You don’t have to go out in search of your style, it is some­thing that al­ready ex­ists within you

With her first book just out and an arm­ful of blue chip clients, Dixie Dixon is a fast-ris­ing star of Amer­i­can fash­ion photography. Keith Wil­son finds out why she likes Wes An­der­son movies, dis­likes zoom lenses and never leaves home without her hat on…

NPhoto - - Front Page - Dixie Dixon, Fash­ion Pho­tog­ra­pher

With her big, bright smile, blonde hair and ever-present hat, Dixie Dixon is one of Nikon’s most rec­og­niz­able brand am­bas­sadors. Her name is catchy too, though she was ac­tu­ally born Lyn­d­say and given the nick­name Dixie in sixth grade while play­ing soc­cer, as there was more than one Lyn­d­say on the team. Nat­u­rally, the name stuck and, soon af­ter, Dixie took hold of her first Nikon cam­era. That stuck too. Nikon and Dixie have been to­gether ever since… You were just 12 when you were given your first Nikon, an FG. How sig­nif­i­cant a mo­ment was this? That’s kind of what started it all. Be­cause my dad shot Nikon he passed down that Nikon cam­era. It was an all-man­ual cam­era. I picked it up and it just felt right. I had al­ways been look­ing at pic­ture books, I al­ways loved pic­tures, so it felt kind of nat­u­ral af­ter pick­ing up that cam­era to start shoot­ing. The rest is kind of his­tory. Did you study photography at col­lege, then? I ac­tu­ally stud­ied en­trepreneur­ship, so a busi­ness ma­jor. I would have loved to have stud­ied just photography but I knew that I would have to know the busi­ness side in or­der to go make a liv­ing from do­ing it. So, I kind of got more ex­per­tize in the field by as­sist­ing a lot of pho­tog­ra­phers while do­ing the busi­ness de­gree in school. That sounds very smart. So did you start your own photography busi­ness while still in col­lege? I did, ab­so­lutely. I started out shoot­ing and as­sist­ing a wed­ding pho­tog­ra­pher, then, in my se­nior year, I was at a photography class and I Googled ‘fash­ion photography study abroad’ and there was one that came up, in Lon­don. So I ap­plied for the pro­gramme, got ac­cepted and ended up study­ing with a world-renowned fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher, which was when I fell in love with fash­ion. So that’s how I got into the fash­ion side, but ev­ery­thing started over in the UK. I loved it! How long were you in Lon­don and who were you work­ing with? I was in Lon­don for about three months. I worked with Jeff Li­cata. He’s a New York pho­tog­ra­pher but he goes over to Europe, in­clud­ing Lon­don, ev­ery year to do shoots and I was part of a pro­gramme that takes 12 stu­dents a year over to Lon­don, so it was a pretty sur­real and amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I got to shoot my first model in Lon­don and then we went to Prague for a few days. I just loved it and that whole trip was when I re­ally de­cided that niche of photography was my pas­sion. Have you stuck with Nikon ever since you started with the FG? Yeah, I have. It’s so funny be­cause I work with Nikon and I’m a Nikon am­bas­sador and ev­ery­one is like, ‘Did you re­ally al­ways shoot with Nikon?’ I’m one of those rare birds that has lit­er­ally stuck with the brand my en­tire ca­reer. I’ve al­ways loved their lenses, the Nikkor glass, and it’s nice when you learn a sys­tem and it’s just sec­ond na­ture when they up­grade the cam­eras and you switch from one body to the next.

I ap­plied for the pro­gramme and ended up study­ing with a world-renowned fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher

Of course, things have changed a lot since the FG, so what would I  find in your kit bag to­day for a typ­i­cal shoot?

I have the Nikon D810 and the D5, those are my two work­horse cam­eras. I only shoot prime lenses. I like to do my own walk­ing zoom, I feel like it’s more cre­ative. I have a 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm, the 180mm, which is an old film lens that I love, the 200mm and the 300mm.

Do you have a desert is­land lens?

That’s so hard. It changes but cur­rently it’s the new Nikkor 105mm f/1.4. It’s so crazy sharp, it’s a beau­ti­ful por­trait lens.

Do you have a par­tic­u­lar light­ing setup to dis­tin­guish your style of fash­ion photography?

Yes, I think so. I love to do back­light a lot. It makes ev­ery­one look re­ally beau­ti­ful. Ev­ery­one looks great in back­light­ing usu­ally, so you get a nice hair light and then I might bounce some light back into their faces with a re­flec­tor. I al­ways use my fill light from the sun side, as op­posed to fill­ing from the op­po­site side, so it makes ev­ery­thing look more nat­u­ral. Even the shots that are ac­tu­ally lit with strobe light­ing tend to look more like they’ve been lit with nat­u­ral light. I don’t like an overly lit look.

