Shooting a fashion show is very challenging, you can’t afford to miss any shot as it is only going to happen once in the show. Taking a picture of a model walking briskly in the runway may look easy but there are lot of certain things to follow and consider. I have encountered a lot of troubles shooting fashion shows, from poor lighting, harsh lighting, odd catwalk setup and even a show without a photo pit. I shoot thousand of images every show and I spent hours culling and selecting the best focused images of every outfit as quickly as possible. In this blog post I am going to share some important points to get the best fashion show images as possible.
Camera & Lens. Choose a DSLR with a good low light sensor and one that shoots at a high frame rate. A fast lens is a must, the best camera body will find it difficult to produce a better quality image if you have a kit lens on a dark runway, 70-200mm f/2.8 is undoubtedly the best lens for this. An extra body (preferably with 24-70mm f.2.8) is very convenient for capturing the environment or the grand finale of the show. Having two bodies is not necessary but it will increase your chance of getting a great shots.
Light and White Balance. Light is the major factor to consider when shooting fashion shows. Lights differ in every show, depends on the mood or theme of it. Getting early at the venue will help you prepare and understand how the lights will be during the show, most fashion shows have dramatic lighting setup. Low light and moving subjects are not an ideal combination, arriving early can buy you some time to prepare for the right camera settings. Getting the right white balance in fashion shows are very hard most of the time, lights are very tricky, it can be tungsten or daylight or indoor, so select the settings accordingly. If you cannot get it right on camera, set the white balance to Auto (most recent DSLRs have a good Auto white balance selection) and correct it later in post production if needed.
Memory Cards. You will be shooting rapidly in fashion shows, the worst thing you can face is running out of memory space. Make sure that you have enough fairly large fast memory cards (don't forget to format) and it should be easy to reach (put in your pocket) before the start of the event. If you have a doubt if your memory cards will be enough, bring a laptop for backup. My camera trolley bag fits a 15" laptop so it's not a hassle to bring it with me.
Accessories. I can't leave home without a monopod. Holding your camera the entire show can be stressful in the arms, stabilization is essential. Another important accessory for me is the camera strap, since I normally used two camera bodies in any given shoot, I can let my secondary camera hanging on a strap while I shoot on a monopod. Extra batteries might also be needed but not necessary unless you really shoot hundred photos of a single outfit. Basing on my experience on the longest fashion show shoot I did (almost a thousand shots), I don't recall using any of my spare batteries, but it's better to have an extra in case something unexpected happen.
Shutter Speed. A shutter speed of 1/200s or above is the ideal shutter speed. This shutter speed is fast enough to keep the models in focus and giving you a shallow depth of field to blur the background making the models stand out.
Aperture. Having a fast lens doesn't mean that you need to use the widest aperture. Also remember that details are important in fashion shows, opening your aperture to the widest might give you a sharp detail on the focus point while the other parts will be soft. So if you set your aperture to f/2.8 and your focus point is in the eyes, the other parts of the face or body will be out of focus. I normally set my aperture to f/4, setting it to f/2.8 is my last resort.
ISO. Don't be afraid to boost your ISO to get a better ambient light. I normally set my ISO to 400 to 800. If you ended up having an ISO of more than 2000, it only means that the lighting of the show was terrible and better sit back, relax and just watch or leave the show.
The Pit. Big shows are definitely packed with photographers and every one of them desire to be at the center of the photo pit, arriving late or even on time will leave you no space at the photo pit, better be there at least an hour or earlier before the show. There will be a lot of photographers discreetly shifting the best point of view. I always bring my self-standing monopod in every show I cover, aside from it's primary purpose, it is also a useful gear to mark your spot in the photo pit.
Research. Make sure you have a copy of the show's program before the event, some organizers distribute press notes before the show date. Some event posts some hints of the looks of their collections on their social media channels and websites. Research and be familiar of the event and their designers, it will help you gain confidence and makes you feel relax during the shoot. Having the program will also help you to easily organize your photos on your post processing workflow.
Focus, Timing & the Shots. I shoot in Portrait Mode most of the time, you need to capture from head to shoes, so turning your camera sideways is the best choice. I only shoot Landscape Mode to capture the show's environment and the grand finale with the models & the designer. Focus point is always on the head (or eyes for close-up shots), I set it in continuous Autofocus Mode, it keeps the subject focus locked as she/he's walking towards the camera pit. I set the camera metering mode to Center Weighted Mode since most of the stage setups were bright and you need to have a correct exposure of the models. Try to time your shots when the model's feet are flat or their leading heels hits the floor and their arms are at their sides. I always take a minimum of four shots for every model, first is a head-to-toe shot of the model while walking for the whole view of the outfit. Second is a close up shot from the torso to the face to highlight the details of the dress, accessories, hair and the make-up. Third is the back shot, some outfits have an interesting details at the back of the outfit, this is the most neglected shot but needs to be considered always. And lastly the grand finale, the last look of all the models and the designer. Sometimes I also shoot a wide view (landscape mode) showing the last walk of the models or before making a turn with the crowd on the sides. I also take photo of the model when they pause near the end of the runway, it's unflattering since model seems static but it's a good backup if you missed a shot down the runway.
Always prepare yourself before the shoot, make sure you have taken enough food to outlast the show. Relieve yourself before stepping on the pit, bring something to hydrate you. Just relax and be confident, you cannot nail it on your first or second or even on your third shoot, it takes time and experience to learn the art of fashion show photography.
Here's my list of gear for a Fashion Show shoot
- Think Tank Retrospective 30 (Messenger Bag) or
- Think Tank Airport Navigator
- Black Rapid - Sport Strap
- Manfrotto Self Standing Monopod 682b
- Nikon D800
- Nikon D810
- Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
- Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED VR