Commercial Photographer

Is it Hard to Become a Fashion Photographer?

In terms of technique, a fashion photographer needs to possess knowledge and skills in photography techniques, angles, lighting, props, colour, concept and editing. In real-life practise, where there are millions of photographers out there who also master the techniques, there are intangible factors that determine the success of a fashion photographer.

The cost of overexposure is everyone thinking that it is easy to enter the fashion industry. Just because someone does something weird, they are regarded as a good photographer. It’s essential for a photographer to develop a taste, how you see things. Most photography jobs come from commercial fashion and beauty, be it brand lookbooks, magazine cover, or billboard. It’s straight to the point, hard sell and easy to digest.

Most photography jobs come from commercial fashion and beauty, be it brand lookbooks, magazine cover, or billboard. It’s straight to the point, hard sell and easy to digest. This is where high fashion photographers usually struggle if they don’t know how to find a middle ground between personal and business.

The logic behind it is the same as running a fashion house: ready-to-wear collection to amass the revenue and couture collection to increase the house’s profile.

The highly conceptual shot is to showcase and prove the creativity of a photographer in interpreting specific themes. But despite a larger pool of clients, the competition is even more challenging in the commercial segment because it’s where photographers from novice to professional make the bank.

If you take perfect photos, people probably take notice, but after being in this industry for quite a while, having influencers and celebrities reposted your pictures is still the most effective. If a client doesn’t know the brand or the person you shoot, they will doubt you.

Fashion photography is a highly exclusive and competitive industry. Getting in requires dedication, commitment, hard work, and often, a dash of good luck and timing. There is no great secret or shortcut, it is going to be an arduous journey, and you must be prepared for the long haul.

Understand Fashion

Commercial Photographer

Just as a photographer should know how to operate a camera, a fashion photographer should possess basic fashion knowledge. A good understanding of the subject will go a long way towards helping your career, so I recommend studying the following:

  • The history of fashion
  • Fashion from different periods and eras
  • Designers, icons, and image-makers
  • Fashion terminologies
  • Hairstyles and makeup looks
  • Fashion films and documentaries
  • Current industry news

Many photographers try to shoot fashion without knowing what style is. It shows. Don’t let some reading hold you back from the possibility of producing better work. Most materials on these topics are readily available on the internet now, so there is no excuse.

Know Who You Are and Always Do Research

Many people try to fit into the crowd by adjusting their style to the current trend. Winston knows from the very beginning that he is into advertising. He understands the type that his client needs. The product is at the forefront of the photo.

Above all, no matter how experienced a photographer is, doing research is mandatory. Taking pictures without any point of view is different from taking photos with a point of view. You have to be responsible for what you are creating.

Read Magazines, Learn Who’s Who

Reading magazines is a great way to find inspirational images and ideas for new photographers. Take this time to curate the styles and work that you find yourself responding to.

Identify traits in the photographs you like and explore those for your shoots. Save the names of people whose styles you feel for, so you can collaborate with them one day.

Also, keep in mind that publications have different demographics and aesthetics from one another. They know who wants what will be very helpful in preparing an appropriate portfolio for the kinds of magazines that you want to shoot for in the future.

Maintain Good Relationship

Having contacts in the industry opens many doors, but attitude speaks more volumes. Know how to treat your team. Clients rarely go to your website to flip through your portfolio. They are referrals from people you have worked with.

Be humble because you are going to meet a lot of people in this industry. Don’t ruin your mood during a photoshoot.


Assisting is a great way to learn how shoots are done and meet people in the industry.

If you choose to do it full-time for a few years, that in itself could be a route for breaking into fashion, especially in a significant fashion city where you get to experience large, high-end productions.

Keep in mind; your job is to assist. People won’t like it if you try to get the stylist’s number unsolicited or ask Facebook friends with the editor.

Make friends with fellow assistants from the creative crew, as you will have a much higher chance of collaborating and growing together with them.

Focus on the Outcome

Let’s face it, landing an ideal client is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Extremely rare, most likely cease to exist. Like it or not, the client is king. You have to finish your job, whatever the issue is. Sometimes, the challenge comes from the environment.

Find Your Middle Ground

The truth is, idealism doesn’t always pay the bills. You don’t always get what you want, but I cannot be too idealistic as a commercial photographer.”

