London Fashion Week, or any fashion week for that matter, is a blur. Not the bokeh kind of blur. But a fast paced, blink and you’ll miss it kind of blur. There is so much going on whether it be jam packed days of shows, massive crowds to fight through, or 5 people working on getting 1 model ready. With fast paced action such as this as well as locations all over Central London there is going to be countless different lighting set ups also to photograph in. MOST of the runways themselves are well lit as they want good photos obviously for press coverage. Backstage is a whole different story sometimes and can be a mess. I want to talk to you about shooting a models makeup amongst all kinds of different lighting situations and fast paced situations at a typical fashion week. Fashion Week is as much about the beauty looks as it is the clothing and every designer has a unique vision for their beauty looks to compliment the clothing within the show they put on.
So, how do you photograph beauty at fashion week?
Well if you are just covering a catwalk then you don’t need to worry as like I said, all catwalks are well lit so you can photograph it decently. If you start using a flash for runway shots you are going to get told off pretty quickly by the other photographers and probably kicked out. It is unnecessary and not needed. Leave the flash at home and you can play around to your hearts content with full body shots and close up shots as the model moves down the catwalk to capture the clothing as well as the makeup. It all happens quicker than you think though so don’t take too much time over thinking it!
You can take more time up during presentations which are another format shows take on. A presentation, again tends to be well lit for all kinds of photography, but using flash is not frowned upon if you wanted too. Presentations allow you to interact more with the models and the clothing, just don’t actually touch them. Sometimes presentations are a bit more like performance art so just be respectful of what is happening around you but it is a great way to get some beauty shots also in a different kind of setting.
Backstage is where it is at in terms of photographing beauty though! Not only can you capture the process of getting the beauty looks done (which is so much fun if there is some real creative beauty looks going on), but you can also capture a proper posed beauty shot if you have the right gear with you.
My kit has changed so much since I first started shooting backstage in 2012. I used to just use the natural light which is alright if you are photographing a model in front of a well lit mirror (London Fashion Week and designers teams tend to use those mirrors with the bulbs around the edge so that the model is well lit for the makeup artist to see, enabling a backstage area to be in any dark place really), but outside of that situation a lot of backstage areas are dark. Can’t really capture it all properly in the dark, especially whilst you see every other photographer around you popping off flashes. And you often don’t have any time in front of those mirrors once a models makeup is complete because someone comes over and rushes them to get hair finished, or to get them dressed into their outfit for the show. Basically you need to evolve and adapt from being a natural light/ambient light shooter!
You see all kinds of different set ups when viewing other photographers backstage. Some like to have an assistant to hold the biggest soft boxes that can possibly be on a speedlite, some have an orb attached to their speedlite, some have a beauty dish, some use flash wirelessly and some use a bracket, some use LED. There is no right or wrong way to achieve the results you want, like I said I used to try and use the natural light available to me but soon learnt that wasn’t for me and the results I personally wanted to achieve.
What I do currently use though is a mix of things and depends how I feel on the day in honesty. A weird way to go about this but it depends on what I want to carry around. Some days I’ll use a speedlite mounted on the hotshoe and my Lastolite Ezybox, and others I will use a Lumimuse either mounted or hand held. Regardless of which hardware I take I will always, always, always take a foldable and small reflector with me.
The reflector will help capture a really great beauty shot as it will kick up any light back into the models face so you minimise any ugly or harsh shadows, but also just add further light into the face which is the area you are obviously trying to capture and show off. You see so many people backstage that have made their own tatty looking things with tin foil covering cardboard or books that they can just fold away, whereas I like a proper reflector as it will last me forever and not start to fall apart the more people touch it or the more I cram it into bags with loads of kit.
Even though you are out on location and rushing around you still need to treat this as if you are shooting beauty in a studio, and more often than not you want some kind of reflector kicking light back into the face to minimise any shadows and brighten everything up.
Some days I will then use a flashgun and softbox. Some days I will use a small and portable LED. All with a reflector and I either get the model to hold it or I do.
If using LED then I can use the LED handheld which means I’ll hold it up high and pointing down into the model, with the reflector then bouncing back up into the face. It also means my kit remains relatively small and light to carry around from show to show. Fashion Week isn’t held all in the same place so sometimes if you can make things work with a smaller and lighter kit then it saves any heavy kit hassles rushing around London!
When I use a speedlite and soft box combo I keep that mounted onto my cameras hot shoe which leaves my hands free to hold the camera and it is easier for me to switch from landscape or portrait orientation. Sometimes a landscape shot can be a bit nicer as well as also giving a wider viewpoint. It’s just down to what kind of shot you want to get in the moment. The soft box is often my light modifier of choice as I consider it a great all rounder for a bunch of things. It will help me get my beauty shots and close portraits, as well as give me coverage for full body stuff if I needed it (which you often do when documenting backstage, you end up doing a real mixed bag of shots). A flashgun can also give me more control on how powerful I want the light. LEDs are great and daylight balanced but sometimes they can be a bit too harsh or not powerful enough/large enough, again it completely depends on your vision as a photographer. With a flashgun you can have complete control over the power and you can use it as a soft fill in, or as a really harsh key light and try and block out the rest of the background. It has more scope for lighting modifiers also, but always make sure they are portable enough for fashion week and for the cramped spaces you may experience backstage.
Not every designer has wacky, interesting, or creative makeup to photograph. Some go really ‘natural’ and ‘barely there’, but you still need shots of it as magazines love writing up about beauty as much as about the clothes. Use artificial light backstage and you’ll be on to a winner with stunning portraits and none of the ambient light around you or flashes from other photographers will put you off. Go armed with just your camera and you are in for a tough ride in my opinion due to the changes in colour temperature as well as changes in the ambient lighting available to you. Flashgun or LED? You decide. But never go without a reflector if you want truly stunning and stand out portraits.