A parachute fashion dress shoot can be a little complex to put together, however once you have all of the pieces, it can be very dramatic. What one needs to make it happen is the skirt (which is the parachute itself), the top of the dress, some helpers, a wide open space, as well as a little photoshop helps as well.
The skirt (parachute) could be obtained from an army surplus store, or more readily Ebay. Searching for parachute will give you reliable results, whereas 'parachute dress' will often give you a variety of other styles of pre-made dresses. I choose green, which will be readily apparent is just a little bit, but white and even black parachutes are available. If you can obtain one without the strings attached, you will save time creating the final product. The parachute size will vary from 35 feet in diameter to over 100 feet in diameter.
The parachute will come with a hole in the very center. You will need to create a waistline for your model. Depending upon your preference, you may opt to create an elastic waistband, or a drawstring waistband. Be sure to reinforce which ever style that you choose so that the "dress" waist can be worn easily.
I opted for a full size corset. Corsets are not available as easily as I thought even through outlets such as Victoria Secrets. I turned to Amazon, and of course there was quite a variety. A corset gives a certain elegance to the creation and the waistline can be stuffed under the corset to made the dress appear as though it were one piece. Another option is a tank top camisole which could be worn alone on in conjunction with a corset. I chose to match the color (olive green) to the skirt for a more unified look to the outfit.
Location, light, & help
There are quite a few projects that a photographer can get by where it would be nice to have help, but it can be done with a just a model and a resourceful photographer. Depending upon the size of the parachute (mine with 118 ft in diameter), I really needed help. The extra set of hands is useful for lifting the ends of the dress so that air can get underneath of the dress to create the billowing look. While a model may be able to work a smaller parachute, it can be tricky to pose and fluff the dress at the same time.
You will also want a wide open space, particularly as air gets under the parachute and lifts. Be careful of uneven surfaces as the model can easily trip or get wound up in the parachute and fall. If you can shoot later in the day as well, as the sun starts to set, you can get some interesting light behind the dress. It can be tricky to get enough light on the models torso, so another helper with a reflector may be a good idea. The dress will often move unpredictably, so be ready for anything.
You will likely be shooting with a wide focal length (35 mm). Once the wind catches the dress, movement can often become unpredictable, so be ready for anything. You will probably want a shutter speed somewhere in the range of 1/125 to 1/250 sec depending upon lighting conditions and the aperture you choose. In most cases, you will want most of the dress in focus, so an F-stop of F8 or better is a good idea. Larger apertures may work to blur the background, but you will also risk part of the dress being out of focus.
Ideally, you model will want to make large movements with her arm and upper body. Once again, if the wind gets up underneath the dress, it may 'bury' your model in fabric, so be sure that there are not obstacles that she may fall over.
The nice thing about choosing a green dress, is that the color is VERY easy to change in photoshop. A few steps can lead to quite a variety of color creations.
Although there are certainly other ways to change the dress color, I find this technique the easiest with the best results.
Have fun with some very dramatic results!
Bob Barford is a published photographer is Southern Pennsylvania.