Lara Jade: Exploring The Essentials In Fashion And Portrait Photography

Fashion and portrait photographer Lara Jade got her start in photography as a young teenager growing up in Staffordshire, England, with interests in self-portraiture and conceptual art. These interests came to life thanks to a confluence of events: her final exams, for which she wanted to do a paper on illustration; the discovery of the DeviantArt online community, where artists showed and shared their work; and the ability to stealthily “borrow” her father’s camera.

Jade began making self-portraits and enhancing them with an early version of Adobe Photoshop. “I would add fairy wings and other embellishments and use brushes and layers to create images.” Through these self-portraits and meeting and sharing ideas (as well as brushes and textures) on DeviantArt, Jade’s confidence in herself and her craft grew: “Meeting these people online and making friends around the world gave me confidence. We challenged each other and learned from each other.” It was the start of social media, and Jade “jumped on it early on, and that benefitted me even to this day.”

By 17, she started her own business and was getting a lot of work from social media. In addition to publishers who saw her work on the DeviantArt website, members of the then-large My Space community also commissioned Jade. “Because I did fine art and my work was different from the norm, it was much easier to get business then,” she says. Also at this time, her father counseled her to “set this up as a real business,” a suggestion she took to heart and to this day considers a critical component of professional photography.

Promoting Yourself: Making A Splash In A Big Pond

During the next couple of years, Jade’s interest in “the collaborative aspect of photography” grew, and she wanted to transition into fashion photography. With fashion’s four seasons, Jade was attracted to working with different themes within the changing face of fashion.

While London was, as Jade described it, a “big pond,” she was determined to move forward—even though her agent in Milan, who represented her fine art, questioned her decision, saying, “Why go into fashion photography? It’s hard.”

“Yes,” Jade recalls, “it was hard. I was thrown in the deep end, but I learned a lot.” She goes on to say, “I had to learn how to market myself. Before this, I had relied on social media. But in London, it was more about putting the right words in front of the right eyes.” In the end, she was—and is—grateful for having those “very difficult hands-on experiences early on.”

Facing impossible-to-afford rents in London, Jade returned home after about a year. But that didn’t last long. “I needed to go somewhere new,” she decided, and took off for New York City. “I fell in love with the city. I met a lot of photographers, and I needed the change,” she explains.

Brooklyn has been her home base, with her husband and dog, Stella, for the past decade. But Jade wanted to keep her London connections and business, so she still goes back and forth between the two cities for clients, which include Harper’s Bazaar UK, InStyle, Vogue Japan, Vogue Wedding Japan and Grazia Italia, as well as designers such as Monique Lhuillier, Mary Kay, Intermix and Danielle Frankel.

Being Versatile

From her first forays into photography, Jade quickly began developing the personal, creative and technical skills demanded of a fashion photographer.

“My early experiences with self-portraiture and conceptual photography taught me a lot,” she explains.

Being in front of the camera has helped her better understand how to communicate with models on set, and clients often reach out to Jade because “they want someone who is comfortable shooting women and can make them feel at ease.” In fact, clients have told her, “I can tell the model is comfortable with you”—an important goal since this translates into a model’s believability.

And believability is key, because, as Jade points out, with fashion, “You’re always shooting to sell something.”

To make a photograph interesting, however, “you can take trends and themes and put a story to it…For me, it’s usually on an emotional level.” Lately, Jade has been more minimalist in her approach, but, she adds, “simplest shots are the hardest to do. You have to ask, ‘What is your ‘why?’ What is the personal connection you have with the work that you put out there?’”

At the same time, Jade is expert at “photographing women to make them feminine but also [show] that they’re strong and can hold their own.”

Other strengths important to her work, again gained from early experiences, include learning to think on her feet, working within a budget and, equally important, being versatile. Jade points out that “today’s budgets are tighter, and I’m very hands on. I’ll do whatever I have to do. I used to do all the hair and styling, so if we can’t get a hairstylist, I can help with that.”

Collaborating And Communicating

“If you want to get into fashion photography, you have to put all those little puzzle pieces together,” Jade cautions, adding, “You want to choose the right person, the right fit for the brief”…whether it’s the stylist, makeup artist or any of the other professionals who are part and parcel of a shoot.

For editorial shoots, Jade tries to “do more of the casting because then I have a level of control,” helping to ensure that the model fits with her style. “That’s the way you get your vision across.”

For client shoots, “I might come on later in the decision-making process.” Although for some emerging clients, she says, she gives her opinion.

When casting, it’s important to make sure the model(s) “are a good fit for the brief. If you need movement, do they have that type of experience? Are they comfortable in front of the camera?” If, however, you’re testing for building up your portfolio, a new model “is going to be quite green. Be kind to them on set, put on music to help them feel at ease, especially music they’re familiar with. And feed them!”

