Digital Photography Tips, Tutorials and Resources
Fashion photography is a broad category of photography that sits somewhere in the area of portraiture. A fashion portrait often tries to sell the viewer on something in the image, like an item of clothing. So, how do you become a fashion photographer?
This guide will go into detail on a myriad of topics within fashion photography. Studio setups and lighting as well as location shooting are all important in the world of fashion photography. What should you be doing to get the best results in your fashion photography?
This guide is written for novices, amateurs, and enthusiasts as well. Learning from this guide and using it to expand your portfolio can get you a foothold in the fashion photography market. This all-encompassing guide can make you into a fashion photographer if you just keep reading.
Maybe you already have a comprehensive fashion photography portfolio and want to start building your photography business, but you feel lost. If that sounds like you, take advantage of our guide on how to lay the foundation for your photography business.
Looking at the world of fashion photography can be daunting. It is filled with images of beautiful models, pristine clothes, and perfect lighting. These may seem like impossible things to get right, but once you have the basics down, you can capture great photos.
Editing fashion photography is an intensive process, so I would suggest reading through this tutorial to understand the basics. Once you have completed several shoots, start editing your images using different methods and applying various techniques. Having a base of practice is key.
Later on in this guide we will discuss some different software that you can use to compliment your fashion photography.
Finally, fashion photography may not seem accessible, but that isn’t always true. Although areas in fashion photography might seem of high entry cost, a lot of these methods can be achieved at vastly lower prices.
In this tutorial, we’ll cover:
- Tips for making fashion photography
- Elements of fashion photography
- Equipment needed to make fashion photography
- Best software for making fashion photography.
Tips for Making Fashion Photography
Fashion photography is quite a large genre. Sometimes, fashion photographers shoot in an exotic location. Other times they shoots photos that help sell a product on Amazon or another e-commerce site.
Furthermore, sometimes you may not understand the vision of whoever is paying you for a photograph.
When you are trying to break into the fashion editorial photography game, there is a lot you need to learn. Find a friend that can be your model, and start practicing with them across a variety of situations.
Certainly, there is no one-size-fits-all way to take fashion photography. A lot of the time, breaking the basic rules we’ll talk about can be an important part of your creative outlook. Learning how rules apply helps you know when to break them, and the creative consequences of doing so.
How to Break into Fashion Photography
Entering any field is daunting. This is especially true for heavily practiced fields, like many genres of photography. Looking at portraiture and trying to extrude fashion from it can be quite difficult.
Above all, practice is king. Practicing your craft is how you get better. Learning how to manipulate light, pose your model, frame and compose your shots, and edit them in-camera are all things that you can get better at without spending money.
If you invest only your time, you’ll still see improvements.
Ideally, as you take more photos, you will begin to see a unifying style emerge across your portfolio. The way you reach your style is up to you, but it is important that you find it and flush it out. Several shots taken across different models and scenes should still look cohesive.
Developing a personal style is important and will put you in league with professionals. Many professionals have unimpressive shots that they release, or are publically viewable. Almost all of these shots offer the same thing: consistency.
Consistency is of utmost importance because a client will expect consistency in your work. If they look at your fashion photography portfolio and find that no two shots connect, they may have concerns with your styles.
Offering a portfolio that delivers consistency and quality will result in being hired much more easily. Clients want to see that all of your work is completed to the same high standard. A solid portfolio gets your foot in the door.
What Differentiates Fashion Photographers from Other Photographers?
Fashion photography is a thin niche. It isn’t widely used in comparison to other genres, but many people consider themselves fashion photographers. But, there are several pivotal differences between fashion photographers and other photographers.
First, fashion photographers strive for physical perfection. While traditional portraits can focus on key elements, they don’t often have the aim of selling a product. This means that, often, fashion photographers resemble product photographers more than portrait photographers.
Product photography takes a lot of work. Often, hundreds of shots are stacked with slight variations in lighting to enable the most perfect image possible. When shooting fashion, you may have to take a similar amount of photographs.
While you cannot expect a model to stay completely still, you can still combine shots if you need a perfect studio image. On the other hand, you have more leeway in exotic locations. Location can often make up for miniature imperfections.
Though they have similarities, the differences between product photographers and fashion photographers outweigh them. For example, fashion photographers deal mostly with human subjects.
