Equipment Needed for Fashion Photography

Fashion model being photographed in a studio
... Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

So, after a few courses in photography and art, you’ve decided to become a fashion and glamour photographer.

You’ve been renting the DSLR cameras from your school and even took classes to learn how to develop film, even though no one uses this process anymore. Getting into the fashion business is a serious goal, however. You need an eye for detail and a creative mind; you need to visualize a story you want to tell with your photographs before you start clicking the shutter.

1 The Camera

You will need a camera that can respond to your commands, not just automatically adjust to ambient conditions.

A digital SLR (DSLR) is the type of camera to begin your fashion career. Probably the most often used professional cameras are Nikon, Mamiya and Canon, but other professionals have used Vivitar and Pentax.

2 Lenses and Accessories

With the camera, you will need a lens hood, lens filters and a few extra-high-capacity memory cards. Chief among these items being lenses. A well prepared photographer has more than one camera for the shoot and a variety of lenses for different types of shots and effects.

Start with a standard 24-to-120mm zoom lens, the one that usually comes with your camera, if you buy a kit. Then there are zoom, telephoto and wide-angle lenses, all offering different options for different effects; macro zoom for extreme closeups, wide angle for a panoramic view.

3 Lighting

You may want to get some mounted flash units as well. Most common come with “hot shoe” connections, which means there are no wires to be concerned with. Attach the lights, turn on the power--and they sync automatically with your camera’s shutter.

You can get lighting that mounts to your macro lenses that can direct light more precisely to or away from your aperture target. It’s ideal for closeups, especially for faces as it can eliminate or create shadows.

Many fashion and glamor photographers will have a collection of camera-mounted flash units to utilize the different effects and strengths each individual unit brings to a shoot. They may only use two, or even just one, but it feels good to know there are options in the bag should you get an inspiration.

All the major camera companies make professional flash units: Nikon, Canon, Vivitar, Kodak and even Sony. The challenge for a beginning photographer is to find one or two that will fit your budget and get the job done.

But that’s not all the lighting a photographer needs. For good studio work, the fashion photographer needs studio lights and umbrella strobes, at least two of each, controlled by your shutter, which is why a professional photographer’s camera has the accessories connectors, some of which are wireless.

4 Other Accessories

For studio work, backdrops are often needed. Cloth is the usual material used as one can make do with clean sheets in a variety of colors, but one might also purchase metallic backdrops as well for different effects. Well-established, successful studios hire artists to create settings in much the same way movie producers create scenes on soundstages, but most photographers will just take their show on location. Natural scenery and light is best; a photographer can always adjust lighting with the camera’s aperture and of course additional lighting.

Which brings up a piece of equipment that can be overlooked: a power source for your gear. Most people opt for rechargeable battery units because they are silent. A generator can provide power, but they’re usually noisy and distracting.

5 Get a Laptop

Because everything in photography is digital these days, a powerful laptop computer is needed. Either Macintosh or Windows operating systems, but it must have the capability to hold and manipulate thousands of photos.

A laptop is recommended because it can go anywhere you and your camera go; that’s not just convenience, it is essential for the fashion photographer. Many, if not most, shoots will occur outside the studio.

The most common photography software is the venerable Photoshop, a name that has been at the forefront of digital photography for nearly 20 years.

There are other programs out there as well, made by camera companies specifically for their equipment and not nearly is pricey as Photoshop. Some will even work with different brands of cameras as well.

6 The Cost

The problem a photographer faces when starting out in the business is cost. Buying everything mentioned so far will run, easily, to $12,000 or more. The camera and lenses alone nearly $5,000, and, if you buy a Macintosh Airbook, that’s at least $3,000.

Which is why photographers will stick with one brand of camera. All Nikon lenses and filters will work on any Nikon camera, for example. Same with the other companies as well. Some equipment will work with a variety of brands, so you need to shop around if you use different brands of cameras.

Serious work in fashion photography might require an even more expensive camera and accessories: the medium format single-reflex camera. Not often used now, it was, until the digital age, the best format for fashion photography. Those cameras, lenses and accessories can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, if you get the digital camera backs to replace the actual film.

The most trusted names for medium format photography are Hasselblad and Mamiya. Both are still used by professional photographers.

The good news for the aspiring photographer is that all of this equipment can be rented.

There are companies throughout the United States that will rent any and all photography equipment so you don’t need to have $12,000 in equipment to get started. As the business grows, you can purchase more equipment as needed.

Fashion photography, as with any profession in the arts, is a tough business; you need to not only look your best but professional as well.

Serious professional equipment says a lot about a person’s commitment to their job and career.

You only get one shot at success when you get the big break. Everything has to be perfect.

California-based Tim Forkes has experience as a writer and editor for a Midwestern news weekly. He graduated high school, joined the Marines, was honorably discharged and went to college where he came to love writing and literature. His many life experiences have been put to good use with the written word.