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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

20 May 2015

Rachel Manns on how to get great imagery that sells your products

Contributor Sarah Ditty

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Rachel Manns will be photographing our upcoming event - SOURCE Summit: Future Fashion | Transformative Tech on the 10th June 2015 in London, UK. Here, we speak to Rachel about building your brand's image and how to achieve great imagery that helps sell your products.

Rachel Manns is freelance photographer based in London working with responsible brands towards a better world. She shoots for brands including: Made, Oxfam, Katie Jones Knit, Deborah Campbell Atelier, Luva Huva, Ere Perez, Brothers We Stand, Cowshed, Fashion Revolution + many others.

Rachel is also the UK correspondent for Peppermint Magazine, based in Australia – a green fashion and lifestyle publication celebrating eco and ethical style in an intelligent and positive way.

Rachel Manns and stylist Emma Slade Edmondson

Who do you think gets their brand image/photo campaigns really right?

As for a client that I work with, for me, Made really hit the nail on the head. They spend a lot of time working out who their market is and are keen to provide different style options in their lifestyle images. They always use beautiful locations and work with experienced models, makeup artists and stylists. They have a clear idea of what they want beforehand, but trust me enough creatively to play around with that, and it’s always made for such a great collaboration. Plus they’re all such lovely people.

As for an ethical brand that I admire but I am yet to work with, in my opinion Honest by are the epitome of aesthetic awesomeness. They have such high quality clean imagery, and it perfectly reflects their target market and price points.

Made Spring/Summer 2015 shot by Rachel Manns

Honest by, 2015

What are the main elements that make a photo press-worthy and high quality enough to feature on the pages of the most well known glossy magazines?

I think the image itself needs to make sense. Everything involved; the location, the lighting, the styling, hair and makeup, that all needs to sit in unison together to make the image work. There needs to be some kind of narrative, even if it’s really subtle.

For example: ‘‘Is the hairstyle spot on for the look you’re trying to achieve?’‘, ‘‘Who is this model, where are they going, does it make sense for her to have that handbag?’‘- that sounds silly, but all those things do matter. Even with cleaner studio shots, the narrative is still important, the pose and expression need to reflect the overall tone you’re trying to achieve.

Luva Huva new summer collection shot by Rachel Manns

What are your biggest pet peeves when you see sustainable fashion brands with photos that just don’t work? What do they commonly get wrong? What are the major pitfalls to avoid?

Before I answer, I just want to clarify that the answers to this question are by no means restricted to sustainable brands! Lots of smaller brands make these mistakes too.

Firstly, it really shows when a brand doesn’t use an experienced professional model. It’s not just about shooting someone that you think looks good, that person also needs to understand the art of modelling garments. It’s a job that takes a model a while to get to grips with, to learn about different angles and controlling every aspect of their body. Being able to pose well and display a range of expressions on demand is crucial; and thats where the experience comes in.

Next up, bad lighting can really damage an image. If the model and outfit aren’t lit in a flattering way, then you’re obviously not showing your pieces off nearly as well as you could be.

Lastly, I get really frustrated when I can see a brand has lovely pieces, but they’ve been badly styled or are hanging really awkwardly, or are really creased etc… When that’s the case, it means a brand is displaying their pieces at a much lower standard, and that can put off consumers. I would always advise using a stylist, (which I will talk about later) and if that just isn’t feasible, then you have to really work hard to understand the market you’re trying to appeal to. You need to do a lot of research, using things like trend forecasters, fashion blogs and Instagram.

And I can promise you that you will sell more product if you get these things above points right.

Ere Perez shot by Rachel Manns

Before you go to shoot a brand’s new campaign, what advice would you give them and/or tips they need to know to pull off the best shoot possible?

It’s all about the prep work. You need to know your market and work out a concept that suits your customers taste.

You should always have a clear idea of when your samples are going to be ready when approaching potential creative teams members, this helps with locking in a date.

You need to really think hard about what images you need, and what they are for. For example; are you going to need e-commerce, lookbook, lifestyle, product, concept shots etc… Knowing things like the dimensions of your web banners, printed layouts, online store boxes etc… are all really helpful to know and tell the photographer beforehand. You also need to think about how many images you realistically need, as a huge shot list will drive up the fee.

If you’re struggling to find a makeup artist or stylist, and you’ve already got a photographer (or vice versa!), you can always ask them for recommendations. Once you’ve confirmed a team, you need to give the photographer a brief which illustrates the type of imagery you’re after. Putting together a visual moodboard really helps, and then the photographer can take your concept and come up with an idea based on that.

Once that’s happened, I always think it’s good for the client to make sure that everyone in the creative team is on the same page and is very clear on the brief. This brief needs to be done and discussed with team members a good few days before the shoot. This will give the makeup artist and stylist enough time to make sure they have everything they need.

Another thing that I struggle with a lot, is people not understanding the length of time that selection and editing process takes after the shoot. I regularly get told by people that ideally they need the images the next day, which is entirely unrealistic. When thinking about your shoot date, you need to allow 1 to 2 weeks afterwards to receive the finished images (depending on the photographers schedule).

Rachel Manns for Oxfam Australia

So many start-up and small brands operate on a shoestring… how much money do you think is the minimum to pull off a decent photo shoot?

