Know the Rules of Fashion Editorials

If you want to shoot a fashion editorial, here are a few things you should be aware of.


A fashion editorial is a series of 6-8 fashion or beauty images based on a particular theme, intended for publication in a fashion magazine.


Your editorial should have a consistent theme throughout, although it can be anything you imagine. The theme can be girls with big hair in bright colored dresses or a beauty editorial (primarily close-ups) based on using only red and white makeup colors. If you can imagine it, you can do it. Remember that many publications work on a theme for each issue. Research these themes to make your editorial more appealing. In Figure 14.4, the theme of the publication was "ice," so I came up with a beauty editorial themed around "Ice Queen."

Fashion Shoot Cellophane

Figure 14.4

This image was taken for a magazine with an "ice" theme. The headpiece was made from cellophane and resin, and the image was lit with a softbox as a key light.

Figure 14.4

This image was taken for a magazine with an "ice" theme. The headpiece was made from cellophane and resin, and the image was lit with a softbox as a key light.


Remember that magazines are often working 2-6 months in advance of publication. For example, a magazine with a deadline in August would likely not want a swimsuit editorial that would be published in November.

Number of Looks

When shooting a fashion editorial, you are typically expected to have five or six different looks. This can be change of clothing, change of hair or makeup, or any distinct look change. Do your research on a publication to see the types of clothing (brands, styles) that are usually featured in the magazine. Larger publications typically want their biggest advertisers represented, whereas most small publications don't care about the brand of clothing as long as the images are eyecatching and appropriate to the magazine's audience.

Commission Letter, Pull Letter

When you are shooting for a publication, you can request a pull letter or commission letter, which indicates that you are shooting for a particular publication. Because this letter verifies that you are shooting for publication, it often acts as a tool to help you build a better creative team for your fashion shoot.


Fashion editorials are unpaid. Do not expect to be compensated for your published fashion editorials. I'm not saying it's right, but it's the way the industry is. Magazines do not compensate photographers for fashion editorials because they view these editorials as advertisements for the photographers; they act to showcase a photographer's work and vision. If your image ends up on the cover of a publication, you have more leeway to request payment because the cover is extremely valuable real estate in a magazine.

Creative Team Compensation

In the fashion world, a tearsheet (publication) is considered extremely valuable and is often treated as payment. For example, if you know an editorial is going to be published, you usually are not required to pay hair, makeup, models, or wardrobe. Instead, their payment is the exposure received through publication and the images you give them for their portfolio. Obviously, this means that your team will be less experienced and consist of people seeking to build their portfolios.

Another term commonly used during shoots is TFCD, or "trade for CD," implying that the creative team's payment is the images that you provide them on CD for their portfolio and personal promotion use. Working for TFCD and tearsheets is completely acceptable when you are not being paid as a photographer. If you are working to be published in a magazine and are not being compensated besides a tearsheet, it is fair to expect the same from your creative team. When I first got into fashion photography, I thought this entire nonpayment setup was bizarre, so hopefully I've prepped you for it!


If you are just starting out and have money to spare, you can pay your creative team to get more experienced professionals to help you with your work. If you already have a financially successful business and are just hoping to take your work up a notch with fashion flair, you can consider these editorials an investment in your career and invest in a high-end creative team to help you express your vision.

I've found that burning and mailing CDs to each team member can be a pain. Instead I use Web sites like to send the larger finished files via the Web to each person. They are provided a link where they can then download all of the files for their personal and self-promotion use.

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  • thorsten
    What does a magazine pay a photographer for an fashion editorial?
    8 years ago

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