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Is Fashion Photography A Good Career?

Fashion photography is most probably one of the most desirable fields of photography. We are lured by the prospect of working with the hottest and trendiest people out there.

Fashion photography is a genre of photography that focuses on displaying clothes or other fashion items. 

Said like that, it seems so bleak compared to its magnetic power. 

What started as a commercial need of brands to illustrate their collections became a galaxy in the last 50 years on its revolving around a new sun, this season trendiness, and full of stars; stylists, fashion editors, fashion brands, hairstylists, make-up artists and obviously models. 

You cannot shoot a fashion spread without a crew. It is collaborative work where connections are way more important for a photographer than their lighting skills.

A career in fashion photography requires, well, a lot of things. 

First of all, if you want a real shot at it, you need to be in one of the fashion capitals, Paris, New York, London, Milan, where fashion is happening and where you can gain access to a crew. 

To help you bypass the queue in front of the door of editors or fashion houses, you are required to have patience or connections (ideally both; if not, you might have to consider cryonics). 

It demands that your favourite dish is pasta out of a can, as you might not see any real

money for quite a long while. 

It calls for a lot of self-control as you often work with prima donnas. Finally, it entails a lot of will and creativity to build a portfolio with a recognisable style.

A fashion photographer’s professional life is an exhilarating one; immersed in the glamorous world of fashion with the chance to travel the world, work with global brands, A-list celebrities, and attend high-profile events. But breaking into this competitive field isn’t easy. 

Dan Blake, director of education at London College of Style – which teaches fashion photography, photojournalism and portraiture – explains what it takes to get a successful career off the ground.

But most people don’t realise the range of skills you need to forge a successful career – it’s not simply about being able to use a camera with creative flair. Even those already in the industry find it hard. 

Our research with emerging fashion photographers, ahead of launching our new fashion photography course, revealed that understanding how to connect with industry, network effectively and monetise aspirations into a career were all areas they wished they had received more training.

How To Connect With Industry

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Money

I often hear photographers pest about image-makers that work for free. Working for free is normal in the fashion editorial world. 

And that is where you need to be if you want to be taken seriously. If it was just working for free for the time you need to build your name, you could find a moral/economic investment to justify it. 

But it goes further than that: sometimes you pay to work. Does that sound ridiculous? Yes. And yet. It is common practice. 

Some editorial work pays a photographer’s fee, some reimburse your cost (and that is already great), and some pays nothing, leaving you to cover the production costs of a shoot, ranging from food for the crew to the retouching. 

When you begin, you start at the bottom of the ladder.

Weirdly enough, when you do get paid, you can find yourself being limited in what you are allowed to do. 

You will not be able to choose your styling or your model, or even your crew. The stylist or the fashion editor becomes your client even if they are paying you pocket money. 

There are two ways of getting out of that jam. 

Either morph into a star photographer to whom people will unroll the red carpet or lockdown the shoot’s direction before. 

If you feel that you are not given freedom, weigh the value of being published in that magazine. 

If it is not that crucial to your career, move on and don’t look back. Avoid the frustration of time spent on something that does not embody your style.

The funny thing about money in the fashion industry is that there seems to be quite a lot of it, but unless your name is part of the star system, it seems to avoid your pocket.

 Clients rarely pay on time, and some clients tend to forget about paying altogether. Agents and agencies are not to be always trusted either. 

Work Ethics

There used to be a time when fashion photographers would not allow interns, assistants, or anybody that was not essential to their shoots on their set. 

This paranoid behaviour was explained by the fact that their light set-up was the ink for their signature when photographers were shooting film. 

They did not want their lighting secrets to be stolen. Today with retouching is not that important anymore. But beware of idea thieving.

You might also encounter publications that shred your layout to a point where you are not sure if you shot it; they can also forget to tell you that, ups, they cut the story altogether. 

They never send you the printed magazine and sometimes not even the pdf. 

Crew Drama

Fashion photography is based on a collaborative workflow; your crew is your secret weapon. 

It takes time to find people who you can count on to technically make your visions reality, who work with you towards a common goal, and who you like as human beings. 

Once you have found them, you want to keep them with you on every shoot possible, especially if your careers have grown together. 

It just makes things fun and easy. Sometimes it is conflicting schedules that make it impossible; other times; it is politics. 

The stylists and hair and make-up people that have careers in this domain work a lot, way more than photographers if you compare the actual time spent on sets. This translates into less excitement and less patience. 

They want easygoing days. On editorials, stylists will often impose either a hair or a make-up person or both because they want a friend that they can gossip with when they are waiting around. 

Clients that have been contacted will do the same. 

Team members imposed on you have an annoying habit of overstepping their roles and suddenly starting directing the model, the shoot, or making comments on your light. 

That’s when self-control needs to step into a point. If you let yourself be walked on once, they will want to do it again. 

Channel the diplomat in you but make sure they get the message. Respect on a shoot might need a metaphorical bitch slap. Of course, with a smile!

You might be doing all the right things and still end up with a team that just does not click. 

The hair guy hates the make-up artist, so they will go out of their way to make the hair, and then the make-up escalate during the day until you end up with a panda that put her fingers in an electric slot, the stylist did not order the clothes you asked for (“Darling I thought this would be more modern!”), the model’s agencies forgot to tell you that the model cut her hair yesterday and needs to leave 2 hours in advance to catch a train, and the art director shows up after lunch and decides that he prefers to shoots outdoors because “indoors is so 2009.” In a nutshell: it is a shitty day, and you are asking yourself, “Why did I decide to shoot fashion again?”

