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Sara Melotti: <br class="br_visual" />a passion for fashion

Sara Melotti:
a passion for fashion

© Sara Melotti

December 2014

A persistent back injury forced her to quit a career as a professional dancer but, after receiving an EOS 60D DSLR as a gift, Sara Melotti was inspired to embark on a new path as a fashion photographer. Still just two years into her career she is carving out a growing reputation for her ethereal fashion photography, both in Europe and the USA. CPN Editor-in-Chief Steve Fairclough spoke to her to discover where her passion for photography came from and how she has developed her career thus far...

© Sara Melotti

Still from a cover shoot for inCOVER magazine, Milan, Italy, April 2014. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF85mm f/1.2L USM lens; the exposure was 1/200sec at f/6.3, ISO 100.

Although she didn't pick up, and use, a camera professionally until she was 24-years-old Sara Melotti reveals: “I’ve always had an interest for eye-catching images an unrealistic images, like [the work of] David LaChapelle. I’ve always been really attracted by imagery – I just never considered doing it as a career. I discovered Tim Walker’s work when I was in high school and was super-fascinated by it.”

Upon receiving the aforementioned EOS 60D Sara chose to teach herself: “I thought ‘OK, I have an expensive camera, so I better do something meaningful with it’. I watched a few workshops online – on Creative Live – and I learnt a lot. I also watched a lot of tutorials on You Tube, especially for the Photoshop part [of the workflow]. It was actually rather fast to learn the basics and after that you have to go out there and do it – that’s the only way to improve. You can know all of the technical side of things but unless you put it in practice you’ll never know how good you can be. I think it’s important to know the technicalities, especially when you get to a very professional level and you’re dealing with clients – you need to know what you’re doing. But you also need to know how to break the rules.”

First shoots

In late 2012 Sara was living in Las Vegas and explains: “I went on the Model Mayhem website and created a profile there; found some girls who wanted to be photographed; some hair-stylists and make-up artists. Las Vegas is the craziest place for thinking about starting up in fashion photography but the weather was amazing, so you could shoot a lot.”

Her career began with personal work, a head full of ideas and a near-zero budget. She explains: “I already knew that fashion was pretty much the direction I had to take. The moment I put together my first shoot I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life – it felt even more right than when I was dancing.”

By the fifth or sixth shoot she had decided to take a different approach: “I started shooting more in an editorial way – for example, more wardrobe changes. At the beginning I was just going for one, single image. I’ve always had an interest in fashion and looked at magazines – especially Vogue when I was in school – so I started thinking with more of an editorial mentality and was more willing to create more of a story.”

© Sara Melotti

Still from a desert shoot, Las Vegas, USA, March 2013. Taken on a Canon EOS 60D with an EF50mm f/1.8 II lens; the exposure was 1/2000sec at f/2.8, ISO 125.

This first shoot with “an editorial mindset” was of a girl standing in the street in the Nevada Desert. Sara sent the photos to an online Japanese magazine, which liked the work and published the images. She notes: “That was a good ego boost as I’m shy and I don’t believe that people will like what I do. It gave me the confidence and strength to do more. I thought ‘OK, now I’m on the right path’. It helped me to move forward and keep going so, from then on, I shot with more of an editorial approach and started reaching out to stylists.”

Shortly afterwards a shoot at a Las Vegas motel was picked up by the indie magazine Coco and Sara reveals: “It really has been a case of me submitting work – a lot of small, online magazines are open to submissions and that’s how I worked at the beginning. But when you want to ‘play in the big league’, that’s a whole different story and is a very hard path to walk.”

The ‘photographic eye’

She credits her ‘photographic eye’ and soft, feminine, style of photography to a combination of attending art school in her native Italy and dance. “Dancing helped a lot because it developed my eyes as far as elegance is concerned. I know how the body looks and how the body doesn’t look right because, in ballet especially, your body has to form these lines that have to look a specific way; so my eye got trained into recognising beauty.”

© Sara Melotti

Still from a fashion editorial shoot for Exalt magazine, London, England, October 2013. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF85mm f/1.2L USM lens; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/2.8, ISO 320.

After a year of living in Las Vegas Sara decided to move on: “I was already starting to work with agency models. I started going to LA on trips – I lived there for about three years when I was a dancer and was really familiar with the city – and started approaching modelling agencies there, which was extremely scary at first, but I got over it really fast.”

