focussed and tight. 

After feeding the team homemade soup (What can I say? I’m a feeder, just like my mama) Gem started prepping the make up looks while I set up the lighting kit. For this shoot I used the Elinchrom Quadra Pack or ELB 400 super kit from The Flash Centre, which I’ve told you all before, is my favourite place to rent equipment in London. The Quadra Pack is a battery powered, 400w lightweight pack made by Elinchrom. It’s really portable and perfect for location lighting due to the light lithium battery. The recycling speed is fast, you can attach any size light shaper such as a snoot, beauty dish, or soft box, to the head using their small adapters. It has an inbuilt sky port so you just have to attach the partner to your camera and you’re away! It’s one of my all time favourite kits.

Desert rave glossy orange eye

Beach party yellow liner

Squeaky clean spa skin

Custom colour lip

The pack is asymmetric (meaning the output of power is not equal) when two heads are plugged into one pack but you can shoot symmetrically by plugging one head into each pack. With the super pack you get 3 individual packs so for this set up I used 3 heads and plugged them into each individual pack; thus ensuring the light from each head was symmetric. I started with my key light and attached a deep octa box to create an even flattering light and a nice catch light in the eye (the devil is in the details!) Then I placed 2 fill lights either side of Ishika, attaching rectangular, Rotalux soft boxes. There was some natural light coming in as well, which I had to consider when setting the output for each pack. As you can see, I’ve also cut up some tennis balls and put them on the feet of each light stand so I don’t scratch my, or anyone else’s, floors. This is a great tip if you’re shooting on location somewhere swanky.

As any photographer will know, there is lots of trial and error in shoots, especially with posing. This shoot was no different. With each new make up look we had to try lots of different poses, expressions and hair styles to differentiate between the looks. Ishika was a brilliant model with lots of creative input and suggestions for how we could change things up. I love a good wind machine but in the absence of that on this occasion, Gemma wielded her trusty hair dryer to great effect. And Ishika proved herself to be a consummate professional despite the fact she was surrounded by crazy women - see the video below!

Surf school skin

Hyper glow

I’m thrilled with these photos and the work we did as a team - hope you like them too. If you have any questions or would like to see more how-to’s let me know in the comments below. 

    

On being a feminist fashion photographer

 

I love my industry. Fashion is an exciting, dynamic, billion pound industry that employs thousands and gives millions the choice each morning to make a statement about who they are, through their clothes. But as a card-carrying feminist there are facets to the biz I would like to change. 

I read an interesting quote in an interview with model, Abbey Lee, in the Sunday Times Style this weekend (8/5/16). She says ‘I think there is a lot that is wrong with the way that fashion is run. It’s young girls working with, for the most part, grown men. The treatment, protection and care taking of models could be better’. So firstly, there’s the imbalance. A lot of the models on runways and in editorials are very young, sometimes only 15. Girls too young are often cast inappropriately. So then, there's the sexualisation of girls. The beauty ideals we see time and time again in magazines and on billboards are pedestrian: young, slim, white.  And then, lest we forget, there’s the lack of diversity. 

Bo Gilbert, British Vogue's first 100 year old model

Bo Gilbert, British Vogue's first 100 year old model

These are troubling issues and only begin the scratch the surface. However, there is an upside. The industry is changing and undergoing an exciting time at the moment. Winnie Harlow, America’s Next Top Model contestant, brand ambassador for Desigual, runway model for Ashish, cover model for I.D. and Dazed has vitiligo. Ashley Graham, ‘plus-size’ model and body activist, has appeared in campaigns for major brands such as Levi’s and was recently the first 'plus-size' model to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. (Incidentally, plus-size is a term I hope to see eradicated before the end of my career). Linda Rodin, business woman and model approaching 70, recently appeared in a campaign for The Kooples. Last year, & Other Stories used transgender models for their campaign. And just last week Harvey Nichols created a special campaign in celebration of Vogue's centenary issue, which featured 100-year-old model, Bo Gilbert.

 
Ashley Graham, first plus-size model on the cover of  Sports Illustrated  swimsuit issue

Ashley Graham, first plus-size model on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue

When I’m involved in casting for shoots, I try to encourage diversity, work with models that sit outside the stereotype, and cast age appropriate.  

What makes me especially angry is how the media, particularly women’s magazines, bombard us with articles on subjects such as ‘toe contouring (yes, really)’, ‘knee contouring’ (yes, REALLY), ‘bum contouring’ (YES, REALLY) ‘strobing’, ‘clumpy lashes’ and a whole host of other things that make women wonder if their appearance is good enough. I follow a lot of magazines on social media because I need to know their visual identity for my work, but when I see tweets about the topics mentioned above, it makes my blood boil because it feels like an assault. Let me explain my position. 

My issue isn’t with articles like this existing. I’m incredibly proud to be a part of the fashion and beauty industries. I like to look my best. I wear make-up most days. I take time to consider what I’m wearing. I always make an effort to leave the house feeling good.

My issue is the urgency and insistence with which these articles are communicated. These are verbatim tweets from media sources I otherwise, enjoy: 

  • Here's why you need to try this *green* blusher
  • Time to start wearing lipstick on your eyelids? The internet says yes... 
  • The summer wardrobe staple you NEED to know about
  • If you wear glasses, you NEED this genius makeup trick
  • Everything you *need* to know about Dyson's supersonic hairdryer
  • Want an instant healthy glow? You *need* to try this product
  • You've been washing your hair wrong your whole life

What’s with the 'need'?

I’m not so naive I don’t realise these tweets are click bait.

I’m not saying other women don't realise this.

I'm not saying you shouldn't enjoy articles about vagina steaming if that's what floats your boat.

I know magazines can say they’re simply reporting on a beauty trend and it’s one article among hundreds of others that may be more interesting to its audience.

But, if you hear a message enough times, you’ll start to absorb it.

When I was growing up, I remember being instructed by the media that as a woman, I needed to worry about cellulite. Fast forward to 2016 though and I’ve lost count of the amount of things the media tells women they 'need' to worry about. Cellulite feels positively antiquated in the archives of ‘areas of physical appearance women should worry about’. Nowadays we’ve got to worry about thigh gaps, HD brows, teeth whitening, lip injections, chin implants, waist trainers (though this has definitely been revived from the archives) THE LIST GOES ON. My Spotify ads are all about pregnancy tests and cool sculpting, ‘a non-invasive treatment for fat removal’. So what message does this send? I should be thinking about getting pregnant and making damn sure I lose the weight afterwards.

