Fashion photography is a profession of creativity, passion, and exceptional design skill. It’s a career path for the highly dedicated in the world of both photography and passion. For those wishing to pursue fashion photography, it can be difficult to know where to start and how to get involved in the field.
This guide will lay out some of the best paths for fashion photographers while also answering your questions regarding this career.
What is a Fashion Photographer?
The fashion photographer is responsible for photographing models, clothing, accessories, and more for a fashion magazine, brand, or other clients. Fashion photographers make the final decisions regarding hair, makeup, posing, and lighting to ensure that the end product is perfected for the client or magazine.
Many fashion photographers work with models for larger brands and businesses to create on-brand photos that the business can use for its promotional advertising. Fashion photographers also photograph individual products for key scenarios such as product launches or other promotional needs that the client may have.
What Does a Typical Workday for a Fashion Photographer Look Like?
Depending on who the fashion photographer is working for, a fashion photographer’s average routine can vary greatly. A freelance fashion photographer may attend several shoots in one day for several different clients. Then, the rest of their week could be spent editing, filling out invoices, and searching for more opportunities.
On the other hand, a fashion photographer who works with a magazine company could spend most of their time on shoots with different models and clothing each day.
Another thing to consider is the time it takes to set up and break down each set. For every photography session, there is quite a bit of setup before the actual shoot. Tearing it all down and packing up at the end of the day is also a feat all its own.
It can be difficult to pin down a typical workday for a fashion photographer, but of course, that’s part of the job’s appeal! Each day is unique and presents its highlights and challenges. There is no such thing as an ordinary 9-5 in the world of fashion photography, and that makes the position more delightful for those who love change and flexibility.
Will I Like Being a Fashion Photographer?
If you’re interested in being a fashion photographer, you may be wondering if the lifestyle, position, and work will be compatible with your personal goals and desires. A few things to consider if you’re on the fence are what skills of yours align with the profession and what drawbacks may deter you from choosing fashion photography as your dream job.
Characteristics and Skills of a Good Fashion Photographer
Knowledge of Digital Photography
The most important skill of any fashion photographer is to know their way around a camera. Knowledge of digital photography, DSLR cameras, and lighting are some of the most important aspects of working in this field. There are several aspects of digital photography to learn about, including aperture, focus, exposure, shutter speed, etc. A good fashion photographer will understand and be able to perform all of these concepts easily over time.
Eye for Design
Another key component of becoming a fashion photographer is to have an eye for design. You need to approach projects creatively and find a way to use color, light, shape, and pattern to your advantage when photographing for a client. You’ll want to have a firm understanding of the “path of sight” a person takes when viewing an image, as well as the rule of thirds and knowledge on focal points.
Good Understanding of Photo Editing Software
Another good skill for fashion photographers to harness is understanding how to utilize photo editing applications. There are several to choose from, and we’ll go more in-depth on this later in the article, but it’s important to know your way around photo editing if you’re going to be a good fashion photographer. While not every position will require you to edit your photos (for example, magazines often have a designated team for edits), it’s important to know the subject.
Good Communication Skills
Fashion photographers work with people constantly. They interact with clients, teams, assistants, owners of venues, models, and brand managers each workday. Therefore, good communication skills are a must. It’s important to be confident and radiate your authenticity. The easier you can communicate with others, the better you’ll be at your job.
Ability to Lead and Follow Directions When Necessary
Fashion photographers wear many hats throughout the day. During the photoshoot, they must be able to lead the team to produce the best photos. As a fashion photographer, you’ll direct your models, the lighting, the makeup, the set, etc. And you’ll need to be able to communicate as a leader to do so. Similarly, you’ll need to be great at following directions. Your boss, client, or whoever hired you for the project will have certain demands and ask you to perform tasks that help them meet their goals. You’ll need to be attentive to detail and able to follow-up when needed.
Why You Might Not Like Being a Fashion Photographer
While being a fashion photographer is a fulfilling occupation, here are some of the reasons you might not enjoy it so much:
One of the greatest drawbacks for fashion photographers is the lack of a routine. As mentioned above, fashion photography is no ordinary 9-5 job. You have to work with other people’s schedules, utilize certain times of day (for lighting), and you can go days without a single shoot while others fill your schedule. Fashion photography is a flexible career that changes day-to-day. People who are not as open to the lack of a routine may not favor this profession.
Fashion photography is often not a solo-career. It’s one of those jobs that requires you to work with a team or crew often and typically involves much communication between clients and models. The issue arises when you and the client or you and the model do not see eye to eye. This can happen with any team member, and the more exhausted or stressed each person is, the more difficult it can be to find a compromise. You’ll have to handle difficult conversations and maintain a level-head when things don’t work out as intended.
