fashion

The Complete Guide to Fashion Photography

Broadcast internationally across all of the platforms, fashion photography is one of the most sought after niches in the industry. High fashion models rock the world’s most elegant wardrobes with professional fashion photographers quickly snapping away images that embody pure beauty. It’s of no wonder that so many want to dive right into this exciting world. 

Here is our complete guide, divided by topic, for fashion photography! 

What is Fashion Photography? What Makes it Unique? 

Fashion photography revolves around the art of dressing oneself, from clothes to accessories. Fashion photography is a very specific niche intended to show off clothing and wardrobe accessories in the most flattering light. Fashion photography also has its claws embedded deeply into marketing, as this niche’s purpose is to equally sell a lifestyle or idea associated with the clothing in order to boost sales.

Fashion photography is a type of portraiture but not all portraiture is fashion photography. Fashion photography holds unique characteristics that differentiate itself from other photographs that have a human subject: 

  • Clothing is the primary subject. 
  • Styling holds the utmost importance. 
  • Models are posing in ways that highlight the clothing rather than the model. 
  • Composition is focused around the clothing. 

Although a person is wearing fashion, the subject is the fashion. The person is akin to a mannequin. 

Type of Fashion Photography

There are four key types of fashion photography: 

Editorial 

Editorial fashion photography is intended to be more story-telling in nature. This photography type is published in magazines, often running alongside text to help tell a story or educate readers. The models become actors and actresses and portray a narrative with the clothes and scene. 

High Fashion 

This is where fantasy and fashion meet. High fashion photography often happens to feature recognizable models or celebrities. The fashion is styled in such a way that it appears heavily departed from reality, very fantasy-esque in nature. The poses tend to be elaborate and over-the-top. 

Catalog 

This is a type of fashion photography that is more down to earth and mainstream. Catalog photography is a style that is used to market their products to consumers. The images appear more informational and direct, with little story or narrative behind them. 

Street

Street fashion photography is where candid photography, urban photography, and fashion photography all brilliantly collide. This photograph aims to show what is fashionable amongst society and how the clothing fits within everyday life. Most of these images are shot to appear candid, with models doing every day activities (such as walking down the sidewalk in Manhattan) showing off the outfit. 

The Equipment 

Before one can embark on building their fashion photography portfolio, you need the right tools to bring the vision to life. 

Camera

High resolution cameras are a must-have for fashion photography. Because this is a commercial type of photography, quality is key. The megapixel count begins to matter. You want to ensure that your image is captured in full detail, so that no thread goes unshown. Full frame sensors are also pretty high up on the needs list as a crop sensor will not have a high enough resolution. 

Having a full frame sensor is very important to this commercial type of photography. Don’t even bother with a crop sensor, or APS-C camera. Commercial photography is printed and often blown up to a very large size. If you’re looking to print very large canvases, crop sensors won’t work well for you because the image will likely be too small! You would also need to look for a camera with a lot of megapixels for a very big print. Sensors tend to go hand in hand with another technical term called megapixels. Megapixels are a unit of measurement for resolution that literally translate to “one million pixels”. Megapixels dictate how much detail your sensor can capture. The larger the megapixel number, the more detail your camera can catch. Only full frame sensor cameras have large megapixel counts. 

Megapixels aren’t a gimmick to increase the price of a camera. Alongside prints, the megapixels do impact the details and quality of an image. As you may deduce, the more pixels, the higher quality the image because there will be more details. Megapixels is a unit of measurement for the amount of pixels in a photo. 

All this talk of megapixels and focus points lead to talks about details. Details really do make the image, especially in fashion in which the details define the craftsmanship and quality. With newer cameras, you can actually adjust the amount of details and the type of detail rendering in an image! You can ensure the details have perfect clarity, or soften the sharpening a bit. This saves a lot of time in the editing room, and as any photographer knows, the closer you can get the image in the camera the better!

Noise at high ISOs also impacts the details. The more noise, the more mucked up the image is. Noise control options help to alleviate some of the grains present when shooting in darker conditions. As such, having this option is pretty nifty!

It’s also important to look at how many focus points the camera has. How you select what is in focus and how accurate the autofocus is is through focus points. Focus points are the dots that the camera uses to lock onto focus. The more there are, the more accurate and detailed the focus can be. For touch screen cameras, you can tap the focus points on the screens and ensure that the specific detail you want in focus absolutely is.

