London Fashion Week 2016 Catwalk Photography

London Fashion Week 2016 Catwalk Photography

It’s that time of year again, where London sees the fashion glitterati descending on the many venues around the city where the catwalk shows take place. In past years I’ve been assigned to the main runway at Somerset House but this time I found myself shooting the shows at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. One thing to bear in mind if you shoot catwalk is that your environment can differ hugely from one venue to the next. Somerset House has a central courtyard where a purpose-built structure is created, purely for the shows. As such it’s minutely designed to provide an ideal environment to showcase the designers, and therefore an ideal environment for the photographers to gain the most useful collection of images. Other catwalks during the week may take place in very different situations and you’ll need to cope with that.

Somerset House shows and technical tips:

London Fashion Week 2014

London Fashion Week 2013

So what’s it like at the Saatchi Gallery? First of all, this is the longest runway I have ever seen, and the narrowest. So we were packing some seriously long glass as you can see from the photos at the beginning of the slideshow. Plus the photographers’ pit is half the size of that at Somerset House. This generally means two things – it will be cosy in there, and your shooting options in terms of angles will be far less. But otherwise, the normal rules apply. You have your spot and you stay in it unless you arrange to swap with someone else during a changeover. Knock the TV cameraman or touch his tripod and you’ll be hauled out by the scruff of your neck never to be seen again.  And get this – I counted a record five female photographers in the pit last week – that’s way more than usual. This does still seem to be a man’s world. And that’s understandable, given how physically demanding catwalk photography can be.

Different catwalks may require different lenses, and certainly very different settings. In some venues the lighting is very bright and fairly even from start to finish. In other venues the lighting can vary hugely in intensity down each part of the runway. As you can see from one of the photos I grabbed before the show started, each end of the catwalk at the Saatchi Gallery houses incredibly strong forward facing floodlights. This can create massive exposure anomalies if you include too much of those lights in your frame (a warning for Av or Tv shooters). You can end up with drastic underexposure at times – particularly if you’re framing tightly towards the bottom end of the runway. Add that to the generally low intensity of lighting in the mid section and you know instinctively that you’ll be shooting at the higher ISO levels. At the Saatchi Gallery I ended up pushing to 2500ISO in order to get the shutter speed I needed to freeze motion. Remember that models move very quickly. This is no problem for a good quality modern sensor, but once you crop a bit and lift the exposure your image will start to seriously suffer. This is why it’s so important to get your exposure as good as you can at the time. For me that means deciding which part of the runway forms my key ‘zone’ and ensuring that I meter for that region. Next, colour temperature can vary considerably per building. At Somerset House the reading came in at 4300 Kelvin but the Saatchi Gallery read at 2800 Kelvin. When shooting RAW you can argue that taking a reading at the time is unnecessary – you can simply batch correct afterwards. That is very much how I work in my normal day-to-day life as a photographer, but on the catwalk colour accuracy becomes much more important.

As always, it was great to see familiar faces and the team from CPS who took such good care of us. This is the one time of the year when I have to shoot with my Canon kit (Canon are one of the main sponsors of Fashion Week) as I’m there under their umbrella.  But I’m glad I’m not carrying heavy stuff any more often – it hurts, and these days it’s retained for the use of my assistant. A monopod can help to support the weight of your equipment through the show, but I find it restricts me too much. Just do what works best for you.

WARNING:  the slideshows are sometimes accompanied by music which starts automatically – if you’re in a quiet environment you can mute this via the icon on the bottom right hand corner of the thumbnail strip (if there is no speaker icon, it means there is no music associated with this particular slideshow).


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