Chad Sexton: The Effectiveness of Lighting and Posing in Fashion Photography

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All images by Chad Sexton. Used with permission.

My social media pages are:

www.facebook.com/csextonphotography

and on Instagram @CSextonphotography

Bio – My name is Chad Sexton and I am a photographer based in Phoenix. I’m not sure if I would be considered a portrait or fashion photographer, but I love taking pictures of people. I prefer to photograph outside on location, but when it’s 110 degrees outside that’s not always possible. With my own personal shoots I always try to add another element to the photos. Sometimes I have to find that element, and other times I am forced to build it. But there is nothing better than building something for a photo shoot and watching it all come together.

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Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you got into photography.

Chad: I have always been interested in photography. I can still remember being fascinated with disposable cameras when I was younger. For some reason on my 13th birthday the only thing I asked for was a camera with lenses I can change out. I really didn’t know that they were called SLRs back then, I just knew I wanted a camera where I could change the lenses. So my parents obliged and bought me my first camera, a Canon AE1. I took that thing everywhere taking pictures of everything from dogs to flowers.

I then began taking some photography classes wherever I could find them. In high school, I began taking black and white classes and I eventually took so many they had to create a photography 5-6 class just for me.

Out of high school I took a couple classes in college, but still never really though that this was something I wanted to do for a living. I initially attended college with the hopes of getting a degree in engineering. I quickly failed out of those classes and learned that was not the path for me. My parents forcing me to get a degree in something, I then turned to my love of photography. So I finished up the prerequisites at a community college and then transferred to Northern Arizona University to receive a Bachelors degree in Photography.

Phoblographer: What attracted you to fashion and portrait photography?

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Chad: Before college, I would not press the shutter button if there was a person in the frame. For some reason I hated taking pictures of people. In college we had to do a portrait assignment and I was forced to photograph people for the first time. After that assignment I fell in love with taking pictures of people. But I quickly became bored of just photographing people in the typical way.

I had ideas for photo shoots but they would not be considered as “portraits”. When I began looking at other photographers work I was always drawn more toward the fashion side of things. I eventually learned that in fashion photography, anything goes. There doesn’t seem to be any definitive rules, and it gives a lot of creative freedom. I don’t know if I would actually consider myself a “Fashion photographer” but I do enjoy walking the line between portrait and fashion.

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Phoblographer: Let’s talk posing. Many introductory shooters will say that you should never shoot someone from below, but in the fashion world, it’s the opposite. What’s your personal take, you seem to mix it up.

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Chad: In typical portrait photography shooting from a low angle is usually a no, no. You are trying to create an accurate representation of a person. But again, with fashion photography anything goes. Photographing from a low angle elongates the model making them appear taller than they really are. It’s also completely acceptable to photograph down on a model from a much higher perspective. I honestly do not photograph from one particular angle over another. Each shoot is different and if I don’t like a certain angle, I find a different one.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about how much of your time is actually spent shooting vs editing, billing, finding new work, etc.

Chad: I really hate editing photos. There is something about it that I can’t stand. Do not get me wrong, I do use Photoshop and Lightroom to edit my photos and I do know plenty of techniques, but I still hate it. But because of that, I try and get it right in camera. Or at the very least, the best I can do in camera. I understand there are some things that are just impossible to do in camera, or just would require way too much time and/or money.

“Before college, I would not press the shutter button if there was a person in the frame. For some reason I hated taking pictures of people.”

As much as I hate editing, I spend more time in front of the computer than behind a camera, but I think every photographer can say the same thing. I try and set up as many personal shoots as I can, but that varies from month to month.

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Honestly the most time consuming part of photography is planning for the shoot. For example, I come up with a shoot idea, and then I have to find a location. Then sometimes gaining access to that location requires a few phones calls or e-mails. I then have to come up with wardrobe that would fit that location and idea. After that, I have to find a reliable model, makeup artist, and wardrobe stylist. Not every shoot I do requires a whole team, but a team does make everything flow much smoother and then if the shoot requires a prop or a specific background, I have to build it. For example, the shoot I did with the girl and the boat out in the sand dunes. For money reasons, I built that boat myself and it took close to three weeks to put together.

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Phoblographer: Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from for the shoots that you do?

Chad: I get my ideas from pretty much everywhere. From other photographers’ work, to music videos, even magazines. I never try and duplicate a photo I see, but there is always something that I notice that grabs my attention and I run with it. For example, I was watching a behind the scenes video of a photographer working. When the photographer was sitting down explaining what he was doing, I noticed the textured wall behind him. The textured wall was not associated with the shoot at all. I then recreated that wall and did a white on white shoot in a studio environment biased on that wall.

Phoblographer: What gear do you use and why?

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Chad: I am definitely a Canon guy. I have nothing against Nikon or any of the other camera brands. My first camera was Canon and I have just stuck with that brand. Right now I shoot with a Canon 5D II and I have a Canon 50D as back up. I am waiting until the 5D IV is released, and then I will probably pick up the 5D III.

I personally love fixed lenses because they force you to move instead of just zooming in and out. I love working with the Canon 50mm 1.4 and the Canon 85mm 1.8. I do have two zooms I use, the Canon 70-200 and a Tamron 28-75. I am also not against buying third party lenses. Sigma has really stepped up and is producing some amazing lenses. I own their 35mm f/1.4 and I absolutely love that lens. I am hoping they come out with an 85mm 1.4 Art series lens soon.

When it comes to flashes, I love working with speed lights. I know they are not for every scenario but for most of my work I use Canon flashes. I do own studio flashes like Einsteins that I will pull out when the occasion calls for it. Like when I am working in a studio or I have a large group of people I need to photograph.

I used to work with the Canon 430ex II and the 580ex II, but that all changed with the release of their 600ex-rt. As soon as I saw them in action I knew they were a game changer. I started out by testing out one 600ex-rt and shortly thereafter I purchased three more flashes with the transmitter. I love that these flashes are so light and portable but when used correctly can pack a punch. Right now I use four 600ex-rts on a homemade rig. I usually use them direct with no modifiers except when it’s cloudy. On those rare days I get to break out my Westcott Apollo Orb.

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I often get asked why I use so many flashes in one rig. I use four flashes because I love to shoot in high-speed sync and high-speed sync really eats up the flash’s power. I use four flashes to get the power I need to shoot up to 1/8000 shutter speed so I can maintain an f/ 2.8 or less, and here in Phoenix good shade is hard to come by, so I need all the power I can get to compete with the sun.

Phoblographer: How do you think lighting knowledge can help a photographer grow and get more work?

Chad: I honestly think lighting can make or break a photograph. If I was working on a limited budget, I would rather spend my money on lighting gear than a new camera. I’ve seen amazing photos taken with entry level DSLRs and even phones, and it’s not the quality of the camera that matters, it’s the quality of light.

I have learned most of what I know about lighting from trial and error and of course YouTube. In college we had access to two studios, flashes, and ton of modifiers. I was always in there either shooting or just watching people shoot and looking at the results they were getting. If you don’t have a ton of modifiers YouTube is fantastic because there are so many videos that show you what each modifier does. It can really save you a lot of money and time.

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Learning how to read the natural light is an ability that should not be overlooked. Using natural light by itself can be a powerful skill and when pairing it with a flash, I believe it becomes a necessity. Not all photos require flash, but I think every photographer should know how to use both flash and ambient light. I think knowing how to control light to achieve the look you want in any lighting condition is skill that can really separate someone from their competition.