A Complete Guide to Fashion Photography

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I am David Victory, a full-time photographer in Los Angeles California, and I have been exclusively shooting fashion since 2014 for brands worldwide who ship their clothing to my studios for that LA look. We are going to talk about what fashion photography is and what it takes to become a successful fashion photographer!

Personally, I know it’s the hardest genre in photography to break into and make a living. It is only one notch easier than being a Hollywood DP which is another equally impossible dream job full of maneuvering, mystery, and mafia.

What is Fashion Photography?

Fashion photography is a photographic genre that journals the clothing and accessories plus the lifestyle and attitude they represent today.

It has a long and storied history, dating back to the early 20th century. Pioneering fashion photographers like Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton, and Irving Penn helped to define the genre, creating iconic images that still resonate with us today.

Fashion photography is used for a variety of purposes. Fashion magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair use fashion photographs for editorial shoots, fashion editorials, and advertising campaigns. Brands and designers use fashion photographs to display their products, and street photographers capture the fashion scene in everyday life.

As a fashion photographer, the lucky you will be responsible for creating images that capture the essence of a particular brand, designer, or lifestyle. This will require you to have basic photography skills.

One of the most demanding aspects of fashion photography is the need to be versatile. One will need to be able to shoot in a variety of different styles, from high fashion photography to lifestyle, editorial photography, and even product photography.

male and female models posing in the field.

You will need to be able to work in both studio shots and on-location photo shoots and be comfortable with a wide range of different lighting setups.

At the same time, you will need to be able to maintain a distinctive style that sets you apart from other photographers, which can be a challenging balance to strike, but it is essential if you want to stand out in the competitive world of fashion.

Many famous fashion photographers have had exhibitions at galleries and museums, and their work has become a part of the larger cultural conversation.

Let’s unravel it together.

Types of Fashion Photography

Editorial photography is perhaps one of the most recognizable types of fashion photography. It is used in magazines forever and is intended to tell a story or display a trend. It typically involves a creative team.

High fashion or Haute Couture photography is similar to editorial photography but is typically used for advertising high-end brands. The images are intended to evoke a sense of luxury and exclusivity, “something you have never seen before”.

Street-style photography has become increasingly popular in recent years, thanks partly to social media. This type of photography captures everyday people wearing fashionable outfits on the streets.

Lifestyle photography involves capturing fashion in everyday life situations and is often intended to display how a particular item of clothing or accessory fits into everyday life.

Fine art photography is a more abstract type of fashion photography. It is often exhibited in fine art exhibitions and is intended to display fashion in a more artistic way. This often involves sexy shots, risqué poses, and different lighting setups to create a distinctive style.

Other forms of fashion photography today include but are not limited to catalog, eCommerce, runway, lookbook, and social media.

High Fashion Photography

High Fashion Photography.

“Haute Couture” fashion photography is creating stunning images that display the latest fashion trends and designs in the most elegant and creative way possible. It’s something you never see worn or posted anywhere.

Foremost high fashion photography is the domain of the most prestigious brands and designers in the world. It’s a genre that requires a great deal of skill and creativity from fashion photographers, makeup artists, fashion designers, and the rest of the creative team involved in a fashion shoot.

It’s a collaborative effort that brings together the best of the best in the industry to create the most stunning images possible to convey an emotion or ideology.

Art direction and styling are most important, and you will find that 99% of the time, there is a team involved in haute couture fashion photography.

Black And White Fashion Photography

Black And White Fashion Photography.

One style that I always find myself coming back to is black and white fashion photography, especially when shooting grayscale ensembles for advertising. Obviously, you never see B&W fashion photography in eCommerce or lookbooks.

Black and white fashion photography has a timeless quality that never goes out of style. It emphasizes the contrast and texture in the clothing, as well as the model’s features and expressions. It can also give a sense of drama and mood to the image, adding depth and complexity like film noir.

In the early days of fashion photography, black and white was the only option, and many iconic fashion photographs from that era still hold up today.

Fashion photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn were masters of black and white fashion photography, and their work continues to inspire modern photographers.

Editorial Fashion Photography

Editorial Fashion Photography.

This style is often featured in magazine articles where an editor writes a story around the photo session or vice-versa and can display clothing, accessories, or even just an idea or theme.

