How to Photograph a Fashion Show

fashion-show-catwalk

Though from a distance, shooting a fashion show might look like a simple thing, in reality it is anything but. Fashion shows move quickly and you don't get second chances to capture the glitz and glamor of the latest designs. Much of the work involved, comes down to preparation and being familiar with your gear. While most of these tips are used by professional fashion photographers, they will also work if you shoot a smaller show.

Equipment

The press pit at a fashion show will be packed with photographers, so pack light. You do not want to be that guy who takes up a lot of space. You will not need every piece of camera gear you own in the pit with you. At most, you should only need two lenses at a show: a wide-angle zoom for backstage shots, and a telephoto zoom for the runway. Good zoom ranges to have are 24-70 mm for backstage and 70-200 mm for the runway. Fast lenses help, so it would be good to have a lens with a least an f/2.8 aperture, but shows are often very well lit so you can probably get away with a smaller maximum aperture.

As mentioned before, space in the pit will be limited, so leave your tripod at home. If you need extra stability, bring a monopod with you. Another good item to have with you in the pit is either a hard plastic camera case or a small step stool to stand on so you can see over other photographers and above the stage.

Setting Up

Arrive early at the show – well before it starts. You want to have all your gear set up and your settings checked before the show starts. Things move quickly once the models start coming out, and you don't want to be fiddling with camera settings or gear when you should be shooting. Stake out your spot in the press pit early too. If positions are first come first served, grab a spot and do your best to keep it. If you arrive early enough, you can claim one of the better spots. That said, be respectful toward other photographers in the pit. You might have to work with them again, or might need to call in a favor with them someday.

Shooting the Show

It is important during a fashion show to not miss a shot. This means having your settings already dialed in, you don't want to be wasting time making adjustments while the models are working their way down the runway. Set your camera to Manual (M) or Aperture-Priority (Av). For manual mode, a good starting point would be 1/250 to 1/500 at f/4 for most shows. The shutter speed is fast enough to keep the models sharp, but the depth of field will be shallow enough to blur the background to make the models stand out. In order to keep your exposure correct, adjust your camera's ISO accordingly based on how well lit the stage is.

If using Aperture-Priority mode to shoot, set your camera's metering mode to Center-Weighted. Stage backgrounds are usually very bright or very dark, so you want to make sure your subject – the model – is properly exposed.

Even though you have pre-set everything, it helps to be very familiar with your camera. Be prepared to change settings on the fly if the stage lighting changes.

In order to make the colors of the models' outfits appear correct, set your white balance before the show. “Indoor” or “Tungsten” should work for most shows. If you are going to be shooting the show in RAW, you can leave your white balance on “Auto” and change it during post-production if you have the time.

Because the models will be moving down the runway at a quick pace without stopping, you probably won't have time to adjust focus manually. Place your camera in continuous autofocus (AF-C) mode. You'll also want to set your camera to continuous drive mode so you can shoot in quick succession without missing the models.

Must-Have Shots

It's important to know how your photos will be displayed prior to shooting, and you'll want to compose accordingly. Fashion photography, though, lends itself to vertical shooting. Shooting vertically allows you get the entire model in the frame and allows for printing in magazines without having to do too much cropping.

All of the important fashion shots can be done in sequence as the model moves down the runway. That makes it easy to remember what shots to take – as the model moves closer, the tighter your shot should become.

At the far end of the runway take a head-to-toe shot of the model. This will give an overview of the entire outfit. As the model moves closer, compose for a three-quarter shot (from the knees up). The three-quarter shot lets you highlight the important and unique features of the outfit. When the model almost makes his or her turn, shoot a “top” shot; that is the upper torso and face. The top shot is the perfect time to highlight an interesting neckline, small details, or wild hairstyle.

To be able to get these shots down, know how the models will move. They will walk quickly from the back to the front of the runway. Try to time your shots for when the models' feet are flat and their arms are at their sides, as this is gives a more appealing shot. You also want to pay attention to the model's eyes. Make sure the eyes are open and the model is looking forward. Make sure to get the “top” shot before the model turns. Models will usually let you know when they are about to turn because they will always look down prior. If the model looks down before you take your top shot, you've probably missed it.

After the model turns, pay attention to the back of the outfit. Sometimes designers will make the backs just as interesting as the front.

After the Show

Turnarounds for fashion shows are very quick. There are print deadlines to make, and the designers and to quickly show off their new styles. This makes having a good workflow very important. If you shot in RAW, you're going to need to export to JPEG, so you have to be quick at going through your shots and choosing the best.

Make sure you have a good sorting and cataloging system in place. This will make it easier when a magazine or designer comes to you looking for a particular model or outfit. You don't want to be wasting their time by having to fumble through hundreds of photos looking for the right one.

22 thoughts on “How to Photograph a Fashion Show”

  1. I find the article helpful. Just a minor comment. If you are using an off-camera flash, you cant increase the shutter speed beyond sync speed (1/250 s generally). If your shutter speed is faster (for instance, 1/500), you will see a black bar in your photo that is hard to correct in post-processing. Also, you wanna set the camera to spot metering (instead of center metering) if you are following 1/3 composition rule.

  2. Very helpful. I am shooting a fashion show for a charity group and this is the first fashion show I’ve ever done. I want to do a good job and these tips will certainly help!

  3. Thank you so much for this article. I have one more question. Do you think that a Canon 5d Mark iii is sufficient to shoot a runway fashion show? It will be outdoor.

  4. For those interested. Never use speedlight at the runway show. Not good for anyone and usually banned from the pit.

  5. Really informative yet kept simple and easy to understand. Shooting a Catwalk show for the 1st time on Wednesday, nervous and excited. Have a decent lens and a fast body (70 to 200 f2.8 on a Canon 7dmkii) so should be covered there. Will go with my notes and see what I can achieve, Thanks guys

  6. Great article. I am shooting my fashion show in Los Angeles this evening and needed some tips. Well worth the read. I’ll let you all know how it goes.

  7. Michael McCasland

    Very helpful, I’ve shot two shows now and the lighting was very different but also low(er) light situations so unfortunately I have to do a good deal of adjustments while shooting.

  8. Hi can I get any tips/settings ASAP for a 5d mark iii with a speedlite for an indoor fashion show in a huge room not very well lit? Thanks

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