Photography was developed in the 1830s, but the earliest popular technique, the daguerreotype, was unsuitable for mass printing. In 1856, Adolphe Braun published a book containing 288 photographs of Virginia Oldoini, Countess di Castiglione, a Tuscan noblewoman at the court of Napoleon III. The photos depict her in her official court garb, making her the first fashion model.
In the first decade of the 20th century, advances in halftone printing allowed fashion photographs to be featured in magazines. Fashion photography made its first appearance in French magazines such as La mode practique. In 1909, Condé Nast took over Vogue magazine and also contributed to the beginnings of fashion photography. In 1911, photographer Edward Steichen was "dared" by Lucien Vogel, the publisher of Jardin des Modes and La Gazette du Bon Ton, to promote fashion as a fine art by the use of photography.Steichen then took photos of gowns designed by couturier Paul Poiret. These photographs were published in the April 1911 issue of the magazine Art et Décoration. According to Jesse Alexander, This is "...now considered to be the first ever modern fashion photography shoot. That is, photographing the garments in such a way as to convey a sense of their physical quality as well as their formal appearance, as opposed to simply illustrating the object." At this time, special emphasis was placed on staging the shots, a process first developed by Baron Adolf de Meyer, who shot his models in natural environments and poses. Vogue was followed by its rival, Harper's Bazaar, and the two companies were leaders in the field of fashion photography throughout the 1920s and 1930s. House photographers such as Edward Steichen, George Hoyningen-Huene, Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton transformed the genre into an outstanding art form. Europe, and especially Germany, was for a short time the leader in fashion photography.
But now with that change in time every country has taken considerable measures to promote the field of photography.
In the mid 1940s as World War II approached, the focus shifted to the United States, where Vogue and Harper's continued their old rivalry. House photographers such as Irving Penn, Martin Munkacsi, Richard Avedon, and Louise Dahl-Wolfe would shape the look of fashion photography for the following decades. Richard Avedon revolutionized fashion photography — and redefined the role of the fashion photographer — in the post-World War II era with his imaginative images of the modern woman. Today, his work is being exhibited in the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach, FL. This exhibition features more than 200 works and spans Avedon’s entire career, including vintage prints, contact sheets, and original magazines from Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and The New Yorker.
The artists abandoned their rigid forms for a much freer style. In 1936, Martin Munkacsi made the first photographs of models in sporty poses at the beach. Under the artistic direction of Alexey Brodovitch, the Harper's Bazaar quickly introduced this new style into its magazine.
In postwar London, John French pioneered a new form of fashion photography suited to reproduction in newsprint, involving where possible reflected natural light and low contrast.
After the deaths of Richard Avedon, Helmut Newton and Herb Ritts, some of today's most famous fashion photographers are Patrick Demarchelier, Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, Peter Lindbergh and Annie Leibovitz.