Private planes, beautiful models, exotic locales. Sounds like a megabudget movie or the characteristics of the latest best-selling beach read. But, no, it’s the life of a fashion photographer.
Those photographers are more in demand than ever, even in the age of social media. Many of them are temperamental, demanding and can travel with entourages of up to 20 people. But their ability to capture the essence of a brand or create a beautiful fashion shoot means ad industry executives and magazine editors are more than willing to overlook their peccadillos and pay their fees, which can range from $60,000 up to $125,000 and more a day. The shoot budgets alone can easily top $1 million — especially when one throws in perks for the photographer, such as a helicopter from JFK to the studio “because the photographer didn’t want to be late.” Or the time an agency had to source a live ostrich for a celebrity shoot. Or how Bruce Weber once required a pet psychic on the photo set.
But given the pressure the photographers are under to get the perfect images, no wonder they can be demanding. And the top ones remain busier than ever, as measured by a series of metrics created by WWD that included the number of campaigns shot over the last year, their social media followers and number of magazine covers. Here, WWD looks at some of the fashion world’s busiest photographers — and why they have remained that way.
Instagram Followers: 2.5 million
Campaigns: 31, Covers: 12
Mario Testino has been the busiest high-profile fashion photographer over the last year, shooting for everyone from Burberry to various Vogues worldwide. And to all those photos he brought his usual style — commercial, restrained, at times playful. The key to his work is that he lets the client shine, whether it is his iconic photos of the late Princess Diana and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or portraits of Gisele Bündchen, Gwyneth Paltrow or his muse Kate Moss and, in the last year, ad campaigns for brands from Furla to Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors to Ciroc Blue Steel and Stuart Weitzman.
The irony is that while Testino defers to the client’s wishes, numerous industry executives describe him as “the ultimate diva,” who has been known to ask for a private plane to the shoot. As one source said, “No matter what star you’re shooting, he’s the bigger star. He rolls that way.”
But even in the same breath executives describe the 61-year-old Peruvian photographer as “a gentle soul,” even though Testino — like many of his peers — always travels with an entourage. He also is said to have a picture limit for each day. “If he finishes at 2 p.m. and he hit the picture limit, the job was done,” one source said.
Diva or no, Testino is always professional — and charming with those who matter. His ability to balance his art and business has helped him to cement early relationships with Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour and with the brands Michael Kors and Burberry.
Testino, who recently was honored with a lifetime achievement award at the Clios, expounded on the importance of those relationships: “I’ve worked for American Vogue for 20, 25 years. I’ve been with Anna [Wintour] from the beginning. I, of course, favor that a lot and all the Vogues, British Vogue, French Vogue and others,” he said. “I also have this relationship with Michael Kors and Burberry. I’ve been with Burberry 16 years and Michael Kors 12 years, and it’s critical, these relationships. You don’t just take a picture. You have to live with discipline and take a longer view. I find that more exciting.”
Taking the long view means that, unlike many established photographers, Testino has embraced technology and social media to capitalize on his brand and keep his profile out there. On Instagram, he has created the “towel series,” which depicts models dressed in a white towel only, for instance. He has also launched web sites Mario Testino+ and Mira Mira, which gives his fans a behind-the-scenes look at his life, including his top restaurant picks and other lifestyle content.
In the end, though, it’s the work that matters. When it comes to creating a strong image, Testino shared his approach at the Clios, which includes talking to his editor or client, and then consulting with lighting technicians, prop designers, the model and the hair and makeup team.
“I think if you want to do it properly, you have to do it from A to Z. You can’t come in halfway through. You have to do the whole thing,” he explained.
Instagram Followers: 470,000
Campaigns: 24, Covers: 3
In an age of technology, where most images take shape in post-production, Peter Lindbergh stands out as a singular voice of opposition. The German-
born photographer, who often shoots in black-and-white, brings a realism to his subjects by refusing to retouch his images. The models he photographs are often scarcely made up, giving the viewer a glimpse at the women in a natural state.
