Fashion photography:

best tips, tools, and settings.

Fashion photography can be exciting world to work in, whether you want to make it as a professional or turn your passion for fashion into a hobby. Start your journey or refine your work as a fashion photographer with our guide – including expert tips, tools and settings that’ll make your shoots a success every time.

3 models posing for fashion shoot.

What you’ll learn.

What is fashion photography?

 

Fashion photography is a combination of productportrait and fine art photography, where art meets commerce. It’s the clothes, models, poses, lighting, backgrounds and more – all working together to create beautiful imagery to sell an aesthetic and lifestyle.

 

At its basic level, the definition of fashion photography is any image that highlights the clothes, accessories and fashion items in the best way possible. Above all else, fashion photography is about making garments desirable.

“Fashion photography is the way a photographer uses their own eye and perspective to highlight, curate or speak to anything in the fashion industry.” 

– Photographer Flo Ngala
 

 

History of fashion photography.
 

The history of fashion photography traces back to the mid-19th century, in the days when fashion photographs were taken in the court of Napoleon III and images of high-class members of Victorian society posing in their finest outfits started to appear. But it really took off at the start of the 20th century when its use for advertising exploded.

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Timeline: a brief history of fashion photography.
 

  • Late 1800s – Fashion magazines Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue are founded, initially including only hand-drawn illustrations.
     
  • 1909 – Condé Nast purchases Vogue, making it the world’s number one fashion publication.
     
  • 1911 – Thirteen soft-focus images taken by Edward Steichen of models wearing designer Paul Poiret’s dresses are printed in the magazine Art et Décoration. “The first serious fashion photographs ever made,” according to the photographer.

  • 1913 – Condé Nast hires Baron Adolph de Meyer to photograph models for Vogue for use with fashion editorials. Vanity Fair also launches.

  • 1920s and 30s – Surrealist and avant-garde influences and experimentation help fashion photography evolve into new artistic forms.

  • 1940s and 50s – The post-war era sees a shift to fashion photos focused on movement, led by Richard Avedon’s images for Harper’s Bazaar.

  • 1960s and 70s – Greater liberation and an abundance of fashion magazines, designers and photographers transform fashion models into superstars.

  • 980s and 90s – Realistic ‘street fashion’, adopting a documentary-like approach, begins to counter the trend of studio-shot images.

  • 2000s to present – Today there are many types of fashion photography. The lines between commercial and artistic work have become blurred, with technology having an innovative impact in expanding and evolving the genre. 

Adobe Creative Cloud for fashion photography students.

If you want to give your fashion photography a lift when it comes to editing, you might be interested in Adobe Creative Cloud for students. Students and teachers can save up to 65% off the package – giving you access to apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign for less.
 

Learn more

Types of fashion photography.


Fashion photography covers such a broad area that it’s perhaps easiest to break it down by type or style. Some fashion photographers focus on just one approach, while others are experts at a wide range of shoots. These are the 10 main types of fashion photography.
 

1. High fashion photography. 

vintage-classic-style

Many of the best fashion photographers exhibit their images in galleries around the world, blurring the line between commercial and artistic work.

With high fashion photography, the focus is on the creative vision, style and concept as much as it is on the clothes. Big budgets, famous models, actors and complex set-ups capture incredible detail – with prints appearing in high-end exhibitions and fashion photography books.

 

2. Editorial fashion photography. 

Fashion model.

Editorial overlaps with high fashion photography, but the images tend to appear in magazines or books. Also, its direction is influenced more by the editorial team and fashion items than a creative concept. Images are aspirational, telling a story through a lifestyle and commercial photography to appeal to the reader.
 

3. Street fashion photography. 

outdoor-autumn-portrait-of-young-elegant-fashionable-woman-wearing-trendy-sunglasses-camel-color-coat-turtleneck-with-textured-leather-shoulder-bag-walking-in-street-of-european-city-copy-space

Street style photography is a more natural form of fashion photography, capturing people, their clothes and style out in the world. It’s what you see on social media and across magazine spreads featuring the latest trends. Street fashion shoots are staged to give the appearance of normal life to create the illusion of a natural, candid approach. 

