Year One

This day one year ago I made my first step in fashion photography. Since then, I deep dived into this incredibly complex and difficult and fascinating world.

Now, I’d like to reflect a bit on this past year and share with you my own resolutions for the new one.

Golden Cage Cover

In Retrospect

There are two ways to look back at this year: from a certain point of view, I shot a lot. And I mean A LOT. More than 30000 photos and a bunch of videos, all grouped onto tens of projects.

On the other hand when I look at what has actually contributed to the “Portfolio”, there wasn’t much. But that’s ok too: high quality work only gets out from a constant practice and a very strict editing. Show only your best work, right?

So, about the highlights: in 2016 I shot my first advertising for a cashmere brand, Il Borgo. During the year I also published a number of editorials, landing two (!) covers. I’ve been published on Elegant Magazine three times, on Superior Magazine and on Dark Beauty Magazine. Another bunch of editorials are still waiting for publishing. In September I opened my own studio, which has been a small dream of mine for quite a lot of time. Since then I shot a large number of portraits and tests I made.

With all that, my portfolio has finally begun to look like a real portfolio.

Parallely, I began my teaching experience at my Alma Mater, where I designed their new Videomaking Course. Later I moved on and — together with a colleague — founded a photographic school, Bottega Fotografica.

Those who know me are sick and tired of the fact that I’m always afraid of being left out, of being too old and progressing too slowly; but all things considered, I am just now approaching the 3rd year of professional photography (this January marks the anniversary) and I’m already here. Yet, I know that I could have shot more, marketed other niches and in general done things a bit better.

Gaijin Cover

Resolutions

Keeping that in mind, what are my new year resolutions?

#1 Shoot More Advertising

You could say a lot of things: that it’s where the money really is, that to be considered successful you should shoot a lot of advertising work… but to me advertising has always been “just” the true essence of Fashion Photography. In order to transmit the identity of a brand, you have to evoke specific emotions, and that can be done only when you unleash all your knowledge and creativity. To me there is nothing more rewarding than being chosen to understand, rework and portray a brand. I’ll work hard in trying to land more advertising jobs.

#2 More Editorials

I love shooting editorials. Creativity, team work and the joy of being published… how can you beat it? This year I would like to up the game a bit and try to get on higher-end magazines.

#3 Shoot Less

Yes, I know that my first two resolutions were “to shoot more” and “more again”, but I’d like to try to shoot more with less: slow down a bit and think more about the single shots. As I am now, I often overshoot because of my fear of not getting the right one. And every single time I do get the results I want, but I’d like to get better at understanding when I have already gotten it and stop waisting time.

#4 Streamline Workflow

You can never be too efficient: the more throughput I can manage, the more work I can take on. The problem here is that I have to manage too many fronts: shooting is just a 10% of the job. Production, logistics, job hunting, marketing and all things administration take an immense toll on the available time. I already am a production freak, but it looks that I need to get better again.

#5 Retouch Quicker

Another time sink is retouching. Don’t get me wrong, I love retouching my own images: without it the shots are just that… shots. Retouching completes the process, but yet it takes too much time. Part of the problem here is that I need to book a good slice of undisturbed time to really get into it. This is also part of the previous resolution: if I can manage to regulate my workflow better, probably it will save time with retouching too.

#6 Share Knowledge

Obviously I am planning to continue to put a lot of energy into my own school, Bottega Fotografica. But I’d like to post more specifically about fashion photography. Up until now you’ve only seen a few posts on this blog, but I’d like to create more  behind the scenes: photos, posts and videos. Usually I’m just too focused on the job at hand and I forget to shoot B-roll, but recently I got an assistant, so I’ve already begun to tackle the problem.

#7 Print More

There isn’t much to be said here. Being born as a digital photographer, I see most of my photos only on screen, but as I approached printing (and its difficulties) I’ve come to appreciate it more and more. Printing is on a whole different level: it elevates your work.
This is also a double fold resolution: I’d like to print only my best work, so printing more means that I have to make “more best work” (yes, I know it’s just a mind trick, but bear with me).

#8 Travel More

There is nothing like traveling and experiencing more cultures. “If money was not a problem” I’d spend all my time traveling. To me it’s not that much a matter of decompressing from work as much as a mean to get inspiration: I want to see as much as possible of this big big world.