“Photographers are becoming a button….It’s disastrous,” he said. “Digital for me stays exactly like film was before. The quality of the image is different, but this you can go anywhere you want with Photoshop. We do Photoshop only to make pictures not look like digital because it’s cold and awful and technical. But the biggest change is that you’re not intimate anymore with the model. That’s what is going to destroy photography and that’s what’s going to destroy photographers because they’re not going to want to be photographers anymore in 10 years, I’m sure. It has become a democratic process and that’s going nowhere, everybody talks into the picture, that’s awful. That’s the most embarrassing thing.”
While Lindbergh’s sentiments may make him sound autocratic, he’s far from it. An industry source who has worked with him described Lindbergh as “like a big teddy bear. You couldn’t ask for anyone more amazing. He likes a big hotel room and that’s all he asks for. He’s worth every penny and couldn’t be greater.”
Lindbergh began his photography career in the early Seventies as an assistant to German photographer Hans Lux. He then opened his own studio in 1973, and soon joined the Stern magazine family with fellow lensmen Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and Hans Feurer. His cinematic and naturalistic style garnered attention as he sought to find a new generation of models. In 1990, Lindberg photographed Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Tatjana Patitz, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington as a group for a British Vogue cover, which helped kick off the era of the supermodel.
Having shot for various editions of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview, Vanity Fair, Numéro, Le Monde Magazine throughout his career, in the last year Lindbergh’s advertising work has included campaigns for L’Oréal, Giorgio Armani, Tiffany & Co., Dunhill, Cartier and Longchamp. He also shot this year’s Pirelli Calendar after having done so in 2013 and 2014.
Whether he’s shooting a celebrity or a model, wistfully smoking cigarettes, what has remained true in Lindbergh’s work is his ability to seize on the humanity of his subject. He explained how he thinks about creating an image: “I think a great image, first of all — however it looks — it has to have a purpose. And when it has a purpose, then after, you can tell what aesthetics and many other things. But I think the purpose is the most important thing. And then after the purpose, of course if it’s a boring, visually boring message, then it’s not really a great picture at all.”
Instagram Followers: 392,000
Campaigns: 14, Covers: 9
“I always try to have some kind of significance to why I do things. In a climate where softness is very prevalent, I prefer to be the outsider,” Steven Klein said when reflecting on his top campaigns of the year, which included an ad for the luxury-gym chain Equinox that depicted model Lydia Hearst essentially topless and breastfeeding in the middle of a restaurant.
Subtlety isn’t his strong suit. And that’s OK — in the world of Steven Klein the resounding question of “why?” bubbles to the surface. Klein’s Interview cover featuring Kylie Jenner in a blinged-out wheelchair sparked many a hand-wringing blog post. But those articles may have missed the point. Klein said he wasn’t setting out to ruffle any fashion-industry feathers, he was just doing what he typically does: explore, identify, exploit, glamorize, repeat. “Kylie Jenner interested me because she became a study of an object of art,” he said of the shoot.
But such studies can create tensions, especially with advertising clients. One source described him as “the strangest,” but added that “if you can get through the strange, he’s got a big heart.”
Another source said that “he’s a little bit tortured. He wants to be an artist, but he’s a commercial photographer, but struggles with that sometimes. A lot of times he’ll redo everything at the end because he’s not happy with it.”
Being seen as an artist more than a mere photographer perhaps explains why celebrities gravitate to Klein. He’s photographed Madonna, Brad Pitt and Rihanna many times. Stars clamor at the opportunity to shed their personas to undergo a Klein-ification that typically involves blasting their carefully crafted public image to smithereens in exchange for a subversive, dark alternative.
He branded himself early in his career as a risk-taker unafraid of breaking traditional — and outdated — rules, like including fashion credits in an expansive editorial for W magazine. Klein reflected on the memorable moment, “It was my first cover of W Magazine. It was with a male actor [Brad Pitt]. It was a 32-page story with no fashion credits at all. It was based on the book [‘Fight Club’] and the costumes actually used in the film. It was my first cinematic approach to creating photographs, especially with actors. It was a turning point as I discovered all the tools available in filmmaking. It was not the first time I had worked with Brad, but it was our most important collaboration.” It’s been said that Klein prefers to work with a minimal crew, allowing for him to connect with the subject.
