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Digital Photography Tips, Tutorials and Resources

How to Build a Fashion Photography Portfolio

by Alec Druggan on Sep 21, 2019

Being successful in fashion photography has a lot to do with marketing. Your job is to create marketable images and to market yourself and your abilities to your clients. How can you build a great fashion photography portfolio that shows your skills?

Other questions this guide tackles include: What are the elements of a successful fashion photography portfolio? And, what should you avoid in your fashion photography portfolio?

As a photographer, a portfolio allows prospective clients to see what your work looks like and how your images will sell their products. When managing your portfolio, your job is to showcase only the highest quality images you can produce. This means that you need to take, retouch, and deliver only the best in your portfolio.

If this sounds daunting, don’t fret! Your portfolio doesn’t have to be massive. 10-15 solid images makes for a great portfolio; it’s enough to give an idea of your work and style, but not too much so that it seems bland.

We’ll be covering these topics in this fashion photography portfolio breakdown:

  • Elements of a fashion photography portfolio
  • Best fashion photography portfolio examples
  • Tools and resources for building a fashion photography portfolio
  • Best software for building a fashion photography portfolio

Elements of a Fashion Photography Portfolio

There are several key elements of a fashion photography portfolio. The main ones we are going to look into are:

  • How to put together your fashion photography portfolio
  • What successful fashion photography portfolios accomplish
  • The pitfalls to avoid when putting together a fashion photography portfolio.

Let’s jump right in!

How to Assemble Your Fashion Photography Portfolio

Putting together your work includes several steps. The first one is actually having work to put together. When putting together a portfolio, it is important that you show some degree of practice in the field.

Handing out an amateur or beginner-level portfolio will not get you many jobs. Rather, practice your craft before putting a portfolio together. You can even use social media platforms like Instagram to start collecting your favorite shots.

Use your Instagram account objectively to see which photos are most liked by other people. Which photos look like something that an advertiser may want to buy? Find the line between commercial profitability and public appeal to maximize both in your future portfolio.

Here are some examples of images that go well together. Notice how all three images embrace the same color palette and style, but are distinct and creative in their own right.

Dark image of a man's back. He is wearing a brown leather jacket and a green hat. The background is blurred, but people are still visible.
Darkly lit photo of a woman in a green coat with long hair leaned against a pile of sticks and turned toward the camera. The forest background is blurred behind her
Warm but darkly-lit photograph of a woman's chest. She is wearing a camisole and overshirt. Flowers peak out from the top of the blouse.

Choosing the shots themselves shouldn’t be a difficult process. Find your best 20 fashion photography shots, and cut out at least half. Start with a simple, 10-image portfolio. 

Stick to similar styles, but try not to include more than two shots from the same photo shoot. If possible, make every shot you include from a different shoot. If you are using a website, link a gallery from the image, so that curious customers can see more of a style they like.

Your strongest and weakest images have equal importance. Aim for consistent quality.

Consistency is key, as you will see throughout this tutorial. Consistency in quality, style, branding, and many other variables lead to a great portfolio.

What do Successful Fashion Portfolios Accomplish?

Professional photographers with successful fashion photography portfolios use them to satisfy one criteria. Their portfolios make them money.

Whether your goal is to book large corporate clients or smaller, more personal clients, your portfolio is the means by which you can do that. When you send a person your portfolio and it gets you hired, your portfolio is working for you. 

You can format your portfolio so that it showcases your different strengths as a fashion photographer. Some of your images might be dark, like the ones above, so put them in a section together. Group other photos with similar atmospheres together, too.

Showcasing creativity across moods and atmospheres is a great way to show you don’t stick to a gimmick.

These are some brighter shots you could pair together:

Well-lit image of a woman with blue dreadlocks and bold makeup holding a black parasol. She is wearing a serious expression and turned slightly toward the camera.
Woman sitting in an empty bar wearing an orange dress with white polka dots. She holds a glass of wine and is turned toward the camera, smiling

Conversely, if your portfolio does not reflect the quality of work which you are capable of, it will return fewer jobs. In this case your portfolio is working against you as a photographer.

What to Include in Your Fashion Photography Portfolio

Including images in your portfolio that have gained public notoriety is encouraged. If you have had a collection shown at a museum, that collection should be in your portfolio. Even if the collection is fine art portraiture, it will show vast creative elements present in your work.

Annie Liebovitz’s portfolio includes mainly images that were published for magazines and articles, in addition to other great images.

The main idea is that your portfolio underlines your capabilities in the field. If wedding photography dominates your portfolio, then you portfolio will not lend itself to fashion photography.

Having multiple portfolios, or separate galleries on the same website for different types of photography, is the best way to showcase your skills in multiple genres.

Lastly, make sure that your portfolio is in an easy-to-share format. A web address is fine, but a business card is much better. Adding professionalism to your brand is a great way to get more corporate action. 

