I love fashion photography – it’s one of the subjects I photograph in my spare time for my own enjoyment, so when Canon Professional Services invited me to come and photograph London Fashion Weekend I was more than a little excited!
Where London Fashion Week is aimed at industry insiders, London Fashion Weekend aims to be outward facing, inviting in the fashion conscious consumer, and students with aspirations to become the designers of the future.
My day started meeting Canon for a briefing. This gave me the opportunity to chat to some like-minded photographers, as well as getting my first look at Canon’s newest camera kit, the EOS 1Dx mkII and the EOS 5D mkIV. (Both look like excellent cameras, and I’m looking forward to trying them out in the field at some point in the future!) The briefing included a talk from an experienced fashion photographer and some practical guidance. Once we were briefed, it was time to walk over to the venue, the Saatchi Gallery.
Press pits are interesting places. This small space at the end of the catwalk needed to accommodate 40 photographers and a TV crew, plus all of the bags and equipment. They call it a “pit” for a reason! The best spots are in the centre, and are usually reserved for the TV crew and those shooting for big name publications, but with tiered platforms there is usually a reasonable angle for everyone.
Once we were in position it was time for the show. The Saatchi Gallery has a very long catwalk, so I made the decision to go for a 70-200mm zoom lens to give a reasonable range. Using the 70-200 allowed me to photograph the models from a fair distance, helping to reduce the effect of my high vantage point in the back row of the pit. Fashion shows use a lot of artificial light, but even so, they still require a reasonably high ISO. In order to get both eyes in focus an f-number between around 4 and 5.6 was required, with a shutter speed of around 1/400th and above being necessary in order to freeze the motion of a fairly brisk walk. You can tackle image noise in post production, but there’s not a whole lot you can do with motion blur!
Although I wasn’t shooting for publication, I still tried to treat this as a photojournalistic assignment, so I’ve kept the retouching to a minimum just adjusting the exposure, contrast, black and white points, sharpening and noise reduction. I’m not used to having to preserve any journalistic integrity in my normal fine art work, so this helped me to focus on getting things right in camera.
Camera set up is reasonably straightforward for this soft of thing. I worked in manual mode with the starting point for my settings being ISO 1600, f/5.0, 1/400s. I did make a few adjustments to this one way or another as things went on, just to compensate for changes to the lighting at different points during the show.
White balance is always tricky with artificial light, for this show I cheated a little and asked one of the Canon team for the colour temperature of the lights. With this information I was able to choose the “K” white balance option on the camera and set a value of 3400K. Had I not had this information I could have photographed my grey card and used that to set the white balance. Correct colour is critical for fashion. If you’re photographing for the designer or for a publication you need to ensure that what’s printed on the page matches how the garment actually looked – the colour will have been carefully chosen by the designer and they’re not going to be impressed if you’ve changed it!
Also critically important when shooting fashion is autofocus. I set mine to “AI-Servo” mode on my Canon 5D mkII – other camera brands usually refer to this mode as “AF-C” – “C” for continuous. Continuous focus means the camera will track the subject I have the camera pointed at for as long as I keep my finger half-pressed on the shutter button. (Some people like to use back-button focus here, but I’m still trying to decide if that’s a technique that offers any benefits to me and the way I shoot, but that’s a story for another day!) I set my focus point to the top point in portrait orientation on my camera as that’s likely to be where I’ll want to place the eyes.
One setting photographers often overlook is the focus range limit switch on the lens. My 70-200 allows me to choose the focus range between 1.2m – infinity or 2.5m – infinity. You may wonder why I’d want to restrict the range, but it comes down to one thing: speed. The less range the lens has to search for focus, the faster it will lock on. From the back of the pit I’m going to be at least 2.5m from the action so that limit won’t be causing me any problems at all.
Some photographers will set their camera to shoot in burst mode for these shows, where the camera will keep taking photographs as quickly as it can for as long as the shutter button is held at full-press. For me I didn’t want to surrender control of my timing to the camera, so I left my camera shooting a single frame for each press of the button. There’s a simple reason for timing your shots – you usually want to make sure you’re catching the model with both feet on the ground, otherwise they’ll look like they’re balancing awkwardly on one leg. This is quite tricky to master, as you’re simultaneously trying to keep the focus point on the model’s face, while watching the movement of the model’s feet and trying to hit the shutter button as the model’s heel hits the ground on each step. Definitely something where practice helps!
One of the bits of equipment I wish I had taken with me was a monopod. I didn’t need it for stability, but it does help to take the weight of the camera, making for a more comfortable shoot. That 70-200 lens soon starts to feel heavy! I used to be fine using the heavier lenses for longer periods, but since I’ve started using smaller mirrorless cameras I think I may have actually lost a little muscle tone in my upper body! Maybe it’s photography’s way of telling me I need to join a gym!
Here’s a selection of my photographs from the show (click images to see larger):