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Fashion photography is the art of displaying clothes and fashion items worn by models in the most stylish, appealing and flattering ways. Fashion photos are regular features on billboards, in shop windows and in marketing materials and are generally used to entice customers to buy the products.
Fashion photography itself is one of the oldest genres in the industry and although the styles have evolved it has remained at the cutting edge of social trends and creativity since its birth.
It’s hard to say for sure, but the first fashion photography model is most likely to have been the Countess di Castiglione Virginia Oldoini, who was Emperor Napoleon III’s favorite mistress. She modelled fashionable items of clothing for the French photographer Pierre Louis Pierson as early as 1856 however the industry has evolved a lot since then!
What Does a Fashion Photographer Do?
As a fashion photographer you have to be a very dynamic and energetic person who is comfortable working in different locations and with a wide variety of clients and technicians.
Fundamentally, your role as a fashion photographer is to represent clothes and fashion accessories to the public in a way that inspires, delights and entices.
Your main duty as a fashion photographer is to create fantastic, stand out images but there’s a lot more to a classy photo than meets the eye! You need to have a fairly broad skillset and be able to:
- Set up photographic equipment and on location sets – including the use of props and other scenery.
- Take stylish photographs that bring out the best in the models and the fashion items while working in coordination with the specifications of your clients.
- Work with studio lighting and equipment.
- Create inspirational and elegant photos to a deadline.
- Make the most of the available budget.
- Edit and retouch images in the post production phase.
- Select and organize shooting locations.
- Research and connect with new contacts. Build working relationships with art directors, stylists, fashion editors and agents.
- Make your models feel comfortable through rapport and sensitivity to their wishes.
- Promote your business and services within the industry.
- Keep your workflow well organized and efficient.
Types of Fashion Photography.
The key types of fashion photography are listed below:
Catalog Fashion Photography:
This is the mainstay of the fashion photography industry and is probably the simplest to master. The primary purpose of catalog photography is to sell clothes and accessories, both on and off line; and although it’s a form of fashion photography it’s also a kind of product photography. Fashion photographers often begin their careers working in the catalog markets.
In catalog photography the style is generally quite simple with plain, or white, backgrounds and very little use of artistic props or scenery. The photography is aiming to show the utility and appeal of the clothes.
The models usually stand in a natural pose, which distinguishes this from straight product photography which doesn’t use models, however the main focus still remains on the items for sale. If the model is striking a pose it’s usually to highlight a particular feature of the clothing – such as pockets or a rain hood.
One sub genre of catalog photography is known as the Lookbook. This shoots models wearing the clothes in authentic locations. For example, camping clothes might be modelled on a camping site and tennis clothing might be modelled on a tennis court.
High Fashion Photography.
This is a more exclusive genre of the industry and is the type of photos that you see in major magazines such as Vogue or Vanity Fair. The photo shoots are far more artistic than catalog photography and seek to show off supermodels and the emotional content of a scene more than that utility of the items on display.
The models are often dressed in unrealistic clothes and shot in extravagant environments that present a glamorous image that people can aspire to.
Most people who read these magazines and see these photos are very unlikely to purchase the items in high fashion photoshoots but they still have utility because they give the fashion brands a higher status in the mind of the audience.
Exaggerated poses, extraordinary scenery, big hairstyles, flawless makeup and often outrageous outfits all combine to create a highly artistic, powerfully emotive and aspiration image.
Urban Fashion Photography.
Also known as street fashion, urban fashion photography is a recent development in the industry and often presents models in gritty city environments. It’s become the preferred type for photoshoot for hip hop, grunge and other alternative fashion styles and has seen massive growth in recent years.
In some ways, this is the opposite of high fashion photography because it represents a relatively realistic portrayal of city life with models wearing clothes that are meant for sale to the general public. An important part of the image of hits photography is the way that the model expresses themselves in the shoot. Their confidence, pose and the lighting in the scene are all important.
