An Insider’s Guide to Photographing Fashion Week

Earlier this year, The Weekly Review deemed me as a, ‘fashion photography veteran.’ So I guess this blog post is all about me imparting my obviously supreme and divine wisdom onto my fellow plebs.

I’ve been photographing fashion week since the wee age of seventeen. I’ve captured the collections of designers such as Alex Perry, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Dion Lee. I‘m not going to lie and pretend to be humble about having done this. It’s pretty fucking cool. I get to spend a whole week talking to interesting people, looking at amazing fashion and sampling all the free goodies.

But it is also (unsurprisingly) a lot of hard work. Every day I edit photographs until 3am, constantly travel back between Geelong and Melbourne (public transport sucks), and eating becomes something of a foreign concept to me.

So in honour of my 5th year of photographing fashion week behind me, here is what I have learned from my adventures into all things fashion:

Photos from my first fashion show, Alex Perry!

1. Don’t expect to be paid

Let’s start with probably the most disappointing fact about photographing at fashion week: don’t expect to be paid.

Sorry to burst your hopes and dreams, but unless you photograph for Vogue or a major newspaper, you’re probably not going to be seeing any $$ in your bank account anytime soon.

But money isn’t always the best form of payment, and fashion week is a testament to that. The networking opportunities alone far outweigh any funds you aren’t receiving. Not to mention the bragging rights you can pop on your resume and the sheer amount of likes, comments and followers you’ll be getting on social media.

Think outside the box when editing your runway shots.

2. Game, Set, Match

Trying to get the spot you want in the media riser is like competing with a pack of hungry lions who haven’t eaten in a year. Everyone wants the same thing, and they’ll do just about anything to get it.

Before you even get to fashion week, you should be thinking about your images and what you want to capture. Arriving early is key to obtaining the seat of your dreams, and if you need to rush off to take some backstage shots or photograph some street style, befriend the person you’re sitting next to and get them to hold your seat. If you want photos of the models front on, work out where they’re going to be walking down the runway and sit as close to that position as possible. Or, if you want something a little more angled, sitting on the sides will be the best position for you.

After four years, photographing fashion week can get kindaaaa boring, so I always try to mix up where I sit. Often, I’m more than happy to take what I can get and opt to make my way to the riser later so that I can capture more atmosphere and backstage shots. Try and think out of the box while you’re working. Some of my favourite fashion shots have been taken whilst I was experimenting with new ways to capture the runway.

Models getting ready backstage.

3. Technique & Timing is King

Photographing a runway and street style is challenging. You have to work fast, capture at least one perfect, in-focus shot of each outfit on the runway, be able to spot important details and embellishes before they pass by your camera lens for eternity, and edit all of these images in a very neat eight-hour time frame.

Possibly the most important thing I’ve learned whilst photographing at fashion week is to ALWAYS make sure that your settings are on point. And if they’re not? You better adjust them quick smart because you don’t want to miss an outfit.

Timing is everything when it comes to sharing content at fashion week. This is why, as photographers, we have such quick turnaround times. Editors need to make sure the world sees these images before the next wave of photos from a new show start rolling in.

I’ve also found that when sharing images on social media, the quicker you can get them up on your Instagram, the more engagement they will receive because the images are relevant. If you’re the first photographer to get your photos online, you’ll be rolling in all the likes and follower notifications. #winning

Always look for new and interesting ways to capture the atmosphere of fashion week.

4. Networking

It’s no secret that some pretty important people attend fashion week. When I first started working at VAMFF in 2012, I met some pretty photographers and bloggers that have become invaluable contacts.

I use the phrase, ‘You never know who people know,’ a lot, but this sentiment particularly reigns true at fashion week. A few years ago, I met a man who was being followed around by a film crew for a TV show that was being produced by Disney. Cool, right?

It’s really important to talk to anyone and everyone at fashion week. From other photographers in the media pit to people just attending to the show, making connections is key. Always keep a smile on your face, carry some business cards with you, and if all else fails, a great way to introduce yourself to someone is by simply asking to take their photo.

Hanging out with the gorgeous Jess Mauboy after the Jean Paul Gaultier show at VAMFF 2016.

5. Future Work

Continuing on with the theme of networking, believe it or not, I actually end up getting A LOT of paid work out of fashion week. Probably my biggest insider tip is to always make friends with student designers.

If you follow my work, you’ll notice that every year I choose to cover emerging student runways and I do this for two reasons:

  1. The designs are interesting and far more artistic than the commercial runways.

  2. Final year students always need an editorial photographed of their collection for their final designs.

The latter is obviously a very important aspect to keep in mind when photographing student collections. Most of the students whose work I end up photographing find me on social media. I always make sure I tag the designer in any photos I upload and use the appropriate hashtags. I also try to edit my photos in a different or interesting way as this makes my images stand out amongst the masses.

Also remember to be nice, and if your editor is okay with it, send the students high res copies of your images for them to keep.

Some amazing student designs from 2015.

6. Have Fun & Don’t Take It Too Seriously

Before I photographed my first fashion week, the idea of fashion was such a foreign concept to me. I didn’t know what to expect, what to wear, or really,what I was even doing there in general.

The best part about photographing at fashion week is the fact that you can wear whatever you want and no one is going to judge you. All black is the typical media pit uniform, but after working for a few years, I really enjoy making the effort and dressing up every now and then.

Soak up the atmosphere, eat and drink any free food and alcohol you can get your hands on, listen to the #FROW and their conversations on the down low and have a good old laugh to yourself about the drama and fabulousness that is fashion week.

And just remember, as a photographer, you have the best seat in the house.

My all time favourite runway shot - Romance Was Born VAMFF Finale 2015.

FashionCarolyn WestComment