How to Style Your Own Fashion Shoots on a Budget

How to Style Your Own Fashion Shoots on a Budget

Whether you're shooting a high-fashion model, a mom to be, or a high school senior, the clothes always matter. I'm a sucker for over-the-top drama in my own work but am not always able to find a stylist to help me out with these shoots. Even if you don't have a need to do this yourself, give it a go from time to time. It will improve your work from behind the camera too, as photographing people is usually involving fashion in one way or another. In addition to keeping up with the latest trends, you might even start to confidently help your clients out when they ask for your opinion about what they're nervously wearing.

Since high-fashion photography is the most obvious example, where the most importance is placed on the clothing, here are some tips for finding extremely cheap fashion shoot attire on your own.  

Find a Consignment Shop

Hop on Google or take a drive or walk around town like I do. When I pick a local shop at random to check out I end up finding the most amazing pieces. I love spontaneity. Goodwill is great if you have time to sort through a lot of stuff to find a complete high-fashion outfit. I like consignment and thrift shops because they're usually more selective with what they put on their racks, very high fashion, in with the times and for close to the same price.

I went for a walk in Louisville, Kentucky yesterday and stumbled upon The Wright Stuff Consignment and went in on a whim. When I saw a display holding the most poodle pins I've ever seen in one place before, I knew I was in the right place. The shop had an endless supply of items I wanted to photograph but I limited myself to one outfit when I walked in as to not get off track. I splurged a bit on this feathery piece, but I usually only spend anywhere from $15 to $25 on a full look. When envisioning your final outfit, don't feel too constrained by a models measurements, you can easily pin clothing to fit if you find something that's a winner besides the size.

Search Around for the Craziest Clothes You Can Find

The best part about high fashion is the limitless ability to express whatever you want; to be outrageous, daring, shocking, and even ugly. 

There are no rules in fashion but to make styling it a bit easier I usually find a top first. The blouse is the piece of clothing closest to the face and generally the half of the photograph our eyes are drawn to. Another reason to start with the top: you can crop the images if you don't get the rest of the outfit quite right.

When I step into a thrift shop, I look at the first garments that jump out at me and capture my attention. If its eye-catching on a dusty old clothes rack, you know it will grab everyone attention with a model and some beautiful light on it. I saw these black feathers from a mile away and grabbed the sheer cardigan they were sticking out from and held on to it.

Feather blouse: $15

Find Some Bottoms to Match

The hardest part is putting a top and a bottom together. Luckily as photographers, we already have an eye for things that are eye-catching. Just like the fluidity in a photo forms, It can be the color, the pattern, the texture, or all three that makes two pieces of clothing mesh well together. I recommend starting with all black, white, or a solid color for bottoms because the overwhelming world of patterns and colors can quickly clutter images with distraction if not matched thoughtfully with the top.

Finding polar opposites in clothes works well for me. This feathery top is short and shows the midsection so I knew I wanted a long skirt or pants for the bottom half of this outfit. There were several pants similar to the ones I chose, but these caught my eye because of the thin cutout strands around them that would blow around in front of a fan while the model posed in them. 

"Carwash" pants: $8

Don't Forget the Accessories 

The accessories are technically a smaller piece of a final photograph but it's amazing how much they complete the whole look. Don't worry, you don't have to get crazy with jewelry and other small trinkets to nail a fashion shoot, some neutral but bold items to add to the outfit will do wonders. Accessories can get pricey for a photographers budget if the shoot is for fun. Thankfully most subjects have a good selection of shoes and jewelry to bring to a shoot and it can be fun to mix and match with what they bring. If you know a models shoe size and are worried they might not have something to match, you can pick up some heels at a thrift shop for as little as a couple dollars. I am usually pleasantly surprised at the cool stuff a model brings to a shoot.

After finishing her makeup and hair, my model, Leah Rogers, threw on some earrings and undergarment that were both a few dollars at Forever 21 and we were ready to shoot in front of this turquoise wall in my basement. She already had the red and brown shoes in her closet, and they turned out to be just the color pop this outfit needed and inspired me to add some color while editing. 

Find a Background

Start with some plain textured walls or backgrounds like this one. The textured surfaces are a great way make the clothes pop and add some moodiness. Using walls like this also makes a perfect canvas for fun edits like these. While you're getting the hang of things it's good to start simple so you don't accidentally drown your hard work with distractions behind your model.

Bring Your Vision to Life

I find it easier to pose a model and effortlessly get what I imagined after styling them myself. It makes sense since when we style we are thinking about the final images more thoroughly than usual. I see poses in my head as I'm shopping around for outfits. Even if I leave empty-handed, I come home from a thrift store with ideas, inspiration, and creative energy — the things we really need to create but can't buy anywhere.

Above is my final result of styling a cheap high-fashion photoshoot without a stylist.

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Boyan Georgiev's picture

Thanks for the article, some great advice there for hobbyist like me. And great results from your shoot!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Thank you very much! Can't wait to hear how your's goes!

Chris McCullum's picture


Gabrielle Colton's picture

Your absolutely right, I always prefer working with a stylist and in no way is this advice on how to do their job, what they do is extensive and incredible. I'm only trying to show that when you don't have one for a shoot, or just want to try something more casual without a full team, you can easily throw together something simple but still styled yourself. Thanks for the thoughtful input!

Arnold Montes's picture

HOW TO STYLE YOUR OWN FASHION SHOOTS ON A BUDGET... ON A BUDGET.... A BUDGET... BUDGET! Lol your totally right but the response to your Long four paragraphed comment is in the title of this article

Josh Thomas's picture

How ridiculous. If you need a stylist and can’t actually choose the fashion for your fashion shoots, you probably shouldn’t be trying to get into fashion photography. Generally you pick the professions that you’re knowledgeable in.

Samuel Flores Sanchez's picture

Great article! Thanks!!!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Any time!

Muhammad Shariq's picture

Very informative.

I am a new photographer from Pakistan and have a small studio. I have also put together a small wardrobe mostly for portfolios. Sometimes models doesn't bring strapless bras and nude color underwear. Is it common to have these in studio for emergencies. If yes then what sizes should we have.

Thanks in advance.