News & Runway

How I Got to Be…A Fashion Photographer

Ben Fink Shapiro

Self-assuredly charming but approachable, it's little surprise that fashion photographer Ben Fink Shapiro is well known for his ability to put his subjects at ease. He's been called on by the likes of Intermix, Blue & Cream, Brunello Cucinelli, Reem Acra, Elle, and Vogue Mexico and has shot a slew of boldface names including, most recently, Aerin Lauder. We spoke with the in-demand New York-based Shapiro about how he got his start, what makes a good model, challenges he faces, and…last minute exotic animal cancellations.

The Fashion Spot: Was the plan always to pursue photography?

Ben Fink Shapiro: Yes, ever since I was 15. Prior to that, I wanted to be an architect or an interior designer.

tFS: Can you remember around when/what made you think it could be a career?

BFS: After I took my first roll of film (tri-x 35mm). I was hooked and decided that I wanted to pursue photography as a career. I also had a darkroom in my basement bathroom which allowed me to spend lots of free time after school and on weekends developing images, dodging and burning, etc. and ultimately helped me fall in love with the entire photographic process.

tFS: Did you study photography in college? Why or why not would you suggest studying it?

BFS: I majored in Media Studies in college, but I did take a photography course in high school that jumpstarted my immersion, skills, and enthusiasm in the field; that's where I learned the basic rules of photography. Once that foundation was set, it was important for me to further develop my skills through trial and error.

tFS: How did you end up in fashion photography?

BFS: Even as a kid I was interested in advertising and the world of images. Walking through the aisles of the local record store, I would choose cassette tapes of R&B and Hip-Hop bands based on which ones had cooler looking covers. I found myself with a lot of awful tapes (although there were a few gems, like Boyz II Men and En Vogue), but I began to think about the actual cover images that I had bought into. I started shooting in high school, inspired by the fantasy of the fashion world. I asked a pretty girl to model for me and I never looked back.

tFS: What made you come to New York? Could you see yourself anywhere else?

BFS: I came to New York for college and while I travel frequently for work I have no plans on changing NYC as my home base.  

tFS: What are some of the glamorous and not so glamorous parts of your job?

BFS: The glamorous part is probably not that surprising — shooting in gorgeous locations like a celebrity's home, an exclusive hotel, etc. or off the beaten path like at an upstate New York dairy farm.

Other parts of my work are not glamorous, but are rewarding and energizing — and then there are the headaches. I spend many pre- and post-shoot hours creating, planning, dealing with last minute cancellations (model, exotic animal…), securing the right location equipment and tech support for the shoot, coordinating schedules and personalities, props, identifying venue location, and securing permits.

tFS: What are some of the biggest challenges that come with being a freelance photographer?

BFS: Finding your niche stylistically, i.e. men's, women's, portraiture, high-end, etc…

tFS: The most gratifying?

BFS: Seeing an image I shot on a magazine cover in a newsstand.

tFS: Can you tell us about some of the shoots you're the most proud of?

BFS: My first month out of college, Tommy Hilfiger commissioned me for a shoot at his house. From there, I've had opportunities to work with Aerin Lauder, Jill Stuart, Reem Acra, Brunello Cucinelli, Rag & Bone for Intermix, Le Parker Meridien and BCBG.

tFS: What separates a "good" model from a "bad" model?

BFS: Personality and movement.

tFS: How involved are you with Photoshopping or any post-production edits that happen with your photographs?

BFS: I work very closely with my retoucher as each image requires individual review.

tFS: What's one thing you know now you wish you had known when you started your career?

BFS: As another photographer once put it, "If you're a young photographer and you have money in your bank account, you're doing something wrong — as you need to continue to reinvest in your career." This resonates with me, as I feel like every photographer, no matter where he or she is in his or her career, needs to explore as an artist and commission his or herself for shoots.

tFS: Dream client?

BFS: Currently my goal is to work with the international Condé Nast and Hearst publications.

tFS: What's your personal style like?

BFS: I once described my style as preppy hipster.