To create successful editorial fashion photographs, the lucky you need to work closely with a creative team that includes designers, makeup artists, stylists, and models. Everyone’s input is essential to the final image, and a great team can produce incredible results.

One of the main differences between editorial and commercial fashion photography is that editorial photography tends to have more creative freedom. You can use unusual lighting, angles, or even props to create an image that stands out and tells a unique story.

Street Fashion Photography

Street.

The art of street fashion photography has grown in popularity in recent years, with many photographers making a name for themselves in the industry, especially on Instagram. It is an inexpensive genre but time-consuming, and you may spend a day shooting to grab one good shot. You also need to be comfortable approaching strangers and asking for permission to take their pictures.

For street photography, even when it’s lifestyle or lookbook, I hunt for the shot rather than “making” the shot. One of the most important things to keep in mind when shooting street fashion is to be aware of your surroundings.

You’ll need to be on your toes and pay attention to the lighting, the background, and the overall atmosphere of the location.

Street fashion photography has become increasingly popular, with many fashion brands and magazines featuring street-style photographs in their editorials and advertising campaigns.

The art world has also taken notice, with street-style photographers being featured in fashion photography street exhibitions, and solo exhibitions.

Catalog Fashion Photography

Catalog Photography.

As a catalog and e-commerce fashion photographer, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of Shopify and Amazon fashion brands. My job is to make their products look attractive and desirable to potential customers.

To achieve this, I focus on capturing the colors, textures, and details of each product in an accurate way that provides confidence in their customers to click that “add to cart button” I just hate it.

Something you do to pay the bills. It’s a very objective mode of photography, not subjective, with no leeway and only one right way of doing it.

I use strobe lighting exclusively for this genre and often use a 50mm or 28-70mm prime zoom to capture different perspectives of the products, whether on fashion models or flatlay.

Here the model’s pose should be natural and comfortable and take second place to the product detail and coverage, he or she can’t interject too much personality, ugh.

Lookbook Photography

Lookbook Photography.

A lookbook is the lowest cost option fashion photography genre and just a set of photographs that show a designer or brand’s latest collection, usually featuring models and styled in a way that displays the clothing in a cohesive and serial manner.

Lookbooks are often shot quickly outdoors, maybe just outside the brands’ warehouse, and used for marketing purposes. It’s typically not for consumers! But can be found both online and in print.

While models and the overall aesthetic are ecommerce, the clothes should be the star of the show. To achieve this, it’s important to shoot with a tele lens and open aperture to keep the background out of focus.

I recommend using a combination of natural and artificial light to create a quick and dynamic look.

I often shoot beginner models or even the brand secretary wearing the clothes as they are unwrapped from DHL boxes stacked in their warehouse.

Glamour Photography

Glamour Photography.

Glamour photography is a visual shout-out of beauty, sensuality, and grace. It’s a type of photography that focuses on creating images that are both sexy and seductive, the model is the star of the show, and 99% of the time, your fashion model is a she.

Lighting is one of the most important elements to consider when it comes to glamour. I go for classic Hollywood high key lighting, even tungsten, with a snoot when I want to see what I am doing as I shoot.

Posing, emotion, makeup, and hair are also important elements to consider in glamour photography. It’s essential to work with a talented MUA and hair stylist to create the perfect look for the model. This can range from a natural, minimal look to a more dramatic, bold style.

Glamour photography has been around for decades and has evolved with the times. Modern glamour photography often features a more dynamic and edgy style, with shots that capture the model in action. This style can be seen in fashion editorials, fashion advertising campaigns, and social media.

Runway Fashion Photography

Runway Photography.

This demanding genre is the sports photography of fashion and captures the models and their dresses as they catwalk down the runway during a fashion show (men’s dog walk). It is very fast-paced, and there are no second takes.

Essentially you are in charge of nothing and stuck in a tight spot with 20 other photographers clamoring over each other’s heads to get a click, the same exact glimpse and lighting and model and poses, etc.

It reminds me of many a politician giving a speech in front of 50 microphones, where one mic and a distro box would do so much better.

The lighting at runway shows can be tricky, with fast-changing lights. Therefore, it’s important to be prepared and have a plan in place for camera settings and how you will capture perfect shots.

You better have one of the long-range zoom lenses and mirrorless fast-focus cameras like a Canon R5 to save the day!

