The Best Fashion Photography Career Advice You’ll Ever Get

Boss Lady

If you are a young fashion photographer or stylist trying to break into the fashion industry, you’re likely feeling frustrated right about now. For all artists out there the path to success and financial security is fraught with uncertainty, and there is no sure-fire business plan that will light the way and no straightforward strategy that will lighten the load. We can completely sympathize! And if you’re just starting out, you’re likely facing one of the most difficult professional periods in your life – that critical moment when you get on your feet and get the ball rolling. We’re here to help you make the most of it. Here is our list of ultimate career advice for aspiring fashion photographers, stylists, makeup artists and anyone else working in the fashion industry. Here Goes!

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You Can’t Ask for Your Big Break, You Have to Earn It

If we had a nickel for every time a photographer contacted us with no experience, barely anything to call a portfolio, and said something along the lines of, “If you give me a commission letter I’m going to make you something amazing, just trust me.” We don’t meant to be harsh, but in the insanely competitive job world out there, no one is just going to give you a break because you seem passionate and sure of yourself. In the social sphere that stretches beyond your friends and family who believe in you because they love you, everyone else will be really really hard on you. If “just trust me” is all you have to go on, you really don’t have much. When hundreds of competitors are applying for the same jobs as you with polished portfolios of work that really highlight what they’re capable of, you better have more than just promises and passion to go on. As a general rule of thumb in fashion, show don’t tell. Take big risks with the work you create, work hard and you won’t need to sell yourself because your work will speak for itself.

The Key is Consistency

That’s it, the magic word that will get you through the door and onto the other side. The one piece of career advice that’s probably more important than any other. Consistency. It’s the one quality that separates a successful professional from a struggling artist. No one expects you to hit a home-run every time, but clients do expect a consistent level of quality in your images. And be aware that there are a few things clients will always watch out for. Your website, for one. Unless you have a large amount of high quality published work in there, clients will be wary of your portfolio because they know you’ve selected only the very best of everything you’ve ever created. What about the stuff that doesn’t make it in? How long did it take you to get that perfect shot? Can you do it again? Was it just blind luck? If you can prove to a client that you can consistently reproduce your best quality work, you’re in. But that’s not to say that you work necessarily has to be perfect every time. Consistency might mean achieving the same style in every shot, maybe it’s your signature lighting skills that come through, or your particular flavor of posing the model in strange an original ways. Whatever it may be for you, aim to hit the same note every time.

Don’t Follow the Trends, Create Them


Every aspect of the fashion industry (and every industry for that matter) is affected by trends. We all seem to fall in love with the same things at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to be very aware of trends in your work, and be calculating about how you choose to incorporate them into your photography or design. For example, about a year ago the whole wet-hair-stuck-to-models-face look really took off. You can see it here, here and here. For a while you could see it literally everywhere. About 50% of photography that passed through the Lone Wolf office featured this hair look. Not surprisingly, despite the fact that it’s trending hard, we quickly grew tired of seeing it. In other words, you could have been a brilliant photographer, but because you used an overused trend in your editorial, it effectively became invisible. Our advice is to rework trends, add unexpected elements to make your work stand out and to show the world that you’re one step ahead of the game.

Don’t Ignore the Details

Wrinkled clothes? A dirty backdrop? Polyester fabrics? Don’t think others won’t notice. As they say, the devil is in the details – it really doesn’t matter what industry we’re talking about, overlooking the finest details will result in mediocre work. It’s as simple as that. But pushing yourself beyond mediocre in fashion photography is extremely difficult because it requires that your whole team is as much of a perfectionist as you are. If your stylists is diligent about wardrobe, and you are a total perfectionist when it comes to lighting, but your hair stylist cuts corners, the whole thing falls apart very quickly.

You’re Never Hired for the Obvious Reasons

Ok, so your portfolio is gold. You’ve got the creative vision of a young Picasso and the flair of Kanye West himself. Naturally you’d assume these are the top reasons why you’d get hired for a campaign or editorial job, right? Wrong. Although these are extremely important, your actual job is to be the logistical brains behind every creative project. In other words, you need to have a cool head and learn how to problem solve your way out of any situation. Don’t ask too many questions, don’t hesitate for a second because everyone is counting on you to figure it all out. This holds equally true for creative problems like how to pose a model or style a shoot, as it does for logistical problems.

