In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we explored the look and setup used by Terry Richardson to achieve his iconic and rule breaking style of fashion photography. After eight photo shoots spanning from Boston all the way to California, we are finally wrapping up this photo study. I’ll break down what I’ve learned over these eight shoots, give some insight into the shooting process, and also provide some helpful post-processing tips on achieving the Terry-inspired look yourself.
To reiterate, the core of Terry’s genius is his ability to connect with the models. His style is raw, uncensored, and full of energy. His style is an inspiration to us at iLHP and though no one can replicate Terry besides Terry himself, we do hope to share our own interpretation.
Studio or On Location?
A Terry-shoot works equally well on location or in studio. While he is mostly associated with shots in front of a plain white background, the snapshot style bodes well for cityscapes also.
In terms of indoor studio shoots, a plain wall is all you need. You don’t need an edgeless cyclorama wall or paper backdrops. Most of the time when I shot in studio, I didn’t even lower the white paper backgrounds and opted for the drywall instead. This is for two reasons. One, a lot of the shots will be either be closely cropped to the upper body or three quarters body from the thighs up. Second, having a regular floor gives it that much of a Lo-Fi style look. Using a cyc wall “floats” the model in a white void but it does provide for a cleaner canvas for showcasing fashion (the clients may ask for this). Keep the studio lights rather low, so the flash is the main light source. A little vignette never hurt anybody.
Outdoor shoots are a lot of fun but are also more challenging. The number one thing I struggled with was controlling the ambient light. Shooting in strong daylight just doesn’t work. It washes out the fill flash, and the model ends up evenly lit. The best time to shoot would be at night, or during the golden hours just before sunrise/sunset. If you have to shoot in the daytime, try to find areas with shadow or have an assistant hold up something opaque to block the sun (not a diffuser!). You could try shooting with a faster shutter speed or with smaller apertures to cut down the ambient light. But for broad daylight, I was already at my maximum flash sync speed, ISO 50, and I didn’t want to drop below f/8 (lenses begin to lose sharpness). I didn’t have a ND filter with me, that definitely would have helped.
Wardrobe and Makeup
The Terry style is so flexible in terms of wardrobe, that anything from high-fashion to the street-fashion will work. For the majority of my shoots, I asked the models to bring something hipster. Almost everybody opted for Terry’s signature plaid shirts, denim tops and bottoms, and simple tops. For one couple shoot in San Diego, we opted for an upscale a-night-on-the-town dress graciously provided by Ooh Fashionista.
As for makeup, a pair of hot red lips are the distinguishing features. Otherwise, makeup is usually casual, simple and clean with nude colors and accented eyes. Darken those eyebrows to help frame the eyes and it can really help with expression also.
Camera and Flash Settings
Keep your ISO low. Set your aperture to about f/5.6-8 to get everything in focus (no bokeh needed here). Choose a shutter speed appropriate for the speed of the subject. For static poses, I usually stick with 1/125s. For action shots, I up it to the Sony A7’s maximum flash sync speed. While the camera can go up to an impressive 1/250s, with the off-brand wireless triggers and flash I was using, I couldn’t get any more than 1/160s without the shutter curtain appearing as a shadow in the shots.
When shooting portrait perspective, keep your flash on top of your camera (so rotate your camera counter-clockwise) and try not to shoot with the flash hanging below the camera (rotating the camera clockwise). This is because the shadow will float above the model if you shoot with the flash down low, as I have come to learn through trial and error. Same thing when shooting with the Yashica. Flash up!
Flash power will obviously depend on the light conditions. For an indoor studio using a 50mm lens, shooting upper body shots took between 1/64 – 1/8 flash power on my Meike unit and for full body shots between 1/32 – 1/4 flash power. Using a 35mm lens will require higher flash power obviously. A note for Sony A7 users. I consistently underexposed my flash output because I did not want to blow out my highlights. Sony image processors are great at recovering darks but are terrible at clipping highlights. Canon processors seem to have the opposite effect. So for Canon users, I recommend keeping the exposure compensation to neutral. Nikon users should underexpose -2/3EV to -1EV, similar to Sony users.
You would think that for a style as deceptively simple as Terry’s would require little post processing. But out-of-camera photos just doesn’t have the same vibe as Terry’s shots. The careful adjustments in post really makes all the difference. Instead of having you guess and figure out how each of my photos were processed, I’m simply going to share the presets I’ve created and used for my Terry shoots.
- “Clean” – This is my default preset for shooting clean Terry style portraits. The highlights, shadows, and whites are carefully balanced for a neutral and minimalist look.
- “Monochrome” – Getting the B&W Terry look is a lot harder than simply switching to grayscale. This preset is based on the Clean preset but the Black & White channel mix was thoroughly adjusted to get just the right style. Like the other two presets, there is no artificial vignetting.
- “Yashica” – Named after Terry’s favorite film camera, the Yashica T4, this preset gives a vintage edge reminiscent of slide film. The tone is slightly warmer than the Clean preset, and the grain and the tone curve is adjusted to give it a slightly matte look.
The Terry Style preset package includes 9 presets. Each of the three presets described also comes with a +1EV version and +2EV version for photographers purposely underexposing their portraits for post processing. The +2EV version is necessary here to compensate for distance from the white background. The presets are designed for RAW files, your experience may vary when processing JPGs. A slight underexposure in-camera is recommended for these presets. These presets work in Lightroom 4/5+. Earlier versions of Lightroom are not supported unfortunately.
For this three part series, I’ve estimated my out of pocket costs to be about $800, which includes studio rentals and models. Your purchase of the $10 preset package is greatly appreciated. The Buy Now button takes you to Paypal, after which you should automatically receive an email with instructions to download the 9 presets in a zip file. If you have any questions about the presets, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org. I will personally return your email as soon as I can.
The iLHP Guarantee: We want you to be very satisfied with your purchase. We realize sensor profiles can differ between camera brands. So in some rare situation, if you can’t quite achieve the same results as we have illustrated above, send in (1) RAW file with your typical camera settings and full metadata to email@example.com and we will help you customize the presets to your camera sensor within 24 hours. Please buy with confidence.
This wraps up the final part of our Terry Richardson series. It has been a blast to study his style and I hope it has been informative and entertaining for you.If you’ve enjoyed this article, please help us by sharing it on social media. Remember to Like our Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter. Thank you for your support. I want to give a shoutout to all of the model I’ve worked with for this project. You girls are beautiful.
Be sure to check out Terry’s Diary and his T-shirt store. I want to end off with a quote of him floating in the interweb. I don’t have a source for this quote but it sounds like pretty good advice to me:
You can’t give your photograph soul with technique. I want my photos to be fresh and urgent. A good photograph should be a call to arms. It should say, “Fucking now. The time is ripe. Come on.” – Terry Richardson
Our next photo study will be another great American photographer, Annie Leibovitz. In terms of style, it’s about a 180 degree about face from Terry’s style. Annie’s style uses moon soft lighting and it has a painting like quality. Stay tuned!