Planning on photographing a catwalk show? Professional photographer Paul Bayfield shares 10 tips on how to come away with the best images possible.
Get to know your light. Moving subjects and low light are not a good combination, so take the time to understand the environment. If you can, talk to the lighting engineer and find out what the actual show light is going to be (and, if possible, try and get to the venue ahead of time and catch a run-through). Backstage access can be hard to come by, so if you aren’t commissioned to be there then do a little networking beforehand or at the event. This can be an opportunity to capture some great images of all the preparation that will be vastly different from anyone else’s on the catwalk. Models love to be photographed and are often very happy to help you get the shot you want.
2. Get your white balance right beforehand
While leaving the camera to its auto white balance settings is what we do most of the time, during a catwalk show our white balance choice is one of the most important things we have to think about. Get it right in-camera; any correction after the shoot could mean that the designer’s clothes turn out looking to be a different colour than they have intended. The result? You may not be asked to shoot their brand again.
3. Keep your shutter speed high
A shutter speed under 1/320sec is pretty much useless. Any hint of softness is unacceptable for online or print content as far as a fashion house is concerned, so check regularly that you haven’t nudged it down by accident. You won’t have time to keep adjusting this as you shoot so set yourself a lower limit for shutter speed and don’t go below it.
4. Don’t be afraid of increasing your ISO
ISO performance on DSLRs is something that’s improved dramatically over the last couple of years. Some of us can be a bit nervous about pushing up the numbers in fear of the dreaded noise creeping in, but don’t be. Even prosumer cameras today deal with noise issues well and have great algorithms for countering any noise that may appear. On my camera, I generally set it to around ISO 1000 and find no noise issues whatsoever. I’ll take absolute sharpness over a pinch of grain any day of the week (you may be surprised to know that whilst photographing a recent Burberry show, many photographers were shooting at around ISO 10,000 or higher).
5. Use the right glass
Lenses are undoubtedly the best asset in your arsenal. You can have an up-to-date, all-singing-and-dancing camera body, but if you have your 18-55mm kit lens attached you may as well be using a point-and-shoot camera once you get onto a dark catwalk. If you want to shoot fashion, save that body upgrade a while longer and put the money towards what you stick on the front of it. Fast, bright lenses can be expensive but they are worth every penny at the till. Your images will be better and that glass will start to pay for itself quickly. And it’s not all about the holy f/2.8 range, either. Cheaper fixed-focal lengths such as the Nikon 300mm f/4E PF ED VR AF-S will save you a lot of money and be less of a burden to carry around.
6. Don’t necessarily use your widest aperture
You may think that shooting at your widest aperture in a low-light situation is the standard way of conquering the speed and light problem. What we find, however, is that our depth of field is much shallower and we will lose the finer details in the clothes. With a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens I will not shoot anymore open than f/4. Remember, it’s all about being as sharp as possible. Zooming into the eyeballs of a model after the shoot will show you just how great the difference in sharpness can be between the maximum aperture and one a couple of stops smaller.
7. Set your focus correctly and know exactly when to shoot
For fashion shows, I spend the majority of the time shooting in the portrait orientation with my focus point at the top of the viewfinder covering the models’ eyes. I set my camera to continuous autofocus and, with the tracking option that’s available on most cameras, I can trust that it’s going to keep her face locked as she’s walking towards me. I’m not, however, looking at her face. My eyes are locked on her feet and my finger is releasing the shutter as her leading heel hits the ground. If you attend a fashion show with seasoned professionals you will hear a cacophony of ‘click … click … click …’ to the beat of a model’s march towards the camera pit.
8. Find out who’s who
Do some homework and familiarise yourself with the more famous faces on the walk. They may only be on the runway for seconds and within those seconds will be the window where that model will walk into that sweet spot where the light and distance is just right. You can’t afford to miss the shot as it’s only going to happen once for that show. The same applies for the clothes; if you are shooting for a client, they are going to want an example of every look in their range. Be relaxed but concentrate.
9. Check and check again
You may actually have checked and double-checked, but it goes without saying that you should charge every battery, clean every lens and check every body in your kit. I will often pack my camera case, un-pack it and then re-pack again so I can add or discard anything I think I may need or not need for the week. Make sure your memory cards are formatted and writing/reading data correctly. The worst thing you can face is running out of card space when live on a job, so make sure that you are on a clean card at the start of every event. Also, get yourself a Peli case. I use a Peli 1510 and find it invaluable for standing and sitting on, plus I know my gear is pretty much safe against anything.
10. Make friends
Get to know the others in your pit. If you have a spot marked up, stick to it; it can be a very territorial place and some of the more seasoned photographers may try and intimidate you! For the most part, this is just our way of having a little fun. A pinch of good humour goes a long way and if you’re fun to be around then the chances are we will bend over backwards to help you out with anything you need. There are no stupid questions so never be nervous asking for advice. Everyone started somewhere, including me.
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