Fashion photographers do not have infinite time to take shots of a product, and to find how lighting it from every possible angle makes it look.
You may often be under pressure to return shots of several different outfits. You will likely need to take the shots, edit them, and send them on a tight timeline. You’ll need to balance trying for the perfect image staying within your timeline.
Lastly, fashion photography is one of the most important genres when it comes to lighting. Learning how to light your fashion photography will result in the largest quality improvements to your images.
Novice Photographers and Fashion Photography
Complete novices to fashion photography may have a lot to learn about cameras and equipment. These are some of the different things you’ll need to focus on:
- Lighting a model
- Composing and framing a shot
- Posing a model
- Editing your images
Lighting a Model
Mastering artificial lighting is hard, but you can get great photos if you know how to use natural lighting. Diffused lighting through a window is a great starting point. You could also use spots of shade and other cooler lighting for images.
Try bouncing the naturally available light, and avoid mixing sources of available artificial lighting. Even two light bulbs can have enough variation in color temperature to mess with your images.
Here is an example of a natural light fashion shot:
Composition is the easiest thing to practice, but even experts can always improve. You need to practice a lot to get good at it, because the standard for photographers is hard.
Take photos of everyone around you. This could be your friends and family, even pets and your children. See how different camera angles affect them. Test out different focal lengths and camera settings to see what changes they produce.
Use this time to see how different light lends itself with various compositions. You can learn and practice most of these areas alone, but keep all of them in mind as you take photos and set them in your subconscious. Certainly, you should also keep in mind settings like shutter speed, and aperture.
Posing a Model
Similarly, learn to pose people. Learning how people’s bodies fit in an image is important. Professional models will be much better at knowing how to pose themselves, but this will take more effort if you’re working with a friend.
Editing Your Shots
Photo editing takes the most time when it comes to fashion photography. Often, you’ll need to re-edit the same image dozens of times to see which effect looks best.
Photo editing, when getting started, is simply about learning about the tools you have at your disposal. Pick an editing software and learn all of its tools so you know the ways you can manipulate your images.
Elements of Fashion Photography
Fashion photography has some basic elements that make it interesting as a genre. Most tend to think of fashion photography as a subset of portraiture. However, as shown above, it is more a fashion of portraiture and product photography.
Fashion photography itself even has different focus areas. It can be journalistic and editorial, such as the fashion photography often showcased in magazines. But it can also be used to sell thing in advertisements in magazines.
One of the greatest elements of fashion photography is location and light. Location can be exotic or it can be a studio. If you are interested in building your own studio, look here.
Studios also have the benefit of giving you near infinite control over lighting. Being able to edit every part of your photo’s lighting in-camera is great. This will save you photo editing time later on.
A quick tip before we continue: for better diffused light, shoot with large light sources. Place them as close as possible to the skin of your subject for the best results.
High Fashion Photography vs. Regular Fashion Photography
High fashion photography depicts fashion, but to the highest extent. The most expensive clothes and new releases are often showed in high fashion photography.
Furthermore, make up artists, designers, and people other than the photographer and grips will be on set.
While the photographer has creativity, everything in the shoot is perfectly tailored and designed to maximize end quality. High fashion photography is often shot in large studio spaces where there is enough room to accommodate specific requests.
Another subset of high fashion photography is catwalk photography. This involves photographing models for agencies and magazines at fashion shows. These shows often showcase designers’ newest pieces.
High fashion photography is often a huge production. It may not be what you want to do in your future as a fashion photographer. That is alright!
There are many areas in which you can work within the genre of fashion photography.
Setting Yourself Apart from Other Fashion Photographers
Because of the plethora of fashion photographers that exist today, you need to make sure that your work stands out. To do this, there are several areas you need to focus on.
Again, consistency. Make sure that whatever attributes your photography has, no matter how whimsical, are consistently visible in your portfolio. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have variation. Just make sure your photos look like they were all taken and edited in the same style.
When talking about style, there is a lot you can do to make your photos stand out. Fashion photographer Jamie Diamond shoots everything in natural light, but he uses a specific editing style that makes his work recognizable.
On the other hand, shooting intricate studio work is a sure way to get your photography out there. Creating massive sets with crazy details, backgrounds, and lighting can be a whole style on its own, If you can do it well and market yourself, it will get you jobs.
