Any photograph is the sum of its parts: planning, composition, lighting, exposure, the photographic tools used, and anything else the photographer chooses to put in the frame. From how these parts combine you can see the artistic fingerprint of the photographer, their visual DNA. Frank Doorhof’s work encapsulates this perfectly; bold, colourful, full of impact, and stylistically redolent of superhero comics and genre movies, they hold nothing back. It’s something he calls ‘going all-in’, and it’s made his work hugely successful and distinctive.
Frank grew up watching MTV and was bewitched by pop videos’ use of motion and colour, the flowing 80s fabrics and how everything was lit, which went on to have a huge influence on his work.
Fashion photography, for me, was never about a pretty face, it’s about visual impact and story. The more vibrant and elaborate the model’s costume, the more exciting the location or impactful the lighting, the more interesting it is for me.
Lighting is one of the things Frank fell in love with early in his photographic career. “You can literally change the light to do whatever you want,” he explains, “It’s all up to you. So many photographers are controlled by their lighting, but it should be the other way around.”
A lot of photographers overthink fashion lighting, he says, which holds them back from being creative: “You have to think about the image in your mind, and from there you’ll know where to put the lights to help you tell that story. Concentrate on the shadows and the rest will follow.”
Frank adds that it’s important not to be afraid of strong shadows in fashion photography, even if they’re obscuring the model’s face, since fashion is about the look and the impact of styling. For Frank, shadows are another way to go ‘all out’.
“Some of the shots I do,” he explains, “are really dark, so much so that you can’t tell who the model is. If you don’t embrace that, people will tell you it’s a mistake, but if it’s done with confidence, they’ll say it’s amazing. Open up fashion mags, and you’ll see loads of deep dark shadows.”
When he’s pushing the contrast like this, Frank says his α7R III helps enormously. “One of the reasons I love my Alpha cameras is the amazing dynamic range of the sensors. Before, I found I was using exposure bracketing to cover what I wanted in my shot, but from my α99 to now on the α7R III, I get all I need in one frame, and just make minor adjustments in Lightroom. This allows me to start doing things like aiming a strobe right at the camera, really pushing the limits, and I still get the quality I need.”
In these situations, Frank finds his Alpha’s EVF a great help, explaining, “although I’m old school, the EVF is helpful to work out exposure, because what you see is what you get. Say I’m working at 1/125 sec with the flash, I can start stopping down the aperture, making the image darker, and if it looks good at f/16, I just need to meter the strobes for that, and I’m good to go.”
Lens choice is another area in which Frank isn’t afraid to push the boundaries. “I use the 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master a lot as it’s so versatile for fashion. You’ve got wide angle and short telephoto, so a whole range of looks. I can get a pretty normal looking headshot at 70mm, with a bit of compression, or I can go wide and play with that distortion, getting the model’s hands or feet close to the lens.”
I love to use the FE 12-24mm f/4 G too - it’s in no way a typical fashion lens, but then there’s no such thing as that for me.
His final piece of advice for fashion photography? “Go for it. If you use a lens that is wider, embrace that distortion and use it to maximise the story you want to tell. If the lens compresses; do the same thing.”
Know your kit by heart and understand lighting. Lighting is the language of photography. If you do this you can fully focus on the story you want to tell. Photography is freezing unique moments in time that never come back. Don't let yourself held back by not knowing what to do. Shoot it.
"Why fake it when you can create it"