Fashion photography is inevitably variable in style and although ultimately subjective in interpretation, we can generalise the form into three main categories: Catalogue, Contemporary & Still life. In this article I’m going to analyse the first two categories through comparison and general conjecture. When it comes to fashion photography, Still life (photographing clothes without the models) is quite obviously distinguishable from the other two and in this case, not worth analysing.
Let’s begin with catalogue photography. Catalogue photography is a branch of fashion photography in which the focus is on the clothes and directly selling those clothes. With this in mind, you can assume the clothes they’re selling are relatively cheap (seeing as they’re presenting the clothes for what they are, perhaps targeting a audience searching for practicality in their clothing). To achieve this direct representation of the clothing, relatively flat lighting has been used. Flat lighting is when a scene – regardless of its type – is largely and broadly “diffusely and directly lit”. Flat lighting illuminates the scene, however it does not bring out depth and detail, therefore suspending any sense of character; perfect for photography such as this, as the goal is to accentuate the clothing, not the person wearing them. Another thing to note is the framing. Catalogue photography will typically have the background tightly cropped in to the model. This is a fairly extreme example of this, as half of her face has been cropped off, strictly drawing the focus to the clothing. As for the model’s, their poses tend to be unnatural, striking a pose which show’s off the clothing in the best position.
Now on the other side of the spectrum, we have Vogue. Vogue is a high-end fashion magazine in which no clothes are being directly sold to the reader. Because of this, the photography can be a bit more diverse, but generally, still quite boring. Above, is an image of Kate Moss taken for the magazine. This is a good example of high-end fashion photography, especially in its contrast to the opposing catalogue example. The first obvious difference is the background – it’s on location. For high-end fashion photography, a white studio isn’t necessary, and if anything is detrimental to the content of the image. Placing your model’s on location can add a sense of realism – and as easily – surrealism. The context (trees and woodland) was deliberately chosen to match that of the feather head-wear. This is common in all realms of photography, but it is as equally common to place the subject in a contrasting background. Another thing of significance is the colour. Black and white has been chosen, despite the time of its capturing in which colour was predominantly used. Reducing the colour palette has increased the dark mood of the image, and romanticised the subject to an even further extent, and as the outfit she is wearing is pretty distant from everyday-wear, it is only suitable that the tone of the image is distant – the use of black and white does this, and is commonly done throughout modern fashion photography. You can also note her facial expression. In catalogue photography, the facial expressions tend to be slightly hyper real and that of a typical, concentrated smile (along with their body posture). Kate Moss’s expression draws away from this with a slightly sinister expression, which is allowable on account of its commercial purposes. Potential ‘customers’ will look at these images in search of some kind of ‘artistic value’; an indefinitely measured value, of course – but generally, the subject’s unconventional facial expression and general pose will increase this value.
Here is an independent fashion photograph from the Dutch photography duo, Inez van Lamsweede and Vinoodh Matadin. The image is independent in that it is not commercially advertising anything, other than itself and the duo. The absence of clothing is the most significant difference from the other two examples. This reduces the focus to the hair unconventionally placed by her face. It is not uncommon to replace the clothes that would usually establish the fashion with unconventional body features. Black and white has been used again, possibly increasing the images ambiguity.
To conclude, fashion photography can be categorised into two categories – the contemporary category displaying more diversity and variability when analysing.