Cameras with dual card slots is also a big bonus. Most new professional cameras have two card slots. These two card slots offer two options: simultaneous shooting and card-switch shooting. 

Card-switching means that when one card is full, the camera will automatically switch to record on the second card. Simultaneous shooting means that both cards record at the same time, creating a backup for one another. Choose the one that suits the shoot the most (although simultaneous shooting is the suggested method). 

Lens 

The final image result is due to the lens. This is where a lot of the high quality lies. Because fashion photography is such a popular niche, it is also very competitive- so the quality of your images is what aids you in standing out (and getting the jobs!). When determining which image to invest in, consider lenses that use pristine high grade glass (preferably with some fluoride coating to eliminate light glares). 

For the most part, for fashion photography you will stick to standard lenses and telephoto lenses. Both of these types of lenses have an equal benefit of not distorting the proportions of your subjects. The fashion you are capturing has to be fairly accurate to life, especially if you’re doing something like catalog photography. Models also don’t tend to favor when their features are being distorted due to the lens glass curving (the companies and fashion houses aren’t the only ones you need to make happy). 

In the world of fashion, glass matters. Camera brands and lens companies have a high end lens line and a low end lens line. The high end line uses high quality glass that will make images sharp, vibrant, and rich. This is because the grains of sand used to make the glass differ between the two qualities, high-end glass is clearer! The problem with lower end glass is that it tends to not be very sharp and have a dull appearance.

Look for lenses that have wide apertures so that you have more control over the aperture you choose for your fashion photography. Depth of field is controlled by the aperture. With fashion photography, the studio sessions tend to have narrower apertures and a deeper depth of field. However, for many outdoor fashion shoots, a much shallower depth of field is used in order to keep the background from overbearing the model and the clothing they are wearing. If you can invest in one lens that can do both, you’re golden. 

Lighting 

Fashion photography more often than not has artificial lighting involved (even when shooting outdoors). There are different types of artificial lighting to choose from, neither is better nor worse than the other: 

Continuous: Light that is always on and does not flash. These can range from LED strips and LED bulbs all the way to tungsten bulbs. These lights tend to have a softer look to them.

Flash/Strobe/Speedlite: A device used in photography that bursts a powerful bright light. For fashion photography, you’ll likely want to look at flashes that feature TTL to preserve the depth of field. An acronym for “Through-The-Lens”, this is a setting in a flash, strobe, or speedlite automatically determines the output of light based on information it is receiving from your lens. This lighting tends to have a sharp and contrasted look to it. 

Camera Settings

It’s inaccurate of us to tell you exactly what settings to use for fashion photography. This is because the genre has so many different aesthetics, locations, and conditions to it that no one setting works for all. Instead, come read our guides on the following topics to aid you in selecting the proper settings for your shoot: 

Tips for Location, Posing, and Composition

Here are tips for all of the major facets of a photograph. 

1. Make Sure the Location Compliments the Clothing

Remember- your purpose is to make sure the fashion looks good. Speak with your client about the kind of mood they want to achieve and the story they are looking to tell. Next, select a location accordingly. 

An urban streetwear brand would look best shot in a Downtown or bustling area. A cocktail dress may look beautiful in a refined loft. A bikini works best at the beach. You get the gist. 

But, when looking for a location, make sure that the colors also compliment the clothing. A brightly colored trench coat can look very cool in a neutral colored loft, but would get lost in a vibrant flower field. 

As well as this, consider the size of the crew and your composition. Can the location accommodate the space you require? 

Sometimes, the best bet is to use a photography studio to not deal with natural variables such as location permits, weather, and other people. But even when in a studio, choose backdrops that show off the clothing the best. 

2. Stay Away from Major Distractions 

Nothing is worse than capturing an image in which the viewer’s eye goes not to the clothes, but to something in the background or foreground. 

Make sure to remove distractions that pull the eyes away from your subject, whether it be physically hiding these problem points or cloning them out in Photoshop and Lightroom. If neither can be done easily, then sometimes changing the color or desaturating the distracting element does the trick!

3. For Studio, Keep an Eye on Backdrop Creases and Tears 

Trust me, editing creases and tears is an absolute nightmare. Best to avoid this problem in the first place! Look for these issues in your backdrop or background and remedy them prior to shooting. For fabric, you can steam creases out. For paper backdrops, you can pup dents back out or just pull fresh paper. 

