“There is magic in fashion,” says Lidia Popiel, “and because fashion photography is a mix of so many things – people, designs, fabrics, lines, proportions, landscapes, and locations – it’s somewhere you have the liberty to express yourself and create new worlds. There is a beautiful kind of freedom to that.”
Now one of Poland’s leading photographers, Lidia, who worked as a model from the age of 17, confesses she always watched photographers she worked with closely to try and take everything in, but never really envisaged taking it up herself until a chance moment.
“One day, working on a shoot,” she explains, “I borrowed a camera and shot a roll of film. Then I sold one of the pictures to be featured on a cosmetics poster. So suddenly I was a photographer!” she laughs. “Of course, I had to keep learning, and my colleagues helped me a lot with that. I started to take pictures with my own designs, and sold many to one fashion magazine in particular – there were only two at that time in Poland!”
Fast forward some 40 years, and one of Lidia’s recent projects saw her shooting a charity event for the Friends of the Museum Association in Warsaw. “Every year, they organise a charity event for the National Museum,” she explains, “and this year, they asked the top ten Polish designers for their dresses, which were later auctioned at a ball in the Museum. The invitation to shoot the designs was a real honour.”
The location was even more exciting for Lidia. “Radziwiłł Palace in Nieborów is such a beautiful building,” she explains, “and as one of the themes for the collection was ‘colour’, it was a chance to twin the dresses with the decorations of the palace.” The highly intricate images required a lot of preparation. “I visited several times before the shoot,” says Lidia, “searching for analogous colours and repeating lines. I also wanted my models to take on some of the history of the location in their poses, a place filled with ghosts and secrets.”
In this way, she says, fashion images can be more than just portraits. “They can tell stories,” she tells us, “using the light, the details, and the composition. We use a lot of methods to show the concepts of designers, but in the end there is a person in the picture and through the image they need to speak to the viewer.”
No matter which project, her models need to feel part of the story, too, says Lidia. “The key is in choosing the right person, and communicating. It’s teamwork. I’m looking for models with power, but I don’t want to kill a dress. They have to feel superb, and be part of the plan. So to keep on track, the model and the photographer should always be asking themselves, ‘What am I doing and why am I doing it?’”
Usually shooting with a 50mm lens, Lidia switched to an FE 28mm f/2 for this project. “I chose a shorter focal length so I could create greater dynamics in the location,” she says, “but without distorting the subjects’ silhouettes. The beauty of the interior needed to be a strong part of the story, and at the same time, when I’m relatively close to the model, I have better contact with them, especially when I can speak quietly.”
Helping Lidia’s communication is her Sony α7R III, with its features designed to keep the photographer’s attention on the subject and not the camera. The size and weight of the body, as well as its revolutionary Eye AF, changed the way she shoots fashion, she says.
When you’re working,” she explains, “it can seem you have a lot of time – but really it’s fractions of a second that decide whether an image is successful or not. When I started using Eye AF it gave me confidence I never had before, and the certainty it provides is vital in finding that split-second moment.
With a smaller, lighter, but still high-resolution body, composition can become freer and more fluid, too. “Sometimes it’s enough to move by half a centimetre for everything to change in a picture,” Lidia explains, “and that’s why I usually work without a tripod. When I replaced my heavy cameras with Sony mirrorless bodies, I immediately felt relief and a lot greater freedom in my work.”
So, freedom is what it’s all about, and Lidia says this style of shooting can open up photographers. “It means not being afraid of your imagination,” she finishes, “and not being afraid of honesty. Shoot for yourself, not for evaluation. And don’t think that everything has already been done, because your work will always be unique. Keep learning, be amazed, and be free.”
Makeup: Marianna Jurkiewicz
Hair Styling: Kacper Rączkowski/Kevin Murphy Pl
Wardrobe Styling: Agnieszka Ścibior
Models: Uncover Models
Photo Cooperation: Wolf Studio/Warsaw
"Photography is about giving yourself over, commitment and devotion to surrender to what is in front of your lens. This moment when you do not belong to yourself, short indeed so you must be fast. But do not rush"