Top Overused Fashion Photography Stereotypes to Avoid


Have you ever wondered what it’s like to see fashion photography through the lens of someone who professionally looks at fashion images all day? We’ve put this list together to give you a sense of what that’s like. An insane number of editorials pass through our office, and we’ve realized that a surprisingly large number fall into easily discernible themes. For anyone who loves editorial photography, there’s nothing new to see here. But let’s take a moment to all nod our heads in violent agreement at the fact that fresh ideas are hard to come by in fashion. And it’s no surprise, fashion photography has been around long enough that recurring themes and sub-genres were bound to arise organically. Here are a few of the ones we’ve come across most frequently. We hesitated to call them cliches because we don’t like the negative connotations that label carries, but it needs to be said that if you want your fashion photographs to stand out from the crowd, it’s probably in your best interest to avoid the photoshoot themes below. And though it’s true that even a cliche can be heart-wrenchingly beautiful with the right execution, it’s also more likely to be predictable. Just something to consider. So without further ado, here they are, the 20 most popular fashion photography stereotypes according to Lone Wolf!

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fashion cliches
Left to Right: Photography by unknown, Erin Wasson by Fred Meylan, Emily Soto, Marcus Hyde

This theme features a model draped with the American flag and running through a remote desert-like landscape as the sun sets behind her. Nine times out of ten she’s wearing cowboy boots or converse sneakers with a pair of worn jeans, looking every bit the poster child of fashionable free-spirited patriotism.

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fashion photography cliche
It would be almost impossible to have a list of fashion cliches without the sexy nun.  This theme features the model wearing a nun’s habit paired with a sex-starved look and scandalously naughty accessories. More often than not, she is also featured having sex with another nun, or a priest.

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fashion photography ideas
Left to Right: Signe Vilstrup for Elle, Arthur Elgort

Ah, the good old magical woodland nymph, decorated with wreaths of flowers and flowing dresses made of sheer fabric. She is daintily prancing through a forest on a magical hazy afternoon, sometimes with a bunny, or a fawn or baby lamb. This is, by far our most popular theme for submissions. Sometimes the woodland nymph takes on a darker more primal twist with the model dressed like a magical (and fashionable) savage, flower-wreaths are replaced by antlers, a wreath of thorns, or sticks.

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cliche fashion photography
Left to Right: Photography by Nadav Kander, Camilla Akrans, Oh Joong Seok, Sofia Sanchez

The next trope is closely related to the wood nymph, but with a literary twist referencing Shakespeare’s Ophelia (or actually, as is more likely, referencing Sir John Everett Millais’ painting of Ophelia). She is seen floating in a body of water, most often a river or lake, but sometimes also a bathtub, speckled with flowers and decorated by a wreath of flowers and a flowing dress made of sheer fabric.

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cliche fashion ideas
Left to Right: Photography by Benny Horne, Heide Lindgren, Rachel Alexander

This trope is all setting, always taking place in a sketchy motel with a distinctly 50s vibe. Sometimes its rundown, other times it’s not. The model frequently assumes the role of a girl-on-the-run, high-end escort, or else a sexually frustrated housewife cheating on her husband, usually wearing 50s inspired wardrobe.

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cliche fashion editorials
From Left to Right: Photography by Luis Monteiro, Tim Walker, Lara Jade

Whimsical balloons, often shot against a European setting with quirky and girlish wardrobe and soft natural lighting. First popularized by Tim Walker, and now taking off like wild fire. The “edgy” spin on this trope is using black balloons in a gritty urban setting, like an industrial roof-top, or empty parking lot.

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fashion editorial cliche
Clockwise from top left: Yossi Michaeli, Miles Aldridge, Arthur Elgort, Miles Aldridge

You’ve likely seen this editorial a million times, a seductive albeit disgruntled housewife violently cooks her husbands meal, or completely ignores her baby while smoking a cigarette and enjoying her vodka martini. She is a terrible mother, and a terrible wife and just doesn’t give one hoot. This theme is often photographed with a retro 50s twist set against a distinctly groomed suburban landscape.

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8. WORKING OUT IN HEELS (and other inappropriate attire)

editorial cliches
From left to right: Photography by Terry Richardson, Julius Bramanto, H&M, Emma Tempest

Our next theme has been going strong since the 70s: inappropriately dressed models sweating it out at the gym. You know, too much makeup, running on a treadmill in 6 inch heels and a leather corset ect.

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fashion cliches
From left to right: Walter Chin, Louis Vuitton Campaign, Andre Brito, Unknown

No surprise, this editorial takes place in a diner. The model’s wardrobe is either vintage, or vintage inspired, always looking prim and proper and lady-like. Also, she is almost always wearing pastels and drinking a milkshake or eating a burger.

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fashion photography cliche

This trope features layers of denim with a subtle masculine twist. You will almost always at some point find the model wearing jeans with a button-up jean shirt (sometimes with a sparkly necklace cleverly peeking out from under the collar). Despite its popularity and arguable cliche-worthiness, we just can’t stop loving it given the populairty and versatility of denim.

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Out of all the fashion photography tropes on this list, none confounds us quite as much as The Clown. If you think about it, there’s really no good reason why it should be as popular as it is. It’s not like clowns aren’t absolutely terrifying. But for whatever reason, the circus clown has fashion photographers absolutely captivated. This theme is really about the makeup artists itching to stretch their creative muscles (and their makeup kits). Among the many editorials that cross our desk, The Clown is among the most common.