It just feels like we’re being manipulated to have our money, our time, and our self esteem sapped from us. Because here’s the rub: pick up a men’s magazine and there is nothing in there suggesting a dozen ways men can improve their appearance. No suggestion they could be spending their time preening and perfecting their bodies. This is all time men gain to continue ruling the world. I recently read an issue of The Gentleman’s Journal and was struck by the volume of articles on politics, success, investment, and finance. Yes, there were articles about fashion but there wasn’t any tone that men needed to know about a new product that would transform their appearance.  

Another term I have an issue with is ‘investment piece’. A Céline hand bag is not an investment. Do you know what is an investment? A house. An ISA account. I love Céline and their handbags are beautiful. Buy one if you want - buy 10! But don’t be duped into thinking it's an investment. As Sophia Amoruso says in #Girlboss ‘Money looks better in your bank account than on your feet.’   

It may not bother or affect you, and that’s great. But I find this communication aggressive and obscene. It makes me grind-my-teeth angry when tweet after tweet on these topics appear in my timeline. I feel stifled, upset and frustrated. I should just curate my timeline and mute the accounts I find distressing, but this is a status quo I wanted to challenge and start a conversation about. So if you have any comments, please let me know, I’d love to hear from you. I’ll conclude with some wisdom of jaw-dropping clarity from Caitlin Moran in her book How to be a woman: “You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.” 

My YouTube channel

I'm thrilled to tell you I have launched my YouTube channel.  As I say in my introductory video, I’m going to use the channel to give an insider’s look into life as a fashion photographer. So I’ll be giving you behind the scenes access on photo shoots, photography how-tos, interviews with models and designers, the works! If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see on the channel let me know in the comments below. And if you subscribe to the channel that would make my day! 

This video is all about my stint on Hoxton Radio. Every Wednesday they have a fashion show, Hoxton Fashion, and I was kindly invited on as a guest to talk about the work I’ve done, the projects I’m shooting at the moment and of course, my new YouTube channel! I had such a laugh with the team,  huge thanks to Sarah, David, Olivia and Rowena for having me. And of course, the biggest thanks of all go to Rebecca McVeigh, tv producer extraordinaire and a dear friend, for her patience and expertise in helping me make this video.

5 marketing tips for photographers

 

Clearly I love a little blog title with 5 tips in it. See the 5 career lessons I’ve learned, or 5 tips for breaking into fashion photography. Well, now I’ve got 5 marketing tips for you. I might start calling this series ‘I got 5 on it’. (Choon). As always, these tips are from a fashion photographer’s perspective so will be most relevant to photographers, but some of them are applicable to other careers.

1. Start a newsletter

At the end of 2013 I was accepted onto the New Creative Markets programme with Photofusion. This was an EU initiative which provided incredible professional development opportunities for photographers such as workshops, talks, courses, mentoring, as well as spending time with photography peers. The programme ended last summer (culminating in an exhibition and my photo was selected for the catalogue cover) and I will be eternally grateful for those 18 months of development. They made me realise the importance of all the other things, besides taking photos, that make a successful photographer. One particular workshop was about online marketing. I had already put into place many of the items covered, but I became very interested when they started talking about a newsletter. It seemed like a really useful addition to a marketing plan.

I did that workshop in February 2014 and it took me until July 2015 to send my first newsletter, a culmination of being busy and procrastinating an unknown entity. Mostly, it was procrastination. I’m busier now than I was then, but I never miss sending out my newsletter every month, it’s one of my favourite business tasks. My subscriptions are growing every month and if you’re a nerd like me you’ll get great satisfaction from reading the analysis reports and figuring out what you can do to increase opens and clicks. If you’d like to subscribe to my newsletter, just fill out your details here.

Preview of my April newsletter 

Preview of my April newsletter 

2. Print your portfolio

I printed my ‘book’ (jargon for a hard-copy portfolio) last year. It took time, effort, and quite a lot of money but it’s been one of the best investments of my career so far. The response from editors and art buyers has been overwhelmingly positive. They all say how refreshing it is to see a printed book and what respite it is from looking at portfolios on iPads. Besides, when you have a printed book you have an excuse to meet with someone. Otherwise, they can just look at your website and of course, it’s far better to meet with someone face to face. 

These were the steps I took when getting my book printed:

  1. I was brutal when deciding which photos to put in my book. Or rather my mentor, Zoe, was. It’s almost impossible to be objective about your own work so enlist help. I see Zoe every time I need to update my portfolio - I’ve written about this before. Zoe helps me choose which photos are good enough to be printed and which ones to scrap. You might find yourself emotionally attached to images and reluctant to part with them, but ruthlessness is essential. The further along in my career I get, the easier I find it to reject an image that isn’t good enough.
  2. I printed the best quality I could afford. I printed on fine art matte paper from MPrint. I can’t recommend these guys highly enough. Their service is personal and bespoke, using their calibrated screen, they give you a preview how your images will look once printed and if they need to be adjusted (brightened, saturated etc.) they can do this for you as an additional service. 
  3. I bought the best folio I could afford. I used Cathy Robert, her folios are beautiful and she has so many sizes, colour swatches and materials to choose from, so you can make your book suit your style. I went for a grey, leather bound book with my name embossed on the front. It was expensive but it will last for years to come. The best thing about Cathy’s portfolios are the way they are bound. If you want to refresh your book by taking old photos out and new ones in (which you should), just leave it with Cathy and she can update your book in a couple of days. Once your book is ready, start making some appointments to show it to people!

3. Keep shooting

This is the most important piece of advice in general for a photographer, not just for your marketing plan. You need to keep shooting to develop your voice, your style, your brand, and of course, your skills. I’ve written before about creating opportunities for yourself but in addition to that, if an art buyer/fashion editor (whoever your target customer is) sees that your book or website hasn’t been update for ages, it’s very off-putting. It gives the impression the photographer isn’t busy.

