Fashion Blog Photography Part 1: Place and Time

I've been blogging for a while now, and I find it kind of amazing to look back on some of my old photos to see just how far I've come. It was just a few years ago that I was perching my little point and shoot on a stack of books in my living room, trying to get decent shots of an ASOS mini dress and a vintage cardigan. I feel like I've learned so much in the intervening time, about photography, fashion, and even who I am as a person.

2014: a simpler time. A blonder time. 

2014: a simpler time. A blonder time. 

It's been a fun process, but there are some things that I really wish people had told me when I was first starting out. Even though I often don't feel comfortable giving advice (there's always this voice in the back of my head, shouting about how much better other people are than me at this!), I thought that there might be some people out there looking to start blogging or improve their photography who may find some of this advice useful. 

Photo shoots are a big part of my life these days - I do them pretty much every week, and I really enjoy everything that goes into them. I find that the more prepared I am, the better they turn out, and that takes a few different forms.

Location

I'm constantly on the lookout for a great location for a photo shoot. Brian and I joke about it - we'll be out somewhere, and he'll realize that I'm staring at something in the distance. "Photoshoot location?" "Photoshoot location!" 

I'm not a big blogger with a lot of brand partnerships or money to buy access to cool locations, so I pretty much have to stick with public places, preferably ones where I can set up my tripod. Depending on what kind of look I'm photographing, I might keep an eye out for different settings. I'm lucky to live in a big city with all kinds of different architecture and interesting public spaces, but some of my favorites are:

1. Parks
Green space can be really nice, and a cool fountain or statue can really add a lot to a photo as well.

2. Museums
You'd probably need to enlist the help of a photographer to shoot inside a museum, but the outdoor spaces can be quite nice as well - think columns and marble facades and arches, which can give a shoot a beautifully classic feel.
 

3. Quiet side streets
I find this one a bit tougher, because the streets in Chicago with the prettiest houses tend to have the narrowest sidewalks; you might have a bit more luck than I do!
 

4. Industrial zones
Steel and concrete can add a really interesting edge to a look, and they're often pretty quiet on the weekends

Of course, the camera only captures a small slice of whatever is going on in the background. Sometimes all you really need is one cool feature to get a shot that works. A few things that I keep an eye out for include: 
1. Solid colored walls
2. Brick and ivy
3. Street art or graffiti

4. Cool looking doors (not, like, to someone's house, because that could be intrusive and a bit weird; but businesses and churches sometimes have architecturally interesting ones)
5. Tall grass, willow trees, rose bushes; plants in general can be pretty nice
6. Stairs

Most of the time I end up doing my shoots outside, which is why I'm talking more about outdoor photography than indoor. I take almost all of my photos myself using a tripod and timer; I find that a lot of the really cool looking buildings aren't too keen on people setting up tripods on their floors, so that limits my options quite a bit. If someone is taking your pictures for you, though, it's a lot easier to get away with, even in places that usually require permits. Biggest rule of thumb - just do it. If someone asks you to stop, you should, of course, do as requested, but sometimes they just don't care that much. If someone does ask you what you're doing or why, "school project" can be something of a magic phrase. A lot of public buildings will allow that, even if they don't allow commercial photography. 

Indoor location suggestions:

1. Hotel lobbies
2. Libraries/bookstores
3. Bars, restaurants, and cafes
4. Some office buildings
 (this might be a Chicago thing, but there are some historic buildings that are still in use as office buildings. As long as you're discrete about it, most guards don't have any issue with a photo shoot)

I tend to divide my shoots into two camps. For really special looks, I'll put in the time and energy to find the perfect location, and I might spend a couple of hours taking photos, making sure that everything is just right. Other times, I just want to show off my cute new skirt/dress/whatever, and if I'm in a bit of a time crunch, it helps to have a place nearby where I know I can get decent shots without too much effort. For me, that's a building on a quiet side street near my house; it has a brick wall with ivy slanting down the side, and it's interesting enough to bring a little something to a look, but not so attention-getting that it demands a showstopper of an outfit to go with it. It's really helpful, and I think anyone could benefit from taking a stroll around the neighborhood to find their version of the "brick and ivy wall."

Timing

So that whole thing about taking photos at sunrise and sunset to get soft, diffuse light? Yeah, that's totally true. While you can get some really beautiful, vibrant photos in bright noonday sun, it can be really harsh, and that's probably not the look that you're going for if you're trying to take nice photos of yourself. 

1. Sunrise and Sunset

It is really hard to get up at 3am on a Saturday to do your makeup, get someplace scenic, and take some photos. That said, it is totally worth it. Not only is the light beautiful, it's also quiet, and popular spots are usually nice and empty when the sun is just peeking over the horizon. Since I'm usually taking my own photos, I definitely appreciate the lack of people - it gives me the freedom to pose creatively and do what I need to do to get good shots.

Personally, because of where I live and where I like to shoot, I tend to prefer to do big shoots in the morning instead of the evening. That's not going to be true for everyone, though, and sometimes the angle of the setting sun just works better for whatever pictures you're trying to get. If you're trying to enlist the assistance of a photographer, you'll also probably have better luck doing a nice sunset shoot than a dawn one!

2. Cloudy Days

I try to keep an eye on the weather forecast - a few days full of overcast skies can really expand your options in terms of when and where you can shoot. After all, if it's cloudy enough that things don't really cast shadows, you're not going to get strange, unflattering shadows on your face. I still recommend trying to turn your face towards the light, though, as overcast skies can make things look a little flat.

3. Shade

I mean, this one is pretty obvious, right? If, for some reason, you have to take photos in the middle of the day, it helps to find a good patch of shade. Personally, I find it a bit easier when I'm shooting into the shade, with a wall or something at my back; it's a bit trickier if you have something brighter in the background. I also quite like how it works when the sun is slanting by at an angle - it can make for some interesting lens flares and other effects.

You can also make your own shade. I recently acquired a parasol, and I absolutely love the effect of it. It's a pretty prop, but it also helps diffuse the light on my face. You could also do the same thing with a scarf or large piece of fabric - it might read more artsy or editorial, but if that's the effect that you're looking for, it can be really beautiful and dramatic.

4. Bright Light

Diffuse sunlight is all well and good, but sometimes you have to shoot in bright sunlight. Maybe it's a scheduling thing (I know I've definitely had a 2 hour window on Sunday to put together a post for Monday, so maybe don't take advice from me after all...), or maybe you want a look that's bright and a bit hard because it works with the look that you're going for. Sometimes the interplay of light and shadow is what you want, even if it's not the most conventionally flattering.

In a situation like that, it's important to work with the light, not against it. If you can't help but squint, sunglasses are always a good option; a hand or arm up just to shade your eyes can also look really interesting and dramatic. Bright light, especially from a lower angle (not right overhead, but mid-morning or early evening), can create a really beautiful chiaroscuro effect, with one half of your face in light and the other in shadow. Tilting your face up to the sun, either wearing sunglasses or with your eyes closed, is also a lovely and dramatic way to use the light.

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So, to the other bloggers out there - what kind of advice would you like to give your younger self? What are your tips for finding the right time and place to do your photoshoots?