Rossella Vanon is an award-winning, internationally acclaimed fashion and beauty photographer, born in a sunny small city in the centre of Italy. Her love for art has been clear since the very early days and her deep adoration for the ‘creative’ grew stronger and stronger year after year, and slowly turned into a little colourful addiction to nurture and cherish everyday.
Rossella has worked alongside some of the most professional teams in the industry and has built an extensive client list over the years. Her work is published in over twenty national and international magazines and her name is now well known in fashion blogs and photo communities all over the internet.
Join us as we get to know Rossella. She tells us about her big break, how much preparation and planning really goes into a fashion shoot, and she graciously gives advice to photographers who are only beginning to work with models for the first time.
How did you become interested in photography?
In a very unexpected way. I have always been shy in front of the camera and pretty much a fugitive every time one got pulled out of a bag, so the way photography sneaked into my life and turned it upside down makes me smile everyday. It was 9 years ago when I’ve taken an actual picture with my dad’s Sony compact camera for the first time. I was fascinated. I then decided to borrow it for the summer holidays and I think it pretty much took a couple of years for him to see his camera again after that! I loved being able to stop the time and capture memories forever.
What would you consider your “big break”?
It may sound strange, but I don’t think I have ever had a ‘big break’ just as much as I think every shoot I do is. The photography business is made of so much hard work; every shoot is the result of hours of brainstorming, planning, testing, meeting, communicating, imagining, editing. By the end of the project the produced images feel like little babies and as a proud mother you always have such big plans for them. You want to step up, get better, do better, do more, do it in an even more unique way.
Every new shoot turns into your big break. That said, I do think there have been certain milestones in my career that have helped it take the direction it took and grew bigger, like winning the Professional Photographer of the Year Award last year, the Artists Wanted – Art Takes Times Square Award and having three Honourable Mentions in last years’ IPA (International Photography Awards).
What is your proudest moment as a photographer?
When after an editorial shoot the images are edited and published in a great magazine and I can finally share them with the world. I’m very bad at keeping secrets and having to keep editorial shots I’m very happy about to myself for a long time is so hard!
What’s your gear list? Is there a piece of equipment (besides your camera) that you just can’t live without?
I currently shoot with a Canon 5D MarkII and my favourite lenses are Canon 50mm F1.4 and Canon 100mm F2.8.
My lighting kit consists of Bowens Gemini 500R with a good range of softboxes (my absolute favourites) and other diffusers.
I couldn’t live without a roll of old film. Although I mainly shoot in digital for my editorial and commercial work, I still love the feel and experience of film photography for my personal projects.There is nothing like shooting visualising pictures in your head, keeping this little secret only between you and the camera until the images are developed and finally materialise.
What’s your favourite photo that you’ve ever taken?
Although this may not be my very favourite picture at the time being, I’m still very emotionally attached to it more than any other shot I’ve ever taken and I feel like paying homage to it.This image is a take from my very first fashion (editorial) shoot, taken in January 2011. It was my first time experimenting with a full fashion team and having to co-ordinate it from beginning to end. It started a bit as a game, to try something new, but I ended up absolutely loving every part of it and getting the shoot published afterwards. My team was very talented and we ended up collaborating again for several more shoots after that one.
Who and/or What inspires you?
Nature is the main source of inspiration for my photography and my life in general. I am absolutely fascinated by it and slightly addicted too. There is nothing to recharge my batteries and inspire me like a hike in the wild; nothing that can better impersonate beauty than a perfect orange sunset on a pink sky; nothing like the natural perfection of a flying bird with its coloured feathers to remind me that there is beauty in everything, it just likes to hide in the details sometimes.
Do you have any formal training in photography? If not, how did you acquire the skills you have now?
I have never formally studied photography, although during my last year in university (I have a Degree in Sound Engineering) I started reading and studying photography books by myself to learn a few tricks of the trade. Books helped acquiring the basic knowledge I needed to get started, like how to use the manual mode in my camera, understand all the settings, the types of lenses and the types of lights. It gave me a general base on top of which I could start building up the actual art of photography. You can’t learn that through books, that comes in through your eyes. It’s what you look at and how you see it, and it is something that comes with experience and hands on in the business.
How would you describe your ‘style’?
Colourful and feminine but with an edgy, dark side. Always inspired by nature and light.
Any advice for photographer’s trying to latch onto a style of their own?
Experiment! Take some time doing absolutely everything before you jump straight into the photography business trying to choose a path of your own. Art needs time to develop and refine, especially when you are not trying to copy someone else’s work. Follow your inspiration, experiment and stay true to your taste even when it gets tough and it doesn’t seem to be taking you anywhere special. In my opinion, it is the only way to produce something really unique. And if you are putting heart, mind and skills into it enough, it will certainly pay off at the right time.
What do you enjoy the most about teaching workshops?
I love being able to pass on knowledge that I felt was the hardest for me to acquire on my own when I was starting my business, like having the chance to work hands on in a studio to practice lighting or having a good idea of how the (fashion) photography business works behind the scenes. I also very much enjoy meeting new creative people and I absolutely love seeing the satisfied expression on their faces when together we take a shot they are very proud of at one of my classes.At the moment the workshops are in the form of actual fashion shoots in collaboration with my very talented styling team, and they include an editing session and a business seminar too. They are currently based in London, UK and further information can be found on the official Rossella Vanon Photography Workshop website.
How did you develop your passion for fashion photography?
