And now for something completely different: Swati Couture

A few weeks ago I attended a very special bridal show, one which caters specifically to Indian and Middle Eastern brides, called the Suhagg International Bridal Show. The dress and traditions of these weddings are very different from most American weddings as we know them, hence the need for a bridal show that specializes in them.

I shared a booth with my friend Neeta, from Mehndi Designer (see post below), which was neat because some of her clients got to see my work and vice-versa. There were two other photographers there, but I was the only photojournalist, and so my work really stood out. Everybody just LOVED my pictures. Anyway, at the request of the show coordinator I took some shots at the show of people's booths and put them online, after which I made contact with the vendors whose work was on there and (as I usually do) offered them use of the pictures free of charge, as a way of getting to know more people in this specific market.

One of the people who contacted me back was Swati Kapoor, a clothing designer who, under the design studio name Swati Couture, is fast becoming very well known for her blend of Eastern and Western styles. Her fashions include traditional Indian wedding gowns and other beautiful Eastern outfits, plus other formal and semi formal wear whose eastern influence ranges from the subtle to the sublime. She had recently opened up her new showroom in Milpitas and needed some good pictures of her new work ASAP for various publications and other marketing. She also needed some photos of the new showroom, including portraits of herself at work, for some of these articles. Could I do a fashion shoot with her?

Well, okay, I've done a bit of fashion before but not much. I'm not very into the idea of over-directing my subjects, working in a stuffy photo studio, or manufacturing a concept that is not there to begin with--my background, after all, is in photojournalism. But this sounded like fun, so I told Swati that I'd come over, shoot her dressing up the model as if she was a customer, and we'd see what we'd get.

Well I get there, and first off all, the studio is awesome, totally unexpected for the residential neighborhood that it is located in. The lighting and decor are minimalistic but glamorous, like something in a SOMA storefront, and Swati's made good use of the space. Second, the model, Oksana Koval, is absolutely gorgeous and incredibly talented. She needed very little direction from me and there was no worrying about getting her "good" side--both sides were equally good! She was also very quick to get into character and to anticipate my instructions before I even thought of them.

So we start shooting, and the clothes are just beautiful. Flowing lines, bright colors, all kinds of gorgeous detail. I had a lot of fun just doing the part of the shoot in the studio and found myself really inspired as to how to use lighting and composition to make the different outfits look different, even in the same exact space. But it was at the very end, when we went down the street to a local horse ranch do some final shots outdoors, that I really got into the zone. There are some shots that, when you take them, you just know they are going to be incredible, and the scene above with the cat on the post was one of those. It looks like something out of movie to me--Oksana looks dramatic, vulnerable, and glamourous, yet also kind of countryfied at the same time. I think it really makes a statement about the interesting juxtaposition that exists in Swati's designs between the ethnic peasant look often associated with this genre of fashion, and the glamour, beauty, and accesibility that her clothes exude.

By the end of the shoot I was having so much fun, Swati actually ended up kicking ME out! I wanted to stay and shoot more details--she had to go to a family dinner. I was so excited to see what we got, I stayed up late Friday night editing the shots--even with an early morning wedding the next day (don't worry, I still got 6 hours sleep and did a great job--I will probably post about this one next week).

This whole situation is a perfect example of worth of mouth marketing at its best. As a result of this shoot, Swati plans to hire me for her own family events, and reccomend me to just about everyone she knows, including her brides. I will also be getting photo credits in a number of articles coming out about her. She has ceased to be just a client, now she is a Customer Evangelist. I, in turn, am so happy with these shots that I will show them to everyone I know, and of course when they ask about the clothes, I will be evangelizing for Swati as well. Any photographer friends who need a model will be told about Oksana. I would never have gotten this job by bidding on it, competing with thousands of more experienced fashion photographers in the area--but now that I have these pictures, I could easily get more jobs like this if I wanted to at normal day rates. Plus, I have a new friend in the wedding business--something I can always use. And it cost all of us nothing but time (well, Oksana may have gotten paid...)

; )

Update--to see the full proofs from this shoot, click here.

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