How to shoot a Fashion Editorial

This blog post is an informative one about the planning and executing of a successful fashion editorial. I receive frequent messages about what needs to be planned when shooting an editorial quite often, so hopefully this will answer lots of those questions…

PRE-SHOOT – The Brief

This is a step by step guide explaining how I plan and shoot a Fashion Editorial.
When you are commissioned to do a fashion photography spread, the idea or theme would normally be given by the editor of the magazine for a particular issue. The brief may simply be one word or a whole concept, and you then discuss the brief with the art director or editor as to how it should be interpreted. At this stage, you determine the ‘feel’ you want the photographs to have, such as whether you want the viewer to be excited or calm, to feel elated or melancholy or if the images are to be brightly coloured or muted perhaps. You decide what the brief means to you and how it would best describe your meaning within a fashion photograph. All the possibilities of the outcomes depend on the available budget.

This is how things were done until about three years ago. The industry has since changed and in the majority of cases I fear that being an Editorial Photographer is no longer a business model. New magazines have popped up left and right and it almost scares me to say that anyone these days can start up a fashion magazine. The result of this explosion is that magazines for the most part have stopped paying for editorial content and most accept submissions (I have heard directly from some editors over one-hundred submissions in a month). With this much FREE CONTENT who needs or wants to pay? So the photographer and/or stylist become the fashion editors as the ideas and concepts start at the source. This also means that budgets (even really small ‘expenses covered’ budgets) are almost nonexistent.


Once all has been decided and a date has been set, it is important to get the necessary permissions and bookings. For example, if you are shooting in a location, like a bar, then you need the permission from the owner. Book the model from the model agency you are using. Book all the crew, such as make-up artist, hair stylist and if needed, assistants. Make sure the stylist has all she/he needs and booked for the day. Food and water are essential because nobody likes to work when they are tired and hungry. Music also helps to set the mood, so if you have some speakers bring them along and plug them to your computer or Ipod dock.

The Stylist

The stylist is the person who acquires the clothes and she/he contributes greatly to the development of the idea and concept. The stylist’s work is to pull the latest possible fashion clothes and accessorizes that are suitable for the brief. The magazine would want the stylist to acquire clothes from famous brand names, as it would have more prestige in the eyes of its readers and for future possible advertisers. With new magazines springing up every month, some magazines prefer new, up and coming designers to feature instead of those well known mega labels and designers. Personally, I don’t really mind what brands the clothes are as long as they fit the brief and more importantly, that they enhance how I want the photograph to look and help me create my story.

The advantage of the story being commissioned editorial instead of a submission is the guarantee of a pull letter. A pull letter states that the photographer is commissioned to do a shoot for a specific magazine and it is signed by the editor, fashion editor or publisher. The designers/showrooms know that you may or may not use all the clothing, because wardrobe is always subject to final approval of whoever is in charge, but they will take that chance. Someone has to take the financial responsibility in case the samples get damaged, dirty or stolen (it happens) and if the magazine doesn’t take responsibility by stating that in their pull letter (they don’t always, but I always ask them to add it in and mostly they do) then the stylist or the photographer will have to take it on … and probably have to provide a credit card as a deposit.
There is normally one set of clothes or outfit per page, so for an 8 page (either single page or double page) fashion spread you’ll normally need eight sets of outfits and one different location per outfit. This is the normal practice but it varies depending on the requirements and circumstances.

Model Casting/Model Direction

Casting of the model is most essential as it is the main factor that determines the feel of the pictures, no matter where and what clothes she/he will be wearing. The model defines who you are as a photographer and as a person. You are making a statement if you choose a voluptuous or a thin model, tall or short, intellectual or not so intellectual. Choosing your model is like choosing your friends, because they define your work. The best way I find to work with models is to send a email to your local booker (representative at a modeling agency) and ask them either who is testing or who is on stay. They should then send you a package of available models so make sure you have your concept ready to give them the best idea of what type of look you are interested in.

You must be able to direct the model to the brief. The model has an infinite number of body movements and facial expressions. A photographer’s job is not just to get the best look or pose out of the model, but also something unique to the concept at play. To guide the model through a journey, where the feelings and emotions related to the brief are explored. Often, you may not have much time to get to know your model, so you need to find out very quickly what they are like, such as their fears and likes, their attitude towards their work and modeling in general. It is your job to then work from that and guide them to their potential in terms of acting and modeling.

Makeup & Hair

It is important to give a clear guidance as to your creative concept to the make-up artist and hair stylist. You must brief them on the project and ask for their contributions. A good conversation with the make-up artist and hair stylist is absolutely essential, and try to bring them into your project in the early stages. I regularly create a mood board so that team can get the feel right away of what we will be creating and what I expect each creative to bring to the table.

THE SHOOT – Time schedule

On the day of the shoot, keep everyone informed of the time schedule for the whole day. I tend to find that the best way to deal with a shoot day is by working backwards. Once you know the exact time in which you have to finish the shoot, then you work out exactly the time it takes to pack up everything. So now, you know the exact time you need to start packing which means that you know the time when you take the last photograph, so you work out how long it will take to photograph everything, and you repeat the same steps until you reach the arrival at the location. It is important to think on your feet as all the possible unforeseeable obstacles may occur during the day of the shoot.

The first task that needs to be done is the make-up and hair on the model. These can be quite complex and time consuming. The longer the make-up and hair take to do, the earlier you have to start, if you have to finish by a certain time. Once the make-up and hair is done the model puts on the first outfit and the shoot begins. Once all the outfits are shot, it is time to pack up equipment, sort and pack the wardrobe and for the model to take off her make-up.
While actually shooting, you have to look at the clothes, the location, the model, the lighting and arrange all these variables for to your liking. Ask the stylist, make-up artist and hair stylist to look at their particular area and ensure that the model looks her/his best while the photograph is being taken. I normally look at the model’s face for the expression that I want, so it is difficult to keep an eye on everything else, such as the clothes not tucked in properly or if the hair has somehow changed. It is important to have your crew focused on their individual jobs even throughout the shooting.


Keep the crew informed on the time schedule and gently push them to finish their tasks. Everyone must have a deadline as to when their task must be finished. Make sure that everyone has a good environment to work in and remember that your attitude sets the tone and atmosphere for the set.
The set can at times feel crowded. there is the whole team, plus sometimes the clothing designer, friends, family, agents and passers by might decide to come by the set at one time or another. It is your task to keep the shoot progressing at an orderly manner despite the possible chaos.

Once the shots have been taken, you will need to process them from raw files to tiff files. The colour temperature, exposure compensation and contrast are some of the processes that take place at this stage.
Often, the fashion photographer hands the unprocessed files over to the editor or retoucher. However, it is important that the photographer participates in all the processes as it will ensure the best results.
The sequence and the layout of the shoot will be decided by the page designer and magazine editor but the input of the photographer is very important as it ensures that the original concept and mood comes across.

I hope you found this blog post useful in planning your editorials…