Thread Theory

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How to Teach Yourself Fashion Photography



Using the instructions below, this is our result! Pretty nice, no?

This post is a winner I think – Matt (my husband) and I worked really hard to compile a beginner’s guide to teaching yourself fashion photography.

Nothing is more satisfying than finishing a big sewing project and displaying it for all the world to see in a format that you’re proud of.  By following these steps, we hope that you will be able to take glamorous pictures that accurately represent the fabric and colours you chose and also be able to better understand your camera!

We have written this tutorial for people taking pictures with a camera on which you can manually adjust aperture, ISO and shutter speed.  Even if your camera doesn’t allow you to do these things, we think there are still some good tips and great inspiration in here, so read on!

Step 1 – Research:

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Matt – engaging in research and snacks.

Find fashion photography resources so that you have them at your fingertips the moment you need them: websites, blogs, forums, mentors, books.

Step 2 – Inspiration:

Go to a gallery, scroll through your favorite photography websites, watch a photography documentary…whatever your style is, simply:

  • Find existing fashion photography that you like.
  • Make a list of what you like about each photo.
  • Keep list in mind during next step.

Matt took these steps and found the following images which he discusses below:

Photo #1:


(Photo credit: Aleksandra)

What Matt Likes:

  • Depth of Field (Aperture): Depth of field is perfect; just deep enough to get the entire subject in focus whilst keeping an amazing bokeh (bokeh is the soft blurring of everything that isn’t in focus)
  • Framing:  There is no background distraction; the background is all the same color/shape and there is not a whole lot on either side of the model
  • Post Processing: The colours are stunning and contrast very well. The post processing is tastefully done, accentuating the shadows and colors but not ruining the realism of the image.

Brainstorming how to create this look:

  • Depth of field: Use a depth of field calculator!  Matt says, “The goal is to get about 4 feet of depth to be in focus and have the background be blurred.  I estimate the lens used to be around 100mm (short telephoto) based on the small amount of background around the subject. This puts the photographer around 30-40 feet away from the subject in order to get her whole body in the frame. Putting that information into the calculator, we end up with a aperture of f-2.8 giving a depth of field of 4.38 feet (close enough!). During the shoot, always try a few f-stops above and below to test out the results, especially if you’re using a digital camera.”

Here is what this information would look like entered into the depth of field calculator (click to read the fine print!):

DOF in use

  • Setting: This photo is taken on a sunny day in a shady spot – often the ideal situation for getting an even exposure without any harsh shadows. Matt points out, “The other option to avoid shadows is shooting an hour after dawn or an hour before dusk, but you will often have to slow your shutter speed down as there isn’t as much light at that time.”
  • Post Production: Matt says, to emulate this image, “I would definitely add a fair amount of vibrancy, contrast, and a little bit of saturation (not too much as this can make your photo look “painted”).”

Photo #2:

eugene vernier-4

(Photo credit: Eugene Vernier)

What Matt Likes:

  • The Pose: The simple profile pose with slightly tipped hat highlights the vertical stripes of the outfit and allows the thin scarf on the hat to catch the wind and sunlight to emphasize how gauzy and delicate it is.
  • Low Contrast: Even though the photo is depicting a hot summer day by the water the model isn’t hidden in harsh shadows and the water doesn’t sparkle too much.
  • Setting: Simple but it matches the style of the outfit.
  • Film: As Matt says, “Black and white FTW!”

Brainstorming how to create this look:

  • Depth of Field and Exposure: This photo has a deeper depth of field than the previous example but removes the background by adjusting the exposure; the sky is so washed out that it fades into the hills on the far shore. The only interest in the background are the boats and they are carefully framed around the model so as not to distract.
  • Settings: Matt says, “I would estimate the lens to be around a 55mm (maybe a bit longer) and the aperture to be around f-11 and the subject to be about 15 feet away from the camera. According the the DOF calculator, this would give us a depth of field of ~12 feet – pretty close to my estimate!”
  • Post Processing: Because the photo was taken in broad sunlight, there are some strong shadows present. The post production work (in this case, film processing) would be used to lower the contrast to avoid washing out the models body or having her face entirely hidden in dark shadows.  This could be quite tricky…
  • Framing: The pose, like the last photograph, is quite simple, framing the model in the centre of the image. Matt notes, “An interesting commonality between the last two sample photos is that they are both framed for the clothing, not the model. If you look at where the red dress is relative to the top and bottom of the frame,  you’ll notice the striped dress in Vernier’s photo uses about the same space. The model’s legs are cut off, but it doesn’t matter because the clothes are what’s important here!”

Photo #3:

toronto verve

(Photo credit: Nigel Hamid of Toronto Verve)

What Matt Likes:

  • The exposure: Black satin properly exposed so you can see the details!
  • Setting: Neat background – lots of detail but the bokeh prevents the cityscape from overwhelming the fashion mode.  Awesome perspective.
  • Pose/Framing: Simple pose with the subject looking into the “negative” space so that the subject first catches the eye and then the viewer looks at the rest of the picture in the direction that the subject is looking.
  • Colours: Contrast of colours; subject and foreground are black, background is very colorful.