Stop Comparing Yourself to the Competition

You should only ever compare yourself to yourself, as you were six months ago. It’s like Malcolm Gladwell said in The Tipping Point, the magic number of true expertise is ten thousand hours. That is, it takes ten thousand hours of practice to become truly great at something. You don’t know where other people lie on that scale. If they’re better than you, it’s likely simply because they were busy practicing while you were busy flipping through Pinterest “looking for inspiration.” Comparing your own work to top photographers is crazy. They have a life time on you. By that same token, looking back at your own body of work, you should see a noticeable improvement. If you don’t, you’re doing it wrong.


Don’t Be a Starving Artist

Many young creative types really romanticize this idea of being a starving artist, but it’s only tolerable for about a year. After that it becomes an unbearable weight on your shoulders. There’s nothing romantic or glamorous about poverty folks, especially when you’re working in the fashion industry! Every so often, you’ll want to wear shoes that don’t have holes in them. The fact is, becoming a pro photographer takes money, lots of it. So you’ll need a solid long-term plan in place. You may need to supplement your career with less glamorous gigs (weddings? corporate portraits? Elance?) until you refine your craft and make some solid industry connections.

Oh, You’re Just Not That Into Social Media?

The world is changing, and although word of mouth is still a powerful (and viable) way of getting noticed, it’s also the hardest and least likely way. As a fashion photographer your goal is to have your work seen by as many people as possible. If you’re doing your job right, you will quickly learn that taking pictures, and editing them are the smallest part of your job. Marketing should take up about 75% of everything you do, with social media being the most important of these. There’s simply no better way to become insanely successful than to use your social networks.

Home is Where Your Dream Job Is

They say, do what you love and never work another day in your life. There’s no denying that loving your job, and being passionate about your career is one of the greatest blessings in life. It is therefore important to understand and be aware that the place you call home may be holding you back. If your dream is to be the next Mario Testino, you’ll need to move to New York. If you dream about being the next Wes Anderson, you’ll need to move to L.A. Though other cities have their own flourishing fashion scene or movie scene –  a scene is not a proper industry. A scene is not enough to build a thriving career on. That’s not to say you can’t do it, but you will likely end up frustrated by the lack of resources and community support available to you.

Strive for Simplicity

The old saying that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” holds true. All you really need to create beautiful images is a beautiful model, a single dramatic element and literally nothing else. No crazy accessories or hair and makeup all laid over intense poses and voodoo lighting. When deciding how to style a shoot, between dramatic makeup + hair + sets/lighting + dramatic clothing, aim to choose only two out of these four options, otherwise you’ll have a circus on your hands (and unless you’re Tim Walker with a fifteen thousand dollar budget, it’s probably not going to fly).

Action is the Only Thing That Matters

It’s all about what you actually do, rather than how you feel. Of course your thoughts and feelings matter, at least to those that know you personally. But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, your internal world barely exists. I know it sounds harsh, but it is an essential lesson in becoming a successful adult. The world turns on the currency that is action. If you try to convince someone that you’re an amazing, talented and compassionate individual that’s going places, but have nothing to show for it, you’ll be wasting your breath. Your greatest contribution to this world and to your own life will be through the actions you take. If you want to stand out professionally, stop talking and go out and do something (anything) productive that will have a positive effect in the world. By that token, showing people you want to work with what you’ve done (no matter how small) is always going to be more impressive than showing them what you plan to do, or how motivated you are about your career.

Working for Free = Practice.

This is a very controversial topic because there are a lot of people out there who will take advantage of you. But there is another word for free work, and it’s called practice. Fashion photography is not accounting, it’s not computer science, it’s art. Unlike these other fields, in fashion you can’t go straight from graduating college to making a good salary simply because you haven’t had enough time to practice your craft. And don’t tell us that you’ve been shooting since you were a child. Pointing your camera at something is different from creative direction, production, casting and directing a team. One requires nothing but your creativity, while the other requires a certain level of leadership, maturity and professional experience. But beyond practice is the matter of creative control. Starting out, working for free allows you to be as creative as you wish and to pour your passion into a dream project. When you’re working for a paying client they hold all the creative control, which often translates to work that is less than you’re capable of. If you’re focusing on just getting paid clients from the onset, it will take you a very long time to create the kind of portfolio that will get you noticed by high-paying clients.

