A brief history of fashion photography

Black and white photograph of Unseen Vogue book

We see fashion photographs all around us, without even realising; when you’re watching the TV and see a perfume advertisement on your screen, or when you walk past a billboard in town (or somewhere upmarket like in Times Square – New York). But as much as you know what fashion and photography are as separate topics, your memory could be a little hazy on the history behind fashion photography as a collective genre.

That’s what we’re here for, to clue you up on this and tell you all about the famous fashion photographers of our time. If you’re hoping to get into this type of art yourself, we have tips on the best cameras for fashion photography. Simply read on to uncover everything you need to know!

So, what is fashion photography?

Woman in yellow bathtub with pink heels and legs in the air

Fashion photography is a genre of photographs that centres around fashion and all that involves. It’s a varied style of photography that’s used for advertising, editorial photoshoots, catalogues, model headshots, high-fashion runway shows, and so much more. 

Each photograph aims to capture the beauty (or statement) of contemporary styles and the latest trends, and so many famous fashion photographers create/created specialist fashion prints that reveal just that.

The history of fashion photography

As long as photography has existed, so has fashion photography (pretty much, anyway). Because when people became fascinated with the camera and what it could capture, it was natural to point it at what we’re interested in as a culture – clothing, people, and fashion as a whole.

How did it originate?

So, how did fashion photography begin and make its mark in history? Well after the Second World War, fashion trends and styles changed dramatically. New designers brought their designs to modern culture in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and fashion photography was introduced to magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, which originally featured hand-drawn illustrations (in the late 1800s).

And famous models like Jean Shrimpton, Twiggy, and Audrey Hepburn were central to the rise of fashion photography, influencing other budding artists to capture their vision with the help of the model’s style, movement and setting they were captured in.

The different types of fashion photography

Fashion photography - Model posing on street in tartan skirt with striped handbag

When it comes to famous fashion photography, there are some styles you’ll be familiar with, and some not so much - unless you’re an avid fan.

These are just some of the types of fashion photography that are still as prominent now as they were before:

  • High Fashion
  • Street Fashion
  • Runway fashion photography
  • Catalogue
  • Editorial/beauty editorial.

The best fashion photographers around

The fashion photography we see today is all thanks to the icons of the past, who developed and modernised this form of art through different techniques, angles, models and styles.

To give these famous fashion photographers the credit they deserve, here’s a list of three of our favourites:

1.    Norman Parkinson

British photographer, Norman Parkinson, paved the way for fashion photography. Parkinson had a major impact on photography of this kind; he revolutionised fashion photography back in the ‘50s, right up to the ‘70s. How? By shooting photographs outside rather than inside a studio, which is what other contemporary fashion photographers did at the time.

He wanted to bring the beauty of landscapes to life through his imagery, and combine this with fashion, and he gave character to the models wearing the clothes he was capturing. Despite being a talented fashion photographer, not as many people were/are aware of the breadth of his amazing work.

2.    John French

John French’s photography was one of a kind. When he set up his studio (in 1948) his chic photographs later came onto the scene, where he used natural light and contrast to create original fashion photographs.

French’s photographs featured famous models of the time, such as Tania Mallet, Jean Shrimpton, and Pattie Boyd. Each model sported high-fashion pieces that French then captured beautifully, including designers such as YSL, John Cavanagh, and André Courrèges.

His work was always shot in black and white to provide contrasting details of each piece, taken in simple studios and street settings. If you’re a big fan of his work, you can add beautiful images of these models and fashion brands by purchasing our reproductions of John French’s photographs, inspired by the V&A!

3.    David Bailey

David Bailey is one of the most famous fashion photographers, not only for his brilliant work but his history with amazing fashion photographer, John French. He was an assistant for French before emerging as an iconic photographer himself.

Bailey worked with the popular fashion magazine, Vogue, to create chronicles of the work he produced – which make great coffee table books to read! Take ‘David Bailey's box of pin-ups’ (1965), a photography book featuring 36 portraits of the elites he’d taken pictures of.

Bailey once described photography as, "a portrait of someone wearing a dress", which is evident from his work! He used dramatic lighting and special effects to make his photography even more unique than others from the same era.

The best cameras for fashion photography

If you want to start shooting fashion photographs yourself, you’ll want to know what fashion photography tips to bear in mind, as well as what camera to use. We’re here to help with this, as photography of this kind is so in-depth!

So, what is the best camera for fashion photography?

Black and white image of woman holding Canon EOS-5DMarkIII camera


Our top pick would be the Canon EOS-5DMarkIII, which offers a complete frame CMOS sensor, as well as a fantastic image resolution (of 30.4 megapixels).

All of these nifty features mean any images you take with this camera will be as detailed as possible. And when it comes to shooting these kinds of photographs, you want a camera that’s high-quality and provides as much detail as possible. Why? Well because when you’re taking a picture of a model wearing an intricately detailed sequin dress, for example, you want to ensure every sequin is highlighted in your shot.

The likes of Vogue use this specialist camera to shoot iconic fashion photography, which proves it’s a winning camera to get your hands on!

Uncover our fashion photography prints

V&A inspired John French framed fashion photography prints on wall

With so many iconic fashion photography pieces on the market, you’ll be able to style up your home in no time. Just explore our range and take a peek at our collection of photography prints, which are centred around fashion, landscapes and more. Your home will look like a chic gallery in no time!