However, it also doesn’t mean that one has to sacrifice integrity to please everyone. Some things should never be tolerated. In Ikmal’s book, there has to be a valid reason to strip off the entire concept and story or before dismissing the photoshoot as a whole.

Set the Right Price

How much do you value yourself? There are people offering photography services under USD5 per photo on social media. Those services will never survive the industry.

People who price themselves that low does not appreciate art. It’s not just about shooting photos. It’s about your style, your mood and yourself.

Not to mention the equipment and the people in your team. They usually do not survive for long because you can’t compare their photos to professionals.

If you want to be a photographer, I’m pretty sure you have value, and you won’t be selling yourself that cheap when you have a process from zero. That means you don’t appreciate yourself.

Update Your Social Media

Social media is more influential than magazines. If you are creating, show it. Update your website, social media, and professional contact list with news of what you are working on.

Keep the individual picture updates to social media and save the contact list for essential information with a newsletter periodically.

Learn Fashion Lighting

Here are some of the most frequently used lighting modifiers in fashion photography:

  • Beauty dishes: the quintessential modifier for beauty and fashion photography. The beauty dish sits right in between the hard and soft lighting modifiers. It makes the skin glow beautifully. And like a hard light, it provides a beautiful contrast for sculpting features, but without making shadows look harsh along the edges.
  • Giant umbrellas: a trendy choice for fashion photography. While the beauty dish is limited by its spread and the need for complementary fill lights most of the time, giant reflectors can be used standalone because of their sizes—the light space is very even, making it perfect for photographing models full length and maintaining an accurate depiction of the details and colours of clothing—which is essential to fashion photography, especially in commercial work.
  • Scrims: used for diffusing harsh light outdoors and excellent for that commercial, glowy beauty shot in-studio. The scrim is more specific than the other lighting modifiers on this list and more work to set up and shoot with. I suggest experimenting with it via rentals; it can be a very worthy investment for certain photography styles.
  • Octabanks: The name sounds fantastic, and the shape looks cool, but most importantly, they are highly versatile. You can easily use Citibank for fashion, beauty, or portrait shoots. There is a beautiful, even texture to the light and shadows. And unlike square or rectangular softboxes, the shape of the Citibank creates a more rounded, beautiful gradient in the background when used without scene fills. It also gives you rounded, natural-looking catchlight in your subject’s eyes, unlike those of the more angular modifiers. 

Take the time to experiment with as many modifiers as you can to find the ones that work for you. Use them in combination with one another and with strip softboxes, snoots, flags, and v-flats. In this way, you can get many different and interesting moods.

Learn Fashion Retouching

Many photographers retouch their images, but many also send the work to retouchers to get the job done. Regardless of your choice, it would help if you learned how to retouch.

You want to make personalized edits to your images that make them individualistic and not just deliver the product of another retoucher’s work.

YouTube has an abundance of free videos, and a cursory Google search will bring you endless resources on photography blogs. Don’t be afraid to check out new techniques and spend a few hours practising.

Test a Lot

Hair and Makeup Stylist

There is a quote from Daido Moriyama that says, “There is no quality without quantity.”

Doing countless tests will improve your work, and secondly, help introduce you to others in the industry. This is one of the most consistently cited tips for breaking into fashion that I’ve heard from and share with fellow photographers.

If you don’t yet have a team, start simple and small. Work with friends, do self-portraits.

Show what you can do in terms of style and concepts with what you have, then approach freelancers and other aspiring creatives on websites. Your network will grow with the number of shoots you do over time.

Once you have 5-6 vigorous shoots that you are proud of, put together a portfolio of 10-20 pictures and reach out to model agencies.

Ideally, it would help if you were working with hair and makeup people who already shoot agency girls, so they can help review what you have and give you some advice on editing your selection of images.

If you don’t receive a reply, don’t give up! Keep working on your craft and try again in a few months. Once you start testing for agencies regularly, count that as a milestone. Keep up with it, and you will be shooting your first editorial in no time.

Prepare to Maintain a Day Job

Now that we’ve covered the technical and shooting side of things, it’s time to get down to the business end.

Even if you start testing for agencies, be prepared not to be making money for a while. You will need to maintain a day job or have substantial savings to last a while.

