Incorporating Illustration into your Fashion Photography

Last week, make up artist Rachel Toledo sent me an editorial she worked on recently and I thought the story behind it was really good so I’d like to share it with you. I asked photographer Jason Setiawan to describe his inspiration behind the story. This is what he had to say:


“I came across an editorial with the use of illustration and combining it with fashion photography, and it was really inspiring. I’ve done something similar in the past where I partnered up with a local designer and did a complete look book in a comic book style. Combining her illustration and my photography together to create a fashion editorial story.  I thought it’s time for me to re-visit the concept and do another one in a slightly different style.

I often collaborate with some artists friends of mine on a fashion or beauty story. The collaboration can start even over a casual coffee get together or even from a simple “hello, how are you?” E-mail/text conversation. In one of our conversations, we decided that we would go with this illustration idea. We started by putting together a mood board, and getting the rest of the team. We agreed that we would add illustration in the final images after we finished the shooting/production. 



The concept of this story was to combine both photography and illustration together in a way that can still show the two distinctly but having the two elements enhance each other. During the photography production, working with such a wonderful team was great and easy. It was quite simple to shoot the model on a clean white background, with amazing makeup/hair and styling. I kept the lighting clean for the background and slightly angled for the main light to give added mood to the model’s expression. 

On its own, the images came out beautiful and clean, it was still a good fashion story. However, we wanted to make it more than that. 

We knew once we added Illustration, we could transform this story beyond just a simple fashion story.

Our first challenge was to find an illustrator with a style that works with our vision. And when you are open to options in illustration style, it leads to many trials and challenges. 

After a while, I decided to try doing the illustration myself digitally. We had some great options for doing this. One of them was working with illustrations of flowers. 

From here we had a better idea of what illustration direction we wanted to continue with. 

After a few different trials with a few illustrators, we finally met Aura Lewis, who has a very distinct style, which feels airy, playful, and joyous. Reminds us of spring.

We felt that this would be the right fit for our story, so we approached her and started our collaboration together. 

When we first combined the illustration, we agreed that this will be the solution we wanted. We still did a few trials on the placement of the model, flowers, child and other elements of the illustration in the photos. In some of them, we had to move the model to accommodate the illustration, in some other we moved the illustrations to get a good balance in the photograph. We changed some color for contrast purposes, as well.

Another challenge we faced was when we realized that there needed to be somewhat of a transition between the two, connecting photography and the illustration together.

 It took a few more trial and errors to find the correct solution, mainly on my end of post-production. And finally, when we added the roughly sketched outlines around the photograph, the two elements worked beautifully together. 

In the end, we wanted them to look balanced, with enough diversity between the photos, while keeping them consistent as a story. “



Aura Lewis, the illustrator who Jason chose to work with had some things to say about the concept and process as well:

“I loved collaborating on this project with Jason and his team! The illustration process was interesting, as I had to work with existing compositions. The challenge was finding a way to enhance the photographs without distracting the viewer from the main figure. We chose to create playful scenes by pairing the model with a character. I added lots of florals and colorful patterns, which make the mood light, fun and feminine.”

The shoot was shot for The Collective Magazine which is own and ran by NYC stylist, Eryka Clayton, who I have worked with a lot in the past. As the editor in Chief of The Collective, Eryka was the one who worked together with Jason from the very beginning because she assigned the shoot to Jason. Here’s her input on the shoot:

“As the editor and stylist on this project I started by putting my focus on the palette I wanted to use to set the tone for the imagery. That same palette would eventually be used by the manicurist, make up artist and illustrator as well as myself so it was important to create that first.  I landed on lush bright floral inspired colors with strong whites to compliment the lighting direction. The wardrobe pull was a huge success as I was able to get everything I wanted (a bright ball gown skirt, multiple pairs of avante garde shoes from Oysby and lanyard purse clips from Lili Radu) along with a few extra finds (headphones and a gold elephant). The shoot itself was also a success. We had a “dream” team, a fantastic model and great energy on set. So we were all optimistic about the outcome. But then we hit a wall. The illustrator that initially worked on the images took them in a direction that was not on vision so the hunt began for a new illustrator right at our publication deadline. It took a few tests from multiple illustrators till we found our happy place with Aura- who Jason found. Unfortunately we missed our deadline because of it so now we get to share them with you and learn from the experience! 

Creative integrity is everything. It is so important to have clarity on the vision while staying open but also being ok with saying “no”.  It’s tough sometimes, especially when you’re working with a team you know well and love working with. But when you introduce a knew layer to a project, especially for the first time and midway through, it’s best to see it to completion with creative integrity rather than to have a story published that you can’t be proud of. 


In the end, we found a great illustrator that inspires us to create more and that to me is a win!”

Makeup artist Rachel Toledo chimed in with her thoughts on the shoot:

“With a bright colorful Spring pallate of clothes and gorgeous illustrations, I didn’t want to distract with heavy makeup. I thought it was important for the model to look clean and glowing. A touch of muted pastels was used on the eyes and I added lots of shimmer and metalic textures in my makeup choices to give highlights. It was important that the clothes spoke for this story and the girl just looked fresh.”

And lastly, Anthony Payne had this to say:

Whispy pieces of the hair were pulled and teased up to add movement and texture. It was important to let the hair have life and action.”


I think the story turned out beautifully! It illustrates how stepping outside the box and using different forms of medium to give your photography more life is something to think about. I have had the pleasure of working with Eryka, Rachel and Anthony who are all highly talented artist who also bring warmth and team spirit to the shoot! You can read how it took the entire team, not just the photographer, to create an outstanding story.  It also teaches us that even with all the effort we can end up putting in to a shoot, sometimes the end results (like getting published) is out of our hands. In the end you have to think about how you work to create better art and showcase your best efforts.

Melissa Rodwell