#9 China Book

Last year I traveled to Switzerland, France and China. I stayed nearly one month in China, and this year I’m going to go there one more time in March. While I was there I began working on a side project of mine that I intend of putting out in the world this year (yes, it’s a photo book, what a surprise right?). I’m not sure if it will be appreciated or not, but reality is I’m just doing it out of selfishness, to express my view of today’s China as an in/outsider. But if you might be interested, let me know, I’d be happy to hear that!

#10 Continue this Career

The last resolution is a bit anticlimactic, but it’s the most important one. Being a freelance photographer is so damn difficult that I have often wondered if it was the right career (asians’ peer pressure can be truly destructive), but I can’t really see any other way for me now other than living and breathing photography.

At the end of next year we’ll see what I will have been able to accomplish and what not. In the meantime, thank you all for the support and the encouragement!

Garden Blaze

Garden Blaze is a fashion editorial published in the October issue of Elegant Magazine, available in digital or print.

And here are a few behind the scenes shots! This was before I got my own studio: we rented the excellent Primo Terzo.

Thanks to my amazing team, this was by far the most challenging shooting I’ve ever done!

The crazy ones! ❤️

Credits

Photography: Chen You Photography
Models: Martina @Casting Firenze & Giulia Renzi
Styling: Marta Biagini & Cristina Bozzi @Hylozoic*A
Make-up: Kizui Louze
Hair: Cristina Bertini
Graphics: Denise Paoli & Martina Volandri @Le Dame
Assistant: AD Photo


Gone

Gone is a fashion editorial published in the October issue of Superior Magazine, available in digital or print.

 
I wanted to celebrate the beauty that you can find in the ends. A night that nears the dawn, a love that ends, the innocence of the youth are all incredibly beautiful, so frail and feeble in time. The decadence of autumn and the nature that constantly reminds us of the passing of time are so powerful that I wanted to celebrate them.
 

Gone is an editorial that matured with time. Born as a simple and easy floral shooting for the SS season, we had to change plans and postpone it a bit… a month or six. But that was time well spent, because I got the chance to evolve the idea and change it in something more elaborate, something with more depth.

As you can see from the moodboard, the original name of the editorial was Halcyon. Its an archaic word that denotes a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy (we ended a bit further). When I envisioned this shooting I had just came back from assisting Lara Jade’s Workshop in Milan and I was heavily influenced/inspired by her style. I wanted to make something similar. Looking back now, it was way too similar.

Luckily, as I kept adding and deleting pins, the moodboard shifted and in the end we kept the floral elements, but with a darker mood…

Once we settled on a mood, it really sank with us. Working together with Cristina and Rachele we decided on a very simple but effective styling and makeup. Cristina’s taste tends towards all things ethereal and romantic, so it was a perfect fit for the mood. Rachele adapted very well to the mood and even if her makeup was very subtle, she continued to correct and perfect between each look. I tend to be a perfectionist in post, and with their meticulous work they really saved me a lot of time!

Choosing the location was pretty easy: I had already worked at CROSS+STUDIO during Lara Jades workshop, and I literally fell in love with their selection of studios (unlike the typical aseptic studio, theirs are fully furnished and designed in different styles: Factory and Industrial have a metropolitan look, Classic is a gigantic full white studio, Bridge has a modern taste and so on…). At this point of the production I already had in mind what kind of color grading I wanted to make, so I chose Liberty, which had brownish/warm colors combined with grey/colder colors.

Interestingly, even if I varied a lot with angles and poses, the shots I “saw” during the shooting closely reflected the final ones.
(Also: I definitely dont know how to use an instant camera).

I knew that makeup would take around an hour, so I had two hours to shoot six looks: twenty minutes per look. So, during the first hour, I quickly decided and tested the “sets”: six different spots where to shoot, and what kind of lighting each spot needed. I already studied the space from the photos of the studio, but seeing a location in person is different. I had to make some quick adjustments at the beginning of each look, but the obvious key was preparation.

Shooting day was an extremely hot and humid (and hot) day. The short trip from the metro station to the studio nearly killed my team. But as I booked only three hours for the studio, we had to get ready as fast as possible.

Luckily Rachele is a great professional and switched to full makeup mode in a very short time, and Elaine, our beautiful model, was from Texas, so she wasn’t really affected by the heat.

Honestly, the shooting part all a blur, but we manage to follow the schedule and Im extremely happy with how it turned out! This was definitely the fastest editorial Ive ever done (coincidentally also one of my favourites so far). And I can say for sure that without my team it wouldnt have been possible.

