So, you've got your camera, you've got your gear, you've got your passes to all the shows you want to see at Fashion Week SS'12. You're standing in the pit, waiting for the lights to go down, and all of the sudden you realize that you've never shot a runway show before, you've got no idea what the proper camera settings are for this sort of thing, and you start to panic. This panic is, of course, not in any way ameliorated by the fact that everyone around you has grotesquely enormous lenses plus lens extenders plus massive lens hoods and some really sturdy looking tripods and gear crates and they all seem to be speaking French or have some cool, vaguely European accent and, sweet Jesus, the smell in the pit can be totally overwhelming because most of these French/quasi-European cameramen have been working eighteen hours a day for the last week and probably haven't even had the time to take a shower.
You're just a blogger, you start thinking, you just bought your DSLR and new zoom lens and you're just not ready for this at all. The lights go down and one of those smarmy, smelly, way-more-experienced-at-this-sorta-thing-than-you Frenchmen yells, “Please uncross your legs,” the high beam Lyko lights blaze to life above your head and the first model steps out of that door…
Fear not! I briefly went through this same moment of panic on the first day of New York Fashion Week. Luckily, you've got a brain, you've got a camera, and you've got a very simple problem to solve. About the only thing you need to be sure you do is freeze motion. That's it. You just don't want the models or their clothing to be blurry from movement. There are a couple of ways to do this. What most photographers do is set their shooting mode to Shutter Priority (which you can read about here) and set their chosen shutter speed to about 1/500th of a second, although the faster the better.
What I did all week was use Aperture Priority. Shooting at f/4, on the 105mm end of my zoom lens (a 24mm-105mm was the longest lens I had and was more than enough for most of the shows, depending on what spot I got in the pit), allowed me to get a relatively shallow depth of field to make the model pop a bit more out of the background. Shooting at ISO 3200 allowed me to keep my shutter speeds in the 1/800th of a second to 1/1600th of a second range so I don’t have a single blurry shot from the entire week. Setting my AF point to the center point ensured that I always kept the model in the center of the frame and the focus directly on her.
Both Av and Tv modes do require a bit of tweaking while you’re shooting as well. For the most part I kept my exposure compensation at +2/3 of a stop; when you’re shooting RAW (which you should be, leave a comment below if you’d like to receive a very long and involved answer as to why you should not ever, ever, ever shoot JPEGs for any photos you really want to look top-notch) you want your files to be just slightly overexposed (again, leave a question in the comments as to why this is but expect an answer that involves sensels, IC digital conversion, and probably a very long rant regarding just why oh why digital camera manufacturers still base their exposure systems around a 19th century exposure system that was intended for film and silver halide crystals; steel thyself for a geek-out). This +2/3 EV compensation was just fine for the most part, but when a model was wearing something black or dark in color I generally returned to +/-0 or even -1/3 EV compensation to keep their skin from blowing out and appearing overexposed.
And that’s just about it, pretty simple really. After the first two shows I had developed a number of presets in Lightroom that I could apply to an entire batch of photos which made the photo editing and turn around significantly faster. Leave comments below if you’ve got any questions about my equipment, settings, or Lightroom presets.
[Photos by Nando Alvarez]