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!





Finding a Photographer to Shoot Your Outfit

The umbrella is fun but it detracted from the dress so I didn't use this photo for the contest.
The umbrella was a fun prop but it drew attention away from the dress so I didn’t use this photo for the contest. I love the light in this photo. (photo by Susie Biehler)

I knew that if I wanted to enter the BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern contest, it would be a good idea to find someone to photograph my dress. My husband has taken pictures of me wearing various hats or outfits but what usually happens is that I get impatient with posing, he gets impatient with taking photos (“OK, is that enough?”), and then we don’t get all the shots I really need. Plus he gets annoyed at my digital camera, which is too small for his hands (hubby is a big guy – 6′ 3″). So here’s what I learned about finding a photographer to shoot your outfit.

Search engines can be very helpful. I searched “fashion photographer San Francisco” and sent emails to about a dozen local photographers. Though I knew I couldn’t pay someone to photograph me, I could offer a trade, a hand-sewn top or something else, such as a custom-made tote bag. Because most of my experience is sewing women’s clothes so I mostly contacted women photographers. For the male photographers I offered to make a tote bag or something for a woman friend.

I began my search around the last week of January so I was cutting it a bit close. At that point, I had picked out my fabric but I hadn’t done any sewing yet. Photos needed to be uploaded to my BurdaStyle project page by February 15. So my time was running short, in my emails I told the photographers that I wanted to do the photo shoot sometime between Februrary 5 and 14 and that I could come to their studio or we could shoot outside, whatever was easiest for them.

I also mentioned that they would retain ownership of the photos and that all I wanted was digital files to post on BurdaStyle and on my blog. I also said that I would write about the photographer in my blog.

I got responses from most of the people I emailed. One was interested but sick and wasn’t sure she’d be well enough in time to do the photo shoot, another was going to be out of town during my dates, a few photographers said they couldn’t do it for trade because that was how they made their living. One photographer told me that her rate was $400/hour (yeah, way outta my nonexistent budget!). And the rest just didn’t respond.

After a few days, I realized I needed to explore another option — asking people I knew if they knew any photographers who might be willing to shoot for trade. I sent emails to a couple likely friends and here’s where I got lucky.

One lovely friend of mine works on a community newspaper and she passed along the contact information for a couple photographers, one female and one male. I emailed the woman first and later that day she told me she was interested! She told me she was available on the morning of February 9 and that we could shoot in San Francisco, perhaps among the trees in the Presidio, which was near her home.

That photographer was Susie Biehler, who’s a fine art photographer and shoots these really striking photographs of water and nature. (Check out her beautiful work here.) She wasn’t a fashion photographer but she told me that she’d done some fashion shots and new store openings for the community newspaper. I figured that she knew plenty about light and she was willing to do it in exchange for a hand-sewn top, so of course, I hired her.

The week of the photo shoot, she suggested that we shoot at the Palace of Fine Arts, a beautiful San Francisco landmark that was made famous by Alfred Hitchcock in the film Vertigo. The photo on this page is an outtake. Tomorrow I’ll be posting about the photo shoot.