However, like with Las Vegas, she felt Los Angeles might not be the ideal base for her career: “It’s not the best city to be in if you want to be a fashion photographer. So, it was London, New York or Milan… but I’m from there [Milan] so I didn’t want to live there again – I just prefer living abroad. I wasn’t ready to be in New York and I had travelled a lot to London. London is my favourite city in the whole world – the weather is the only bad thing – I arrived in July 2013.”

She reveals: “London is where everything ‘got real’ because I had access to better creative people and clients started coming. It got from just me just getting some great images to me turning that into a profession – that took about a year from when I started.”

Her London clients thus far have mainly been independent designers, many just out of fashion school, but she did learn a harsh lesson: ”There was one fairly big brand that approached me, but we didn't end up shooting because they didn't want to pay me. Now I regret not shooting with them – at the time I thought it wasn’t fair [not to be paid], but it was a mistake. That’s the beauty of it – I am making so many mistakes but I am learning everything by my mistakes. I can't complain – I’m not where I want to be yet, but I have to remind myself that I’ve just started.”

Equipment choices

With her career growing Sara has also had to make choices in the photographic equipment she works with: “I have a [EOS 5D] Mark II right now. When things started to get a little more serious [in my career] I understood that image quality matters a lot; you have to have specific standards. So, I upgraded to the Mark II for that reason. Right now I’d like to upgrade to the 5D Mark III as soon as I can – for quality purposes and for focusing. I shoot pretty much everything with my 85mm f/1.2 lens, wide-open most of the time, so it can be hard [for me] to focus. At the beginning I was using a 50mm f/1.8 lens, which worked for me at that time, but when I came to London I got the EF85mm f/1.2L USM lens and ever since it has been ‘my baby’ – I love that lens!”

During 2014 she has also worked with the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM zoom and notes: “It’s a great lens. I still find that when I go to edit my photos from a shoot, for re-touching, 99% of them will be still be shot with the 85mm [lens]. The 24-70mm is really useful when you have space issues – if I’m in a situation where I need to get a full body shot, and I can't with the 85mm, it’s really, really handy – it’s good to have it [the zoom] in your kitbag. The quality is great, but my personal preference is the 85mm lens.”

Sara prefers to handhold during her shoots: “I always have my camera in my hands. I like to move around and get different angles – with a tripod it would be just too limiting. I never use tripods unless it’s a mandatory thing for when I’m shooting ‘lookbooks’, when sometimes the clients want a ‘steady look’ and everything in the same place. For my personal work, I never use a tripod. I use one camera body and one lens most of the time – really, really simple – and even with lights I usually use just one light for the studio.”

She adds: “I usually use either a big octabank or a big softbox. I usually rent it and use Elinchrom – I love Elinchrom Rotalux [units]. In the US they all use Profoto or Broncolor [lighting], which I have tried – they are amazing but I really like Elinchrom. Maybe next time I am in Europe I will get a big Rotalux octabank so I will always have it with me. I use soft light – always double diffused. I will use beauty dishes if I have to, but for personal work I never use a beauty dish.”

Sara uses the Lightroom software’s ‘star system’ to rank and pick around 20 images per shoot for a final edit to transfer into Photoshop for post-production, but reveals: “As far as my re-touching [is concerned], I never do compositing – if I’m shooting a mountain background I will bring the model to the mountain; I would rather have everything in-camera.”

Moving to New York

With her wanderlust as strong as ever, after less than a year in London, the next step for Sara was New York: “I wanted to try New York; I visited in winter 2013 to see if I could work there. By April 2014 I went to New York – I planned to be backwards and forwards between London and New York but I am in the process of getting my permanent green card.”

© Sara Melotti

Still from a cover shoot for Unallied magazine, Las Vegas, USA, May 2013. Taken on a Canon EOS 60D with an EF50mm f/1.8 II lens; the exposure was 1/250sec at f/3.5, ISO 500.

Sara reveals: “Right now I’m working on commissions and my personal shoots – one is ballet-inspired. I have just shot a ‘lookbook’ and campaign for the brand Mataano, which is really nice because they let me do the art direction as well. I love it when a client lets me do everything – I have used a few of the [Mataano] images for my book because it is really ‘me’. I’ve been approached by a few ad agencies, so I’m working with their clients – it's all in their control, so I don’t have much say in things, but it pays the bills. I’m also learning how to work with normal people, not professional models, which is a big difference. In the future I would, one day, like to be shooting celebrities so this [experience] has all been helpful in many ways.”