What is your pref­er­ence – to shoot in a stu­dio or out on lo­ca­tion?

Oh, lo­ca­tion for sure. Stu­dio is great if you need a re­ally con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment. What I love about lo­ca­tion is that there are al­ways serendip­i­tous mo­ments that hap­pen with the light­ing and the lo­ca­tion and the model, the mix of the three. There’s al­ways a vari­able there. Some­times you get things that were un­ex­pected and I think that’s what makes photography so much fun some­times, get­ting some­thing that was beau­ti­fully un­ex­pected, the happy ac­ci­dent shot. You end up with that more on lo­ca­tion be­cause ev­ery­thing is not quite as con­trolled.

I al­ways use my fill light from the sun side, as op­posed to fill­ing from the op­po­site side, so it makes ev­ery­thing look more nat­u­ral

Per­fect Fash­ion & Life­style

Photography. How did the idea come about and why did you de­cide that now was the right time?

That’s a good ques­tion. I was speak­ing at the Nikon booth at Pho­toPlus Expo about three years ago and Oc­to­pus Pub­lish­ing saw me speak and we grabbed a cof­fee af­ter­wards and they said, ‘You should do a book on all your con­tent,’ so we kept in touch for a cou­ple of years and my sched­ule is al­ways so busy, and then this past year they say, ‘Are we go­ing to do this book?’ and now is a good time.

It lit­er­ally is the book I wished I had when I was first start­ing be­cause I re­ally had to learn ev­ery­thing as I went. It’s about how to break into the fash­ion and com­mer­cial world if you’re just start­ing from scratch, or maybe trans­fer­ring over from por­trait or wed­ding photography. It also talks a lot about my story and how I got started. There’s also a lot about the in­dus­try, my light­ing, ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing I know is in that book. I put ev­ery­thing out there and didn’t hold any­thing back. It was a good ex­pe­ri­ence to get to write that.

How do you manage your work­flow?

I have it down to a sys­tem, and ba­si­cally when I’m on set I’m shoot­ing teth­ered to a com­puter and a lot of the clients like to see the im­ages come up and say if they want to tweak things. Usu­ally, I’ll have a dig­i­tal guy on set and he’s back­ing up to three G-Tech por­ta­ble drives. So, we’ll have three dif­fer­ent back­ups on set, and then I’ll usu­ally take a drive home, the client will take one home as back up and then my digi tech guy will take one home, so they’re all in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions. Then, when I get back to the stu­dio I have an ar­chive drive and a live work drive and they’re two G-Tech Stu­dios and they’re 16 ter­abytes apiece, so they’re pretty mas­sive. I’ll copy all the im­ages we shot onto each of those drives and then one off-site. I usu­ally don’t touch the ar­chive drive, I just edit from the live work.

How much edit­ing and re­touch­ing do you do? Is that some­thing you do your­self or do you have a help­ing hand as well?

Yeah, ab­so­lutely. I used to do all of it my­self but I’ve got­ten to the point that if the client has a bud­get I love to have a pro­fes­sional re­toucher edit the im­ages. I have a cou­ple of favourite re­touch­ers that I send my work to and they do an even bet­ter job than I can do, es­pe­cially with beauty photography, like get­ting out the small lit­tle hairs and tweak­ing the pores, that kind of stuff. So, usu­ally I’ll send it to a re­toucher and they’ll send it back and then I’ll do the fi­nal tweaks and the colour. I like to con­trol that last step.

Fash­ion and life­style is a big in­dus­try, with lots of play­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers, and chang­ing trends and in­flu­ences. Who or what are the big­gest in­flu­ences on the pic­tures you try to make?

I al­ways go back to the fash­ion photography mas­ters like Richard Ave­don, Irv­ing Penn and Paolo Roversi. I al­ways look to their work be­cause I think it has a time­less feel. Even the stuff they shot way back still looks cur­rent. It doesn’t have that su­per trendy fash­ion look, it’s more cin­e­matic and more clas­sic. That’s al­ways what I’ve been drawn to, that beau­ti­ful cin­e­matic kind of look. There

I feel more artis­tic wear­ing my hat. It’s kind of like my photography cos­tume, I get into my photography char­ac­ter and shoot

