What Does it Take to be a Fashion Photographer in Singapore?
From the outside, the life of a fashion photographer seems like a glamorous one. The bright lights, the driving backbeat, the incredible locations and of course the beautiful people adorned by the latest in haute couture. It is an exciting profession with a frenetic, fast- paced lifestyle that opens the opportunity for a financially rewarding career. And where else would an aspiring fashion photographer build a flourishing career but in Singapore?
Since 2011, Singapore has consistently made the list of the top fashion hubs in the world. In 2015, Singapore was among the top 60 destinations for high fashion. It forms part of the East Asian Cluster with Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Singapore’s fashion industry is thriving. Not only is it home to many of the world’s most iconic labels but it has spawned some of the best fashion photographers in the business.
Daniel Ho discovered his love for photography while touring Singapore and Malaysia with his band. They needed media shots and with a small compact camera in hand, became the band’s official tour photographer.
From there, he decided to explore his creativity by shooting weddings and portraits. Transitioning to commercial and fashion photography was a natural evolution. Daniel Ho is the founder of One Click Wonder.
Zhang Jingna was born in Beijing, moved to Singapore and as rifle shooter represented the country in the ISSF World Cup from 2002 to 2008.
As a student of Raffles Girls School and La Salle College of the Arts, Zhang discovered a new weapon to shoot, the camera. By age 19, she dropped out of school and published her own photobook, Something Beautiful.
Her life as a fashion photographer has since taken off. Zhang’s work has been featured in Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. She has had exhibits in Milan, Hong Kong, New York and Beijing.
If you want to know what it takes to be a fashion photographer in Singapore, here are golden nuggets of wisdom from 2 of the best, Daniel Ho and Zhang Jingna.
- Be a Student of Fashion – It’s not enough that you learn how to operate your camera. You should also learn as much as you can about the industry.
Zhang suggests that aspiring fashion photographers shore up their knowledge on the following topics:
- Fashion history
- Different eras of fashion
- Fashion terminologies
- The iconic designers and image makers in the industry
- Different hair styles and makeup techniques
- Fashion in film
- Latest fashion trends
Being knowledgeable about fashion will give you a better understanding on how to approach a photo shoot.
- Learn to Work with People – A fashion shoot is not just the photographer and the model. It takes a team to carry out a fashion layout.
Daniel Ho learned this first hand when he ventured into portraiture. The importance of having a solid team behind the fashion photographer becomes more significant with a fashion layout.
Daniel counts 3 important components of a fashion shoot:
- Styling – This is composed of the hair stylist, makeup artist, art or set designer and the fashion stylist.
- Subjects – The models contracted for the shoot are the subjects and you must make sure they fit the theme of the layout.
- Location – Locations may vary in terms of conditions, feel and affinity. The fashion photographer’s job is to do his or her best that the other components can work their best with any type of location.
- Become Proficient with Fashion Lighting – Without light, pictures or images would not be possible. A camera is basically an invention that captures light and presents it as an image on film. Thus, if you want to become a fashion photographer, you should learn all you can about fashion lighting.
Zhang identifies the four frequently used lighting modifiers in fashion photography:
- Beauty Dishes – Responsible for making skin glow and creating contrast between hard and soft features.
- Giant Umbrellas – Creates a very even spread for lighting that allows better conditions for full body photography. It also highlights the details and colors of all clothing which is important in commercial fashion photography.
- Scrims – Typically used for harsh lighting conditions outdoors but can also be used for in- house production shoots. It requires more work and experience in setting up compared to the other modifiers.
- Octabanks – A highly versatile lighting modifier which has a shape that allows for a more rounded, beautiful gradient in the background. An Octabank can also give your subjects’ a rounded, more natural looking catchlight in their eyes.
- The Struggle is Real – Fashion photography is a rewarding profession. The competition is tight because so many talented photographers want to break into the industry.
It can also be an expensive profession. In addition to the cameras, you will also have to find ways to provide the necessary equipment. Daniel Ho remembers having to resort to Do- It- Yourself options during his early days as a commercial and fashion photographer.
For Zhang, she suggests having a day job to supplement your income while you wait for your photography career to gain traction.
In her experience, trying to break through the top fashion capitals of the world such as New York, Milan and Paris is very difficult because most of the paid work is given to the known fashion photographers. Aspiring photographers, as Zhang was, only get credit in the publications.
In this case, working in smaller fashion hubs as Singapore can be an advantage because it is easier to get paid work. Once you build a steady reputation and clientele, it will lead to a smoother transition to full- time work.
- Approach Your Craft as a Business – For many of the world’s best photographers, it all started as a hobby. But if you want to make your passion into a career, you have to approach your craft as a business.
Here are a few valuable tips from Daniel and Zhang on how to manage the business of fashion photography:
- Learn to Organize – Zhang lists down the following tasks you should learn to organize in your career:
- Organize file names and catalogues
- Copyright your work
- Cut out and catalog press clippings and publications
- Request for high- resolution copies of tear sheets
- Systematize your contacts list
- Regularly update your Curriculum Vitae and online profiles
- Invest in Your Business – In photography, not all investments require money. Oftentimes, especially during tough times, investment comes by way of time.
If you don’t have the resources, offer your services to fashion designers who are also trying to make it in the industry. Collaborate on fashion layouts where currency would be in the form of experience and a larger network.
According to Zhang, once you have compiled 5 to 6 fashion layouts, select at least 20 of your best work and create a portfolio. You can present your portfolio to the Photo Editors of various publications, modeling agencies and photo agencies.
- Network Regularly – Daniel believes there are many talented fashion photographers who do not make it because they do not network enough.
In order to be seen, you should make yourself be seen. Attend networking events, trade shows, business forums, fashion shows, art exhibits and photography galleries. You should always have copies of your portfolio and calling cards for distribution.
Daniel strongly advises reaching out and connecting with people in the industry: makeup artists, hair stylists, stage designers, models and of course, other fashion photographers.
Zhang recommends to apprentice or to work with more renowned fashion photographers in order to gain experience, improve your craft and to continually build your network.
Zhang also suggests offering personal work to friends, families and colleagues. It may not pay much, but it could lead to bigger and brighter projects if someone of prominence catches wind of your work.
- Go Online – One of the most affordable ways to network, highlight your portfolio and attract clientele is to capitalize on the opportunities available on the Internet.
The Internet draws billions of people every day. If you want to enhance your presence, you should consider the following:
- Build a Website – This is an effective way of getting your portfolio the visibility it needs. Think of your website as a 24/7 fashion photography gallery; it is always open to the public.
- Use Social Media – Social media is a powerful tool for generating word- of- mouth advertising. Post your best works in high traffic networks such as Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram and Pinterest.
Use LinkedIn to network with people in the industry. Join focus groups in Facebook and Google Plus to share your thoughts, ideas and best work with people within the fashion community.
To succeed in fashion photography requires hard work, persistence and dedication to your craft. But that is also the case in every other profession. The conditions may be different but the challenges remain the same.
As long as you stay true to your values, consistently render great quality of work and maintain respectful relationships in the industry you will eventually make it in the glamorous world of fashion photography in Singapore.
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