Fashion photography: finding your style and selling your creative vision

Two top fashion photographers share advice on how to develop a unique aesthetic and then sell it to your clients.
A night-time shot of a woman in a black evening dress standing amidst the branches of a large tree.

Fashion and portrait photographer Julie Pike is known for her dramatic, yet dream-like images. She uses just one lens for her distinctive shots and describes the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM as the "perfect optic" because it's easy to use and lightweight. "It's good for shooting both portraits and landscapes," she explains. "It covers everything." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM) at 24mm, 1/200 sec, f/7.1 and ISO100. © Julie Pike

In the competitive fashion and beauty industry, photographers are frequently booked for their distinctive aesthetic. But how do pros refine their brands in order to attract their dream clients?

Czech art director and photographer Eliška Sky and Norwegian storyteller and portrait photographer Julie Pike have different styles yet both found their voices in a crowded market. Here, the Canon Ambassadors offer advice on developing an authentic style – and how to translate that vision into paid work.

1. Build a brand with you at its heart

Oslo-based photographer Julie Pike, whose style is poetic and led by strong narratives, began her career 20 years ago. She believes that, with so many more photographers working in the sector nowadays, building an authentic brand is more crucial than ever. "It's important to have your own style because there are so many good photographers," says Julie. "If you're patient, work hard and remain true to yourself, clients will come to you."

Like Julie, Eliška Sky – who has been published in magazines including 1883 and Elle, as well as online at Vogue Italia, Dazed and i-D – believes it's important to incorporate something of who you are into your images. "Don't try to copy other people: stay within your own interests," she advises. "What literature and music do you like? Are you interested in politics? Or perhaps horse riding? You can draw on personal interests in your photographs to present who you are and what you're about. The best images often come when you do something unexpected, because then it becomes unique."

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A model wearing a white dress with an inflatable skirt and a black PVC balaclava stands, with their arms outstretched, against a blue backdrop.

Eliška Sky describes herself as a visual artist and is renowned for her quirky, playful style and her use of outlandish costumes. Her project, A Beginner's Guide for Eco Warriors, was inspired by the impact humans are having on ecosystems. "I used a wide-angle lens to emphasise the large inflatable skirt," she explains. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 32mm, 1/125 sec, f/9 and ISO100. © Eliška Sky

A close-up of a woman's face; she has a red geometric design on her lips and a trail of light runs from her mouth to her eye.

Eliška's Pixel Future series explored how social media and the internet influences our personalities and perceptions. This image was shot for the magazine Hunger and was later used by artist and musician David Byrne for his monthly music playlist. "I used a slow shutter speed with studio flash," says Eliška. "We photographed in a pitch-black studio and used a laser to light the model's face." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro lens at 2.5 sec, f/13 and ISO100. © Eliška Sky

Eliška's influences include the Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen, Swiss artist Olaf Breuning and liberal use of colour. "When I started out in photography, I did random projects, tried out different lights and shot in black and white, but over the years I've realised I really enjoy vivid colours," she says.

Light is also integral to her aesthetic, as is capturing alternative viewpoints. "In most cases, I use studio flash or continuous lighting," Eliška says. "I enjoy working with different light modifiers to enhance the mood of the photograph. I also place various objects in the scene, or between the camera and model, such as mirrors, crystals, colour gels and reflective or transparent materials.

"Before each shoot, I think about capturing different angles of view – from above, below and at eye level. I also try to be creative in terms of the focal length I use, switching between wide and telephoto," she adds.

A woman in a long floaty dress runs away from the camera towards an expanse of water.

Julie shot this image for an editorial in Renaissance Magazine. It was taken just before midnight and makes use of night light during the Norwegian summers. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 24mm, 1/320 sec, f/6.3 and ISO200. © Julie Pike

A woman in a gauzy dress looks out over a barrier at the landscape below.

An image shot in Oslo at sunset for a portrait story published in lifestyle magazine, Oak the Nordic Journal. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 67mm, 1/1000 sec, f/14 and ISO320. © Julie Pike

2. Make the most of mood boards

Selling your photographic vision to clients means being prepared from the start, says Julie, whose clients include Elle, Nylon and VICE. "I never go to a meeting empty-handed," she says. "I always do my research to find out who the client is. If it's a jewellery designer, I research how many years they have been working with jewellery and what kinds of campaigns they have done. Then I will create a pitch and make a mood board, imagining they've already given me the job. I do that every time I meet with a new magazine or client. I always bring a specific plan for a campaign or editorial. I show all of my ideas and we usually end up doing it exactly that way."

