It can be hard to know what the future of fashion photography holds. What will the next big thing be? How about if we compare traditionalists to the youngsters who grew up viewing the world through a screen? You might be surprised by the answers.
Traditionalists Vs. Trendsetters
Well-known photographer Rob Pattinson has amassed an impressive portfolio from his time working for top magazines. However, even he admits that being a fashion photographer can be challenging these days.
“I always compare my role as a fashion photographer to a jockey’s job,” he explains. “A jockey might be the person who mounts the horse, but it’s the photographer’s responsibility to see that the picture is composed in such a way that it can be projected on a screen and interpreted by the public.”
Pattinson’s candid words offer a fascinating insight into the world of fashion photography and its constantly evolving landscape. We caught up with the London-based photographer to discuss the changing trends in fashion photography, and how young designers are revolutionising the industry against all odds.
The Screen Era
It’s well-known that we live in an era defined by screens. From our phones to our laptops, our tablets and our watches, we are constantly tethered to them. This is why television commercials have become such an important part of brand storytelling, as they offer an engaging and immersive way to show the viewer the features of a product — be it a car, a house extension or a fragrance.
Television commercials have evolved along with our devices, becoming more and more like short films. This multi-platform approach allows for quick turnaround times and greater efficiency, making the short-form video ideal for capturing today’s on-the-go consumers.
From Blogs To Social Media
Let’s take the example of Gucci, a brand well-known for its luxurious leather goods. The luxury goods house launched a full-blown social media campaign early last year, hiring renowned photographer Steven Meisel to shoot and film their stories. Their first commercial, ‘The Gucci Experience’, was released in January 2018 and achieved an incredible 19.7 million views on YouTube as of April this year. This was followed by ‘The Story of Gucci’, a six-minute film that recounts the creation and design of the luxury Italian brand. If you include the video within the Instagram post, the engagement rate skyrockets by 58%.
This level of engagement has caused a 180-degree turn in the way we consume content. We now have an expectation that content will be entertaining, immersive and — perhaps most importantly — engaging. The truth is no one really knows how much attention we’ll pay to a brand on social media, but it’s safe to assume that everything is measurable.
The Appeal Of Influencers
This expectation of educational content from companies has lead to a renewed interest in influencers. If you’ve got an audience, they might just listen to you. The problem is that not many people can be trusted as influencers, given the nature of the beast. The influencer’s interest is typically in selling you a product, and the best way to do that is by planting a seed of doubt in your mind. You might trust a celebrity chef, but would you trust the opinions of an Instagram celeb about your clothes?
The Influencer’s Playbook
This is where traditionalists and influencers part ways. The former might rely on tried and tested marketing and advertising methods, while the latter excels at social media and online content creation. If you’ve got an audience, you can bet that they will turn to social media to voice their opinions and feelings, especially if you give them the tools to do so. When we consider how infrequently people trust or view advertisement on social media, it’s clear that brands need to adjust their strategies accordingly.
Whether you’re a fashion brand, beauty brand or lifestyle brand, if you’re not present on social media, you’re losing out on a valuable opportunity to connect with your audience and gain their trust. People love to be helpful, and if you show that you’re willing to listen to their opinions, you’ll gain a whole new level of support — and a chance to grow your business exponentially.
Creating An Open Conversation
This is where things get interesting. The luxury Italian design house Benetton has created a series of short films, featuring fashion icons like Grace Coughlin, Tamara Ecclestone and more recently, Milly Ecclestone. The company invited renowned photographer Stephen Jones to take part in their ‘Generation Next’ project. The English photographer rose to fame for his editorial work for Vogue, and has since gone on to work for top publications like W magazine and Dazed Digital.
The idea behind Generation Next is to create a platform for the creative community to converse and share ideas. This is why the designers, models and industry figures featured within the films are encouraged to engage with the public and offer opinions and advice.
Given the cinematic quality of these videos, with their sharp imagery and polished production values, we expect them to be effective online marketing tools. However, what makes these videos so special is their ability to draw viewers into the conversation. We’re no longer just spectators, watching content in bite-sized chunks. Now we’re participants in the conversation, contributing our own thoughts and feelings and expanding the reach of the content creator.
Revising Our Viewing Habits
This brings us back to the topic at hand, which is fashion photography. Even those in the industry are struggling to define its future, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that something is changing. The way we see fashion has completely shifted, and whether you consider yourself a traditionalist or a trendsetter, this much is for sure.
Fashion photographers used to focus on staged scenes, where models would wear the latest trends and demonstrate how these looked on a person. However, this approach no longer satisfies our screens. We want the fashion to speak for itself, without the need for a caption.
This trend has led to a complete revising of our expectations. We no longer just want to see the ‘perfect’ outfit, but rather, want to see the products that make up the outfit. The photographer is no longer the sole focus, but rather, the product itself.
While we’re no longer satisfied with traditional fashion photography, that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. Far from it, in fact. As our expectations have changed, so have the industry’s ways of working. In particular, the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) has allowed for unprecedented levels of automation and efficiency.
This is why photo-shopping has become a popular tool for those in the industry. It saves a lot of time, and since AI is getting better at identifying the ‘essence’ of a face, it allows for highly authentic and organic results.
So, what now? Well, it depends on you and how much time you want to spend on reinventing the wheel. If you’re a one-man band, you might want to consider going the extra mile and hiring a professional business-administrator to help you run your business. It’s not easy being in charge of a company, and if you want to grow and maintain your entrepreneurial spirit, then you might want to consider setting up your own agency.
On the other hand, if you’ve got the time and the talent, you might want to consider whether to continue building your brand or to start afresh. It’s up to you. But wherever you choose to go, you can be sure that the fashion industry is evolving and changing to fit new demands and new platforms.