With a client base in the Los Angeles Fashion District, I frequently find myself working with new fashion designers on their first photoshoot. I also find they are quite often given bad information by inexperienced photographers who themselves don’t yet have an understanding on what is involved. This page is to provide information on what is involved in an apparel catalog photoshoot, or a look book.
This is an overview. It can seem a bit overwhelming, but we are able to help you with each step listed below.
What is a Lookbook?
Lookbooks and catalogs are both a collection of photos assembled in an attractive layout to display a fashion designer or apparel retailer’s new line of clothing for marketing purposes. They can be printed or electronic. Today, usually both are used. The quality of the images and their ability to define the brand play as much of a role in the success of the designer as the designs themselves.
While many use the terms interchangeably, I tend to think of catalog photos as being simpler images, with the focus being on the clothing alone. Print catalog and web catalog photos tend to stick with simple backgrounds and keep any distracting elements out of the images. Although in many cases, lifestyle photos of the brand are incorporated into the catalog as well such as the example to the left.
A variety of approaches can be used to photograph the apparel for the catalog: using models, mannequins, or laying it out on a variety of backgrounds. Again, a mix of the methods can be used in the catalog layout.
Terms in this industry, and the photos themselves, tend to be used interchangeably by some, but I tend to consider lookbook photos to lean more toward ones that are going to define the look and feel of the brand. They create a mood, feeling, emotion, lifestyle or situation that the buyer wants to identify with… and thus they buy the brand.
This is also the type of image used in your advertising campaigns, point of sale displays, and as the lead photos on your website or at times your catalog. The lookbook can contain a mix of both types of photography. Again, both electronic and printed versions are used.
The need for high quality photography can’t be stressed enough. Skimp on the image you use to sell your brand and prospects will assume the same lack of attention to quality will be present in the clothing as well. It won’t just fail to work, bad photography will actually repel clients. Such was the case with a large fashion designer that turned the photography for their advertising over to factory employees, and used the same for models. They filed for bankruptcy and the reason given in the news articles is that their ad campaigns drove their client base elsewhere.
It is also important to develop a relationship with an experienced professional photographer that you can trust. As I work with clients over many shoots, the entire operation is streamlined. We find ways to be more efficient, improve the quality of each shoot over the last, and tweak the photography so that even better results are obtained. I can also work with clients on what will be the most cost effective way to produce the needed images, without skimping on quality.
Planning Your Fashion Photo Shoot
The first step is to define the shoot. What is the purpose of the images? Are they for a catalog where the focus is simply on the clothing… or ads and editorial uses where the goal is to establish the branding that makes consumers demand it.
Where will they be shot? In the studio? On location?
Will models be used, or mannequins, or still life images of the clothes laid out on a set?
Using models is the most expensive of the options. Not only will the model be required, but hair and makeup artists will be as well. A stylist is also needed and can be either a professional stylist, or one from your own staff. The models need to be carefully selected to have the right look for your brand. The best models are agency represented, and for good reason. Other options are available for sourcing models, but having a model who not only looks right for the brand, but is capable of expressing the right feeling and emotion into the shots is essential.
Be sure to obtain a model release, either from the agency or the model directly if no agency is involved. It is a legal requirement and must clearly spell out what is being released, and the usage of the photos.
The shots should be fully planned in advance. On catalog shoots, it is essential that a running log of what garment each photo is of as the shoot is in progress.
Be realistic in estimations of the time and preparation that will go into the shoot. A good photographer can help you with this. I find that most people, including many photographers, grossly underestimate the time it takes to do the job right. There are a lot of little details that must be attended to. Even brand new clothing needs to have the wrinkles steamed out, lint removed (yes, even on new clothes) and be pinned and tucked once on the model for a perfect fit.
I suppose we have all been trained into this thinking by the split second it take to snap a shot with you iPhone… but those photos will never gain you clients.
Digital photography didn’t eliminate the need to “develop the film”. But thanks to digital technology, we can take the photos to a much higher level than before. Basic retouching addresses such things as contrast and color correction. Beyond that we can now address problems with exposure, if any, skin texture, blemishes… or for that matter crate an entire fantasy world around the model.
Sadly, I see even the most basic of the postproduction steps skipped entirely by some of the bargain basement catalog factories. Using such people is a false economy. Photos with poor exposure, bad color and other basic problems won’t gain you clients.
Printing your catalog
Again, there are a number of options and planning is essential. The main thing is to determine who is going to design the layout, and have checks in place for approval of each step of the process before printing. Most of all, be certain to have a press check. That is, see a copy of the catalog printed to ensure the color is correct prior to printing the full run. This can add to the cost, but “digital proofs” are not that accurate.