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Runway photography is more like shooting sports that studio fashion photography. Leggy supermodels may be attractive, but they are also fast and like a wedding shooter capturing a brides walk down the aisle with her father, you only get one chance. Some high-end fashion shows require a press pass and you get prime shooting space share a riser thats large enough to hold 15-20 photographers but there are 50-60 of them! Some shows permit flash but others d not. The runways appear brightly litand they arebut with tungsten lighting set up for TV, not still cameras.
What surprised me most about photographing models on the runways is how short the shows are in duration but intense in focus. Once the models start prancing down the aisles, an average shows lasts twenty minutes and for that entire time youre busy. A large capacity memory card minimizes having to switch cards at awkward moments.
At the other end of the fashion show world, local venues vary greatly in configuration, where you can stand, and many of them allow flash. Under these conditions I used a Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN and EX-550 flash with Sto-Fen Omni Bounce attached. The diffuser helps soften the flash and I consider this inexpensive accessory to be indispensable. Mostly I use Auto White Balance mode but arrived at the site early and have my wife stand on the runway and make flash tests in various locations which helped me determine how I was going to handle lighting, but as usual lighting for the show was radically different and often my flash only served as fill allowing some blur (from the ambient light) to show movement.
* Exposure: For the available light shots, I placed the camera in Shutter Priority mode and select 1/250th of a second and, the number of underexposed or out-of-focus shots was minuscule based on the large quantity of images I made. Bracketing? Fuggedaboutit! Theres no time. As soon as a show starts take a quick look one of the images on the cameras LCD preview screen to make sure youre exposure is good, then shoot in short bursts in Continuous mode. When theres even a tiny break during the show, I check the exposure of the images on the LCD screen and made adjustments ranging from two-thirds stop underexposure to 1/3 stop overexposure.
* Color balance: You can set the cameras white balance control on Tungsten, use a color meter to set a specific color temperature, or do a custom white balance once the lights go on. Using a White Card (the flip side of a Kodak Grey Card) you can create a custom white balance but since the runway itself has a gleaming white covering, it makes a readily available white source. Or you can do what I did and ask another shooter, who told me the color temperature was 3600 degrees Kelvin and thats where I set the white balance. Not all digital SLRs let you set an exact color temperature but if not I would have gone with the tungsten setting. When the first person walked down the runway, I made a photo and chimping saw color balance was right on.
Lenses: Most fashion shooters work with the same kind of long focal length lenses and wide f/2.8 apertures used by sports photographer. Shooting wide open minimizes depth-of-field throwing distracting backgrounds out of focus. I prefer using zoom lenses rather than fixed focus lenses because they enable me to create differently cropped images from full-length to headshots from the same spot on the floor or riser. An Italian Vogue photographer told me he had to get three shots of each model as they walk down the runway: A headshot to show make-up, a length to show accessories and jewelry and a full length shot to show the dress. Whew!
Joe Farace is co-author with Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist, Barry Staver, of Better Available Light Digital Photography, Second Edition: How to Make the Most of Your Night and Low-Light Shots published by Focal Press.
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