No Quick Road to Success
Before you can become a successful fashion photographer, you’ll have to do some work for free or for a low cost. This is because until you’re reputable, it can be difficult to land a steady job. You’ll need to build a portfolio showcasing your best work. To do so, you may need to take on some projects for free. As you build your presence, you’ll be able to achieve more success and attract higher-paying clients.
You’ll Need to Be Where the Business Is
There’s no doubt about it that cities are the best places for fashion photographers. Most brands, magazines, and other clientele may require your services to reside in big cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, etc. If you live in a small town in Minnesota, chances are it’ll be more challenging to land projects. You don’t have to live in the biggest city, but you need to be close to a city with a business to offer.
Typical Schooling for a Successful Fashion Photographer
There are two main routes for educating yourself in fashion photography. First, you can attend a college or university that offers a degree in photography, or you can choose the self-taught route and pursue your goals on your own.
There’s no one correct way to approach a solid fashion photography career. You need to do what works best for you and help you achieve the most success down the road.
For now, we’ll discuss one of the more traditional routes to becoming a fashion photographer. Many fashion photographers attend a college or university to earn a degree in their field. Magazines, businesses, and brands admire a degree because it proves not only that you’re knowledgeable about the subject, but you also have drive and persistence.
There are several degree types for fashion photographers to choose from when enrolling in a university. While each university is unique, aspiring fashion photographers can choose to earn a bachelor’s degree (four-year program) in photography, digital photography, or fashion photography.
There are also options to major in photography and minor in fashion, opt for a dual major or get certified in fashion while working in a photography major.
If you want to learn about photography without committing to a four-year degree, a certification can be a good choice for you. Many schools offer certification courses and programs that can be completed in a year or less. These classes are often held in the evenings or on weekends to align with your full-time schedule.
There are many classes you can take, whether you choose the degree route or the certification route. To gain the knowledge required for your career path, you’ll need to take classes on lighting, design, camera sciences, camera mechanics, photoshop, portrait photography, fashion, fashion photography history, etc. The list is nearly endless and is dependent on what is offered through your college or university.
Years of Schooling
If you choose to earn a degree in fashion photography, you can expect a minimum of four years of schooling. You can also attend graduate-level courses, which will help you in more prestigious positions. A master’s degree could take you five or six years to complete.
Best Fashion Photography Colleges
While there are numerous paths for earning a degree in fashion photography, we have selected a few of the best colleges and universities that offer in-person and online classes for aspiring fashion photography majors.
Top Physical Fashion Schools
There are several in-person opportunities for degree-seeking fashion photographers. Below are some of the best options for earning a degree in-person for fashion photography.
Parsons School of Design
Parson School of Design is one of the most prestigious art schools in the United States. It’s ranked number one in art and design and is based in New York City. Parsons offers students numerous courses in fashion photography, digital photography, design, and other arts. Students have the option to seek four-year or six-year degree programs or to opt for online certifications. According to Cappex, the annual tuition is around $47,276 for in-state students.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Another prestigious institution for learning fashion photography is the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. SAIC is a private college affiliated with the Art Institute of Chicago. The curriculum offers a broad overview of photography with the opportunity for students to earn a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in photography. They offer ample opportunities for internships as well as specific courses in fashion photography. As they are a private and prestigious institution, SAIC has an annual tuition of $50,920 for both in-state and out-of-state attendees, according to Cappex.
Cornell University in New York is a private, Ivy League college with several degrees and majors to choose from. They offer courses and curriculum for digital photography and fashion and the option to earn a four or six-year degree. They are a much fairer price than the colleges above though they don’t offer a degree specialized in fashion photography independently. The annual cost of in-state tuition for Cornell University, according to Cappex, is $28,890.
Top Virtual Fashion Schools
If you would prefer to earn your degree online rather than in-person, here are a few colleges and universities that offer four-year programs for photography.
Southern New Hampshire University
Southern New Hampshire University offers both an Associates and Bachelors of Arts degree in digital photography. The curriculum involves classes in the mechanics and fundamentals of photography, and you have the option to take courses in fashion as well. Though they don’t offer fashion photography as a direct major, you will still be able to utilize their courses for your career pursuit. Their annual tuition is around $31,136, according to College Tuition Compare.
Academy of Art University
The Academy of Art University offers degrees in both fashion and photography. They have a dedicated school for both topics, and students can choose to take courses to build a well-rounded portfolio. The school states that they can help students gain experience in a variety of software photography programs and build a personal voice through their work. According to College Factual, the annual tuition for a full-time student at AAU is $23,412.
