9 ways fashion photos are unrealistic - without any photoshop at all!

9 ways fashion photos are unrealistic - without any photoshop at all!

Once upon a time, I hated photoshop. I really thought that the thing that made the crucial difference between reality and the insanely glossy ads in magazines was the post-shoot editing, plus, I'd read the research literature and was pretty certain that there was a relationship between said difference and just how crappy women tend to feel about themselves . Though, it's super-difficult to research, because no-one will let you isolate children from every item of mass media involving picture of women for 18 years just to see what happens, never mind fund it!

Later, I got older, had a job that made me realise that while mass media has a sort of mild corrosive effect on the soul, it is as a mere emery board compared to the hacksaw of a serious trauma, and then got a job that involved fashion photoshoots.

But also swords, so that's ok.

It was at this point that I began to understand that photoshop is the icing on the cake of idealisation. Also, I'm not very good at it, and it's all based on techniques that have been going on ever since photography was invented, and that even before then we did illustrations that were idealised instead.

Want to plan a photoshoot that is completely out of this world, even without photoshop? Here's the brief and deadly guide! Including an UNEDITED SHOT! I expect my industry plaudits any minute now ;)

1) Choose a model who is a statistical outlier (i.e. wildly unusual)

Even when people choose models for diversity . . . it's rare that you'd get someone "average". A size 22 model is usually as atypically proportioned as a size 8 model, and even commercial models (who are in many ways chosen because of their ability to be blank canvasses, i.e, bland) have faces that are for whatever reason photogenic.

Of course inevitably something will go horribly wrong and at the last minute you'll have to pick an entirely different model to do the job, but they'll still be just as not-average.

2) Choose a professional model.

Professional models spend way, way more time on their bodies than most of us do. If I had to spend as much time thinking about hair removal and skincare as Morgana does, not to mention answering inane questions about it, I would scream. Professional, experienced models also know what their 3D body looks like on a 2D screen - which is trickier than it sounds and involves an awful lot of being happy to endlessly check images of yourself and to do this weird stop-start micro changes to posing. That shot of a model looking relaxed on a couch probably took 37 uncomfortable tiny contortions to get to. Check out Playful Promises behind the scenes video for an example.


3) Book a location or studio you have carefully chosen

Depending on what you are shooting for you'll use a more or less elaborate backdrop, but you'll spend some time and effort on this, unlike the average "yeah we're at a restaurant for a birthday" slightly drunk camera shot.

We use plain backgrounds for shots intended for our other website, Hepburn and Leigh, because the people who use it are different and because it's a multi-brand retailer.

4) Light it up

From filters to weird reflective thingamabobbins, I always expect the "start" of a shoot to be a minimum of 30 minutes of faffing with lights after we actually get there. Anna from Playful Promises has been having fun with purple filters this year. Though this was shot on a budget, and is in fact the office floor!

Above: Deadly Red shot by Anna Swiczeniuk for the Lingerie Lovebomb campaign earlier this year

5) Spend even more time making up your model and doing their hair.

You know what I love? "Just got out of bed" fashion shoots. Because I KNOW that hair and make-up took TWO HOURS. I know cos I get told off by Morgana all the time for getting bored and talking and then there's lipgloss everywhere and no-one's happy. Models rarely seem to post make-up free shots, so here's my cheery, inexplicably pink face.


6) Style with thought and preparation.

Bigger shoots will have a stylist and yes, they really do run around going "Well I thought these gloves with this bolero, but dahling, it's just not working, we need to swap it out for the statement jewellery". But it's fine, because actually that will tend to work better for the shoot than the average person who dressed for work followed by feeding their toddler, when you tend to think more about what's washable at 40 degrees with other items (an eminently reasonable prioritisation).

7) Oh yes, also, ironing. I can't imagine most of you steam your bralets regularly, but for a shoot, we do. Don't even talk to me about how many steamers we get through. You'll also need a kit of pins, pads, tape and anything else you find handy for making clothes look better on bodies, though that may mean that from the wrong angle your model has a stegasaurus line of bulldog clips down their back.

8) Pose carefully, give feedback, keep checking what things look like, and remember it's way more important to get a great shot than represent reality. See below for an example:


Reality; Jess is 6 foot-ish. Morgana and Emmie are . . . not (oddly, all of them are the wrong height for most modelling agencies). To get a great shot with all of them in, we muck about with positioning so you have very little idea about scale.

Similarly, lots of people believe that Deadly Red (that'd be the redhead in the Lovebomb banner above) is a plus size model. In fact she's just petite and full busted, so she's no wider than other sample sized models. You can see this slightly better in this new shot from Playful Promises.



7) Take a MILLION pictures.

It's so easy now with digital - just keep snapping till you get a good one. Though time is money, hence why you still prefer working with professional models who have a clue. This is our screens post-shoot:

In my nightmares, thousands of tiny, nigh on identical models pose in faux stop-motion, all demanding to know what's working, whilst I try and check that all the suspenders are aligned and their garments haven't wrinkled.

8) Pick the best

This may involve a fight between you and the photographer, as "artistically" best is different to "shows of the product" best. Still, unlike real life, naff shots do not get uploaded with everything else, you just select one with some care.

9) Crop it, sort out its tilt, and a few other basics.

I'm no editing genius but even I know a good or bad crop of a picture can make a heck of a difference. At the rate instagram's taking off, I'm guessing you do too.


Now you hit up photoshop. Or, if you have someone who is a whizz at it, to the extent that it's cheaper to photoshop in a fancy background than it is to organise one (Hi! Morgana actually spends more time on our curtains than our models!) - THEN, and only then, do you much about in photoshop. Or potatoshop, as it's known in my household, possible due to my level of ability in it.

So here's the big reveal. I didn't think to ask for a shot of Lexy, our new, extremely not average but plus-size, bigger-than-G model, before the shoot, standing on the street. So all you get is the professional shot from the professional studio using talented people who both do this for a living, followed by the same shot (probably; I have 3 that are so similar I can't actually tell them apart) after editing.

Above: after we've worked our evil photoshop magic

Feel free to disagree with me in the comments, but do you not think most of the work happens pre-edit?!

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