8 Tips for Fashion Photography

Sometime late last year I was approached by PhotoYou Magazine to contribute an article for their winter issue and give some tips on fashion photography. It's been out for a while now so with permission from my lovely editor Valerie Wee here's a repost for those who can't get their hands on a copy. I hope some of you will find it useful!

PhotoYou Winter 2010: Fashion Forward
Photos: Zhang Jingna
Words: Zhang Jingna and Valerie Wee

1. Look and Learn 

Look at images every day. Whether it's photographs or paintings—looking, learning and observing are the key to creating an eye for arresting images. This will form the foundations of your aesthetics and style, from colour palette, lighting, framing, clothing, makeup to model choices.

Always find opportunities to shoot. If you're starting with a single kit lens, learn how the wider and longer ends of the lens differ in terms of effects to your photographs before moving on for more expensive gear. Does it distort the model's proportions? Does it make the scenery look vast and wide? Learn what works best for you, it will help develop give you confidence when working in different situations and also your choice in what you'll need when you buy your next lenses.

2. Simple is Always Best 

Few people are blessed enough to start their photography career with a full team of fantastic stylists, hair and makeup artists. Fashion tests or your initial portfolio work often just need to be simple and classy. Keep the setting and look, such as makeup and styling, clean and light. Grasp the skill of taking really good simple shots before getting more experimental and elaborate in your set-up.

DIY Styling Tip: 

Male models can go topless to make the shot work. For girls, get them into body-con outfits which will accentuate their figures—scoop neck tank tops, tights, high heels no shorter than 5 inches are all great basic items that can get you very strong looks. Alternatively, you can also try a crop jacket and pair of hot pants on her to add variety. Keep the hair simple – worn razor straight or simply pulled back into a bun. You’ll be surprised how chic and sleek going simple can be. 

3. Light and Shadows 

Good lighting, like everything else, comes with experience. It doesn't have to be complicated, but play around with your settings and put together three to four different setups for different looks. To start, master just one light. This will help you go a long way. Always watch out for shadows when photographing. Our eyes catch on to highlights first, but unintended messy shadows can break a shot when reviewed later on. Train your eye to observe what you are shooting in its entirety.

4. Always Cast Your Models 

The purpose of a model portfolio is to help them get jobs, but it can also be misleading.

Professional models usually start modelling from as young as 12 or 13 years of age. Imagine how much their faces and bodies will have changed by the time you see their portfolio photos. You may see bleached blonde hair but she may be sporting raven black when she turns up at your studio; you may be shooting a super skinny '20s flappers look and she's just put on 8 kilograms from a holiday in the last three months. You never know.

So always do a casting or, at the very least, request up-to-date polaroids from the model agency. If you're engaging a freelance model, you can do the same, or make arrangements to meet up for a casual coffee to assess his or her current look.

5. Supervise Hair & Makeup 

Always be around when hair and makeup are being done. Knowing what the colour palettes are can help you determine how you set up your shot. Try to stay invisible and don’t get in the way of your beauty team. Step in when something is off from your expectations or direction. You will learn and eventually know what works best for your shoots after a few sessions. And when you work with new teams on jobs, you’ll be able to give direction, as well as learn new things at the same time.

6. Clothes Must Be Seen 

Fashion photography is about aesthetics and trends.

Fashion is about selling the latest season's clothes and accessories. It's about making people covet what the model is wearing. Are you shooting a picture that makes you want the clothes for yourself, for your best girlfriends or for your boyfriend?

As a general rule in fashion photography, make sure your lighting always accentuates the texture and beauty of the materials—the lustre of silk, the sheerness of chiffon, the sparkles in gems and precious stones. These details will heighten the beauty and quality of an image itself.

7. Keep a Journal

It doesn’t have to be a public blog, but you should have a place where you can jot down experiences from pre-productions, meetings and photoshoots.

You don’t have to do it diligently, but whenever there's a good or bad shoot, there's something you're bound to have learnt.

Write down all the stuff you thought was cool, things you felt ruined an important shot or even the whole project; approaches you felt were bad initially but turned out great, the positive and negative experiences, miscommunications, oversights, joy, etc.

From time to time, go back and read up on these reflections. Sometimes it will send you harsh reminders of mistakes not to be repeated, and sometimes it will help you see things in a fresh perspective.

The best part is that it will help you realize and appreciate the extent to which you have progressed. And because we are always changing, and that sometimes we forget the rawness, newness and passion of our earlier days, it's a great way to look back at those times and perhaps be re-inspired once again.

8. Be Confident, Be Humble

Take advice and suggestions from others, but be confident of your vision. Everyone in your team looks to you to achieve the final product—the photograph. You may have a client, an art director, or an editor to turn to for opinions, but you must know deep down inside that you're the creator of your work.

Collaborate with people whom you respect and who respect you in return. Believe that no matter the circumstance, you will shine in the photograph because everybody sees the world differently, and is what will set your images apart from someone else's.

Remember there is always room for reinvention and newness, and only with a humble attitude and belief for constant learning will you keep moving forward. Always stay true to yourself, always keep learning.


Want to learn more? Check out my online course Artistic Portrait Photography.

More: photography articles, gear list

Last but not least here's a picture of me freezing in the Toronto cold. Photo by Conan Thai.

PS: If anyone's interested, I'll do a meetup this weekend?

PPS: Plugging for my SC2 clan, we're on NA server looking for good master players to practice with. Feel free to come to channel "iS" to hang out, see you there~ XD