Ballpark Estimate: $60,000 (Associate’s Degree); $120,000 (Bachelor’s Degree)
Imagine taking photos of beautiful models in swimsuits and getting paid for it! That’s what top fashion photographers get to do on a regular basis. But while the job has its perks, it also requires a great eye for fashion and beauty, many long days of extremely hard work and a lot of luck, too, since many talented photographers never get their big break. Yet if you are fortunate enough to make a name for yourself in the field, there is no end to what you can expect to accomplish. There’s also unlimited potential for what type of income you might make.
A Highly Competitive Field
The field of fashion photography is extremely competitive. It’s not enough to be able to take good pictures. You also need to have a special touch for bringing out the best in your models, showing off clothes to their best advantage and creating artful, and at the same time marketable, photographs. If you establish yourself with a firm footing in the fashion world, you may see your work on the cover of the top fashion magazines, and can expect to rub shoulders with many famous people. You’ll also receive a big paycheck, too, on a regular basis. But keep in mind that fashion photography is a freelance job, so even the best photographers have to start off small and gradually build up their clientele over time as their career grows.
Learn the Tricks of the Trade
For every fashion photographer that went to photography school, you will also be able to find others who didn’t. There are pros and cons to both avenues, and the most talented photographers will probably be able to succeed just because they are so passionate about their work and they refuse to give up on their dreams. That being said, it isn’t a bad idea for a fashion-photographer want-to-be to get a degree from a good college or university. This will give you a leg up when you go to compete for a limited number of jobs that exist. It will provide you with some important technical knowledge and business savvy that will be a great basis for building a career in this field.
Some of the things you can learn in photography school include a range of techniques you will need to achieve the highest quality fashion prints. This involves getting the lighting right, using strobe lights, taking shots from unusual angles and other tricks of the trade that can set your work apart from the competition. You will also learn how to direct your models and engage them during a shoot to get the best results in your pictures. In addition, the field of fashion photography relies heavily on strategic editing. To this end, fashion photography schools teach students the latest software and tools needed to digitally enhance images. Finally, most photography schools will stress the importance of critically evaluating your own work and being able to see the strengths and weaknesses in your photos so you can continually improve over time.
If you decide photography school is for you, there are several options you can pursue. You may want to consider earning an Associate’s Degree in photography. Such a two-year degree program will provide a good training ground to gain the skills, techniques and business savvy you will need to succeed on the job.
If you prefer to have a four-year degree to fall back on, then a Bachelor’s Degree might be the right fit for you. You will learn many of the basics you would get with an Associate’s Degree, but you will also be more rounded as you will be required to take core classes in a variety of other subjects so you will have more of a solid foundation. In addition, if you want to take your education even further, some fashion photographer schools offer a Master’s of Fine Arts option.
But if attending a more traditional college or university isn’t for you, you can also consider taking non-degree classes or workshops at a photography school. This will allow you to pick up the skills and knowledge you will need without making as much of a time or financial commitment.
Of course, in addition to your classroom training, you will also want to work in the field. Serving as a photographer’s assistant can be a great way to learn the in’s and out’s of the business first-hand.
What You Will Need to Succeed
Being a fashion photographer can be an expensive endeavor, as the basic photography equipment and studio space you will need doesn’t come cheap. Just keep in mind that even the most expensive equipment won’t make a mediocre photographer’s work worthy of attention. On the flip side, an outstandingly talented fashion photographer can achieve amazing result even with very inexpensive gear. What really matters is that you have the inner passion and strength necessary to make it in the fast-paced and highly competitive race. Some of the traits that will help you succeed in this business include:
- Real skill at using the camera
- Understanding of how to use lightening to your best advantage
- Eye for color, texture and set up to get the right effect
- Ability to work well with models and stylists
- Desire to break away from the path to create something new
- Being passionate about your job
- Being driven to make a name for yourself
- Strong marketing skills to solicit new work
- An outstanding portfolio
- A sincere willingness to work hard and give whatever it takes
- Persistence to overcome many roadblocks and not get discouraged
- Proximity to large or medium-sized fashion markets, such as New York City, Los Angeles, Paris, Miami, Chicago or London
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Not everyone who wants to be a fashion photographer will succeed in this field. But even if you don’t end up taking cover shots for Elle or Vogue, there are many other enjoyable and respectable jobs you can do with a background in fashion photography. The skills you will learn can translate well in a wide variety of settings that may be just as rewarding. You can work in advertising, create fine art prints, take portraits of celebrities and also shoot fashion catalogues. The key in this business is to remain flexible and patient as you work to find your own niche. If you don’t feel compelled to do things one special way, lots of doors you didn’t expect may open up for you and you may end up working in a different field or different perspective and love it anyway.
What It Costs
If you have the raw talent, passion and desire to succeed as a fashion photographer, chances are that even without investing any money, you will be able to gain the work experience and contacts you need in the business. But if you can spare the expense of some basic training and even a degree in the field, as well as foot the cost of some basic tools, the road to getting established will likely be easier. Here are some of the types of typical expenses you might consider taking on.
If you want to get an in-depth education and professional training in the field, you can select from a wide range of programs that have a good reputation for turning out top fashion photographers. Most are two or four-year options, depending on the type of degree you desire. Some of the schools worth exploring include:
- Brooks Institute of Photography in California
- Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore
- Cleveland Institute of Art in Ohio
The price to attend these and a host of other well-respected schools that offer a fashion photography track is in the range of about $30,000 a year. Meals, room and board and books and equipment are additional expenses.
An education in photography from a good school will cost about $60,000 for a two-year program or $120,000 for a four-year degree, plus living expenses.
Short (one day or weekend) workshops are also a great way to learn some new techniques. One fashion photographer who holds a one-day workshop charges about $400 per person to attend. Another high-end professional charges about the same per day for a multi-day class.
Workshops taught by professionals in the business run about $400 per day.
While you can find other workshops that cost less, or more, this is at least a good average to use when researching your options and determining the going rate.
When it comes to equipment, the amount you can expect to spend is all over the place. A lot depends on the quality, speed and capabilities of the items you select. You can find an inexpensive digital camera for $300, while you can also spend several thousand on a professional option. In addition, lenses and lighting kits can each come in economical versions for a few hundred, or can cost you in the thousands for the higher end versions. Basically, you get what you pay for. People in the field suggest starting with the best quality you can reasonably afford, then working your way up to bigger and better things as your income and your need grows.
Several working professionals estimate that they spend between $1,000 to $2,000 a year on their equipment needs.
This is probably a good range to budget to get yourself set up initially, and then you can assume you may need to continue to invest this annually on upgrades and adding new equipment to stay current in the ever-changing world.
What You Can Expect to Make
Since it’s likely that you may have some steep student loans to pay and other equipment-related expenses to cover, you may wonder what you will make once you get out of school and start earning a living. Some magazines make beginning fashion photographers pay their dues by covering only your expenses, not your time, to shoot for them. But in return, you will get exposure and tear sheets, which can be valuable over the long-term. Other well-known fashion magazines will pay their unknown photographers, offering anything from a few hundred dollars up to $130,000 or more for a fashion spread. While this isn’t a field that will make you rich starting out, the good news is that the potential to make good money is there and better yet, if you love what you are doing, in the end that is what really counts.