4. For Outdoor, Use Shallow Depth of Field for Separation

Shallow depth of field is when the subject is in focus and the rest blurs away. This allows a beautiful separation between the subject and the background and ensures that attention is not taken away from the main point of the photograph. 

Shallow depths of field is great to use when the background is less than ideal and distracts from your subject. It’s also great for detail shots so that your audience focuses only on the parts you want them to see. 

5. Give the Model a Character to Play

Fashion photography is also about selling an idea of the clothes as much as the clothes themselves. It can help your model tremendously if you give her a character to play or an attitude to portray. 

For example, for leather and spiked clothes, telling the model to play a punk rock kid can get the exact attitude you need! 

This also helps the model with figuring out poses, facial expressions, and even makeup.

6. Have the Model Interact with the Location

Some locations do well with interaction. This is especially true for street-style fashion photography. Have the model lean on a stool, sip a cup of coffee, play with a flower, or any other sort of interaction that makes sense in the location. 

7. Play with Composition

Don’t be afraid to go out of the box if you’re shooting editorial or high fashion photographs. The weirder the composition, the better the outcome! 

8. Tell the Model to Follow Her Nose with Her Eyes

A great posing trick is to tell the model to follow the line of her nose with her eyes. This creates the perfect ‘stare off into the distance’ shot without looking awkward.

9. Chins Up, Always! 

Raise those chins! High chins prevent chin wrinkles, elongate the neck, and is flattering for most every model. 

10. If It Feels Uncomfortable, It Looks Great on Camera

This is the golden rule for posing a model- if it feels uncomfortable, the result is fantastic. You can take this a step further in high fashion photography by utilizing as many quirky and bizarrely contorted poses as possible. 

11. Show Movement 

Images are static, our goal as a photographer is to bring movement back into them. This creates visual interest and encourages viewers to visually engage with an image. Have the model show movement by spinning, lifting a leg, ruffling her hair, anything that is more than just a static stance. 

If the clothes you are shooting have flow to them or are made of a light material, really take advantage of this by having your model throw the material around or jump up and down. Anything that captures that breathtaking fabric sway. 

12. Never Crop at the Joints

This is a big no-no. If you’re photographing a living subject, don’t cut off any limbs! That looks like you purposefully handicapped your subject. If you have to crop tightly, never crop at a limb joint- always crop in the center between two joints. 

Tips for Lighting 

Lighting is a very important part of fashion photography! 

1. The Triangle Arrangement Never Fails. 

If you’re at a loss for eye-catching lighting, use the Triangle Arrangement. The Triangle Arrangement can be done with both continuous light and flashes. All you need are three lights and stands for them. 

The arrangement requires one light in front of the subject and two lights at the sides. The two lights in the back provide your subject separation. If you want the background to be illuminated in order to separate your subject, turn these lights towards your background wall. If you want the subject to be separated due to a rim light around their figure, turn these lights towards the subject. 

The light in the front always stays in place, because that illuminates the face and body. You want this light to be hanging higher than the subject but pointing down towards him or her. Not directly overhead, but a few inches in front. 

2. Use Flash Outdoors to Even Out Shadows 

Did you know that flash and strobes are not just for the studio? Many of these artificial lights can actually be brighter than the sun. This is where they really excel. If you have to shoot outdoors during a difficult lighting hour, use flash to even out shadows, fill the shadows, or expose the subject properly against the background. Make sure to put the flash inside of a beauty dish or softbox diffuser, bare flashes (flashes that have no modifying accessories on them) are rather harsh. 

4. Watch Out for Chin Shadows 

Shadowed chins can create an awkward lighting aesthetic on the model’s face. Place a reflector below the chin when capturing portraits to bounce light back to that area and illuminate it. If you’re doing full-body shots, have the model raise his or her chin up. 

Tips for Editing 

Here are some tips to take with you to the editing room. 

1. Skin Retouching is a Must

It’s natural to have blemishes, wrinkles, and imperfect skin. Unfortunately, the camera brings these out a lot more than the human eye sees in person. You can smooth skin using a large variety of methods in both Photoshop and Lightroom. One method is to use the Clone Stamp Tool to color in clear skin texture on blemishes and other such imperfections. Another is to use a little but of gaussian blur to smooth skin out. There are hundreds of methods under the sun, use the one that suits your model’s skin the best. 

