A Beginner’s Guide to Creative Fashion Photography

Take a glimpse into the lifestyle, thought process and passions behind fashion photography and learn tips from a professional image maker to help create inspiring fashion photography

Fashion photography image: people head surrounded by flowers and oranges. | Women posing wearing large headpiece

The role of a fashion photographer is to tell a story; there are no rules and the possibilities are limitless. Whether it is photographing in an extraordinarily remote location, a bustling city or your own home; the intention remains simple — create an image that is emotive and inspired.


Discover some of the top tips and tricks to creative fashion photography; from setting creative intentions, to understanding what makes a strong fashion photograph, as well as some suggestions from a professional photographer.

How to plan for the perfect creative fashion photograph?

Regardless of whether you are shooting editorial fashion photography, street fashion or for your own passion project, a successful fashion photograph requires thoughtful planning. There’s a rich history to fashion photography and often the best first step is to research works from the past. This will help you to understand what makes fashion photography so unique and how it has changed throughout the years.


“An amazing fashion photograph tells a story — and the best part is, you can decide what that story will be,” says professional fashion photographer Jordan Drysdale.


  • Before you pick up the camera, set some creative intentions — This can be as simple as understanding the style you’re inspired by and the kind of imagery you want to produce. Be honest to your personal interests and create something that is unique to you.
  • Connect on a deeper level with references that are visually inspirational and emotive — Find visuals that inspire you; some great places to look are existing fashion photographs and films. Different photographers embrace references in various ways; some may look to magazines and others may look to nature.
Mood board with images of models and flowers, showing tones of pink, green, blue and grey.

Don’t be afraid to open your mind and allow inspiration to come from many avenues. Music can also play a great role in influencing a mood, so working on a great playlist for the shoot could help to drive the project.


  • Fashion photography is all about storytelling; have a narrative in mind — A great fashion photograph creates a mood and tells a story. Understand what you want your concept to communicate; the opportunities are endless when you can dictate what you want to communicate through your image.
  • Set the tone with emotive colours — Colour plays an important role in fashion photography; The colours that you include will change the overall feeling. Warm tones such as reds and oranges can inspire passion, romance and power. Alternatively, utilising cooler tones such as blues and purples can create a mysterious, nuanced mood.


Two fashion models in all-blue setting.
  • Fashion photography ideas at home — Sometimes the best place to experiment with fashion photography is at home and there are several ways to create beautiful imagery in your own space. Pay attention to the way light interacts with your home. The next time there are sun rays hitting a wall, photograph something against it. You will be surprised by how much you can achieve in a familiar setting. Historically, many fashion photographers experiment with flowers to test light, so try photographing flowers in your home and let the natural formations inspire you.
Close up of women with pink makeup and hair accessories.

What makes a good fashion photo?

There are countless aspects that can contribute to a good fashion photograph. One of the most important is understanding the equipment you are utilising and using your knowledge to your advantage. A technical understanding of photography will always give you more options to create outstanding imagery.


“With technical prowess is an eye for the extraordinary. Anybody can create an image, but it takes a certain eye to produce something memorable” says Jordan.


A successful fashion photograph is a combination of composition, angle, story and overall mood; and this is achieved by experimenting and pushing your limits creatively.


  • The location of your image will help to build a story -The world is your oyster and different spaces inspire different things. Try shooting some portraits at home, in a beautiful location or in the studio. Different settings can play an important role in storytelling; such as capturing wanderlust in an infinite desert or photographing the energy of a bustling capital city.
Model surrounded by flowers | Model in bright pink shoes and green dress.
  • Your photography kit; aka camera and lenses, are the tools to produce magical imagery — The gear and lenses you use can completely change the style of your work and there are plenty of options, both new and old, that can influence your style of shooting.

    For example, working with digital equipment will produce a more refined image, whereas film photography will produce a nostalgic image. Experiment with different cameras and see what style suits the fashion photograph you’re hoping to achieve; you will be surprised at how different the results can be.

  • Different lighting techniques will change the style and mood of your fashion photograph — “Photography, in essence, is understanding and utilising light” says Jordan. Without light, there is no image; so it’s imperative to observe, understand and celebrate light to create an unforgettable fashion photograph.

    There are several ways to approach lighting. Most beginner photographers experiment using natural light and observing how to adapt to what it offers in different circumstances.

    Artificial lighting, such as continuous or strobe lights, offers a more controlled and considered approach.  Professional photographers often develop their own unique approach to their lighting set-up, which can become a signature style for many of them. Light modifiers such as Soft-boxes and Beauty Dishes can change the nature of the light, diffusing it to create a softness that gently hits the subject and softens the shadows.

    A bolder approach can be employing directional and/or mixed lighting. This can create drama, by celebrating rich light and harsh shadows.


The options are endless when it comes to lighting and many photographers experiment with their gear and approach throughout their careers. Don’t be afraid to experiment. The more you understand light, the more enjoyable your fashion photography will be.


It can be beneficial to do some light tests before the actual photoshoot. This can help you to understand how to approach the lighting for the photoshoot and gives you the opportunity to troubleshoot any lighting problems you may have.

Create fashion image of two models posing under fabric.
  • Always be prepared with props, fabrics and different elements to add narrative and enhance your story telling — Never underestimate how much the set or a prop can bring to an image. Something as simple as a flower, instrument or chair can drastically change the model and their purpose in the image. Having something to interact with can elevate how a model moves and responds to you. Always have options on set and be imaginative with how you use them.
3  fashion models in the forest | Fashion photography of a model surrounded by green balloons

The ideal settings for fashion photography

The basic principles of camera settings, such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO, allow photographers to experiment with endless tools to produce outstanding imagery. Although many cameras have automatic features for beginners, Jordan encourages beginners to understand and take advantage of the manual settings. 


