Demystifying The Fashion Shoot
Creative Careers // Barbican x Warehouse
What exactly goes on behind the scenes to create the glossy photograph you see in Grazia, or a brand’s latest Instagram story? Over an evening scattered with Ugly Betty references, three senior practitioners from Warehouse shared their stories and answered questions in order to clarify the process behind a fashion shoot, plus give tips on how to get a place on set.
The speakers were Jill Gate (Director of Brand Communications), Kirsty Butler (Lead Creative) and Eve Dauncy (Senior Brand Communications Manager).
Since early 2018, the Barbican and Warehouse have collaborated on a collection, using Barbican staff as springboards for ideas and later as models. The photoshoot had the theme of ‘inside out’ and took place in and around the Barbican, the architecture playing just as vital a part to the images as the clothes. The panel explained the process behind a Warehouse fashion shoot, using the example of this collaboration to unpick the details.
For a commercial shoot of this size, the different roles involved include:
The art director follows through the creative process. “My role is to receive the brief and execute it,” Lead Creative ,Kirsty Butler said. “Putting a Warehouse spin on all of the communications we have and carrying it through all of our channels, from casting choices to lighting to photographer choices.”
A producer is in charge of budgets, schedules and making sure the process is carried through from start to finish. For larger projects Warehouse might also team up with a production agency.
Digi Op (Digital Operator)
A Digi Op manages the flow of the shots, making sure they’re cropped correctly and the light balance is right. They look after the assets coming through on screen. “We work on tight schedules so as soon as we see the shot we move on,” said Butler.
DoP (Director of Photography)
The DoP works with the videographer (moving image element) to direct the image. They are accompanied by any necessary assistants.
The stylist works with the team in advance and will usually have an assistant steaming and pinning on the day to minimise the need for any retouching later.
Hair and make-up (H&MU) plus any support they need. Styling and fitting are done prior to the shoot because, Senior Brand Communications Manager, Eve Dauncy said, “moving image is so unforgiving. You can’t just have pins in the back of the dress anymore.”
For this shoot, the creative team decided to use female staff from the Barbican to model the clothes. This reflected their desire to show the “inside” of the Barbican – the people who breathe life into the building – “out” in the environment of the cement structures and cascading greenery.
- Stage 1: Brief
A business will provide a brief of what to achieve, with a list of objectives. For this collaboration, Gate said, “we wanted to create a holistic partnership. We wanted something that meant something.” The aim of the brief is always “to tell the story of the customer,” she said.
The brief for the Barbican collection focused on the idea of ‘inside out’, inspired by the women inside the building and using them with the final product to show something relatable and attainable.
- Stage 2: Concept
The creatives come up with a concept to support the brief.
They create a presentation containing ideas for shots with reference photographs. For “inside”, the team wanted images of informal intimate moments on breaks. For “out” they wanted pulled back product focused shots. They then planned to combine the images, as if on a double page spread, and overlay quotations from the talent.
A storyboard for the videographer is provided with a list of ideas for full length, pulled back shots, panning shots (from top to bottom of a look) and tight shots (product details).
The brief also explains the deliverables and end usage. All the channels need to say the same thing to the customer, in store, online and on social. Because of this, images need to work both on digital and in print.
- Stage 2: Pre-production
Do the maths
Pre-production includes organising contracts, location, taxis, catering and all other logistical elements of the shoot. It must all fit into the budget. “I’ll have a very ugly looking Excel spreadsheet and once I know what I can afford and allocate, it’s about negotiating,” said Dauncy. Budgets are getting smaller, so it’s about finding the people you really enjoy working with. “I look for a partnership with a photographer who can authentically achieve the result I want.”
Option talent for approval
“It’s an industry that works on options”, Dauncy said. “Things don’t tend to get fully confirmed before two weeks prior, so it’s always quite close to the wire.”
They search for photographers who fit the brand. For this shoot photographer Phil Dunlop was an ideal option because of his eye for architecture and natural light.
Dauncy noted they don’t discriminate against young artists. “I don’t care if it’s an Instagram account without an agent. If it shows the skill it doesn’t matter to us.” Gate agreed and added a word of warning. “It’s up to you to get out there. Think about how you present yourself to the outside world. Is [your online portfolio or Instagram account] just you out on a Friday night or is it more curated?”
They all agreed asking for coffee is a good way to make new contacts. “We always need people to run on a shoot,” Dauncy added.
Casting involves finding the right people to tell the story of the brand so that it feels authentic. For Butler, it was important to ask the cast their opinion on fashion and for their favourite places in the Barbican for possible shoot locations. “I really wanted for them to look at the images and think: that’s me.”
