Top 10 Questions on Fashion Photography and Design

What is Fashion Photography?

Fashion photography is a type of photography dedicated to capturing clothing and other fashion items, such as clothing and accessories, to entice buyers and showcase the beauty, design, and techniques of the fashion pieces.

Two women in black dresses

With a global market value of $406 billion dollars, the fashion industry is a force that continues to grow at a rapid speed as fashion becomes increasingly accessible to people around the world. The demand for fashion design and specific pieces all begins with the consumption of an image.

The advent of technology and social media and has allowed fashion photographers the ability to showcase their work to mass audiences with their online fashion photography portfolios. These factors have given those who pursue fashion photography endless possibilities for making a name for themselves in the industry. But before you rush out to pick up your camera and book a model and your online portfolio, here are some must-know items and commonly asked questions about the wild world of fashion photography.

What is Fashion Photography?

As the name suggests, fashion photography is a genre of photography that is dedicated to capturing clothing and other fashion items. Fashion photography is often chic, modern, stunning, and captivates the viewers. At the end of the day, these photographs are used to sell products to the consumers and entice people to purchase them. 

For many fashion brands, a great fashion photographer can successfully capture their products, while reflecting their brand and style. The images should be helping the brand to communicate its clothing line and pieces. However, fashion photography isn’t just expensive, luxurious brands. They can be any type of fashion and any clothing line.

two woman in fashionable clothes

What is Editorial Fashion Photography?

Editorial fashion photography is one of the main four types of fashion photography. The genre is shot for the purposes of magazine, newspaper, or digital publication. The images often complement a larger editorial piece and work with text elements to tell a more complete story. Fashion editorials are less about clothing and more about setting a mood or focus on a situation. Editorial images can be shot both in-studio or on location and can include several different looks and items of clothing. 

Editorial photographer Chris Sorensen admits that his editorial photography doesn't make him a ton of money, but there are techniques for making a living off of editorial photography. Sorensen emphasizes the importance of syndicating and licensing your images, finding a stock photography partner, and keeping an eye out for client opportunities through stock partners.

What is High Fashion Photography?

Don't let the term "high fashion" intimidate you in your fashion photography pursuits. Often used by big brands in the form of advertisement, high fashion photography is just one of many forms of fashion work. This genre of fashion photography often results in the type of photograph you may see gracing the cover of high fashion magazines such as Harpers Bazaar. From a photographer’s perspective, this type of approach puts the model front and center as the subject. Clothing, hair, and makeup can often be exaggerated and unconventional to catch the eye of consumers.

Most often shot in a studio, this type of fashion shoot must take several factors into account. Experienced models or high-profile celebrities are often the subject of choice for these types of fashion photographs as they must be able to effectively take proper direction and position or angle themselves to the photographers liking. Setting a mood for the shoot is also a key element when shooting this style of photography through elements such as dramatic or different studio lightning. Is this a serious tone, more outgoing, or is it an air of elegance you want to portray? Moods are often established through lighting, color choices, and the clothing products that may be featured.

What Are the 4 Different Types of Fashion Photography?

A photographer may tell you there are more than four different types of fashion photography, and that might be true, but the industry tends to define fashion photography in one of these four categories:

  • Catalog Photography - These photographs are taken to showcase products to consumers. Often simplistic, these types of images often feature people or models wearing clothing against a plain backdrop. An example of catalog photography would include photos you see while browsing an online store.

  • High Fashion - Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci - high fashion often calls for high fashion photography. These big labels use this style of fashion photos where styling is at the forefront. Clothing, hair, and other elements are often exaggerated or atypical, while models tend to pose in unconventional ways.

  • Street (or alternative) Fashion - Think Instagram photos on the streets of New York. Street fashion photography is made to capture the essence of fashion in everyday life and trends among the people out and about.

  • Editorial - Many magazines use this style in their images to tell a story using images or using photos to compliment a larger text. Styling and models take the forefront in these studio shoots. An example would include images of a rock band to compliment an editorial feature. Photos often compliment the tone of the article to tell a more complete story.

Men-s Fashion

Showcase your fashion photography work

Ready to build your fashion photography online portfolio website with Format?

What is a Fashion Portfolio?

