Get 6 Months of ShootQ Free With Any Workshop Purchase!

Your content will be up shortly. Please allow up to 5 seconds
Tips & Tricks

Shoot Like The Pros With Basic Gear | Richard Avedon

By Kishore Sawh on August 23rd 2015


For some weeks now I’ve been sharing the work of a rather talented and forthcoming photographer, Sid Vasandani. Sid, as part of StyleMyPic, has been creating tutorial videos with the intent of educating the viewers like you and me, on how to shoot in the fashion of some of the greats, and with basic gear at that. Hopefully, he will continue to do so and his most recent photographer to honor in the highest manner that is mimicry, is Richard Avedon.

If you’re in the fashion and beauty world that’s a name you’ll know all too well, but those of you who are not, it won’t necessarily resonate with you. You’d be forgiven, of course, as fashion to those with a casual interest in it, so often can come across as a bizarre phenomenon. However, highbrow fashion photographers hugely influence other fields, like wedding and portraiture, and Avedon’s name and body of work can clearly be touted as one of the most influential.


You could just watch the video and see how to recreate this famous shot of Avedon’s of Nastassja Kinski with a snake (which sold this year for $75k), but if you lend me your ear/eyes for a minute, I’ll share why you may want to.

You see, Avedon changed fashion photography, and his influence is seen almost everywhere in the commercial images that surround us from street shooters to Instagrammers to major campaigns. Before Avedon began shooting for Harper’s Bazaar, fashion models were beautiful stone statues of a Byzantine persuasion, almost clinical and lacking emotion. Avedon came along and broke the stone to reveal something more of flesh and fun, having a focus of his models on showing movement and being emotive. They would be dancing, running down a New York street in the rain, and laughing.

[REWIND: Shoot Like Famous Photographers With Entry Level Gear | Annie Leibovitz]



His fascination with unknown model China Machado, the first non-caucasian woman to grace Western fashion magazines opened the gates for the Imans and Tyras and everyone else.  He was also less particular with clinical precision in his execution (though more than capable of it); this is something that takes time to appreciate for many photographers but makes sense since the technical skill is cheap relative to passion/art. He changed fashion and beauty subjects from things that were not just beautiful, but fascinating. Oh, and you know those striking portraits of weathered faces you see all over? He started that and shot anyone who mattered this way, along with unknowns from America’s heartland. So that’s Avedon in brief.

This shot of Nastassja Kinski is gorgeous, and here’s what Vasandani uses to recreate the shot:

Camera: Nikon D5100/D5200
Lens: Sigma 18-35mm f1.8
Settings: 1/160, f4, ISO-100
Yongnuo 560 III
Generic 120cm Octabox – versus the large reflective umbrella often favored by Avedon


You’ll see from the direction in the StyleMyPic video that Sid largely uses the StyleMyPic Photoshop Panel (which you can learn about on the site), but there’s also instruction on how to do it without. At the request of some of you, I will be reviewing this panel, so look out for it.  Also, as is usual, Vasandani has included links to a free PSD source file you can practice on, which lets you get a good feel of the retouching without even shooting. Check out his site here and show some love.

If you are starting out or have entry level gear and want to really push its limits and see just how much you can actually do with a camera like the D5200, check out Photography 101, which will enable you to do just that, and speedily.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Nathan Damour

    Doesn’t even compare ones genius art the other a low grade regurgitaed nonsence of a photo. The model in the copy cat photo looks concerned about holding in her tummy a lot more self conscience and not as relaxed. Pregnant Nastassija  looks a lot more composed which when faced with the factsthat she had to lay still on a cold concrete floor for hours is amazing. 

    | |
    • Kishore Sawh

      The model is not at all the point, which it seems you have missed. No one is arguing against the genius of the original, but simply this is a look at an approach to creating something similar.

      | |
  2. charles harris

    great video

    | |
  3. cherestes janos

    Great video, to remind us that we can mac great pictures without spending 10k :-)
    Thank you for the free share of the psd is great to practice our retouching skills.

    | |
  4. Abel Wilson

    Again, I hate sounding like THAT guy, but I just feel like if you’re going to recreate someone’s work for the purpose of teaching, these things are important. A lot of us are trying to learn art and it’s these nuances that help us become better artists.

    | |
  5. Abel Wilson

    Er, I hate to be THAT guy, but the image that he shot and the shot by Richard Avedon are close, but not the same. I’m not the best photographer out there, but I feel like it’s giving amateurs the wrong idea. There are two things I think are not right in the tutorial image.

    1) The Emotional Connection:
    Firstly, the composition. Avedon’s POV was much closer to the ground. It’s almost head on. The image feels more intimate that way, like you were laying down right next to her. Sid took the shot from slightly above. I know it sounds pedantic, but Avedon was probably sitting on the ground with the camera on his lap. (If he used a waist level viewfinder that is. I imagine he was, considering this is fashion, and medium format) Sid looks like he shot the image while on his knees. The height difference is subtle in both positions, but the angle definitely changes.

    2) The Technical Aspect.
    Assuming that Avedon did little post production in the dark room… the position of the light is different.
     In Avedon’s pic, the light source is a LOT closer to the ground and at a different angle, just look at the direction of the shadows or the catchlight in her eyes. (Am I the only one fascinated by the shadows in Avedon’s picture though? The transition is brilliant)
    If he was using a single reflective umbrella as his light source, I’d love to learn how he got it to lay on the floor like that in that position!
    Sid’s lighting is different and the shadows are affected because of it. The contrast seems a lot lighter.
    If he was afraid of light blending the snake and the background together, he could have put a scrim or a flag.

    | |
    • Andrew Leinonen

      I agree. The Avedon shot has noticeably more impact. It’s striking when the two are put right next to each other.

      | |
    • Natoyi Lively

      Thank you for pointing out the nuances. it helped me identify exactly what i was seeing as different. i did notice that that lighting was different, though not the nuance. I hadn’t really noticed the angle much though. When you point it out, it helps me see it even more, and understand the affect. Thanks

      | |
  6. Nick Viton

    Shooting with snakes is fun! I thought I’d be freaked, but it’s actually not bad. It’s like wearing a really heavy accessory. That moves. Kish, if you’re ever running through the 6 and looking to shoot with snakes, let me know and I’ll hook you up.

    | |
    • Kishore Sawh

      Hoping to be in the 6 before the year’s through and shooting a few tests and stuff while there, so I’ll hit you up.

      | |
    • Kayode Olorunfemi

      Don’t ever see myself shooting with snakes… great work though.

      | |
  7. Maria Manjelo

    Great video tutorial!

    | |
  8. Pye

    Beautiful find Kish. Dig this!

    | |