Clearly Klein is doing something right. Consider his ad campaign for Balmain’s fall collection featuring Kanye West and Kim Kardashian crying, sporting blue contacts and generally participating in a hand-meets-face orgy of sorts. At press time, the video segment of the campaign — a collaboration between the photographer, West and Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing — achieved more than 13.6 million views on YouTube.
The video and his work show that life isn’t a bowl of cherries to Klein. Asked what can be expected from him in the future, he put it mildly, “I will continue to embrace and interpret the world of good and evil that we live in.”
Inez Van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin
Instagram Followers: 337,000 followers
Campaigns: 28, Covers: 6
After more than 30 years, Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin have developed an interdependent relationship where they counterbalance each other almost instinctively. “We were both in our 20s when we started working together,” van Lamsweerde said. “We feel incomplete if the other isn’t there. It’s almost like one brain.”
Edgier than, say, Mario Testino, the photo duo has worked with publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, W, Porter and Vogue Paris during their careers while in the last year their advertising work has included campaigns for Jason Wu, Isabel Marant, Boss, Roberto Cavalli, Ermenegildo Zegna and Tom Ford fragrances.
The couple has attempted to expand the definition of beauty and challenge preconceived notions about gender in both editorial and advertising work. Their portraits, often lush and sensuous, can contain an element of surprise, such as the stocking that appears over Charlize Theron’s head or the ghoulish back markings on Viggo Mortensen’s face.
“We both take pictures at the same time,” van Lamsweerde said. “You could say that I direct the models more. Usually, the pictures where the girl is looking into the lens are mine. Vinoodh walks around and takes pictures from different angles. It’s more of a voyeuristic approach. It doesn’t matter who has taken the final image. There’s not a distinction between his or mine. It’s a great way of working. We inspire each other.”
A fashion industry source noted that Lamsweerde and Matadin are easy to work with. “Inez runs the show and Vinoodh is the silent, secret weapon and shoots from all over, and sometimes his shot is the final one,” the source said. “He shoots over the shoulder or around the side. Almost like a fly on the wall.” The couple has about 15 assistants.
Van Lamsweerde and Matadin met at the Amsterdam Fashion Academy. “I thought I would be a designer, but I had no talent for it and no patience for sewing. All I kept doing was taking pictures of my friends,” she said.
At the Golden Globes last January, van Lamsweerde and Matadin shot award winners for Instagram from a mini photo studio backstage. “We sent the images out to the ether,” she said. “The joy of everybody who won — there was so much adrenaline.”
The job got them thinking about “what the future of image-making will be,” she said. “It’s difficult for brands to keep their identity with so much content out there. We’re trying to give brands a strong voice.”
Instagram Followers: N/A
Campaigns: 19, Covers: 4
Steven Meisel has been described as a behind-the-scenes photographer, someone who avoids the limelight and prefers to let his work speak for itself. Meisel rarely gives interviews — he declined to comment for this story — but has characterized himself as a “man with a vision” to the media. His photographs tell a story, transcending portraiture, wardrobe or the set. They can be edgy and dark, as well as thought-provoking and grotesque. His work also has a thread of humor, sometimes dark but always with a point of view. His extensive work for Vogue Italia reflects that spirit and in the past has included shots of models being dragged into rehab or coming home from plastic surgery.
“He doesn’t really travel that much,” said one industry source. “You kind of come to him. There will be times he’ll work for a stretch in L.A. He doesn’t like to travel and doesn’t like people to be around. They have to stay away, unless it’s a rare circumstance. A lot of time you have to brief him, and he does his thing. He’s incredible. That’s his thing. He doesn’t want people to talk to him or look at him.”
For Meisel, a love of fashion, not necessarily the art of photography, has been the driving force in his career. The New York native’s deep interest in fashion and models led him to a job as an illustrator with designer Halston, and later, at WWD. In his spare time, he would begin photographing models, many of whom would use his work for their portfolios. One such model was Phoebe Cates, the young actress, who went in for a Seventeen casting. The editors noticed Meisel’s photographs of Cates and hired him. It was Meisel’s first big break.
