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lagob asked:
Hi Zack, you mentioned before in some questions that some of the work photographers was showing you were not exactly fashion photography. Can you give examples of what is and what's not? Like a photo that's suposed to be fashion but it's just a portrait? I'm asking this because I'm enrolling in a Fashion/Portraiture class and I'm starting to feel that I will be not seeing fashion, and, worst of all, the knowledge coming from you is more than the class can give me. Thanks!

Welcome everyone! Thanks for coming out to my war photography workshop here in Toledo, Ohio today. It’s going to be a great day of shooting. Once the lecture is done we’re going to go out in the back alley here where we have some models dressed up in urban assault gear. 

The models are going to run around the alley yelling “bang bang” while I man the smoke machine. My first assistant is going to be throwing dust in the air and playing “The sounds of war” on his iPod. My second assistant is going to be sneaking up behind each of you at different times to yell “BOO!” so you get a real sense of fear while we are shooting.

While our models today haven’t actually been in a war, many of them are on the night security force at the mall and they’ve seen some action! Phil has called the cops on two break in attempts and Bob’s friends on X-Box live have told him he’d make an awesome soldier.

The key moment to look for is when Bob yells “Death to Phil” and throws a plastic rock at Phil’s head. You really want to get that shot. I suggest using your 200mm lens to compress the two subjects together and shoot around 5.6 or so to lengthen your depth of field. You’re going to get some really great war photography pictures today. If any of you need a bathroom break it’s down the hall to the left. There’s also a cooler in the back that has some cold water for you.

Now let’s shoot war photos!

Students leave workshop and blog about their experience shooting some great war photography with some awesome soldiers.

Students leave fashion workshop talking about the great fashion pictures they just shot with some awesome models.


Ahem. I make this analogy that is caricature of garden variety modeling and fashion photography. I’m mostly speaking to dudes in this post because 90% of these types of questions on my blog, on this Tumblr, and of who I meet face to face are guys asking me about fashion. Ladies… Some of this applies to you. Not all of it but some of it.


Mall cops throwing rocks at each other and yelling “Bang!” isn’t war photography. Some softboxes, a pretty girl, and short skirts isn’t fashion photography.

Name me an environment that a guy in his 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, etc can justify hanging out with young girls in tight clothes without the social stigma of strip clubs and massage parlors? Name me an environment where a middle aged man can hang out with a hot young thang and still be able to talk about it in mixed company?

"How was your weekend?"

"Oh it was awesome. I hung out at a strip club all day Saturday with a bunch of other dudes. I mean. It wasn’t one of those where they get all naked. Just part naked."

"Oh it was awesome. Some friends of mine and I got together and we shot some fashion portfolios for some local models."

I’m a hot blooded American male. I get it. Don’t think that I don’t. Throw some pretty light on a pretty girl and still be able to talk about it at Church on Sunday like it’s nothing. Call it fashion. 

"That’s it Zack. You’re an asshole. I’m never coming back to this blog again. You don’t understand."

No. I get it. I do. I really do. Is this the whole of the amateur fashion industry? Of course not. I’m speaking in caricature but as much as I inflate this caricature you can still see what’s going on. I’ve worked with models who have story upon story of GWC’s (guys with cameras) who are behind that camera for a cheap thrill. I’ve been to meet ups where I just want to walk around and say, “Pick your chin up off the ground grandpa.” or “There’s a lightstand in your pocket. Might want to put that away.” Why do so many models on model mayhem talk about brining an escort to a shoot?


Honestly ask yourself. You live in a city that is not known for fashion. You spend a lot of time taking photos of girls who aren’t models. Speaking to male and female photographers here. What do you do with these photos? The models might make a little money being hired by other photographers who are also not shooting fashion. Maybe a few of them get picked up by a local agency for small local jobs for local magazines or commercial shoots. But other than that… what? I know a few photographers who have built a business shooting modeling portfolios like I shoot local bands for press kits and CD artwork. I know a few photographers doing some interesting, dare I say, fine art projects who use local models.

These models have dreams of being models. Ask any of them what they want to do and they all want to go to New York. Or LA. Or Paris. Or Milan. “Do you want to keep modeling in Toledo/Tulsa/Birmingham/Atlanta?” No way. They have dreams of “making it” like so many of the bands and musicians I work with dream of “making it”.

There is no shortage of people in the world who have been told how pretty they are and they should get into modeling. There is no shortage of people who play music who have been told how great they sing. There is no shortage of people who take pictures who have been told they’re really good and they should be a photographer.

If you’re going to really make it in fashion you move. You go to where fashion is. If you want to shoot sports you have to go to the stadium. If you’re going to make it as a war photographer you have to go where there is war.

If you have some dudes in a back alley running around yelling bang do not for a second try to tell me you are shooting war photography. I call bullshit.

Dudes running in a back alley and they are a stunt team that performs at corporate events. You’re shooting their promotional photos. That’s kind of cool. Get a smoke machine. Light them dramatically. Hmmm. Maybe you’re working on an Ad concept for Mountain Dew. That looks different then trying to hack together a “war” photo doesn’t it? Advertising and press and promotional photos look a lot different than war photos.

Pretty girl being OMG fashiony for no reason at all. I call bullshit. Pretty girl laughing in the sunshine for a local advertisement for your local power company. Commercial. Not fashion. Has purpose. Isn’t creepy.

42 year old insurance salesman in Toledo/Tulsa/Atlanta suburb has a portfolio full of 18 to 25 year old girls in bikinis because why? Toledo is the bikin captial of the world. Oh wait. No it’s not. It’s because Tulsa is the mecca for new voices of the fashion world. Ralph Lauren can’t get his private jet there fast enough. Nope. Maybe because a tool company is based there and they are always needing new calendars and posters to send to auto repair shops. That’s possible.

Portraiture. Everyone needs a great portrait of themselves. Pretty people. Ugly people. Interesting people. Boring people. Fun people. Business people. Moms. Dads. Kids. Grandmas. Everyone needs portraits. Families want them. Magazines want them. Business want them. Stock companies want them.

You can take some clues from the fashion industry and shoot a local business owner with a similar lighting set up you recently saw in Vogue Italia. Fashion inspires your portraiture but you aren’t making bad fashion. You’re making portraiture that has a little fashion flair to it. You’re subjects aren’t trying to be something they aren’t. You’re just giving them something a lot different than what they can get at the mall. 

Fashion has a role in my life. That industry lives on the edge of the creativity and someone is always throwing themselves over that edge and it’s interesting to watch. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it’s carnage. But it’s always interesting. You don’t look at model mayhem or a local fashion meet up group to see what is happening in the real fashion world. You look at the publications and major blogs. They live fashion. They breathe it. They eat it. They have a damn near unhealthy relationship with it. They are the gate keepers and purveyors of it. They are the editors.

For a guy who wears whatever was on sale at Target a year ago how am I going to go shoot fashion that’s worth a damn? I’m not. For a guy who lives in Atlanta how am I going to build a world class crew for world class fashion? I’m not. I can shoot editorial. I can shoot something close to it but you take my work to NYC and it will be thrown to the pigs. As it should be. And… as I have personally watched happen with my “fashionesque” work… by editors at magazines. Stuff I was really proud of. Thrown to the pigs.

This post have your tail between your legs? Good. I know what it feels like. I got my ass kicked by photo editors and art directors two years ago in NYC. I got off track with my work. I lost sight of a goal. I was beat about the head. I cleaned out my book. Shot new work and that new work has gotten me on radars and gotten me work. 


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