are so many amaz­ing pho­tog­ra­phers out there. I find them ev­ery day on In­sta­gram. There’s just so much in­spi­ra­tion out there, the hard part is hon­ing in and fig­ur­ing out which things to be in­spired by, and start in­clud­ing it in your work. One thing that’s im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore about you is that you have a very fine col­lec­tion of hats. How did this start? [Laughs] You know, it started, oh gosh, I saw pic­tures of me when I was lit­tle wear­ing hats. When I was five years old I was wear­ing hats in my school pic­tures. Ul­ti­mately, my mom has been a re­ally big in­spi­ra­tion and she said, ‘You know, you re­ally need to brand your­self.’ She’s re­ally good at fash­ion and brand­ing: ‘You re­ally need to do some­thing over and over again be­cause you don’t just want to be a nor­mal blonde girl pho­tog­ra­pher. You love hats, why don’t you start wear­ing hats at all of your shoots?’ So, I started wear­ing hats and now it’s funny be­cause I can’t shoot without a hat on. It’s just be­come such a huge part of me. I think it makes me more cre­ative in a weird way. I feel more artis­tic wear­ing my hat. It’s kind of like my photography cos­tume, I get into my photography char­ac­ter and go shoot! Do you have a favourite? I do, but I have so many, it changes. For a while there I was wear­ing those driv­ing caps but now I’m into… They’re kind of like Fe­do­ras, with a feather on the side. It evolves. If I find a new hat style that works I then end up buy­ing way too many of them. I prob­a­bly have over 50 hats and they’re all in my house on a shelf in a row. When I’m not shoot­ing, I won’t wear them. Some­times I do, but I’ve got to give my hair a break! What has been your proud­est mo­ment so far? Oh man! There’s a cou­ple. When I got to be a Nikon USA Am­bas­sador, that was a re­ally ex­cit­ing mo­ment, and work­ing with the brand that I have al­ways loved. The other mo­ment, right af­ter school, I got to meet a pro­ducer for a TV show and he ended up sign­ing me on to be the stills pho­tog­ra­pher for this docu-re­al­ity travel show. I did that for four years af­ter col­lege and ba­si­cally I shot swim­suit mod­els for this TV show. That was a re­ally huge mo­ment be­cause I got to dis­cover my style as a pho­tog­ra­pher, and this was af­ter I stud­ied abroad in Lon­don. It was called Get Out. It was on for seven sea­sons and I was the stills pho­tog­ra­pher for it and we’d do shoots on the beach, so get­ting to work on that show was def­i­nitely a huge mo­ment. It was so much fun. Okay, what’s been the most em­bar­rass­ing mo­ment? I think it was prob­a­bly on my first cam­paign. It was for a shoe com­pany and I had just up­graded my cam­era and I showed up on set and for some rea­son my cam­era was on Auto ISO and it was set­ting ev­ery­thing to 1600. At the time, dig­i­tal cam­eras weren’t as evolved, so it was go­ing to be su­per grainy and I couldn’t fig­ure out for the life of me how to get it off that set­ting. So, 20 peo­ple are on set, it’s my first big job and I’m freak­ing out! I grab my bag with the cam­era man­ual without the client see­ing and I run into the re­stroom and I’m lit­er­ally sit­ting in the stall go­ing through the cam­era man­ual try­ing to get it off the set­ting right

be­fore the shoot! I couldn’t fig­ure it out. Both my as­sis­tants are Canon shoot­ers, they didn’t know how to work Nikon. I think I even called my mom from the re­stroom: ‘What am I go­ing to do?’ I was so stressed out I lit­er­ally couldn’t think straight. Even­tu­ally, when I got out there, my two as­sis­tants had mirac­u­lously fig­ured out how to get my cam­era to the right set­ting. The rest of the day went great, but it was scary mo­ment and I felt like an id­iot.

The sub­ti­tle of your book is Se­crets of Per­fect Fash­ion & Life­style

Photography, so what’s your number one secret that you’d pass on to some­one want­ing to suc­ceed in the world of fash­ion and life­style photography?

That’s tricky. There are so many lit­tle things that you call se­crets, but I would say that a lot of peo­ple think they have to go out and find their style in fash­ion, or find their style in photography, and re­ally you don’t have to go out in search of your style. Your style is some­thing that al­ready ex­ists within you. The more that you get to know your­self and the more you shoot, your style will show it­self or­gan­i­cally. I mean, you’ll start see­ing things come up that you do over and over again that end up be­ing your style. So, the secret to find­ing your style in photography is re­ally just to shoot all the time, shoot things that you love and your style will evolve nat­u­rally – it’s not some­thing that you have to force.

Life­style shoot Well-cast mod­els can bring en­ergy to the set; Nikon D3X, 135mm f/2

De­lib­er­ate haze A win­dow gives an ethe­real look; Nikon D810, 180mm f/2.8

Wide-an­gle Dixie used a wide-an­gle lens to fit both the model’s hands in the frame; Nikon D200, 17-35mm f/2.8 Next page Cin­e­matic style Dixie’s work often exhibits a filmic qual­ity; Nikon D810, 85mm f/2.8

Light setup A beauty dish cre­ates strong shad­ows; Nikon D3X, 105mm f/2.8 Port­fo­lio shoot A fast shut­ter speed freezes move­ment; Nikon D5, 58mm f/1.4 Black and white A mono con­ver­sion had more im­pact than the colour im­age; Nikon D3X, 50mm f/1.4

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