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Anastasiia Zinkevych
May 6, 2024
10 min

Ekin Can Bayrakdar: directing models, advice for young brands, and AI in photography

in this article

Our journey to introduce Squareshot's long-awaited on-model service, taking almost half a year of preparation, brought us closer to the talents who shape the industry with their work. While seeking the answer to what makes fashion photography "work", we got a chance to chat with Ekin Can Bayrakdar, a distinguished fashion and beauty photographer based in London. Ekin's body of work is featured on numerous renowned publications worldwide, including VOGUE, HARPER'S BAZAAR, and L'OFFICIEL.

Working with models

ANASTASIA: With your extensive experience in on-model shoots, what techniques do you rely on to capture natural expressions and ensure models feel relaxed, especially when working with specific moods or themes?

EKIN: Basically, each shoot is a creative adventure! We always start by defining a theme that sets the tone for the entire project. We plan every aspect with my team — from lighting setups to mood boards and posing concepts. While the HMUA does their magic, I take a moment to chat with the model. I fill her in on the day's agenda, show her the mood board for inspiration, and let her know what I'm hoping to achieve together.

I like to give models freedom to express themselves, but I also provide some ideas and set the vibe I'm aiming for. Occasionally, I might suggest a starting pose, but overall, I want them to feel comfortable to create something unique. I often prepare a posing mood board, usually sourcing inspiration from Pinterest or editorial websites like and

On the day of the shoot, I prioritize building a connection with the model. Based on that, we can keep creating more and more. So, It's all about making a relaxed atmosphere.

Ekin for Schon Magazine

ANASTASIA: Have you ever had situations where models just couldn't seem to get comfortable, even with all your mood board guidance? How do you handle those kinds of challenges?

EKIN: Most of the time, I collaborate with experienced models. However, if I'm working with someone who's a bit inexperienced, I try to lighten the mood with some jokes and create a welcoming atmosphere to help them feel more at ease. I show them our progress as we go along, giving feedback like "this is good" or "this is better" to keep things positive and encouraging.

Sometimes, despite my efforts, it doesn't quite click, and that's okay. In such cases, I never force it. Instead, I suggest we start with some basic poses and then I work my magic from there. I experiment with different angles, perspectives, lenses, and lighting setups until we find what works best. Above all, my priority is always to ensure the model feels comfortable — that's key to a successful shoot.

ANASTASIA: So, to sum up what you're saying, the best advice is to break the ice and engage in a conversation throughout the process, right?

EKIN: Exactly! Building that human connection is key, but it's also crucial to communicate your expectations clearly. Whether it's a straightforward shoot or something more elaborate, sometimes models just dive in without really knowing what to expect. That's why, when they're getting prepped and styled on shoot day, I always try to chat with them, even though I'm usually swamped setting up the perfect lighting. I take a few minutes to introduce myself, see how they're feeling, and check if they need anything.

Throughout the shoot, I keep an eye on them, making sure they're not too tired or in need of water or anything else. It's something I learned from a slightly upsetting experience when a model didn't speak up about being hungry and nearly fainted. So, now I always make a point to tell them upfront: "Hey, if you need anything, just let me know.

Ekin for Ward - L'Officiel Baltics

ANASTASIA: What you're saying makes total sense. It's all about recognizing that everyone involved in the shoot, from the models to the entire crew, has their own needs. So, when you're getting everything ready for the shoot, it's important to think about things like food, drinks, and whatever else might be necessary on set. Taking care of these little details can really make a big difference in keeping everyone comfortable and focused on the job at hand.

EKIN: Yeah, you summed it up perfectly! 

Advice for young brands shooting model projects

ANASTASIA: Often, young brands launching with a limited budget for photo shoots strive to handle everything themselves. What advice would you give in such a situation to ensure that the quality of the shoot meets expectations? What areas would you recommend investing in, especially considering that many draw inspiration from Vogue-style photography?

EKIN: Oh, that's a tough question, I think. Without a budget, we can't just magically create Vogue-style photos. We need time to brainstorm and experiment. Often with young brands on a tight budget, they try to squeeze in too many looks in a single shoot day. I always advise planning for an extra day if possible. When that's not an option, you have to be ready to sacrifice quality. You can't have top-notch quality, low cost, and fast turnaround all at once. You have to compromise on at least one of those aspects. If you want more quantity, that's okay, but you can't expect the same level of quality as a Vogue shoot. I always try to break down how much time we have for each piece, taking into account hair and makeup, setting up lighting, and the fact that shoot days are typically 8-9 hours long, with 2 hours already gone for setup and 1 hour for lunch. That leaves us with just 6 hours for shooting, during which models need to change outfits. So if you have 40 items, they need to change 40 times, meaning I only have 2-3 minutes to shoot each look. That's what I'm getting at. My advice for young brands launching collections is if they can invest in an extra day, it would greatly improve the outcome.

ANASTASIA: Based on your experience, how many looks per hour or day would you recommend shooting?

