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Off-site shows are usually a little different from those held in the Tents. With only a few exceptions, the venues tend to be smaller and runways—when they’re used—are shorter. Lighting is often more challenging than the Tents as well. And, many of the off-site shows are presentations, with static models arranged on platforms or, on occasion, clothes displayed on mannequins. While the badge for the Tents will generally get you into off-site shows, an invitation from the designer is all you need for his or her show.
One of the things I love about off-site shows is that I often get to photograph less well-known, but interesting, designers. Other than off-site shows in huge venues, there are usually fewer photographers on the riser. It can still get crowded, though but it’s a little less stressful than shooting in the Tents. Except, of course, when you have to run uptown, then crosstown and then back downtown to get to the different venues.
If you look at the show schedule, you can usually tell if it’s a runway show or a presentation since the latter will usually list a start and an end time, while a runway show just lists the start time.
Even presentations can vary. It may be a group of models posed on a platform or on couches and chairs; they might change outfits during the presentation (be sure to find out when you get there so you don’t miss any looks), or simply stay in the same outfits throughout. Occasionally, a designer will repeat a runway show several times during the 1-3 hours allotted. Once you have your shots, then you’re off to the next assignment.
As I mentioned, lighting can be a challenge off-site. Over the past 6 years, I’ve shot under all kinds of conditions including a catwalk show in an historic 19th century mansion lit by dim chandeliers and a single window, a dark and dingy cement room on the Bowery with a single spotlight, and runway shows where the end of the runway was two stops brighter than the far end. Of course, you sometimes get lucky and photograph a bright, evenly lit show. Lighting for static presentations is often pretty good.
Gear and Shooting Tips
Now that you have an idea of the conditions and settings you may encounter at Fashion Week, it’s time to talk about what gear you’ll need and how to use it.
You’ll need a DSLR, of course; preferably two (one for back-up). I prefer full-frame cameras but have shot Fashion Week with everything from the Olympus E-3 to the Canon 30D, 1D Mark III, 1Ds Mark III and, for the past few seasons, the Nikon D700 and the D3. Whatever camera you decide to use, make sure you know how to use it and can change settings intuitively—you don’t have time (or enough light) to stop and figure out what to do next. Since you’ll be shooting verticals most of the time, a vertical grip makes life easier.
Two zoom lenses should cover just about every situation, as long as they’re fast. My ideal is a 24-70mm/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8, particularly for full-frame cameras. If you’re not shooting full-frame and you’re faced with a short runway, you may want to opt for the 24-70mm lens instead of the 70-200mm, depending on the length of the runway and your camera-to-subject distance when the model poses in front of the riser.
The 24-70mm lens works well when photographing static presentations since, more often than not, you’ll be relatively close to the models. These presentations can get crowded with guests, so you’ll need to maneuver around people who are there to view the collection but it’s rarely a problem.
Most of the time you’ll rely on available light when you’re shooting Fashion Week. Flash is never used for runway shows in the Tents, although people sitting in the audience will snap some shots with flash. For off-site runway shows, flash is only used when it’s really dark (as in too dark for autofocus to work reliably). A good rule of thumb is, if all or most of the photographers aren’t using flash, then you shouldn’t either.
However, flash is commonly used for static presentations, backstage and for pre-show front-row shots (you’ll need special credentials for the latter in the Tents). Forget your camera’s on-board flash (if it has one)—you may end up with redeye, harsh shadows and, when you shoot vertically, lighting may be uneven. Instead, use a flash like the Nikon SB-900 Speedlight or the Canon 580EX II Speedlite. The most useful—and versatile—flash equipment includes a diffuser as well as a sync cord and/or bracket set-up so you can use the flash off-camera.
Depending on the weight of your camera/lens combination and your ability to hold the camera steady, you may or may not want to bring along a monopod. Just be sure you can mount the camera vertically. Also, be aware that you should stand on one of the riser steps and not on floor level.
Of course, you’ll need plenty of media cards, especially if you’re shooting RAW. I generally carry enough cards—plus a few extras—to dedicate one for each show I’m covering that day. Most of my cards are high speed and high capacity; I rarely use anything smaller than a 4GB card and prefer 8, 16 and 32GB CF cards. After each show, I place the card in a Think Tank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket card holder, labeled with a small piece of paper.
Pack extra batteries for your cameras and strobe. A lens cloth, brush and blower bulb will help keep your lens and LCD clean, while a tiny flashlight comes in handy when searching in your bag or looking for something you dropped on the floor.
There may be times when you’ll need something to stand on in order to shoot over the person in front of you or, if you’re on the floor, you may need something to sit on, especially if there’s a double-row of photographers down in front. Some photographers cart their gear around in hard cases that can be used for sitting or as a platform to stand on. Others carry a folding step stool like the plastic Turtle Stool for the same purposes.
Your job during Fashion Week is to capture images that show off the designer’s clothes. For runway shows, the general rule of thumb is to shoot at least one full length, one Â¾ and a close-up. If you’re shooting from a distance or from an angle, you may be able to get a full-length shot when the model poses at the end of the runway. It takes some practice to get the ideal shot with the model’s feet flat on the ground and arms at her/his side.
I also often shoot the backs of the outfits as the model is walking away and will sometimes shoot the sweep of a hemline, an interesting shoe or accessory if there’s time. Unusual make-up and/or hairstyles also deserve attention, as long as you have the main shots.
During the finale, all the models walk down the runway, which can make for some interesting shots with selective focus. The designer may walk the runway with the last model in line. More likely, he or she will make a quick appearance (be ready for the shot) at the far end of the runway after the models exit.
For static presentations, models are usually grouped together and, depending on the arrangement, it may be difficult to photograph individual looks. Instead, you can use a wide angle lens, like a 24-70mm, to capture several outfits at one time. Just be aware of distortion at wide angle—models at the edge of the frame can look pretty bad.
Not everyone has access to shoot backstage before a show but if you have the opportunity to go behind the scenes, you’ll be well-rewarded with candid shots of make-up artists and hair stylists preparing the models for the show. Backstage is usually crowded, noisy and hectic but it’s fun and you may run into a celeb or two.