Work with the Best – Even if it’s Not Financially Rewarding

Another thing to consider is that fashion is a career path were the division between big companies and small companies is extreme. There are very few in the middle. So basically, if you’re new to the game you’re stuck between not being good enough for the big boys yet, and volunteering your time to the smaller companies that are just barely staying afloat. When you’re just starting out in the fashion industry, it is extremely important that you pay more attention to working with talented people instead of getting paid. Trust that the money will come in due time. For now focus on collaborating with talented no-bodies who will one day be big somebodies (like you!).  Fill your portfolio with quality work, publish in quality magazines and associate yourself with quality people. Newbie artists that think they’re going to be getting paid from the get-go are in for a rude awakening. Unless you were born into this industry, you’ll be crawling your way to the top like everyone else.

Be An Image Maker, Not an Image Taker

Anyone with a camera, access to photoshop, and a really great model can luck out with a great shot. But there is an important distinction between someone who takes an image, and someone who makes it. You need to be an image maker, not an image taker. See the final product in your mind, and do what needs to be done to usher it into reality. Don’t rely wholly on the skills of your team, and don’t wait for magic to happen. Sometimes it will, other times it won’t. And that’s the crux of the problem. Image takers are like scavenger animals, while image makers are like wolves. The wolf seeks out her vision, hunts it, runs after it and skillfully takes it down. The scavenger waits for something amazing to fall from the sky, usually by machine-gun shooting thousands of images just to luck out with one. And even when scavengers get lucky, these lucky strikes are like creative left-overs and rarely contain all the meat of an inspired, curated and carefully executed shoot.

Don’t Be Creatively Passive

When it comes to the creative process, you’re either all in or you’re not. You either commit wholeheartedly to your work and you attack it, or you half-ass it and wait passively for something creative to finally happen to you. The way you work says a lot about where you fall on this creative passivity spectrum. Every time you stay quiet on-set when you know you should speak up, you’re being creatively passive. Every time you get by with just doing the bare minimum that is required of you, without whole-heartedly and actively engaging with your team, you’re being creatively passive. If you spend more time creating Moodboards than you do actually creating art, you’re being creatively passive. If you’re a photographer, and you just stand there behind the camera waiting for the picture to happen, or if you’re a stylist and you settle for just putting clothes on the model then fading into the shadows of the studio while the clothes shift and crumple with every pose, you’re being creatively passive.

Master The Art of Selling

Few would argue with the idea that fashion photography is a bona fide art form. It is a creative expression of an idealized, and often over glamorized reality. But there’s just one small problem…unlike other art forms, fashion photography is the one form of art in which “selling out” is part of the job description from the get go. In other words, regardless if you call your work lifestyle or “high fashion” your images are going to be intrinsically tied to a commercial product. This is not meant to cast a negative light on fashion photography as a profession, there’s nothing wrong with mixing art and commerce, but it does take away from the creative purity of your work. People are rarely going to look at your fashion photographs and be moved to tears, or inspired to be better people. The vast majority of the time they are just going to be looking at the makeup and clothes. You can never be a truly successful fashion photographer if you don’t address this particular elephant in the studio: As a fashion photographer you are always playing double duty as one part artist, and one part salesman.

Boiled down to its very essence, a photographer’s job is to present a product in a way that captures the attention of consumers. This effectively renders creating “art for art’s sake” in the field of fashion photography extremely difficult. Fashion photography only exists because someone somewhere wanted to sell a beautiful designer dress. I know it seems obvious, but it’s something many aspiring fashion photographers forget. They get into fashion because they hunger for that creative outlet, not realizing that in fashion creativity often takes a backseat to commerce. Not only can this be incredibly disappointing to artists, it can immobilize their career before it has even started.

