Claire Pepper is a London based fashion photographer, specialising in fitness and activewear photography. Her colourful and feminine images have been used in a variety of editorial and online campaigns, for brands including Adidas and a collection by tennis brand Wimbledon.
Claire’s work (which can be viewed in more detail on her fashion photography portfolio website) has appeared in many different formats, including full page spreads in Coquette magazine.
With more than 10 years experience under her (very fashionable) belt, Claire’s passion for endurance sports shines through in her images, placing a focus on the fresh, bright and feminine aspects of sport.
We were delighted to speak to Claire in detail about her career and to hear her take on the fashion photography niche.
Why did you choose to become a photographer?
I was always creative and took pictures from a young age, but I decided to study photography because I realised I wasn’t really very good at drawing or making things with my hands!
Then, whilst studying, I did some work experience assisting some local photographers and the freedom and variety of freelance work really appealed to me. From working with them, I started to see it as a life and career choice that was available to me too.
What drew you to focus on fashion photography as your niche?
In my final year at University I had quite a lot of friends on the Fashion Design course and they asked me to shoot their end-of-year brochure. It was quite a big shoot in a studio with multiple models, different backgrounds and lots of people involved.
I was really thrown in the deep end but got great feedback about the images and I felt like I had done a good job, which was a really satisfying feeling. I also loved the collaborative nature of it and how it was really a team effort, whereas before that I had found photography quite solitary.
What equipment do you typically take with you on a shoot?
It really depends what I’m doing. The bare minimum would be one camera body (Canon 5D III) with one or two of my favourite lenses, perhaps the 85mm or the 70-200mm. I would normally have some kind of reflector with me for shooting in natural light as well.
My standard bag however has two bodies (just in case!) and a selection of 6 different lenses, both primes and zooms.
Laptop, batteries, chargers, memory cards, tether cables, tape, scissors, clips, extension leads etc are pretty much always essentials as well.
Then the lighting equipment could be up to 5 elinchrom heads with various softboxes, grids, stands and attachments. If I’m shooting outside, I’ll sometimes use Elinchrom Quadra Rangers (battery powered), but for studio shoots I use the Elinchrom Pro HDs.
Then I’ll often also have a background stand, maybe a boom, tripod, coloramas, polyboards, a steamer, sandbags, gels, the list is literally endless. Needless to say my transport bill is normally quite high.
Here at Peli, we have a number of micro protective memory card cases, perfect for fashion photographers who may be shooting thousands of frames in any one shoot.
Do you have a camera equipment wish list? What will be your next purchase?
I have recently hired the Canon 5DSR for a couple of shoots and the resolution and quality is amazing, so I have been quite tempted to upgrade to that. I would also quite like a 100mm macro lens for detail shots (it’s also quite nice for portraits).
Are there any specific tools or tricks you tried out to develop your fashion photography skills?
Lots of different lighting techniques and light modifiers - some of them I adopted as part of my usual style but some of them weren’t for me.
What words of wisdom would you give to budding photographers looking to focus on fashion photography?
You have to really love it - you can’t see it as work, you have to be willing to spend all your time and money on it. It’s super important to find your own style and niche and that will take time and only come with practice. So just shoot, shoot, shoot as much as you can. It’s much easier these days with digital to just try things out and learn.
Why should budding photographers choose a career in fashion photography?
It’s collaborative so it’s a good choice if you like working in a team with others. And it’s fun!
Did you have any mentors to help you shape your fashion photography?
I learnt lots from the photographers I assisted even though most of them weren’t fashion photographers. I worked for a lot of different people who had different specialities, which I think was a good thing as it helped me take things from each of them to find my own style. Sometimes I think if you assist one fashion photographer you become a mini-clone of that person and it makes it harder to carve out your own identity.
I’ve also learnt a lot from some of my long term clients. I’ve been lucky enough to grow alongside some brilliant young businesses and they often push me and challenge me to move things forward and improve each time we shoot.
What’s the most enjoyable part of being a fashion photographer?
The freedom of the freelance life, the variety, the people you get to work with.
What’s the worst part of being a fashion photographer?
When you have periods of time without work. Not only is it stressful from a financial point of view but it can make you feel very directionless and insecure. Especially if Instagram seems to be full of people doing lots of cool work!
Fashion photography is an incredibly competitive niche - what steps do you take to outperform your competitors and succeed?
I try not to dwell on that aspect of it. There is a lot of work out there so I like to think there is enough to go around. I have also carved out an even more specific niche within fashion photography focusing on sportswear. I think this has helped me become known for that particular thing which has brought clients my way.
Most of my clients now are regular/repeat clients and I think part of it is valuing these clients and remembering that ultimately you are a service business. So I always try and make sure my clients enjoy shooting with me, that they find the workflow easy and efficient and that I am listening to what they want, delivering work on time and to a consistently high standard - all those things matter a lot.
A big thank you to Claire for providing us with such an in-depth insight into the world of fashion photography. Don’t forget to take a look at the Peli UK Photography Hub, for further information about the fashion photography niche as well as other popular photography areas.