Gate spoke about Warehouse’s move towards more diverse campaigns. “We’re trying to get more diversity on our website. It’s not keeping up with the trends because we think we should, but because we think that’s what our customer wants. This Barbican campaign was dipping our toes into the water of what happens if we use real women in our campaigns.”
Location scouting and recce
For this shoot, the team knew they were going to be based at the Barbican. On their recce (a test day to visit a site) they looked around the space for unexpected angles with good natural light. They took a lot of photographs with their selected photographer.
They’re looking for spaces that can tell stories. “We had a heads up of what was important to the cast, their favourite places in and around the building.”
Using a sunseeker (multiple apps are available) can tell you where the sun is at what point in the day. “Light is everything,” Gate noted. The architectural shadows that fall change everything, so giving time stamps for recce photos is key.
When working abroad, the creative team will try to find experts in their fields. Often they’ll use consultants. “To feel authentic you can’t just stick a pin in a map,” Gate said. They look to the people who live there, work there, party there.
The storyboard for this shoot featured the person, the look, their favourite space, a shot reference and possible locations. This helps the photographer understand what equipment they’ll need on the day in terms of cameras, lenses and lighting.
Dauncy was adamant about the importance of creating and sticking to a schedule. “Don’t think you’ll wing it and get through because you’ll spend half your day chasing your first shot and get nowhere.”
- Stage 4: Shoot
A day or two before the shoot, the team will provide a shoot-list summary and each member of the team will have a pre-production meeting or phone call. This is to take everyone through the objective and schedule, making sure everyone involved is well briefed and has everything they need to achieve a successful shoot. It’s also the chance to flag concerns and get any extra set.
A call sheet is given out on the day of the shoot or the day before. This tells everyone where they need to be when. Phone numbers are detailed in case of panic or lateness.
- Stage 5: Post-production
In post-production, photographs are selected and marked up, with various options provided for the executive team. On film, they take the rushes and go through two or three rounds of edits. The cost to go into retouch (“flaming”) is astronomical so best avoided. The editing team then layer on certain text.
A key element here is final delivery of the film being set for use on all platforms (e.g. different size screens) to bring it to life on all channels.
- Stage 6: Delivery
The final delivery encompasses online, social, in print and in store. When asked whether it’s worth investing in magazines, the panel was unanimous. “As long as there’s a coffee table, there’s a place for magazines,” Gate said. “It is still important from a brand-building perspective.”
“This industry still looks to itself,” Butler agreed. “Print media is still really important to that.”
However the changing media landscape has changed the way they shoot. They now also film vertically so it can go on Instagram stories, and invite Instagram influencers to the launch event.
The competitiveness of the high street means it is important to have a visual personality. “You don’t want to be brand agnostic,” Gate warned. You want your work to be recognisable as belonging to your brand.
Building a portfolio
“Experiment and find your handwriting,” Butler recommended. “Try different roles.” Working within advertising and editorial, agencies and brands are all very different experiences. The panel suggested that if you’re keen to work in an agency you should do it while you’re young. “It is intense,” Butler noted. “It’s a huge learning curve but tough. You’re constantly pitching and adapting. You can burn out quickly.”
Dauncy said what will get you noticed is “a mixture of passion and experience. The hunger and determination to work really hard speaks volumes.”
Ask people you admire for coffee and start creating a portfolio.
Reaching out to the audience
When asked which platform was most important for presenting their work, the panel agreed it depends on the customer. The key is to understand who your target customers are.
“We know for the younger generation we will speak to them most on Instagram,” Dauncy gave as an example. “Everything starts from your customer; through understanding who your customer is, you learn how to engage her. What does she watch? Where does she live? These are important to develop your tone of voice.”
Negotiating photography usage
Photographs serve as emails, social media, homepage and in store images for a whole season. It is part of Dauncy’s job to negotiate image usage. This refers to end use (where the photos will exist), territories (which countries they will be used in) and time period (how long they’ll be used for). If not organised beforehand, this can get legally messy.
Think about end use, Butler warned, not just “creating something beautiful for the sake of it. Think about where the story is going to live and where the image is going to be played out.”
Make sure the photographer knows dimensions of what you want and where it is going to be used.
The tone of ‘Devil Wears Prada’ cruelty has stuck to the fashion industry, with profit sometimes favoured over people, but the panel insisted they’d seen a change over the past decade and their company is full of encouragement and kindness. “It’s about finding the right culture fit, somewhere that feels comfortable,” Gate said. “It’s the radio station in the office, the drinks, how internal staff are looked after.”
Making other people feel comfortable is just as important, she added. “Being nice to people gets you so far.”
On set, Gate finished, “My main challenge is: Are we going to work together as a team? Because you can absolutely see in the final shot if they worked as a team or not.”
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Blog post by Kate Wyver