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Fashion photography is unarguably the most glamorous of the photography niches, which makes it also one of the most sought after career paths. Working with fashion models, travelling the world, and collaborating with some of the world’s most famous designers sounds like a pretty glitzy job, but fashion photography comes with its own set of hardships as well.

As I mentioned in my last article about Stock Photography, one of the most effective ways to get yourself ready to adapt to a genre is to study it. Fashion photography has many different photographers to pull inspiration from. Some of my favorites include Corinne Day, Guy Bourdin, Nan Goldin, Helmut Newton, Mario Testino and Annie Leibovitz. However another technique is to pick up the most recent fashion magazines, and browse through the credits to find your own sources of inspiration.

See more: Photography Niches: Importance of Exploration

Fashion photographers tend to be located in major cities to make coordinating shoots easier, and many people break into the fashion photography world by starting as an assistant. If you are in a place in your life where relocation is possible, this may be a good option for you. To be a photographer’s assistant usually requires an incredibly vast amount of technical knowledge ranging from photo editing to lighting techniques. Photo retouching is definitely a skill worth mastering if you want to break into the fashion photography industry.

The fashion industry is as much about connections as it is about talent. Make sure to build connections with stylists, other photographers, models, art directors, and other people who you meet along the way. Oftentimes jobs aren’t publicly posted, and are acquired through word of mouth. Having a large network of people who enjoy working with you and like your portfolio can prove to be invaluable in the fashion industry.

model laying on couch

The Internet has changed many niches in photography (and arguably professions across the board), and fashion photography is not exempt. Previously, there were high entry barriers to get into the fashion world, with few magazines and many photographers vying for publication in them. However with the world of bloggers blooming, everyone can be a fashion blogger or photographer, and there are many bloggers looking for photographers to collaborate with. The downside to this is that there are now so many blogs that many of them don’t generate much traffic. Nonetheless, starting a blog and beginning to make connections is a great way to begin getting into fashion photography. Having a blog makes for an easily accessible place to store your portfolio where editors or other influential people can see it.

One way to build the connections mentioned above is through blogging. Comments, email outreach, and Twitter are all valid ways to meet potential clients or collaborators. Keep an eye on bloggers who may be lesser known and live in your area. Reaching out to them may end up establishing a working relationship, and when it comes to competitive creative fields, a team of two tends to fare better than solo. One specific site that can be useful for establishing connections is ModelMayhem.com. Although photographers have to do a bit of sifting through an array of aspiring models, it is a good starting point to get some networking done.

After a photographer has established a working portfolio it may be a good idea to start asking agencies to test new faces. Agencies acquire dozens of new fashion models on a regular basis, especially after fashion week, and the new models need to build portfolios just like the photographers do. Reaching out to an agency can help establish relationships with models who may end up being successful. In addition to the connections, your portfolio will begin to look for professional, and if you do a good job, the agency will begin to send you better girls.

I mentioned earlier the importance of knowing the tech stuff for fashion photography. Knowing how to use strobe lights, backdrops, reflectors and light gels is a requirement of being a successful fashion photographer. If you are not as tech-savvy, I’d recommend pairing with a friend and assisting on each other’s shoots. This way you can learn from a fellow photographer while shooting.

model posing on gray background

The other essential technical component of fashion photography is the retouching. The amount of Photoshop used in the average fashion spread stirs up quite a bit of controversy. Sometimes retouching is done tastefully, while other times it can leave the model looking very little like herself. Regardless, it has become a standard within the industry, and it is definitely essential knowledge. I would highly recommend becoming familiar with the clone stamp and the liquefy tool, both of which are used very frequently.

Finally, the most important skill that fashion photographers must learn to excel at is self-promotion. Most photographers run their own business or live off of freelance commissions. The only way that photographers get these jobs is through sales. Although the lifestyle associated with the fashion photographer is glamorous and exciting, the drudgework of constantly searching for your next job can be stressful. I once had a photography professor tell me that all successful photographers are good salesmen, and I would say this is particularly true in the niche of fashion photography.

So to conclude, build connections, look into starting as an assistant, learn Photoshop thoroughly and be comfortable with strobe lighting, look into testing new faces at modeling agencies, and sell, sell, sell!

Megan Youngblood

Megan Youngblood is a Brooklyn-based writer and photographer with roots in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes about art, technology, all things counter-culture, and the occasional auto-biographical musing. Her writing has appeared at Hyperallergic, The Creators Project, Stocktown, Bowery Boogie, and, of course, here. For more on Megan, check out her website or follow her on Twitter.


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