Thursday, February 9, 2012

How Do You Prepare For Fashion Week?

Photographers who will be covering Mercedez Benz Fashion Week, February 9 through 16, agree that there is an unmistakable glamour to the week-long pageant. “The city really comes alive,” says Kelly Stuart, photo director at Hearst Digital Media, who will be on the street, photographing models and fashionistas for and other sites.

“The thing I love is the magic that happens in the time that the house lights go down, runway lights turn on and the music begins,” says freelancer Jennifer Polixenni Brankin, one of many photographers who will be squeezed into the runway shows. “You get lost in the flow of the fabric and you forget about the smelly photographer next to you or how close you are rubbing shoulders with the sweaty man on the other side of you.”

But the work is also a grind, especially for photographers assigned to cover the runway shows, who have to jockey for a prime spot on the risers. Stuart, who shot runway shows and backstage scenes before shooting street style, notes, “There might be 200 photographers. Everyone’s fighting for that tiny 10-inch space right in front.” Part of the problem is that there are an increasing number of photographers, videographers and bloggers covering the events.

Polixenni Brankin says that because the space is tight, “After a while the shots start to look the same.” She adds, “I've seen other photographers get into fist fights, pushing each other, and then like a game of dominos a whole row of photographers standing up on their cases get pushed over.” Photographers have to line up early to claim their spot. “You spend more time waiting than you do shooting,” says freelance photographer Theano Nikitas. “Waiting to get into the show; waiting until the audience comes in and gets seated and then waiting for the show to begin. An iPod, email to catch up on work, or even chatting with other photographers help pass the time.” After a day contorting your body on the risers or backstage, the work can stretch late into the night if a client wants coverage of the week’s many parties.

We asked four photographers who will be covering Mercedes Benz Fashion week for their tips on getting the images they want and surviving the mayhem. (Click through the Photo Gallery to see samples of their Fashion Week images.)

Theano Nikitas
Freelance photographer (and frequent PDN contributor) Nikitas typically shoots the runway shows and scopes out front row celebrities.

What gear do you pack?
Nikon D3s; the image quality is great and the high ISO performance is amazing so I can shoot comfortably under pretty much any lighting conditions. Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR II lens--sometimes used with 1.7x teleconverter; [it’s] great for shooting longer runways and catching the designers who do a quick wave at the far end of the runway. On a full-frame camera, it's also wide enough to capture models as they pose at the foot of the runway. Also a Nikkor--24-70mm f/2.8 lens--great for short runways, backstage and for presentations where the models are static and you can/need to get close to shoot. A back-up camera: either a Nikon D700 or Nikon D7000. Also a point and shoot, for snapshots or use of special features, [such as] Sony's Sweep Panorama or Olympus' Art Filters or a LensBaby, maybe the Nikon SB-900 or SB-800. This season I'll probably use the SB-700 since it's smaller and lighter.

I usually only carry the 24-70 and the flash if I'm shooting backstage or shooting a presentation; sometimes I will use it on a CB Junior Custom Bracket with the Nikon SC-29 sync cord.

Think Tank Photo Pocket Rocket CF card holders with CF cards; smaller holder with SD cards. Back-up batteries for both cameras and flash. Gitzo monopod. Acratech GP Ballhead.

Anything else?
Lens Pen, assorted lens cloths, blower bulb; a tiny flashlight to search for gear in bag or if I drop something on the floor; Turtle folding plastic stool to sit on (depending on what position I get on the riser); notepad and pen; business cards.

What are some of the challenges you face?
Everybody wants a center spot but I've found that getting stuck on the side sometimes has its benefits. At one show, for example, I was positioned opposite Anna Wintour and managed to capture a few shots before turning my lens back on the runway. 

Bad lighting--especially at some of the off-site shows. Sometimes there's not even enough light to focus so I'll often pre-focus manually and wait until the model steps into the shot. Flash is rarely used during a runway show but occasionally photographers will use flash off-site if lighting is bad, so it's best to shoot extra frames since you're bound to lose some if [or] when more than one flash goes off at the same time. Even in the main venues, audience members will sometimes use flash and occasionally I've had shots blasted into oblivion by a point-and-shoot camera's flash when it just happens to sync with my shot.

What do you eat while working?

Unlike Bryant Park [previous location of the New York fashion shows] where there were plenty of inexpensive places to eat, it's not easy to find a convenient and affordable place to grab a quick bite to eat in the Lincoln Center area. I usually try to have a decent breakfast and carry some non-perishable snacks in my camera bag.

Jennifer Polixenni Brankin
Based in Denver, photographer Polixenni Brankin has covered shows for newspaper and magazine clients, and shoots frequently for Getty Images as one of a team of photographers shooting a show. “I really have a passion to document the art of the designer, to capture their creation. To see their ‘performance’ in how they choose to present the collection.”

What gear do you pack?
What I take to a show varies day by day based on what shows I'm covering and what position I am shooting. If I am up on the media riser there is limited space. I pare things down and store my gear in a smaller sling-like shoulder Lowepro camera bag. If I have to bring more gear because I'm shooting runway and backstage and street styles, then I'll bring my hard rolling case. It’s more cumbersome to carry around, but I can set it on the riser and sit on it, or stand on it depending on where I am located. It's really important that the case is no bigger than 13.78 x 21.46 x 9.05" . If it is bigger, you'll likely be asked by those around you to move the case out.