I started with nature photography several years ago and then (for the sake of experimenting and finding my own style, as mentioned above) I slowly started shifting into portrait photography to get out of my comfort zone and try something new, to find out where my heart really was, where my art was taking me. During my ‘portrait years’ I did a lot of networking with other creatives and got to meet talented makeup artists and hair stylists who I started inviting to my shoots, and we slowly started collaborating on new projects. Simple portrait sessions subject-photographer were now becoming more complex projects with the participation of other team members, and that’s how my portraits slowly grew into fashion. Shoots became fuller and fuller and the styling more and more refined.
How do you ask your models to pose for you?
Before they get on set I find the time to chat with them, usually while they are in the makeup and Hair phase, and talk them through the theme and mood of the day’s shoot. Just like actors, they need to get into character and the more information I provide the easier it is for them to understand what role they are playing, what mood they are following ,who they are turning into for the next 8 hours. I always prepare visual references of poses and facial expressions I would like them to use as inspiration from to show them before they get on set. Once the shoot starts communication is the key: taking the time to patiently and clearly explain what you would like from them is always the most effective way to obtain it. Sometimes getting on set yourself and showing it to them miming the pose and pretending to model is also effective and the best way to have a laugh 🙂
Any advice for photographer’s beginning to work with models for the first time?
Take your time choosing what models you are working with, as the choice of your subjects can affect the overall level and style of your photography dramatically. Whether your models are from modelling agencies or not – don’t settle for a subject you’re not quite sure about: being inspired by who/what you shoot is the first rule for successfully developing your own style and producing stunning images.
What do you enjoy doing when you are not shooting and editing photos?
I love writing, music, animals, nature, spending time with people I love. Going for a long walk in the wild, meeting up with loved ones for a drink, going to the cinema, going rock climbing, chasing my dog and it’s huge deer toy around the house..
How much preparation and planning really goes into a shoot?
I don’t sketch unless I’m entirely sure of the exact wardrobe we are going to use on the shoot, which rarely happens, as precise poses only work with a certain precise styling and wouldn’t be as effective with just any other garment. I do create a good mood board (sometimes separate ones for wardrobe styling, poses, lighting and mood), and that helps me start visualising how I would like my shoot and precise images to look like. Often if I think about it enough they materialise in my mind in a very precise form. In that case I would take a lot of notes describing what I see so I can recreate the same mood on set.Here is an example of the mood board I created for my ‘Irrational Bird’ editorial for Doze magazine and one of the final images from the shoot. For this shoot I prepared separate mood boards for styling and posing as they were both very important elements in the project.
You have been published in over 20 national and international magazines, which is quite the amazing accomplishment! With that said, what’s something you haven’t done yet that you would love to do? Any “dream jobs”?
Many! Photographers never stop dreaming and striving for more. Although I’m very happy with what I have achieved so far, I would love to be involved in bigger and bigger editorials with some of my ‘dream publications’ such as Numero, 125, Dansk and many more. Stay tuned 🙂
When shooting fashion editorials, you are not the only one on set. There are makeup artists, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists and maybe even more…
My crew is my right hand. Although I may be the one with the task of visualising the project and the power of deciding which direction to take it with many decisions on set, nothing of that would be achievable at the same level without my talented team next to me. Fashion editorials are multifaceted projects, with many sides to take care of. Imagine a big beautiful marble: unless each side is perfectly smooth it wouldn’t roll, it wouldn’t work. In an editorial shoot every team member takes care of certain side of the project, and does it with 100% of her/his skills and energy. It is the only way to end up with a perfect marble and stay in the game.
Can you take us behind the scenes of a photo of your choice?
The image I’m going to choose is from my editorial ‘Queen of Clubs’, featured in Rankin’s Hunger TV magazine. This has been the most improvised shoot experienced to date, to prove that sometimes it is not necessarily a bad thing when things go wrong and everything needs to be improvised on the spot.
I had met this beautiful model from First Model Management during a casting I was having at my studio. Her look was so beautifully unique, I fell in love with her face there and then. She was only going to be in town for a few days and I didn’t exactly have a suitable project at hand at the time being. But I knew I really wanted to shoot her. I didn’t have time to arrange a commission letter with a magazine editor or even plan a complex concept to base the shoot on, but I decided to go ahead with the shoot anyway, planning something ‘smaller’. I got in touch with a new stylist, a new makeup artist and a new hair stylist I had never worked with before (it was so last minute all of my usual team members were already booked on the day) and all excited we started planning our little project. Then the evening before the shoot I learnt from the stylist that the clothes he had ordered from a different Country had not arrived yet and that he didn’t have any back up wardrobe option for the model to wear, which meant that the whole fashion shoot that like any other fashion shoot was mainly revolving around the clothes, was actually going to have no clothes at all. Surprise!
The morning of the shoot we all had to re-think our styling options and I decided to compensate the lack of clothes by dressing the model in light and props. Me and the hair stylist started playing around with the flowers I had bought for the day, creating different shapes and colour combinations. At the same time I started experimenting with 5 different flash heads, 4 of which had different colour gels on, to create a full, more complex lighting set up to turn my images into a more refined work of art than a plain beauty shot. And off we went, completely experimenting, going with the flow, the only certain things being the starting and end time of the shoot. And we ended up with this set of images which are still some of my favourites and that reflect all of our visions beautifully and completely.
The editing process was pretty quick on this shot, as everything was created in camera to begin with. The colours were all already there and all I did was enhancing their brightness on certain areas, together with a cleaning up work of skin and hair editing and adding a bit of highlights here and there.
Any big projects planned for the future?
Many! Several interesting collaborations, great editorial shoots and new workshops abroad. Very excited for the months to come!