Life through a lens

The Catwalk and the “Sweet Spot”

Over the past month, one of the major events I covered this past months was “Nightwalk“, a fashion show/club night which takes place bi-annually in The Arches. Last time, I was taking photos unofficially. This time, I was with the official photographers, and thus under much more pressure to deliver the goods.

I’ve done fashion shows before, but this was easily the biggest one I have covered, in terms of length: two halves of over an hour each, preceded by a mini-performance of the always brilliant Cat Aclysmic, plus time for behind the scenes, both before and afterwards. On this kind of occasion, especially if you’re shooting in available light, you ending up taking so many shots during the course of the night that in order to not run out of camera memory you have to start self-editing results as you go along.

This is particularly true of the fashion show itself as there you’ll want to get good shots of every piece of every fashion line, and if there are a lot of them- and there were loads in this case- if you take a number of shots of each piece in order to pick the best shot, there is the potential for a lot of wastage in a very short period with little time to edit down the results as you go along, as you won’t want to miss next model walking coming up the catwalk. There were additional complications like a row of powerful strip lighting beneath the DJ booth that could result in glare, the need to get as much of the clothing in shot, and the desire to get the designer’s logos in as well, and you’ve got a lot of things to juggle around with, without having time to think! I often find that on those sort of occasions, I often find myself learning new things, and it was so in this case.

When I first did fashion shows, I tended to take loads and loads of shots, and review them later. As mentioned earlier, this can eat up memory cards very quickly! Also, when I reviewed them later, I noticed that shots at certain points on the catwalk were better than others, particularly in the lighting.

One of the things I’ve learned through photography is that something that looks subtle to the naked eye can make a massive difference to a camera, so it pays to look out for it- and it was true here. The catwalk is never perfectly evenly lit, but is in fact a series of pools of light, and where the model was in relation to that light is what was making a difference in my shot.

Aware of this, as I was shooting I started to carefully track the model down the runway in viewfinder, noting the effect of the light. (Whilst I was taking shots, of course!) I learned very quickly that shooting when a model is directly under a light is generally no-no as it lights the model’s head at the expense of the rest of the outfit. Occasionally, the lighting just before or just after the model passes underneath the light adds a little bit of dramatic light and shadow to the right type of clothing (Generally something with strong lines.), but usually it’s some point between the lights that works best, and it tends to be a particular zone. I tend to like light and shadows rather than a flat even light, but at the same time I do want the clothes properly lit as the clothes are the stars of any fashion show.

So increasingly as I cover fashion shows, I tend to look for this “sweet spot” on the runway as I shoot, and try and nail it as soon as possible, so I can then use it as a baseline, and  start to improvise around it. Nailing this zone can be quite intuitive as it’ll be different on every catwalk. There may even be more than one if there are three or more light sources on the catwalk, which can allow one a choice of shots. The initial shooting of a fashion show for me can be a combination of taking shots, watching the light for any obvious things, and very quickly reviewing to see if there are any patterns. eventually everything starts to settle down as I start work where the best light is, and then everything starts falling into place.

This is what it was like with Nightwalk. In the first half, I’d worked out more or less where the “sweet spot” was, and was getting consistent shots from it that I liked, and on the second half, I had to change my position, (Which was a blessing as it meant I out of of the glare of the strip lights!) and re-established where the spot was and play around a little whilst getting the baseline shots that I wanted. And I was a bit more effecient with my shots- so my memory card could relax a little. Only a little, mind.

You can see more of my shots from Nightwalk here and here.

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