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One Dress Can Do It All

"The Intruder" featuring Gillian Woods (aka GillyFace)

Dresses. We photographers love dresses. I know I've said it about a gazillion times before, but I'll say it again: Beautiful dresses make for beautiful pictures ... well at least they help a lot.  I know that it's such a "thing" nowadays in the fine art photography world - more often than not, images that get a really great response probably have a beautiful girl in a beautiful dress. Sorry (not sorry), it's just the way it is. Obviously there are an unfathomable amount of other things you can have in your images, not have any dresses whatsoever, and still have an amazing outcome. However, I'm willing to guess that at least every once in a while you're going to want to shoot an image of a pretty girl in a pretty dress. I know I do! 

"But Robert, the really big, amazing, most beautifully detailed and perfectly designed dresses are so dang expensive. I want to shoot lots of different images; how am I going to afford all of those dresses!?" Calm down, it's gonna be ok. First of all, yes, the REALLY amazing dresses can be pretty expensive, but who's to say that you can't find an absolutely beautiful dress for cheap at the thrift store and spruce it up with some fancy lighting and Photoshopping?  No one. No one is saying you can't do that, and if they are .... who are they and what's wrong with them?

Yes, if you're lucky and also willing to put in the time to investigate the thrift stores in your area, you can probably find one, if not a few, totally great dresses to shoot. Once you've shot them a couple times though, people are going to start to catch on that you only really have a couple options, right? No matter how cool a dress might be, it can definitely start to lose some of its luster if almost every character you create is wearing it. So you have to get rid of that dress and go find/buy new dresses, right!?!? Wrong. You would be totally amazed (at least I hope you would be) at just how many vastly different images can be created with one dress.     

No fine art photographer should be without his/her go-to-solid-colored-simple-yet-elegant-dress. If you have this you're never too far from a fancy new piece of art. Oddly enough, the dress I'm going to be gabbing about is in fact not even mine. I've just been lucky enough to shoot with it on more than one occasion. The lovely and talented Aleah Michelle (whom you've definitely heard of if you read my blog) is the proud owner of the dress used in "The Intruder" (and also used in every other image in this post). I knew when I asked Gillian (more on her later) to put the dress on that it was an outfit I'd shot before, so I set out on a mission to make a completely different image in which no one would ever notice I'd shot the same dress again.

The first and most obvious way to reuse a dress is to drastically alter its color. Just by simply swinging the hue in a different direction you can automatically set it apart from the last image you shot of that garment. This is part of the reason why I say it's good to have a simple dress that's a solid color. If it's too "visually interesting" of a dress, with strange sleeves, a distinctive pattern, a very detailed beaded top or something, you can only get away with so much. Sure, changing the color will make it look different, but a keen eye will pretty quickly realize it's the same dress. So, the more simple the silhouette, the better - Also having it be one solid color makes it way easier to alter the overall hue in post. (Here is a post all about editing color!)

This image and the one below are both photos of the dress, shot by Aleah.

This image and the one below are both photos of the dress, shot by Aleah.

The second way you can make a dress look way different is to expand it. We all know I'm a sucker for a larger than life dress, but no need to buy one when you can make one in Photoshop (out of a regular sized dress). I actually have a whole post about expending a dress so I won't go into too much detail about how it's done, but basically you can cut out extra fabric images and add them onto the dress to make it bigger/longer/grander. For the first image I shot of Aleah's dress I did a very different sort of expansion. It was during the Silver Lake Flickr Gathering that I first had the pleasure of meeting Aleah and shooting with her, therefore it was also the first time I laid eyes upon this gorgeous dress! I had an idea to make it look as though the dress was flowing endlessly into a river. Lucky for me we had a river handy and Aleah had a red shower curtain that I used to expand the dress into the water. You can read all about that here.

Now that you've mastered those two techniques (or at least are aware of them), you could combine them to achieve even more alternate dress images. Expand the dress into a different shape and make it yet another new color and shazam, the audience will never be the wiser. Hopefully they will be the dumber ... wait what? Moving on. If that doesn't cut it you could always add something over top of the dress in real life (not fake life... aka Photoshop). A coat, cape, shawl, or I don't know, armor even? The possibilities are endless. Check out the image below in which Aleah reworked her top situation and just used the dress for the skirt portion. Also, horses. Because horses. 

Ok, obviously if you shoot it enough times and have turned it just about every color you can think of you're going to exhaust a dress. It's inevitable. Really though, by the time you've sucked it dry of all its creative possibilities, you've probably gotten your money's worth. Ammiright? Especially if it was a thrift store find you wouldn't have paid too much for it in the first place. Plus at this point I'm willing to bet one of your wonderful photography friends (if you don't have any... you should work on that) happens to also have a dress they've used the crap out of, so perhaps a dress swap is in order? Brilliant, I know. You're welcome. 

Before I leave you I must quickly let you know that Gillian (the model for "The Intruder") is. the. sweetest. She is an absolute delight to have around, a superb model, and a super talented photographer to boot! If you haven't seen her work, DO IT .... NOW! CLICK ON THIS. (Did you do it? Did you?!) Also, guys ... she has a British accent sooooo yeah, everything she says sounds brilliant and sophisticated. You rock Gillian! Thanks for modeling for me! :)

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