Sessions College for Professional Design
While not a traditional degree program, the Sessions College for Professional Design is one of the best online colleges for aspiring photographers. They offer an undergraduate certificate program in photography that consists of 24 credits and is estimated to take eight months to complete. They offer the fundamentals of photoshop, editing, and color theory alongside other core topics. According to College Tuition Compare, their annual tuition is one of the lowest on our list at $9,060.
Can I Skip College and Teach Myself How to be a Fashion Photographer?
It is possible to bypass earning a college degree to be a fashion photographer. Many successful fashion photographers worked on creating a stunning portfolio and building rapport with clients at low costs before working their way up the career ladder.
It’s also possible to choose to seek a degree after earning some success in the field. No matter what career you’re seeking, it’s always a good idea to keep learning to progress yourself and hone your skill set.
3 Non-Traditional Paths to becoming a Fashion Photographer
There are plenty of ways to become a fashion photographer, even if you choose to follow a non-traditional path. Here are three that tend to be the most popular and see the most success.
Some successful fashion photographers gained their experience through being self-taught. They enrolled in online courses and completed certain certifications to build their resumes and portfolios. Many self-taught fashion photographers use SkillShare and YouTube platforms to follow along with video tutorials on different aspects of digital photography.
Another way fashion photographers hone their skills and gain new knowledge is through free apprenticeships and internships. Successful fashion photographers have been assistants for other professionals in the field and have done free work in the past to gain field experience. It’s often stated that in the arts, particularly in fashion photography, it is better to gain hands-on experience in your learning than rely solely on text within a book.
Once you’ve gained a decent understanding of fashion photography, you can begin freelancing to build your portfolio. While it is possible to become a self-employed freelance fashion photographer and make a steady income from that, most fashion photographers use freelancing as a temporary method of perfecting their portfolios that will open doors of opportunity with other brands and businesses later on.
Which Software Programs Do Fashion Photographers Use?
There are several photography programs to choose from when considering being a fashion photographer. While you may intend to find one you love and swear by, it’s important to keep an open mind and become familiar with several different programs.
Many companies may require you to use one or two different programs and work with a team to produce the quality of photos they are looking for regarding their project. This is why it’s important to familiarize yourself with several programs.
Adobe Photoshop is the most widespread and used in the world of design. Many enterprises and businesses use photoshop as their sole program of choice. You should familiarize yourself with photoshop and maintain a consistent education regarding any changes or updates on the platform.
Businesses and agencies will likely require you to use Adobe Photoshop for their edits. If you’re working with a team, it could be the sole platform that the team prefers. Even if you find that you may prefer another program down the road from now, photoshop is a must-learn for an aspiring photographer.
Adobe Lightroom is a favorite among fashion photographers and editors alike. It’s a much simpler platform to understand than Photoshop with many of the same tools and editing features.
Lightroom also comes with unique features like presets and photo organizations and storage. It’s a particularly beneficial photography platform for fashion photographers who capture models as Lightroom is best for portrait photography. There are special tools for eliminating blemishes and smoothing the skin and effects for lighting and lens correction.
DxO PhotoLab 4
DxO PhotoLab 4 is a cheaper alternative for users who prefer a simple system for a fair price. Unlike Adobe, you don’t have to pay a lot to use this platform. DxO comes with several great features like professional filters, lens correction, presets, organizational system, color correction, and more. It also includes a customizable interface so you can create a setup that works for you.
Corel Paintshop Pro
Another simple and straightforward photo editing program is Corel Paintshop Pro. It requires a one-time fee, and then you are free to use their software for life. Paintshop is another favorite in the photography community because it has a simple setup but produces fantastic results.
Paintshop also comes with a photography workspace that helps you store your presets and organize your photos as necessary. It’s also compatible with touch screen technology like smartphones and tablets.
Much like Lightroom, Skylum Luminar comes with several photo editing and photo organizing functions. This platform includes more editing tools than Lightroom but less than photoshop. What makes Luminar amazing is that you can easily upload and organize your photos by presets. This allows you to make images look cohesive and part of a collective story.
You have the option to use premade presets or make your own throughout each project you partake. Luminar also doesn’t require monthly subscription payments like Adobe. Instead, you pay a single payment up front, and then the program and any updates are yours forever.
What Are the Best Blogs and Influencer Accounts to Follow?
There are thousands of websites, blogs, and influencers to follow in the world of fashion photography. While it can be challenging to decide who is the best in this niche, it is possible to recognize some of the most talented.
