Fashion Photography Guide: Tips & Tricks for Beginners

When people dream of the glamorous life of professional photographers, they are often thinking about fashion photographers. Shooting in exotic locations, traveling the world for runway shows, and mingling with celebrities and supermodels — it certainly seems like a dream job.

While realistically, the chances of being that kind of photographer are extremely small, the fashion industry is massive. And, the need for great fashion photographers is huge, too. If you’re good at it and have a passion for fashion, you can easily make a great living with fashion photography.

This guide will introduce you to the vast world of fashion photography and give you tips and tricks to get you started as a fashion photographer.

Fashion Photography Guide
Photo by Flaunter

What is fashion photography?

Fashion photography is dedicated to showing clothing, shoes, accessories, and other fashion items. At the root of fashion photography are advertising and marketing. The photos are taken to create interest in the clothes, so they should be trendy, sexy, or hip, depending on the message the designer wants to portray. 

While you may think of high-end avant-garde clothing or skinny models on runways when you hear the words “fashion photography,” the bulk of the genre is made up of regular people wearing everyday clothes. It’s the photos you see on the pages of catalogs, in advertisements, and in most magazines. We’ll go into more detail on the different kinds of fashion photography below.

History of fashion photography

The earliest known fashion photos date back to the 1850s. However, the use of photos in advertising didn’t become popular until the early 1900s. Before then, ads were all illustrated by hand. In 1913, American publisher Condé Nast, who owned Vogue magazine hired the photographer Baron Adolph de Meyer to shoot portraits of models, actresses, and aristocrats to be used in fashion editorials. As a result, the print magazine industry was forever changed.

types of fashion photography
Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric

Types of fashion photography

Fashion photography is almost as diverse as fashion itself! There are so many different types of fashion photography, it’s often helpful to focus your efforts on one or two of them instead of the entire genre. Here are some of the various types:  

  • Catalog: These are the fashion photographs of everyday clothing. Typically, they are shot in a studio and their main purpose is to sell clothes to consumers.
  • Editorial: This is a series of photos used to tell a story, usually in the pages of a magazine.
  • High-fashion: Highly stylized and avant-garde, these shoots often involve supermodels and celebrities. Expect over-the-top one-of-a-kind outfits, extreme makeup, and crazy poses. High fashion photography images are going for maximum impact. These are the types of images that end up on billboards and magazine spreads.
  • Street fashion: Similar to street photography, these are fashion photos shot of “real people” on the street. They’re captures of everyday people and what they are wearing.
  • Runway: Some don’t consider runway to be true fashion photography, as you have no control over lighting, models, or posing. For this reason, it may be more appropriately categorized as photojournalism.
Fashion runway

What’s the best camera for fashion photography?

The camera you choose if you plan to become a fashion photographer should have some important features. For example, it should give you the ability to manually adjust your exposure settings, like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Additionally, it should allow you to change your lenses. It should have a high resolution, so that your images, if needed, can be used for print as large as a billboard. All things considered, a good option is a full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera.

What is the best lens for fashion photography?

The lens you choose largely depends on the type of fashion photography you decide to shoot. If you’re shooting street fashion, you might prefer a longer lens than if you plan to shoot a catalog in a studio

If you’re undecided, or if you plan to shoot several types of fashion photography, consider a zoom lens that will give you some flexibility. A lens like a 24-70mm f/2.8 will cover a wide range of focal lengths and has a wide aperture so you can shoot in most lighting situations and will have a shallow depth of field.

Other fashion photography gear

Mastering lighting is imperative if you’re going to succeed as a fashion photographer. This doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy a complete studio lighting setup right away, but you do need to understand how to work under any lighting conditions. 

If you’re just learning to work with lighting, a Speedlight, reflector, and a diffuser is a great place to start. Then, check out our guide on studio lighting when you’re ready for the next step.

fashion studio
Photo by Angela Roma

Camera settings for fashion photography

Your settings will vary depending on what, where, and when you’re shooting. But here are some basics to keep in mind:

  • Shoot in RAW. This will give you the best chance to edit and recover any data if you overexpose or underexpose your image.
  • Shutter speed: To avoid blur from hand-shake, try to stay above 1/100 and be sure your shutter speed is always longer than your focal length. So, if you were using a 400mm lens, your shutter speed would need to be 1/400. If you’re using flash in the studio, don’t use a shutter speed faster than 1/160.
  • Aperture: To separate your subject from the background and create a soft blur, use a wide aperture (low f-stop).
  • ISO: Aim for the lowest ISO you can to avoid noise or grain in your image.

5 Tips for fashion photographers

fashion models
Photo by RODNAE Productions

Work with professional models

If you’re going to be a professional fashion photographer, working with models is part of the job. So, when you’re just starting out or even when you’re simply portfolio building, hire professional models so you can get used to working with them. In the long run, your photos will be better for it and you’ll gain useful experience.

fashion pose
Photo by Pooja Chaudhary

Know how to pose your model

As has been noted, fashion photography is all about showcasing the fashion – not the model. Think about posing your model in a way that shows the clothing in the best way possible. Don’t obstruct the outfit. Pose your model in a way that the clothes look like they fit perfectly.

fashion photography
Photo by Jacob Prose

Create a narrative

When it comes to photography, the best images are those that tell a story. And that’s true with fashion photography, too. Use elements and props in your photo to support the narrative. That means the location, backdrop, and everything else in the photo should be relevant. Even the weather and the time of day should support the story.

fashion garments look best
Photo by Lê Minh

Make sure the garments look their best

Always remember why you’re there: fashion comes first. With that in mind, watch out for wrinkles and stains, bumps and bulges, and anything that shouldn’t be showing, and get rid of it.

fashion movement
Photo by Vonecia Carswell 

Capture movement and motion

Motion is a dynamic feature in all photography, not just in fashion. If you can capture movement, either with luxurious fabric, flowing hair, or by having your model move you’ll create visual interest.

Editing fashion photos

Retouching is essential in fashion photography, especially if you’re shooting a commercial job. Nearly every professional photograph has been retouched in some way. However, it’s important, now more than ever, to be careful that you do not over-edit your images. Retouching is done to enhance and improve your photographs, but not to drastically change the appearance of the model.

Simple touchups to fix blemishes, smooth skin (while retaining its texture), whitening teeth, enhancing makeup, fixing wrinkles in the fabric, and fixing exposure are acceptable edits.

editing fashion
Photo by Polina Kovaleva

Fashion photographers to follow

Fashion photography is an extremely competitive field. One way to be sure you are keeping up with the trends and staying current is to follow other photographers who are currently killing it. So, check out these photographers to inspire your next photoshoot:

Final thoughts

Hopefully, this guide has given you an idea of what it’s like to be a professional photographer in the multi-billion dollar fashion industry. If you’ve got a passion for fashion, an eye for creativity, a lot of photographic skill, and a desire to work hard — perhaps you, too, can make a killing in this industry.

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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