And depending on where you live, there are two situations for new photographers breaking into the industry:

If you live in a fashion capital like New York, London, Milan or Paris, until you get a few regular commercial clients, it will be pretty hard to work as a fashion photographer for a living.

n these cities, paying editorials mostly go to top-tier photographers, magazines that you submit to for publication will rarely pay you other than with credit.

If you don’t live in one of the major fashion cities, though, you are luckier in the sense that you will get to shoot editorials for pay, almost regardless of the magazine.

This could become a steady income source for many photographers, eventually leading to commercial work. The downside is a lack of strong creatives to work with compared to in a bigger city and the constraints on creative freedom in a smaller, more commercial, and often conservative market.

Do Your Paperwork

Day job aside, you still want to approach your photography as if it were a business. Start with a habit of organizing your files and paperwork:

  • Systematize file names and picture catalogue
  • Register copyright for your work
  • Save press clippings
  • Request for and save hi-res files of tearsheets
  • Archive quotations, invoices, receipts, bank/credit card statements, model releases and contracts
  • Organize contact lists
  • Update your CV/resume regularly

You can do it however you like, but setting this up systematically will save you many headaches down the road.

When to Say No and When Not to Say No

As you advance in your career, you’ll want to be selective about what you do. Accepting anything and everything for the sake of simply showing that you are doing something will dilute your direction and quality of work.

But in the very beginning, you should try as many different things as possible.

You never know what attempting something new may teach you, and if you dislike a particular style of work or make a blunder, you can learn from those experiences early on instead of during a major project down the line.

Do Personal Work

Personal work continues to be one of the most significant selling points for photographers when drawing in new clients, opportunities, and press.

Having personal projects will show what sets you apart from other photographers and what you can do differently, aside from the fashion work you shoot for magazines and clients.

Edit Your Portfolio

Keep your portfolio updated and well-edited. Show only your best work. Don’t include something from five years ago because of sentimental reasons when you are miles better now.

Get feedback from fellow creatives, editors and art directors whenever you can.

When going for meetings, tailor the portfolio accordingly to your target audience. If you’re seeing a beauty editor at a magazine, showing your beauty work first will be much more appealing than your regular fashion presentation.


Networking is pretty much a prerequisite in fashion. It’s best you love socializing and the parties that go along with it. Load up your portfolio on both your phone and iPad so you can show it easily at all times. Keep business cards handy, and include your social media details.

Follow people on Instagram and interact. A combination of meeting in person and following up on social media is one of the easiest and fastest ways to make a connection.

But if you’re like me and love to hermit it up in your studio, don’t cry, do more one-on-one meetings. You can choose the people you want to meet, and see it as another way to make friends.

Coffee is usually less loud and boring than standing around and less awkward and intimidating than approaching strangers.

Be Prepared to Move

If you want to do high fashion and shoot for the biggest brands and magazines, you have to be in one of the major fashion cities because that is where everything happens. If you don’t live somewhere close, then you have to move.

If your destination is within your country or in the EU, you mostly need to find a new job in the new city. But if you are trying to move to a new country, it will be more risky and expensive since you will have to get a visa. There are two common routes for this:

  • Go to an art school and work on your portfolio at the same time. You have to decide if you can afford the time and money, but a good school is often a great way to network and meet rising artists, designers, and stylists.
  • Get a tourist visa so you can stay in the city for a while. Go for meetings, do test shoots, network, and try to find an agent. You will want to maintain your regular clients at home and fly back regularly for a steady income until you can get jobs in the new city.

Do Good Work, Stay True

The value of quality will show with time. No matter what you do, who you work with, or what people say, do the best you can, be consistent, always do good work you can be proud of.

Fashion is a harsh industry. It’s competitive and aggressive. And it is possible that despite all your hard work, you will continue to face rejection, over and over again.

Find the reason you want to do this right from the beginning. In your most challenging moments, your basis is what will get you through.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day.

People want to get into this industry, but they forget the process. When you don’t have a strategy, you’ll do whatever you wish to without deeper consideration.


If you’re good in the most complex situation, you’ll succeed. At the beginning of a career as a photographer, you don’t have the possibility to work with the best models, the best stylists, fly to the best locations, and use the best camera, so begin with a start camera take photos of your friends or family. If you are good with the most complex situation, you’ll succeed with the best.

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