For a strong team that know what they’re doing, and to achieve a high quality finished product that will get you the interest you want and start boosting sales, I would say you’re looking at £2000. Now I know that that’s a lot of money, but for the sheer amount of work that goes into it by everyone involved, it is an accurate amount. Just with me personally, there is all the shoot planning and preparation beforehand, the actual shoot itself, the selection of the images, the editing time etc…

A big challenge in the creative industry today is that there are always people with less experience who will offer a brand their services for free, or extortionately low fees for portfolio reasons (and I hold my hands up, I was completely guilty of this in the past).

The big problem with doing that, is that it then strips away all the value from creative jobs in the industry as a whole. For me, it is exactly the same as fast fashion stripping away the value from clothing. It sounds cliche to say it, but us artists have to eat and pay the bills just like everyone else (and I really like food! (and really hate paying bills…)).

As a result of brands opting for cheaper options, what I see time and time again is that it doesn’t result in a strong photoshoot, and then they struggle to get any orders. If you’re going to start an ethical brand and make beautiful products, surely one of the most important things other than the products themselves, is to be able to sell them, otherwise you’re sustainable brand isn’t going to be economically sustainable for very long.

Why go to the trouble of spending all of that time and money making beautiful garments, only to show them off poorly? That isn’t going to get you the press coverage that you want, or the interest of the wider mainstream consumer market.

Investing in good creative marketing materials, is just as important as investing in the product itself. This goes for getting a good PR person too. Don’t spend all that time and money getting to a certain point, to then fall at the final hurdle. For me, in business, you need to spend a little money to make money.

Rachel Manns for Oxfam Australia

On that topic, putting together a team to do a good shoot – what team members are 100% necessary to make sure you get great photos?

All of them! Otherwise their jobs wouldn’t exist. I get really funny about not using a stylist, unless you have someone within your brand with professional styling experience, it really isn’t something you can get away with.

Similarly, hair and makeup is vital, especially under studio lighting. And I’ve already spoken about the importance of using a professional model! I guess most, if not all of the creative team will usually work with one or two assistants, so you can always try and ask if there’s any way to have less assistants on set (to keep down lunch and refreshment costs etc), but yes, my verdict is that everyone’s role is important.

Brothers We Stand shot by Rachel Manns

What things do you think a brand could scrimp on if they are working on a shoestring?

The area that is easiest to scrimp on would definitely be the location fee. If you’re shooting in a studio, there are some really great cheap spaces around. And also, lots of photographers (myself included!) have portable gear that they can bring to you, so if you can gain access to a fairly spacious area with a power supply for free, then they can set up a make shift studio.

If you’re looking to shoot on location and you’re on a budget, chances are you probably can’t afford Kew Gardens for £6000, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve a similar look. We all know people who know people who live or work in all kinds of different places. With a cheeky bit of persuasion and a couple of bits of your stock, I can guarantee you, you’ll be able gain access to somewhere awesome. And also, there are so many great public spaces that are available that you don’t need a permit for.

The Ethical Style Blog

What do you think makes you the go-to photographer for brands with a positive social and environmental mission?

I might be a little biassed, but I’d say I’m pretty fun to work with. In all seriousness, ethical fashion is something I live and breath. I feel deeply passionate about it, so much so, that I’ve dedicated my skill to aiding positive change in the fashion industry. I’m also connected with other conscious creatives, who are similarly passionate about the ethical fashion industry (such as Emma Slade Edmondson and Novel Beings), and this means that I can easily help you put an all ethical team together.

I’m also very close with the Peppermint Magazine team in Australia, so I can help your brand connect with them and potentially reach new international consumers.

I guess I absolute love what I do, and I feel so lucky that I get to do it surrounded by lovely humans trying to make the world a better place. What I would say, is that whoever it is you end up using for your all the aspects of your shoot, make sure they believe in your brand and your product, you’ll get more out of them that way.

How would you characterise your photography style? What do you think is your USP?

For me, my style seems to be quite airy and fresh, with an underlying sense of optimism and empowerment. I like to make the models I work with feel comfortable and photograph them in a way that shows them as the strong and free human beings they are.

I don’t like putting them in compromising or uncomfortable situations (it’s usually me standing in the middle of the road risking death, or lying on my stomach in a field to get the best angle). My whole vibe on set is to always treat everyone how you would like to be treated, and to not take myself too seriously. I try and make it positive and fun environment for everyone involved, whilst still getting excellent results. I’m not sure if that’s a USP… but I think it’s important and that my clients really appreciate it.

10. What do you think are some of the hottest trends in sustainability + fashion? What have you been noticing is going on amongst all the brands you work with?

I’m loving all the creative set design that’s happening at the moment, and I’ve noticed that heaps of brands are taking a much more artistic approach towards their lookbooks recently. Whether it’s concept shots of objects or patterns alongside the model images, or a really interesting lighting idea, people are seeming to want to get a bit more creative at the moment – which is great.

As for hottest trends fashion wise, there’s a whole lot of socks and sandals happening, loads of layering of different fabric textures, crazy pattern matching and people experimenting with really exciting dyeing techniques.

Katie Jones AW15 shot by Rachel Manns

Check out Rachel’s work here and get in touch.

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