A few blogs to look into if you are interested in fashion photography include The Breed in New York City, Fashion Editorials from Los Angeles, The Fashion Camera from the Netherlands, and Style Heroine in Greece.
Other influencers to look into are:
- Micaiah Carter
- Cole Sprouse
- Ramona Rosales
- Greg Williams
- Zoey Grossman
- Tyler Mitchell
These photographers often perform photoshoots with big name brands like Vogue Magazine, ElleUSA, and Essence. You can find these influencers on Instagram or other social media sites to see their portfolio work.
5 Ways to Break into the Fashion Photography Industry
There are several ways to break into the fashion photography industry. As mentioned above, each individual has a unique experience when entering their field. Nobody’s professional career looks the same.
Below are some of how fashion photographers build their reputations to reach success in fashion photography.
The first thing you can do to gain credibility as a fashion photographer is to create a portfolio website about you with your work. There are several ways to go about this, but the easiest is to start with a website building platform like WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix to begin your journey.
Using a website building platform like one of the above will help you create an online space that matches the color and style of your brand, highlights your successes and past achievements, offers a sample of the kind of photography skills you can provide to a project, and allows potential clients to know you better.
Creating a website is fairly simple. The best advice we have is to try not to rush it and make sure your website reflects your personality.
Another way you can break into the fashion photography industry is to get social. Start networking on social platforms and reach out to experts in your niche for advice. Use LinkedIn to build a resume of your skills and past projects. Reach out to key businesses in your niche and stay up to date with industry topics.
Join and reach out to people on Facebook and in Facebook groups. Several opportunities can arise in these communities that may lead you to your next job or big project!
Become an Apprentice
Becoming an apprentice will allow you to learn essential skills and gain the necessary experience while on the job. Apprenticeships are typically free for both you and the expert you work for and helps both of you in the long run. You’ll have to do some networking to find an expert with a good understanding of the field who’d be happy to teach you.
Continuing to hone your skills by educating yourself on fashion photography is a good habit to start on. Find paid tutorials or free YouTube videos that further your goals and hone your skills as a photographer. Whether an online course, certification, book, or tutorial, it’s important to continue learning throughout your career.
Most importantly, if you want to be successful as a fashion photographer, keep working hard. Don’t let early failures set you back. It can be tough, and at times, you may feel as if you’re not growing in the direction you wish. But it’s important to remember that every moment is a learning experience that will help you pursue your career.
Below are some of the common questions people have about pursuing a career in fashion photography.
How Much Money do Fashion Photographers Typically Make?
Many factors can determine how much you make as a fashion photographer. Where you live, whether you are freelancing or working with a company, how many years of experience you have, and whether or not you have a degree or certifications can affect your salary.
Beginners in fashion photography may expect to earn about $30,000 a year. A more experienced photographer may expect $65,000 a year. Of course, photographers who work with celebrities and other high-end projects could expect much more than that.
What Do You Study to be a Fashion Photographer?
Above all, the most common studies involve photography. You’ll need to have a great understanding of color theory, lighting, aperture, ISO, and other camera mechanics. Once you have the mechanics down, you may need to work on photo editing skills and setup skills for photographing models and sets.
Is Fashion Photography a Good Career Choice?
Unfortunately, there is no direct answer for this one. Fashion photography requires a lot of patience, dedication, and passion. If you love fashion photography and feel your time and money will be well spent honing your skills in this industry, fashion photography is certainly a good career choice.
Are There A Lot of Job Openings for Fashion Photography?
There are! Cities often have several businesses that are looking for full-time or part-time fashion photographers. There are also plenty of freelancing opportunities if you want to take that route. The only caution with this is that the job competition is tough. You’ll want to make sure you can stand out from the crowd.
What’s the Best Website to Find Fashion Photography Job Listings?
Ziprecruiter and Glassdoor are wide-scale job boards where you may find many job listings to apply for. You can also try your hand at freelancing and pitching to clients directly. Sometimes, a satisfied client may refer you to a full-time position.
Of course, one of the best ways to land a solid gig in fashion photography is through networking. LinkedIn is one of the best social sites to help you achieve just that. Network as much as you can when applying to jobs. LinkedIn also has a wonderful space for applying to jobs through their site, and it helps keep everything organized while you’re job searching.
What Are Some Big Companies that Hire Fashion Photographers?
Magazine companies, particularly fashion magazines, are always on the look for fashion photographers. While it can be challenging to aim for the big ones first (Vogue, Essence, Allure, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar), several small fashion magazines would appreciate new names in the industry.
Look into the fashion magazines in your area when just starting. They’re more likely to hire a fresh face, and they still offer quite a bit of exposure for your work!