What happens when you mix influences of classical art, high fashion and street style? They fused during a two-day collaborative photoshoot around London as experienced fashion photographer and Canon Ambassador Wanda Martin explained her techniques to young photographer Rianna Gayle.
Both photographers directed a shoot, with Wanda steering the first day's fashion story inside a bohemian home and Rianna putting her new skills into practice the following day shooting street style in the urban environment of east London.
It was part of a new collaborative project between Getty Images and Canon to champion up-and-coming image-makers, called Young Photographer. This project series will see a range of established photographers and emerging talents work together on stories in different genres across the globe.
Wanda is a London-based fashion photographer and visual artist who has shot for Vogue and youth culture magazines such as Dazed and i-D, and is equally at home with both. She grew up in a small, conservative town in Hungary, but everything changed after she moved to Budapest aged 18.
"I got involved with this artistic scene and made friends with fashion designers and musicians – creative people who I found very inspiring," she says. "I realised that fashion is not only about creating beautiful images of beautiful people with beautiful clothes. It can also contain really important messages.
"My fashion photography and conceptual work are very much interested in the same things – questions related to identity, subcultures and outsiders, people who are different but also desire to belong somewhere. I think what's really amazing about fashion now is that it's about celebration of diversity. You can shoot your best friend, you can shoot your grandmother, you can shoot whoever you want."
Diversity is also at the heart of Rianna's portraits and fashion photography, which celebrate difference, gender identity and youth talent. As she explores London, from snapping street style at London Fashion Week through to shooting models scouted on Instagram, she's inspired to focus on the city's creative scene.
"I want to shine a light on young creatives, whether they are in fashion or music," says Rianna, who studied film and TV production. "I want to take photos of people who don't necessarily look like me, who are in the industry but are underground and haven't been in the limelight – up-and-coming artists."
Wanda's fashion style has been shaped by classical artists. "Since my background is in fine art, my visual references are often paintings and sculptures," she says. "I'm obsessed with 19th century paintings, such as the pre-Raphaelites' work. When I'm shooting on location, I prefer using natural light coming in from the side or from a window, as in classical paintings."
For this shoot in an eclectic London terrace, she harnessed the wide dynamic range and low-light capabilities of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II to use only natural light on a dim, indoor shoot. "This camera was love at first sight," she says, having used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II for the past eight years. Both remain in her kitbag and allow her to explore a key element of her photographic style – high ISO.
"I like to shoot at high ISO, because I like the grainy, noisy effect. It has an almost filmic effect that I really like. When it's a commercial job, the client doesn't necessarily like the grain, but I like it. I regularly shoot at ISO3200, but with the EOS-1D X Mark II I have been able to use ISO5000 and, while there was a little noise, it was so different to my other camera."
By pairing the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with her new lens, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, Wanda has increased her capacity for low-light shooting. "Before, I was using the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM and compared to that, you can open up the aperture much, much more [using the f/2.8L]. It just lets a lot more light in, so for shooting in low light and on location, it makes my life much easier. I also like using zoom lenses as, when I start shooting, I like being dynamic and don't want to interrupt the shoot to change lenses."
For Rianna, who has always been cautious of using high ISO, it was a revelation to see this part of Wanda's work. "I taught myself on YouTube and everyone said not to go past, say, ISO800, because it won't look professional, and she's shooting at 3200 and the photos all look amazing," Rianna says. "Grain is quite in at the moment, and I normally add grain to my pictures [in post-production], so it's interesting that I always go lower even though I'm going to add the grain later."
"We didn't shoot in a studio, as I wanted to show that you can make amazing photographs without a high budget, even if you use a small room at a friend's house," says Wanda. "I wanted to shoot in a very English house, a sort of messy, bohemian house." The quirky spaces are filled with the acquisitions of life – books line the shelves, magazines are stacked on the floor, clothes are piled high, and balled socks pour out of an overflowing drawer.
Wanda took several shots with model Daniel posed across the vibrant patterns of sofas and curtains, as well as standing amid piles of knick-knacks and clothing. "I like the contrast between the messy house, very bohemian, and his dreamy facial expression," she says. Throughout, Wanda relies on natural light to create soft images, adding subtle highlights from a hand-held torch to give a "sparkle in the eyes."
