If there is one thing we’ve learned at Fit Couture over the past three years, it’s the importance of good photography. The better your photographs show your clothing, the more likely someone will decide to buy them from you.
Take for example, some early photographs of the Miami II yoga top from our collection.
I shot those pictures on a mannequin in an upstairs bedroom with a $99 digital camera I bought on sale at Walgreens. I then used Photoshop to pull out the background, try to correct the color, and smooth a few wrinkles. Compare to later photographs we took:
Version 2 was taken with a Canon Digital Rebel SLR camera in a makeshift studio constructed of white paper backgrounds and some borrowed studio lights. We used an amateur model we found on Craigslist who had some experience, mostly with promotional work. An improvement over original, but still obviously amateur. A whole site filled with this sort of photo is a sales crusher.
Version 3 was shot with a professional model using the same camera as version 2. Note the difference in skin tone between Version 2 and 3. Version 2 has a grayish cast that make the model look a little ghoulish, distracting from the garment. That cast was caused by an inexperienced photographer – the model certainly had a healthier skin color, though she was very pale.
For the final version, we went with an experienced professional model. She was slightly taller and a little thinner than the first model, which makes a significant difference in terms of how the camera treats you. She also had a very slight tan, which gave her a skin tone much easier to light and photograph than the paler earlier model.
One word of caution, while we haven’t yet proven that there is such a thing as “too tall,” we have found that it is possible for a model to be “too thin,” especially for our type of clothing. The version 3 model fits neatly in the middle of our size small and if she were much thinner, would look very unhealthy in our type of clothing.
Using Professional Photographers
Early on, we looked at using a professional photographer to shoot our pieces but dismissed that option. To do 25 pieces with a professional photographer, stylist, hair/markup artist and two models was going to cost $10,000+ and that was just beyond what we were willing to spend.
We could certainly have reduced that price if we’d gone without a stylist and hair/makeup person and/or used a less expensive photographer. But, each time we looked at that, we still kept coming back to “how is this better than doing it ourselves then?” So, we decided to build a modest studio in our shop and Amy learned photography and Photoshop. Its given us the flexibility to shoot what we need, when we need it. We also own the copyrights on the photographs and can use them for whatever we need. If you use a professional photographer, be prepared to negotiate the usage terms of the photos.
In our experience, the typical scenario with a professional photographer is that they own the copyrights on any photos they take and then license back to you the rights to use them in certain specified ways. This can be ok, but be aware that some photographers will try and put time limits on the photos and then charge you again for the same work in the future. This is usually a bad idea for DEs, so try and find photographers that will give you full rights in perpetuity. Or, if the rights must be limited, make sure that the limitations are ones that you can live with.
For more input on this, I consulted with Rachel (a professional photostylist) who has found in her experience that this usually only applies to shots to be used for advertising campaigns rather than product shots. Different photographers are going to have different pricing models; the key thing is to make sure you understand what you are getting for your money. Rachel works out of Prague, in the Czech Republic and mentioned that larger lines may want to consider outsourcing some of their photography there. Rates are much less expensive than in North America but you still get first rate photographers, models, and stylists. (You can email Rachel directly for more information.)
A modeling agency will also limit your usage rights, though they will not own the copyrights. You will usually have to pay extra if you want to use your photographs for product packaging, billboards, or posters – none of which you need to sell online or via catalog. Make certain that you are 100% up front with the agent about all your expected usage.
Finding Models: Agencies
The easiest way to find a model is to call your local modeling agency and talk to an agent. Let them know what you are shooting and in general what sort of model you want. If you have specific needs in terms of height, weight, ethnicity, tan, (this is actually really important and most people forget while making requests), age, proportions, etc let the agent know. For example, the model we used in version 3 is a class of model known as a commercial model. An agency will put together comp cards (like a model’s business card with pictures and stats) from models that they represent and either mail, courier or email them over. Be professional when working with an agency. Do not ask them to send comp cards for every model they represent.
From there, the next step is to pick out the models that you think would work best and ask the agency to have them stop by so you can see them in person. This “casting” is normal and there shouldn’t be a charge if it is quick.Do not ask them to have more than two or three girls stop by for casting. If we’ve never met or worked with a model before, we’ll ask her to stop by and we’ll take a quick photo in our pieces. Do not skip this step. You will find that the appearance of the model in person or in your garments is often vastly different than their appearance on their model comp cards. The entire process should take no more than 5 minutes and have a place for the models to comfortably change. If you’re reviewing female models it’s customary to have another woman present.
Experienced professional models via agencies are expensive. Expect to pay between $150 and $250 per hour for the model with a two hour minimum. Rachel mentions that in Prague, costs are much lower and that models are most often paid by the job, not by the hour. I’m not surprised by this; you can pay a lot more for models here if you want, but this is what most DEs can expect to pay. Of course, if you insist on going with Ford et.al. you’ll pay more.
Finding Models: Craigslist
We have had some success in using Craigslist to find models. We advertise that we’re shooting soon for our line of fitness & yoga wear and are looking for models. We usually put the height/weight range we’re looking for and the hourly rate we’re paying and ask them to email their cards or photos to us. We actually located the model used in version 3 this way. She was new to Houston and looking to build up her book. If your product is good, sometimes a model will work in trade for merchandise but you should offer a regular payment first.
Regardless of what you write in your ad, you will get dozens of responses from amateur models that are nowhere near your specifications. Sometimes you will find a diamond in the rough, but its rare. Rare enough that we don’t even try any more.
Finding Models: Modeling Sites:
There are a variety of self-listing sites for models on the web such as One Model Place and ModelMayhem. We’ve tried to use these in the past with little success. Like Craigslist, you have to wade through an enormous quantity of models to find ones that you are interested in. And, at least based on our experience, you’ll almost never receive responses from them. I suspect the problem is that the models are getting so inundated with requests for “time for prints” work (code for: let me take pictures of you for free) that they eventually just stop reading their email. Rachel says she’s had good luck with ModelMayhem for styling work and that models she knows, check back often. For reasons I don’t completely understand, ModelMayhem does not allow clothing designers to become members. If you aren’t a member, you can’t send a model a message. Rachels says that designers can sign up as Wardrobe Stylists so maybe we’ll try that next time we’re casting but maybe we’ve been spoiled with agency models. It’s easy, no hassle, and the shoots are faster.
Tomorrow I’ll follow up with part two of this series: Styling Tips