If cost is a concern, you can even make your own business cards. Make sure to include your website address! These are some mistakes you should avoid when making that website.

Best Fashion Photography Portfolio Examples

There are a lot of great fashion photographers out there that you can draw inspiration from. Their portfolios are great places to look for tips on how to make clean and professional sites.

Make sure your online portfolio is professional and includes methods to contact you. If somebody wants to hire you, or license an image, you need to be easily accessible. This also means that as your work picks up, you need to be great at communication.

Adding creative shots to your portfolio is generally a good idea. Here are some cool multiple exposure and other creative effect fashion photography photos that would look great in a portfolio:

Multiple exposure image of a woman with red hair wearing a white hat and a black and white checkered blouse
Model standing against a sky background wearing a gray tank top. she holds a piece of glass in front of her face, which produces multiple views of her face

Where to Find Good Examples of Fashion Photography Portfolios

Finding a good portfolio is easy, but finding one that inspires your own photography is harder. If you are a more niche fashion photographer, then you are likely searching for specific images and styles. 

If this is the case, look through magazines, specifically covers and larger spreads. Find a photograph you like, do some research, and hunt down the photographer.

Because everyone’s fashion photography is different, there isn’t a list of photographers you should look at. Instead, research interesting photographers and take a look at their portfolios. Try to understand how they have leveraged their portfolio to grant them their success.

You can learn more from a professional photographer’s portfolio than just what images look best. Look at how they present their portfolios, what other work they show alongside them in their websites, and how much content they release.

After you do this, you’ll see first-hand how important a fashion photography portfolio is. Consider where else clients may find you on the Internet, aside from your portfolio. What happens when someone looks beyond your portfolio?

Here are some more tips on becoming a successful freelance photographer. 

Emulating High Fashion on a Budget

High fashion photography is normally costly. There are many things that you can do to limit those costs. Here are some of the general ways to maintain your budget as a beginner high fashion photographer:

  • Stick to one good lens.
  • Invest in lighting.
  • Learn to edit both during shoots and in post.
  • Find free models that are looking to expand.

Lenses

Stick to one good lens. One great, sharp, piece of glass will get you much further than a variety of cheaper lenses. Finding one prime lens that is tack sharp and lends itself to the images you want to create is the best choice.

Lighting

Lighting makes a much bigger difference than a better camera body. Investing in decent artificial lighting is much cheaper than a high end mirrorless camera or DSLR. This is especially true, since one of the large costs of these more expensive cameras is low light capability.

If you are shooting at ISO 100, there is barely a difference in image quality between the cropped format cameras and full frame cameras. The larger pixels and better noise sensitivity don’t matter with a higher quality of light. 

Editing

Another important aspect in high fashion photography is attention to detail. In high fashion photography, even the smallest details must be in place. Learn make-up skills, and gain an eye for detail. This will make your post-production editing easier.

Clothing can be made perfectly form fitting with binder clips, and ironing or steaming items will make them sit better. Lint rolling clothes is just as important.

Learning make-up will also make your job much less costly, although more time consuming, which may have ramifications if you are paying a model hourly. 

Locating Models

Finding free models is actually quite easy. There are plenty of people who want to break into modeling but need their own modeling portfolios. Reach out to these people on sites like Model Mayhem, and set up portfolio building shoots.

All of this can greatly lower your expenses and lead to great shots on a cheap budget. Other smaller things to keep in mind are upkeep costs. Things can break and wear down, so make sure that you are taking the best care of your gear.

Also, keep in mind that you can use location and texture to your advantage to create a specific look in your image. This shot is a great example of that:

woman sitting in outdoor cafe wearing a white dress with black polka dots. the background behind her is blurred. edited with a sepia tint

Best Software for Building a Fashion Photography Portfolio

Choosing the right editing software is essential to the success of your fashion photography. If you’re having trouble choosing an editing software, read our tutorial on Editing Fashion Photography for Beginners.

Rather than editing software, we’ll focus on other software that can help you create your fashion photography portfolio website. So, what is the best software for building a fashion photography portfolio?

Making a website sounds like a difficult process, especially when you have an artistic vision and are unsure of how to recreate it. If you don’t know where to start, this list of WordPress plugins can take your website to new levels of beauty. You can also consider downloading a predesigned theme for your WordPress site.

Furthermore, learning how to properly link and use galleries for your website can make it a lot more user friendly. Aim to create a simple website that a child could use, and make sure that every image is easily accessible. You don’t want to drown anyone in menus. 

If you are struggling with the design of your website, you can always look back at the different portfolios you liked from professional photographers. See what they did and how you can replicate it. Furthermore, see how you can improve on their design for your personal use. 

Lastly, take a look at how the rest of your photography business is set up on your website. Are you linking relevant social media? Is it easy to contact you so that clients can hire you? 

All of this makes a difference, and each level of polish you add to your portfolio is sure to open doors to new clients. 

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