Darren Centofanti: On Shooting Fashion Photos

Darren Centofanti, a native of Australia, is currently based in India where he works as a fashion, advertising, and glamour photographer. In the past, he has spoken to us about his commercial work, shooting at photokina, and his use of the Leica S-System. We caught up with Darren on some of his recent beauty work, which he describes below.

Q: We last interviewed you in June 2015. What have you been up to photographically since then?

A: Mainly advertising campaigns. In India during July, August, and September is when we shoot autumn/winter fashion and campaigns for the upcoming festive season of October and November. Now that things have slowed down a little for the next month or two, I have started shooting images for myself from the creative that has been building up in my head.

Q: In our last interview, we featured your work capturing the rug manufacturing process in India and the time before that on bikes. This portfolio is remarkably different and focuses on the glamour/beauty genre. Can you provide some background information on these images?

A: Well the genre of fashion/glamour and beauty is my usual style and choice of image making. The previous showcases of rug manufacturing and the bike campaign were a bit out of the box for me. However, I think a good photographer should be able to shoot anything well, so I always embrace something away from the usual.

Q: When shooting different subjects (models for beauty vs. athletes vs. rug makers), do you have the same photographic approach for each shoot or do you treat them differently? If so, what’s different about your approach?

A: Yes, definitely a different approach. The rug makers in India were simple, hardworking, village people who had never been photographed in a professional manner before. They were intrigued and a little shy of the result when seeing themselves.

Models of course are the opposite and have less of a fear factor about what is going on during the making of image process. I find myself communicating much more to the models to make images that are stretching the limits. The rug makers I would communicate less with, so not to complicate things and keep it as natural and original as possible. Athletes sit in a league of their own for a number of reasons, but mainly due to their confidence and high profile nature. Most of them know exactly what to do in front of camera to capture their realm, which usually ends up representing them in a large-scale campaign. They are particularly interested in seeing their images during a shoot so that they can ramp up their performance in front of camera for that golden image.

In short when working with the rug makers, I was capturing images with little interference and manipulation. When shooting models and athletes, I am making images with them directly and have loads of manipulation, tricks, and thinking behind making the magic.

Q: What camera(s) and lenses did you use to shoot this portfolio?

A: I shoot with the Leica S-System. I have always loved medium format – since the late ’80s/early ’90s when I first started working with Mamiya RZ cameras. The lenses I find myself working with are usually the 70 mm, 100 mm and 120 mm, nothing shorter or longer than that.

Q: You are known for working with the Leica S-System. What are your thoughts on the Leica S (Typ 007)? Have you gotten to try it yet?

A: No I haven’t gotten to try it yet unfortunately … soon though.

I think the better ISO capabilities and the video function for a medium format sensor is really impressive. I think it will be the go to camera for most professional photographers and filmmakers in the future. Shooting thru the Leica S lenses is the drawcard to be honest.

Q: Some of these images are in color while some you have also converted to black-and-white. What goes into your decision making process of color vs. B&W?

A: I always like my images to be in colour. I think there is a certain photographic and commercial merit in making fantastic colour images that are eye catching because of their use of a clever colour palette. However, there are times I shoot an image and feel like there is a colour in the image that disturbs and destroys the image. That’s when I convert my images into B&W, so that I can still tell the story without distraction.

I always go into a shoot aiming for a colour output.

Q: The majority of these images seem to be shot outside and some of them in tropical locations. Do you find any photographic challenges when dealing with the elements during a shoot?

A: Yeah, I will take a tropical beach location over an air-conditioned studio any day. However, there are those elements, as you mentioned, which keep you on your toes.

The tropical conditions always cause an issue with humidity and the lenses. I keep the gear in the hotel bathrooms away from the AC or sometimes on the balcony. I hate waiting for lenses to acclimatise and defog.

For natural light, I feel like over the years I have mastered it and know exactly what is required at anytime of day to make the light work and look magical. Knowledge, tricks, and a bit of luck are always involved for this of course.

Camera wise, the beauty of shooting with the S-System is that you have the security of a system that is dust and splash proof, so this allows me to act a bit more confident about where I park myself and my camera when shooting.

Q: This image shows a model in various poses splayed out on rocks with the image taken from above. Can you tell us what’s going on here and how you achieved that image?

