What Is Fashion Photography And How Do You Get Started In The Industry?

Everything you need know before launching your fashion photography career.

Fashion Photography
Fashion Photography

When it comes to glamorous jobs, few seem quite as sweet as fashion photography. Not only do fashion photographers get to travel to exotic locations and get a taste of the luxurious lifestyles designers often try to sell through their look books, but if successful, they also have the potential to make bank. No wonder fashion photography is one of the world’s most sought-out professions — who wouldn’t want to get paid well to do the job they love, and to have fun doing it?

However, before you decide that fashion photography is the job for you, you might want to know a little more about the field and what to expect from it. As one of the most nuanced and commercial forms of photography, there are a lot of unspoken rules about how the fashion photography industry runs — and a lot of terminology you never even knew existed.

What is fashion photography?

Fashion photography is exactly what it sounds like it is — a kind of photography meant to showcase a certain clothing or accessory product, oftentimes for advertisements or fashion magazines. Instead of focusing on the model’s physique or their surroundings, the audience is supposed to focus instead on the product — and the lifestyle — being sold.

Fashion photography began as an exclusive profession stemming from Parisian fashion houses in the late 1800s. Throughout the next few decades, it continued as an elitist industry, though that began to change with the rise of social media and other photo sharing apps. Fashion photography has since evolved into a seemingly more accessible field brimming with influencers and social media starlets, but don’t let that fool you — traditional fashion photography still lives on today, and, as a profession, it’s more sought-out than ever.

What are the different kinds of fashion photography?

Fashion/Beauty Editorials

This is often what people think of when they hear the term “fashion photography.” These are the layouts you’ll find in fashion magazines, with the models in exaggerated, eclectic poses. Unless commissioned by top fashion magazines, these shoots generally have little to no budget, meaning that you’re unlikely to be paid for your work; instead, these shoots are better for your portfolio than your wallet.

Spec Shoot

For spec shoots, it’s really the photographer that has to take the initiative to get his or her team together — instead of being asked to produce something for a publication, spec shoots are orchestrated beforehand and later submitted to publications in hopes of being published. Not only must the photographer gather a team of models and stylists, but they must also have a vision in mind before the shoot. While it’s not guaranteed that an indie magazine will pick up the shoot, the internet has made it much easier to showcase these specific kinds of shoots and garner attention without a publication’s name attached.

Test Shoot

For test shoots, photographers, models, and a creative team gets together to test out concepts or their ability to work as a group. While these shoots are unpaid and generally aren’t shown to the public (except perhaps on social media), they’re generally used to help pad portfolios or build modeling books.

Commercial Photography

This shoot is designed specifically to sell a product — usually clothes, makeup, or accessories. Because these shoots are often used to bring in money, they’re generally budgeted better than editorial shoots. This means everyone, including the photographer, will most likely be paid for their work — in fact, it’s perhaps the most profitable type of fashion photography. However, photographers generally aren’t immediately hired for this kind of work and are instead chosen for their portfolio of editorial work and test shoots.

How can I get started in fashion photography?

Becoming a fashion photographer doesn’t have to be an unattainable dream — every established fashion photographer got their start somewhere. You just have to know where to begin and what to expect before you jump into this career field.

Here are some things you’ll want to do to get started:

1. Network

One of the first (and most important) steps to becoming a fashion photographer is broadening your network.  Not only will you want to start meeting potential models and stylists, but you’ll also want to do your best to meet people who already have their foot in the industry door. Most fashion publications won’t even look at your work unless you’ve been recommended by someone, making these connections vital to your success. Luckily, the internet makes this easier than ever — thanks to LinkedIn and Instagram, reaching out to professional connections is just a click away.

2. Build your portfolio

Of course, networking won’t mean much if you don’t have a portfolio. No one will pay you for your work unless you have something to show for it, which means the first few artistic steps in your career will be on you. Pull together a team of models and creatives and work with them to start building an online and physical portfolio to show future clients. Make sure you’re proud of your work, and don’t be sloppy — your portfolio will often be your first impression as a photographer.

3. Start sending out your work

Once you feel good about your portfolio, start reaching out to photo editors for magazines and other publications. This will usually require some research, as you’ll want to know who the photo editor is (by name and by profession) and what they’re looking for — don’t waste either of your time by sending in irrelevant work that doesn’t fit their vision. If you’re really serious about fashion photography, you may want to even hire an agent. Photo agents have daily contact with magazines and other publications and will have the contacts you need to make it in the fashion photography field. If you don’t know what to do, they certainly will.

4. Don’t be afraid to put in the work

But more than anything, you just have to be willing to put in the work. Fashion photographers might see very little payoff when they first start out, and may even end up paying out-of-pocket for test shoots and other artistic endeavors to pad their portfolios. Like with most creative fields, you can’t expect to just jump right in and become successful immediately. But with the right work ethic — and with the right amount of creativity and perseverance — this dream job can become yours for the taking.

If you have any further insights into the world of fashion photography, please leave your thoughts in the comments below!