Photographer: Richard Avedon
Specialty: Fashion, Portraiture, Advertising
Favored Camera/Lens Brand: Rolleiflex, Deardorff, Sinar
Other Products Used: Umbrellas, beauty dishes, Elinchrom strobes
Richard Avedon is one of the two best fashion and portrait photographers in history. (in each category, it’s a toss-up with Irving Penn)
He is legendary for his incredible fashion editorials for publications like Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, gorgeous advertising campaigns for brands like Versace, Christian Dior, and Revlon, as well as his stark portraiture, perhaps best illustrated by In the American West.
So what cameras did Richard Avedon use?
He is very well-known for using a Rolleiflex medium format twin-lens reflect camera for some of his portraiture and fashion work.
But much of Avedon’s iconic fashion and portraiture work was done with an 8×10 view camera with lenses in the 300 – 360mm range. He appeared to favor a Deardorff for field work, like for In the American West.
However, Avedon also used a Sinar, according to American Photo. One famous example of the Sinar’s use was in his legendary 1992 fashion editorial Portfolio: In Memory of Mr. and Mrs. Comfort, which was published in The New Yorker. That was shot with a Sinar 8×10, a 360mm lens, and Kodak Ektachrome 64.
You can see Avedon rocking the 8×10″ at the 1:08 mark of this behind-the-scenes video from the 1997 Pirelli calendar:
He used Kodak Plus-X and Tri-X as his black & white films, and Kodak Ektachrome for color.
Much of his later work was lit with 2,000 watt-second Elinchrom packs, and for modifiers, he often used plain-old umbrellas. It was a common practice for him to wander the studio with a Rolleiflex while an assistant roved alongside with a strobe.
However, in this video, you can see a beauty dish at 0:28 and an octa softbox at 0:45.
So do you want the Richard Avedon look?
I’d start with one of his books like Avedon Fashion: 1944-2000, which will not only be a great source of education and inspiration, but a beautiful coffee table book.
Equipment-wide, I’d keep it very simple for now. Assuming you have a camera, start with a simple roll of white background paper, and focus on expression. Avedon’s lighting was very simple and much of it can be emulated with a simple umbrella: his work was all about energy and emotion.