It’s the start of Fashion Week again and you just got the assignment to shoot your very first runway fashion show, but you’re freaking out because you’ve never done it before! What if all the images turn out blurry? What if the model’s eyes are closed? What if the clothes don’t look good in the photos? What if I have exposure problems? What if I miss the “shot”? Well that’s how I felt when I got my assignment to shoot at New York Fashion Week. I’m here to help you get the shot you need with confidence, so you can deliver quality runway images.
Usually at the “real” fashion shows, the color temperature will be 3200 Kelvin, I’m not referring to the wanna be fashion shows at clubs and bars which I will still never understand because the lighting is SO bad that you can’t even see the details of the clothes. If you are unsure about the color temperature, take a grey card with you.
How to Use a Grey Card
To set the true white balance on your camera, you will need a grey card. This will help ensure that your camera captures all the colors accurately. Grey cards have a reflective surface of 18% and must be neutral grey, you can use either the in-camera white balance option or do it in post-processing.
Setting Custom White Balance in Camera
If you wanted to do it in camera, take a photo of the grey card in it’s environment, be sure to fill the whole frame with the grey card, then set your camera to custom white balance feature to set white balance then select the image you just shot to use as “white balance.” Any time your lighting changes, you’ll have to retake the picture of the grey card, in the instance of the fashion show the lighting will remain constant.
Setting Custom White Balance in Post-Processing
If you wanted to do the white balance in post-processing, unlike the first step where you filled the entire frame with the grey card, have someone hold the grey card and take a photo of them in a test shot in the same lighting conditions, you will now have an image to reference later in editing. In post-processing, open up your series of images in camera RAW, select your test shot with the grey card in it, use the white balance eye dropper tool on the upper left corner, then click on the grey card in your image.
This should change your white balance to the image. Then click the “Select All” button on the upper left corner, this will select all your images that you have open in RAW, next click “Synchronize…”, this will now do a batch white balance on all your images.
If you want even more control, I suggest you use a card that has grey stripe, white stripe, and a black stripe like this one. This will allow you to have all three reference points for post-processing in Photoshop using the curves adjustment layer.
Setting White Balance Using Curves Adjustment Layer
Open up a curves adjustment layer above the image layer. Click on the highlight eyedropper then click on the white stripe of the grey card. Click on the shadow eyedropper tool and then click on the black stripe of the grey card.
RAW versus JPGs
If you shoot in RAW you can compensate for your mistakes such as white balance or exposure, since this is your first time shooting a fashion show, it might be a good idea. After you get the hang of it, I suggest switching to shooting in JPG format for fashion shows. You’re probably thinking, “well that’s just ridiculous, why would anyone want to shoot in JPGs instead of RAW?!” Here’s why, if you have everything dialed in you don’t need to shoot in RAW, it will just slow down your camera. Instead shoot in JPG to maximize the performance of your camera. In a fashion show, speed is important! You can’t miss that shot because your camera is buffering!
Position is Key
If you’re a newbie, you’re going to have a hard time getting the prime spot. Most of these spots will already be reserved for the more high profile photographers. Try your best to get center position, eye level. Anywhere on the wing is bad because you can’t see the whole runway. Low positions are okay, until the models gets to the end of the runway, then you’ll be shooting up their nose. High positions are less desirable, because that means you’re shooting from the way back! Given the two options, go with the low position in the front row, at least the models will look leveled with the camera while they are coming down the runway. By getting a position close to center, you can compose your shot to include the name of the designer in your photos to specify who’s line it belongs to, plus get the “back” shot of the previous look. Double bonus! Cha-ching!
Timing is Important
As with everything in life, timing is important. In fashion runway photography, pay close attention to each model, they each have their own cadence. Meaning that each of them walk to a rhythm, the best ideal shots are the ones where they are in stride. The clothes tend to look good, they blink less, and their form just looks more fluid and beautiful. So get your shutter clicks in line with steps.
Camera Gear to Use
On camera flash is a big no no in fashion runway photography, the pro photographers aren’t going to be too happy with your flash messing up their shots! So leave those flash at home. Instead, crank the iso up.
If you have the ability to bring two cameras along, great! Do it! Put a 70-200mm on one for when they are coming down the runway, put a 24-70mm on the other for the close-up shots at the end of the runway.
Camera Settings to Use
The most important thing in fashion runway photography is freezing the movement, if you’re not trying to go for the artistic motion blur. The designers want to see the details of their clothes, so if the images are blurry, they’re no good. Some models walk slow, some models walk faster than I can run. So our first point of attack is shutter speed. Set your shutter to 400, that should do the trick in freezing movement.
But by setting the shutter at 400, you’re not going to be able to let in enough light into your camera even if you shot it wide open. So in order to compensate for this, you’ll have to crank your ISO up to 1600. Most camera nowadays can create beautiful images at 1600 ISO without much noise. If you’re shooting with a 5D Mark II, you can crank the ISO a lot higher, but the problem with the 5D Mark II is it’s a little show in terms of focusing. Therefore you may experience some “camera searching” when trying to get the shot.
Next the aperture, depending on how well and evenly lit the runway is, you can shoot as wide as F2.8-F4. If you don’t feel comfortable enough with switching the aperture on the fly, or if the runway varies in lighting (the ends of the runway seem to be brighter than the beginning), don’t shoot in manual mode. Instead use the shutter priority setting on your camera, the camera then will automatically set your aperture for you depending on what the lighting conditions are on the runway. The shutter priority setting is the Tv mode on your camera.
Have fun shooting!