Finding Your Style as a Fashion Photographer

Finding Your Style as a Fashion Photographer

Style is one of the most important aspects of fashion photography. Having a consistent portfolio of images that reflects who you are and your creative vision is really important when it comes to clients viewing your work. Many fashion photographers, including myself, have struggled with making their work stand out from the crowd. Here are a few tips from what I have learned about finding your style and visual voice as a photographer. 

Many of us are unsure of which direction we want to go in and feel that defining our style can limit our opportunities. Making money often dictates what images we take; many photographers fall into the trap of capturing images that are popular on social media, rather than what they are passionate about and enjoy photographing. A strong emphasis is put on developing your style quickly, but the truth is, style is something that takes years to develop. It is something that should evolve over time and progress as your technique improves. Style isn’t something that can be taught. No one can tell you what your approach to your work should be; it takes a lot of time and trial and error to figure this out for yourself. 

Find out What You Love to Photograph

To me, the most important part about finding your style is finding what you love to shoot. What really catches your attention and gets you excited to take a photograph? Think about what your passions are outside of photography and try to incorporate your interests into your work. Perhaps you love nature; you could have a go at incorporating landscapes into your fashion images. Or maybe you enjoy watching movies in your spare time; try and draw inspiration from your favorite films into your photographs. When you combine your interests in your work, you will quickly become more passionate about what you are shooting and at the same time express yourself through your photography. Your personality and unique identity is your greatest asset, so be sure to show this in your work somehow. 

Marissa Alden Photography, fashion photography, finding your style in fashion photography, beauty, fashion

Image by Marissa Alden

Take a Closer Look

Take a look at the work you have produced in the past year. Now place all of these images onto one page, so you can see them all at once. What do these photographs have in common? Take note of three to five words that all of your work portrays. The key to having a recognizable style is creating a cohesive portfolio. If you incorporate elements of your keywords into every image you take, you will soon see your style start to take shape. 

Also try making a list of clients you dream of shooting for. Whether it be Chanel or a local brand, include clients whose style you adore and admire. This can help point you in the right direction and narrow down which brands or designers will complement you better than others. When I first started fashion photography, I would change my style for each shoot to suit the style of the magazine or model I was working for. As a result, I was producing work that I didn’t like and didn’t enjoy shooting; I had no creative vision of my own. It is really important to find out what client matches your style, so you can produce photographs that both yourself and your client are happy with. Say no to anyone who you can’t see benefiting your style. For example, you may get a request to shoot for a magazine that has a large following and could get you some exposure, but if they don’t match the direction you want to go in, say no. You don’t want to get known for a style that you don’t love shooting. 

Marissa Alden Photography, fashion photography, finding your style in fashion photography, beauty, fashion, black and white fashion photography

Image by Marissa Alden

Trial and Error

In order to create work that you love, you first have to discover what you love to photograph. When I first discovered photography at the age of fifteen, I only ever shot what I was comfortable with. I would often use the same models, similar camera settings, similar locations, and the same editing processes. Because of this, I wasn’t really growing as a photographer, and it wasn’t until after I began exploring different ways of shooting that I began to realize what my style was. 

This is the reason test shoots are so important, particularly at the start of your career. Set aside time to organize some personal work and let your creativity run wild. Try those ideas that you have had in the back of your mind but have been too afraid to give a go. Force yourself to try something new at each shoot. Experiment with a different lighting setup, try a new location, work with a different team. Not everything you try is going to work, but it will help you think outside of the box. You will quickly learn what you love and what you don’t like about each technique you try, which will assist you in finding your style. 

Marissa Alden Photography, fashion photography, finding your style in fashion photography, beauty, fashion

Image by Marissa Alden

It Doesn't Happen Overnight

Style is something that takes years to develop. You may look at your work today and think that you have found your style, but then in a year, compare it to your new work and you will notice how much your style has evolved without you even realizing. Style is ever-changing. The fashion industry is constantly moving in different directions, so it’s ok for your style to develop over time. The more time you spend photographing, learning new techniques, and improving your work, the more you will notice your style slowly improve and become more refined. It’s also ok to change your mind; your style isn’t set in stone, so don’t be afraid of modifying your work from time to time. If you decide that it's time to try something new or find that your interests have changed, its never too late to reinvent yourself. As long as you stay true to yourself and your personal taste, it is impossible not to create work that reflects your style. 

Conclusion

Style is important when it comes to fashion photography, but don’t stress if you haven’t found yours yet. Focus on what you love to photograph, continue trying new techniques and developing your portfolio, and your style will eventually surface.

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11 Comments

Daniel Vuong's picture

The last paragraph is so right. I'm doing portrait stuff now for about a year or so. And I know I will only get better with time (lots of time ) and hard work. Still it drives me crazy, especially in these summer days.

Marissa Alden's picture

Hi Daniel, I know it can be so frustrating. Just keep working on your portraits and you will slowly see yourself improve. One of my favorite quotes that might be helpful is this one by Ira Glass :
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

David Hynes's picture

Probably the best quote ever. I listen to it all the time and send it do friends doing creative work - or starting out.