4. Enter competitions

This one is a real 2 birds, 1 stone tip. Not only does entering competitions get your work seen by a panel of experts, but if you have success in the competition you get some fantastic press coverage. Plus everyone wants to work with an ‘award winning photographer’. Make that 3 birds, 1 stone. There are loads of competitions out there so scour the trade magazines for them and get yourself on some mailing lists to find out when they open. I won a competition last year and was delighted with myself!

5) Business cards

Some of my business cards from moo.com 

Some of my business cards from moo.com 

My best friend laughed her ass off when I told her I was getting business cards. She had this idea of me as a cheesy 80’s business woman in a bad suit mouthing ‘call me’ as I passed my card to someone in a bar. 

She was only half right.

Once my cards arrived though, she insisted on taking a few and now hands them out on my behalf if she ever meets anyone relevant to my career. I give my cards out all the time, it’s so useful for networking. Plus, I can have one of my photos on the back of the card so it’s also a quick way to show my portfolio. I really recommend Moo for beautifully made, unique business cards (that are also eco-friendly). 

Of course, there are dozens of other marketing tips, each one more obvious than the next (blogging, SEO, website, mailshots, social media etc), but I think it’s useful to be reminded about them now and then. As always, I love hearing from you so if there’s any marketing tips you really recommend, leave them in the comments below.

 

What’s in my camera bag - part 1

 

If you ever notice a tall Irish woman standing extremely close to a bus shelter ad, staring intently into the eyes of the model, then come say hi. That’s me! I’ll be trying to figure out what lighting was used by keenly examining the catchlight in the model’s eyes.

I love to demystify photography. I’m always fascinated to know what kind of kit other photographers shoot with. I love trying to figure out what, say, Mario Testino used to shoot a certain campaign or editorial. Which is why I loved the Guess The Lighting blog so much. Sadly, Ted Sabarese hasn’t posted since 2014 but there is still a wealth of back catalogue to drool over if you’re a lighting nerd like me. I also love Shot Kit for an exploration and explanation of what’s in a pro photographer’s bag and why.

You’ll have seen last week that I launched my YouTube channel (WHAT? You DIDN’T hear? Well don’t delay another moment, check it out here) and I’m going to use that as a platform to interview models, designers, and other key people a fashion photographer engages with in their work. I’ll also be giving you behind the scenes access to my photoshoots as well as photography ‘how to’ tutorials and a look at what’s inside my kit bag!

However, I couldn’t wait to shoot a kit bag video before writing a blog post about, not only what’s in my kit bag, but also what my kit bag is. Oh, how I have struggled to find a bag that is big enough to fit everything in, comfortable to carry and STYLISH. It is very difficult to find a stylish camera bag. They are an elusive object. Nothing annoys me more than having an outfit ruined by a big, bulky, black, padded camera bag. I’m a fashion photographer, I care about fashion, and my camera bag should be fashionable. In a sea of photographers dressed in North Face jackets and Lowepro bags, I am on a crusade to find a stylish solution to carrying all my equipment around. 

Enter the Cara Delevingne backpack by Mulberry. It's big enough to carry the essentials, including laptop, for a low key shoot that doesn’t require a lot of lighting. Made from luxurious leather with a beautiful finish in oxblood, it can be carried as a backpack or a tote. This is a dream camera bag for a small shoot. 

Here, I’ve packed for a shoot with a Primark. We were shooting a denim fashion feature but with a lifestyle feel. The photos needed to feel really natural so I packed my Canon 7D (this camera has served me well) with a prime lens - of course. I mostly shoot with the Canon 24-70 f 2.8 MK II USM because it’s really versatile and gives a nice wide aperture, perfect for this shoot. I packed a collapsible reflector for bouncing in sunlight as well as my Canon Speedlite 600-ex. This is a really powerful light and came in useful this day. I decided to shoot into the sun to create that really nice lens flare and lifestyle feel Primark wanted to achieve. Obviously, this casts the subject in shadow (subject today was the gorgeous Alex Stedman from The Frugality), so the Speedlite is a great fill light for the subject . A flash gun is a much more versatile piece of equipment if you can get it off the axis of the camera so I used this off-camera sync cord from Calumet. Of course, it’s great to put the Speedlite on a stand if you can, but as I said, I was packing light for this shoot so the sync cord worked fine. 

I also really like to have quick access to things like my lens cloth, a spare battery and a spare memory card so I carry these in a…bum bag. YES a fanny pack. #noshameinmygame Well, this little beauty, the Floral Street bag from Radley, is a sleek, modern and elegant bum bag. Simply detach the lime green strap (a gorgeous contrast to the monochrome of the bag and means you can also wear it as a cross body), thread your belt through the loop at the back and you have got yourself a fanny pack! Honestly, if you’re a photographer and you haven’t yet discovered the ease and convenience of the bum bag I urge you to put all the grim connotations of neon cycling shorts and Mr. Motivator out of your head. I mean, if Chanel is doing it (and Chanel is doing it for SS16), then what more consideration do you need to give the matter?

So there you have it. My essentials for a small kit and the very stylish bags I pack them in. If there are any essentials you would recommend that aren't in my bag here, let me know in the comments below - I'd love to hear from you. Stay tuned for posts on my kit for larger shoots, as well as some YouTube videos coming soon!

 

5 career lessons I've learned

 

I am pretty obsessed with anything career related. I’m a total sucker for any book, article, blog post, podcast, or YouTube channel related to career, success, or money. I’ve got a quote for every career decision you might be faced with. I've read your Sheryl Sandbergs, your Sophia Amorusos, your Gary Vaynerchuks, your Arianna Huffingtons, the list goes on. I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years of being self-employed. None of them are revolutionary, these lesson are widely written about, but they are the ones I’ve felt most keenly throughout my career. Plus I love a good career discussion, so if you have any thoughts to add or lessons you’ve learned please let me know in the comments below.  

1) Perseverance is key

I’ve already spoken about the importance of not taking no for an answer. You’re going to get a lot of rejection and criticism throughout your career but you can’t let it bother you. I’ve been told I’m not good enough, my work isn’t the right fit, the shoot is too this, too that, too the other. You’ve got to let it roll off you. If it really does sting, take a deep breath and a moment if you need one, then keep trucking. Remember, JK Rowling sent Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to 12 different publishers before it was picked up by Bloomsbury. She was even recently rejected under the pseudonym she adopted, Robert Galbraith, for her new series of detective novels. So, take a leaf out of JK’s book, hold faith and keep at it. Besides, you’re in excellent company. 

