How to become a fashion photographer

Many photographers aspire to work in the glamorous and cutting-edge world of fashion. Whether it’s shooting live runway shows, working in studio or shooting in exotic locations, many are drawn to the high profile, earning potential and jet-set lifestyle associated with fashion photography.

Being a fashion photographer involves long working hours in often-tough conditions, but it can also be an extremely fulfilling and creative profession. There is considerable scope to specialise, find a niche and express your particular style.

Fashion photographers must have both artistic flair and advanced technical skill. Many shoots happen under high time pressure, so it’s vital to get the necessary shots as quickly and creatively as possible. Since there is a lot of competition in the field, it is essential that your images stand out and clearly characterise your unique style.

It’s also essential that you are personable and that you can work well with a wide variety of people – you will encounter models, managers, fashion editors, press people and fellow photographers daily. If you choose to work as a freelancer or start your own photography business, you will also need business acumen, the confidence to negotiate and a love of organisation.
While this may sound overwhelming, it’s possible to start small and acquire the necessary skills as you work and learn. At very least, you need to start with a passion for photography, an interest in the fashion world, and a burning desire to work hard and smart to get yourself known. Here are some essential tips to get you started.
1.    Learn as much as you can. Take courses in photography, read about the craft in books and online and, most of all, take photos every single day. Experience is the best teacher. Specifically, it’s important that you learn to tell visual stories; fashion photography involves weaving subtle narratives into every image, to say something relevant and meaningful about the subject you’ve captured.

2.    Build a solid and varied portfolio. Any potential employer or contractor will appoint you on the strength of your portfolio, especially if you’re new to the industry. Create both a web-based and physical portfolio to showcase your work. If you are sending your portfolio to a specific client, make sure that you include strong images that are appropriate and relevant to the type of work that you will be doing.

3.    If you are applying for a specific position, do comprehensive research. Contact the right editor by name, submit the required images, be polite and stay persistent. While you do not want to annoy or spam potential contacts, be sure to get in touch with several people and follow up with a phone call if you don’t hear back.

4.    Get yourself noticed. If you’re starting out, do whatever you can to get your name out into the world. Exhibit in an art gallery, offer free shoots to aspiring models and actors (but only if you feel it’s worth your while), market yourself creatively and network widely. If you’re struggling to get fashion industry work, find a job in a related photographic field and build up your experience, contacts and body of work in the mean time.

To learn more about photography, consider the part-time University of Cape Town Digital Photography short-course, presented online throughout South Africa. Contact Amy-Jane on 021 447 7565 or visit for more information.

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