Marissa Alden's picture

it would have to be my favourite quote as well! probably the best advice to give to anyone just starting out, or feeling frustrated with their work (which happens to all of us)

Dan Howell's picture

I am sorry to critic this article, but I just can't agree with this statement, "you may get a request to shoot for a magazine that has a large following and could get you some exposure, but if they don’t match the direction you want to go in, say no." This not advice I would either follow or give. While it maybe be adapted to consider which images that should be included in a portfolio or marketing material, but projects and portfolios are different. There is something to be gained from virtually all projects.

It is a grave error to only take on project that you feel will result in portfolio images. A variety of opportunities can lead to resources, experience, and connections. Your last sentence "continue trying new techniques and developing your portfolio, and your style will eventually surface." actually is in contrast with your premise though more worthwhile advice.

Personally I have found great advances by being able to see how projects and resources can lead to projects closer to my core interest even if they don't appear on the surface to be close to my goal. I would have missed out on a great many paid projects had I artificially limited my scope early on and ultimately not learned about projects and clients that have ultimately been the most productive to my career.

Marissa Alden's picture

Hi Dan, thanks for your comment and I do agree with you to a point. What I meant by that comment was from my experience its best not to try to be a jack of all trades. Once you start developing a direction with your work, its important to turn down certain projects that don’t follow the direction you want to go in. In the past I have taken on projects that I knew weren’t of the style I wanted to go into and later wished I hadn’t done them. Of course its important to take on a variety of different projects in order to learn and develop your skills, but once you begin to develop a style its also important to try and stick to projects that will somehow benefit your portfolio and/or business.
From my own experience, taking on projects that weren’t of my style mostly lead to other projects that weren’t of my style and didn’t help in creating a cohesive portfolio. As this article is about ‘finding a style as a fashion photographer’, I wanted to give advice that would have benefitted me in the past, and I do believe that learning to turn down specific projects that didn’t compliment my direction has helped me in beginning to develop my style and create a stronger portfolio.
In saying this, everyone is different, I’m just giving advice on what I wish I had done when I first started :)

Dan Howell's picture

Again there is a significant difference between jobs you choose to take and images you choose to market yourself. And I continue to differ in the idea that a photographer benefits from developing a restrictive style. I acknowledge that it is the popular advisory quote, but in practice I have both experienced and witnessed that having a 'palette' is more useful than a signature in the long run. Of the top photographers I admire, all are adept shooting both in studios and on location. They have a full compliment of skills and resources for a variety images. Look up these names:
Patrick Demarchelier
Gavin O'neill
Norman Jean Roy
Peter Lindberg
None are limited by one style yet all have recognizable images.

Personally I have a way that I like to photograph but it does not lend itself to all projects. Currently I have a client that has given me the opportunity to take on successful images in studio and on location, with complex lighting for some shots and simple natural light for others. While I have other clients who come to me for a single look. Don't get me wrong I have struggled with the question of specialization versus generalization, but my struggle is in marketing not necessarily in the creation of images. My current solution is to operate three distinct websites rather than limit what projects I shoot. I both enjoy and have benefited from having a palette of strengths or co-specialties.

What I think is important to note is that if your clients are models or start-up businesses that have little experience hiring professional photographers, their scope of vision will be limiting and more likely to want to 'hire and image' rather than 'hire a photographer'. However, as you get deeper into your career I think that you will find that working with professional photo editors and art directors will allow you to broaden your scope.

Marissa Alden's picture

Yes, photographers like Patrick Demarchelier do have a wider range of styles they photograph, but they would still limit the projects they take on in order to follow their creative vision. I never meant that style should be limiting at all, I shoot in both studio and natural light often and also use a variety of different lighting techniques, locations, etc. Having a style doesn’t mean every image has to be created in the same way, or look the same. Style can be an array of different genres that you like to shoot, but not every style is for everyone. Everyone has styles of photography that don’t interest them, so I don’t see the point of taking on these projects if they are never going to be used in your portfolio or benefit your work in some other way. Of course its great to have a wide range of skills and experience in a variety of genres, but in my opinion trying to be involved in too many projects would be spreading yourself too thin. In order to create a strong marketing plan and direction with your business, from my experience its best to know what areas you are wanting to attract and to not focus on trying to be good at everything. I’m definitely not saying to turn down every project that you don’t absolutely love, but consider how your career is going to benefit from projects that don’t follow your direction.

Giang Vu's picture

Hi Alden, thank you for such a good advise... I have been photographing since 2010, I just came back to my country after my education in EU. I am entering fashion photography industry now in my country and my goddess... your article comes out the right time! Thanks again and I am looking forward to reading more from you! your picutures are greats!

Marissa Alden's picture

Hi Giang, thank you so much! I’m happy to hear that you have decided to start in fashion photography. Best of luck with your work! I’m hoping to post some more fashion photography related posts soon.

Lamont Weldon's picture

Thank you for this article. I remember when I first picked up a camera. I had no clue of what I was doing. I had no idea of what I wanted to shoot. I had no idea of who I wanted to shoot. All I know is is that I wanted to shoot. Fast forward, I still sometimes have trouble with defining my style, more so, consistency of that style. I think too often we get wrapped up in the visions of other photographers and forget about our own visions. For years I struggled with this. It wasn't until a few days that a I did a shoot with my wife for her birthday that I realized that the type of images that make me smile. I went into my garage which serves as my studio space to setup my lights and having no idea of what the setup would produce but I went forward with the setup anyway. After the shoot and looking through the images I thought to myself "THIS IS IT!" Finally, I've found my go to style that when I look back at the images I can only smile. Thanks