How To... Photograph a Fashion Show

If you look through the archives of my blog, you’ll see that I’ve photographed a lot of fashion shows. Starting off with Graduate Fashion Week in 2012, I’ve photographed a multitude of differently-styled catwalks throughout the years. When I first attended one, I had no idea what I was doing or what settings my camera should be on. I muddled through, though, and got some pretty satisfactory images. Since then, however, I’ve refined my technique. So when I attended Norwich Fashion Week this year, I knew exactly what I was doing from the moment I walked through the door. Here are my tips for successfully photographing a fashion show.

Shoot Vertically in Tv Setting

Models at fashion shows move quickly, and you’re going to want to capture sharp images without any blur. By shooting in Tv (Time Value, aka Shutter Priority, mode), setting a maximum limit on your ISO depending on your camera’s capabilities, and shooting in vertical orientation, you’ll freeze them mid-walk. It’s always good to capture movement at fashion shows, so try to get full-body shots that show the model’s feet crossing over each other as they walk.

Set Your Autofocus Point

You don’t want to be focusing on the background or the crowd, so set your autofocus to a point that is always on the model in some way. For me, as I’m shooting in a vertical orientation, I find that the far-left (or far-right, depending on which way you hold your camera) autofocus point is the best. It will rest on the models’ head, keeping them sharp in your viewfinder. Refocus as they walk down the runway to keep it constantly in focus. Don’t try focusing manually unless you’re incredibly talented at it – the models will be moving too fast for you to keep up with.

Look Out for the Light

The photographer’s pit is typically right in front of the end of the runway, and this is where the models will stop, pose, and turn. This area is always very well lit, and you’ll be able to expose quickly and easily here. But whilst static shots like that are great, if you’re also trying to capture movement you will want to look out for where the spotlights and backlights are. Time your photographs so that the models are perfectly lit on the catwalk. These lights are usually coloured, which the lights at the end of the catwalk aren’t, so your images will also look slightly more creative.

Use a Zoom Lens (But Not a Telephoto)

The only time I’d recommend bringing a telephoto lens such as a 70-200mm lens to a fashion show would be if the photographer’s pit is located a fair distance away from the catwalk. Otherwise, if you want decent shots of the models both walking and posing at the end of the runway, you’ll need to use something a bit shorter. I typically take a 24-105mm f4 lens to fashion shows. I start at the 105mm focal length, and then zoom out gradually (whilst refocusing constantly) as the models walk. When they pose at the end of the catwalk, the wide end of the lens means I can get full-body shots – or I can zoom in and get detail shots if I want.

Set Your White Balance

Set your white balance as accurately as you can, but be prepared to have to alter your levels in post-production. You’re never going to get it perfect at the show, but you can try and get as close as possible so that there is less to do when you get home. At Norwich Fashion Week, the lighting was mostly tungsten, so I shot in tungsten mode. However, in order to get my levels absolutely perfect, I had to alter the white balance even more when I was editing the next day. That extra effort is worth it though, and makes a huge difference.

Do Not Use Flash

This should really go without saying, but using flash (on- or off-camera) is a big no-no. Not only is it really annoying for other photographers, who might accidentally catch the burst of your flash whilst they shoot, ruining their photos; it’s also annoying for models. It’s also totally pointless. As stated above, models at fashion shows move very quickly, and when you use a flash you’re going to miss more shots than you actually get. Your flash won’t be able to recycle in time to keep up with the models. The lighting at the show should be good enough for you to be able to shoot without the need for a flash, even if it does mean using a bit of noise reduction in post-production.

Pay Attention to the Garments

Fashion designers create their garments in certain ways, paying particular attention to the way the fabric drapes and moves. Try your best to capture these elements of the garments you are photographing, because it’s the whole reason they are on the catwalk. Look out for fabric that swishes, falls in a certain way, or is tailored specifically.   

Shoot in RAW Mode

Shooting in JPEG can be super tempting if you want to have a fast turnaround, but you’re going to lose image quality and won’t be able to edit as specifically. I shot in RAW at Norwich Fashion Week, and it meant I could accurately alter my white balance, exposure, contrast, sharpness, noise reduction, shadows, highlights, and more. With a JPEG, you don’t have that option. So if one of your images is under- or over-exposed, there won’t be much you can do to save it.

Get Creative

Ok, so you’ve followed all of the above tips and you’ve got some pretty solid photos for your portfolio or publication. Now it’s time to get creative! Play around with orientation to try to reflect the atmosphere of the evening. See if there are any corners or open areas you can sneak into to shoot from a different perspective. Get some shots of people in the crowd enjoying themselves. Try and focus on specific details on certain outfits. Try and convey the tone or theme of the garments you’re photographing – are they playful, formal, flirty?  

I hope that these tips have helped. As I said, they’re based off my own experience and what I have taught myself. If I ever come up with a new tip or trick for photographing fashion shows, I’ll be sure to add it. Thanks for reading!

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.