Eliška opts for a very thorough mood board so that the entire team she is working with can collaborate creatively. "I try to be detailed because I want them to understand where I am coming from and the inspiration for the mood but also for the makeup, hair, styling and set design," she says. "If it's a larger-scale project, you may have 25 people on set. I try to choose great people whose visions I can trust. I definitely put forward an inspiration or an idea, but I also welcome others' input and creativity."

3. Get in the right frame of mind

Alongside a mood board and being thoroughly prepared, Julie's secret to building a strong editorial fashion story lies in 'being present', which might involve getting into the correct mindset before she even sets foot in the studio. "I will always, whether it's a fashion editorial, album cover or portrait story, try to find inspiration ahead of time, perhaps by putting on the right music and images on a slideshow on my computer the night before," Julie says. "That way, I am in the right mood before the shoot. I'm not planning compositions; it's more akin to 'mood' planning.

"In the beginning, when I was more insecure, I would draw every single frame in the fashion editorial," she adds. "But now I just try to be in the right mood and be open to what might happen on the day."

A woman looks sideways in a blue-lit photograph.

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A woman leans backwards supported by colourful ribbons.

"This project was created for an online editorial in Vogue Italia and was used for the calendar of my family's sports accessory company," says Eliška. "We painted the walls the day before the shoot with set designer Katrine Roberts Oben." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 55mm, 1/125 sec, f/8 and ISO100. © Eliška Sky

A woman in a feathered top poses in front of an orange and yellow backdrop, her arm raised to obscure her face.

A portrait of actress Rose Leslie, who played Ygritte in Game of Thrones. "I took this for the RISQUÉ issue of 1883 Magazine," explains Eliška. "I wanted to bring out Rose's feminine side. Inspired by her name, I captured her as a flower that attracts butterflies with its beauty." Eliška used a red backdrop with two softbox flashlights pointed towards it and overexposed the image to turn the backdrop orange and yellow. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 45mm, 1/125 sec, f/9 and ISO100. © Eliška Sky

4. Explore and combine skillsets

Eliška, who teaches at the London Institute of Photography, sometimes combines photography and art direction, and has found that experimenting and pushing boundaries keeps her feeling excited about new avenues.

"I recently took on an art directing job for an exhibition at Prague Fashion Week," Eliška says. "I had to create plans for how the installation was going to work – ideas for the whole space. That was something quite new and really exciting."

She also believes in being proactive. "I reach out to publications and brands I want to work with, or other artists I would like to collaborate with," she says. "I also look at what is current in the world of art and fashion, which helps me to feel inspired and part of what's going on.

"You just need that first person to trust you, which makes it much easier next time because new clients see your previous work and give you more freedom," she adds. "I'm quite lucky, as the majority of my clients pick me because of my work. They're looking specifically for my style."

A woman looking at an expanse of water with her back to the camera. She has wet hair and is wearing a swimsuit.

"This is my friend Marianne," says Julie. "We spent two days in a wooden cabin by the Mjøsa River in Norway for a job. It was beautiful, peaceful and warm." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 40mm, 1/1250 sec, f/6.3 and ISO400. © Julie Pike

A side profile of a woman in a floral patterned dress leaning against a green wall.

A portrait of Norwegian dancer-choreographer Simone Grøtte. "The image was shot in an empty house with only a silver platter as a light reflector, which is what has created the dazzling light on the wall," explains Julie. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 85mm, 1/125 sec, f/4.5 and ISO500. © Julie Pike

5. Keep your kit and approach simple

"I work fast, so I need a camera that works fast too," says Julie, who uses a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. Both fashion photographers also favour one lens: the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. "I used to have three lenses – a 50mm, an 85mm and a wide-angle optic – but I found I was switching them all the time," Julie explains.

Eliška likes the lens for its versatility. "The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM is perfect for capturing fashion because of its range," she says. "I love having the wide-angle and telephoto capabilities, and being able to capture people with that wide-angle distortion."

Julie now teaches at the Bilder Nordic School of Photography, one of the leading institutes of its kind in Scandinavia. She started out shooting analogue, so is familiar with creating effects in front of the camera. "I always try to do everything through the camera," she says. "If I want a soft feel, I'll put a translucent material in front of the lens. I wouldn't add a filter afterwards in post."

She also does minimal editing in order for her images to remain true to life. It's usually a case of adding a little bit of grain and slightly adjusting the colours and contrast," she explains. "I want bruises and freckles to show. I want the real stuff to be visible." Julie believes intuition is also key: "I use natural light and I don't press the shutter button 10,000 times," she says. "I wait until it feels right."

Lorna Dockerill

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