Mystic Mother Christmas knows the score

2) Run your own race

This is a really important one. It’s human nature to compare ourselves, humans have a basic drive to evaluate our opinions and abilities through comparison with other people. There are many positive consequences of this, such as self-enhancement and maintaining positive self-evaluation however, the negatives of comparison can be pretty severe. 

We all know we present a glossy facade on social media, but it can be difficult to remember that when scrolling through our feeds. It might look like another photographer is working all the time while you’re sitting at home writing your 20th unanswered email but you don’t know the reality of their situation. Maybe they’re testing, maybe they’re working for free, maybe they’re panicking because they’ve bitten off more than they can chew, maybe they’re not creatively satisfied. The point is you don’t know.  Try to just take the positive from social media, healthy competition will spur you on to do better. But I find the best way to drive myself forward is with a blinkered focus on my own goals. Failing that, try and remember this little GEM I heard recently: ‘Everyone else is faking it too’.

I read an interesting article yesterday about the importance of ‘showing the brush strokes’. (I found this article via Emma Gannon’s newsletter. Every Sunday this newsletter drops in my inbox and is packed with intelligent, thought- provoking reads about career - a weekly highlight). In this article Matthew Weiner, creator of ‘Mad Men’, talks about the dangers of ‘hiding the brushstrokes’, i.e. the tendency for artists to cultivate mystery around their careers and processes. Weiner says ‘[i]f you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.’ I think we’d all do well to remember that the brush strokes are hidden on social media, which of course was famously exposed by Essena O’Neill last year.

I went to the Vogue 100 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery this weekend. Part of the exhibition emulated the room where, pre-digital photography, the editors would review the photos from their shoots. I was heartened to see a roll of photos from a shoot with a famous Vogue photographer were shown and not all the shots were brilliant. Of course the photos that made the final edit were, but lots of them were not. I emerged from the exhibition feeling better that even some of the most celebrated photographers in the world take bad photos on Vogue shoots.

3) Look how far you've come

This is a great tactic I employ if I’m in a frustrated funk of feeling like things are not happening quick enough, or at all for that matter. I just look at where I was a year ago. I bet if you do the same you’ll realise how far you’ve come and how much you’ve achieved in that time. Now give yourself a pat on the back and imagine how far you’ll be in another year. Exciting eh?

4) The power of networking

You really never know where your next commission will come from. When I used to shoot street style, I met hundreds of people because I had to talk to strangers walking down the road. Some of these people became friends, some of them became clients, some of them introduced me to people I went on to work with. I met my friend Stephanie when shooting street style for Company magazine. I asked to take her photo, she obliged and gave me her card. Turns out, she was (and is!) PR at Levi’s. I emailed Stephanie saying I’d love to shoot for Levi’s. About a month later I was shooting a campaign that went into Levi’s stores across Europe and I made an awesome friend to boot. I’ve overheard people in cafes talking about commissioning photographers and have introduced myself. The person sitting opposite you on the train might be your next collaborator so get out there and talk to people, ask for introductions from your existing contacts, don’t be afraid to sell yourself and always have your business card in your wallet.

5) Don’t be afraid of failure

I’m going to reference JK Rowling again. What can I say? I’m a fan. She shrewdly says ‘[i]t is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well have not lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.’ It really is true that you have nothing to lose by trying. If you succeed, bingo! If you fail, then you learn. Some of life’s most valuable lessons come through failure. Every rejection I’ve had throughout my career has made me a better photographer. There’s a great Ted Talk by Sarah Lewis in which she discusses the Archer’s Paradox; the phenomenon in archery where in order to hit your target, you have to aim for something slightly skewed from it. Sarah praises the near win and how that is worthier of celebration than success because success, she argues, is just a moment. However, building the tenacity for the constant pursuit of excellence, is mastery. And that mastery is achieved through a lifetime of near wins, not a lifetimes of successes. ‘Success motivates us but a near win can propel us in an ongoing quest.’ Something to remember every time you are rejected.

If you have any recommendations for career resources let me know in the comments below or drop me an email (holly@hollymcglynn.com) or a tweet, I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

To work for free or not to work for free? That is the question.

 

A couple of blog posts ago, when discussing the business of photography,  I touched on the rather thorny topic of working for free. In that blog post I asked if you would be interested in a further exploration on the subject and some of you reached out on social media saying that you would. I wish this wasn’t an issue for debate. Working for free is idiosyncratic to creative industries like fashion, journalism and photography where the positions are few and highly coveted. From a purely anecdotal perspective, I don’t know anyone in these fields who hasn’t started out providing their service for free to help establish themselves, be that through internships, freelance jobs or shoots. However, this is the reality of the situation so you might as well confront it and make it work in the best way possible for you. 

In essence, I believe it’s a simple issue and hopefully you will only have to face it intermittently at the beginning of your career. What it boils down to is the ratio of assets to value. When you will not be financially compensated for your skills/time/equipment you need to look at what assets you will get out of doing the shoot. Once you have established this, decide if those assets are valuable to you and how valuable they are. If the assets are not valuable to you, walk away. If they are valuable to you however, you might want to consider undertaking the work.     

Really? Must I work for free?

One very important point I feel obliged to make clear from the beginning is that if a client will be profiting from your work or is paying everyone else involved in the shoot then it is not moral, ethical or professional to ask you to work for free and I would not advise that you do so. The more people who take this stance, the better, as industries will learn that it is unacceptable to ask. I urge you to ignore the voice in your head that says ‘they’ll just give this job to someone else if I say no’. Yes, they probably will. And that person is being exploited if they say yes. You are not here to be exploited (unless you’re into that thing), you are better off as far away as possible from that attitude.

