Fashion photography is a tempting world for us all, filled with intrigue. It requires highly sophisticated technical skills, a knowledge of design covering the moment and historical context, and it really is part of high culture. On top of which its history is can be a twisted saga of the conflict of impossible egos – models, editors, designers and, yes, photographers. This is fodder for a wealth of pricey monographs are out there for true collectors, but what if you’re starting out?
Our picks for the best fashion photography books deliberately skew toward the practical for that very reason. That’s not to say there aren’t a few choices which will serve more as inspiration than guidance, but if you’ve set your sights on the world of fashion you’ll certainly need to bring ability when it comes to shooting, lighting, and developing creative concepts.
After you’ve got the skills down it’s time to climb the professional ladder and navigate the potential client base. While we all know The Devil Wears Prada was fictional (the disclaimer is very clear on the point), Streep’s character is widely believed to be based on a real former Vogue editor Anna Wintour. Not every customer will have quite her temper, but hopefully some of these reads will prepare for what is a collaborative, team-based world in which success depends on management as much as camera settings.
The best books on fashion photography in 2020
Many photography fans know Dixie Dixon as a Nikon brand ambassador; oft seen with the latest Nikon model in hand on the stage at major events. This book is just as crowd-pleasing, with encouraging quotes amongst the examples, case studies and lighting diagrams. It’s certainly easy-to-read, choosing to cover a breath of topics in its 192 pages so there is even a chapter on building your own brand (advice well worth getting from this author. The presentation is also well above the standard you’d expect for an instructional book; it’s almost coffee-table in size, beautifully laid out, and has a dust jacket which comes off to reveal a different interpretation of the cover.
With a background in fashion editorial with clients like Marie Claire, not to mention numerous turns as Canon and Adobe speaker, Adler is well placed to write on this subject; practiced, knowledgable and aware of photographer’s questions. Her approach relies a great deal on comparing successful results with many ‘posing errors,’ so don’t expect academic discussions or even high-fashion results. For an enthusiast or beginner who now needs to make people look good every time, however, this book provides a lot to help develop a photographer’s eye.
We all know that photography is about light, so a lighting reference is a good idea for any photographer, but how lucky that there is one written and richly illustrated from a fashion perspective? Italian photographer Vanon’s own work makes the two thirds of the book a visual treat as well as an education. The last third is devoted to a series of model shots showing 4 different models lit from numerous angles which you can use to get a good idea how almost any lighting setup might work before you unpack the gear.
Undoubtedly the best-dressed book in this collection with its holographic cover which, I’m afraid, static images do not do a great job of representing. The looks, though, aren’t just skin-deep – this is an eight-decade journey through the history of fashion and its inescapable link with photography chronicled with all the academic precision you would expect of the author, a noted lecturer in the field. Plus, of course, you might even be able to use it as a reflector!
Showcasing a complete lifestyle – as the author does so successfully with her Song of Style blog – might seem a long way from the catwalk, but in many ways this is the most essential of skills in the social era. Interior styling is, after all, just as prone to fashion as clothing, so combining them to form a personal brand is a valuable skill (explaining why she consults for Michael Kors & Tiffany & Co.). This much-imitated book is not just fluff though; it’s beautifully presented, occasionally funny, and phone-friendly.
Visual history in a gorgeous package, paging through this volume is a treat for fashion photographers and devotees alike. You can pour over the detail of each image and attempt to decipher the technique, or simply use it to appreciate Vogue’s view of the world at a specific time. While every cover 2010-2017 is included (often more than one on a page), the earlier history is made of selected highlights. It’s also worth noting that early editions (until 1932) were not photographic, but that doesn’t occupy a lot of the chunky book, and that covers retain all the copy and even the barcodes.
Quite possibly the best curated collection of fashion photography you can lay your hands on. This is a journey through the history of fashion photography in five rich chapters, from the point in 1911 when Edward Steichen was first asked to add something other than mere documentary utility to a fashion shoot through greats like Munkacsi, Avedon, Newton, Weber and right up to modern conceptual work. A beautiful and thorough coffee table book which is actually an exhibition catalogue, but doesn’t skimp on the text and ends up as something much more.
Fair warning – this book was published in 2012 so when it gets into new technology in places prepare to feel like you know the future. That’s not why this book is on the list though; it’s here because it takes a very different slant on the industry, the appreciation of which is enjoyable in its own right and might well make you think differently. Contributors from across the world, including Rankin, share their perspectives on not just shooting fashion but the how the academic, museum, gallery and art world handle it.
This might look like yet another tips book – as its chapter titles suggest – but it is actually a surprisingly accessible take on the whole luxury fashion and beauty industry’s last four decades. The lessons for photographers are tangential, and I’d urge readers to bear in mind the author has a number of brand relationships thanks to her massively successful blog, but it is nonetheless interesting to read an enthusiastic fashion PhD’s perspective on Cara Delevingne’s selfie and Instagram’s influence.
A fresh coffee-table anthology of deliberately contemporary work, steering away from the names long-term fashion followers might know well and concentrating on new fashion photography, often taken with mixed-media distribution in mind. Twenty largely emerging talents are included, including Karen Knorr and Charlotte Wales, but the book also looks at how better-known names, like Jurgen Teller, have adapted to an era where glossy magazines no longer hold complete sway.
First and foremost this is a monograph of one of the best known fashion photographers of all time, known for his grand staging, and at 368 pages a weighty one at that (but one which, despite that, sold out its first printing). Simply flicking through any collection like this is a pleasure for a photographer, but Pictures opens up the seductive industry that little bit more thanks to the inclusion of planning pages from Walker’s sketchbook. You’ll find yourself wishing there were more, but nonetheless an insight into high-end creativity beyond many practical guides.
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