The photographer began shooting for Interview and U.S. and Italian Vogue and also contributed photos for Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” album in 1984 and in 1995, Mariah Carey’s “Daydream” album. Over the last year, his ad work has included campaigns for Max Mara, Prada, Moschino, Coach, Loewe and Valentino.
With an eye for discovering new talent, Meisel, 62, has helped advance the careers of a slew of top models including Naomi Campbell, Karen Elson, Christy Turlington, Gisele Bündchen, Coco Rocha, Amber Valletta and Linda Evangelista.
Instagram Followers: 1.1 million
Campaigns: 5, Covers: 10
Terry Richardson might have nine lives: off the top of one’s head comes recovering drug addict, new father, alleged sexual assailant, son of an influential yet schizophrenic photographer, celebrity magnet — oh, and the occasional lensman, too. Controversy follows him constantly.
For good reason. His photographs are not only explicit (even his landscapes manage to be suggestive) the sterile opulence that hearkens back to low-budget pornography is injected into every image. This unapologetic, crisp aesthetic has caught the eyes — and covers — of publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone and Wonderland.
Richardson applies a tongue-in-sometimes-somebody-else’s-cheek attitude into even the most luxe advertising clients. Take his 2001 campaign for Sisley: The ad depicted model Josie Maran squeezing a cow’s udder and spraying her face with milk. “Some of the most memorable [shoots] are some of the early Sisley campaigns….We went to really interesting locations with a bunch of great people and we would just see where the pictures would take us,” Richardson said.
Valentino regularly taps the photographer to shoot its accessories campaigns. “I’m excited about the new Valentino accessories campaign that we revealed this fall. I worked with Pierpaolo [Piccioli] to come up with a new concept that would be visually exciting and also tell a story. I am really proud of how it came out.”
Business has been a bit slow for the photographer, perhaps because of the controversy surrounding him in the last year and also because his foray into fatherhood may have restricted his in-demand schedule — he welcomed twin boys to his family last March. In 2016, Richardson has photographed ad campaigns for Diesel and Valentino accessories and magazine covers for V, CR Fashion Book, Wonderland, W Korea, Town & Country and L’Uomo Vogue. His agency, Art Partner, declined to comment on his fee, but if his star-studded entourage is any reflection, he’s making ends meet.
A pied piper for rebels, bad boys (and girls) flock to Richardson’s studio. Documenting his celebrity friendships in his blog Terry’s Diary, Richardson shares photo shoot outtakes with Jared Leto, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus. When asked about his ambience preference for photo shoots, Art Partner declined to comment although Richardson shared that he’s looking to return to his roots. “A really great way to work is to get together a great team, just go somewhere and explore, and I am trying to bring that style back in my work,” he said.
Richardson seemingly applies a laissez-faire attitude to his shoots. “Keep it simple and always be open to reading the situation — be flexible to go where it takes you,” he said of his professional philosophy.
This approach has gotten him into hot water, though. Coined “Uncle Terry” in the press — and according to some, his studio — Richardson came under public scrutiny beginning in 2010 when a series of allegations released by models accused the photographer of sexual harassment. The blogosphere went bananas while advertising client Aldo and American Vogue distanced themselves from Richardson during the height of the controversy. He has shot for international iterations of Vogue since.
Multiple lawsuits later and a few clients lighter, Richardson seems to be toning it down — at least somewhat. In 2015, he released a two-volume tome of his work with contributions from Tom Ford and Chloë Sevigny, among others. His once wildly FOMO-worthy, star-studded and risqué blog now features captivating landscapes and family photos — although even those can be a cheeky.
Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott
Instagram Followers: Mert Alas: 772,000; Marcus Piggott: 123,000
Campaigns: 14, Covers: 7
Mert & Marcus have grown up. Perhaps once fashion’s les enfants terribles, the pair has embraced a milder temperament.
