I have a team of 4 photographers this year who are getting that awesome lifetime experience of shooting New York Fashion Week Runway Shows for the first time. Three of the photographers are students from my recent Master Class in Los Angeles and one is a young photographer that I met while on assignment in Australia. I have invited this select group to join me this fashion week, and go out on assignment and have a blast learning the ropes of runway photography. They are all extremely talented photographers in their chosen field of photography but total newbie runway photographers. We have Matt from Australia, Annie and Stephanie from Los Angeles, and Mark from San Francisco. Be sure to check back here daily and on social media to follow in their exciting journey as first time runway photographers.
Matt who arrived from Australia yesterday has been helping me to organize the crazy fashion week schedule for the team. It involves credentialing with the pr companies and fashion designers, putting together a spreadsheet of a daily list of shows, and then an assignment calender for each photographer.
I am having the photographers cover both "street fashion" before and after the shows, as I really feel that is an exciting area of fashion week to photograph... to get a glimpse at the way fashion industry people (and those who aren't in the industry, but who are fashionistas in their own right)... how they dress to attend the shows. When shooting street fashion, you can literally shoot with any camera, even an iPhone. But when shooting the runway shows there's certain gear that does make the photograph better.
So lets venture into this world of runway photography, and come into the pit with me, as I take you with us on this journey. If you, the reader, are interested also in shooting runway this season, I offer here some really great suggestions that I have learned over the years. I started out shooting film in the pit at NYFW over 20 some seasons ago.
Tips for great runway shots: I would suggest having some sort of hard case, like a pelican case or a "turtle." This is pretty important. You will want this to sit on while you were shooting the show and it works great to establish your territory, as the pit is a very hard place to sit in. Without anything to sit on you will most likely have your legs fall asleep halfway through the show which has happened to me a dozen times. Then you try to get up after shooting a show and you've got rubber legs ? and look like a total dork. Remember, you are also trying to look cool as this is fashion week, and rubber legs don't look so chic.
Now you could always stand up in the back of the pit, but then again when I shot the Mark Jacobs show it was a complete madhouse with Lady Gaga, J-lo, everyone was there. I had to bring with me a six-foot ladder to the show. The taxi driver did not want to pick me up with my big ladder but I made him and he drove with half of it sticking out the window! I placed on top of that ladder a pelican case duct taped to it on the top step, then ducked taped to that was a turtle stand (on top of all that!) just to get an inch view between two people's heads to get a shot of the runway. My assistance's job was literally to stand behind my ladder and hold it so I didn't die. No lie.
I would not suggest starting out shooting a Marc Jacobs show for this very reason. As glamorous as it sounds believe me that it is the last place you want to be as a newbie. Start off easy and slow with some of the easier less popular shows. For most convenience it's best to sit on a case down in front instead of trying to stand in the back. When you shoot high you get the look of a very expansive runway and the venue seems larger than it really is in the photograph. When you shoot low from down on the floor, you make the models more statuesque and it is a very intimate feel. A benefit of shooting low is that you could easily run to the next show if you're in front, but from the top back part of the pit, you have to wait for everyone first who's in front of you to move. Of course some of the smaller shows it's a piece a cake to stand in the back it just depends on how popular the show is.
When shooting a long runway show it's best to have a very fast lens which is something like A 70 - 200 f2.8 IS lens w a rotating monopod/tripod ring. If your lens is slower like a 5.6 in speed it's just gonna be a little bit more difficult. A fast camera helps too. If I'm shooting the big runway shows that are professionally lit with million-dollar lighting then I usually have the following settings: 640 ISO, f4, at 250/sec. Always always always manual settings. If you find that it's too dark or too light then you can easily change and either make your shutter speed a 200 or bump up the iso to 800 on any of the advanced low light cameras. Or if it's too bright, can you can always make a shutter speed faster. I find if you go over 500th of a second shutter speed, you get the models in really weird expressions. I also never hold my finger down and just let it rapid-fire. I see a lot of professional photographers from the biggest organizations doing that and I understand why they're doing it but I always prefer to shoot for the moment. Part of the fun is about anticipating what's about to happen a second before it happens live and getting that perfect timing of the front of the foot hitting the ground. It's what makes it exciting and artistic. You anticipate that moment when her hair is going to bounce or you sense the beautiful flowing fabric of her gown is just about to move in a way that is just extraordinarily beautiful and that's when you take a shot. And these models do this on purpose... they know how to use their body and their arms to create magic. It's the excitement with the music when they're walking down the runway and timing that shot. Don't be lazy and just take every single shot. Be creative!
Also when I walk into a venue I can usually tell within the first 10 seconds of what the color temperature of the light will be even though they haven't turn the lights on. That just comes from experience and knowing the kind of lights that are mounted to the ceiling. You will manually want to set your color temperature in kelvins. 3150 - 3400 is usually right around the color temperature that most of the shows will be. That is your typical tungsten lighting. Occasionally I'll going to a show and then I'll be spotlights for instance Betsey Johnson always use the spotlight. Those are daylight spots around 5500 to 5600 kelvin. When in doubt find house video and ask them what the color temperature is. They are usually in the venue when they do run-throughs before they let the rest the photographers in and they have to know this color temperature especially if they're shooting live for the world to see. B video is usually the house video team. Sometimes I'll just ask them just to confirm what I believe is true. It's astonishing to me how many times I've seen the photographer next to me shooting blue pictures not realizing that they have to change their color temperature from when they were just shooting a celebrity in the front row with their flash five minutes before the show started.
Without a doubt most smaller offsite shows do not have as bright of lighting as the big fashion shows . In the big fashion shows you never ever ever need to use flash to shoot a runway show. That is just for the movies to make the pit seem more exciting. The only time I ever had to use flash is at small offsite shows where they do not have professional lights and the runway has dark spots, meaning they have a bright spot and then shadowed spot on the runway walk. Its just crazy. Occasionally on very long runways you will find that the very start of the runway which technically is that the back where the models just walk out from backstage.., that sometimes is about one-stop darker then towards the front of the runway. But what I sometimes do is open up to f3.2 or f2.8 for the first shot and then close it down to about f4 once the model is about one third of the way out onto the runway.
Well that's about all for now. If any of you are thinking of shooting the runways this season and have any questions or need any more advice on gear or even the more difficult task of getting that "center spot", feel free to connect with me personally. Be sure to check back here daily and on social media to follow in their exciting journey as first time runway photographers.