I think there’s something fascinating and compelling about catwalk photography, particularly the homegrown confines of London Fashion Week 2014, the hub of which is the beautiful and refined setting of Somerset House on The Strand. It was great to see so many familiar faces from the occasions when I’ve shot here over the years – familiar security personnel on the catwalk, familiar models (give or take the odd hair colour change) and familiar faces in the photographers’ pit.
There’s a well honed drill and protocol to shooting at a world-class event such as London Fashion Week. The photographers enter the catwalk before anyone else so that we have time to sort ourselves out and get into our designated positions. Depending on how busy the show is the pit can be jam packed. If you’re on the front level then you’ll be sitting, the next row behind will be squatting on kneeling, and those towards the back will be standing or using ladders. Each show can last anything from 20 to 40 min and might consist of three sets. For the duration you’ll have your camera to your eye with little time to pause. Once you’ve got the main shots in the bag it’s worth thinking about injecting some variety which might mean wider more contextual pictures or details.
There was a huge amount of camaraderie this year, and I have to say the sessions I photographed were incredibly busy, which is how I like it. There is a half-hour break between each show which in reality means that you get between 15 and 20 min to stretch your legs, but it’s rarely enough to get a drink or a snack. It’s easy to go without food all day so it’s advisable to ensure you have energy bars in your camera bag and water. The environment is frenetic and bustling, a world far removed from the London streets just a few yards away. I was there as usual with CPN (Canon Professional Network) and in fact Canon is one of the sponsors of London Fashion Week. This of course meant that I was using my Canon kit – a rarity indeed because as many of you will know I have switched to Olympus for my professional and recreational photography. I reached the point where the pain and fatigue associated with DSLRs became too much, and I had to change systems or give up photography completely. Glorious as the top of the range pro Canon cameras are, I spent the day after shooting Fashion Week in my pyjamas with every muscle in my body aching!
Catwalk photography has a way of taking you well beyond your comfort zone, if you’re used to controlling the proceedings in your week to week professional work. For a start, it’s not about the people, it’s about the clothes. In other words your task is to document the outfits as clearly, accurately, and precisely as possible. Your images will need to be pin sharp and perfectly colour balanced. How do you achieve that amidst the frenetic pace of the shows? You’ll need to maintain focus over the models’ eyes so you’ll be flicking your focus points around as you work. I shoot the shows mostly in portrait orientation so I’ll select a focus point at the top of the autofocus zone, and much of the time I’ll expand the focus point to include the nine points adjacent to it. If I then move into landscape orientation I’ll quickly shift my focus point a little further towards the centre.
The lighting is normally pretty good on the catwalk and it isn’t difficult to get an accurate colour reading. Just looking at the lights will tell you what they are and on the main runway in Somerset House they’ll be tungsten. For these shows I set my colour temperature at 4500 degrees Kelvin which gave accurate skin tones and neutral whites. In terms of exposure, the centre section of the runway is brighter than either end so your exposures will vary somewhat, but you’re likely to be at around f5.6 and 1/500 at ISO 1000 or thereabouts. The mode you shoot in is up to you, providing you understand how it works. For example in Aperture Priority your shutter speed is likely to vary according to the relative proportion of light and dark in the frame (in other words how bright that part of the runway is) – keep an eye on your shutter speed and make sure it doesn’t fall below the speed needed to freeze the models as they walk. With catwalk photography the idea is that you get your shots as good as they can be in camera, because your post production will be minimal – a little bit of contrast and the odd minor exposure adjustment is all you’ll be doing (which is just as well because you can end up with thousands of images from just one day of shooting).
I loved the collections this year – the clothing I photographed was so incredibly wearable and beautiful, and I think my particular favourite was the floaty red Oscar de la Renta evening gown. Once again, huge thanks to Canon Professional Services for their exemplary organisation and support – I hope to see everyone again next time.