Fashion photography, as we know it, has been around since the mid- to late-1800s, when periodicals such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue published the first photos of clothing and accessories. The items were worn by models and captured in stark black-and-white images that are still stunning by today’s standards. During this time, Paris was considered the fashion capital of the world, and it nurtured some of the first, immense talents of the genre, including such names as Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton, the latter of whom would eventually go on to work with the great Audrey Hepburn.
Sometime near the middle of the 20th Century, the focus on fashion photography moved from Paris to New York City, where it remains today. As the industry grew and matured, it took on new aspects: movement, natural lighting, a variety of backgrounds, and eventually — color. Those photographers of old truly were pioneers of the era, and their work still stands alone today — full of the vitality and classic composition that separates a good photographer from a great one.
Fashion Photography as a Career
If you’ve ever looked at an especially striking image in a magazine and wondered how it would feel to be the immense talent on the other side of the camera, fashion photography may be the career of choice for you. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps all photographers together under one heading with a somewhat dismal outlook that includes a slower-than-average projected growth rate through 2022 and a paltry pay rate of less than $30,000 annually. But that’s not exactly a clear picture of what fashion photography has to offer. According to Celebrity Net Worth, for instance, photographers for the big periodicals — Rolling Stone, Cosmopolitan, and Redbook — can conceivably earn as much as $15,000 per month. Of course, the road to achieving this level of success is long and difficult, but the fact remains that if you have exceptional talent and training and are willing to work your way up through the ranks, it’s entirely possible. If the work of such household names as Annie Leibovitz and Richard Avedon inspire you, then fashion photography as a career is worth pursuing.
How to Become a Fashion Photographer
As with any career in the arts, pursuing a job in this field is easier if it’s fueled by passion. Mechanics and training will take you so far, but it’s passion and commitment that will push you over the edge into greatness. If you think you have what it takes to succeed as a fashion photographer among all the competition that’s out there today, we recommend beginning with reputable courses in photography, business management, and marketing. While talent and technical skills will form the foundation of your career, how well you market yourself, at least in the beginning, is what will determine whether you eat everyday. This article focuses on photography training and where to get it.
Best On-Campus Courses in Fashion Photography
The best of the best fashion photography courses are the ones that take place inside the hub of the fashion industry — New York. If you’re looking for training that gives you a realistic dip into the world of high-fashion photography, we recommend pursuing your education in The Big Apple.
State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology offers beginner photography courses that are geared toward a career in the field of fashion. If you’re new to a digital camera and need training in the mechanics of shooting, lighting, and composition, this is the course to get you started. You’ll find more information here.
The New School: Parsons, in New York City, offers continuing education classes in Fine Art, Foundation, and Photography as well as in Fashion Design and Fashion Business. Both courses offer intermediate-level training in the skills you’ll need to succeed both as a professional photographer and as a business person within the fashion industry. You can read more about these intermediate offerings here.
If you already have a firm foundation and knowledge in photography and are seeking graduate-level studies, New York’s School of Visual Arts offers a Master of Professional Studies degree in fashion photography that features successful lecturers from Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, The New York Times, and the Museum of Modern Art. This course focuses on getting students out into the heady fashion buzz of the city for a real-world view of what it takes to succeed in the industry. Read more about the course here.
Where to Find Online Training in Fashion Photography
The best part about studying online is that you can benefit from a global community of instruction. The following courses offer all levels of instruction in fashion photography:
San Francisco’s Academy of Art University offers online courses in photography that focus on Advertising and Photo Illustration. Courses range from beginner to advanced and culminate in degrees that range from an associate’s to a bachelor’s to a master’s. They are covered in more detail here.
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh offers online courses in photography, fashion design, and fashion marketing for those hoping to pursue careers in the field. You’ll learn everything from how to use digital imaging software to how to scout and prepare locations for shoots. Read more here.
The Karl Taylor Photography Masterclass offers professional-level instruction in Fashion and Beauty Lighting Secrets, Fashionscape Photography, and Advertising, Product, and Still Life Photography. Taylor has been a professional photographer working around the globe for over 15 years. See his portfolio of work, and learn more about his online classes here.
Free Online Options
There are also tons of free options online for anyone who wishes to widen their photographic vistas. Most of these courses offer beginner-to-intermediate training in general photography — how to use the various settings on your camera, learning to master your flash and other topics such as these. They’re not as in-depth or prestigious as earning an actual degree, but they’re a great place to start if your passion is bigger than your budget.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers free open courseware, titled Introduction to Photography and Related Media. The class covers beginner-level elements of photography such as exposure and lighting. Recorded lectures are taken from actual classes that took place at MIT and are redistributed free or by donation online. Find the course here.
Lighting 101 by Strobist is a free online site that teaches aspiring photographers how to manipulate light into doing exactly what they want it to do. If you’ve ever wondered how studio photographers get the perfect lighting to showcase a model at her best, this is the class to get you started. More information is available here.
If you’re very new to digital photography and still need to find your way around basic and advanced camera settings, Lifehack‘s free photography course, titled Basics of Photography: The Complete Guide, will get you up and running. With such subtopics as Your Camera’s Manual Settings, this free online instruction is the perfect prerequisite for your photography career. Navigate here to find it.
With the wealth of instruction available in the genre of fashion photography, there’s no reason why you can’t make a solid start in this industry — even if you’re starting from scratch with little-to-no money to invest in your training. If you’re passionate about pursuing it, you can make it happen. We hope our website helps get you there.