With test sessions, it helps to ask the models what they need for their portfolios.

Regardless of the model’s level of experience, Jade says, “Always talk to the models. Get to know them, break down any barriers.” During the shoot, “If I like an image, I’ll show it to the model so they can see how it’s all coming together.”

The team for a shoot extends beyond those on set. Jade shoots into Capture One and will apply her special recipe of curves and tones whenever possible.

Otherwise, she’ll go through selects at her studio and apply this “recipe.” This way, the client sees an “almost finished” image. Once the selects have been adjusted, she sends the images to a retoucher to clean up—for hair, skin, the fit of a neckline, etc.

“It took me time to get comfortable outsourcing my images,” says Jade, “but it’s really important to collaborate and grow with a retoucher. It saves lots of time, and I can use that time to market and get more work.”

She makes two important points about outsourcing images to a retoucher: “You always have to know how to do something to tell people what you want. I learned enough [about] retouching so that I know how to communicate what needs to be done.” And, she adds, “I like to use retouchers who are familiar with my workflow and my ‘asks,’” which she sends in her notes.

Choosing Your Tools: Gear And Lighting

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV had been Jade’s go-to camera until recently, when she got her hands on the Canon EOS R. The latter, with its touchscreen tap focus and Camera Connect app, is ideal for her current self-portraiture work (and for taking portraits of her cute dog, Stella). While she’ll keep her 5D Mark IV, the EOS R is now her main camera.

She’ll be changing over to RF lenses soon, but for now, she uses her current lenses with an adapter for the EOS R.

Jade prefers prime lenses and consistently uses the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, the 85mm f/1.2 and 100mm f/2.8L macro.

She’ll often use the 50mm for covers since it provides more room for text. The 85mm is her go-to lens for portraits and some covers, while she’ll sometimes use the 100mm macro for close-up portraits. When shooting outdoors, she’ll switch to the 24-70mm f/2.8L, since it allows her to zoom out for full-length shots without having to change lenses.

Looking at her images, one is immediately taken by Jade’s lighting style—yet another reason that clients are attracted to her work.

When she started out, Jade used a lot of natural light because that was what available to her. She’d shoot in the shade and near windows and used reflectors to create soft light for her subjects. And, she notes, “there’s a lot of diffused lighting in London” because of the weather.

She rarely uses lights outdoors, depending, instead, on natural light for those shoots. To diffuse the natural light, a 4 x 6-foot Westcott Scrim Jim travels with Jade wherever she goes.

Initially intimidated by studio lighting, Jade is now comfortable in the studio, creating her signature soft lighting using 5-foot octaboxes with two layers of diffusion material. Depending on the shoot (and studio), she also may use window light with a low power pop of light in the corner, primarily for the catchlights—an important component of her style.

Eyes are a prime focus for Jade, and “catchlights help to engage and connect with the subject.” Lately, she’s been using a 7-foot Westcott umbrella, since it provides a large source of light that, when diffused, delivers the beautifully soft lighting that Jade is well known for.

Her lighting kit consists of the Broncolor Move Kit, which she uses for travel or outdoors. Otherwise, she’ll illuminate her subjects with the Broncolor Senso kit or the more portable Siros kit.

The aforementioned Westcott Scrim Jim is useful in the studio as well. “Sometimes, I’ll aim the lights through the scrim” to produce a large but diffused source of light. “Whatever I need to do to get that layer of softness, I’ll do.”

Mentoring And Learning

About 10 years ago, Jade began to get requests, asking her to share her thoughts about everything from her working process to the business of fashion photography. But when she started in the industry, “there was no information about fashion photography,” so she began sharing her knowledge by holding workshops.

From there, the education portion of her business “began to evolve,” as she participated in The Portrait Masters program and Creative Live.

She has created a fashion series of videos that covers techniques and the business side of fashion photography, and she offers online and in-person workshops in NYC and London.

She also has recently expanded her offerings to include one-on-one mentoring and portfolio reviews. Her online store offers three series of Jade’s Photoshop Actions. And she regularly presents and shares on Instagram.

Fashion photography is more than it appears at first glance. As Jade explains, “it’s really an umbrella” that covers everything from jewelry to portraiture to wedding photography and beyond.

Using a fashion approach to the genres that fall under this umbrella helps “modernize and freshen” a photographer’s perspective.

Jade feels there’s a lot to learn from how fashion photographers research and produce their shoots and study the way they light, style and pose their subjects. In fact, Jade suggests, adding this approach to your own style will serve your clients well by taking a similar approach. After all, Jade says, “Every portrait and wedding photographer’s clients want to be on the cover of a magazine.” 

To see more of Lara Jade’s photography, visit larajade.com or find her on Instagram @larajadephotography. Be sure to visit larajadeeducation.com for more information about learning opportunities.

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