Brainstorming how to create this look:

  • Lighting: To get the detail in the black velvet without completely overexposing the background, a flash (or reflector) would most likely be used to shine extra light on the model. If you don’t have a flash and can’t afford one, buy a big piece of white poster-board to use a reflector.
  • Lens: This shot probably uses a slightly wider lens than the previous two (likely somewhere between a 35-55). This puts the photographer closer to the subject while still getting material in the background.
  • Depth of Field: Matt notes, “The depth of field in this photograph isn’t super important; the model is in the foreground (with nothing in front of her) and the background is all very far away. Even with the wider angle lens and f-11, the background will be slightly blurry. However, if you wanted just the colours and less detail, open the aperture up to f-5.6 or lower and get some bokeh!”
  • Post Processing: Post processing in the photo is very minimal. The photographer seemed to be going for the “as close to reality as possible” look. A bit of contrast, saturation, and sharpness make it look similar to real life, but with a tiny bit of “pop” without being too exaggerated.

Step 3 – Action:

Once you’ve gathered information, analyzed photography you loved, and sewn a garment that deserves a photo shoot, it’s time for action!

  • Find photo shoot location, model, and garments.
  • Plan out time of day and equipment needed.
  • Take photos.
  • Setting/Styling: I had sewn two shirts for my sister’s boyfriend, Jeremy using McCall’s  shirt pattern M6044.  We chose to photograph the shirts at the university setting that he wears them and Jeremy dressed as he would for an interview or meeting within his business department at the University of Victoria.  We wanted him to be comfortable for his first photo shoot so we didn’t go crazy with styling a used only minimal props.  (I had visions of fabulously layered outfits with a battered leather briefcase and bowler hat as props but for a start, I think simple is more fool-hardy).
  • Time of Day: We shot an hour before dusk to reduce the risk of harsh shadows and catch the “sweet spot” for lighting.  In the end we struggled a little with lack of lighting and so our location was limited to the least shadowed areas of the school grounds.
  • Equipment: Pentax K100D – a basic digital SLR (has removable lenses).  Matt chose his SMC Pentax DA – this is a telephoto lens that ranges from 55-300 mm so it provides a variety of shooting options.  Out of Matt’s selection, this lens was the best choice for fashion photography because, after analyzing the inspiration images we realized it would be best to have a long focal length (85-200 mm)

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Examples of What NOT to do:

  • Shoot with model very close to the background.  While framing is nice due to lens choice, little bokeh results so all the detail in the image distracts from the shirt.

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  • Shoot close to the model using a wide angle lense (50 mm).  First of all, the model tends to stiffen due to the invasive nature of the large lens in their face and even more importantly, the resulting image looks like a snap shot – no bokeh, too much background around the model and distortion around the edges of the image.

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Step 4 – Polish:

Post process and publish!  Matt turns all automatic adjustments off within his camera so that he can edit the colour, contrast, and saturation of his photos himself to result the most realistic but also eye-catching image as possible.

  • In a program such as Lightroom, Photoshop, or Gimp, adjust settings such as contrast, saturation and colour balance very minutely until the image accurately represents what your eye saw during the photo shoot.  Matt urges newer photographers to refrain from cropping or otherwise drastically altering an image because the best way to learn fashion photography is to practice until the photo is successful without any editing!

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7 thoughts on “How to Teach Yourself Fashion Photography

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  2. Oh my gosh I love this! I must admit I’m definitely guilty of relying too much on lightroom and photoshop for my edits! I’m slowly learning bit by bit though! I was actually wondering if you’d taken any photography courses at all? Or are you completely self taught? I’m an amateur and am looking at getting into the photography business, but I know I’ve got a lot more to learn before I can do this! So I’ve actually been looking at doing some design and photography courses, and was recommended Oxbridge Home Learning by a friend! Is this the type of course you did? Any advice would be incredibly appreciated!

    • Sorry for the delay replying, Isabel! Matt is completely self taught (and the main photographer) and I took a semester long course during my fashion design program. This blog post was actually one of the assignments in the class! We had to try to teach someone else what we had learned. I guess it depends on what style of learner you are – if you are self disciplined there are many free resources on line to teach photography. If you need instruction but don’t have time to take an in-person class, maybe an online class would suit you. Personally, I find I learn more if I am in an actual class. I’ve noticed my community center and local university hold photography classes regularly…they aren’t specifically fashion related but any basic class would teach you how to use your camera’s functions. Good luck!

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  5. This is great – I am guilty of a few of the ‘Don’t Do This’ items….I have to take my own pics with a remote (cos no one in my house has the patience or interest to take decent snaps…boo hoo)…but I can stil work with these tips, modified for a tripod. A much appreciated post!

    • I’m glad you like the post 🙂 Matt wants me to tell you that the ‘Don’t Do This’ tips are flexible so don’t let our rules ruin your creativity – we think your photos look excellent! I know your pain with the self timer – I can’t even get myself in focus let alone frame myself nicely.

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