I recently had the pleasure of being the photographer at the second Zimbabwe Fashion Showcase UK (ZFSUK) event at the mac arts centre in Birmingham. You can view a few of the 1500 odd images I took at the show here. This was quite a learning experience for me so I thought it would be of interest to share some of what I learnt here.
Preparation is Key
Once I found out I was doing this gig I did as much as possible to prepare. Obviously researching on the web was my first port of call and this, this and this post helped me do just that. One thing everyone points out is to try and get access to the event space beforehand to check out the layout, where you will be standing and, most importantly, the lighting. I was able to get access to the venue several hours before the show started and was even able to watch some trial runs for the models so I could take a few practice shots.
Probably one of the most important things to do at a fashion show is to ensure you have your white balance right. If the colours of the clothes the models are wearing end up being wrong you are not likely to get another invite. I was told the light at this event was “open white light” which turned out was not hugely helpful. I ended up shooting in auto white balance mode which in retrospect was not a good plan. This resulted in images being too warm and meant I needed to correct in post-processing. Happily however I had shot in RAW and was able to do this fairly easily by creating a Lightroom preset to cool things down a little. It also proved useful to check with the designers of the clothes that the adjusted image most closely reflected their true colours.
General consensus at fashion shows seems to be to not use flash. Not only will you upset the audience members by continuously firing a flash it also results in ugly shadows. This was in evidence with a few of my images when I happened to shoot at exactly the same time as someone who was using a flash. High ISO and wide apertures are the order of the day it seems.
Having plenty of fully charged batteries is obviously something else you need to remember. I was using the additional grip/battery holder on my E-M1 and found that even after 3 hours of shooting (i.e. around 750 images) I’d still only drained one battery. Any longer and I would definitely have bought a third battery as a spare though.
Know Where You’re Shooting
I was lucky to have fairly free access to the event, including backstage, so this meant I needed to be armed with the right set of lenses to make sure I captured all the action both on and off the runway. I didn’t want to overload myself with kit so brought my Olympus OM-D E-M1 and three lenses: an Olympus M.ZUIKO 45mm f/1.8 and 12-40mm f/2.8 zoom for behind-the-scenes (BTS) shots and a Panasonic 35-100mm, f/2.8 zoom for the runway event itself. These all fitted nicely in my Billingham Hadley Pro.
The 45mm and 12-40mm proved to be a great combination for creating some BTS images. The extra stop of the 45mm f/1.8 proving very useful in low light conditions behind stage.
Fashion shows are fast moving events so it’s imperative to get your camera set up in advance; you’re not going to have much time to mess around with settings once proceedings get underway. Unless you aim to capture the models when they pause you really need to use a shutter speed of no slower than 1/200s. Given the relatively low light I found this meant I was working at maximum aperture on my 35-100mm f/2.8 and had to use a highish ISO of 1000. I really didn’t want to go any higher than this to avoid too much noise and found this was the best combination of settings (i.e. f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO 1000) to capture models whilst they were moving. I left the camera in manual mode as I was worried that in aperture priority (Av) it would bump the shutter speed down too much and my images would end up being blurred. I found it also helped to set continuous autofocus mode but only used single shot exposures. Images were captured in RAW to give me as much post-processing flexibility in Adobe Lightroom as possible.
I was relatively close to the end of the runway so found I was constantly zooming from 100mm when the models walked out to 35mm when they were at the end of the runway as can be seen in the two images below. The 35-100mm f/2.8 was therefore the ideal lens for this type of event.
Capture a Range of Shots
Designers will want to see their creations from as many angles as possible after the event so it’s important to try and capture as much as you can including the all important back view as the models returns along the runway.
What Would I Do Differently?
In retrospect I should probably have pushed ISO a little more, maybe up to 1600 to give me the option of a slightly smaller aperture (f/4.0 for a bit more sharpness) or faster shutter speed.
Capturing group shots as the models wearing a particular designers clothes come out at the end is particularly tricky as suddenly you have a line of people all approaching you at quite a fast walking pace. I should probably have had another camera with a wider lens set with a smaller aperture (f/5.6 maybe) to get all the models in with an adequate depth of field so not too many are out of focus. The image below was my best effort at this with by 35-100mm set to 47mm.
In the end I did not get white balance correct and should not have left my camera on auto white balance, tungsten would have been a better option. That said, the light was a bit uneven and probably no default setting would have been completely accurate requiring some post-processing adjustment. Thank goodness for RAW is all I can say.
Another important consideration when doing a shoot like this is the number of people that are actually going to be interested in seeing you images and acknowledging everyone that is involved. The designers, models, stylists and makeup artists are all going to want people to see their work and are likely to want some form of acknowledgement in the images. At even a small show such as this that can amount to 20+ people so it’s important to try and identify as many people involved as possible. This is something I did not do and in retrospect should have had a strategy for doing this. At the very least getting peoples email or Instagram addresses so you can contact them afterwards is something you should probably do.