A photographer is only as strong as his or her weakest component—which means everybody on the set has to be in top form, according to New York City fashion photographer Sarah Silver. “If one detail is off, then your shoot is going to be sub-par,” she explains.
Perhaps this meticulous attention to detail is why Silver—who has built an impressive clientele, including Matrix, Wynn Hotels & Resorts/ Cirque du Soleil’s Le Reve, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Vogue en Espańol, and Italian Elle—has perfected the art of efficiency.
“There are always a million ways to do something, but the real challenge is to pick the way that will render the best results in the least amount of time,” Silver says. This is especially critical in the hectic hubbub of New York City, where everybody’s time is at a premium. “Everybody’s under a tight deadline, so fast delivery makes clients happy and eager to work with you again.”
Her propensity to get things done carries over to her crew, selected based on their ability to “make the machine run smoothly.” According to Silver, “Working smarter, not harder, is how we accomplish all tasks.” This includes setting up guidelines for the shoot itself. “We can’t afford to be sloppy, especially with digital. A systematic and consistent method for doing everything, from shooting to editing to archiving is a must.”
Silver ensures ultimate efficiency in a variety of ways. She swears by key commands (“the less you use a mouse, the faster you can shoot, edit, and deliver”) and automates. She also batches many of the studio’s functions (“I spend 10 minutes on file delivery and let the computer do the rest, so I can go home early!”) and uses code words with her crew so they can communicate without dragging the client into it. Overall, her efficiency is the result of consistency and a reduction of variables: “Being a creature of habit isn’t a bad thing at all!”
Silver prides herself on running full-service digital shoots “without any hassle, voodoo, or mystery—digital should be easy for a client from start to finish,” she says. There’s no secret to good digital capture, she adds, and clients love it when she shows them how the files will look in layout or with retouching modifications. “Many times we tweak the images right on set so they can go back to their office with a mockup of exactly what they want,” says Silver.
While each project is different, Silver’s workflow tends to follow a particular pattern. She shows up an hour before her client does. Once the client arrives, hair, makeup, and styling are completed while the lighting is set up. Once the model shows up, there’s a final lighting check before the actual shoot. Silver edits the images while the lighting and styling are adjusted for the next shot. The client receives an online contact sheet with final edits, the full shoot, or both. Edits can be received as early as that same day.
Silver’s lighting technique merits special mention. “I try to make the subject stand out from the background. Many times I prefer to use hard, small light sources at acute angles that really accentuate the model’s face and body and bring life to the clothing,” she says. “A large underpowered source can be used as a fill to bring out the rest of the shot details, if necessary. I also use a lot of black and white fills instead of extra lights because cards and flats help to create that mood with much more subtlety.”
Silver keeps her digital prints in Moab archival boxes, which offer dual functionality: They store her prints and tear sheets in a dust- and moisture-free environment. “I can’t afford to have my prints go yellow on me—it’s expensive and time-consuming to reprint. With precious few copies of each magazine tear sheet, I need to store these like they’re in a museum. Since all my prints are output on Moab paper, which is archival as well, I know my prints won’t degrade like other nonarchival inkjet papers.”
Silver’s advice for other fashion photographers is golden: Shoot as often as you can, market yourself (she has a website, as does her agency, Kate Ryan, and is in the print and online versions of LeBook), and learn how to be the “mayor” of a shoot.
“There are so many details that have to be dealt with during a shoot—sometimes egos must be soothed and crises dealt with!”
For more of Sarah Silver’s work, visit www.sarahsilver.com.