Fashion photography is without a doubt one of the most alluring genres of photography but arguably one of the hardest to break into. Not only does it require highly sophisticated technical skills plus a broad knowledge of lighting setups it also demands up-to-date knowledge of trends and a keen eye for style. Just taking photos of clothes isn’t enough to break into this fiercely competitive world, you need to think about how things like location, accessories and poses elevate the narrative you’re trying to convey.
Since the mid-1850s when Adolphe Braun published what is considered to be the first book on fashion photography, this glamorous world has stolen the heart of photographers, stylists, models, set designers and lighting technicians. Unlike lots of photographic genres, fashion photography is highly collaborative and offers the chance to work with other creatives who bring their own artistic flair. It’s high-pressure and chaotic but it’s also charismatic and completely magical when it all comes together.
Watching The Devil Wears Prada once won’t turn you into the fashionista that is Miranda Priestly (supposedly modeled on Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour) overnight but films, books and magazines are a great source of inspiration.
Whether you’re just dipping your toe into the world of fashion or rather fancy yourself as the next Mario Testino, we’ve put together a list of books to both guide and inspire you. While some are incredibly useful tools for understanding posing, lights and developing your own unique style, we’ve also included some that are a dream to look at. Whether you want to shoot the avant-garde or the understated, these books will help unlock your creativity and push it to new heights.
The best books on fashion photography in 2023
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German photographer Peter Lindbergh was a pioneer in fashion photography and some of the world’s biggest models such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell have him to thank for it. His humanistic and cinematic approach to fashion photography landed him jobs with Commes des Garçons, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gauliter and Thierry Mugler but his best known work is perhaps some of his simplest. This hardback book is beautifully printed and a must-have coffee table book for anyone hoping to get into the fashion industry – not only is is full of inspiration but it’s completely iconic.
With a background in fashion editorial with clients like Marie Claire, not to mention numerous turns as Canon and Adobe speaker, Adler is well placed to write on this subject; practiced, knowledgable and aware of photographer’s questions. Her approach relies a great deal on comparing successful results with many ‘posing errors,’ so don’t expect academic discussions or even high-fashion results. For an enthusiast or beginner who now needs to make people look good every time, however, this book provides a lot to help develop a photographer’s eye.
We all know that photography is about light, so a lighting reference is a good idea for any photographer, but how lucky that there is one written and richly illustrated from a fashion perspective? Italian photographer Vanon’s own work makes the two thirds of the book a visual treat as well as an education. The last third is devoted to a series of model shots showing 4 different models lit from numerous angles which you can use to get a good idea how almost any lighting setup might work before you unpack the gear.
Undoubtedly the best-dressed book in this collection with its holographic cover which, I’m afraid, static images do not do a great job of representing. The looks, though, aren’t just skin-deep – this is an eight-decade journey through the history of fashion and its inescapable link with photography chronicled with all the academic precision you would expect of the author, a noted lecturer in the field. Plus, of course, you might even be able to use it as a reflector!
Not everyone wants to spend too long diving into words and theory when they’re planning to shoot a portrait. They need something a little more visual and immediate. That’s where this book shines. Instead of deep-dive discussions of camera technique, this book is presented as a series of pages, each with a big annotated and three smaller photos and a brief explanation. The models are shot in plain circumstances most people can emulate, and feature men, women, couples, maternity and children (though it must be said, despite the cover, there is only the one curvy model and something of a white bias). Nonetheless the book’s lessons are quick to access and easy to follow, making this very handy for Instagrammers and entrepreneurs.
Showcasing a complete lifestyle – as the author does so successfully with her Song of Style blog – might seem a long way from the catwalk, but in many ways this is the most essential of skills in the social era. Interior styling is, after all, just as prone to fashion as clothing, so combining them to form a personal brand is a valuable skill (explaining why she consults for Michael Kors & Tiffany & Co.). This much-imitated book is not just fluff though; it’s beautifully presented, occasionally funny, and phone-friendly.
Visual history in a gorgeous package, paging through this volume is a treat for fashion photographers and devotees alike. You can pour over the detail of each image and attempt to decipher the technique, or simply use it to appreciate Vogue’s view of the world at a specific time. While every cover 2010-2017 is included (often more than one on a page), the earlier history is made of selected highlights. It’s also worth noting that early editions (until 1932) were not photographic, but that doesn’t occupy a lot of the chunky book, and that covers retain all the copy and even the barcodes.
Quite possibly the best curated collection of fashion photography you can lay your hands on. This is a journey through the history of fashion photography in five rich chapters, from the point in 1911 when Edward Steichen was first asked to add something other than mere documentary utility to a fashion shoot through greats like Munkacsi, Avedon, Newton, Weber and right up to modern conceptual work. A beautiful and thorough coffee table book which is actually an exhibition catalogue, but doesn’t skimp on the text and ends up as something much more.
This might look like yet another tips book – as its chapter titles suggest – but it is actually a surprisingly accessible take on the whole luxury fashion and beauty industry’s last four decades. The lessons for photographers are tangential, and I’d urge readers to bear in mind the author has a number of brand relationships thanks to her massively successful blog, but it is nonetheless interesting to read an enthusiastic fashion PhD’s perspective on Cara Delevingne’s selfie and Instagram’s influence.
A fresh coffee-table anthology of deliberately contemporary work, steering away from the names long-term fashion followers might know well and concentrating on new fashion photography, often taken with mixed-media distribution in mind. Twenty largely emerging talents are included, including Karen Knorr and Charlotte Wales, but the book also looks at how better-known names, like Jurgen Teller, have adapted to an era where glossy magazines no longer hold complete sway.
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