A brief history of fashion photography


Fashion Photography History

You want to produce the hottest fashion photography that gets you noticed as a photographer as well as the brand you’re taking photos of. For that, it’s helpful to completely understand the industry. 

There are certain tips and tricks you can introduce to your photo campaigns, such as for example inserting props, using natural light, or specific make-up and hairstyles for an authentic and modern photo result. However, when it comes to understanding the industry, you need to delve into the history of fashion photography. 

In this article, we’re going to look at a brief history of fashion photography and how looking into the past can impact the future. 

spreads of DDR fashion magazine SIBYLLE exhibited at Willi-Brandt-Haus in Berlin, August 2019

Fashion Photography: A Brief History

Fashion photography has been establishing itself as a form of expression and art for over a century. There has been a lot of progress made and a lot of movements in the industry that have impacted the world of fashion photography that we see today.

The earliest fashion photographs date back to the 1850ies, in the court of Napoleon III. However, photography as an advertising tool didn’t become popular until the early 20th century. The turn of the century marked a time when fashion became more accessible to society. 

In 1911, American photographer Edward Steichen took photos of models wearing dresses designed by Paul Poiret. The images were printed in a magazine called Art et Décoration. Later, Steichen claimed that they were the first serious fashion photographs ever made.

Photography and Magazines

Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue were both founded in the late 1800s and were the first fashion magazines. In the beginning, the fashion magazines relied on illustrations drawn by hand. 

In 1909, Condé Nast bought Vogue and transformed the American social magazine into a high-class fashion publication. In 1913, Condé Nast hired Baron Adolph de Meyer. The German photographer shot portraits of models, actresses, and aristocrats for Vogue.

Fashion photography began to flourish in magazines. This was due to department stores increasing their accessibility of couture fashion. During the 1920ies and 1930ies, photography impacted brands such as Chanel and Schiaparelli. During this time brands started to be known for their unique styles.

Fashion After the Second World War

Dramatic fashion changes came about after World War II, new designers emerged in the 50ies and 60ies, with fresh new models setting new trends. This also meant that fashion photography drastically changed. By the mid-50ies, fashion photography was more spontaneous and energetic than in previous decades. 

Influential fashion photographers of this time include:

Avedon and Penn are considered most influential as they created a minimalist aesthetic type of genre.

The social changes of the 70ies saw more female photographers. This brought new perspectives to the fashion photography scene. By the 80ies, consumerism had rapidly grown, especially in the fashion industry which was now international. During this decade, supermodels such as Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell were also being heavily idolized partly due to photographer Peter Lindbergh pushing their careers.

Meanwhile, men’s fashion continued to grow. Photographers such as Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber started to bring new perspectives in relation to masculinity.

impressions of DDR fashion photography shown at “SIBYLLE – DIE AUSSTELLUNG” (Sibylle – the exhibition) at Willi-Brandt-Haus in Berlin, August 2019


Fashion photography today comes in many different forms. The boundaries between commercial and artistic work are continuously being blurred. Contemporary artists rely on digital manipulation to offer an escape from reality, through the means of idolizing celebrities and high fashion.

How Can Looking into the Past of Fashion Photography Impact the Future?

Fashion photography is a forever changing form of art. To be heard in the fashion industry you need to always be making big and bold statements in your photoshoots. 

Also, DSLR cameras are constantly improving which means that photographers are able to produce high-quality fashion and eCommerce images. So don’t be afraid to try different perspectives and photography styles. Remember that old cameras can provide you with a special vintage look, which is currently a popular trend.

the “vintage look” is highly on-trend nowadays


If anything the past has taught us about fashion photography, it’s that you must not be scared to push boundaries and do things a little differently. The most well-known photographers, who have impacted the fashion world, are those who took the concepts of fashion and created something new and innovative.


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