 

4. Catalogue fashion photography. 

collection-of-fashion-photos-with-young-model-in-stylish-clothes

This is a type of product photography where the aim is to clearly highlight the clothes, garments or accessories. It gives the reader a clear view of the clothing and has less of a focus on lifestyle or intricate backdrops. Shoots normally happen in a studio, with neutral backgrounds to maintain focus on the products.  

 

5. Runway fashion photography. 

Runway fashion models.

Shooting catwalks is a form of fashion photography. It’s all about capturing the movement, poses and clothes as the designers have chosen to present them. Runway photographers need fast lenses to deal with low light levels and must be agile to capture the moment.  

 

6. Look Book photography. 

group-of-three-african-friends-dressed-in-stylish-suits-posing-isolated-in-studio-over-dark-background-classmates-have-grown-up-and-become-successful-people-people-fashion-condept

Designers often present their latest collections to potential buyers in a look book. It’s similar to catalogue photography, except the shots are all connected by a concept to sell the entire collection – not just one product. Look book photographers need to capture the mood and personality of the collection. There’s no ‘right way’ to do this as it varies depending on the designer.  

 

7. Advertising fashion photography. 

Fashion model.

Similar to catalogue photography, advertising images focus on the products for a commercial purpose. This can be a spotlight on one specific product or a complete outfit, depending on the client. Advertising fashion photography can vary from shots using neutral backgrounds to highlight the garments, to vibrant lifestyle shots that reflect brand ideals.  

 

8. Glamour photography. 

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Unlike most other types of fashion photography, glamour puts the model at the heart of the image. It has more in common with portrait photography as make-up, clothes and accessories complement and enhance the image to bring out the model’s qualities.   

 

9. Portrait photography. 

beauty-afro-woman-with-glamour-makeup

Portrait photography aims to capture the personality of a model through the background, lighting, setting, and style. It lends itself to fashion by highlighting the subject’s style in a creative and compelling way. You can find examples of portrait photography used on fashion shoots for catalogues, editorial, advertising and most other purposes.  

 

10. Black and white fashion photography. 

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Fashion photography has always been on the cutting edge of cool – and what’s cooler than black and white images? Unless the bright colours of certain clothes need accentuating for editorial or advertising purposes, black and white photography for fashion shoots can be an effective and creative approach – especially to profile monochromatic outfits.  

 

How to do fashion photography: tips from the experts. 

young-photographer-shooting-beautiful-stylish-young-woman-in-photo-studio

There are two main parts of the fashion photography process – shooting images and editing them. Our experts are on hand to help get your fashion imagery just right. 

 

How to take fashion photography images. 

 

Take inspiration from fashion photographers before you pick up a camera. Advice from experiences professionals could give you an eye for what works and help you to create an impactful shoot.
 

“You have to look at images to see what you find attractive about image making and then you can figure out how to implement that in your own way.”

– Flo Ngala

 


Practise on your own. 

 

Start with casual fashion shoots and use a friend as a model. From the lighting to the styling, you’ll improve with practise. Try different lighting set ups, compositions, angles and poses to see how they look. Don’t worry about not having the right clothing straight away. 

 

“Just drape fabric around your model and play around with household items. If you can make something from nothing, you’re golden.”

– Photographer Grace Rivera

 


Experiment with lighting. 

professional-photography-equipment-prepared-for-shooting-stylish-shoes-in-studio

Study portrait lighting techniques for ideas on illuminating your indoor fashion shoots. Combine strobe lights and V-flats to diffuse the atmosphere and play around with different settings until you find one that works.

 

When it comes to shooting, check your light setup before your models arrive. Take some test shots of yourself or a stand-in and make any necessary changes. This will confirm whether your lighting and camera settings are correct.


Communicate with your models.

 

It’s important to make your fashion models feel at ease. This is a primary tenet of portraiture. Practise photographing someone you know before working with models. See how you need to direct them to get the shots you want. Try to get candid shots at off-guard moments. When you’re working with someone new, it can make all the difference to spend a little time just breaking the ice and getting to know them.