After logging plenty of hours as photography assistants, would-be stylists and, yes, definitely club kids of the Nineties East London scene, Mert & Marcus received a break from friend Katie Grand, who was then Dazed & Confused’s fashion director. Their first big job followed shortly: a commission from Visionaire in 1998. From there the duo worked tirelessly. From styling, performing makeup and hair duties and learning how to shoot together, a synergy emerged.
But then the two jaunted off to Ibiza, purchased a Moorish villa titled Palacio de Salomon and (kindly) demanded that work come to them, no matter how burdensome the commute. It made sense — the versatility of the island’s climate provided dramatic backdrops and ample location options. It was a trip that many were willing to take. Over the years Mert & Marcus have shot for the likes of W, American Vogue and Interview.
The duo has been said to work off each other, frequently stealing the camera out of the other’s hands to capture the image they’ve detected. But industry executives said the final product is consistently cohesive, with a nuanced approach to otherworldly color and settings.
They’re also more than willing to use computer techniques to enhance their work. Openly enthusiastic about Photoshop, Mert & Marcus maximize its ability to inject unexpected components into their images. Their management at Art Partner declined to comment on their working dynamic, though reports of their creative process all describe a similar approach and frequently mention Grand as a mainstay on set.
An industry source described the pair as a “bit of a handful. They’re incredible, sometimes they’re delayed or to get them to the set is a big deal, or to get them on the phone. Or to get them to be focused is a little tricky. They’re kind of hard to corral.”
The two have matured over the years and even tired of Ibiza. Their relatively newfound mobility (which comes often with their demand for a private plane) has enabled them to win ad campaigns from the likes of Givenchy, Giorgio Armani, David Yurman and Peuterey over the last year. And their profile has been boosted even more by their model friends — think Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, two recurring faces in their work as of late.
Mert & Marcus take a low-key approach when it comes to press. But lest one think they’ve completely put their wild days behind them, it should be noted that at the time of this article the duo were still on a two-month holiday and inaccessible even to their management.
Instagram Followers: 328,000
Campaigns: 5, Covers: 11
Described by numerous industry sources as “the easiest of them all” to work with, Patrick Demarchelier’s images capture an often surprising and spontaneous energy in even the most studied subjects — from his portraits of the Princess of Wales and her then-young sons, William and Harry to, over the last 12 months, ad campaigns for Vera Wang, Paco Rabanne and Paris Hilton fragrances — not to mention magazine covers for various Vogues, Allure and Garage Magazine.
His first book, “Fashion Photography: Patrick Demarchelier,” was published in 1989 and has been followed by publications including FORMS, Photographs, Exposing Elegance and Patrick Demarchelier.
“[Demarchelier is] kind of hard to understand because he has a thick accent,” noted an industry source. “He’s sometimes shooting two jobs at once or back-to-back. He books them back-to-back. He’ll have a day session and a night session. He’s very easygoing and it’s almost like a family at his studio. Everybody eats around the table, it’s very old school. He’s a pleasure.”
Another source said Demarchelier, 73, can vary the thickness of his accent to suit his purposes. “He perfected his mumbling so people couldn’t understand him,” the source said, adding that “he has a wicked sense of humor. He makes the least demands. He’ll piggyback jobs to save you money. He’ll tell you that he’s going to St. Barth’s to do a shoot and ask if you have work to do there. He hustles work but wants to save you money and expenses.”
Demarchelier has a simple description of his technique: “A good picture is a moment, you catch the moment,” he said. “I’m an instinctual photographer.”
Asked about what he feels is his best work, the photographer said: “My best work is the work coming up next. I don’t like to look at the past. I like to focus on today’s work and tomorrow’s work.”
Instagram Followers: 286,000
Campaigns: 11 Covers: 7
It’s been said that Italian blood runs hot. If that’s the case, Naples native Mario Sorrenti is the epitome of such a stereotype.
He also has a self confidence that, while ostracizing to some, can produce some of the most-recognizable images in fashion photography. “When I do personal or editorial shoots, I’m very much inspired by my [own] experiences and the people that I’m collaborating with, as well as my thoughts on art, films and music. It’s really about my point of view on image-making and style and I try and put my own personality as well as my emotions at that moment into the images,” Sorrenti said of his approach to his craft.
