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Fashion Photography – Tips for Making Something out of Nothing

Recently, I found myself in a conversation with a mentoring client who was feeling creatively stunted. I asked her where she wanted her portfolio to go and she said, “I want images like yours! But you live in California, and everything is pretty there!” I literally laughed out loud when she said that because California, while pretty, is filled with more urban yuck, specifically Los Angeles, than one can even imagine. I only wish I had infinity pools available to me, palm trees for as far as the eye can see, and no traffic to have to clone out! Even a green lawn, would be nice. But, alas, I’m not a Kardashian.


Beauty or fashion photography – not all glamorous

The honest truth is like anywhere else, locations are always troublesome to find. In Los Angeles County, to shoot on the street, beach or outside a structure, you need a permit. It’s a serious business. Applying for a permit can take a substantial financial cost, and if for some reason the weather is bad on the day of the permit, you’re out of luck. Because of this, I’ve learned to be more open-minded, and have found ways to “make it work”. You can too! Stop preventing yourself from making amazing images because you don’t have the right spot.

First, Don’t laugh at me. Nobody knows the magic behind the scenes, so keep that in mind. At the end of the day, the final image is all that matters! Trust me when I lead you down this liberating path of cheap backdrops, dirty backyards, and grocery store finds.

Reference #1: Create a backdrop from leaves

I shot a beauty story for Cosmopolitan magazine. I knew I wanted a lush tropical backdrop, and pops of color throughout. I called everyone I knew to see if anyone had bird of paradise, or other tropical looking greenery, in their back yards. Nobody had pretty backyards that were a good fit. So I decided to order some leaves from my local florist and make the backdrop I wanted. I decided my TINY backyard was the best place for me to shoot this story. So I will show you the final product first.

This is the image that went to Cosmopolitan.

Image 1b

Before we got started I set up a big piece of white plastic board I had in my garage. Why plastic board you ask? Because, I was out of white paper and it was there. I just needed a white background.

Using natural sunlight, I took photos of the leaves, cleaned and misted against the white backdrop for samples.

Image 2b

Then I took the photo against the white backdrop. Using midday sun. YES, 2 o’clock burn our your retinas, sunlight. Don’t be afraid of sunlight. Once you conquer it, you can shoot anything!

Image 3b

My assistant is simply holding the leaf up behind the model. Pretty, but missing something right? By adding the leaf samples (duplicating them) in post-production, it gives it such an exotic feel. You CAN do this. You have poster board, correct? You have nature around you, right? Use it!

Reference #2: Improvise

A cosmetic commercial client wanted a summer themed campaign, with the tagline, Summer in High Def. I pitched the idea of a pool shoot with bold aquas and colorful pops of color. She told me she had no location budget, I told her, “No problem.”

I took a quick stroll to my local grocery store chain. Luckily, it was May so they had lots of summer goodies in stock. I found an inflatable pool for $5. SCORE! Once again, at the end of the day, nobody knows what your set looks like.

Image 4b

The model barely fit in the five inch deep, kiddy pool. It was quite funny. The client LOVED the shots and couldn’t believe I pulled it off. I never had any doubts. This setup is my most requested one. Clients ask for it all the time. I simply say, “Oh yeah, it’s in my trunk”. They look at me oddly, and confused.

Image 5b

You can shoot at a mansion or in your own front yard, NOBODY KNOWS. Stop getting in your head that you need more. That’s what makes our business so beautiful. It’s really not about how big your studio is or how you have amazing locations. At the end of the day, all that matters is your final image.

Do you have any other make-shift background or location tricks? Please share in the comments below.


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Courtney Dailey
Courtney Dailey

, as a Beauty photographer, knows the business of beauty. Based in Los Angeles, she leads teams of beauty experts creating images from prep to post. She has been published in Marie Claire, Cosmo, Allure, Elle, Vanidades, and was chosen as one of FJ Westcott Lighting’s “Top 50 Professionals”. Since 2012 she has been helping other photographers find their visual voice through her website site Photo Beauty Coach.

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