Credits

Model: Elaine @BOOM MODELS AGENCY
Styling: Cristina Biella
Makeup: Rachele Leoni


I Am “You”

Hello everybody! How are you?

Lately I spent a lot of time reflecting about my “brand” and my “target market”. Up until now I’ve been all over the place but I’d like to focus more. I know that I love fashion photography and I know that I like shooting campaigns and editorials. And that’s what I’m going to concentrate on.

The fashion world is an extremely competitive and image driven one (obviously). It's alive, evolving and everything is interconnected. I felt I wasn't representing myself in the right way. 

That’s also why I’m going to “rebrand” and begin using my chinese name from now on: Chen You (陈佑)! It’s catchy and easier to use both for me and for my clients (Chen is the surname and You is the name, if you’re wondering). How is it: easier, more difficult, indifferent? Let me know what you think about it!

And… that’s all! These next months I'm going to work on a few big projects, so I won’t publish much but expect BIG THINGS!

Grimilde

Everything began with a simple idea: “let’s make something together!”

That’s how my collaboration with Lu began. We have already shot together a few times before, but it was always cosplay photography. This time our mutual passion for the fashion world led us to work in a more serious and more thought project.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f1.8, 1/60 sec, ISO 200

The Collection

What I didn’t know yet was that Lu already had a collection. Not in her mind. Not just sketched. Ready. It was the collection that she prepared for her thesis, when she graduated in Fashion. She showed me the collection’s sketches and they were in a style and genre that I adored.

The collection was named Grimilde, by the Italian name of Snow White’s Evil Queen. I really liked it, so we immediately inaugurated the project code name GRIMILDE.

Mood

The first thing that had to be decided was a mood for the photos. In the beginning we weren’t really sure of what we were be going to do. Moreover, between our previous commitments and the fact that we live quite far from each other, it wasn’t possible to meet and discuss the shooting in person. We had to think about many things well in advance.

Collaborations are a good opportunity to grow artistically and create something that we wouldn’t be able to do alone; but communicating remotely is not easy, especially when you have to exchange ideas. That’s why even if some aspects of the shooting could be decided beforehand; for others like make-up or posing we exchanged some ideas before, but in the end we ended deciding on the spot.

That doesn’t mean that you have to take me as an example: pre-production is a very important phase and shouldn’t be overlooked. Having a clear goal is far more efficient and safer than going ahead blindly. Creating a mood allows you to have a common vision that can be transmitted to the whole team.

Model

Another important thing is the choice of the model, and Lu already had someone in mind: Roberta. A choice that turned out to be perfect: not only her features are just right for the look of the collection, but her great experience was crucial.

When you are shooting against the time, with the light that drops more and more, to have someone in front of you that not only follows your instructions perfectly but often anticipates you is priceless!

Shooting | Day 1

The main body of the shots had to be in a wild setting, so we decided for Villa Ada’s garden (which with its 180 acres, is more like a woodland than a simple garden).

Being so large, we lost some time before finding a point that offered the possibility to achieve a few different shots. That’s why we found ourselves short of time: we had to realise three different looks in three hours, but we ended up doing them in two.

Consequently the location and the lack of time, my choice of focal fell on the XF 35 mm, which is equivalent to a 50mm Full Frame. This means that I could easily switch from a wide framing to a narrow one simply by taking a few steps forwards or backwards, while also keeping a good control of the depth of field.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f2.0, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f2.0, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

Talking about lighting, the setup was quite easy: with ambient light underexposed by a stop, the main light consisted in a speedlight diffused by a white umbrella.

However simple, this setting had to be corrected constantly anyway: the sun was quickly setting (under the trees the light falls even faster) and the flash had to be moved constantly… in a sloping terrain. With low branches. With tall brushes just outside the framing.

But in these situations the best thing to do is to take advantage of the problems: it might be more difficult to keep the stand and the open umbrella outside of the frame, but if the light of the speedlight has to pass through the branches and is partly blocked by the leaves, when it falls it will also look more realistic. The only real difficulty was to keep the interaction between the ambient and the flash balanced, but I’m really satisfied with the results!

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f2.0, 1/30 sec, ISO 500

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f2.0, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

Shooting | Day 2

The second part of the day was my “fault”. I always wanted to do something with water, and this looked like the perfect occasion!

