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That’s Not A Fashion Photograph…

There seems to be a serious misunderstanding amongst photographers hoping to be seen as and work as fashion photographers about what constitutes a fashion photograph. I cannot count the amount of times that I have been presented with a portfolio or website of ‘fashion images’ by an enthusiastic but commercially naïve aspiring fashion photographer, leaving me with no option other than to utter these words of brutal honesty “These are not fashion photographers and you are not a fashion photographer.” As you would expect the response to this statement varies from photographer to photographer. Some are crushed by this revelation, others are confrontational and defensive, others are more thoughtful and questioning. Whatever the response, I always give this background to the statement I have just made to provide both understanding and context.

A fashion photograph is created to exist within an editorial environment and to sell clothes. It is as simple as that. It is not created as a single image but as an image within a fashion narrative of a minimum of six images – occasionally four and often eight to ten – with each image featuring a different outfit that establishes the fashion narrative. That narrative is defined, led and restricted by the clothes, because that is where fashion photography begins. The fashion narrative is the spine to the creation of fashion photography and the images created need not only to be informed by the chosen narrative but also by each other to ensure that the narrative is clearly told.

A fashion narrative may be constructed by a particular color or combination of colors, a type of clothing, a fabric, an attitude or an aesthetic, a lifestyle or an activity—in fact the fashion narrative has no boundaries. However, it will always be about the clothes. In rare cases, the narrative is about the model, but in most cases, she or he is there to show the clothes to their best effect and to play the role the narrative dictates.

This misunderstanding places so many images I am shown as fashion images outside of that genre of photographic endeavor. The ‘fashion photograph’ that does not understand the fashion narrative and does not understand the importance of the clothes is a ‘styled portrait’, not a fashion image, and the photographer who has created it is therefore a portrait photographer and not a fashion photographer.

This misunderstanding of what makes a fashion photograph seems to be based in the incorrect description of a celebrity shoot as being a fashion shoot and commissioned celebrity images as being fashion images. They are not. They are styled shoots in which celebrities are dressed and styled in clothes provided by the editorial teams on the shoots. The images are created to promote the celebrity and his or her latest products and projects. The hero is the celebrity and the clothes are being promoted through the association with that celebrity. Understanding the difference between a styled portrait and a fashion image will not only ensure that you understand the work you are creating, but will also give you the knowledge to describe your work in accurate and appropriate terms. That’s the way to ensure that you are never told “That’s not a…”

Image credit: © Tom Hill (

Caption: Above: These images were created by young photographer Tom Hill around the fashion narrative of the woolen jumper. They succeed in illustrating the chosen narrative, whilst conveying an appropriate attitude for the market they are intended, without losing photographic creativity.

1 Comment
   Cleveland said on September 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Great article! Refreshing to hear my thoughts echoed aloud.

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MasteringPhoto, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for hobbyist photographers through pro image makers. No matter what your passion is—from people and landscapes to postproduction and business practices—MasteringPhoto offers advice and images that will inform and inspire you. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of photography, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.