Marketing is often just as important, if not more, than the quality of your art. Sometimes, companies hire photographers whose work may seem lackluster because they have name recognition.
Photographers who market themselves well in their niche book more jobs in their niche. It’s as simple as that.
Learning the Basics of Lighting and Composition
If gear matters, then lighting and composition matter tenfold. Composition and lighting can make even the most dull backgrounds and clothing seem interesting.
Famous fashion photographers like Richard Avedon and Annie Liebovitz have shot using multiple generations of cameras. Their images do not continue to garner fame today because of the cameras used to take them. Rather, their images are memorable because the photographers used lighting and composition so fantastically that the cameras they worked with didn’t matter.
You will need to consider, though, how light and composition affect a model’s stature, size and skin. They will also influence everything else in your shot.
Using rim lights can often lead to more dramatic images. But, in some settings, these harsh light sources can create problems.
Large and close soft lighting can make a beautiful photo, but it often lacks the character you may want to showcase with an image. Learn to tailor your light and composition to the model, or to the image you want to take.
Natural lighting is a great place to begin. After you master photographing through a window, try reflecting light and blocking it to see how it affects your model.
You can manage to take amazing photos in almost any natural lighting.
Once you conquer natural light, you can graduate to other lighting conditions. Going through Strobist’s tutorial is a great place to start, and has brought many people from zero to hero in terms of lighting.
Learn how to use strobes before investing in heavier equipment if you plan to open a studio. You’ll know what modifiers and lights you will actually use as well as how they behave with your camera and kit.
Equipment Needed for Fashion Photography
“The right tool for the job” is a saying I live by. Make sure that you are using the correct apparatus to achieve your vision in an image. Figuring out the camera, lenses, lighting, and props or sets you need takes a long time, and a lot of comes down to practice.
This equipment also varies across circumstances. If you are shooting something in a studio you’ll need a full lighting setup. This studio setup is wildly different than an outdoor shoot or a shoot in the rain.
Find what type of fashion photography you want to take, and work on that photography. Figure out what equipment is best for that kind of photography. Then, you’ll be set for taking specific kinds of photos.
When building out your professional photographer kit, it is important that you are cognizant of things like sharpness and aberration. Not all lenses of the same focal length and aperture are made equal, so know how they’re different. This will help you decide when to use one over the other.
Choosing the Right Equipment for Fashion Photography
For this section, we’ll go through each base of camera gear and talk about general features that you’ll want to have access to. Finally, we’ll also talk about tips for looking for that type of gear.
Choosing a Camera
In terms of camera bodies, you want to look for several key features. The list below is a realistic set of features to look for. Know which ones of these are most important to you:
- Autofocus and speed
- Eye autofocus or face autofocus
- Tethered shooting
- Flash syncing and availability
- A good RAW File Format mode
- Color science
Autofocus and types of autofocus are important. Having a camera with eye autofocus that you can trust takes a large burden off of focusing for you, which is great. Studio work is especially shot at tighter apertures for maximum sharpness, but focusing at any aperture is very important.
Tethered shooting and the ability to sync with multiple flashes is the biggest burden-reliever for a fashion photographer. Make your gear work for you.
Color science and RAW file formats go hand in hand. Making sure that you have adaptability and can get the perfect colors from your photos is not something you want to miss out.
Choose a durable camera body that will last a long time. Choosing something that will last is great, because you won’t find yourself needing to change camera bodies often.
Choosing a Lens
You may want a lot of lenses in your kit, or you may know for your space and photography you only need a single lens. No matter how many lenses you have, want, or use, there are several things you want to keep track of. These are especially noteworthy when buying new glass:
- Lens sharpness and image quality
- Cosmetic aberrations with lenses
- How the lens affects the model’s body
- Low distortion, especially for wider angle lenses
- Color accuracy
Sharp lenses and image quality come above all else, especially for commercial work. Similarly, things like chromatic aberration just detract from photos, so find lenses that avoid them.
Distortion is something to keep an eye on. If your lens distorts your model’s body in a shot, that’s a problem. You don’t want to have to apply lens profile corrections to every shot you take.
Low aperture sharpness may be necessary for outdoor and location work, but most of the time, you will be shooting fashion at higher apertures. In these cases, aim for quality sharp glass over low aperture, softer lenses. This also means your lenses won’t be as heavy, which is a good thing.
