Building a fashion story

Fashion photographer and videographer Javier Cortés explains how he created his film, Beauty is Subjective, and how the move to mirrorless has enabled him to further enhance his video work.
A young woman wearing vintage clothing looks up at the camera, amid a crowd of people taking photographs of someone just out of sight.

An image from Beauty is Subjective, a fashion short by photographer and filmmaker Javier Cortés challenging traditional assumptions about female beauty. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/3.5 and ISO800. © Javier Cortés

It's an exciting time to be in fashion, believes Spanish photographer, filmmaker and Canon Ambassador Javier Cortés. The industry is full of promise, and commissioners are open to a range of possibilities – including narrative features.

"Fashion is changing," says Javier. "People want to see something more than just clothes. Right now you can tell almost any story in fashion. I always try to bring something more than only a photo or a video – I try to bring an idea.

"You need to take care of the aesthetics with clothes and lighting, and to have a creative that makes the most of the art direction and styling – but the rest is down to your ideas. I love the creative part – it's like a timeless moment, creating inside your mind, and it's beautiful."

With a background in classical painting, Javier has long been influenced by the Old Masters. "Rubens, Goya, Rembrandt and other painters changed my way of thinking," he says. "I started to copy the light of these painters in my photographs, and I always have paintings on my moodboards. I find inspiration almost everywhere, from cinema to the people I meet and the stories they tell me."

For his fashion film, Beauty is Subjective (which you can watch below), he aimed to question cultural norms of female beauty through a young woman's journey through a museum. Struggling to see the first work of art past hordes of tourists, she moves into a second room, where she's able to see the artwork but is distracted by the noises around her. A warm glow coming out of a third room catches her eye, drawing her towards a hyper-realistic sculpture of a nude Rubenesque woman. Captivated by her beauty, she sits down to sketch, becoming completely involved in the moment.

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"At the end of the film, we see that the sculpture is a real woman and she comes to life," says Javier. "It's a mix between an artistic concept and a fashion film. The idea is to remind people that beauty is subjective and depends on the viewpoint. Right now, 'real women' and 'real beauty' is a trend in fashion. I think it's more than a trend – it's a movement."

In a still from Javier Cortés' fashion film, Beauty is Subjective, a young model stands in an art gallery, among people dressed in vintage clothes.

Colour, light and movement in video

Javier loves to use light and movement as part of his storytelling. "I'm obsessed with light and colour and using it as part of the narrative," he says. "It helps you to tell something more, to increase the beauty and the aesthetic."

An expert grasp of light and colour science is particularly important for Javier in the context of working with fashion brands. Inevitably, these brands have spent huge sums of money researching and perfecting the colours they use in their garments – so ensuring you can attest to accuracy, while also giving yourself room for manoeuvre in post-production, is key.

"Colour grading is one of the most important elements," says Javier. "The brands I work with know the importance. I usually explain what I want to do with references to movies or paintings."

Once an agreement is forged over a brief, the challenge is to actually make sure that look is achieved. "C-Log 3 has more natural colours, less saturation and more information in bright light and shadows," Javier says. "It's much better when you want to put on a heavy colour grade in post-production."

A topless male dancer leaps in the air in front of a large framed painting, viewed through the open doorway of an elaborately decorated room.

Javier filmed Beauty is Subjective with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, but has recently made the move to mirrorless. He feels the EOS R System presents fantastic opportunities for gathering varied social content on set; for example, the EOS R6, with its ability to shoot continuously at 20fps, recording up to 240 RAW images. "Being able to shoot in bursts also gives you other possibilities for certain types of videos or to create GIFs," says Javier. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 27mm, 1/350 sec, f/2.8 and ISO800. © Javier Cortés

For Beauty is Subjective, the studio was bathed in natural daylight and Javier used black sheeting to create pockets of darkness and control the contrast, as well as opening and closing blinds to adjust the natural light. "You can completely change the natural light in the room, just by adjusting a few things. At the beginning I used a lot of lighting in my photography and video, but now in each shoot I use less than in the one before.

"I love natural light," he continues. "I always try to shoot in the perfect moment, because it makes no sense to have 20 lights to recreate sunlight when you can shoot with real sunlight."

A videographer makes adjustments to a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV on a film set.

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Javier believes that the development of EOS R System cameras, with their low-light capabilities and the integration of C-Log 3, really supports this pursuit of stripped-back lighting. "The sensitivity of these cameras is fantastic," he says. "You can achieve very professional results using a modelling light from a flash or lights available on location."

For those who do make the leap and switch from a DSLR or mirrorless body to a cinema camera such as the Canon EOS C200, Canon EOS C300 Mark III or EOS C500 Mark II, there is also the option to shoot in Cinema RAW Light. This colour profile gives you the option to shoot in full RAW, with all of the quality headroom that entails, but with smaller file sizes and high levels of flexibility in post-production, as the gamma curve and processing parameters are not set at the moment of capture.

A woman in white clothing strikes a ballet pose on a beach at twilight, a mountain and lit-up buildings behind her.

In terms of focal length when photographing or filming fashion, Javier favours 50mm. "For me, it's 'the one'," he says. "It's like a normal view of the world, but more beautiful. The angle and the lines are perfect. With a 50mm lens, you represent people how they are – you're not changing them or making them bigger or smaller." Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/40 sec, f/1.4 and ISO32000. © Javier Cortés

All-in-one technology

For Javier, there are some key considerations when choosing a body that will work for a particular shoot. Can he be as physically flexible and manoeuvrable as he would like to be? And does that body support the format he needs to shoot in?

For Beauty is Subjective, Javier – who has always shot on Canon – teamed a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with his favourite L-series EF lenses – the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM, Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM and Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM. He now pairs a Canon EOS C200 and a Canon EOS R5 with the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM and a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM for most of his fashion shoots.

When movement is key, Javier primarily finds himself reaching for the Canon EOS R5 or EOS R6. "In some advertisements, you need to place the camera at difficult angles, like clinging to the body of an actor," he explains. "I also use them for documentary shoots or medium-length fashion documentaries."

A group of people dress in vintage-looking clothing, and of various ages, wait in line in front of a red velvet curtain.

For Beauty is Subjective, Javier used street-cast models as extras, and dressed them in vintage-style clothing. When he finished filming each scene, he switched to shooting photographs of that point in the story, creating fluidity between the stills and video. © Coque Camara

For Beauty is Subjective, Javier stuck to his preference for a streamlined setup, including a basic gimbal, to add smoothness to moving video shots, and a few basic box lights. As the models, including street-cast extras, arrived on set, the museum took shape. Simple white walls were moved into place to create the spaces for the film and photographs – gallery rooms, corridors and even an elevator.

Shooting video in 4K at 25fps meant Javier captured high-resolution footage, while 50fps in Full HD enabled slow motion playback. "Using different frame rates gives me more possibilities during editing," says Javier. "I use 4K because sometimes you want to crop or stabilise shots afterwards, and 4K helps you to have more detail. I used Full HD in some shots because I wanted to capture more frames per second in order to use slow motion."

High performance memory cards allowed for 4K recording thanks to their fast write speeds of up to 160MB/s. To deal with the larger volumes of data generated by shooting in high resolution, Javier used 64GB cards and regularly backed up onto 1TB hard drives.

The Canon EOS R3 and EOS R5 utilise dual storage slots, with one universal SD slot and a second CFexpress slot for recording high-resolution video, such as 8K RAW or ALL-I and 4K at up to 120p. This gives filmmakers like Javier all the flexibility they need to ensure they can shoot in the pace, style and format required at any given moment.

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