My First Fashion Photo Shoot for a Dress

photo by Susie Biehler
photo by Susie Biehler

I’ve never worked with a photographer to shoot anything I’ve made. It was either me with my iPhone, friends, or my husband with a point-and-shoot digital camera. But this time I’d be working with a professional photographer – Susie Biehler, a fine art photographer who graciously agreed to take photos of me in exchange for a handmade top. (To see how I found a photographer, read this post.) Here’s what happened on my first fashion photo shoot for a dress I made using the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress pattern from the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern.

You may have read in an earlier post that I entered this dress in the BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern contest. I had never entered a sewing contest before but I knew that good photography would be important to present the dress to its best advantage.

We arranged to meet at the San Francisco landmark, the Palace of Fine Arts, which has a theater, rotunda, lake, and plenty of trees. Susie visited the location earlier in the week to see what the lighting would be like at 9 am. Though it had rained earlier that week, it was bright and sunny that Saturday morning. The temperature was in the 50s so it wasn’t very warm but it was bearable even though I was wearing a sleeveless dress.

I live in Berkeley so it would take me at least a half hour to get there, so I needed to change into my dress at the location. I didn’t want it to get wrinkled. You can read here about how I prepared for the photo shoot.

photo by Susie Biehler
photo by Susie Biehler

It was easy to find parking before 9 am in the morning. We met in person for the first time — and then walked around to the back of the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre among some trees and I changed there. Susie kept an eye out for morning joggers and I quickly unbuttoned my cardigan and slipped the dress over my head. Then I shimmied out of my jeans, put on my high heeled shoes, and was ready to go.

Every evening that week I was up really late sewing so I hadn’t really given much thought to how I would pose. I have very little experience modeling (I once posed in an outfit for a retail store in an informal shoot) but I know that I’m really not very patient and that I don’t have a repertoire of facial expressions or poses.

I thought that having a prop would be one way I could compensate for my lack of experience. It would give me something to do with my hands. So I  ordered a black-and-white full-size umbrella on Amazon.

I told the photographer that my goal was to show the dress to its best advantage. I also had had conversations with my work colleague Cailan who had attended fashion school. She has suggested that I wear high-heeled shoes, telling me they would provide some height and would make a big difference in the photos. She was right – I didn’t take any photos with the low-heeled shoes.

photo by Susie Biehler
photo by Susie Biehler

We began with me posting with the umbrella open and and then closed. I stood in an area where the sun streamed in between the columns and began smiling and posing, trying to keep my arms relaxed. I didn’t want to look stiff. We took photos there until we began losing light. Susie also pointed out that the open umbrella may overwhelm the dress so we didn’t take any more pictures with it open.

We left that area and walked along the paved path along the lake with the fountain in the background. Though we took a few shots there, Susie said the sun was getting too bright there. So we then moved to an area that had a bit of shade and took shots standing near a bench.

Then Susie suggested that I sit on the top of the bench back with my feet on the bench. I liked those photos. Then we moved over to a tree and took photos of me holding the dress out to show off the crinoline and full skirt.

I quickly ran out of poses and I couldn’t think of what other views I needed other than front, side, and back. It probably didn’t help that I was tired. I’d had less than six hours of sleep the night before and that entire week I’d been up until 4 am nearly every night working on the dress (I could only work on it when I got home from work). After about an hour, we were done. I couldn’t think of any other view to shoot.

To see the photos I uploaded to my BurdaStyle project page for the sewing contest, go here. All the photos on this page are ones that I didn’t post to that page.

photo by Susie Biehler
photo by Susie Biehler

Though Susie is not a fashion photographer, she did a very nice job. I also learned a lot from this experience. On the drive back home I thought of other things that would have been helpful. Here’s my list:

  1. Create a shot list – write down every possible shot you want so you don’t forget anything, for example, Full-length Views: Front/Back/Side/three-quarter; Bodice: Front/Back/Side; Details: Gathering at waistline; Invisible zipper; crinoline.
  2. Bring along a friend who can act as your stylist and tell you when some part of the dress is off because of your pose or let you know when your hair or makeup needs fixing. It’s hard to do it all by yourself.
  3. Look at some fashion magazines and get some ideas for poses. Search online for model poses. I didn’t have any time to do this because all my energy was focused on finishing the dress. Modeling is a skill — and unless you’re a natural at it, you should do some research and practice before a shoot. Otherwise, you’ll end up looking awkward and have a stiff expressions on your face.

If you have any other tips, please let me know!

 

 

 

 

Making a Dress from the Book: BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern

Construction Details A
Clockwise from top left: Muslin of bodice, pinning darts in fashion fabric and lining, pinning fashion fabric and lining at neckline, attaching neck and armhole facings to lining

In December I bought the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern at a sewing event at Britex Fabrics and I had also interviewed the author, Jamie Lau. Naturally, I had to make something from the book! And when BurdaStyle announced a sewing contest using a pattern from the book, I had some incentive to get going. But first I had to think about what to make and wrote here about my initial criteria and what I was considering. After I looked over the fabric in my stash, I knew that making a dress from the book would be my best option.

At first I thought I would use the pattern for the Jamie Shift Dress because I had some great wool crepe that I could color block. But it would have taken me a lot more time (and muslins!) to adjust the pattern so it would be more flattering to my curvy figure.

So I finally decided to use the master pattern for the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress. It’s from the chapter that features fashions from the 1950s, an era when dresses had full skirts and women wore crinolines.

Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 film Funny Face

This pattern has a square neckline but I decided to give it more of a boat neck, which is a style I really like. That neckline always makes me think of Audrey Hepburn and the dress she wore in the 1957 film Funny Face, which also stars Fred Astaire who plays a fashion photographer.

To change the neckline of the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress, I traced the neckline of the Jamie Shift Dress but made it wider at the shoulders.

I made one muslin of the bodice but once I tried it on I realized I made it too wide. It didn’t look right and my bra straps showed. So I traced out another pattern but only made it about an inch wider than the Jamie neckline — much better!

My other adjustment to the bodice was that I decided to line it. The pattern uses facings. So using my muslin, I cut out the bodice twice – once from my fashion fabric, which I got from Discount Fabrics in San Francisco, and a second time from my lining fabric (a lovely Bemberg rayon lining from Britex).

I pinned and sewed the front and back darts on all the pieces and then I pinned the neck and armhole facings to my lining front and back. My fashion fabric has a soft hand and I wanted it to give it a little more stiffness around the sleeves. I used a very lightweight interfacing on the facings.

Next I attached front and back at the shoulders of the lining version and the fashion fabric. To put the two pieces together, I followed the clear instructions in the tutorial “How to Line a Sleeveless Dress,” which I found on the blog Blithe Stitches. Though my dress wasn’t exactly sleeveless and it also had a side zipper, the directions still worked for me.

Tomorrow I’ll be writing more about how I finished lining the bodice, dealing with the side invisible zipper, and additional construction details.

In the meantime, you can see more photos of the dress on my BurdaStyle project page and you can vote for my dress here. My  dress is one of 20 finalists in the contest! So please check out the contest entries and if you’re a member you can cast your vote. It’s free to join!