IN THE FIELD
Photographing New York Fashion Week is always exciting, physically exhausting and, often, technically challenging. Even within the Tents (the main venue of NYFW), there are three separate runway spaces, the largest of which is "the Tent." The two smaller spaces are the Promenade and the Salon. Off-site shows are held in a variety of spaces-art galleries, photo studios, ballrooms and other locations. The bottom line is that although you'll know the length of the runways in the main Tents venue, lighting and many other variables enter into the equation especially when you're shooting off-site.
For the fall 2010 fashion season (shown at the February 2010 Fashion Week), my gear bag consisted of:
In the Tents
Lighting is generally better in the Tents than off-site-it's usually brighter and more even. A good lighting designer takes into account how the clothes and models will look to the audience and to the camera. Getting the main three to four shots (full-length, ¾, close up or full shot posing, and sometimes close-ups of accessories) are critical, so good lighting, models walking the center of the runway and posing at the foot of the catwalk is the ideal set-up.
But sometimes designers and producers shake things up with interesting (but difficult to shoot) lighting and have their models walk in an unusual configuration. Perhaps the toughest show I've ever photographed was Custo Barcelona. It was a great show to watch but really difficult to shoot. I got a place to the side to shoot the top shot and was standing next to one of Patrick McMullan's photographers, so I figured I was good to go. One of the crew told us that lighting was going to be mixed-5600K overall, with colored and daylight-balanced spots.
As always, I shot RAW + high quality JPEG. Knowing that I could easily set the right white balance in RAW, I set the Nikon D3S' white balance to Auto and kept my fingers crossed. Despite the crazy lighting, the D3S' Auto white balance worked perfectly and I was able to send my editor the JPEGs straight from the camera without any adjustments.
But perhaps the biggest surprise (and frustration) was that my position would make it almost impossible to get a full or even ¾ length shot of the models. Rather than walking down the center of the runway and stopping in front of the photographers, the models walked-very, very quickly-down one side of the catwalk and U-turned just as they reached the photographers' pit and walked back up the runway. Because they walked off-center and didn't stop, I had to shoot over and around the standing room audience (which kept moving, en masse, closer to the runway) and the seated audience. Fortunately, the D3S' continuous autofocus locked in at first sight of the model and adjusted focus as the models whipped into view and made their turn. I was able to get some good shots.
The Vassilios Kostetsos show was my favorite show in the Tents and the easiest to shoot. Bright lights, clean runway, interesting clothes (yes, photographers notice the clothes and can get bored) and models who knew how to walk and pose and did so at a reasonable pace. I wanted a fast shutter speed since I was shooting at full telephoto with Nikon's 70-200mm VRII lens, so I set the Nikon D3S to an ISO of 1250, with an f/stop of 3.5 and shutter speed of 1/640th. I used spot autofocus to make sure the models' eyes were in focus and left the camera on Auto White Balance. As always, I shot RAW + high resolution JPEG.
Shooting from the side can give you some advantages, like having a straight-on view of Vogue's Anna Wintour, Grace Coddington and Hamish Bowles. Since there was little light on the audience other than the spill-off from the runway lights, I easily bumped the Nikon D3S' ISO to 2500 and shot this image at 1/250th of a second at f/4.0. I wished that I had a longer lens than the NIKKOR 70-200 VRII, but there were more than enough pixels to crop the image to show Wintour taking offer her sunglasses so she could glare at me in the next shot. Right after I clicked off three shots, the models at the Vera Wang show did their final walk and Wintour quickly disappeared as the second the show ended.
Off-site and Presentations
Taking the D3S to off-site shows definitely presents more challenges. Although you might luck out with a nicely lit runway, you'll also encounter dark spaces, minimal lighting and odd-sized spaces with distracting backgrounds.
Past Project Runway winner Leanne Marshall put on a really nice show but, as is common, the lighting at the far end of the runway wasn't quite as strong as at the foot of the catwalk. I bumped the Nikon D3S' ISO to 6400 without a second thought, used center-weighted metering and set the f/stop to 5.0 and shutter speed to 1/800th of a second. Even though I use a monopod, I'll often shoot at a faster-than-needed shutter speed when I'm particularly tired or have had too much caffeine just to add a little safety factor. Although I later switched white balance to tungsten, some of the images were shot on Auto white balance but that left some of the images a little too warm to accurately record the delicate eggshell colors of some of Marshall's designs.
One of the more challenging off-site shoots took place in an underground club, with a single spot light and some less intrusive (and less useful) side lights. If and when the model stopped to pose in the spot, we had good lighting but if she didn't find the light, we were stuck with some harsh shadows on the close-up shots. Most of these were shot at ISO 6400, spot metering, tungsten white balance with an average shutter speed of 1/320th of a second at f/4.5.
Presentations are sometimes easier to shoot since the models stand in place for an hour or two, but the occasional presentation-like the one shot below-have really poor lighting (sometimes the models are backlit, too) and you're competing with the guests for space and a glimpse of the models. With this presentation there was no wiggle room-I was about a foot or two (at best) away from the models and they were often backlit by the room's windows. I quickly put Nikon's 24-70mm lens on the D3S and shot mostly at the widest focal length in order to get the entire outfit in the shot, put on the SB-900 (which I alternated using and not using, depending on the model's position in front of the windows) and hoped for the best. Most images were shot at f/4.0, 1/250th of a second at ISO 500.
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