Russell James iLHP Feature 06

How to Shoot Swimwear like Victoria’s Secret’s Russell James – (Part 1: The Look)

What do supermodels Candice Swanepoel, Miranda Kerr, Lily Aldridge, Tyra BanksKarlie Kloss, Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio all have in common, besides sculpted bodies and having won the genetic lottery?

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Left to right: Alessandra Ambrosio, Candice Swanepoel, Behati Prinsloo, and Lily Aldridge.

They all are, and/or were, Victoria’s Secret Angels. What was once a failing lingerie retailer created by a man too embarrassed to shop for his wife, is now a multi-billion dollar market leader in the underwear and swimwear industry. But more than that, Victoria’s Secret brought glamour, fashion, and supermodels to the masses with their glossy catalogues and high-profile runway shows.

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The photo of Tyra Banks that launched Russell James’ career.

Behind VS’s stratospheric success is a less well known but arguably the most productive portrait photographer today. Kind mannered and well spoken, Russell James has worked with the super-est of the supermodels from the last 15 years and yet somehow stayed away from the limelight. It’s hard to separate where Victoria’s Secret end and Russell James begin, but his images has single handedly defined the brand in recent memory.

In this three part series, we dive into the look of his images, his setup and equipment, then we wrap up with our own photo shoots and interpretation.

The Bokehlicious Bikini Look

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Russell’s shots are defined by his use of shallow depth of field. While his supermodels glisten under the tropical sun in sharp focus, the backlit background blur isolates the subject in sharp contrast against a sea of color.

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The feel of his images are always tasteful, playful, and feminine. It is easy for bikini photography to degrade into something sleazy, but Russell manages to stay above that threshold.

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The horizon line is carefully place, near the center of the frame for standing subjects or higher for sitting or lounging ones. The models are well lit despite backlighting and the images just have a lot more pop than, for example, your typical Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

Attention to Detail

While it may seem as simple as putting a beautiful girl on a sandy white beach, swimwear photography is all about the details. The hot beach is an unforgiving environment for both the model and the photographer. In the video above, Russell James gives several very useful and insightful tips to his craft. They address key issues that are both fundamental and often overlooked (like not letting your stressful energy transfer to your model).

In Part 2 of this series, we look into the expensive setup Russell typically uses for his beach shoots and we explore less expensive alternatives for your average photographer. Stay tuned!


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