“They offer more creative control in achieving your dream results,” he says.


ISO is the camera's sensitivity to light; and it also determines the amount of grain in the image.


Shutter speed is the length that the shutter is open, allowing light to paint your image. A longer shutter speed, such as 1/15-1/60 can be used to experiment with blur and night-time photography when light is limited. Whereas a faster shutter speed, such as 1/400 is excellent for capturing movement, such as your talent in motion.


Aperture, in short, is the adjustable opening of the lens that allows light into the camera. It distinguishes the detail in focal lengths, creating depth of field (DOF).


Shooting outdoors with natural light

The ideal time to shoot outdoors is in the morning and late afternoon, when the sun is rising and setting. This will allow for soft, beautiful light with minimal shadows. The suggested manual camera settings are:


  • An ISO between 100—400.
  • A shutter speed higher than 1/250, typically 1/400.
  • An aperture between f2.8—f5.6 will produce a soft, dreamy image with shallow depth of field. Alternatively, an aperture between f8—f16 will capture both the model and surroundings clearly.
Fashion photography of a model surrounded covered in pink paint shooting outdoors with natural light | Fashion photography of a model shooting outdoors with fabric

Shooting indoors with low light
Many indoor settings can be a challenge, even for expert photographers, as there is a limited amount of light. As a result, it’s best to use different settings to accommodate low light scenarios. Remember, a higher ISO will increase the noise level. The suggested manual camera settings are as follows:


  • An ISO between 1600 — 4000.
  • A shutter speed between 1/160 —1/250
  • An aperture between f1.8—f4
Fashion photography of a model with floral head accessories | Fashion photography of a model showing shooting indoors with low light

Shooting with studio lighting
The beauty of studio photography is that it enables you to have complete control over the light and settings and limits the challenges caused by the inconsistency of outdoor or indoor lighting conditions. The ultimate test will be choosing what style to go with, as the opportunities are endless when it comes to studio light. Aligning with your studio lighting, the suggested manual camera settings are as follows:


  • An ISO of 100.
  • A shutter speed of 1/160. This typically is the optimum setting to sync with studio lighting.
  • An aperture of f8 will create a crisp image. However, you can experiment heavily in the studio with various aperture settings to wield incredible results, aligning with your image composition.

For example, you may choose to focus on the model and shoot through flowers at a low aperture of f2.8. This will blur the flowers and capture the model, creating depth of field. Alternatively, using an aperture of f16, you may shoot many people in the frame and have sharp focus on them all.Once the shoot is finished, Karen spends time culling and rating the images in Adobe Bridge and then imports a top selection of images into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for colour grading.

Fashion photography of model in a bubble surrounded by flowers, showing photography with studio lighting | Creative Fashion photography of a model captured with studio lighting

Remember, there are no right or wrong camera settings. If you are in a situation where the light is inconsistent, take advantage of the camera's automatic features until you are better acquainted with your gear.  The more knowledge you have when it comes to the basic principles of photography will allow you to achieve your desired results, but it doesn’t limit you to experimenting outside of your comfort zone. It’s important to try new things and creatively push yourself through utilising light and your photography equipment.

Fashion photography tips

Direction plays a big part in fashion photography. As the photographer, you are the leader of the project, whether it’s an independent or team effort. This means making your team feel comfortable and inspired; creating a space where creativity can be limitless. Pay attention to the fashion, the subject and your environment and how you can best combine all the elements to your advantage.

Portrait of a model posing
  • Fashion is the hero of the image and will help to build a narrative and inspire the direction — Fashion plays an integral role in producing a strong fashion photograph. A strong fashion photographer has an interest in fashion and can blend their signature photographic style with the garment they are shooting.

    Let the garment inform how you shoot it; if it has a strong shape, it may be best to direct the model into a powerful pose that heroes the silhouette. If the garment would look best in motion, get your model dancing, running and creating organic movements.  Be conscious of the fashion you are shooting and the best approach for how you can truly celebrate it— that will produce a strong fashion photograph.
Group of models posing  | Fashion photo showing a model's dress as the hero of the image
  • Everybody can strike a pose and the role of the photographer is to capture that moment or help direct it — Your photograph should give insight into the relationship between the photographer and the model.

    Some models will move in their own way and it can be important to follow their cues and capture the moments as they naturally flow. Other models need a little more direction, so it can be an opportunity to make them comfortable and help them by communicating how you would like them to pose.
Before and after comparison of fashion photography image edited using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
Black and white image of models
  • The fashion photoshoot is where the magic happens! This is where all the planning and passion will amalgamate into an image — This is the fun part! Enjoy the thrill of creation and let your personal style inform how you approach the photoshoot.

    If you like to be organised, use your shot list as a guide and produce what you have aspired to achieve. If you’re spontaneous and like to experiment, now is the time to try new things and get excited about what you're creating.
Behind the scenes of models having picture taken during photoshoot

Whether you are new to fashion photography or refining your craft, the best approach to creating breathtaking images is to understand what inspires you and allow that to navigate your work. Technical skill and an understanding of your equipment will help you to build a strong foundation, whereas your passion for storytelling and composing an image will be what differentiates you from other image makers.


The world of fashion photography truly is your oyster; gather inspiration, refine your concept, understand your photography kit (camera, lenses and lighting) and set a photoshoot date. Whether it is taking images at home, in the city streets or a vast location, the opportunities to turn your passions into results are limitless.


Experiment and enjoy the beauty of fashion photography and always remember to have fun creating images that you'll cherish forever.

Jordan Drysdale sitting in front of one of his photographs


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