While the two photographers share interests in subcultures and the undercurrents of rebellion, and both prefer to cast on the street rather than shoot agency models, their imagery strikes different notes, with Rianna more attracted to vibrant colours.
For Rianna's shoot, she took to the streets, allowing canals, graffiti-strewn industrial buildings and housing estates to form the background of an urban fashion shoot. Snow and icy temperatures meant Rianna had limited time to get her shots, but the overcast sky encouraged her to experiment – at Wanda's suggestion – with coloured gels tied over a Canon Speedlite flash. These added a sunny orange glow to her photos of two models beside a housing estate.
"In winter, I struggle to take pictures because I prefer to use daylight but also like to shoot quite bright colours," Rianna says. "I find it's hard to get that dynamic look in overcast weather. Putting the coloured gels on the flash made such a difference to the shoot and gave it a whole new feeling. I've never used them on a flash before, so I'm definitely going to play with that more and maybe even do some inside shots with them because they look cool."
For Rianna, who is soon going freelance to pursue photography full-time, the shoot provided great inspiration. "I definitely want to shoot in the studio a lot more and really learn about lighting and how to manipulate that to get the shots I want," she says. "I want to do more planned shoots, as before I would just walk about and if I saw something I liked I'd stop. I'd like to go location scouting like we did for this shoot and find outfits to match the locations. Working with a stylist on this shoot was really cool; I was able to have options and bring my vision as well as hers.
"I'm not going to be afraid to play with my settings," she adds. "I normally always do portraits at f/2.8 or f/1.8, and I'm quite afraid to do wider shots. I always play it safe. I'm definitely not going to worry about bumping up the ISO. Normally I compromise by changing the f-stop but now I can play a bit more and change the ISO. I've learned to not listen to what everyone else says, to not worry about things looking perfect all the time, and to experiment a bit more. I feel more confident to try new things, which is amazing."
1. Be your own agent and champion
"When you start out, you have to be your own agent. Sometimes you send out 50 emails per day, and sometimes you get only one answer back or nothing at all. In the age of social media, you don't necessarily need to have an agent. You're managing yourself and putting your work out there. So many jobs found me through social media, and it's a very good way of finding people. You can just drop a message and amazing collaborations, and even new friendships, can come up. The most important thing, besides being talented and having all the technical skills, is networking. You cannot be shy, and you have to push yourself."
2. Use personal projects and editorial to get commercial work
"In order to get commercial work, I definitely suggest shooting editorial. It's not where the money is, but it's a very good way to experiment, improve your technical skills and find your own style. Personal projects are a good way to start thinking about what you're interested in, in terms of themes or topics. What kind of models do you want to shoot? What kind of locations do you want to shoot in? Through your personal work you develop a style that you're going to use in your commercial work, and you start building up a portfolio to show clients."
3. Create an authentic aesthetic
"The key is being yourself and being genuine by shooting what you're interested in. When it comes to building up your portfolio, you have to shoot whoever you want and whatever you want to talk about in your work – your images are your messages. First of all, you have to have a message, and it's good if you have a visual aesthetic. I'm very much inspired by 19th century paintings, and when you look at my pictures you can see that inspiration and reference. It's really important to develop a visual style of your own."
1. Start shooting whatever you can
"Get out and start shooting. Most of the shoots I did for the first few months were of friends. I begged friends to let me take pictures of them and fell in love with photography even more. It's a good way to learn because you know them, so you don't feel embarrassed if you don't necessarily know what you're doing, take ages getting a shot or have to say, 'This one didn't come out well, can I do something else?' I think that's how I learned to be a lot more comfortable, by just shooting friends and playing around."
2. Maximise social media and online resources
"Reach out to people on social media. There are a lot of people who are aspiring bloggers or models or stylists who want images for their portfolio and will happily work with you. I've mostly shot people whose fashion I admired online and I've seen on Instagram. Watch as much as possible on YouTube to learn from other photographers. There are so many free ways to learn now that you don't have to go to a photography lesson – I taught myself photography on YouTube."
3. Invest in a good multi-purpose zoom lens
"Get yourself a decent lens, even if you have a cheap camera body. My favourite lens is the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. I find it to be the most versatile. Primes are good, but when you're on a shoot and you want to get a variety of shots, I find that it's so easy to use a zoom lens. You can go for a really tight close-up or you can go really wide and you don't have to change lenses, so I find that to be the quickest and most versatile lens to work with."