Melissa Rodwell on set

Getting Introduced to Fashion Photography with Melissa Rodwell

I’ve been following Melissa’s blog since 2010 when it first came to my attention through David Hobby’s Strobist blog. Since then, I’ve read practically every post and watched every BTS (Behind The Scenes) video that Melissa has done, picking up a tip (or three) every single time. Let’s get one thing out the way first: a lot of photographers say they are fashion photographers. What they really mean is that they’d like to be fashion photographers but, as Zack Arias points out, just taking a pretty picture of a pretty girl in pretty clothing isn’t fashion photography.

Melissa Rodwell

To shoot fashion, you have to live it, breathe it, consume it. You have to truly love the subject and understand it. Just as importantly, you have to shoot for fashion. By those simple standards, Melissa Rodwell is most definitely a fashion photographer. Melissa’s client list is pretty darn impressive. Among others, she counts as her clients Ralph Lauren, KURV, Mademoiselle, and Harper’s Bazaar. She has shot in locations all over the world, from New York to Dubai, and has exhibited her work in Australia and Amsterdam. She has repeatedly broken out of her role as a fashion photographer to work on personal projects.

Now, there are a lot of fashion photographers out there. The major markets are flooded with people looking for work in that industry. There are, however, two things that make Melissa pretty unique and cause her to stand out in the crowd. The first is her sense of style and execution. Fashion photography has gotten especially bizarre (to me) of late in what often seems to be a crazy race to absolutely incomprehensible surrealism. Go through the pages of Vogue to get an idea of what I’m talking about. Why on earth does a Bvlgari ad have a lion in it? It’s almost like someone flipped the crazy switch to max and said, “Hey, you know what would be awesome? A lion in an ad for our perfume. With Rachel Weisz! And Kirsten Dunst!”

Can anyone tell me what a lion has to do with perfume?

In the midst of that insanity (inanity?), Melissa’s work seems to restore a significant sense of balance and clarity. Where too many photographers resort to gimmickry, she assembles the most simple elements to create image-powerful photographs. Take her White Story for KURV magazine (image above). Her light sources here are window lighting and some Christmas lights. That’s it.

Now, that’s not to say that she can’t gang together a bunch of Profoto lights in a shoot to overpower the sun. It’s more that she has a great sense of what’s needed to bring out drama and impact in a shoot and doesn’t overdo it. The second reason why I think Melissa stands out in the crowd is because of her openness.

The fashion photography world often feels insular and exclusionary. People don’t often talk about it as if they’ll lose some competitive advantage if they do. Through her blog, Melissa tears down several of the barriers preventing you from getting a good look into that exclusive world. From BTS videos and articles, to interviews with other photographers, models, and assistants, she spends a good amount of time helping the outsider construct the semblance of an idea of what this world looks like.

And if that wasn’t enough, she conducts workshops all around the world, the most recent one being in Berlin. Moreover, she has taken her role as an informer and educator one step further by releasing an educational video about the world of fashion photography.

Speaking of her blog, Scott Kelby, whose opinion I pay a great deal of attention to, named her blog in his “Best of 2011” post, calling it the best blog for fashion photographers.

Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


  • Sonja Knight

    This is great! It is true that to shoot fashion, you have to live it, breathe it, consume it. You have to truly love the subject and understand it. That’s why professional photographers are awesome.

  • Tracy Martin

    I too found her site a couple of years ago and fell in love with her style of imagery, how she approaches shoots and also just her personality. She is quite the character.

  • Sohail Mamdani

    It was absolutely my pleasure, and I’m happy to say that Melissa liked the article too (no, she didn’t know I was writing it :-).

  • Michelle Moore

    I LOVE this article – it is SO true. Melissa is an industry leader, and has all the qualities that make up a “true” fashion Photographer. Thank you for writing such a wonderful article about such an amazing woman.

  • Hugh_C

    Agree about Melissa, love her work and her approach. Huge inspiration to me as a fledgling fashion photographer. WOuld love to try catch one of her workshops, but that may be some time in the future 🙂

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