EKIN: From my experience, for magazine shoots, we typically aim for around 10-12 images in a full day, which averages out to about 2 images per hour. We really try to make the most of our time. However, with young brands, there's often a desire to showcase more looks, including the front, back, and details, which I totally get. But, even for campaigns, there are limitations. I'd recommend not exceeding 15 looks per photoshoot day if you're aiming for quality results.

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Creative deviating from shooting plan

ANASTASIA: What do you do when unexpected ideas come to you during the shoot, but you have a schedule to adhere to? When is it fair to compromise, and when should you stick to the schedule?

EKIN: It really depends on the project and the client's preferences. Some clients are very specific and know exactly what they want. In those cases, we're there as a creative team to bring their vision to life. They might have specific requirements for lighting, poses, framing — everything is thoroughly planned out. On the other hand, some shoots are more flexible. If I have a quick idea I want to try out, I'll take the risk and go for it.

There was one time when I had just 2-3 minutes to try something different, and even though the client liked it, we had to stick to the planned shoot. But the outcome turned out really well, and the client was happy with the final images too. Of course, experimenting does take up time, but I usually do a lot of trial runs beforehand, so I know what I'm doing on set. Clients really appreciate it when you bring your own creative ideas to the table. However, if you haven't tested a particular lighting setup or technique before and you lack experience with it, it's best not to experiment on the set. It's important to know what you're creating beforehand to avoid any potential disappointment.

Use of AI and inspiration

ANASTASIA: Everyone seems to be talking about AI these days, and it's piqued our interest too. What are your thoughts on AI, and do you use it in your work? Do you think there's a chance that AI could eventually replace a human talent?

EKIN: I think AI is going to be a helpful tool because it won't replace the human touch. It's just a new generation of "computers," and in the past, people were so scared that computers would take over human roles. While it did happen in some businesses, a computer isn't "creative" in the same way humans are. Creativity comes from the journey. When you ask AI for something, it brings it to you, but there's no real process, no journey involved. The creativity happens during that journey. You start with something, and along the way, other ideas emerge. You need to analyze those ideas, maybe combine them, and that's where the outcome comes from. AI is like a shortcut.

Creativity isn't just about reaching a destination; it's about the journey itself.

I only use AI as a part of software. Sometimes, I circle something in Photoshop and say "remove," and it does it for me. Sometimes it's quicker, sometimes it's longer. But AI often looks fake to me. Many people try to recreate a "fashion photography scene" with AI, but it seems too flawless and artificial, especially with filters on social media. It's fake, and everyone knows it.

That's why more and more photographers are turning to manual analogue photography and purposely making "mistakes", like focusing on the background instead of the model. When you input it into AI, it gives you the perfect model picture. We want those "human mistakes" to make it look more organic and authentic.

Ekin for Harper’s BAZAAR Hong Kong

ANASTASIA: Where do you get your inspiration from?

EKIN: So basically, my inspiration comes from the history of art. I studied Fine Arts in university, focusing on paintings and sculpture. Growing up with my father, who is an artist as well, meant being surrounded by lots of paintings, which further influenced me. My understanding of colors and aesthetics is rooted in this background. I never formally studied photography. Instead, my shoot ideas are inspired by art history. I conduct my own research, exploring various sources like Google, Pinterest, etc. I collect these ideas into folders, kinda documenting them, and then I think about how I can apply them to specific shoots - what can I implement this season and where? Should I stick with London or head to Barcelona, or perhaps somewhere else entirely? It's all about finding the right inspiration and translating it into my photography.

Closing thoughts

ANASTASIA: Could you share a memorable or challenging experience from an on-model photoshoot and what you learned from it?

EKIN: Once, I had a shoot with a model in Piccadilly Circus, which is a noisy area, especially at night. We were doing a "night shoot," but during the session, several strange men started passing by, making odd poses, and even posing for the camera, which was really distracting and made the whole team nervous. The model felt very uncomfortable. We tried talking to these people and asking them to be respectful, but it didn't help much. The situation was becoming increasingly tense, so I decided to relocate to a quieter street to ensure the model's comfort and safety. Communication was key here — we talked with the model and reassured her after that strange encounter.

What I learned from this experience is that it's crucial to ensure the model feels safe and free from distractions. If the model is upset, it reflects in the photos. You can’t control the unforeseen challenges but you can react fast and make your plan at the moment.

ANASTASIA: It seems like those wise words are leading us to the last question: what would you say to other aspiring fashion photographers?

EKIN: You don’t necessarily need to study art at university, but it's crucial to understand the history of art. Knowing why certain choices are made, such as color palettes and framing, is essential. It's also important to look up to other photographers and be familiar with names like Tim Walker, Mert & Marcus and Mario Sorrenti .

Success in this field is based on research, knowledge, and plenty of experimentation. Lots of trying, trying, trying… And lots of failing as well. You have to fail to come up strong!  :)

For more inspiration, visit Ekin's website and check out his social media profiles in Instagram & Linkedin

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May 6, 2024
10 min

Ekin Can Bayrakdar: directing models, advice for young brands, and AI in photography

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