That’s the tipping point. You either embrace the craziness, or you move on to greener pastures. 

Finally, if you decide to hang on to the fashion merry-go-round, you will have some symbolic stories to tell during social outings. A sense of humour to the disproportionate is a lifesaver. 

Fashion Photographer Job Description

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The most obvious duty of a fashion photographer is taking photos of models and celebrities. 

These photos appear in magazine and newspaper pages, catalogues, print ads and online. In addition to taking photos, fashion photographers collaborate with editors, advertisers and clients to develop ideas for shoots.

Fashion photographers create cohesive photo stories that integrate the client’s ideas, products and concepts. 

Fashion photographers work to highlight certain features during a photoshoot, such as clothing, shoes, accessories, or even the model herself. 

Fashion photographers typically work on a freelance basis, and many freelancers hire agents to help them find jobs, reports Fashion Schools. 

However, some fashion photographers work as employees for a fashion magazine or journal.

Tools Of The Trade

A fashion photographer works with different tools, including his most important tool, the camera. 

Each fashion photographer chooses a different camera based mostly on personal preference and how it will be used. 

Most own more than one camera. The fashion photographer also uses all different types of lighting, as well as photo props and backdrops. 

He uses different types of shutters and film types, depending on how many models he photographs at a time, the setting, and the shoot’s focus.

Skills And Education

Fashion photographers should be creative, efficient and able to solve problems quickly. 

They must be able to think on their feet and be flexible, especially when working outdoors, with difficult props or young models. 

A fashion photographer must also use her personality to bring out the best models by making them feel comfortable and relaxed. 

Additionally, photographers must have good communication and organisational skills, possess an artistic eye, meet deadlines, and be flexible enough to travel at a moment’s notice.

Most employers do not require a fashion photographer to have a formal college education, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

However, taking photography classes gives the photographer an edge in the job market. Most seeking a fashion photography career learn through apprenticeships with experienced photographers. 

As with many skills, practice makes perfect. Aspiring fashion photographers should work on building a high-quality portfolio that shows off their skills.

Though you will find that the typical fashion photographer usually has a minimum of an associate’s degree, the educational component may vary dramatically. 

Some photographers in this field may have a bachelor’s degree, and some may have only taken a few classes. 

Some fashion photographers have turned their passion and their skills into a viable career and have done quite well with them. 

Having an educational background in photography and even fashion can never hurt, as it will help prepare. 

There is often ongoing training that may help a photographer in this capacity so that they can keep up with current trends and the industry as a whole.

Salary And Job Growth

The salary for a fashion photographer varies greatly depending on his experience, employer and frequency of jobs.

 According to the salary comparison website Salary.com, the average salary is $43,166 as of August 2020, according to the salary comparison website Salary.com, but the salary range typically falls between $34,503 and $49,062. 

This compares favourably with photographers generally, who make $36,280 a year according to BLS.

Well-known and established photographers make over $100,000 each year. 

The number of photography jobs, including fashion photography jobs, is expected to decline 4 per cent through 2028, reports the BLS, so aspiring photographers are likely to face strong competition.

Though this may not necessarily be the norm, there is always the potential there if they are working consistently as a well-known photographer in the fashion industry. 

It all depends on the job’s geographical location, the employer, the type of work, and the level of experience that the photographer possesses. 

Many fashion photographers tend to work for themselves, and in this capacity, they are responsible for their benefits. 

Though they may be lucky enough to work directly for an employer and have access to a standard benefits package, most photographers in this industry work for themselves and handle their own health insurance and other benefits.

Getting The Job

As the world of fashion photography can be a rather competitive one, it’s important to have experience. Initially, it may help to work for a publication or to work under a well known or well-respected fashion photographer. This helps to gain experience and exposure, but that’s only helpful at the beginning. 

As one moves throughout this career, it is quite important to build up experience and relationships of their own. They must create a portfolio that speaks to the experience that they have gained, and it really should show depth and breadth. Clients and employers alike want to see that a fashion photographer has the ability to work with any subject matter and can be successful in any setting.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook, And Career Development

This can be a very competitive field, and therefore it’s important to know that opportunities may be limited. For those fashion photographers that happen to have great work experience plus great relationships, then they can expect to do quite well and have a long career. There are, however, many who wish to break into the world of fashion photography, and therefore the demand can be far less than the number of qualified candidates. As photography is a career for some and a hobby for others, this can be a tough type of job to land as there are many people who think that they have what it takes to be successful.

Working Conditions And Environment

There may not necessarily be a standard or typical work environment for a fashion photographer. Though they may have a studio of their own or one that they work out of often, they may very well take many of their photos elsewhere. They may expect to travel to other locations, either local or anywhere in the world. It all depends on who their client is and what the need is for the particular photoshoot. They may travel to runway shows or be responsible for setting up photo shoots in unusual locations. Their location may vary from day to day, and therefore there may be no such thing as a typical day. Additionally, they may find that there is a great deal of stress on the job. Though they are usually doing something that they love, they may have to work within tight deadlines and, of course, deal with tough personalities at times.

Conclusion

Make sure you have an ongoing personal project amongst all your paid jobs. Creative collaborations and personal projects, such as magazine editorial shoots or artistic works, which can be displayed in galleries, showcase your talent to wider audiences and can get you noticed by commercial clients, increasing your profile and portfolio. You’ve never ‘made it’ entirely. All creatives evolve and develop in working towards notoriety and recognition.

Overall, it might sound incredibly obvious, but be an incredibly good photographer – learn how to light properly – you really can’t beat a damn good photo.

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