London Fashion Week - My First Time on the Catwalk

It ended with me thinking Ill buy my wife that jacket I'd seen a catwalk model wearing earlier that day which happen to be offered at 90% off on the day I was shooting the Last Sunday of London Fashion week. £1099.00 said the price tag. In my naivety I thought "yes bargain!" only to discover from the attendant that £1099 was the price with 90% deducted already(embarrassingly). £10,999 for a jacket! I almost choked!

The weapons of choice for me that day were a Canon 5D MK III with a Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 lens. In my mind I thought a monopod and ball head would make my task easier in the press box - or "pit" as I later discovered it was called - and I'm very happy I had made that decision. 

I chose to use a Manfrotto MN 694CX Carbon Fiber 4 section Monopod and a Manfrotto MH055M0 Magnesium ball head. Both worked exceptionally well for my requirements that day and I must say the MH055M0 ball head is a true pleasure to use. It makes light work of having to be quick and fluid with your movements - which was an essential in this environment. It is a very well crafted piece of equipment.

After my morning train journey and a casual walk through one London's beautiful city parks en route to London fashion week, I descended upon the hotel where the event was being briefed from. Here I met a few photographic enthusiasts who were also attending. We entered the conference room and were met by familiar faces from Canon. We all settled into our seats and were introduced to a true master in the Fashion photography world; Tristan Fewings. 

He explained what we would see that day and the etiquette associated with such an event, as this was to be taken seriously. He was also kind enough to give us a run through of best settings to capturing the best exposures. The brief was simply to give people the opportunity to get the best pictures when shooting the show.

The first thing I noticed when entering the pit of the catwalk is how much available light there is. It's lit up like the perfect studio environment, so adjusting your exposure is relatively simple once you have taken a few test shots. The designers of the clothing and organizers of the show want to allow you and the audience to see the models and clothing in as much detail as possible. So you can photograph using three main factors. ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture - which I will delve into this in a moment.

There were about 30 of us in the pit. The key for Catwalk Photography is position. Fashion students, photography enthusiasts, and a few pros were all there and I learnt early on that your position in the pit could be the difference to missing the shot you need. Fortunately for me I happen to get a good central position. One key factor I have learnt is arriving much earlier than you think is necessary is always a good thing. I learnt something very interesting from an ex colleague of Park Cameras who happen to be there that day.

Gaining your position, and being respectful to those photographers around you is always going to be key. There is a strictly no moving policy when the show starts as bumping another photographer or videographer when there is very precious time to capture the shot, could be….let’s say not in your best interests! 

Flight cases, ladders and blocks were all being used to stand on and can be dangerous to you and your other fellow photographers if you were to make a sudden shift in the wrong direction.

It was incredible. The machine gun noise of shutters all going at once was electric and made me feel part of something rich and engaging once again from previous other events Ive been too. 

During my day I was finding I was getting great results between 1/500-1/640 f/4.0 > f/8.0 at 800 ISO. I occasionally would bump to 1000 ISO but found it wasnt always necessary. 

When I wanted to try and attempt to gain a different perspective i.e. focusing on a head piece like a bow, I would open my aperture to f/2.8, and adjust accordingly with shutter speed and ISO so as to emphasizing that central piece of fashion.

The 5DMK III being such a modern camera didnt at all fault in its auto focus. I have been asked by colleagues and customers about auto focus in event shooting and it differs depending on what you’re shooting. With Catwalk photography the most difficult part is that your subject i.e. the model, is moving towards you which can almost always be a challenge, especially when you only have 10 seconds at best before the model is done with her walk (depending on the length of the Catwalk). 

Higher end professional cameras will be more than suitable, but if you intend to shoot with lower end DSLRs like the Nikon D3100 or a Canon 1200D there’s a good chance your DSLR could struggle with Autofocus. 

I was able to ask the Canon reps what they had thought worked best and after a little playing around I found that a Single Auto Focus Point with AI Servo on Canon aimed at the models face worked beautifully. With Nikon users, AF-C with a Single Auto Focus Point will be your winning combo. Now make Note: As the model approaches your position on the Catwalk you may have to move your Autofocus point around and recompose your shot. 

The best advice I can give if your wanting to get into Catwalk photography or event shooting in general is arrive early. Evaluate your venue. Test shoots if time permits. Be prepared to take plenty of photos. Its always best not to change memory cards throughout the show or event as you’re never know when you could capture the one shot that could put you on the front cover or centre spread as time is limited when you’re in the action.

Tom Pitkin
Park Cameras

All Photos taken with Canon 5D MK III plus Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 lens

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