A: This image was shot last year as part of the Leica Akademie Australia workshop in the Kimberley, Western Australia. I was an instructor with Nick Rains. This location was Bindoola Falls; however, it was dry season so no water was around. Our model, who we flew in from Germany for the workshop, was extremely patient in helping me make this image of various captures on scorching hot midday sun rocks.

One of the workshop participants was a gentleman named Paul Burrows who is editor of Pro Photo magazine in Australia. He was a champion bloke who along with our model helped make this image for me. He was at ground level giving a lot of support and encouragement to our model during the whole process. I would sort of yell the instructions and body language to him and he would gently tell the model who was physically cooking with the elements. There were a few times he answered me back with the models thoughts/anger.

My camera was bolted to a tripod and I was careful not to bump it during the capture of images so that I could seamlessly put the image together later in post.

I like the way the rocks look a normal size, but the model looks miniature here. That’s what originally attracted me to making this image. When I did a reckie of the location days before, I was amazed at how the rocks all look in scale and proportion to each other and once looking through a lens they basically could have been a small patch or segment of rocks.

The concept of mine with the model jumping in a tutu holding a flash with the boab tree in the background was also shot at the same Kimberley’s workshop.

Q: This image shows a woman effortlessly hanging and suspended in air on a swing in a long gown with heals. How did you set-up this shot and what was the goal?

A: My goal with models is to always shoot something amazing and beautiful, a cliché but true.

This image was shot during a reality TV show I was involved with, part of a model search style of show. This was one of the tasks during the filming of the episodes. The model in this image was actually the show compare and one of the judges. She is a top model in her own regard.

The opportunity came to get her onto the swing to show the model contestants of the show how it’s done. When it is done so perfectly by someone of her caliber it makes sense to capture, right?

We shot this image on the beaches of Goa with the Arabian Sea in the background. I love the effortless calm beauty of this image. I think it’s classic.

Q: A lot of these images ooze with sex appeal. Do you have a go-to trick to get the models to relax and open up in front of the camera?

A: Yes, absolutely, communication and involving them right from the start of making the image. I always encourage the model to look thru the camera at the space she has to work with and also to see what are the important elements of the frame. I make an effort for them to understand the light too so that they know why I am asking for certain positions. Models are clever and I think as photographers we can learn so much from them, vice versa as well of course. I’m always very vocal during the shoot moment and it’s always encouraging, in-between pushing hard to get something extraordinary. I know models prefer to be hearing my constant voice during a shoot rather than dead silence, which makes them wonder what is going on and if everything is ok.

I’m considerate to the models position always. I shoot quickly and I don’t mess around with different angles, lenses, lighting, body positions, etc. I go into the image knowing exactly what I want and how I want the model to look in the frame. I capture that and then move on. Of course I allow for some spontaneity of the model to creep in, but only if it works with the flow of the image. Another trick is after I have got the image I want, I get the model out of her position to stretch and come look at the images on the back of camera. During this time, I ask her how many more images she would like to shoot to make the image better. They usually say around ten and these tend to be the magic images once they know what little adjustments they can make from their side to make the image perfect. So for me the involvement of the model is massive in making a quality image. It’s a team effort to make beautiful images that we are all proud of.

Q: In addition to the model herself, what other elements do you focus on to convey sex appeal in your photographs? Many of these have a much warmer feel to them, for example, and there are physical elements or water and sand too.

A: I have always loved this sort of imagery and am completely drawn towards creating it. I was seven-years old in 1980 when the music video wave came. I embraced it in a big way: videos by Duran Duran, album covers by Roxy Music, amongst many other influences definitely got my brain ticking at the time.

If I try to analyze my work, I think a combination of natural light and simplicity of textures and colours helps me carry the sex appeal of the model … along with anything real and natural too.

For example, I find myself working with flowers a lot. They are colourful, soft, and beautiful so it tends to work well alongside beauty. Water and sand are good textures and that helps enhance the softness of the skin. I use the models hands a lot in my images. I believe good hand placement can make an image really sensual without being overtly suggestive.

Thank you for your time, Darren!

– Leica Internet Team

Darren is a  Leica Akademie instructor. You can see more of his work here and on Instagram.

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