Three Ingredients of a Fashion Photo

What are the ingredients of a fashion photograph? Although this question is not often asked, it’s a very important one. After all, is fashion photography really about the technicalities, or is it about content?

It is possible to argue that fashion images are all made up of photons. In fact, every image is made of photons. However, if we zoom out from the basic micro level, we need to consider the content of fashion images. This content refers to what you see, how you feel and the experience that the image creates.

Ingredient #1: Great Styling

Fashion imagery is impossible without… fashion. Obvious, right? It is important to know the social impact and style of the clothing you are photographing. Your image’s style will determine how it looks.

You need to be familiar with local stylists and to always seek out better ones. You won’t always get the best, but it is possible to reach out again and again. If it wasn’t working, no one would send spam.

Albert Watson, one of the world’s preeminent fashion photographers, says often that when people look at fashion photography they react to the clothes, not to the image itself. The image won’t look interesting, no matter what technicalities you have. However, if it is an haute couture dress by someone like Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen, your image will probably look rather interesting.

Aim to have interesting and relevant clothes. In case you need inspiration, pick up a recent edition of Vogue. It is bound to have something to get your creative juices flowing.

Ingredient #2: Great Lighting

In order to show the great styling that your stylist is bringing along, you need to be aware of fashion — in a photographic way. For example, you need to know in meticulous detail how to light certain fabrics. Two fabrics, chiffon and satin, will react differently to the same light.

You don’t want expensive fabrics in beautiful tones appearing in photos as cheap and tasteless. This will not only make your stylist unhappy but it will also lead to you believing that you cannot capture the look you see.

The trick is to understand that we see texture and color because it interacts with light. You will be happy with your results if you are able to replicate what you see or make light that highlights more of the clothing. It is crucial to learn how to properly lighten clothes and fabric.

There isn’t such a thing as a one-stop lighting solution for fashion. No single setup is good enough for that. In fact, I believe that adherence to specific lighting setups is nonsense that can confuse newer photographers and keep them from progressing. These are just someone’s ideas of how lighting should be.

I encourage you to be unique and find the light that you like. That, however, will only come if you know light well.

Ingredient #3: Great Energy

Above all, a good fashion photo needs energy. It is the energy in the image that makes a photo stand out from other great ones. Excellent images are magical. Every image is different. However, they all just have energy, which provokes a response in the viewer.

You should always aim to capture the energy on set. If there is none, be the energy. It will infect everyone.

Closing Thoughts

You can always work upward and better to achieve great styling and lighting. In fact, if you never stop being curious and explore the art you truly love, you will achieve great lighting and work with some incredible stylists. You must have energy to make things happen. You need to create something extraordinary, that will move people.

It is only up to you to put your heart and soul into the creation. If you do not, your clients, crew and audience will see.