In February, designers were showing off their clothing for Fall 2015. It might seem odd that we're looking at fashion for September and October when the temperatures are near zero. However, it's about what designs are a hit with the fashion press that will determine what goes into production and put up for sale later in the year.
In September, I spent my first fashion week on the sometimes-mean streets of New York, shooting what's known as "street style." More about that in another post.
Christian Siriano is one of the hotter names in the fashion world, and I was a bit nervous and excited as I stepped in to shoot my first runway show.
It's common – perhaps essential – that no runway show start at the appointed time. This one was no different, running about 30 minutes behind schedule. All of the photographers are pushed onto and around a small platform at the end of the runway, which makes sense because you want to photograph them as they are walking toward you.
Before the show started, I noticed that a large crowd had formed around a group of women. Because no one seemed in a hurry to get things underway, I stepped away from my spot to investigate.
Daughter of Oz
If you grew up in the 1960s and '70s, you knew Ozzy as the Black Sabbath guy who reportedly bit the head off of a live bat. And if you grew up in the 2000s, you know Sharon, wife of Ozzy, as the talk show maven and the one who didn't bite the head off of a live bat.
In due time, everyone took their seats, the lights dimmed, the music began to thump and the show got underway.
Model after model emerged from behind the jungle setting, walked the length of the runway, made a U turn to the right and then disappeared into the darkness while another model took her place.
The entire show lasted 20 minutes with Mr. Siriano stepping out onto the runway briefly to acknowledge the crowd.
The lights came on, and it was time to move on to the next show.
For me, there was no next show.
Sony NEX-7 with the Carl Zeiss 85mm Sonnar (mounted), the 50mm Planar on the left and the Sony 16-55mm kit lens.
I've shot a lot of news events, but it was so long ago that I was shooting two Nikons (an F2A and an FE) with Tri-X, which I processed at home and printed on my trusty Omega D-3 enlarger.
Fashion is a whole new ballgame. This time, it was digital: a Sony NEX-7 and a handful of lenses.
This type of shooting is where I definitely would pick digital over film. I love film, but there are times when digital is the better tool, and this is one of those times.
I brought along the 16-55mm kit lens, but I already knew the limitations of that lens going in. While it focuses quickly, it is a slow lens, and this means too much depth of field. You need shallow depth of field to isolate the subject from the background.
No matter what you do with a kit lens, the fact that the starting aperture at the telephoto end (55mm) is f/5.6 or smaller will mean that you will get nicely focused images of your subject and what's in back of them, particularly during runway shooting when the model is a good 50 feet from you. Depth of field at that distance and aperture is a lot - from 31 ft. to 115 ft., according to this online DOF calculator.
What you need is a fast-aperture long lens – at least a 135mm equivalent. In this case, I brought along a Carl Zeiss f/2.8 85mm Sonnar. I love this lens for film shooting, because it's fast, sharp and small. But would it be the right choice when speed is vital?
The answer is that it's a sweet lens, but I missed focus on some shots because of two things:
- I was trying to frame and focus an object that was moving toward me while not centering the subject on every shot.
- The object that is moving toward you is a model that is walking rather swiftly.
There are no "do overs" in fashion photography. You either get the shot, or you don't.
I dialed in -2EV exposure compensation, but after looking at the shots on a large monitor, -1EV would have been enough. A monopod would be a very good accessory to bring. Noted.
The lighting is pure tungsten, so it's smart to change your camera's white balance to the light bulb, which is incandescent, or you will spend a lot of time trying to retone your photos. The lights are extremely bright, which means that you don't need flash. However, it makes sense to boost the ISO. I shot mostly at ISO800, which was giving me shutter speeds in the 1/500 territory.
Next time, I probably will shoot at ISO400, which should give me cleaner JPGs and a decent shutter speed.
I shot JPGs, but I can see where shooting RAW would be a good choice.
I noticed during post-event pixel peeping that some of the JPGs have artifacts, which are always ugly.
I brought a spare battery, and even though I didn't use it, I still managed to run the battery down to 55% in a short time. The extra battery gives you that added peace of mind. In 20 minutes, I popped off nearly 200 shots, which is about 10 per minute. In reality, I shot in bursts of four or five shots in a few seconds. Then waited about 15 to 20 seconds and repeated. Don't forget, I still had to focus and compose on a moving subject.
I love the NEX-7 for runway photography. It's a fast camera. The EVF, which I've criticized in the past for being slow in dim lighting, was fine when the runway lights came on. It felt very well balanced in my hands, and I had no problem focusing the Sonnar, which because of the 1.5X crop factor gave me a field of view of a 135mm lens.
It all fit into my Lowepro Passport Sling III, a bag that I really like a lot.
FOR THE FUTURE
For my next time, I think that I will bring both the 85mm and 135mm Sonnars, plus the 50mm f/1.8 Planar - a lens that I really love. I think it's one of the all-time great optics in photography.
The final two shots were taken with the Planar.
If I was getting paid, I'd go full frame and buy a couple of autofocus telephotos zooms for it. But I'm not getting paid ... yet ... so instead I'll make due with what I have.
All were taken with the Carl Zeiss 85mm Sonnar. I stopped down from f/4 to 5.6 for most of the shots. Taken at ISO800 with -2EV dialed in.
These two photos are known as "street style." Various people dress fashionably and show up at the sites of fashion events so that photographers who don't get into a show can photograph them.