Whether you're shooting runway, in-studio, editorial, or have your own approach, the easiest way to get your work noticed is to get started with an online fashion portfolio. Simply put, a fashion portfolio is a way to showcase all your fashion photography in a way that will make an instant impact. Gone are the days of carrying around a bulky binder full of high glossy images that cost a fortune to print. An online portfolio is the best way to display your work and attract new clients. Format offers templates specifically designed for the unique needs of the fashion photography genre that are also formatted for showcasing various types of fashion photography. The fully customizable templates will ensure your portfolio doesn't look like a cut and paste version of other websites and will allow you to stand out in the fashion world.

Former Australian fashion model turned photographer Robyn Damianos built her striking fashion photography portfolio using the horizontal left template. While it's just one of many Format templates that can be used in creating your portfolio, Robyn has used its features to the fullest to showcase her work. With a customized menu to reflect her brand and different photo styles organized into galleries, Robyn's unique shooting style is instantly obvious to visitors, putting models front and center with their striking beauty. Images within the portfolio are carefully curated and consistent, while the horizontal scroll reflects the feel of a high gloss fashion magazine such as Vanity Fair. Robyn has also fully integrated her social media accounts and included her biography for a more personal and less pretentious feel.

In summary, a fashion portfolio is the first step in showcasing your photos to the world. Find a template that reflects your style and be sure to curate your best images in an organized and consistent manner. Ensure navigation is simple, straightforward, and does not take distract from the main attraction: your photography.

What Should Be in a Fashion Design Portfolio?

A fashion design portfolio is a must for all up and coming designers no matter what stage they're at in their career. While the benefits of having an online portfolio have already been established, what items to include in that portfolio still seems to be an undefined answer for many. Here are just a few types of work that fashion professionals could potentially include in their portfolios:

  • Sketches. Fashion design students are familiar with the benefits of sketching. Including your best sketches in your portfolio will demonstrate your creative process and your ability to conceptualize new ideas. A design portfolio template may be more appropriate if you're leaning towards more profiling sketches.

  • Finished garments and accessories. Showcase your unique vision and by including high-quality photos of your work on a model, including close-ups of important detailing. Be sure to also include your story behind each piece.

  • Styling Opportunities. Explain the theme of your fashion shoots and the style choices you made. Mood boards are also considered a welcome addition to a design portfolio. No matter what you're showcasing, always ensure images are high resolution.

How Do You Become a Fashion Photographer?

Fashion photography is a very competitive industry, and how easy or difficult it is to become a fashion photographer often depends on a number of factors. Whether you make a living on fashion photography or pursue it as a hobby, anybody has the ability to get started and start shooting fashion.

Although it might be quite obvious to some, the first and most important step is to learn basic photography skills. Understanding how to use a camera, basic composition, lighting techniques, and framing will assist you in the transition to purely fashion photography.

Once you feel comfortable with the interworkings of a camera, start practicing on some models. Some cities have open casting websites that connect photographers and models. Alternatively, you can simply use people you know who are willing to stand in front of a camera and take your direction.

Like anything, practice makes perfect. The more you practice shooting fashion photography, the more comfortable you will become, and the more you will grow your portfolio. Practice will also help you determine and develop an original style. If you're not sure what style direction you want to take, flip through fashion magazines, create collages or vision boards of some of your favorite photos, and try to mimic the style you're most drawn to. Fashion photographer Erin Seaman emphasized the importance of practice, stating it's important to "constantly make more work. Even if you're not being hired to shoot, do creatives. Even my biggest photographers still do creatives to keep them moving forward."

Last, but certainly not least, make sure to network with individuals in the industry to get your name out there. Your portfolio will be an important piece in this. Post your portfolio and work on social networking sites where other fashion industry individuals congregate to get your name out there. You'll be climbing up the fashion photography ranks before you know it.

woman wearing adidas

What Skills Are Needed To Be a Fashion Photographer?

The best professional fashion photographers will tell you that fashion photographer requires a mix of both technical and intangible skill sets. Whether you go to school or learn on your own, all fashion photographers possess similar essential skills before heading to a professional fashion shoot.

Four universally agreed-upon technical skills that fashion photographers include:

  • Technical knowledge - Knowing how to work a digital camera, lighting techniques for both on location and studio shoots, as well as photo editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, are a must. With technology changing at a rapid pace, these skills require lifelong learning to keep up.