Lastly, make sure you don’t invest in lenses with bad color problems. Look for neutral glass which is as low impact as possible.
The Right Artificial Lighting
Choosing lighting is hard. Profoto gear is pretty much the best, but it comes with the highest price tag. On the other hand, cheap lighting can be very hit or miss.
This is some general criteria for you when choosing lighting:
- Power output
- Continuous vs. artificial lighting
- Color temperature modification
- Power modification
- Power cycling
- Usability with light modifiers
If all of this is going over your head and making you nervous, don’t worry! First, make a choice between continuous and artificial lighting. In a studio setting, you can likely work with just continuous lighting. This is a good place to start.
You can also get some very powerful and cheap LED arrays that will light your subjects very well. You can also use these for video work, so if you are a hybrid shooter, invest in these.
The ability to calibrate your color temperature and power across lights is necessary in order for you to do the most with an image. Slight and obviously unintentional variations between temperature and brightness can create problems both during and in post production.
Strobe lights that automatically cycle power make your work easier but are more expensive. You’ll have to decide how your budget and your needs affect which lights you’re willing to purchase.
Side note: Invest in quality light stands and modifiers. They last forever and won’t break your equipment. Tough and reliable means you only buy once.
Lastly, look into what modifiers you can attach to lights, and make sure that your lights work with different modifiers. Research different modifiers and what they do, and make sure they fit both your lights and other hardware, such as light stands.
Setting up a Fashion Photography Studio
If you want to become a studio photographer, investing and knowing how to invest in your studio is hard. There are incredibly expensive options, like high end lights and a cyclorama, but there are also cheaper options.
Using colored gels and different tone backdrops from white to black can help you avoid the cost of having many color variations of seamless paper. Seamless paper is a great alternative to cyclorama, especially because it so so adaptive and replaceable.
Start with just a wide roll of seamless white paper. This allows you to do the most with your light.
In terms of hardware, invest in high end. Solid and reliable industrial metal construction over will serve you better than cheap hardware that will need to be replaced. Not only will you save money in the long run, but your hardware won’t get in the way.
When looking for a studio space, remember that high ceilings are very helpful. Try to situate your studio somewhere with these high ceilings, like a garage.
Also, consider outfitting your studio with amenities to make your models comfortable. This includes installing a quality heating and cooling system to keep working temperatures comfortable for models.
This is a very basic studio shot:
Studio storage is something that you can figure out, but safety is also important. You are working with high powered lights that can catch fire. Make sure you know what to do in an emergency situation and that you have the proper emergency equipment on hand.
Keeping a clean studio lets you work more easily. Tool carts that are on wheels will let you store things from memory cards to gaff tape and other studio essential. Investing in used ones from garages and mechanic shops allows you get some cheap, heavy-duty studio storage.
Best Software for Editing Fashion Photography
First, take a look at the fashion photography editing tutorial I mentioned earlier. That tutorial mentions a generous amount of different programs that you can use.
The industry standards for editing fashion photography are dominated by the Adobe Creative Cloud suite. Programs like Lightroom and Photoshop. Photoshop is especially important, as most of the work is done there.
Luckily, Adobe offers Photoshop and Lightroom together in a photography bundle for only $9.99/month. Your editing software might just be the cheapest investment in your fashion photography career!
You can also use a program like Photo Mechanic are used to cull photos. Fashion photographers often will take hundreds, if not thousands, of photos of the same outfits and products, so sorting through quickly is important.
There are some cheaper and free alternatives if higher-end photo editing software isn’t in your budget as a beginning fashion photographer.
For an Adobe Lightroom replacement, Capture One Pro is a program that some professionals even prefer.
You could also opt to use a basic photo cataloging and storage application, and then use a Photoshop replacement for all Camera RAW work.
Speaking of Photoshop replacements, there are many great options out there. Things like Photopea can do a lot of the layer-based editing of Photoshop from your web browser. If you prefer a downloadable piece of software, you can use something like Skylum Luminar or GIMP.
Most importantly, look for programs that allow you to shoot tethered. Shooting tethered is useful because you see your photos right away on a bigger than 3-inch screen. You can also apply presets or fast edits on images before you see them on your tethered monitor.
We hope that this introduction to making fashion photography has been helpful. Of course, beginning in any new photography field is overwhelming. But, if you follow this guide, you’ll have all the equipment you need to get started.