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What is Fashion Photography?

Fashion photography is a popular, creative and highly competitive sub-type of photography. Long before social media were even a thing, photography gave fashion designers the freedom to make their creations known to a wider audience and allowed people to keep up to date with the latest additions to the fashion world. 

Because of its glamorous image and commercial significance, fashion photography has become an industry on its own over the years. Many talented fashion photographers have succeeded in this genre, but their job that requires plenty of skill, technique, and a creative “eye”.

The History of Fashion Photography

The earliest fashion photographs can be traced back to the 1850s, in the court of Napoleon III, reflecting the style of dress among the rich in France. However, fashion photography did not become popular until the early 20th century, when fashion became accessible to a wider audience. 

While the first fashion magazines from the late 1800s — Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue — were only illustrated by hand, this trend changed dramatically in 1913, when Condé Nast appointed Adolph de Meyer as the first official photographer for Vogue. Fashion photography made the success of emerging couturiers in the 1920s and 1930s, including Chanel, Balenciaga and Schiaparelli, emphasising their distinctive styles through carefully planned shoots.  

The history of fashion photography and its evolution has reflected changing social values and historical conditions. In the 1950s and 1960s, after the lows of the Second World War, many new designers emerged, and fashion models took on new importance as well. New approaches to photography ensued, and some of the most popular names in fashion photography made their mark on history. By the mid-1950s, the formal, posed studio shots of earlier decades had given way to a more fluid, spontaneous aesthetic, that placed an emphasis on action and movement.

In the 1970s, social changes in general - and feminism in particular - influenced the way women and fashion were represented. More women photographers, such as Sarah Moon, Deborah Turbeville and Eve Arnold brought new female-oriented narratives and fresh   perspectives to magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. The fashion industry started to approach and tackle taboos like sexuality, androgyny and alternative types of beauty. By the 1980s, the role of fashion photographers gained increasing importance as advertising campaigns played a major role in making fashion grow into a booming international industry.

Contemporary Fashion Photography. Creative Freedom and Controversy

Over the past few decades, the attention in fashion photography has shifted from brand image, stiff briefs and standardised codes to emphasising the photographer’s unique style, technique, and creativity, blurring boundaries between commercial goals and modern art. With prominent names including Helmut Newton, Steven Meisel, Mario TestinoAnnie Leibovitz, Bruce Weber, Peter Lindbergh, just to name a few,  modern fashion photographers are given more freedom to express themselves and make innovative, often controversial statements, embracing hot topics and shattering gender boundaries.

Remarkably, former Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani shook up fashion photography by commissioning many controversial shoots from influential photographers, giving them complete creative freedom to question modern issues such as the environment, racism, politics, consumerism, addiction, plastic surgery and inequality.

Studying to Become a Fashion Photographer

While there may be countless photography courses, mastering the art of shooting fashion requires specific programmes and expertise, which will increase your chances of getting into today’s highly competitive market. Whether you wish to capture street style fashion, backstage pictures or catwalk shows, the Fashion Styling & Multimedia Intensive course at Istituto Marangoni is designed to cover all essential aspects of fashion photography.

This intensive course introduces participants to technical aspects and key processes to create professional visual content for the fashion industry using different media, with a focus on photography, video, styling and art direction.

Students will explore the latest trends in fashion photography through lighting techniques, accessories, poses, and props, translating theory into creative thinking and a unique contemporary style, but also research into the interaction between fashion, design and art by looking at key moments in the history of fashion and image.

Make sure to take a look at the school’s page to learn more about the Fashion Styling and Multimedia Intensive course at Istituto Marangoni and the career opportunities that come with this immersive educational experience.