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Design & Style

Anna Wintour’s Fashion Photography Tips

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 2, 2020 • 5 min read

As Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour has worked with some of the world’s top fashion photographers, in some cases supporting their careers. As Anna says, “One looks to the great photographers—and to the great models who work with them—to give even more impact to the art of the fashion photograph, whether it’s through a narrative or through a still life or through a portrait.”

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What Is Fashion Photography?

Fashion photography is the genre of photography that intersects with the world of fashion. This includes shooting spreads for fashion magazines and photographing clothes on runways and in showrooms and on location for lookbooks. Fashion photography can be artful, or blandly commercial, but it’s almost always about capturing the relationship between a fashion model and the clothes on their body.

What Does a Fashion Photographer Do?

A good fashion photographer doesn’t just take pictures: They are highly knowledgeable about the brand and people they work with. When doing commercial work, fashion photographers know the fashion house’s codes. When shooting fashion editorial, they know both the style and styling conventions of the publication. Perhaps most importantly, fashion photographers know what’s going on with fashion industry right now. According to Anna Wintour, their work should reflect a tangible cultural moment, but the best photographers know how to create an image that will still feel relevant years later.

In addition to a strong understanding of modern fashion, fashion photography requires strong interpersonal skills. On a fashion shoot, the photographer is just one of a large team of people including models, hair stylists, fashion stylists, makeup artists, and seamstresses. Depending on the dynamic of the shoot, the photographer may be looked to as a leader, and it’s usually their responsibility to make sure models feel comfortable.

Fashion photographers are generally responsible for more than just taking pictures. When working on location, they may have to set up the shot, working with both natural light and artificial lighting. They’ll often work in a wide variety of locations, including outdoors, in studios, on runways at a fashion shows, or couture presentations during Fashion Week. Fashion photographers often edit their own photos, as well.

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5 Things You Need to Become a Fashion Photographer

Whether you’re just getting started in your photography career, or making the transition from another industry to fashion, there are a few tools you’ll need.

  1. Photography skills. While you don’t necessarily need a Bachelor’s degree in fine arts, it’s not a bad idea to take photography classes, if you can afford it. If a school near you offers courses in fashion photography, that can be especially helpful. Develop a wide range of skills, since fashion photography can include portraiture, group shots, action shots, working with landscapes, and more.
  2. Editing skills. Even though you eventually might find yourself working with a dedicated photo editor, you should still feel confident in your own photo-editing abilities. Get comfortable with retouching photos in editing software such as Photoshop.
  3. Gear. Have a good set of gear, including a quality digital camera, multiple lenses, and lighting equipment. Know how to use all of your gear, and be prepared for multiple scenarios.
  4. A portfolio and/or photo book. This is where you can show off your best work to potential employers
  5. Opportunity. You’ll find the most opportunities for fashion photography in New York, Los Angeles, and other cities that are home to fashion designers, supermodels, and Fashion Weeks. When you’re ready, consider hiring a photo agent to help you find gigs.

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How to Get Started as a Fashion Photographer

The best way to get started as a fashion photographer is to practice working with models. Perhaps more than any other branch of photography, fashion photography involves working directly with people. Learn how their faces and bodies move, and practice clear, confident, and personable communication by shooting models: You can start with your friends, and then move on to modeling agencies, which will sometimes allow new photographers to practice with their clients.

Once you’re ready to book gigs, build lots of relationships. Fashion designers, art directors, and editors can be invaluable to your network. And if you can learn from a mentor whose work you admire, even better.

Anna Wintour’s Tips for Becoming a Great Fashion Photographer

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Anna Wintour gives unprecedented access to her world, teaching you how to lead with vision and creativity—and without apology.

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Vogue’s Anna Wintour knows from experience that great fashion photographers have the power to lend transcendent meaning to an image. This is her career advice to aspiring professional photographers:

  • “Use Every Single Opportunity to Hone Your Eye”: Anna uses the young photographer Tyler Mitchell as an example of someone who used every opportunity to understand his own point of view and fashion’s point of view. When he was coming up, he’d photograph everything from events for Vogue.com to the line outside the Supreme store.
  • Work Your Way Up to the Big Leagues: No assignment is too small when you are learning and building your portfolio. At 24 years old, and after working on smaller assignments for Vogue.com, Mitchell was asked to photograph Beyoncé for the cover of Vogue’s September 2018 issue. Don’t write off a job just because you think it’s too small (or too big)—you never know what it may lead to.
  • Know What You Like: Assemble a collection of images that speak to and move you. Once you have a sizable collection, you’ll start to identify themes and a shared sensibility, which will help hone your own aesthetic behind the lens.
  • Be Bold: “We’re looking for somebody that takes pictures in a different kind of way,” says Anna, who looks for strength in an image as well as a quality that will allow it to resonate over time. As you are re ning your eye and point of view, try different types of photography and be as bold as possible. The more extreme your experimentation, the easier it is to identify the DNA of your imagery.
  • Be Prepared: Annie Leibovitz, like Irving Penn before her, scrupulously prepares for photo shoots before she ever picks up her camera. She will always study her subjects beforehand, which could mean seeing the play they’re in or reading their latest book. Penn was the same: He’d spend time getting to know the subjects on set so that the atmosphere felt personal and intimate before the shooting began.

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Become a better photographer with the MasterClass All-Access Pass. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by masters, including Anna Wintour, Jimmy Chin, Annie Leibovitz, and more.

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