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What’s with fashion portraying women as submissive sex bunnies all the time? Obviously Playboy had a bigger influence on fashion than one might think. We could talk about how this may be dehumanizing women, but we’re not going to. Nope. Not going there. Arguably, every fashion photography trope has a right to exist, even if it’s a little weird. And who are we kidding, Kate Moss looked incredible in that Playboy Bunny shoot.

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Ah, ye ol Coney Island theme. Although yes, it’s mostly shot at Coney Island, by no means is it exclusively about this one location. Any amusement part themed shoot could have a Coney Island theme as long as the right elements are present: The retro cyclone-style roller-coaster rides, the corns on the cobs and crumbling pop-the-baloon games with giant inflatable gorillas as prizes, and the cute boy that wins you one.

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There are so many incredible female artists that steal our hearts and take our breath away. There’s Tamara de Lempicka and her brilliant art deco style, Georgia O’Keeffe and her erotic flowers, Elaine de Kooning, Francoise Gilot, Kiki Smith, and so many others. But there’s something special about Frida Kahlo that captivates fashion photographers unlike any other female artist. Over the course of this century she transformed from being a brilliant painter, to became a work of art herself. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising given her affinity for self portraits. With her colorful flower wreaths, dark braids and thick unibrow, Frida is so visually iconic no fashion photographer could resist photographing her likeness.

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This theme is a sub-genre of The Femme Fatale, a dangerous animal-like woman in the company of dangerous felines. She’s wearing cheetah print, and lots of black eyeliner, and if you’re a man, she’s going to tear your heart out of your chest and eat it right in front of you. That woman is trouble, but you just can’t help yourself.

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The Boy Toy theme naturally follows Animal Attraction. Both feature a confident and hyper sexual female characters. However, this one falls into the Stephanie Meyers method of fashion photography i.e. nasty nasty wish fulfillment. Because really, who doesn’t want to be a filthy rich glamazon and get freaky with the pool boy. Anyone? Anyone?

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Because nothing says fashion like clean clothing, all laundromat themed shoots have only two things in common: they all take place at a laundromat (duh) and they occasionally use it (often doing it all wrong). And though we’ve seen it a million times, we still kind of love it. Or maybe we just like seeing beautiful models doing chores.

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Whether it’s because, if you think about it, corsets are kind of like birdcages when you remove all the fabric and leave nothing but the boning. Or maybe it’s because theres something inherently emo about birdcages. We cant be sure. But what we do know is that in the fashion photography world, birdcages and corsets go together like Karl Lagerfeld and dry shampoo. This trope is nestled comfortably under the Steam Punk genre that almost never sees the inside pages of a fashion magazine.

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It’s the quintessential grit and glamour theme. The basic formula here goes something like this: You find an abandoned industrial warehouse and a model. You put her in said warehouse wearing inappropriately decadent attire. You turn on the smoke machine. Presto chango. You got high fashion (predictable high fashion, but still).

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Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are the supreme rulers of this theme. The point is the make your fashion photographs look as one dimensional as possible (the irony here does not escape us). By stylizing the shoot exclusively with primarily colors, Ben-Day Dots, and hard black lines to simulate the look of pulp comics from the 1950s, you too can make your images look like comic-book prints.

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You may be tempted to ask why these themes even exist in the first place. Perhaps it comes down to people thinking along the same lines, and taking inspiration from each other. When artists start looking to other artists for inspiration, you’re bound to have some overlap. If you can think of any other popular fashion photography themes, please share in the comments below!

Natalia Borecka

Natalia is the editor in chief and publisher of Lone Wolf Magazine. She founded the publication in 2012.

  1. Lol! Nice! I’m totally guilty of working the “Ophelia” and “the Wood Nymph” to death in my art. But in my defense, I’ve been flogging that horse for 30 years (damn you Brian Froud!) ;D

  2. The “Retro Motel” shots posted above are all from the exact same location also (just shot from different angles) lol

    1. I noticed that too! Same sign! ha ha

  3. Thank you for this blog entry. That’s good information. However you got the credits for the first two nymphs wrong. They were shot by Signe Vilstrup

    1. Editor in Chief says:

      Yes, Coney Island! That totally deserves to be on this list. Well done Beth.

  4. Any kind of shoot involving graffiti walls !

  5. Sounds like a fun way to do it! I personally like magical woodland nymph more than any other shoot.

  6. Hilarious, and so so true. Most of these shots have been executed brilliantly and have a strong aesthetic feel to them. In fashion photography, that’s what counts. Every concept has probably been hashed out before. The successful photogs keep it fresh, even when shooting the most cliche editorials.

  7. I’ve got a new one. The “Frida-like”one: flowers on the top of model’s head, marked eyebrows, kinda gypsy styling. It could be very good but at the same time a complete disaster!

  8. ‘The Destruction’ shoot. Where models are messing up and wrecking the garmets.

  9. These made me rethink some ideas for future shoots. They are overused for sure but I quite like the denim on denim concept. Its too classic to be considered overused! Other than that I agree with pretty much all these.. especially the flowers, nymph in water feel.. although I still find it quite beautiful. I guess it depends how the photos are created in the end, a twist from the original concept!

  10. I’m surprised about the Frida theme (it would also be my favourite out of all of them). But agree with you on all the others xx

  11. I disobey #19 quite often, but I do love the juxtaposition and finding beauty in the darkness.

  12. You forgot about ladders in a studio

  13. Regis Ibarra says:

    The “Kate Moss and Marky Mark for Calvin Klein” type of shoot. God knows how many times we’ve used that and how many times I’ve seen other photographers do that kind of shoot.

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