Just the Job: Fashion Photographer

Susanne Spiel, 38, lives in Vienna, Austria and shoots in the UAE regularly
Thursday , 14 July 2011
Just the Job: Fashion Photographer
Susanne Spiel

My day starts at 6.30am. I get up and head straight to the coffee machine – my day doesn’t truly begin until I’ve had my first caffeine fix. Once I’m feeling more awake, I’ll decide what to wear for the day. Fortunately, the nature of my work means I never really have to dress up. In fact, because photographers have a reputation for being a bit grungy, I think people expect me to wear comfy clothes like jeans and flats. So I’ll usually grab the first pair of jeans I see in my wardrobe and team them with a funky T-shirt and my favourite leather shoes.

Call time for most photo shoots is 8am, so I always make sure I’m in my studio before that. Depending on the traffic, it takes me a 30- to 45-minute drive to get to my studio. As soon as I arrive, I take off my shoes (I like to feel at home and comfortable when I work) and give my hair and make-up artist, Sophie, a big hug. I’ll then make myself a cup of coffee and check my emails. When the model arrives Sophie will get to work while I do a light and camera check. While I’m waiting for the model to finish getting ready, I’ll fit in another quick cup of coffee.

I usually do just one shoot a day but if it’s a small one, I can sometimes fit in two or three. Come lunch time, we tend to order in, but a lot of the time, if we’re in the zone we’ll just plough on through (fitting coffee breaks in between, of course). Despite my coffee addiction, I’ll always try to eat healthily and avoid junk food as much as possible because it makes me tired. So I’ll usually order a salad and some fruit for delivery – preferring to save the chocolate for later in the evening!

Being a photographer is hard work but fun at the same time. Everyone wants to look good in a photo, so you’ve got to deal with a lot of egos and vanities - but the easiest way to make sure you look good is to trust the photographer 100 per cent. This is why you have to be a people-person to be a good photographer: building that trust between you and the model is very important.

I’ve worked with a few famous names, including opera singers José Carreras and Plácido Domingo, who were part of the Three Tenors with Pavarotti, and my experience has taught me that the more famous they are, the more normal and friendly they tend to be. Famous people also trust you more as they know you’re a professional and that you know how to make them look good.

I work only for magazines or on ads for clients, and not ordinary people. I like this as it involves a lot of travelling, rather than staying in my studio all the time. I don’t like to stay in one place and prefer flitting from one location to another. My job has taken me to India, Thailand, Lithuania and, of course, Dubai among others.

For a photographer there is no ‘closing hour’. We work to deadlines, so working 18-hour days is pretty normal. Once I’m home for the evening, I’ll cook some food and make a start on re-touching the photos taken that day hen send a selection to the client. By 10pm I’m getting tired so, if I’ve finished for the day, I’ll shut down my computer and head to bed. If I’m not done, I’ll go and make another cup of coffee...

At the weekends I’ll have a bit of a lie-in and then hit the gym. I often invite friends round for dinner in the evenings as I love to cook – although I hate clearing up the mess afterwards! On Saturdays, I enjoy visiting the museums - we’re very lucky to have some great museums and art galleries in Vienna, so I try to not take them for granted. Or, if weather permits, I’ll go for a walk with my family.

I love many things about my job but one of the things I love most is the people. I meet so many from different cultures – it helps to keep my mind energised and open. I love that I learn something new every day from someone who's different from me.