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On Becoming A Fashion Photographer: Dress the part to be taken seriously.

By Brittany Smith on January 28th 2017

“You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” – Edith Head

My dad was always a stickler about dressing for the appropriate occasion. There was a time he hand delivered my black slacks that I had forgotten with fresh army creases ironed in them for a pizza delivery job at Little Caesar’s. His shoes were always shiny and his socks always matched. All in all, even while living in small town America, my dad dressed the part of a successful businessman living in a bigger city. He tried to instill the old adage that appearance matters.

None of that really clicked until experiencing one unsuccessful interview after another; many of which were over before they ever began. When going into a job interview in Manhattan, if you get the once over glance from head to toe with an uneasy handshake and somewhat of a grimace, the interview is over. It is that pretentious; even for a job not related to fashion. It would be great if your work was amazing enough to speak for itself, however, that is not the case here. Your appearance matters, especially if you want anyone to take you seriously.

Michala Zambon, Major Models NYC

GearCanon 5D Mark IIICanon 85mm 1.2L IIProfoto D1 500

Tech Specs: ISO 250, f/2.8, 1/160 of a second.

Colorful clothes that are nice and would make a great impression in a different location do not bode well here. It doesn’t matter what label you are wearing. In a sea of black tossed in with neutrals as well as the approved deep wine and navy, vivid colors go against the grain and stick out like a sore thumb. Shoes are especially a dead giveaway. The lesson is to blend in. Study the surrounding stylings of passerbys and apply it to what would work for you.

So many New Yorkers are not from New York, and it would seem as if they have all forgotten this fact. Colorful clothing and anything that showcases a look that does not blend in is a red flag that screams “I am not from here.” The talent pool in this city is crazy and the competition is steep, and the one thing for certain is they want to work with the main players. Seeing as how New York is considered the big leagues and it is difficult enough to get started as it is, blending in (in the right way) is one step closer to landing a job.

GearCanon 5D Mark IIICanon 85mm 1.2L IIProfoto D1 500Parabolix 40 Umbrella

Tech Specs: ISO 100, f/16, 1/160 of a second.

I finally caved and adopted the old adage of dressing for the job that I want in New York style. I landed an interview at a major artist management company and showed up looking incredible in all black and was luckily having a great hair day with some help of a dear friend, and a funny thing happened; I actually existed.

[REWIND: No Grit, No Pearl | How Alexi Lubomirski Got His Start With An Icon: Mario Testino]

Normally, I am donning a fuchsia colored down coat, or a pair of slacks and a great colorful cardigan that should be eye catching, however, no one seemed to see me. In all black, people held the door open instead of letting it slam shut. In all black, I met my interviewer who gave the appropriate amount of attention and actually took me seriously. After carefully reviewing my portfolio and going over my work experience, It turned out I was overqualified for the position and my interviewer was nervous that I would be too bored. I was encouraged to send in my resume to forward to other people in the industry for potential work.

As ridiculous as it sounds, playing the game will help get a little farther with a lot less red tape. Looking the part and dressing like a local will immediately put any potential employer’s angst at ease, and dressing the part does not have to mean buying everything name brand. It is merely making a noticeable effort that goes a long way.

Brittany is a fashion and beauty photographer who works between NYC, Montana and LA. She photographs the way she has always wanted to feel and believes in the power of raw simplicity. When not behind a camera she can usually be found at a local coffeeshop, teaching fitness classes at the YMCA, or baking something fabulous in the kitchen.
Instagram: @brittanysmithphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jonathan Brady

    Individualism in one’s appearance is shunned? Sounds like a horrific place to live and work.

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    • Brittany Smith

      What surprised me is it is the culture from what I have experienced trying to land most jobs at an interview. Every employer gives the once over.

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  2. Giovanni Mocchetti

    Interesting way to get into this world. In my opinion the fashion industry is such a closed world to get into. I think if you really want to start out as a fashion photographer not only the pictures themselves are important but I think you should study the culture of it. And I’m not meaning going to university (which could be good too of course) but reading books and reading on the internet everything about fashion and the history of fashion. Then of course shooting is everything a photographer should do.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I don’t think Britt would disagree with you there, and certainly, I wouldn’t. I think that’s very much the case for most vocations, that there is an associated culture with things whether it be certain levels of banking, executive recruitment, pharma sales, and…genres of photography. Culture can be critical. It’s a reason I never am surprised when ex models with a modicum of talent do well in the fashion photo world.

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    • Brittany Smith

      I do not disagree at all. There is definitely a culture. I had traveled out here several months over the past few years to apprentice, so since I was doing the heavy lifting and getting dirty, fashion wasn’t an issue. Trying to get a foot in the door in any other position in any other field though, however, it is of he utmost importance

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