Let’s return to assets and value though. If someone wants you to work for free they will try and sell you that idea through what they perceive as alternative compensation. ‘It will be great for your portfolio’ is a line that gets thrown around a lot as well as ‘it will be great exposure for you’. Only you can be the judge of those statements and it’s patronising for anyone to make those assertions for you. So don’t accept the statements as fact. WILL it be good for your portfolio? Will the production side of the shoot be organised by the client, freeing you up to focus on the creative? How much creative freedom will you have? Is a professional model booked and has a professional creative team been put together? Has the client booked a location or studio you’ve always wanted to shoot in? Is the concept something you’ve always wanted to explore? Does the studio have a lighting kit you’ve always wanted to try out? Figure out the assets from undertaking this shoot and decide if those assets are of enough value to make it worth *your* while. Maybe you haven’t had the opportunity to take the lead on a big shoot before because you haven’t had the resources. If the client can provide you with those resources and this experience will take you to the next level, then it might be worthwhile. It’s *your* decision. 

When someone gives you the ‘great exposure’ line, don’t be afraid to ask for the cold, hard numbers on this. Where will it be seen? By which demographic? Is that demographic relevant to you? Will you definitely be credited? What is the traffic/circulation? Will there be a social media campaign to promote the photos? Will you be tagged on social media? What’s the social media following? Never shy away from asking these questions, you have every right to ask for all the information to help you make an informed decision. And frankly, the client has a lot more brass neck asking you to work for free than you asking for some clarification on what they are offering. If increasing your visibility on social media is one of your goals, or magazine tear sheets is something your portfolio is lacking then maybe it is worth doing. It all depends on the asset and the value you place on it.

If you can’t see the value, then politely decline. By all means, make your point and explain your rationale but make sure you stay polite. Your reputation is everything and nothing will tarnish it quicker than bad manners. It can be scary turning down opportunities and I have spoken before about the importance of saying yes, but this is only relevant if you’re getting something out of it. You won’t get anywhere by just doing favours that advance the careers of other people and not your own.

A few other pieces of information might help you make your decision. Magazines tend to have much smaller budgets than brands, especially if they are not part of a publishing house. Some small, independent magazines barely break even from their advertising revenue so often the exposure and creative freedom will be the assets they can offer. I find it harder to believe a brand ‘doesn’t have the budget’, unless they’re small or a start-up. Sometimes brands will use imagery editorially rather than for advertising, which will have a smaller budget, but at the end of the day they are still profiting from the imagery and you should be compensated. Blogging is a massive industry. Bloggers are paid well for collaborative posts, for photos posted to Instagram and earn money from affiliate marketing. And more power to them, it’s a lot of work. But if your photography is contributing to their profits, then you should be compensated.

Ask to have your expenses covered. You should not be going into debt for someone else’s gain and maintaining professional photography equipment is an expensive business. It’s a different story if you’re creating work for yourself or collaborating with a creative partner, of course. Most photographers will invest their own money in personal and passion projects. But if someone else wants you to work for free, you shouldn’t be losing money.

Lastly, never give away the copyright to your imagery and ensure you set out clear terms of where the imagery will be used before you agree to a job. Image usage and licensing is an altogether murkier issue and one I’ve already been asked on Facebook to cover in a separate blog post. So stay tuned folks! 

 

PAMELA x MISSGUIDED

 

I wanted to write about the new Pamela Anderson for Missguided campaign because I think it's one of the most evocative, exciting and downright genius partnerships I've seen in a long time.  

Shot by photographer and artist, Arvida Byström, (jealous much), the images are sexy, bold, kistch, fun, saturated, tongue-in-cheek and celebratory. As is, the collection of clothing itself. Best of all, there’s a Baywatch homage in the form of a high leg, red swimsuit. It might be Pam’s collection, but the swimsuit’s got my name on it.

(c) Arvida Byström/Missguided

(c) Arvida Byström/Missguided

However, the quality of the images aren't the only reason I think this collaboration is so smart and important. Firstly, we are in the throes of a passionate love affair with all things 90’s, at least sartorially speaking. The definitive piece, the slip dress, was seen at Peter Pilotto, Topshop Unique, and Mulberry at LFW AW16. Pamela Anderson is the 90’s poster girl for the term b-a-b-e. Pneumatic and blonde, Pammy as CJ Parker is what Baywatch (one of the most watched tv shows in the world, grossing over $1.5 billion) was really all about. David Hasselhoff was comparatively, Sideshow Mel (not even Bob). Yes, there are some that will criticise the ideal of beauty being defined as someone who famously increased her breast size and appeared in Playboy 13 times. And yes, it sends a damaging message if a slim, blonde, white woman who has undergone augmentative surgery and appears naked in (what was then) a pornographic magazine is the only definition of beauty. And for a long time, that is what the media defined beauty as. But that’s not Pamela’s fault and no woman should be criticised for her deeply personal choices. But I digress, this isn’t a discussion about ideals of beauty and the media’s portrayal of women. 

So Pammy equals 90's knockout equals bang on trend equals first smart decision.

Secondly, Missguided’s ‘girl’ (the term used to define a brand’s customer) is fun, bold, glamorous and confident. Pammy is a perfect embodiment of these attributes, which Missguided has cleverly termed ‘Pam glam’. However at 48 years old, Pamela is not Missguided’s target ‘girl’ of 16-30. To have a woman 20 years older than your target market fronting your campaign should be applauded. We all know that visibility of women in the media falls dramatically once they are over the age of 40. This campaign shows a younger generation, and the wider world, that youth isn’t everything, you don’t become invisible once you reach 40, you’re still interested in fashion, you’re still hot AF, and you might even have something the younger generation can learn from.

(c) Arvida Byström/Missguided

(c) Arvida Byström/Missguided

Which, indeed they can. Pamela is a vocal animal rights campaigner. As an active member of PETA, she has mobilised many campaigns against the use of fur and cruelty towards animals. She was a spokesperson for the MAC AIDS fund in 2005, which helped people with AIDS and HIV. She is politically engaged, writing an open letter to Vladimir Putin asking him to block the passage of whale meat through Russian waters to Japan and a letter to Barack Obama about the legalisation of cannabis. In 2014, she spoke publicly about the sexual abuse she suffered from the age of 6. I can’t think of anything harder, braver or more important. 

(c) Arvida Byström/  Missguided

(c) Arvida Byström/Missguided

Pammy is an ambitious, successful woman who has used her fame to publicise causes she feels strongly about. I think she’s a terrific role model for Missguided customers because she projects an image of what they can become rather than what they can be. Missguided has shown us all that using models over the age of 25 is hugely advantageous and I certainly hope that other brands will take their cue. 