  • Artistic vision - Having an eye for what looks good and an artistic vision is a must for any art form, especially photography. What some call "shape skills" are an essential part of capturing the perfect image. This includes how the photo will be laid out, spacing, and color. Having a vision prior to organizing a shoot is critical to producing quality work and having a finished product you're proud of.

  • Communication - In order for the model to understand your vision, you must be able to effectively communicate the ideas you have in mind. This includes describing poses, movements, and making the model feel comfortable enough to express themselves.

  • Marketing - What are you marketing besides your work? You're marketing yourself as a reliable, professional, and capable photographer. Getting your name out there includes knowing where and when to showcase your work to the people who matter. Working on social media and networking skills are two tactics for learning how to market and source out work.

In addition to technical skills, it's also important to work on the intangibles. Organizational skills for arranging shoots, a drive and determination to succeed, and a commitment to lifelong learning are all qualities that great fashion photographers possess.

Who Is the Best Fashion Photographer in the World?

Now, this is always a heated debate that can include a wide variety of names from around the fashion photography world. This is obviously a question that is based on personal preference of photography style and which type of fashion photos you prefer. A quick internet search brings up names from the four corners of the world, with a few of the following names re-occurring in each list:

Helmut Newton (1920-2004)

Working for notable publications such as Elle, Vogue, and Playboy, Helmut Newton is widely regarded as one of the best fashion photographers of all time. He became known for his unconventional style, often posing models in ways that were considered strange and using unconventional lighting techniques. Controversial scenarios and bold lighting became known as Newton's signature look as he gained notoriety working for French Vogue. He received many accolades for his work and his photographs have been displayed in galleries worldwide.

Annie Leibovitz (1949-Present)

A widely celebrated American photographer, Leibovitz focuses on portrait photography for fashion-focused publications. Her dramatic style is often used to capture celebrities in an intimate and staged style. In the 1970s, she became the first woman to be named chief commercial photographer at Rolling Stone magazine. She left the publication to work for Vanity Fair and has since worked for a variety of fashion publications including Vogue. She famously captured the last photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono before Lennon's death. Her work is on display at many notable galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Ellen von Unwerth (1954-Present)

Ellen von Unwerth once said, "technique undoubtedly helps make photography magical, but I prefer to work with atmosphere." A German photographer known for her playful yet erotic images of pop stars and models alike, von Unwerth is a former model turned photographer. She's shot campaigns for high end brands such as Ralph Lauren and Dior, and her images have appeared in magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair. Her work has been on display at galleries across the United States.

Woman in floral dress

What Camera Do Fashion Photographers Use?

The camera equipment of choice for fashion photographers often depends on what style they shoot and how far along they are in their careers. A common consensus among photographers tends to be the Canon EOS-5D. The camera features a full-frame CMOS sensor and an image resolution of 30.4 megapixels, producing a detailed image. Canon also increased the coverage area on the camera's autofocus which is a must if you are shooting models daily. The camera also has excellent reviews for shooting in low light - ideal for late-night fashion shoots. Fashion photographers are often drawn to the camera due to its lightweight and moisture protection elements. The versatile features allow photographers to work fast-paced on-location shoots as well as the studio.

If your budget is a little bit tighter, the small but mighty Fuji X-T30 is often described as the "little giant" for its powerful features despite its size. Fast autofocus and 26.1-megapixel photo resolution make this an attractive option for fashion photographers. High-speed continuous shooting and the ability to shoot 4K video also make this camera a popular piece of equipment for up and coming photographers.

When selecting a camera, make sure to take your preferred style and image type into account. Are you planning to work at fashion shows? Mostly work in a studio? Or do you plan to be on location most of the time? All of these elements should be considered when purchasing the camera that's right for you.

What Is the Average Salary of a Fashion Photographer?

Like most careers, the salary of a fashion photographer depends on their level of experience and the profile of their client. The median income for fashion photographers in the United States as of October of 2020 was just over $43,000. Photographers who take in more clients are undoubtedly guaranteed to make more money. Those who work for large brands or fashion magazines sometimes charge by shoot, photo, or earn a salary.