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The 4 Different Types of Fashion Photography

5 min read

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different types of fashion photography

Fashion photography is a popular photography genre, but it is also highly competitive. Understanding the different types of fashion photography can give you the edge you need to both understand the field and impress potential clients with your images.

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In a nutshell, the different types of fashion photography are: 

  • Catalog Photography
  • High Fashion
  • Street Fashion
  • Editorial Fashion
If you think of fashion photography as beautiful models, like this one here, posing on the beach, you might like to know there's a lot of work behind those flawless images.

But, as with any genre, there are nuances for each style. Here is a description of the 4 styles and some of their nuances:

Catalog Photography

Catalog photography is perhaps the simplest of the 4 fashion photography styles. Its purpose is to sell clothing, and the focus is on the outfit. It is often a good place to start in the field of fashion photography before progressing to some of the other styles.

Catalog photography really is a type of product photography. The only real difference between catalog photography and product photography is the presence of the model. Even so, the focus remains on the clothes. 

The background of the photos are usually plain–white and grey colors are the most common. There are minimal accessories and few props. The models typically stand up straight to show the outfit, although they may strike different poses to show off features of the outfit like pockets.

An offshoot of catalog photography is Lookbook where the model is outside or in every day situations like this one. Still, the focus remains on the clothes.
Even with the offshoot of catalog photography called Lookbook, the focus remains on the clothes.

Usually, the biggest problem the photographer faces with this style of fashion photography is the lighting. You want to use lighting that captures the details of the clothing without washing out the colors. To do this, it’s best to avoid using indoor lights or shooting at night. 

An offshoot of catalog photography is called Lookbook. It combines catalog photography with lifestyle photography and involves shooting models wearing the clothes in authentic locations and in everyday situations.

High Fashion Photography

High fashion is something people see frequently on the cover of their favorite magazines. But, from the photographer’s perspective, high fashion means well-known supermodels in often exaggerated poses, a sometimes unrealistic wardrobe, and all elements including hairstyles and location blended to create a flawless image. 

But, getting that flawless image is quite the challenge. You’re constantly confronted with difficult decisions regarding location, lighting, models, wardrobe, hair, and much more. Even if much of that is decided for you, you still have to put it together so that it looks glamorous and appealing. 

One of the first things you should do is carefully consider the mood you want to create with the shoot. You don’t have to be too specific and you don’t have to stick with it if inspiration leads you elsewhere, but it’s a good place to start.

High fashion photography often involves models in exaggerated poses, such as this one, but it strives to create a mood.
High fashion photography strives to create a mood with exaggerated poses and often unrealistic clothing.

You also need the right model for your shoot. You want someone experienced, but also someone who will collaborate with you to create that mood you want. As well as the model, you’ll want a good team. 

You’ll want people who are responsible as well as talented. You’ll want professionals in makeup, wardrobe, and hair styling. It also helps if they share your vision for the shoot and the art of photography in general. 

If you have a choice of location, you’ll want to again consider the mood you’re trying to create. There are also practical considerations, such as whether you need a permit for your location, and if it’s indoors, you might need permission. 

And, then there’s the equipment. You’re going to need lighting equipment as well as a good camera. You’ll want a small weight camera with a good battery life and features that help with low light conditions. You will also want a selection of lenses for varied types of images.

Street Fashion Photography

Street fashion, also known as urban fashion, is often thought of as the opposite of high fashion. An offshoot of street fashion is alternative fashion–grunge and hip-hop are examples that later became mainstream street fashion styles. 

Street fashion looks are more rugged than high fashion. It consists of the kinds of things people wear everyday like jeans, shirts, and hoodies. It also includes dresses that look elegant, but don’t sacrifice comfort. 

Photographers who specialize in this style are often shooting regular people on the street rather than models. But, you’ve got to be careful about getting permission to photograph people on the street. The rules aren’t always clear, as several street fashion photographers can tell you.

Street fashion photography involves regular people wearing rugged, but practical-and fashionable-clothes.

Most of the time with street fashion, it isn’t just about what the person is wearing; it’s also about their expression, how confident they look, the light, and how what they’re wearing accents their attitude. 

To capture street fashion shots, most photographers use a longer lens. That way, they can get photos from a distance without making people feel self-conscious about the shoot. Street fashion just goes to show that some of the best fashion trends are around you everywhere!

Editorial Fashion Photography

This is fashion photography that tells a story. You’ll find editorial fashion photography in publications like magazines and newspapers. The images usually accompany text, which can be about a wide variety of subjects. 

Editorial fashion photographs can also tell the story themselves or they may suggest an intriguing backstory. Often you’ll find editorial fashion images that are part of a theme or concept, or they may relate to a particular designer or model. 

The goal here is to create a specific mood that tells the story. These images might involve one brand or several brands and various styles of photographs, from closeups to long distance shots. 

That means there are likely to be various types of shots requiring different equipment as well as different makeup, wardrobe, and hairstyles on your models. There are also likely to be a number of different props.

Editorial fashion photography often involves elaborate wardrobe and props, as seen here with this woman wearing an old-fashioned gown and lying on a chaise lounge
Editorial fashion photography often requires an elaborate wardrobe and multiple props.

Despite the challenges, editorial photography can be one of the more rewarding fashion photography styles because of the creativity it allows. 

If you’re considering fashion photography as a genre, these 4 styles can give you an idea of the different possibilities in the field. Of course, you’ll need to get the proper equipment as you would with any genre, but once you have that, there are a number of styles from which you can choose. Really, it’s about deciding which style fits your particular needs and desires.

Catalog photography can be your bread and butter while you aspire to something that gives you more creative license like editorial photography. Or, perhaps, the supermodels of high fashion are more your style. If not, then maybe it’s the real-life images of people on the street. Whatever the case, the world of fashion photography, although challenging, can be very rewarding.

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Catherine Gaither is a professional photographer and bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.
Catherine Gaither is a professional photographer and bioarchaeologist. She has traveled the world photographing archaeological sites and artifacts, and studying human physical remains. She has written numerous professional publications. She continues to work as a forensic consultant and author.

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