For the runway shots I pack a Canon 5D Mark II with 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens and a Manfrotto monopod. For backstage: Canon 5D Mark II; 50 mm macro for details and if it's tight back there70-200 mm 2.8 lens if you have enough room backstage; 80mm portrait lens; 24-105 mm wide angle. Also Canon Speedlite 580 EX II flash and Canon macro ring light. My bag always has extra batteries, both Canon and AA as well as CF cards and business cards and mints.

Are there images you’re eager to get?
I need a full length, flat footed model shot with eyes open, no background, no other models walking-- something clean that shows the outfit in motion. Then I need a 3/4 length shot to show more detail. At the end of the runway a tighter cropped head shot to show the makeup or hair detail.

What are the biggest challenges you’ll face?
It's a bit of a circus. The media riser is a space that fits 100 people but 400 photographers show up and we need to make room for all of them. Sometimes security will cut off [photographers] and if you show up late you won't get into the show. Security gets a little crazy. If you are assigned to shoot on the riser, then you are only allowed on the riser. Don't think about getting creative shots from the back of the audience or something interesting from the front row of the crowd.

Challenges are always person to person. You have to be careful not to argue with the other photographers around you or else they will make life difficult for you, you get "marked" as being a troublemaker - yet you still need to be assertive to get what you need. It's a fine balance.

I wish I had a sherpa to carry the gear so my back won't ache at the end of a long day and a runner and an editor on site that isn't going to dip into my paycheck.

What do you eat all day?
There are some days where I go without food, not by choice. I eat something in the morning and then I look down and it's 9:30pm and I have to choose between food and editing. Of course editing comes first. So to have some nuts packed with me or a granola bar is a lifesaver. I also bring extra and share it with some of the photographers around me when we are standing around waiting and chatting for a show to start.

Kelly Stuart
As photo director and photographer for Hearst Media, Kelly Stuart will be covering people on the sidewalks heading to and from the show for, and has also been shooting “drop ins” at designers’ ateliers for During these visits, she photographs the designer, their studios and the inspirations they used in preparing for the show.

What gear do you pack?
It’s bare bones. Canon 5D Mark II, with a 24-105mm lens. I have experience with strobes but when it’s just me and my camera, it’s more intimate. I don’t even use a camera bag.

Are there photos you are particularly eager to get?
I’m shooting street fashion, and all these amazing faces. I try to capture my subjects in as natural a setting as possible, but I do try to get them to relax and be more candid. I’ll try to talk to them and try to get a genuine smile. I might ask them to look to the side if they’re wearing eye shadow I want to photograph.

For the designer drop ins, the studios carve out a time for us to come. We go into the studios of some designers showing in fashion week and get portraits and capture the hustle and bustle before the show. It’s fun.

How do you choose subjects and locations to get street fashion?
I’ll check the show list and where the big shows are, then put myself in the area of the tends tents?. Any time that you go to the area you’ll have great content. It’s a magnet for the city’s best-dressed and for real characters.

I could stop and photograph someone for a minute or just 10 seconds if they’re running to the show. In that case I’ll scream out, “What’s your name? What are you wearing?” It’s unusual to have a model for 3 minutes and have a full on conversation.

What are the biggest challenges?
My experience has changed drastically, since I am not doing as much runway and backstage. It’s very aggressive. It’s been refreshing to focus on a more controlled subject.

When do you deliver images?
I’ll usually shoot in the morning, then go back to the office in the afternoon to edit, retouch and deliver, so the editors can push the images live that night and readers are getting a fresh batch each day.

Roxanne Lowit
Lowitt, a commercial and fashion photographer known for intimate celebrity portraits and for pioneering the backstage fashion photography genre, will be covering many of the week’s runway shows and evening events. She’ll also be posting images to her blog,

What gear do you pack?
If I’m going to one show and then back to the studio, then I pack a little backpack. And it has some fresh batteries in it and my Canon 5D Mark II and my 24-105mm [lens]; it’s a zoom. Sometimes I can’t walk forward from where I am in the backstage because they [models, designers, stylists and others] will see me, so then I can zoom in on them. So I love zooms.

What do you do when you have to cover multiple events in a day?
Then I take an assistant with a backup camera. I don’t like leaving my bags around places, so if I can physically hold it—which I can with a little backpack and one camera and some batteries and some [memory] cards—it’s very neat and works perfectly. But if I’m doing a series of shows or [I’m out] all day and night, then I have an assistant and we have a larger backpack or two, and he holds them both or she holds them both. Then I just have my camera and flash [a Canon Speedlight 580EX II] and bracket. It’s light and it’s easy and it functions well.

I always have some little camera backing me up, in case, because I’d rather shoot a little bit smaller than not have it at all.

I take a bunch of cards with me. I’ve worked my way up to [larger] cards. At first I didn’t like them because I thought, “What if something happened to an 8GB [memory card]?” Now I use 16GB. I think positive. There’s going to be nothing wrong and I download often.

If we’re going to be out venturing all around then we’ll probably bring a computer with us, a backup drive, and download that way. So it depends how heavy the day is, and night.

Is there anything that you expect will be different about this year’s shows?
I expect to do more videos this year [with the 5D] both backstage and doing shoots and so on.

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