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We sincerely hope this list is useful to you. Let us know your thoughts and concerns, and post your questions in the comments! We would love to help you answer them, especially if you find yourself struggling with your fashion career.

Natalia Borecka

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

  1. Thank you very much for writing this article! All the information posted are really useful and it was refreshing to read something that’s of realistic advice from professionals, rather than a page full of dreamy ideals.

  2. Thank you very much for the inspiring blog post 😀 It cut straight to the point but also gives a bit of hopefulness to us dreamers and workers out there :D!!

  3. Good to read a kicking ass article, thanks! motivating for even harder work;) the only problem is that I was planning to have sort of wet-hair style on the upcomming shooting. gotta think twice about it now:) Regards, Oktawian

  4. I agree with most of this. It’s hard to get into, and my career is just starting. I’m a recent graduate with my BFA degree in Digital Photography trying to get my foot in the door so I can move to LA or NYC. Some of my work needs to be published so I may be sending some images to the magazine. 🙂

  5. These articles aimed at photographers are always so condescending, and it’s such a shame because I’m sure you mean well.

  6. Well written article, I agree that it’s key to work with the best people that your portfolio will allow. Collaborating with more than just your go to person is also a great way of getting used to the many different personality types you’ll find on a shoot.

  7. Great article. Simple harsh reality. Need to buckle up! It’s going to be a hard road ahead!

  8. This is great, Can I add a couple more?

    1 — If you want to be a fashion photographer, you need to know fashion. I’m a stylist and I can’t tell you how many times I get approached by photographers who want to “update” their portfolio with fashion and yet, they don’t know jack about the industry — most think all it takes a pretty girl in a torn rock band tee. One guy who I worked with briefly had never even heard of Richard Avedon or Bruce Weber (I kid you not).

    2 — ASSIST ASSIST ASSIST! Too many aspiring photogs think they’re going to get discovered through their Instagram feed. Not only will you learn tricks of the trade from an established photographer but you’ll build those oh-so-important relationships that will eventually lead to more work. The most successful fashion photographers I know assisted for many years before booking their own gigs.

    1. I couldn’t agree more with those two statements.

      Having an eye and a feel for what works in styling is really important because that will make or break your shoot. I know fashion photographers who don’t look at magazines, or know labels, or have much of an idea of what the industry is doing right now. Their work tends to look more like alternative, stylised portrait than fashion. That being said, people who have a good eye for it just get it and their work looks fresh.

      Assisting is totally and completely important, but assist people that you admire because they will always rub off on you. You absorb so much from your mentors that it is super important to find good ones.

  9. Wow this is great and oh so familiar!! Thanks! X

  10. I like your blog very much. Hope to read more from you in future. Best of luck

  11. I find myself giving this exact advice on almost a daily basis. After almost 15 years in the industry I had to learn all this the hard way. I’ve shared your link, hopefully it will save me some explaining 🙂 Great stuff!

  12. As a Fashion photographer in Perth Western Australia, I can definitely relate to your surroundings holding you back, sometimes a small community simply isn’t enough to support the goals you have in mind. I myself understand that I need to move elsewhere to make my platform formidable and plausible. Everything you posted is really the basis of what you need to know, thank you for the post. 🙂

  13. Great post, thanks! It is refreshing to read honest and straight forward instructions – this is something every beginner should read and memorize.

  14. Thanks, Natalia. This is the stuff nobody tells you that you wished you knew when you begin.
    Everybody tells you that it’s a highly competitive field, that you have to work hard. But that’s where the advice usually ends and becomes a bunch of pie-in-the-sky motivational BS. This was targeted and specific and so helpful. I’m going to save this to my Pocket and re-read it on a monthly basis.

    1. One thing about “highly competitive” that I would like to mention: Back when I was working as an illustrator in NYC (the 1980’s) one of the art directors told me that they had about 2,000 portfolios dropped off for review every month. This, I was meant to believe, was the competition. However, I later learned that the art directors there didn’t take seriously most of the portfolios they saw. Of the 2,000 they considered about a dozen to have the merit to be worth looking at in full. Effetively, this meant there were two groups, one of which was not “competition” for actual jobs because they didn’t demonstrate the skill to get any real assignments. The only ones that were competition were the dozen or so artists that could conceivably been hired at Time.