There is an artistic element in the photoshoots and models will often display tattoos and piercings and be situated in warehouses, outside bars, storefronts or at a skatepark. The environment in which they photographed should have some resonance with the clothing they are modelling which also helps to build the brand name and encourage more sales. The clothes are usually rugged, practical and often shown in use.
Editorial Fashion Photography.
This is a very special type of fashion photography that tells a story using photos and text. You’ll usually find it in print publications like magazines or newspapers and on fashion websites too.
Editorial fashion photography often suggests a back story or focuses on a theme or concept that is either related to the model or the brand they are representing. It doesn’t always use text to tell the story and in many cases it will only use photos. Editorial fashion photography is not entirely focused on selling products and usually tries to create a strong sense of drama or pathos.
The photos that make up an editorial fashion shoot will usually be promoting one or more fashion labels and are used to generate publicity and build up credibility for the companies involved.
The shoots are often very extravagant, much like high fashion photography, and are very creative in their presentation. Elaborate wardrobes, surprising hairstyles, theatrical makeup and props are all common in editorial fashion shoots.
Specific Skills That Fashion Photographers Need.
Fashion photography is a highly competitive industry and the skills required to make it are many; however, there are several main ones that you should be focusing on.
Technical Skills and Knowledge.
One of the crucial things that you need to master to work in fashion photography is the technical side of the art. Fashion photography has very high standards and requires superb understanding of the lenses that you’re using, the lighting in the studio and the ability to create theatrical scenes that bring out the best in the models and the clothes.
You’ll have to be able to shoot photos of your models whether they are moving or static – so being comfortable with using a fast shutter speed and tripod is a must. Models often feel more comfortable if they move around during the shoot so you’ll have to be able to accommodate this.
You can polish your technical skills by taking courses and attending seminars but at the end of the day you will need hands on experience to develop your talents. If you’re looking for a way to get your foot in the door of fashion photography while learning the essential skills you can apply for internships or mentoring opportunities.
The technical knowledge and skills you need will have to cover the correct use of your camera and its lenses, lighting and studio work, photo editing, post production retouching and image enhancement. You’ll have to be comfortable working with a wide range of lenses, flashes, tripods and other studio equipment as well.
Shape Skills and Artistic Vision.
This is a highly conceptual skill but can be the vital element in making a world class photoshoot happen for you. As a fashion photographer you have to learn how to layout the composition of your photos and use all the classical Rules of Composition to achieve these results.
Your duties may also include choosing costumes and outfits that emphasize the mood of the scene as well as the placement of the models on set, balancing the space with the subjects while making it subtly harmonious and aspirational.
Creating powerfully emotive images and delivering the kind of punch that your clients are looking for takes practical skills and a highly tuned creative outlook. You’ll have to be up to date with the latest trends in the fashion industry and be aware of what both the consumer and your clients are looking for.
All fashion photographers need to have great artistic skills and vision. You’ll need to be able to create powerful artistic compositions while working on your feet in challenging environments. It’s often a high pressure job but you need to be able to work creatively in spite of this! You also need to be able to take photos which will stand out and help to market the products and build the reputation of the brand – all of which needs to be considered at once while you are on set!
Fashion Photography – Leading the World in Glamour, Style and Inspiration.
Millions of people all over the world look to the work of fashion photographers for inspiration and ideas in the wardrobe department and with the high salaries, exciting work opportunities and high pressure environments the competition is steep when you start out.
A good strategy to get involved in the industry is to start working as a commercial catalog photographer and work on more artistic, high fashion shoots in your spare time. Internships and mentor courses are an excellent way to break into the industry and keeping an up to date portfolio of exciting, trendy and stylish photos is essential!
Working in fashion photography is a fun and exciting career and you may well end up rubbing shoulders with some of the finest models and celebrities in the industry! Every job will be different and you’ll get to express your creative vision within the projects you work on. Fashion photography is a highly rewarding and popular genre in photography and once you master the skills you can navigate a fantastically unique route to long term success and, potentially, fame.
Have you had the opportunity to work on fashion photography?