You have to also capture the energy and excitement of the event before, during, and after, as well as the occasional falls of the models and attendance of designers and industry stars in the front seats with their iPhones in hand pointed at you.

Beauty Photography

Beauty Photography.

“Don’t hate me because I am beautiful,” but that’s exactly what we are doing, creating captivating images that celebrate the unique features of the beautiful models, whether it be their striking eyes, stunning lips, or luscious locks, so the audience envies them, you are dealing with 100% female models here.

Understanding how to manipulate lighting to enhance the features of your model is crucial.

The magic of beauty photography is the use of a skilled makeup artist who will enhance the model’s attributes, highlighting their features and making them shine. Makeup can change moods from natural or dramatic.

You want to maximize the unique features and qualities of your model, whatever they are selling, whether it be their skin tone, facial structure, or expressions, and minimize their “bad side” or negatives. The model’s pose is key as it can enhance or detract from the final image.

As a beauty photographer, it’s also essential to pay attention to detail. That one stray hair going over the models face can ruin your best shot of the session.

Model Photography

Model Photography.

I think fashion photography and model photography go hand in hand! Without models, our fashion shoots and editorials would be lifeless. Shooting fashion on a tabletop is like shooting a corpse without a soul.

When working with fashion models, it’s essential to establish a comfortable and collaborative relationship with them, whether female or male. This means taking the time to communicate your vision and ideas clearly and listening to their input as well.

The more comfortable the model is, the more natural and effortless their poses and expressions will be, and the faster they will give up their best poses in front of your camera.

Fashion Magazines

Fashion Magazine Photography.

Fashion magazines in print are dying and getting a new life online, but they have been around for a long time, and they have played a critical role in shaping the fashion industry. Magazines are a great way to display your work as a photographer. Shooting a magazine cover or having a tear sheet is a trophy, and they can provide you with some excellent exposure in the industry.

Some of the most famous photographers in the world are only so because they have been published in magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair, and I am not yet.

It takes some investment on your part and legwork to get your shots published. Editorial photography is one of the most popular genres featured in magazines.

Find out who the magazine editors are on LinkedIn and Instagram, get on their radar, and pitch a shoot. If they like the idea and comment on it, go ahead and produce the shoot and submit the photos in their required format. The editor may build an editorial around your visuals, and voila you are a published fashion photographer.

Modern Fashion Photography

Modern Fashion.

One major change that has impacted modern fashion photography is the rise of digital technology in the 21st century. With high-quality cameras and advanced editing software now widely available, it’s easier than ever to create stunning fashion photographs that capture the essence of the subject in a way impossible in the previous century.

Another trend in modern fashion photography is the move away from traditional studio shots and towards more dynamic style and on-location shoots, which allows for more creative freedom and can result in more atmospheric shots that really tell a story.

Fashion Photography Tips

Even though every fashion photographer has their own desired shooting method, these are a few key tips for every photographer to remember when working within the realm of fashion.

Understand the fashion industry and keep up with the latest trends, read fashion magazines, follow fashion bloggers and influencers on social media, and attend fashion events to stay in the know. This will give you a better understanding of what clients and brands are looking for in their photography.

2. Use Various Methods of Framing

Fashion photography is a culmination of portraits and full-length imagery. The key detail to remember is that a good fashion photographer is always experimenting with framing and composition. The idea is to grab the attention of the viewer and highlight the article of clothing, jewelry, or accessory you are photographing on your model.

The reason we aim to frame our subject in different ways is due to the idea that fashion is not only about clothing but about the story, the mood, and the art of the creation.

3. Direct Your Subject with Posing and Movement

When photographing a model for your fashion project, you will need to know how to direct your subject. It is best to have an idea of poses that fit into the style of the shoot. You can aid the model in facial expressions, use of hands, adjusting posture, and overall stance. Additionally, integrating the use of movement is essential in photographing clothing. Whether you have your model play with the fabric or physically move their body by stepping, jumping, or leaning – you will add a dimensional element to the pieces.

Depending on the project, your model may have a variety of poses that give off a certain mood to the audience, such as strong, stoic, defeated, elated, and so forth. It is important to utilize these tools but to always ensure that the posing and movement align with your shoot’s overall theme and purpose.

tips from a professional photographer.