She may not be Missguided’s 'girl' but Pamela Anderson sure as hell is their woman. 

 

 

 

 

Interview for The Gloss Magazine

I was thrilled when one of my favourite Irish magazines, The Gloss, got in touch with me for an interview on life as a fashion photographer in London. Check out the full interview here for my take on the rise of diversity within the fashion industry and my favourite places to hang out (and spot supermodels!) 

Behind the scenes of a book cover shoot: Emma Gannon and Ebury

 

My friend Emma Gannon (freelance writer, digital consultant, founder of IRL Panel, blogger at Girl Lost in the City, among a whole host of other skills and accolades) has her debut book, Ctrl, Alt, Delete: How I grew up online, coming out this July with Ebury Press. When Emma first made this announcement last year we had an email exchange along the following lines:

Holly: Can I shoot your book cover?

Emma: OMG yes!

Ctrl, Alt, Delete: How I grew up online is out 7th July 2016

In quick succession there was a flurry of emails about inspiration, references images, covers we liked and didn’t, what Emma wanted to portray, what she wanted to avoid etc. It was the kind of conversation you rarely have as a photographer: an emphatic YES and lots of creative ideas flowing instead of a ‘no’ or ‘we’ll get back to you’ and lots of red tape stifling creativity. 

To be fair, it wasn’t *that* easy. Emma did need to discuss with her publisher and they did need to agree to commissioning me but I’ll always remember Emma’s positive attitude and enthusiasm from that initial email exchange. And actually, at that point, Emma and I had only met twice I think! She was very trusting and I’m so glad of that. 

It was a few months before everything was agreed. Business elements such as the usage license, fee and contract (see my last blog post on the business of photography for a more thorough discussion on that topic) needed to be agreed before we started looking into a suitable location to shoot, building up the mood board and locking down the kind of shots we wanted to achieve.

Over the next few months, Emma and I had met a few more times, including a shoot together for Primark so I was really excited to shoot when the day came. It’s hugely important to have a good rapport with your subject and the team on set. It’s part of your role as the photographer to make everyone feel welcome, at ease and valued. I might write a blog post about the importance of leadership for a photographer, let me know in the comments below if you’re interested. On that note, my wonderful assistant Sam was invaluable to this shoot. I can’t stress the importance of a good assistant enough. I’ve only started using assistants for all my shoots over the past year or so and it’s made a big difference to how I do business. Sam was waiting for me outside the studio and took all the equipment out of the cab and after discussing the lighting set up he got to work straight away. This left me free to discuss the plan with the client. 

 
 

One important thing I realised quite quickly in my research was that a book cover can’t be shot in the same way as an editorial or a campaign, where you have several images to tell your story. Additionally, the elements of an editorial or campaign such as dramatic locations, high-fashion make up and clothing etc are too distracting for a book cover. Simplicity is key. A book cover needs to be an engaging portrait that has an immediate impact and still tells a story about the pages within.

Emma’s book isn’t released until July so I hadn’t read it by the time the shoot came around but after discussions with Emma and her publisher, Sara, we wanted to convey that the book contained some secrets that Emma was laying bare, for the world to see. We had already established that colour was a really important element as was Emma’s personal style so there were lots of bright, stylish outfits to try throughout the shoot. The lighting set up was simple, I used a 175cm Octa soft box (which is massive!) to give as much soft, flattering light as possible, a little fill light on the side and some black poly boards for contrast. 

 

We tried lots of different poses and we hit on about 3 different set ups that we really nailed. I didn’t envy the publishers having to choose one image out of the hundreds I sent on the contact sheet. I really love the final image and art work created by Ebury. I’m also delighted some of the other images from the shoot have come to see the light of day through Emma’s podcast and blog. 

After I exclaimed how much I loved Emma's outfit, Sam rather patiently pointed out that it was probably because I was wearing the same ensemble #twinning 

It was such a fun shoot with a lot of laughs and a lot of 80's pop. Here's to Emma's success with this book and I hope to work on her next one too!

 

 

The business of photography

Ask any photographer how much of their time they spend taking photos and the answer might surprise you. I would say I spend about 15-20% of my time on shoots, if that. The other 80-85% is spent hustling for business, going to networking events, meeting clients, sending invoices, chasing invoices, paying invoices, replying to emails, sending receipts to my accountant, updating my social feeds, updating my website, updating my business plan, putting together my newsletter, brainstorming concepts,  putting together mood boards, preparing for shoots (see my last blog post for more on that) and retouching photos. Phew! And this list isn’t exhaustive. It’s great because no two days are the same but there is no escaping the fact that being a photographer means running a business as well as taking photos. Thankfully, I get a real buzz out of the business side and I have simply outsourced any of the tasks that made me want to die inside - such as bookkeeping and accounting. That doesn’t mean I have a fuzzy picture of my financials. I can tell you, down to the last penny, how much money has come in, gone out and is outstanding. What can I say, I’m my father’s daughter. 

I think a lot of photographers don’t achieve the commercial success their talent deserves because they either aren’t prepared or aren’t equipped for the business side. I must say, it took me a couple of years to figure this out. The first two years after I graduated from Goldsmith’s were spent taking a lot of photos that not a lot of people saw or bought. As I discussed before, I had office jobs alongside taking photos when I first started out. These jobs were the catalyst to me fully confronting the importance of the business of photography. I couldn’t hack working in an office. The jobs and people I worked alongside were perfectly nice and very accommodating, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do and I felt sadder and sadder that I wasn’t making a living from photography. I actually remember the very moment I decided to make a change. I was walking to work and with each step closer to the office I became more hopeless. At Eton Square in Chelsea I suddenly freaked out and burst into tears. The situation had become untenable and something needed to be done. 

Work, work, work, work, work

I started chasing paper like you wouldn’t believe. I said yes to every job that paid. I said no to any job that said ‘we don’t have a budget but this would be great for your portfolio!’ (Jog on, how patronising is that?) Side note, I think I’ll write a post on the epidemic of being asked to work for free: the pros and cons. Let me know in the comments if you’re interested. After building up a steady, but small, stream of income I took the plunge and quit my day job. There is nothing like the threat of eviction or starvation to make you get to WERK. And I haven’t looked back since. My income immediately increased significantly because it HAD to and has increased year on year since. I plan on keeping it that way.