2. Pay Attention to Details

The devil is in the details. Keep an eye out for stitching problems, threads, wrinkles, loose hair, and other such details that would otherwise be a mistake in your picture. You can easily use the Spot Healing Brush tool in Photoshop and Lightroom to quickly edit those out of the way,

3. Color Correct for Accurate Colors

Because the clothing is intended for sale, ensuring the colors are accurate is of the utmost significance. Nothing is worse than ordering jeans and receiving a different color than what you saw in an advertisement! This is especially prevalent in catalog photography. 

Try setting your white balance to compliment the shooting location, that can help keep colors as accurate as possible until you hit the editing room. Then use color sliders to bring the right tones back out. 

4. Remove Footprints in Studio Paper Shots

Commonly forgotten and very annoying to look out. Don’t forget to remove the footprints from the studio shots! Paper backdrops that spread to the floor are prone to scuffing, no matter how clean the shoes are. 

5. Advise the Makeup Artist

For photography, makeup has to be done akin to theatrical makeup because anything subtle won’t show. Tell the makeup artist to go a bit more bold or contrasted with the makeup, especially with contour makeup. 

Business Tips

Aside from shooting, being business savvy will help you in your pursuit. 

1. Use a Shot List and Mood Board

To put it simply, a shot list is a detailed checklist of the images you need to capture during a shoot. This helps you schedule the shoot, organize your thoughts, and make sure that no important photograph is missing. A shot list opens up communication between the photographer and their client so that both are able to equally express their needs- vital for fashion photography.

A mood board is used to collage images that express the colors, tone, story, and overall feel of a photo shoot. Mood boards are often made up of various reference photographs, paintings, accessories, color sets, and more. This helps in picking out a location, model, and editing requirements. 

2. Have Insurance

If you’re serious about getting into fashion photography, you’re going to want insurance on your equipment. If your lens gets broken, not only is that a costly fix, but you could also lose a lot of work. Luckily, many camera and lens brand names have their own insurances and member programs that can help! Or you can look into insurance companies that specialize in representing photographers. A yearly fee can grant you access to discounted repairs, free loans while your gear is being repaired, and liability protection against accidents.

3. Use Contracts- Always

You’re playing with fire if a contract isn’t being used. Especially when large finances are involved, as is the case often with fashion photography. 

A contract outlines all of the expectations, timelines, and ensures that the photographer meets their guarantee. The contract prevents the client from trying to take advantage of the photographer and vice versa. 

This being said, don’t try to draft a contract yourself- it is likely to be riddled with loopholes or illegal terms, and even worse, likely to be entirely void. Hire a contract lawyer who is versed in photography law. You can bet that your client in this industry has already done that. 

4. Acquire Permits When Necessary 

Not all locations are free to use for commercial purposes. Look up the local ordinances on the location you are interested and acquire the necessary permits. If you do not, you risk getting kicked out and your business license pulled. 

5. Use Property Release Forms and Model Release Forms

Release forms grant you, and your client, permission to use the images commercially. Make sure you have a written release form from the subject in your images, allowing you to freely use his or her likeness. If you are shooting on recognizable private property, a property release form will be necessary in order to use the images commercially as well. 

6. If You Have a Large Team, Make Call Sheets

If you’re doing a large and invested shoot that includes makeup artists, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists, prop makers or houses, models, lighting grip, and other such crew- make a call sheet to ensure everyone shows up when they are supposed to. 

Call sheets quickly list important information such as location, a map for parking, time to arrive, contact information, and more. 

7. Expect Some Payment Delays when Shooting for a Company

Many large companies pay their photographers like they pay their employees- via an accounting department and on the payroll schedule. Expect to be waiting to receive the rest of your payment rather than having it all on the day of the session. When a company presents you with a form that states “Net 30” “Net 60” or any number after ‘Net’- that tells you how long you’ll have to wait to see your payment. 

It is suggested to take an upfront retainer or deposit prior to beginning work, but the rest of the payment may potentially have to wait. 

8. Backup Your Files 

One of the biggest causes for conflict between a client and photographer is losing photographs. Make sure that you don’t delete or format your camera memory cards until the photographs are safely backed up! It’s better to backup in multiple locations, such as, external hard drives, online cloud systems, and your computer hard drive. 

Conclusion

Once you’ve acquired the proper equipment and nailed down your lighting, the rest are just techniques and business practices that will aid you on your journey through the fashion world. Take this guide into your knowledge arsenal and go out there and capture beautiful fashion images! 

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