Fashion and beauty photographer Rossella Vanon is a self taught businesswoman and entrepreneur. She has created work at the highest level with clients that include ELLE, Marie Claire and many other publications. Her tutorials have been featured at The Photography Show, The Photographers’ Gallery and in her recent book ‘Lighting People – A Complete Photography Lighting Guide’. She spoke with Luke Das from Team Calumet about her upcoming course at Calumet Academy.
When did you start your photographic journey?
I am from a small town near Rome. It is close to the sea. That is why I am always cold! Ten years ago, I was studying sound engineering – something really different to photography. My dad lent me his small compact camera for the summer holidays. I loved it and from that moment on I started taking pictures of everything. I decided to finish my degree in London. This city has really inspired my creativity. It has such a strong energy to it. When you walk around there are so many exhibitions and creative communities. It made me want to pursue photography even more.
How did you decide that you wanted to become a fashion photographer?
During my degree, I used any free time to learn more about photography. I read books and went out on shoots. I was photographing nature a lot because it was readily available and I could create work on my own. After my degree I decided to give photography a try. I never thought that I would get into fashion. I always took pictures of immediate friends and family. Meeting good hair and makeup artists started to make my shoots look better. A stylist that could bring clothes along gradually contributed to my transition towards fashion photography.
What aspects about the industry do you think have shaped your professional development?
Possibly mind reading skills! Well, you have to deal with people all the time. You are shooting with a model, you have to work with a large team and be their point of creative direction and coordination. Photography brings together the skills of being a producer and director. Communicating your ideas to everyone is never easy. You are in the middle and need to express your ideas with clarity.
Which genres of photography interest you?
I like to shoot beauty very much. Some of my favourite work has been created for makeup campaigns. Fashion is very important to me too. I love magazine editorial shoots. It is great to be presented with an empty canvas that allows me to express myself as a photographer. The creative freedom is wonderful. It is exciting to see your work in print with a title and credits beside it.
You can see from my portfolio that studio work is my preference. The logistics and permissions involved with location shoots are eliminated. I also love lighting. Being in a studio space allows me to carry out more complex lighting design. However, a location makes it easier to create a story and to produce a variety of shoots. Walking a little further or turning around can present a completely different backdrop around you.
What equipment do you favour depending on the assignment?
I have shot with a Canon 5D Mark II for a long time. I recently upgraded to the Mark IV. I shot with it during a recent job where we were using continuous lighting. We actually filmed in 4K, which produced some stunning results. It was a low light situation and the camera performed well. I look forward to comparing it with a flash photography assignment. The difference in megapixels is also very apparent. I really liked the speed of focusing and amount of autofocus points too. When I started, I shot everything with a 50mm prime lens. Then I got a 100mm f2.8 macro. I love it. It is really sharp. It is used all the time for my beauty work. For fashion I will use a 24-70mm f2.8. It saves me from running around and changing lenses!
I am a Profoto girl. 500w D1s are my standard studio flash head. On location, I like my B2s. They are simple to move around and combine well with natural light. We will use umbrellas because they are so easy and quick to set up. Sometimes I use an OCF beauty dish. It folds up to be very small and it is also fast to attach. I used B1s on a forest shoot. It was much darker than you would think. We used a B1 with an Octabox and it was perfect.
When did you decide to pursue teaching?
Teaching was something that presented itself over time. Other photographers asked me about private tuition and that is how I started. I was still learning myself but I was becoming more and more experienced in production and business. My first workshop consisted of five people in my living room many years ago. It was a lot of fun. There was one model, we discussed lighting and I covered the basics of developing a business. My clients always enjoyed my courses and it was a pleasure to work closely with them.
Learning about photography as a business is a challenge. There are lots of online tutorials about lighting, retouching and the like but not so much about business. Also a tutorial may not be relevant to everybody – it is dependent upon your location, market and level of experience. Addressing these issues in person is the only way to get appropriate advice. Not many photographers share such information on how to make your work shine and to appeal to your clientele.
What kinds of clients should consider your course?
Ideally, photographers that also wish to pursue fashion and beauty but not necessarily. There are things that are universal and are carried out in a similar way across the industry. For example, knowing how to properly address someone when you write an email, an understanding of search engine optimisation (SEO) and creating contracts. These aspects of business are appropriate no matter your style of photography. Anyone from beginner to intermediate or advanced levels are welcome.