Photographic agent, Lisa Pritchard, has written a book entitled ‘Setting up a successful photography business’. I wish I had known about this book when I was starting out as it covers everything you need to know for making a success of a photography business from contracts and terms and conditions to marketing and agents. Still, even years after I set up my business, I found useful tips so definitely recommend reading it. I read a lot of books about business, marketing, finance, and hustling. I can put together a reading list if you’re interested, just let me know in the comments below.    

Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn

Lisa’s overview is far more comprehensive and well edited than this blog post will ever be, but my top tips are as follows:

  • Write a business plan: I’ve done this for the first time this year and have noticed a big difference. It keeps me focussed on my goals. My strategy, sales targets, and marketing plan are all included in the business plan. It can seem daunting but a business plan isn’t supposed to be long. It should be concise and it’s about where you’re going more so than what you've done. Plus, it is so satisfying ticking off the things you’ve achieved as you go along. 
  • Find a mentor: A mentor will give you invaluable guidance. My mentor, Zoe Whishaw, has shown me how to position and brand myself as the kind of photographer I want to be. It’s a work in progress of course and I’m still learning so much. It’s funny, because I didn’t even realise I wasn’t on the right track when we first started working together; an objective voice is so important and will get you where you want a hell of a lot quicker than scrambling around on your own. 
  • Track your finances: As the old adage goes, that which is measured, improves. I record exactly how much I earn every month. I can compare it to what I earned the same month, the previous year, year before that and so on. If you know exactly how much you’re earning, it will spur you on to earn more the following month and identify where there are decreases or increases in earning, which will help you figure out what to do about them. 
  • Hustle: I spoken before about tenacity and the fundamental importance of not taking no for an answer. Talent is not the key to success. It’s important of course but it’s useless if you’re not prepared to get out there and sell yourself. If I remotely cared, I might be embarrassed about how unabashed I am in selling myself, asking for introductions, and following up emails that have gone un-replied. But I’m not, because I can’t be. A gal’s gotta eat and in the words of Modern Family’s Cam ‘I am used to nice things!’ Incidentally, I’ve just read this brilliant blog post, by August's Cybele Sandy, about how hustle is the secret ingredient to success in photography. Vindication! 

PAUSE magazine - Earn your stripes

Last month I shot an editorial for menswear magazine, PAUSE. I've been a big fan of PAUSE's cool, edgy, and youthful aesthetic for a long time so I was thrilled to be commissioned by them. PAUSE came to me with a really open brief, simply asking how I would interpret the big trend for SS16: stripes. I played around with a few concepts (the go-faster stripe was one idea, no joke) before finally settling on 'Earn your stripes' - exploring the idea of having to prove yourself. Within that concept, I thought it would be fun to play around with the clothes, maybe the more you have to prove yourself, the stripier the clothes get. 

The first thing I do after I've brainstormed the initial concept and mood board is to put together a creative team. Daniela Suarez is a fantastic stylist as well as the fashion editor of Jungle Magazine. She's young and edgy so a perfect fit to style this shoot for PAUSE. Dani and I talked about how a sporty and tailored aesthetic would fit well within the concept. 

IMG_5559-LR.jpg

For grooming I was delighted that MUA extraordinaire Gemma Tyler came on board. I've worked with Gem several times before and as well as being a fantastic MUA, she's also a very calming, reasoned voice on set. She has no problem calling bullshit and kept her cool when I once had a rather dramatic accident on set. But that's a story for another day. Gem thought a slicked back look for the model's hair would suit the clothes and concept and I agreed.

And what luxurious hair it was! Freddie Fame at Established was our model for the shoot. A fantastic model with a great look and a heart of gold. Freddie was an absolute delight to shoot and chat to off camera.  

For the location I wanted to shoot somewhere graphic and linear as a backdrop, naturally occurring 'stripes' within the urban landscape. Taking a walk through Bermondsey Square one sunny Sunday, I thought it would really work as a location. From the electrical wires running overhead to the corrugated exterior of the buildings and the linear pattern in the pavements, it was perfect (and about 10 minutes from my apartment. I love me some proximity).  After completing a risk assessment form and providing my public liability insurance the management of the square very kindly allowed me to shoot there. 

We needed a base for the shoot though, somewhere to hang and steam the clothes, for the grooming, somewhere for the model to change, somewhere to keep warm etc. I'm not going to pretend I've gone through my career without doing all of those things behind cars on the street or the loos of Pret, but it's not ideal! Thankfully, the wonderful staff at the Bermondsey Square Hotel came to the rescue and provided us with one of their beautiful terrace suites overlooking the square (and with complimentary hot drinks all day!)

Next, I needed to think about how I was going to light the shoot. It was a beautiful, sunny day so I wanted to expose for the sky to capture its colour and fill in the model with light. I used my Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT to achieve this but crucially I needed to get the flash gun off the axis of the camera to get creative with the light. I hired a Plus III Pocket Wizard set from my good friends at The Flash Centre (the best place for equipment rentals in London) so my assistant Leanne could hold the flash off camera. I also hired a Canon 85mm f1.2 L lens (aka 'the God lens') so with that and my Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L MK II lens I was, at last, ready to get shooting!

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am committed to getting the shot! See Gem's shadow bottom left. Always capturing my finer moments...

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I am committed to getting the shot! See Gem's shadow bottom left. Always capturing my finer moments...

I wanted to use this blog post to give more insight into the practical side of producing a shoot as well as the tools I use to create the shots. Being a photographer involves a lot more than just taking photos - which is what I'm going to write about next. If there are any topics in particular you'd like me to cover - holler at me in the comments below.

My sincere thanks to the management of Bermondsey Square, the Bermondsey Square Hotel, the Flash Centre, Established Models, PAUSE and my creative team, especially my assistant Leanne. 

Five tips for breaking into fashion photography

I get asked a lot by aspiring photographers or people who want to work in fashion about my route into the industry. As with any unknown entity, the fashion industry can seem like an impenetrable fortress from the outside. But if you just chip, chip, chip away the fortress with crumble and before long you’ll be making a dramatic Shawshank-Redemption-style tunnel into the fashion industry (as opposed to out of prison - ideally). 