      Later, I became an art director myself and found the same thing to be true. The majority of all demo reels I viewed (when hiring animators) and portfolios were so far below a hirable standard that they could not be considered competition by anyone, not even other artists of the same or similar caliber of work. On one occasion a colleague and I sorted through about 6,000 portfolios and reels at the large studio we worked at, but only ten were actually professional–or met a professional standard of competence. Those were competitive with each other because they were the only ones we were considering for the jobs we had. The other 5,990 or so portfolios were irrelevant.

      It wasn’t as if the non-competitive work took any time to identify either, meaning there was a chance that someone, somewhere, might have been torn between one of these portfolios and another that landed in the candidate pile. These were usually rejected after looking at one or two images, for a grand total of maybe thirty seconds of time expended. As a teacher, I see the same thing. We have so many students at the school, a small number of whom are competitive (most of whom are that way from their first day of class), a slightly larger group that will become competitive during their four years at university, and everyone else–approximately 70% of the original class, who will not attract any meaningful work.

      It is true that all creative fields are competitive, and that the fewer participants there are (or jobs) the more intense the competition becomes. It is important to me though to always have in mind who the actual competition is. If you aim too low, you may never escape the pool of non-competitive creative aspirants.


      1. Thank you for that meaningful comment Andrew! I couldn’t agree more. It really worries me when I hear people try to discourage young artists from pursuing their craft because of how competitive it is. No matter how saturated the market, in a creative field, talent is always a rarity – people that push themselves to innovate, search for new ideas, and stand out from the crowd as a result are still the ones that make it.

  15. Thank you so much! Just what I needed

  16. Thank you very much, your stuffs are really helpful, great!!!

  17. Keep up your work I want to thank you for this informative read I really appreciate sharing this great post. Keep up your work

  18. Hi Natalia Borecka,
    Thank you very much for your sharing.
    My name is Binh, I’m from VietNam. i’m 24 years old. I has a 2 year using DRSL and i wanna become fashion photographer. So, I hope you can take a time to help me answer the question.
    I’m computer scientist, a test engineer, but i really want to become a fashion photographer. So, could you explain help me know: what should i do to become Fashion Photographer.

  19. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Thank you for your career advice, it helps me a lot.

    Thank You


  20. Thank you so much! I am extremely motivated and ready to work.

  21. Giovanni garcia says:

    Thank you so much! I love how tough and realistic this article is! It really helps to be honest. Some people may think it harsh but it’s reality, your talent is an art and though it is special and unique to you so is everyone else’s and there will always be competition because of this. This article gave me the exact informational points I needed thank you again.

  22. anagha varadaraj says:

    iam just a beginner and iam so interested in photography… and i need to start a life in this feild.. as i find this feild more fun and interesting so much to learn… but i dont know how to start off my career. i would like some advice.

  23. Beautifully written Natalia – I was searching for advice on marketing myself to fashion clients, and a nice constructive read to start my Monday morning. ps. love the mag (picked up my first copy in Aus last year) ✌️

  24. As basically an amateur, who for example would love access to say, London Fashion week, this is excellent and well needed advice!

  25. Thank for this perspective! Greetings from Buenos Aires.

  26. I really needed to read this advice, I recently quit my job to pursue my dream of fashion photography even though the voice in my head kept telling me how competitive the market was and I still have my doubts but this article makes me want to get up and practice even more and also not become so complacent.
    Thank you. I will be bookmarking this and reading it every so often.

  27. After reading this article I got an idea how to be a fashion photographer and I’m definitely going to follow it . Im just 15 years old and want to be a fashion photographer . So would u like to give me any special tips for my career . Thank u…..

  28. After reading this article I got an idea for my career how to be an image maker not an image taker . Thank u for giving such advices for the people who want to be a fashion photographer. Here im Aakankshi who’s 15 years old and want to be a fashion photographer would u like to prefer some tips for me…..Thank u for ur inspirational article

  29. Steven Halpin says:

    That was more useful than a year at LSF. Well said.

