The Secret to Making Your Fashion Photos Stand Out from the Crowd

by by Natalia Borecka

Left to right: Constance Jablonski by Alex Cayley, Joan Smalls by Sean & Seng, Unknown model by Billy Kidd

Left to right: Constance Jablonski by Alex Cayley, Joan Smalls by Sean & Seng, Unknown model by Billy Kidd

Every fashion photographer dreams about transcending their craft’s commercialism and taking photos that are so creative and so ground-breaking, they’re good enough to hang in the Louvre. So what does it take to create great fashion images like this? If there was just one thing you could do to make your images more creative, and take them from beautiful but predictable, to intriguing and memorable, what would it be? Of course, there are a million possible answers to that question, but none are as powerful and ring as immediately true as imperfection. The secret ingredient to ground-breaking art is ugliness, asymmetry, grit and disorder. Take a look at the image below. On the left you have a basic perfect image, something you’ve probably seen on every beauty ad known to humankind. In the middle, you have a basic “glammed” up version of that image, better, but still pretty safe. And on the far right you have imperfection, in all its weird, roughed around the edges glory.

The distinction to make here is between beautiful but predictable mass-market aesthetics, and art that pushes the evelope. The one is that perfectly lit soft-focus picture of a duck floating serenely in a pond (c’mon, we’ve all seen it), and that blurry Man Ray photo of Marchesa Luisa Casati looking a little crazy. The first two images above, though clearly beautiful, will nonetheless quickly be forgotten because there’s nothing to remember. There’s nothing for the eye to hook on. The skin is soft and smooth, the hair is soft and smooth, the lighting is soft and smooth. They’re so flawless that your eyes just drift smoothly over the image and away forever. This is why more and more photographers have started to leave airbrushing and “technically perfect” lighting behind altogether in favor of something more raw, and less pretty. It’s also the reason why the most innovative fashion houses have started to feature real women in their ads. Everyone lost their marbles over Celine’s beautifully undone advertisements featuring a makeup-free Daria Werbowy, and an 80 year old Joan Didion. Those ads caught everyone’s eye exactly because they were so unexpectedly (and beautifully) imperfect.


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