10 tips from a pro fashion photographer

A profile of a woman behind a circular window, shot with a blue gel filter. Taken by Jaroslav Monchak.
This image by Canon Ambassador Jaroslav Monchak was taken during a session with students at his photography school, Lighthouse. He used a strobe light with a blue gel filter to give the image a futuristic feel. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/2.8 and ISO800. © Jaroslav Monchak

Ukrainian fashion and commercial photographer Jaroslav Monchak specialises in tightly composed, superbly lit and stylish portraits infused with nuanced storytelling. His clients include international brands and top fashion magazines and, in order to deliver the high-end shots they demand, he needs to be on top of his game technically, particularly when it comes to lighting.

Based in Lviv, Ukraine, the Canon Ambassador started taking photographs in 2005, shooting mostly landscapes and macro images. "When I eventually tried portraits, I discovered they always offered me something new – new emotions, new people, new energy," he says. "I enjoyed it so much, I decided to take it to the next level and bought my first DSLR and a 50mm lens. After a while, I was able to turn pro and open my studio, where I taught myself how to work with light. Once you've mastered how to work with light, as well as how to handle the camera, everything else falls into place."

Jaroslav's photography school, Lighthouse, has helped almost 2,000 students, so he knows a thing or two about getting the best out of both models and photographers. "I tell my students to start with a close-up, and encourage them to gradually pull out to include hands, shoulders, hips and legs in the frame. But always gradually; there's never a need to rush," he says. "Do not regret a single click! The more you click, the faster the model takes on the role they are there to play."

Here, Jaroslav explains his techniques for fashion photography and shares 10 tips for capturing pro-level beauty and fashion shots.

A woman dances against a rocky background in a pale peach floaty dress. Taken by Jaroslav Monchak.
This shot, taken on location during a photography school workshop, is lit naturally. "I asked the model to jump in the air, to make a feature of her wonderful floaty dress," says Jaroslav. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/1600 sec, f/4 and ISO500. © Jaroslav Monchak
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1. Keep lighting simple

"Lighting can make or break your picture, but that doesn't mean you need to spend a lot of money on professional lighting gear. For most of my photos, I use just one light source and a white reflector. A common mistake beginners make is to get bogged down in trying to create very complicated lighting schemes, with lots of flashes everywhere. If anything, this only makes the picture worse. Think simple: choose your location, see what you have to work with, then think about how to light it."

2. Work with daylight

"Learn to work with daylight from a window before you invest in lighting kit. Ask your model – maybe a family member or friend to begin with – to stand or sit no more than two metres from the window. Shoot from all angles and sides to understand how the light falls on the model and how that affects the overall image. For example, if you want even light, without shadows, turn the model to face the window and stand with your back to it. This light is good, but not very interesting because it has no volume. Turn the model about 30 degrees and you should get interesting shadows which emphasise the shape of the face; try a 45-degree turn and you will see even more of a change in contrast."

A woman in a dark blue silk dress and a patterned headscarf sits with her back against a wall and her forehead resting in her hand. Taken by Jaroslav Monchak.
Jaroslav shoots in natural light wherever possible. "Here, the room was well lit and the light from the window was nicely diffused," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens at 1/500 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1600. © Jaroslav Monchak
A woman in a blue and pink headscarf sits at a table, resting her elbows on the table with her arms crossed. Taken by Jaroslav Monchak.
When Jaroslav does have to use artificial light sources, he tries to make the light appear as natural as possible. "For this shot I used two tungsten lights, one 5kW and one 2kW, which beautifully recreate natural light with a subtly warmer hue," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1600. © Jaroslav Monchak

3. Avoid mixing light

"I very rarely mix strobe light and daylight. If it is possible to shoot only in daylight then I will, and with just a reflector to enhance it. If I do need extra light, which is very rare, I'll use either constant artificial light or a strobe. I never mix the two. I would advise only ever using one type of light source."

4. Go dark in the studio

"I prefer to work on location but sometimes it is necessary to work in a studio environment. If you want to create a studio environment, I recommend making the space as dark as possible, as it's important that daylight doesn't interfere with your scene. Use a strobe light to focus interest on the model, and the light from a pilot lamp to focus and see where the shadows and highlights are. In the studio, I usually shoot at shutter speeds of about 1/125 sec, but it can get much faster depending on the length of the flash, which is usually set anywhere between 1/800 sec and 1/3500 sec."

A head-and-shoulders shot of a woman wearing a large straw hat, shot against a dark background. Taken by Jaroslav Monchak.
Jaroslav prefers it to be dark in his studio so he can focus the main light on the model. "I backlit the background and used a studio flash with a 120cm octagon softbox positioned to the left of the model to soften it," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/10 and ISO125. © Jaroslav Monchak

5. Experiment with artificial light

"I prefer to use a constant studio light or a studio strobe, but a ring light – usually a single circular fluorescent bulb or several connected small LED lights in the shape of a circle – can also be useful for shooting fashion and beauty. Lighting accessories, such as softboxes, umbrellas and reflectors, can affect the look and intensity of the light. Another useful technique is to play with the direction of the light and the distance between it and the model. All of these choices affect the character of the light that you create – and the best way to learn what works and what doesn't is to experiment. For soft light, I position large softboxes close to the model; for hard light, I use standard reflectors, 15-20cm in diameter, or a tube – although that can be harder to work with because it casts harsh shadows. The larger the softbox, the softer the light will be; the smaller the area, the harsher the light.

"If I'm out on location, or shooting in the street, I sometimes pair a 60cm x 60cm portable softbox with a Canon Speedlite 430EX portable flash (now succeeded by the Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT), which gives me interesting light in places where there is no access to mains power."