  30. Brilliant article. I was especially moved by the last section as “selling out” has always been a bit hard for me. Knowing that through our work we support consumerism. And that what we consider our art is viewed for mere seconds before the page is turned.

  31. John Johnson says:

    It is useful. So many people want to become a photographer. Photography can be a fun and exciting career, but it may not be the right path for everyone.When I started my career in photography I had a strong portfolio, a WordPress website and also the facility of Esignature to sign contract if any client asked me for it. It was enough to start. After it you just need to do hard work.

  32. Subhasis Mukherjee says:

    Excellent content. Thanks for briefing such a large world in such a spectacular manner.

  33. The advice in this article is invaluable! Some aspects really gave me a wake up call, but in a good way. Overall a great piece showing the role of the photographer and how they contribute to the fashion industry, both artistically and commercially.

  34. I understand the truth

  35. NATALIA BORECKA, I am quite happy after reading entire article where you have explained the techniques quality of photography.

  36. Very well explained. Thanks!

  37. such a cute website!!

    Great work on this website!

  38. Thank you for the advice. I have a silly question since I have never even studied fashion photography yet- Do I need to have a closet of unique/expensive costumes for the model to wear?

  39. Dear Natalia, thank you for your advice. Your article helps me stay calm and do not give up from day to day. I’ve read this article last spring. And I’m getting back to it again and again when the spirit is falling. It helps me remember that it’s just the period and I have to keep going to move over it. Thank you!

  40. Thank you so much, this article really touches on a few facts that I just leant the hard way. Especially the part where you say that we are responsible for all the technical logistics. I just finished a fashion runway shoot for one of those small companies that there are so many of. At the meeting it was mentioned that they would not be renting lights and wanted to know if I could do the lighting. A little voice inside me said ” we need those lights that hang from the ceiling” but I didn’t speak up out of fear of not getting the gig. Well let me tell you that trying to shoot a runway show with flashes was a logistic nightmare, they were either in the way or not strong enough. Finally when we decided on a place to put them, with a carefully placed row of tape where the model should stop. Guess what happened? If you said that none of the models actually stopped at the taped markings then you win the prize. I ended up turning off the flashes and using the iso. The final images sucked and now I’m trying to erase all evidence that I shot this event. Its negative advertisement and I wished that I never did it. Let alone the feeling of being taken advantage of. After hours of work and helping out, not even a bottle of water. Then they complain about the photos.

    You are so right, I will not be creatively passive and I will certainly speak up about what I need to do my job, and if they can’t provide what is needed, then I don’t want to be there. If only I could turn back time. I hope that this article and maybe even my comment saves someone else the trouble that I just went through. I am so embarassed about my mistake that I am ashamed to give my name.

  41. I really loved this article, it is very down to earth, and I got so damn identified, because I was the kind of guy spending time in pinterest hahaha, casually this week I got hands to work to recruit some people for a real fashion shooting.

  42. Thank you! This article is spot on! I have so many people ask me how to break in to fashion and I have told them a number of these things but you have really done a great job describing what needs to be done. I would add not being afraid to fail. There are so many assistants, especially those who have done it for a while who never do anything because all the pieces aren’t there, or a million other excuses.

    I will pass this on to all who ask me from now on.



  43. This was really helpfull..figured out few mistakes of mine after reading it..thanks a lot

  44. Good lord did I need this today… accidentally started competitor glancing… instant depression and ready to take site down. Seriously one of the best reads I’ve seen. Thanks for sharing.

  45. This writing is so useful to me! Now I surely know I won’t be fashion photographer! 🙂 I like fashion, I like to take a look at fashion and editorial images, one of my favorite photographer of all time is Helmut Newton but somehow I can’t see my self on the field of fashion photography. I don’t have the guts to build all that connections with art directors, editors, make-up artists, hair stylists, models etc.
    These days I feel I’m more into staying at home in front of my computer and working with hours in Photoshop. Actually I adore to piece together 2,3,4 or more of my images into something new! So, I’ve decided to try to e a composite photographer. I like to create different scenarios, that is why I thought I can be fashion photographer but not anymore!
    I know lot’s of people want to be fashion photographer because of the money, fame or the models 🙂 but that’s not me. I still believe in passion as well as in the hard work!

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