Fashion Photography: 9 Tips and Techniques

by John Stapel

fashion photography tips and techniques

Looking to level up your fashion photography? You’ve come to the right place.

As an experienced fashion photographer, I’ve spent years developing tricks and techniques for gorgeous images – and in this article, I share it all with you, including:

  • The best way to light your fashion portraits
  • How to choose the best poses
  • A simple prop that looks amazing in fashion photos
  • Much more!

So if you’re ready to start taking pro-level fashion images, then let’s dive right in, starting with my first tip:

1. Confidently direct your model

If you want great fashion photos, you must be prepared to confidently and self-assuredly direct your model.

Models reflect the direction they’re given, so if you show signs of anxiety or stress – or you give them a lack of direction – this will inevitably come through in the final photos.

fashion photography tips and techniques

Instead, act confident and personable. At the beginning of the shoot, communicate your agenda. Then, as you work, talk to your subject. Explain what you want to see, and offer plenty of praise when you get the shot you’re after (and even when you don’t!).

If you’re feeling anxious about the shoot and you’re worried you won’t be able to offer confident direction, then it can help to spend extra time getting prepared. In fact, if you’re nervous, then over-preparedness can be a good thing! Organize a shot list, and mentally rehearse technique and composition for each image. Prepare the location, props, and clothes ahead of time. That way, you’re free to focus on your model during the actual shoot.

fashion photography tips and techniques

2. Determine an overall theme

The best fashion photography isn’t just about photographing a fashionably dressed model; instead, it’s about conveying an overall look and a specific mood.

So before you start shooting, identify the particular effect that you’re after, whether it’s dark and dramatic, bright and airy, or even a specific narrative or concept. Then make sure that everything about the model, the scene, and your photographic approach reflects this.

fashion photography tips and techniques

Use makeup and hair styling to complement the clothes and the model. If you want a provocative or seductive look, opt for dark, heavy makeup and over-styled hair; if you want an innocent or natural look, choose subdued pastel tones, gentle makeup, and soft, flowing hairstyles.

You should also light the scene accordingly. Sidelight produces dramatic, moody, three-dimensional images, while frontlight is eye-catching and energetic but has a flattening effect.

And you can bring in specific props to add that perfect final touch.

3. Inspire yourself with sample poses

fashion photography tips and techniques

Posing is one of the most difficult elements in fashion photography to master. Fortunately, there’s a simple trick you can use to level up your posing skills, fast:

Create a file with poses you like, and look at it constantly.

Start by browsing through the latest fashion magazines, and when you see a pose that fits your style and interests, take a photo (or a screenshot). You can also browse through the portfolios of top fashion photographers, look on Instagram, etc.

fashion photography tips and techniques

As you collect poses, add them to a file on your phone. Then look at them frequently – whenever you get the chance. Study them. For each shot, ask yourself: What makes this pose work? What do I like about it? What would I improve?

You’ll soon have a mental repository of poses you can draw on during your photoshoots. And if you forget the details of a pose or you’re in need of inspiration during a session, feel free to pull out your phone and swipe through a few collection items!

4. Work in a studio

Yes, it’s possible to do outdoor fashion photography shoots. But studios are so much easier to work in because you can easily control the lighting and stabilize the conditions – so unless you’re extremely confident in your skills, a studio is the place to be.

Prepare the studio ahead of time with the backdrops, props, plenty of space, lights, and modifiers that you anticipate needing. Set up your camera so it’s tethered to your laptop (that way, you can see each image on the computer screen after you fire the shutter button). You might even take a few test shots before your model arrives just to make sure everything is working properly.

fashion photography tips and techniques

While you can rent professional studio space, this isn’t always necessary, especially if you’re just starting out. Instead, create a home studio space – basements are great for this! – and furnish it with a backdrop stand and your lighting kit.

