What are the 3 basic types of fashion images. Generally speaking, we have catalog, editorial, and high fashion images. Lets discuss what is a fashion image and what are the different fashion image styles.
I get this question all the time. Generally speaking, fashion photography is about selling clothing and a lifestyle. As the viewer, I want to see fabulous styling and a believable expression on the model. The wardrobe should be well presented and I need to be able to see it. If all I see is half naked girls looking sexy and provocative, chances are pretty good that this is not a fashion photograph, but rather a glamour photograph. I do not mean to put down anyone’s style, just wanted to explain the difference….and sometimes it is a thin line.
I do not call myself a fashion or glamour photographer, rather, I am a people photographer. Sometimes I just take portraits of interesting people and friends. Ultimately it is the styling of the wardrobe, the expression and posing of the model that determines whether the image is fashion, glamour, or portrait. I do not have a specific formula for what people commonly refer to as “fashion lighting”. The lighting I use is the same for all three genres, it is the styling and posing that differs.
Sometimes these three types of image styles can overlap, and be what I call a fashionable portrait. Or we take a nude or semi-nude and add fashion elements and accessories, now it might be a fashionable nude. If it looks like it is an image for a Playboy, FHM, or Maxim, it is probably a glamour image.
So what exactly is a fashion image. Fashion has three categories that we can differentiate. These are catalog, editorial, and high fashion. Although editorial and high fashion are sometimes one and the same, confusing isn’t it. Lets break them down further and try to get a grasp of the differences.
Catalog – This is a informational image. We see the wardrobe very clearly and the make up and poses are subdued. The model may be standing on a simple background such as white or grey. The styling is clean and simple, we are selling the wardrobe and showing the details of the material. Yes this can also be done on location as well. The photographer may elect to use a long telephoto lens, such as a 300mm F/2.8 and shoot wide open, to blur the background and keep our attention on the clothing. Catalog images can be very sophisticated images and should not be frowned upon as uncreative. Companies like Neiman-Marcus and JCrew are very creative and take this look to new levels.
Editorial – The model is on location, in an environment, or living/interacting with a lifestyle. These images are not as posed and the styling and makeup/hair can be more extreme. The images take on a story of photographing a model throughout the course of a day. We may start with morning wardrobe, then change to a mid-day wardrobe, and finally an evening attire. The wardrobe may have more accessories such as jewelry, scarves, hats, shoes, and handbags. Everything on the model and in the background is very styled to create a powerful still image or slice-of-life. We see this style in the better fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle, it is usually the featured spreads and stories consisting of 5-10 pages. The models are put in a role or theme and tend to act out a story. The most obvious give away is the continuity of the wardrobe or poses. It may be all swimsuits or all business suites, and not a mix.
High Fashion – This is an area that goes all out. The models are unusually tall and have that runway figure. Their faces have a unique bone structure and tend to be 5′ 10″ and above. Or simply put, proportions that only 1% of the population is blessed with. The styling of the wardrobe may be a fantasy and may never be worn as pictured, rather it is styled to create a dramatic and powerful image. The models poses are eclectic and exaggerated, facial expressions can be calm or piercing. Sometimes the models face is calm and everything below the chin is in turmoil…or vice versa…a contradiction. All the individual elements of the models look and pose, the wardrobe, the styling, hair/makeup, and the lighting all work together to create a single powerful image…..an image that would completely fall apart and fail if one of the elements did not work. Every object and accessory has its place in this organized chaos, to create a flawless image.That is why we hire a crew of talented stylists/mua that can work together and complete the vision.
One can argue on inconsistencies from one image style to another, does one “editorial” image borrow an element from what I call a “catalog” image. Yes of course this happens, but if we look carefully we can differentiate and determine the style. At the risk of putting a label on an image, I wanted to give a brief explanation of the three types of fashion photography. The next time a client or model tells you that they want to do a “high fashion shoot”, ask them if they mean a “super wicked catalog” shoot….it can look just as good if you as the photographer, do your homework and hire the right crew.