4. Pay Attention to Details

An important aspect to remember when photographing fashion is to pay attention to the details, which includes fixing pieces or elements that may go awry while shooting. This can be adjusting the hair of the model, cleaning up makeup, wiping away sweat from their face, and adjusting pieces of clothing that are wrinkled or unorganized – the smallest details are vital in fashion photographs.

This is especially crucial if you are shooting a piece that will be featured in a magazine or for a campaign. Yes, you can make adjustments to hair, skin, and clothing in Photoshop, but some elements need to be fixed on the spot while shooting. If you pay attention to the details and have a team that is fixing elements while you shoot – your images will exude a clean and professional look.

5. Don’t be Afraid to Experiment

The best part of fashion photography is the creativity within the niche. You are encouraged as a fashion photographer to create your own style and personal vision in order to distinguish yourself within the photographic community. It is advised to test and try new techniques often when you first start in fashion photography. If you prefer studio setups, play with various types of lighting. If you shoot outdoors or on location, be creative with how you compose your subject within the background. Add visual elements, use props, and choose the clothing that aligns with what you hope to create.

The most successful fashion photographers are often those whose style is immediately recognizable, so be sure to start developing and building your own with every project you photograph.

Fashion photography has grown over the years to encompass a wide variety of photographic styles and personal visions. If you are a photographer that shoots studio, lifestyle photography, or street style fashion, these tips will help you create specialized and unique work. It is necessary to remember that the infusion of fashion and photography is a constantly evolving spectrum.

6. Be Prepared to Be the Director

On a movie set, the person behind the camera usually follows the director’s directions (or supports the vision). In a fashion photo shoot, the photographer is often also the director. If you’re expected to fill that role, you must consider everything from location to lighting, posing, and post-production as you set up your shoot. All these elements help you tell a story through your images, so it’s important to know what the client is trying to achieve so you can formulate a cohesive plan to support it.

7. Lighting

One of the most important elements of fashion photography is complex lighting, don’t just light but also shadow the scene.

8. Composition

Use wide-angle lenses to dramatize everything, from the model’s height to expression, don’t forget about the background. What you include and what you exclude are equally important.

9. Hair, Makeup, and Styling

Hair, makeup, and styling can make or break a fashion shoot, work with a creative team, including a fashion designer and makeup artist, to create a cohesive look that complements the overall vision of the shoot, whether for a brand or magazine.

10. Set Your Model Up for Success

Give the model a clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve so they can help you. You can shoot in single shots or bursts but try to avoid killing the energy on your set by squinting at your monitor between every frame you shoot. For many models, especially inexperienced ones, poses that look good on camera will feel unnatural.

If your composition isn’t quite right, have them try making small adjustments, one at a time. If their mouth is closed, try opening it just slightly to reduce tension in the jaw. Try pushing the chin forward and down slightly, lifting (or rolling back) one shoulder, looking in a slightly different direction, and so on.

11. Don’t Lose Track of the Fashion

It’s easy to get caught up in making the model’s eyes pop, but if the image is supposed to sell the handbag they’re carrying, you might be doing yourself a disservice. Identify early where the focus of the image should be and make sure everything (the background, framing, model, lighting, and so on) drives the viewer’s focus to the item you’re meant to be showcasing.

12. Don’t Be Afraid of Motion

Sometimes the best photos come from a candid or resetting moment because the model isn’t feeling tense. If you’re ready to try some “action” shots, set your camera up for burst mode and have some fun.

Great action shots can include something as simple as walking toward (or past) the camera, jumping, turning the head to get movement from the hair, and more. Before a model starts jumping, make sure they’re wearing comfortable and safe shoes (remember, they might have put those shoes on for the first time just a few minutes ago).

13. Practice

Finally, always be open to learning and trying new things, attend workshops, take classes, and seek out feedback from other photographers to continue to improve your skills and grow as a photographer

Fashion photography is the hardest nut to crack in the world of photography, so give it your best shot!

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David Victory is an American fashion photographer based in Los Angeles. He got his first camera, a plastic lens 120 roll film Diana at age 5, and printed his first black and white at 8. So far, David has traveled/shot in 75 cities worldwide and counting. He is known for complex and expensive projects.
David Victory is an American fashion photographer based in Los Angeles. He got his first camera, a plastic lens 120 roll film Diana at age 5, and printed his first black and white at 8. So far, David has traveled/shot in 75 cities worldwide and counting. He is known for complex and expensive projects.
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