To properly tell the story of this post it is necessary to travel back to January, when after a random conversation with Catherine about hiring lenses I found myself checking out the website of the photography retailer Calumet. There I discovered they were running one of those ‘follow and retweet’ competitions for a chance to shoot at London Fashion Weekend. I followed, retweeted, and forgot.
Rob Howard (@CousinDirk) January 29, 2013
A few weeks later, I randomly got a communique from Calumet saying I was one of the winners, and would be going to London Fashion Weekend as a photographer.
It wasn’t until I got to the event that I fully comprehended what was going on. London Fashion Weekend follows on from London Fashion Week, held in the same structure in the Courtyard of Somerset House. But whilst London Fashion Week is attended by the sort of air-headed lunatic that spends £1,000 on a purse, London Fashion Weekend features high street brands and is attended by moderately more sensible people who will only spend £200 on a purse.
This philosophy is also extended to the photography. London Fashion Week is covered by Getty and other major players in photojournalism. For London Fashion Weekend, Canon were called on to supply photographers, and offered this opportunity to amateurs and professionals looking to improve their experience in fashion photography through competitions such as the one I entered. Otherwise, it was exactly the same: we would be the only photographers there, and we’d be in the same press pit that players from the likes of Getty were occupying only days before.
On the day, we reported to a nearby hotel to be given our lanyard and be briefed on the event.
There were three groups of competition winners that would each photograph two complete shows; a morning session, an afternoon session and an evening session. I was in the afternoon lot. During the briefing we were shown examples of shots, and given a rundown of the settings to use whilst shooting. As the lighting was all controlled we were told to shoot in manual mode, with a shutter speed on 1/640th, an aperture of f/5.6 to give a reasonably shallow depth of field whilst still ensuring you’d not lose focus on a model’s face, an ISO of 800 to attain the shutter speed that would ensure minimum blur, and a manual white balance setting of 3000K (we were obviously allowed to deviate from these settings if we so desired for any creative reason). We were also given more thorough shooting advice, like setting the autofocus servo to AI Servo to ensure the camera was constantly focussing on models bearing down the catwalk at us (something I’d already used at events like the Bournemouth Air Festival), to use a high burst mode to get as many shots as possible (something else I’d used at the Air Festival), and to set up the back focus so that you could keep your finger on the back focus button, with the half-press to autofocus disengaged to avoid conflict and be devoted only to firing the shutter. This was something I didn’t even know you could do so it was very useful to find out.
We were also told something else very important, which was about the copyright of our images. We were very much there on their terms, which meant that the copyright of the images remained with the British Fashion Council and we wouldn’t be able to sell the images without their permission. On this occasion it also means that these images are not available for free use like the rest of my photos.
The briefing over, we made our way to Somerset House for the show. It’s difficult to convey how good it felt to be given access to somewhere by waving a photographer’s pass at the guy checking tickets. We were told that access to the press pit would be just as cut-throat as for the professionals: you pick your spot and camp in it, and you’d have the same amount of elbow room as the pros – about about the area of a sheet of paper.
For the first show I decided I wanted to be just to the right of the catwalk, because someone had said it would be quite a good spot. Following the advice given at the briefing I decided to start with my 70-300mm telephoto lens, which would allow me to get full-body shots all the way down the catwalk, as well as decent closeups when the models got to the end and turned. For some reason for the very first section of the show I shot at 1/800th, but I soon realised things were coming out a little dark.
The spot turned out to be better than I had expected. Not only was I in a position to get a clean background on the entrance above, but as the models paused at the head of the runway I could get a largely black background in closeup.
I did try to get a few more contextual shots with models in the background, just to give a bit of variety and depth.
Sometimes, I was lucky enough to have a girl staring straight at me (this, I find, does not happen often).
I should note at this point, I will make few comments on the clothes in these photos. Fashion is not my thing. I do, however, like the colour of the handbag in the image above. But I have no idea what the hell the woman below is doing.
One other little piece of advice we were given (we were given lots of such advice) was to watch their feet. Ideally, you want to capture the models when both feet are on the ground, otherwise it just looks awkward. For the most part I didn’t do too badly at this, and often caught one with a heel or toe on the ground, which I think helps create a sense of motion.
The only problem I encountered was that my attention would sometimes be so focussed on their feet that their heads would disappear out of the top of the frame.
I haven’t done much post-procesing on these images. There’s a touch of sharpening, the occasional chromatic aberration correction (for when I broke out my 18-135mm lens) and a bit of straightening here and there for the more obviously wonky photos. A few however, seemed to benefit from a little more creative processing.
This is actually one of my favourites of this set.
Now, I love my closeups. When I’m photographing people, I usually get pretty close up. A lot of the time here it worked great – but a couple of the girls just came across as sulky, or generally looking like they didn’t want to be there.
I do, however, like the colour of her hat. Not that it would suit me, of course.
By the time the second section started, I had realised 1/800 was too dark (all the images above have had a little exposure correction) and started shooting at 1/640.
The second section, for reasons I’m sure someone will be able to explain, contained a lot of umbrellas.
That image is another favourite of mine, but I find I also really like the version where I caught her mid-blink:
The next section was apparently the ‘headgear you shouldn’t wear at rush hour’ segment.
Not all of the headgear was so extravagant. I also managed to capture another mid-blink shot that added to the image, so I monochromed it.
Occasionally some of the costumes were so similar at first glance you’d have trouble telling them apart.
To close out the show, all of the models walked out in a line, and my position allowed me to get a lovely perspective shot down the line.
I also got a decent lens flare as they filtered past.
All was not done, however. We were able to sit in on a second round of the show, to get different shots from different angles, if we so desired. I chose to shift my position a bit to my left, and start out with my 18-135mm lens for some wider angle images.
Still, one of the virtues of the 18-135mm lens (and one of the main reasons why I haven’t replaced it, despite its chromatic aberration) is that can zoom in pretty close too, allowing me to get this shot, another of my favourites of this set.
Part way through the second show, I switched to my macro lens. This is an absolutely pin-sharp lens, and I decided I wanted to see what results its f/2.8 aperture would get. It took a few goes to figure out what shutter speed I should be using to counteract the higher exposure (I wasn’t really used to shooting in manual mode – really I should’ve lowered the ISO first) but soon discovered 1/1250 seemed to be about right, although perhaps a little overexposed in some shots. Still, I got some pretty decent results.
I was in a slightly different spot for the final show walk, but the shallower depth of field worked nicely.
As you can see, I shot a hell of a lot of portrait-oriented shots. This is about the only time in my life I’ve ever wished I had a battery pack for my camera, for the portrait shutter button. My arms ached quite a bit after this shoot.
It was an amazing experience to find myself in the press pit at a fashion show. It was great of Canon to let a bunch of amateurs and just-starting-out professionals have the feeling of being packed to the elbows with photographers who are competing with you for a good photo. Just having that ‘Photographer’ lanyard around my neck was brilliant, it gave me more confidence than a small piece of cardboard and fabric should have done (it also gave me the confidence in photographing strangers outside later on, the photos of which will be in a later post).
It was also a point when I realised I’d really like to do this sort of thing for a living.
I’m also really pleased with the quality of the images, which have come out really well. And ultimately that’s the main thing.
Some More Portraits
All’s Well That Ends Well