Why I Love Editorial Fashion Photography
Defining that grey area between art, commerce & story-telling and why it’s so special to me.
Why I love editorial fashion photography.
When I’m in London, I love Friday’s. Sounds obvious. I mean, who doesn’t love Friday’s? But for me, the end of the working weeks’ excitement didn’t centre around Friday night drinks in the pub (well, it sometimes did…). No, my thoughts are firmly pointed at the Friday night tube commute. Now, you may say, ‘this girl is crazy, the tube is a hellish nightmare at the end of the week!’.
And, you’d be right to say so. In the summer your face is either smushed up against the doors due to the crowds of desperate commuters fighting for space behind you, or its locked tight directly underneath a sweaty city workers’ armpit. And in the winter, it’s the same, except everyone is also soaking wet. But, what made a Friday commute special for me, is the free Evening Standard magazine. In London, tube users are gifted two free newspapers a day (The Metro & The Evening Standard), which can be picked up from nearly every station on the network. They serve as the perfect distraction for the multiple delays you’ll encounter during your journey and/or save you from actually make eye contact with your fellow passengers. On Fridays however, we are also treated to a supplement to The Evening Standard, the ES magazine. This publication was filled with culture, events, opinions and importantly for the context of this post, editorial fashion photography.
This cover with Hannah John-kamen caught my eye especially. I loved the futuristic style, textures and background here. More inspiration for my upcoming shoots!
Each week in ES magazine they interview or feature different people in the media from all walks of life, from artists and politicians to sports stars and chefs. Nearly every write-up is presented alongside a beautifully crafted and original photo shoot that further illustrated what the piece was about. They are amazing! Normally (if I was lucky enough to get a seat) I would browse the articles, read what jumped out at me first and then finish it off at home. The reason why I love the magazine is because they blend the art of good writing and fashion editorial photography together so well that one could co-exist without the other. The editorial photography is so good and effortlessly descriptive, you knew what the text was about before you even glanced at the first paragraph.
Alongside ES magazine, in London we are also gifted City AM, a newspaper that covered all the latest trends in business, politics and the economy. This publication for City boys was also distributed on the tube network and twice a month it would include a luxury supplement. The glossy pages were filled with swanky hotels, high-end restaurants and fashion – the perfect pick-me-up for a rainy Tuesday! One day I was flicking through the pages on my way home and suddenly a big grin etched across my face, THERE WAS MY SHOOT! I knew the magazine was going to feature my work, but I wasn’t sure when and I had been diving for a copy each time I saw a new issue – then suddenly there it was! As a photographer I can’t tell you the excitement that you feel when you see your work in print, it’s like no other and to see it almost by surprise on the tube is an amazing feeling.
Here are some images from my shoot below titled ‘Shake it!’:
I mention ES & City Am magazines as a way of introducing my topic today, which is, what is editorial fashion photography? What sets it apart from fashion, editorial and commercial photography. It’s a question that I have heard being asked many times before and usually the answer is never explained as much as I think it could be. So today, I thought I’d set the record straight on this contentious topic!
What is Editorial Fashion Photography?
In order to best answer the question it’s probably a good idea to define the genres that blend together to create editorial fashion photography. It combines a few areas of photography, predominantly editorial, fashion and commercial photography (the first two you probably guessed!) Below I’ll break down what each area means and then how they come together to create our topic of the day.
At the heart of commercial photography is a product. A photo shoot is taking place because someone wants to sell something, and they need that product to look amazing and be captured in a way that tells the potential buyer exactly what it is. These images are mostly used for advertising in print and online or on social media. As these shoots are product driven, they are less of a creative venture. The art for a commercial photographer is to shoot in their style (because that’s why they’ve been hired) but with the brand in mind. So your ‘thing’ may be a lot of movement in your photography, jumping and dancing – but the product needs to be front and centre. That’s why if you’re thinking about becoming a photographer, it’s important to share work in your portfolio that speaks to who you are as an artist. Get more advice on how to make it as a freelance photographer in my post here.
Here is an example of one of my commercial shoots for L’Oreal Elnett showcasing product Ellnett Satin with influencer Victoria Magrath (@inthefrow):
This is where photographers go wild! There are no rules, no product to sell – only an idea that needs to be brought to life. These are the types of shoots you’ll see in Vogue or Elle for example, and they are usually meant to further illustrate the topic that is being talked about. They are a visual representation of the idea that if done well can almost stand alone without context. A lot of the time editorial photography is not commissioned by a publication, it is dreamed up by a photographer or a group of individuals as art that can then be offered for a price to media outlets. Why do we produce them if we’re not being paid? Because we love them, because they add to our portfolio’s, because they’re a chance for everyone to try something new, and further their techniques! During lockdown in Portugal I was dreaming about doing a shoot in this cactus wonderland that I had stumbled across beforehand, and as soon as we were set free I gathered a team together and shot it! It looked amazing and really it was just for me! Check it out here and below:
The emphasis in fashion photography does not lie in the garments, but on the mood and styling of the image. Unlike in commercial photography, the main purpose of the shoot is to convey a lifestyle and the clothes are an accessory. It may well be that a fashion shoot is commissioned for Vogue magazine for example and the clothes featured are available for purchase, but the magazine is not attempting to sell individual articles – however much the PR’s of the brands would like them to! Styling in a fashion shoot can be wild. Dramatic makeup, big hair and backdrops that take your breath away. Alongside the heavily dramatised look of the model is invariably, theatrical lighting. On a commercial shoot you may find lighting is kept to a minimum for example, so as not to distract from the product. However, in fashion photographers may use a series of different lighting textures and styles in order to create the whole look of the lifestyle being depicted.
Here is my recent shoot for fashion brand Shein. We started at 5am to ready for sunrise to capture the golden soft tones to fit with the boho shoot brief:
Fashion Editorial Photography
There is no clean definition. The idea of fashion editorial was dreamt up as another way of selling clothes, separate from commercial advertising. Marketers decided that there were other, more subtle ways to sell their product that could actually be more beneficial in the end. They realised that featuring their garments packaged up as part of a lifestyle shoot would be more inspiring to a potential customer, than simply positioning their product on a two-page spread. In this way, the focus is to tell a story and by telling the story well, you sell the product. Fashion editorial photography can be positioned alongside an article or it can be simply attached to a title, ‘Cactus Wonderland’ for example. It could feature a celebrity or public figure that is being talked about in that issue, which in turn normally helps advertise the clothes due to the public’s feeling towards that person/s. This type of photography gives a lot of freedom to the publication and photographer as its down to their creativity and interpretation as to which parts of the article needs visual interpretation. Much like in fashion photography, a shoot can often be created by the photographer or his team and not the end publication.
Fashion editorial photography in the advertising world has become so popular in recent years we now have a new type of ad, the ‘advertorial‘. This style of advertising blends all the genres to create a 1 or 2-page spread that gives the reader the impression that they are looking at an article written by the magazine, when in actual fact the brand has created the ad in conjunction with the publication. This type of ad will typically use the same commercial photography the brand would normally use, but cleverly styled on the page to create an editorial feel. Its sneaky, but it works!
I hope this clears up exactly what this type of photography is, and why it is one of my favourite styles. If you are looking to become a fashion photographer in London, then please do browse my other recent posts on how to make it in the business and what type of equipment you’ll need.