A small part of me thinks the expected thing is for me to preface this post by saying I’m not an expert, these are just my personal experiences. But really I think ‘feck THAT’ I have broken into a hard industry to crack so why shouldn’t I speak to that subject with a voice of experience. Too often women apologise unnecessarily, don’t take full credit for their achievements or qualify their concerns. See this wonderful ad by Pantene and this incisive sketch by Amy Schumer if you don’t believe me. I always endeavour to fight against this and actively encourage other women to do the same. Incidentally, being Irish, this also goes against everything I have imbibed culturally from the Motherland. Never were there people more humble, modest and reluctant to take a compliment.

I digress. 

Soapbox moment aside, I must say that these are only 5 tips out of countless ones that would be useful for breaking into fashion. I’m a photographer so it’s told from that vantage point but the tips would be relevant to any job in fashion.

1. Don’t take no for an answer

You will need a rhino hide to work in fashion or photography so start cultivating one now. I have lost count of the times I have heard the word ‘no’, or worse, been completely ignored. People are busy and usually will already have a photographer they’re happy with so why should they reply to you? You have to be relentless. I think I have relentlessness written in my DNA. I have convinced nightclubs to waive my entrance fee because ‘I work here!! Don’t you recognise me??’ and long before I ever saw Cher Horowitz in Clueless I was reasoning with teachers to give me a better grade than they originally thought I deserved; something I only recently told my somewhat taken-aback but (I think) nonetheless impressed mother.

I don’t mean badger someone who clearly doesn’t want to work with you. That is actually extremely detrimental to your career. What I do mean is politely thank someone for their feedback and in a couple of months when you have a new body of work or idea share it with them. Do this until they bite. I have clients who I emailed for 2 years before they said, ‘Ok, this idea I like. Let’s give you a shot’. You never know, your email might land in their inbox seconds after an email from their current photographer saying ‘I quit’. My dear friend and fellow #girlboss Jess Indeedy puts it rather eloquently: ‘No doesn’t mean ‘no’, it means ‘not now’. 

2. A smile and a wink gets your further than you think

This is my LYF motto and it is essential that you use it alongside tip #1. You can’t persistently email or phone someone without being polite and charming. The best lesson my parents taught me was the importance of good manners. They’re essential in business and will be your greatest asset when you pick up the phone and ask to speak to, say, the commissioning editor at Vogue. It’s harder to say no to someone who is polite and charming. You want to give them as few reasons as possible not to hear you out. You want to make it as difficult as possible to say no to you. 

To play devil’s advocate for a moment, one of the most interesting and useful lessons I learned was at a talk organised by Lisa Pritchard Agency. An art buyer was on the panel and took an audience question. I don’t remember the question but his answer was along the lines of ‘pick up the phone and speak to X’. The audience member mumbled something about ‘not wanting to annoy anyone’. The art buyer shook his head and laughed and said these words, which I will take to my grave: ‘Do you think Rankin ever gave a fuck about being polite? No. And now he’s running an empire’. I channel this any time I’m feeling self-conscious about selling myself or chasing new business. 

I’ve never met Rankin but my interpretation was this art buyer didn’t mean Rankin was rude. (I’d bet money he’s charm personified) He meant he chased down his career and success without fear of what people thought of him and without taking no for an answer.  

3. Be hungry, say yes

You know as well as I do how competitive the fashion industry is. People are desperate for the opportunity to prove themselves and to be successful at something they’re truly passionate about. They’re smart, talented and ambitious. This means there is no room for half measures. In the past, I have had people tell me how much they’d love to assist me but when I had an opportunity to offer them, I got excuses: 'it's difficult to get into London that day' or 'I have a shift doing bar work'. Ok, BUT clearly you’re not as passionate about photography as you made out otherwise you would be there come hell or high water. These opportunities aren’t ten a penny, you’ve got to take them and run for the hills. Nobody wants to work with someone unenthusiastic anyway. It drags standards down.

It still makes me laugh when I think about when I temped in an office alongside establishing myself as a photographer. I got a call about a photography job on a day I was working in the office. I was really stressed because I wanted to take the opportunity but I couldn’t walk out of the office in the middle of the day. I phoned my mum. Without missing a beat she told me to make myself sick in front of everyone and walk out of there. I think a lot of people would benefit from some straight talk from Gretta. From that day forward I took every single opportunity that came my way. I missed birthdays, I worked every weekend for about 2 years, I didn’t have a day off for 60 consecutive days, I stayed up late editing photos and got up early to double job. Yes, it’s hard work, make no mistake. But you haven’t a hope unless you're prepared to put it in. 

Whether or not I vomited in front of an office full of people will remain between me and my mum.    

4. Create opportunities for yourself

So you’ve been grinding, you’ve been charming, you’ve been passionate and you haven’t taken no for an answer. Finally, someone is going to give you a chance. Hurrah! Turns out, your big chance isn’t the inspiring and glamorous career you were hoping for. It doesn’t matter. Smile, show your gratitude for the opportunity, commit and deliver the job to the utmost of your ability. Rinse and repeat. You have to show enthusiasm for the less exciting opportunities or no-one will take you seriously. 

Meanwhile, in your free time, put together a creative team and start making the kind of work you want to be commissioned for. If you’re a writer, start writing the kind of articles you want to have published. Creating work that inspires you is a double edged sword. You’re creatively stimulated and satisfied, which will bring energy to your commissioned work AND people will start to see your potential for bigger responsibility. Once you’ve earned your stripes, you'll start to get those commissions you really want. On this note, I would advise everyone to read 'Big Magic' by Elizabeth Gilbert. Inspiring stuff. 

5. Learn

Never stop learning, improving and striving to be better. Find someone in your field whose career you aspire to and look to that for inspiration. Find a mentor who can guide you. Seek 360 feedback. I ask my assistants after every shoot if they have any feedback, constructive or otherwise. I ask my clients if there is anything they would like to do differently next time. As soon as you think you know it all, you’re dead in the water.

A regular day on set!

I'd love to hear any tips you have about how you got into your field, leave comments below.  And in the spirit of practising what I preach, if you have any feedback on this post, let me know!