6. Adjust white balance

"One of the first things you need to do before you begin shooting is adjust the white balance, and reset it each time you move to a new location. The colours you see in real life will then be the same as the colours you see on screen and in print. The camera usually reproduces colours faithfully, but if you're in a scene where the light is particularly warm or cool, or with lighting from several sources, things can get tricky. If you're new to fashion photography, the camera presets are useful, but to shoot like a pro, take a shot of a grey card and tell the camera to set the white balance using the Custom WB setting."

A woman lies underneath a table with her arms above her head. Taken by Jaroslav Monchak.
"I teach my students to consider unusual ways to capture the model and to look for interesting backdrops. This image has both of those. It was taken indoors, lit just from a window," says Jaroslav. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1600. © Jaroslav Monchak
A pair of feet, in purple socks and animal-print loafers, poking out from underneath a mustard velvet sofa. Taken by Jaroslav Monchak.
This fashion shot, taken to advertise a brand of socks, was lit with a strobe and a 120cm octagon softbox. "I wanted to get a little creative, so I asked the model to lie under the sofa with just her feet and lower legs poking out," Jaroslav says. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/6.3 and ISO200. © Jaroslav Monchak
A male model wears a white coat and stands against a white wall in a photo by fashion photographer Jaroslav Monchak.

What's in a fashion photographer's kitbag?

Jaroslav Monchak reveals his favourite Canon cameras and lenses for shooting high-end fashion photography.

7. Pick the right camera

"Choosing the right camera is just as important as lighting. I need cameras that can perform in all conditions and deliver high-quality results. When I need that extra high resolution, I opt for the 50.6-megapixel resolution Canon EOS 5DS R because it gives me the best depth of field and a high ISO and feels comfortable to work with. For all other situations, I use the mirrorless Canon EOS R, which is also full frame, but lighter. I really like the colours that I get with it. If I set the exposure and white balance correctly, I know I'll be completely satisfied – the colours are so true to life."

8. Experiment with different lenses

"For most fashion and beauty shoots, I prefer to use a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. It was my first ever zoom and I'm just as happy with it today as I was the day I bought it. The 24-70mm is great for this genre because it covers the range of pretty much all my studio shots. For closer portraits, I prefer a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM or a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens as they best replicate how the human eye would see the shot. In low-light situations, the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens has been very useful, and I almost always shoot at f/1.2."

A man in a room lit by blue and magenta neon light stares at his reflection in a circular mirror on the tiled wall. Taken by Jaroslav Monchak.
"Mirrors are a great prop for playing with composition," says Jaroslav. "I loved the colours created by the neon light, so I relied solely on that, rather than add extra artificial light." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/2.8 and ISO5000. © Jaroslav Monchak

9. Manual vs semi-automatic modes

"I mostly use manual mode, as it gives me greater control of how the picture turns out. That said, if you're shooting on location on a cloudy, windy day, with frequent changes in light intensity, switching to Aperture priority mode gives you the ability to automatically adjust the exposure, which means you can concentrate on some of the other technical considerations – such as your model's pose, the emotions you want them to convey, and the composition of the shot."

10. How to focus

"When you're shooting fashion and beauty photography, the focus, more often than not, should be on the model. That might mean a full body shot if you're highlighting an outfit on a fashion shoot, or just part of the model if you're shooting shoes, accessories or makeup. Autofocus is helpful, and fantastically reliable on both the Canon EOS 5DS R and the Canon EOS R. I recommend using only one focus point and selecting One-Shot AF, which is ideal when the model is stationary. If I'm using the Canon EOS 5DS R, I select the central focus point, focus on the model's face, and build the composition without releasing the shutter. When I'm happy with the composition, I press the button all the way. This process is even easier with the Canon EOS R because you can use the touchscreen to quickly switch focus points. If your subject is moving – jumping, walking away or dancing, for example – switching to AI Servo AF helps you to track the model and keep them in focus."

"And that's it. Once you know how to work with light, the camera and the model, you've got it."

Napisal Natalie Denton

Jaroslav Monchak's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Jaroslav Monchak's kitbag, containing Canon cameras and lenses.


Canon EOS 5DS R

The 50.6MP full frame CMOS sensor in this DSLR is capable of recording extraordinary levels of detail. "The Canon EOS 5DS R gives me the best depth of field and a high ISO and feels comfortable to work with," says Jaroslav.

Canon EOS R

A full-frame 30.3MP sensor with impressive detail, ISO performance and Dual Pixel CMOS AF. Jaroslav highlights the colours he gets with the Canon EOS R as one of the things he likes best about it. "If I set the exposure and white balance correctly, I know I'll be completely satisfied – the colours are so true to life."


Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional-quality standard zoom that offers outstanding image quality and a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range. "The 24-70mm is great for this genre because it covers the range of pretty much all my studio shots," says Jaroslav.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

With its fast maximum aperture and rapid focusing system, the compact, high performance EF 50mm f/1.4 USM standard lens can be relied on for superb performance in any field of photography.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

A short telephoto focal length, combined with a large maximum aperture and fast autofocus speed, make the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM an ideal lens for portraiture. "This and the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM best replicate how the human eye would see the shot," says Jaroslav.

Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

The RF lens that sets new standards in photographic performance, delivering supreme sharpness, extra creative control and a low-light performance that's simply remarkable. "In low-light situations, the RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens has been very useful," says Jaroslav.


Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT

The successor to the Speedlite 430EX that Jaroslav uses is a powerful and portable flash with radio triggering. Radio-frequency triggering makes off-camera flash easy to do, and opens up new ways to get creative with your photography.

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