“The beauty of fashion photography is that it comes from people being themselves.” 

- Flo Ngala



Build up from simple poses.

Begin with portraits and simple sitting and hand poses before moving onto any extravagant shoot ideas. Getting the basics right with still imagery is vital – as is understanding how your model works with the environment. Once you and your model are comfortable, you can start trying some shots involving movement and more complex poses.


“Props are like a little crutch. It gives them something to fall back on.” 

– Editorial Photographer Nicolle Clemetson

Adobe Creative Cloud for fashion photography students.

If you want to give your fashion photography a lift when it comes to editing, you might be interested in Adobe Creative Cloud for students. Students and teachers can save up to 65% off the package – giving you access to apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign for less.

 

Learn more

How to edit fashion photography images.

art-director-checking-photos-on-a-monitor

Taking fashion photos is about planning and intuition. Editing is about thoroughness. These are a few editing tips that can bring your images closer to perfection.

 

“The selection process itself is incredibly important. You can tell some photographers have an eye, but they don't make the right selects or haven’t figured out the best editing.” 

– Flo Ngala

 

 

 

Edit in Adobe Lightroom and retouch in Adobe Photoshop.

 

Use Adobe Lightroom to make your selections. Go through your photos with a discerning eye and choose the ones worth editing. You might take 100 shots and choose just 10 of those to edit. You can then make basic edits in Lightroom, using tools like Tone Curve, before moving over to Adobe Photoshop for retouching.

 

Adjust saturation with the Sponge tool.

 

Within Adobe Photoshop, the Sponge tool is a great way to selectively bring out the colour in certain areas of your fashion photos. For example, you can enhance the green of someone’s pullover without oversaturating their skin tone. Understand when to use Lightroom vs Photoshop.

 

Essential fashion photography tools.

modern-photo-studio-with-professional-equipment

To photo fashion models and items, you need the right tools. A lot depends on the types of images you plan to capture. As a good starting point, the following should set you up well as a fashion photographer: 

 

  • DSLR camera. There’s no perfect camera – it all depends on what, where and how you’re shooting (studio vs location, light vs dark, still vs movement). However, a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) is a versatile option for shooting in low light with the ability to apply interchangeable lenses and autofocus. 
     
  • Lens. It’s best to experiment as there’s no perfect lens for fashion photography as each offers something different. A prime lens can be sharper with a faster f/stop than a zoom lens. Wide-angle lenses let you blur backgrounds easier to focus on the subject compared to a standard lens – which can suit fashion shoots. A zoom lens can be a versatile all-round option for shooting different types of fashion imagery.
     
  • Tripod. Stability is key to capture a clear image for a fashion photo. A tripod in the studio or on location is vital to get and keep the right angle, reducing blur. 
     
  • Monopod. If you’re shooting at an event or on the runway, the press pit can be quite compact with no room to set up a tripod. Here a monopod may be a better option to stabilise your shots and stop your arms tiring.  
     
  • Headlamp. Lots of fashion modelling photography is done with low light levels. Especially for outdoor shoots where you can’t control the natural lighting, a headlamp adds an extra source – great for street style photography. Look for one that’s lightweight with a low intensity control and wide field of view for the best results.
     
  • Reflector. A good reflector lets you direct both natural and artificial light. They’re commonly used for portrait and glamour fashion photography to amplify light on your subject in a flattering way

o White reflectors provide a neutral look.

o Silver reflectors work best in duller conditions.

o Gold reflectors can create a warm, bronzed look in sunshine. 
 

  • Diffuser. Most fashion photography revolves around low light in studios and runways. Lighting is important to get the best possible image and a diffuser helps soften or spread the harsh light from your flash, removing heavy shadows and creating an even lighting. 

 

Best lighting for fashion photography.

beautiful-woman-posing-at-studio-in-light-flashes

Lighting is a vital consideration for any fashion shoot – whether you’re shooting in the studio using artificial lights or guided by nature outdoors. Both have benefits, so it depends on what you want from your final images and the kind of photography you’re creating.
 