Professionals tend to use studio strobes, but these can get pretty expensive. Speedlights are a good substitute, and if you’re strapped for cash, you can even create a basic studio setup without any fancy artificial lights; just work in a room with a large window, then hang a white sheet across it. On a bright, sunny day, you’ll have yourself a homemade softbox, which will produce flattering, even light!

5. Carefully light your model

Lighting is a huge part of fashion photography, and as you practice, you’ll develop both an eye for light and your overall lighting kit.

fashion photography tips and techniques

For each new photoshoot, I’d recommend starting with a single light. This should be your main light, or key light, and you should angle it to create the effect you’re after (here, the standard portrait photography lighting patterns can be helpful!). Don’t be afraid to experiment with different positions and angles until you find one you like.

Then, once you have your key light in position, go ahead and build the rest of your setup. Take a few test shots, then identify areas that are shadow-heavy and require fill. Move additional lights or reflectors into position, then continue to take test shots so you can gauge the effect.

Pretty soon, you’ll end up with a result that you like. And pro tip: After each session, draw lighting diagrams to help you remember the setups that worked. That way, you can use them again at your next shoot!

6. Use props (including a mirror)

Props are a great way to create a narrative within a fashion shot, and I highly recommend them. It helps to acquire plenty of props ahead of time, and then – after you identify your shoot theme – you can pick out the props that seem to work best.

fashion photography tips and techniques

Of course, don’t overdo it. Props should complement the model, but they shouldn’t draw the eye away from the main areas of interest.

One of my favorite props is the humble mirror, which every fashion photographer should keep on hand. A mirror can tell a story, plus it is an effective way to display the front and back of your model.

To get the mirror exposure right, you may need to bracket your images. You’ll also need to be careful when positioning yourself and your lighting equipment; you don’t want a lighting stand, your computer, or a strobe to be reflected in the final image!

7. Pick a background to match your theme

Beginners often forget to think about the background, but this is a mistake. A good background can complement the main subject and unify the image, while a bad background will distract the viewer and may feel out of place.

fashion photography tips and techniques

If you’re working in a studio, you can purchase backdrops and hang them behind your model. Solid colors are a good starting point, but as you get more serious, you may want to invest in some quality hand-painted backdrops. (If you’re very artsy, you might try painting them yourself!)

And if you’re shooting outdoors, make sure you choose your location carefully. If the clothing and styling are edgy, hard, or provocative, an urban setting – with a worn brick wall in the background – will work well. On the other hand, if you want a spring or summer look, you might work in a field, a meadow, a beach, a woodland, or on a river bank.

8. Experiment with different angles

Your vantage point can make or break a fashion image.

So when you’re working with your model, be sure to shoot from plenty of different angles.

fashion photography tips and techniques

Try getting up high (here, stairs or even a ladder can be helpful!), crouching down low, getting on the ground, moving around the model, and so on. Make sure you always keep your overall theme in mind and consider how different vantage points affect the look of the image.

Also, once you find an angle you like, spend some time working it. Try a few different compositional variations, move slightly from side to side, take a step forward or back, and so on. That way, you’re guaranteed to get the best possible shot.

9. Bring an assistant

Fashion photography can be done on your own…

…but if you want to really kick your work up a notch, then bring along an assistant to each photoshoot. That way, you have an extra pair of hands to position reflectors, angle and reset lighting equipment, tweak the positions of garments, and clear the scene.

You can always hire someone, but I’d recommend roping in a friend or family member. Photography students may also be willing to help you out, especially if you’re willing to provide some mentoring.

Note that you don’t need someone with experience. Working as an assistant isn’t necessarily hard – it just requires a willingness to follow directions and listen closely!

Fashion photography tips: final words

Well, there you have it:

9 tips to enhance your fashion photos.

Remember: Fashion photography doesn’t have to be difficult. It might seem overwhelming at first, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get. And pretty soon, you’ll be capturing fashion shots like an absolute pro!

Which of these tips do you plan to use first? What type of fashion photos do you like to take? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Fashion Photography: 9 Tips and Techniques