Despite her growing reputation in different parts of the world Sara is still not content: “The more I learn about how the [fashion] industry works, the more I understand about what I have done so far is really nothing. A good publication for me [to be published in] would be like Elle, L'Officiel, Glamour, Marie Claire… well-known publications. There are a lot of great independent magazines but a lot don't suit my style because they have a more raw style than what I shoot, which is more feminine, romantic and really constructed.”

She adds: “Tim Walker and Ruven Afanador are my biggest inspirations and one day I hope to get close to be doing what they are doing – they are amazing. They have this unrealistic feel to their images because they’re so constructed; they’re so beautiful and that’s what I want to do. I’ve always been really fascinated by fairy tales and one day that will be my biggest project. I want my images to be not realistic – I want people to dream of being in that particular setting or circumstances.”

Looking to the future

As for the future Sara explains: “I’m now trying to get commissions from bigger magazines. I’m at a point where I’d rather take it slower than to just be ‘all over the place’. My ultimate goal in photography would be to be able to create incredible, intricate images – everything has to be based on storytelling – and have sets, props and celebrities, but it’s going to take a long time to get there.”

© Sara Melotti

Still from an editorial shoot for NeverLazy magazine, Milan, Italy, December 2013. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF85mm f/1.2L USM lens; the exposure was 1/200sec at f/5.6, ISO 100.

Sara admits: “Maybe in 10 [years] I would like to be shooting for Vogue. Advertising work is amazing but with editorial [shoots] that’s where you can really put your heart into your projects. I would really like to be able to shoot for amazing publications and on very creative projects. I have such a clear vision of what I want my images to be. I don't know how I’m going to get there, but you never know. Vogue would definitely be the ultimate goal as far as creative projects are concerned.”

She adds: “I think [actor] Will Smith said ‘being realistic is the most commonly travelled road to mediocrity’. In a way this is so true because, if you’re too realistic, you are already setting yourself limits. We are limitless so what I hope is that, more than inspiring people with images, it is possible to create beautiful images and make a career out of something you love. If you really put your mind to it and work hard you can believe and make the life you want for yourself.”

She recalls: “After I couldn't dance any more I was miserable. I was so depressed and then photography came along and changed my life – I’m so grateful for it and I hope more people have the same kind of experience and just chase after their dreams. Have faith in a better future because it’s there – you just have to go and get it.” There’s little doubt that that is one thing Sara Melotti is clearly doing…

Sara Melotti’s advice to other young fashion photographers

  • “Don't take yourself too seriously – we are not doctors saving lives so there is no reason why we should make our lives harder.”
  • “You have to reject rejection because you get so much of it.”
  • “If you live by your fears you’re never going to do anything with your life. You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so it’s best to take a chance at doing what you love.”
  • “Take risks. I’m way too risky in many ways and don't think about consequences. Now, when I look back at previous experiences, like when I was in Vegas, I regretted it but when I look back it was where I started photography. Even if I am not the biggest fan of Vegas I will be forever thankful to Vegas.”
  • “You cannot compete with other people – the only person you should compete with is yourself. You have to always be your ‘best self’ – it’s really, really important.”
  • “Listening to your gut is the best thing to do. My family is not very supportive of what I do – they’re from Italy and there is a different mentality there, more like ‘don't have dreams because you’re not going to make it, just get a regular job’, which is really sad. I’m a dreamer; I have always been a dreamer and always will be.”
  • “I believe that if you believe in yourself you can achieve everything you want. Everything was impossible before somebody did it – somebody invented the aeroplane. I believe nothing is impossible.”


Sara Melotti’s kitbag

EOS 5D Mark II

EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
EF50mm f/1.8 II
EF85mm f/1.2L USM

Biography: Sara Melotti

Sara Melotti

Sara Melotti is a fashion photographer who was born and raised in Italy. Since childhood she had an interest in the arts and pursued a career in contemporary dance that, after finishing art school in Italy, allowed her to travel the world. After a back injury forced her to stop dancing she received a Canon EOS 60D DSLR as a gift and discovered her love for photography. Just two years since she arranged her first shoot, Sara has developed a large portfolio, and had shot professionally for magazines and commercial clients in London, New York, Milan, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Her passion for storytelling and her dancing background have strongly influenced her creative vision, which she describes as “soft, fresh, feminine... with a touch of romanticism.”


Still from a fashion editorial shoot for Coco Magazine, Las Vegas, USA, April 2013. Taken on a Canon EOS 60D with an EF50mm f/1.8 II lens; the exposure was 1/100sec at f/9, ISO 160.