Indoor fashion shoots with artificial lighting.


Study portrait lighting techniques for ideas on how to light your indoor fashion shoots. Keep it simple at first though, with one light source and a reflector or diffuser to craft the best setup for your model and aims. For example, V-flats help diffuse the light from a strobe to fill the room. 

stylish-young-african-male-model

Think about what’s in the shot and how it impacts the illumination – will props, the background colour or clothing itself reflect or absorb the light? Working with neutral colours can provide a grounding in studio lighting, before introducing additional light sources, reflectors and bolder fashions that can affect the brightness. 

 

“I always have one or two strobe lights and V flats. I could go in [to the studio] on the weekends and play around with the lighting. It’s still a never-ending exploration.” 

– Grace Rivera


Outdoor fashion shoots with natural light.

 

Before shooting on location you can practise with natural light indoors. Position your model near a window with no artificial lights to see how daylight falls on their face, creates shadows, and the effect it has on your final fashion imagery.


When you’re shooting outdoors, one of the first things to do is adjust the white balance of your camera to capture the colours as you see them in print. Remember to readjust it when you change location. 

fashionable-young-model-in-elegant-dress-on-boat-at-the-lake

Many factors affect the lighting setup outside, so consider the:

  • Time of day
  • Background
  • Effect of shadows
  • Model and sun position

 

In dark, dull settings you may need to use flash alongside the natural ambience. On bright days, the right positioning of reflectors can enhance your fashion photos. For a better understanding of how natural light impacts fashion photos, take a few shots of the same pose from different angles and compare the results. 


“To me, it’s all about lighting. That’s the difference between a good and a great photo.” 

– Flo Ngala

 

Settings and composition when photographing models.

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Fashion modelling photography differs from fine art photography and portraiture in that there is rarely cause for the artistic use of focus. Tweaking your settings as you go is important as you react to changing light, backgrounds, and elements – especially when shooting on location. 

“A lot of the mistakes I make are with my camera settings – if I’m shooting too fast and get ahead of myself.” 

– Grace Rivera.

 

The main camera settings to consider when shooting for fashion photography include:

 

  • Aperture. Getting the aperture right helps to bring your model or fashion items into focus. The lens you use will have a maximum aperture – the smaller it is, the sharper your images. Change the aperture based on light levels and how much sharpness or blur you desire.
     
  • Shutter speed. Fast shutter speeds are normally used for fashion photography, especially when shooting in a dark studio or capturing movement on the catwalk.
     
  • ISO. There’s no right ISO. Most fashion photographers will adjust it between 100 and 400, increasing for darker conditions and decreasing when shooting in bright areas. 
     
  • Manual or semi-automatic. Manual mode provides more control on how the images will turn out. A semi-automatic can adjust the exposure levels automatically, so you can focus more on the composition of the scene.

 

During basic studio shoots, where everything needs to be sharp and in focus, try these settings and adjust from there:
 

  • Aperture: 7.1 or 8
  • Shutter speed: around 160
  • ISO: 160 to 200
  • Strobe light: about an 8
teen-girl-in-brown-tulle-skirt-and-autumn-sweater
“I like my photographs with a really shallow depth of field, but when I’m shooting fashion and my aperture is really low, the edges of the clothes might be out of focus, so I have to adjust it.” 

– Flo Ngala


The composition of your images helps the viewer focus on what’s important, too. A few simple tips for effective composition:
 

  • Put your model in the centre
  • Follow the rule of thirds
  • Balance colours
  • Use any appropriate props
  • Allow the outfit to flow and move

 

Adobe’s fashion photography partners.

 

The following photography experts contributed to this fashion photography guide.

 

  • Flo Ngala – a portrait photographer and photojournalist from New York with a passion for authentic image-making. See Flo’s work.
  • Grace Rivera – a freelance photographer based in New York with a focus on truth-telling through her imagery. See Grace’s work.
  • Nicolle Clemetson – an editorial and fashion photographer from Portland, Oregon. See Nicolle’s work

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