All About Fashion Photography

Our theme this issue is Fashion – and hence no prizes for guessing what genre we are going to talk about in the shutterbug section this month. Fashion Photography is our pick this time and we are going to discuss about the technical aspects of the same.

Our aim – to train the readers enough that they are ready to pick fashion photography as a career alternative, if required. Okay, so that’s a bit over the top, but ofcourse – we are going to learn A-Z of fashion photography – the different types, the tips of the genre, the cameras and the lenses most suitable for Fashion Photography. Let’s get enlightened.exhibitmagazine-september-issue_2016


Fashion Photography is a genre of photography which is devoted to displaying clothing and other fashion items. Fashion photography is most often conducted for advertisements or fashion magazines. Over time, fashion photography has developed its own aesthetic in which the clothes and fashions are enhanced by the presence of exotic locations or accessories. With its huge audience, high pay-checks and glamorous international lifestyle, fashion photography may seem like one of the world’s most sought-after professions. But for every fashion photographer who makes it through the door of a top magazine, a thousand others find their niche fashion advertising, art photography, celebrity portraiture or even paparazzi work to make a living.


The kind of photography we all think of when we think of “fashion photography” is usually editorial photography (sometimes this is just referred to as fashion photography or editorial fashion photography or just editorial). These are the kind of images we would see in about four-ten page spreads that hold together as a “fashion story” near the back half of a fashion magazine. The purpose of this photography is to show an editorial point of view – to sell a “story” or theme. Often themes can centre on trends, seasons, colors, popular culture, movies, art and/or literature.We make the distinction between editorial and fashion noting that fashion sells a lifestyle and editorial sells a story. Although often editorial and fashion are used interchangeably, the difference between an editorial and high fashion image is that editorial is generally more about lifestyle AND story. High fashion are those images that go beyond the average editorial and use models of elite proportions (think runway models) in eclectic, exaggerated looks and poses.

You might hear the term lifestyle in fashion photography. Mainly, it is showing above average looking, stylish people doing things in an environment. It is selling a lifestyle which is in turn is selling a product like coffee or shoes.


Despite what people think, often there is little to no budget for editorials (with the exception of those commissioned by top of the heap fashion magazines) and photographers and their creative teams (hair stylists, makeup artists, wardrobe stylists, set/prop stylists, photography assistants, and models) bear all the costs of the shoot. They do these shoots for the purpose of building their portfolios and getting exposure in hopes of landing commercial jobs.


Fashion editorial spreads might also be beauty editorials. Beauty editorials are usually head and shoulders shots (or closer) and highlight the hair and/ or makeup or, at times, accessories like jewellery. Those are the spreads shown with a detailed list the makeup and hair products that are used on the model.


A commissioned editorial is one that a magazine hires/commissions a photographer, model, and creative team to shoot for the magazine. There may or may not be an art director from the magazine on set to make sure the shoot is shaping up to what the magazine envisions. In this case, the magazine will typically provide the photographer with a commission letter to make it easier to procure a creative team and garments, accessories, and locations. In the best case scenario, the publication will provide a letter of responsibility (LOR) stating that the publication will take responsibility for loss or damage of clothing and accessories.


Shooting on spec is when a team gets together to work for free in hopes of it getting published, sold, or seen by commercial clients. In today’s world of independent fashion magazines that can be printed on demand through services, the opportunities to get published are much wider, but so, too, is the competition. Editorials come in from all over the world and you are competing with everyone else who is submitting for that particular issue. For a shoot on spec, typically a photographer will come up with a concept and gather her team together to bring it to fruition. She acts as the art director, makes sure the shoot matches her vision, takes care of all the production issues like procuring a shoot location, and provides a mood board (collection of images that show the direction of the shoot) and call sheet (detailed list of all team members involved, contact info and call times) to the team so that everyone is on the same page.


Sometimes a photographer will contact a magazine with a concept and mood board prior to shooting and the magazine will determine that the concept and style of her photography is a good fit. The publication may provide a pull letter to help the photographer/stylist procure garments for the shoot. But even then, if the final images do not fit the standards of the publication it may not be published in it. However, the photographer is then free to submit the editorial to other publications.


Often a test shoot is when photographers, models, and a creative team get together to test out concepts, lighting, or each other. No one is getting paid, but the agreement is that everyone will get images for their portfolio sometimes referred to as TF or TFP, Trade For, Time For Print, etc). These are sometimes much less formal shoots in styling and production. Often an agency will send out its new faces or models in development for test shoots with photographers they trust to build her book. However, all players in the industry will engage in test shoots regularly throughout their career.exhibitmagazine-september-issue_2016


Commercial Photography (sometimes called catalog) is produced for the purpose of selling clothes, makeup, accessories, hair products, etc. Typically there is a much better budget for this work than editorial photography. It is kind of the brass ring. Commercial jobs can be a small as working with local designers on a lookbook or local businesses needing photography or as big as a gig to shoot a major makeup ad, designer label campaign, or album cover. Clients for commercial work generally notice a professional’s personal and editorial work, feel it is a good fit, and want a more toned down/salable version of it. That is the kind of shoot where everyone gets paid. How much, depends on the requirements of the job and the budget of the client.


If the emphasis is on the model’s beautiful body and the image looks like it would be at home in a men’s magazine, then chances are that it is a “glamour” image, not a fashion image. Not that fashion images can’t be sexy, but, remember, the emphasis is usually on the clothes not the girl.To make things even more confusing, portrait photographers (photographers who photograph non-models for a living) will often say that they do glamour photography. By this they are referring to making beautiful and flattering images of “regular” women through the use of hair, makeup, posing, lighting, and wardrobe. These are thoroughly modern images that bear no resemblance to the “glamour shots” of the 1990’s and often take their cue from fashion photography.


