Five Steps to Get Started as a Fashion and Beauty Photographer

Five Steps to Get Started as a Fashion and Beauty Photographer

One of the most commercially viable careers as a photographer can be fashion or beauty photography. In fashion photography, you are mostly shooting people, and you have details like clothes, makeup, and mood that you can capture in creative ways. You can create fantasies, capture a personality, and really build a name if your images are unique, and you will get people asking for you if you’re able to portray a certain feeling or mood. How to get started is often most aspirational photographers’ stumbling block. I can tell you that it is the ones who "show up and shoot" who build the careers and names for themselves from it. So, how do you do it?

I’ve always aspired to become a photographer. In my seventh year at school, I started taking pictures of people and places around our town. I focused on textures and used lines as compositional element — not that I was very good then or made images of value for anyone else, but I didn’t care about that. The images were for me and me alone. After school, I bought the gear, the camera, and spent a considerable amount of time watching online tutorials to understand light, exposure, and what modifier has what effect. I’ve spent a lot of time beside top photographers in South Africa, I’ve shot my own share for clients, and I can give you a good idea of how it was done.

1. You Need to Get Good Photographs

To get representation by an agency where they promote your work to clients who will pay good money, you need to have good photographs. You need to show that you are capable of handling a high-pressure day, and deliver great images that were part of the brief or idea the client had in mind. Can your images be used together in a story? If someone were to page through the set of photographs, do they work together, can they be seen as one concept? A shoot consists of you, a model or models, an idea, a stylist, and hair and makeup artists and locations. If you’re doing a shoot for a client, the client will be there, and you’ll have a digital assistant, lighting assistant, assistants for makeup and hair, and stylists, depending on the size of the shoot. 

2. Getting the Team Together

Models are represented by agencies. Their agents are the contact who will let you know when they want to get some new photos for their book. It’s not acceptable to contact models directly unless it’s a friend or acquaintance, or if they ask for you because they like your photographic style.  So, you need to get in touch with the agent representing the model you want to shoot. A great way to do this is to have a concept or story that you want to shoot and be able to explain it over the phone. When you call, you need to be confident, calm, and not sound like a weird creep. Model agencies all have websites with contact numbers. Make the call.
What I did was to actually arrange to meet with the agents. For me, there is no better way to start a relationship than sitting across from each other discussing ideas. There is a limited amount of agencies in a city, so you will want to aim for the longterm relationship strategy. You can discuss the idea you have and the model you want to shoot, and the agent can let you know which models need new images and who the new faces are that will need some direction, but can produce great images if photographed well.
They will want to see some of your work, and if you don’t have any, you need to have something that you can give the agent. Have a mood board of the type of images you would want to capture if the model is keen. Again, you need to take something. No one is going to book a photographer if the photographer has nothing to show. 
A great way to boost your chances of getting the agent and model to say "yes" is to have a makeup artist and stylist onboard to join in creating your mood. Fashion and beauty photography is a team sport. Everyone involved is trying to make something amazing for their own portfolio. It gives you credibility if you have a creative team with you, and it shows the agent and model that you take the shoot seriously. With this team, you will also take much better photographs than what you would’ve if it were just you and a model. You can also (with permission from the stylist or makeup artist) take their images with you and show the quality of work you have on your team.

3. How to Get the Stylist and Makeup Artists to Buy Into Your Idea

Stylists and makeup artists can often be represented by creative agencies, and you can follow the same process and see their agents. However, they can also work without representation, which makes it a bit harder to find their contact details, and here, Facebook pages, groups, and Google are your friend. 
If you’re in a city where fashion photography is an industry, there’s bound to be a fashion school, and you can also contact them to find stylists or makeup artists in training. For these artists, it’ll be great to get some portfolio work, so as long as you take it seriously, it won’t be too hard to get someone who can add value to the shoot and bring their ideas to the event on the day.

4. Assist

If you’re nervous to go through this whole process as a photographer and you want to check out the way it’s done before you do it yourself, be an assistant for a photographer on a shoot. The idea is that you learn how they work with the crew and what is expected from them and also from you as assistant. There will be some things they do that you think you can improve on, whether it’s directing, creating a mood, or dealing with the client or model. It’s all there for you to learn from and implement in the shoots you plan and execute. Have a photographer you like and admire? You are online; send an email.
Another way of getting to know people in the industry is to go to events like fashion shows, art exhibition launches, and creative agency parties. If you’re confident in what you want to do and know how to do it, it won’t be hard to create an impression. Get the contact details of the people you meet that can play a role in your shoot, and send an email the next day if you think you or the people you met can benefit from collaborating with each other. You can also call on your network. You have friends who will love to be a part of something creative. If you think someone can bring something positive to the day, take them along, even if it’s just to hold the reflector and add some jokes to the day. 

5. Arrange the Day

Once you have the model and the creative team sorted, you need to communicate technical details: what day you’ll shoot, how everyone can get there, what each person must bring along, and what the alternate plan is if something goes wrong. This must all be captured in what is called a "call sheet." I’ve created a signature in my email to make this process a little quicker:
Hi there everybody, 
Looking forward to [insert your own message]
Here is the call sheet and details of the day: 

Call Time:

Model to bring along: Any basics you might own, like jeans, jackets, white basic t-shirts, vests, retro apparel, heels, and anything they think would work well for the shoot.

Photographer: [your name] (telephone number)   
Hair and Make-up: 
Any additional information: Who can get rides together, some details on who’ll bring snacks or if they must bring something to eat, etc.
Feel free to contact me if anything is unclear.
Best regards,
[your name]
Now, this can be sent to the whole team, and you can also include the agent representing the model, if you like. This way, you make sure there’s nothing that falls through the cracks. When it comes to planning, make sure you start early. You will often get to having 90% of the team and arrangements organized and then get one person not being able to join. It’s your call to move the day or to get someone who can replace them.
When you are planning the day, I recommend early morning as the best time to get started. The reason is not that it’s the best light or a way to negate traffic. For me, it’s a way of making sure everyone is committed and prepared to wake up that early to make something awesome. Those are the types of people I want to work with.

Not the Only Way

This is the route I followed, and it certainly isn’t the only way. There might be different ways of working in other countries. Cape Town is a central point for European models to travel to during their winter, when it’s summer in South Africa. There are also many beaches and locations for shoots in and around the city, so it was perfect for me to get started this way. If you are a successful fashion photographer, please share how you started off your career. Paying it forward in the comments will be great. 
Wouter du Toit's picture

Wouter is a portrait and street photographer based in Paris, France. He's originally from Cape Town, South Africa. He does image retouching for clients in the beauty and fashion industry and enjoys how technology makes new ways of photography possible.

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Waouh! Great post!!
From the title I though "oh another 5 obvious ones", but indeed it's exactly what I needed!
Thanks ;)

sorry to offend who took these pics but they are not examples of a pro professional fashion photog. as a beginner yes. was this shot on film? colors are off

Good thing about fashion photography is you can break the rules. Be creative, and do want you want.

true Larry but shouldn't fashion photography highlight something that is fashion ie, clothing, jewelry hairstyles ect?

@robert s - Don't think so. If these were shot on film, the colors would probably be spot on :P

I agree Robert, but telling the truth nowadays is equivalent to making a revolutionary act.

see first step re: capturing mood.

Step one to being a fashion photographer should actually be loving fashion ;)

You're so right!

Love it!