It might seem obvious, but working with liquids involves a considerable quantity of problems. First of all, you need a big enough tank. You also have to cover of mask the bottom of the tank in order to adapt it to your needs, and obviously you have to use hot water and heat the room in order to not freeze the model. But above all… you have to fill the tank. And empty it. All that water… my muscles hurt just by thinking about it.

Regarding the tank, my solution was to use an inflatable pool. It can’t substitute a real pool, but it’s a lot more accessible: once you’re done you can just deflate it and bring with you. It’s not a beauty, but as long as you don’t frame the edges, it’s a good solution.

For the water I wanted to get an effect that was really unusual. I searched and tried with various colorants, but none gave me the effect I was looking for. After a while I found the perfect solution: starch! It gave this slightly heavenly effect, as if it was liquid fog and not just the usual colored water. Furthermore it isn’t expensive, it’s easily available, and above all it doesn’t stain fabrics.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f5.6, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

We were indoors, so I just needed to close the aperture and increase the shutter speed to completely nullify the environmental light and control the light.

The main light was a flash diffused by an umbrella positioned on a side of the pool, slightly above the edge. In this way the light wouldn’t be reflected on the surface of the water but it would have stayed directional while diffusing the light.

For the fill light I had to deal with the same problems, but from a different point: I had to diffuse the fill as much as possible without making anything reflect on the water. The ceiling wasn’t perfectly flat, so the first thing I did was to point the flash towards a lateral wall. In this way the lateral light would reflect and diffuse enough to create an effective fill even without causing reflections.

After deciding the lights, it was just a matter of studying various poses and framings.

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f5.6, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm XF 35 mm, f5.6, 1/180 sec, ISO 200

Color Grading

Lately there has been a lot of talk about the importance of color, especially in video. In movies, color has always been used as an additional way to convey emotions and moods. Although it may seem obvious, the colors we find in front of us really condition how we perceive things. At some level, all fields exploit this thing: cinematography, advertising, graphics… in the same way, in photography it’s very important to use color not only to make a picture “beautiful” aesthetically, but also to help you communicate something.

One of the basic rules in any field that has to deal with the color is to never use pure white or pure black. That’s why often the more extreme highlights and shadows in my pictures "veer" towards one color or another, but never become monochromatic.

Being this a a very dark shooting, I had to pay a lot of attention to the shadows. I explored a few different options: in the beginning I pointed towards a purplish palette, then I experimented with blue and finally I settled with green.

Another choice I did was to almost completely desaturate the green leaves: as there was a mix of evergreen and seasonal plants, the vegetation in the background too often was a distraction than anything.

Simultaneously, I dialed down the luminosity of the less important elements and dialed it up on the most important parts, but always making sure that the lighting does’t become unbelievable. One of the worst things that can happen is to have the viewer distracted by an unrealistic lighting instead of watching your photo.

Lastly, one of the most important things that needs your attention, especially in heavily graded photos like these, is consistency. In the same way every scene in a movie works perfectly side by side and follows the same theme, a set of photos has to work well as a whole.

Fashion Retouching

Following the cut of the shooting, also the retouching techniques are drawn from the world of fashion.

The step on which I spent more time is definitely the Frequency Separation. I always begin with the low frequencies in order to eliminate the non-uniformity problems first and then work on the high frequencies to fix the skin texture problems.

Another technique I use a lot is the Dodge & Burn, which can be used in a lot of different ways. Personally I often use it coupled with Frequency Separation and sometimes to brighten and darken specific areas.

Anyway, having done most of the grading work first (especially with good makeup and a good model) the retouching step is not technically complicated. The problem is that it requires a large amount of time and attention anyway: even if the changes are very small and are not easily identifiable most of the times, as a whole they contribute to make a picture more harmonious.

As for color grading, it is much better to try not to overdo it: that way the post-production doesn’t become a potential distraction, but instead can be that little bit of extra spark that makes a photo special.


I hope you enjoyed this Behind the Scenes! I received a lot of questions regarding this shooting, and since I wanted to write something about the experience anyway, I took the opportunity to combine the two. If you have questions don’t hesitate to ask me!

I again thank Lu and Roberta, without their help it would have been absolutely impossible to pull off something so beautiful!

If you happen to be in Rome and you need a model or a stylist… you know who to call!

Credits

Model: Roberta Dalloway
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Stylist: Kizui Louze
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