  1. exhibitmagazine-september-issue_2016Fashion photography should convey an essence of authority, so your direction of the model(s) needs to be confident and self-assured. Showing signs of anxiety, stress or lack of direction will invariably be reflected in the performance of your model so make the subject feel comfortable and involved. Organise a shot list before the shoot and rehearse technique and composition for each shot in your mind. Prepare the location, props and clothes ahead of time and for a truly effective shoot be sure to communicate your agenda, objective and posing directions coherently and calmly.
  2. Fashion photography is all about clothes and beauty, so pull all the elements of the scene and the model together to reflect this. For example if the shoot focuses on the clothes– use make-up and hair styling to compliment the garment – and vice versa. If you desire a provocative or seductive look opt for dark, heavy make-up and over styled hair; alternatively for an innocent or natural feel choose subdued pastel tones, gentle make up and soft flowing hair styles. Unusual looking folk bring interest and personality to the piece, whereas female models with large almond eyes, big lips, small chins and symmetrical faces are deemed “more commercial”.
  3. Posing can be a tricky point to master but browse through the latest men’s and women’s magazines to target a few inspired suggestions as well as getting a grip on what is currently fashionable. Using ‘broken down’ poses or poses that require angular body shapes can add interest and edginess to the piece – as well as help to elongate body length.
  4. A studio is an ideal place to perform a fashion shoot because photographers can easily control lighting and stabilise conditions. If you are shooting in a studio environment remember to meter all areas of the scene to avoid unwanted shadows and the use of a separate light meter rather than the one in your camera, will offer a more accurate reading.
  5. If you can’t afford to hire a professional studio and all the pricey equipment there is a way you can cheat at home. Clear a space in a room that benefits from large windows and peg a white sheet, net or fabric across the window. On a bright sunny day you’ll have yourself a homemade soft box – ideal for flattering even light.
  6. When shooting in low light or into the sun, you may require an extra light source. If all you have is flash then rather than shoot straight on, set it to bounce of a nearby reflector, wall or ceiling. Experiment with angles to create an array of effects and discover what works best for you and the scene you are shooting. Be careful to pay attention to unwanted shadows that may fall across the face and body.
  7. Props are fantastic for telling a narrative within a fashion shot, but one of the best props to use is a mirror. A mirror can be a used to tell a story and act as an effective tool that allows the photographer to display the front and back of your model. Take a spate reading for the mirror and you may need to bracket your exposures here. Be careful to position yourself, lighting equipment and anything not to do with the shoot out of the reflection.
  8. Location, location, location! Getting the right location is important if you want to convey a narrative within your shot. For example if the clothing and beauty styling are edgy, hard or provocative you may want to consider an urban setting , alternatively for spring/summer and natural fashions find a rural environment like; a field, meadow, beach, woodland or river bank.
  9. Influence the image by moving around the scene and exploring which angles work best to full expose the garment. This could mean climbing a ladder, crouching low, working a slanted angle or moving closer to the subject. Think about what the message is here and create a composition to reinforce it.
  10. Fashion photography is achievable alone, but to step it up a gear rope in a friend, family member or photography student as an assistant. Often photographers need an extra pair of hands to position reflectors, angle and reset lighting equipment, tweak the positioning of garments and clear the scene.


If you’re planning to buy a DSLR for fashion photography (such as opening your own portrait studio) there are many things you should consider. This guide is for DSLRs. We assume you either can’t afford a film camera like the Hasselblad, or you’re just “starting” out. We had a chitchat with few professional photographers, and asked themwhat DSLRs to recommend for the serious fashion photographer. Here were their recommendations with reasons.

1) NIKON D3Xnikon d3x

There’s casual photography, and then there’s serious photography. At $8000 (more or less), the Nikon D3X is the best 35mm format DSLR in the market, and reserved for the big boys. The D3x is packed with many rich features. And because it is, there’s a ton of dials and buttons to get used to. Complications aside, the image quality of the D3x is superb, especially its noise profile. When shooting portraits, the D3x produces exceptionally sharp detail, and subtle tones. You might not notice much of a difference in detail when comparing this with any high-end DSLR, but when you blow it up, the D3x still retains clearly defined details, while other DSLRs don’t.

2) NIKON D700

If the Nikon D3x is out of your budget (as it is with most people), or you’re just starting out with fashion photography, the Nikon D700 is a good midrange DSLR for shooting portraits. It’s an upgrade of the D3,nikon d700and has a smaller battery, and offers the same image quality as the D3 in a lower price.You can choose to buy the D700 with just the body, or with a kit with the AF-S VR 24-120mm f3.5-5.6G IF-ED lens. The performance of the D700 will be fast enough for your purposes. The burst rate is 4.9 frames per second, which is again enough for fashion photographers.The photo quality is excellent. Color accuracy is also top notch with the D700. Worth mentionable is the skin tone quality that the D700 produces. The noise profile, like the D3x is superb as well.


When it comes to image quality, the Canon 5D has to be mentioned in the equation. It’s the lightest, and least expensive of these 3 cameras, but has the sharpest photos of all them all!Canon 5d mark IITalking about 20 X 30’’ prints of shots, they remarkably retain sharp detail, display little noise, and have accurate vivid colors. Even if you compare the prints generated by the D700, and D3, the Mark II still comes up on top. And the difference isn’t small either. The Mark II generates very noticeably sharper images at all ISO levels.

There are few negative traits in this camera, but nonetheless those weaknesses are easy to overlook once you see how sharp and excellent your images look in huge prints. For the fashion photographer, that’s your number 1 criteria, and the 5D Mark II is an inexpensive alternative to the Nikon D3x.

Leave a Reply