And he’s not afraid to go to lengths to snap these evocative photos — he was bitten by the privilege bug early. On Calvin Klein’s dime, Sorrenti and then-girlfriend Kate Moss were sent on a private holiday to shoot images for the brand’s “Obsession” fragrance ad campaign. Though the photographer was a mere 21 at the time of the shoot, Calvin Klein didn’t send a den mother to supervise. The freedom paid off — images of Moss garnered heaps of attention and praise. Though the relationship with Moss didn’t last, Sorrenti has developed a close relationship with the team at Calvin Klein, continuously photographing its fragrance campaigns.
And the shoots only became more extreme — and memorable. Sorrenti said, “For Escape [a Calvin Klein perfume] we rented three small islands in Panama and we were anchored on a 150-foot sailboat for a week. We shot all of the pictures with Amber Valletta and her husband. It was a lot of fun, and we created great images.”
In 2016 alone, Sorrenti’s work spans ad campaigns for Giuseppe Zanotti, Tom Ford fragrance, Agent Provocateur and commercial giant Mango. On the editorial front, his photos covered publications such as CR Fashion Book, i-D, W and Harper’s Bazaar.
A proponent of all things digital, Sorrenti has accepted the new medium that some of his peers continue to resist. “I’m a huge supporter and believer in technology, and I’ve embraced all of the digital formats. I’m constantly inspired by new ways of sharing ideas and communicating them with the world,” he said.
Instagram Followers: 249,000
Campaigns: 9 Covers: 4
Bruce Weber seems never to have met an elephant he didn’t like. Or a camel. Or a shirtless hunky guy.
Those are all recurring themes in Weber’s photographs, be it for magazines like W or Vogue or ad clients, from his controversial (some deemed them semi-pornographic) catalogs and ads for Abercrombie & Fitch in the Nineties to his serene yet iconic images for Ralph Lauren for the last three decades to his black-and-white shots of a bare-breasted Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss that solidified Calvin Klein’s sexy reputation.
Described by numerous industry sources as “charming” and “beloved,” Weber has his entourage but otherwise is known for being “super easy,” although a brand fully knows what it is getting when it hires him: “If you want a brand image, you get Bruce’s image.”
Another industry source described Weber as “nice and so warm and so lovable. Inevitably, no matter where you’re shooting, you’re going to be shooting boys with no shirts and dogs, and animals that you never thought would show up would show up. It’s a huge cast and all of a sudden there will be a camel, or an elephant. ‘I just thought we should try one with an elephant’ and your client’s saying, ‘Why is there an elephant?’ He’s sort of like a kid in that way — big imagination and shoots his dreams.”
Those dreams encompass a variety of themes. Over the years, Weber has made a series of short films depicting teenage boxers, his pet dogs, a longer film in 2000 called “Chop Suey,” and a 1988 documentary called “Let’s Get Lost” about jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. His black-and-white short films for the Shinola watch brand about Detroit have brought tears to many viewers’ eyes.
Weber has also directed videos for the Pet Shop Boys and Chris Isaak, including the singer’s sultry black-and-white video “Wicked Games.” In December, Weber will release “All-American XVI: Wild Blue Yonder” through his independent imprint Little Bear Press. The upcoming edition is derived from his arts journal, “All-American,” which he first published 15 years ago.
Over the last year, Weber has shot ads for longtime clients Ralph Lauren and Versace, as well as Barneys New York and Louis Vuitton.
Asked about his career, Weber, 70, said: “As a student at NYU film school I would stop at my local newsstand and look at all the pictures in the magazines. Never did I think that someday I would see my own there — and it still gives me a thrill when I discover one of my own there. People say what they think they want in a picture, but I always go home and sleep on it. And when I wake up in the morning I realize that it’s not so much about what they want but who they are. By this I mean I’ve worked for Ralph Lauren for many years and when I take a picture for him it’s not what the latest trend is, it’s more about doing photographs for a man that has a large vision of the world today, who has given a lot to charity to help people and who has a great family and a dog called Bikini.”