Fashion and Model Photography – Know the Difference

This topic came up during one of the discussions I had with my business partner. Very often, we realized that a lot of people were unable to differentiate between fashion and model photography, I could understand why because that line inbetween was just so blur. Even then, believe it or not, there was actually a difference.

To know the difference, we need to define each on its own. Let’s start with one of the most famous photography genre: fashion.

What is Fashion Photography?

As one of the, if not, the most iconic fashion photographer there was, the late Richard Avedon said it best.

Fashion is one of the riches expressions of human desires, ambitions, needs, frailty, insecurity, security – 


It was more than just selling the garments, the jewelries, the shoes, the bags. It was all about lifestyle. Or the image that you wished to portray and displayed for the whole world to see.

Next time when you caught yourself staring at any fashion campaigns, you know you’re attracted to the kind of lifestyle and image presented in the photograph. The image has done its job.

Now let’s move on to Model photography. Very often, if you asked the bookers at a model agency on the kind of photos that they were looking to add to the model’s book, you’d realized that they’d tell you they want fashion images. But see, these years of shooting countless models’ portfolio had led me to believe that what the bookers meant might not be exactly what they said. You could have booked the model for a fashion test shoot, and yet when the photos went back, the bookers feel that they could not use the photos. Why? Because you were not selling the model. What the agency wants are photos that sells the models. Plain and simple.

Try imagining yourself as a client who is looking to book a model for a job. What will you look for? If you are doing a beauty advertisement, you’d be hoping to see if there are images that showcase the model’s face and skin condition clearly (yes I know there is always photoshop but still). If you are looking for a commercial model, you’d be looking to see if the model is as natural as she is in person from the photos she has in her book.


Photographs form a very huge part of a model’s resume. It is very important that the photographs sells the model to the client.

I’ve had one experience which I totally threw out a model’s compcard because he looked really bad in the photo. However, on the day of the shoot, he was the only one free as the original model we booked was sick and nobody else was available, so we asked the agency to send him down. When he walked through that door, I was shocked. This boy is absolutely gorgeous, and moved very well in photos too. Unfortunately, none of these were properly showcased in his compcard, and that was a real shame.

A good model can get overlooked by a client on the first round of casting due to photos that do not sell them. And they could be booking zero jobs because of that. Remember that clients don’t have the time to spend to actually get to know the model, their first impressions are always their photos on the compcards, or even just their profile on the agency website. A good headshot that oozes strong energy from the model will attract your attention.

Hence, the next time when you are shooting for a model’s portfolio, think. Are you showcasing the model’s qualities at his/her best?

Does that means we cannot shoot a model’s portfolio the same way as we shoot fashion?

Yes you can.

But always keep in mind on the styling and makeup. Is the makeup enhancing his/her features or covering them? (think avant garde/conceptual) Even though the model was trying hard to sell the fashion image, does it do the model any justice? Remember that fashion is more than just putting a model in a beautiful clothing.

Shooting simple all the time is so boring!

Not unless you know how to have fun with the model at the same time. While he/she is getting comfortable, you’d start to see a difference in the photos: facial expressions are more natural, movements are more fluid, energy becomes stronger. And nobody says the test shoot has to be just simple styling. Throw on any complicated stuffs you want, but remember if you’re shooting to add to the model’s portfolio, shoot at least one or two looks that he/she can use, same for stylists and makeup artists, who generously gave their time and effort to contribute to your shoot.

Photoshoot is more than just about the photographer, keep that in mind.

Another point to mention is post processing.

Model portfolio do not need fancy post processing other than the basic skin retouching. Like I’ve mentioned, and I’d say it again: Model photography is all about selling the model.

Knowing what the agencies are looking for for their model is easy. Just look at their websites and study the kind of images they put up. Now, you should totally ignore all the tearsheets in a model’s portfolio in this case. Study the test shoot photos, you’d know which ones are they. And you will know what are the photos that the agencies preferred.

I hope these are helpful.

Happy shooting!

One thought on “Fashion and Model Photography – Know the Difference

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