Tips for Photographing Fashion Shows, Part I: Backstage

Backstage at Geren Ford

Backstage at Geren Ford – September 2009

Going to a fashion show is so exciting! The people, the clothes, the music, the venue – every where you turn there is inspiration and candy for your eyes. But, working at a fashion show and/or attending a show to cover it for your blog, while still fun, can also be stressful – especially if you are tasked with taking photos and your vantage point is not that great. In fact, even if you are up on the media riser, it can be very difficult to capture the “perfect” shot.  If you've been in this situation before, hopefully some of these tips can help you for the next fashion week.

I decided to break this down into two posts: backstage and runway.  This is the first of the two: backstage.  Personally, I prefer backstage shots.  The majority of my work as a street photographer is candid and spontaneous so shooting backstage is right up my alley.  I really enjoy being an observer and watching how stories unfold backstage and I love to capture the quiet, organized chaos that goes on just before the big show.

All of the images shared on this post were taken by me at various shows during different New York fashion weeks.  And, we can all learn from each other so please post any tips or advice of your own in the comments!

1. Talk to your boss

I would say that this little rule applies to any type of photography.  If you're out photographing for yourself and for your blog then go forth and shoot. If you've been sponsored or commissioned to attend and photograph a show, go forth and shoot but first get instructions.

What is the goal of the shoot? Are you shooting back stage and runway? Where will you be sitting and what kind of access will you have? What kinds of shots are needed? It's best to get all the information up front so that you can get the best images you can for you and for your client.

2. Equipment



I always say that the best camera is the one you have and while that is generally true, one exception is when you shoot fashion shows.  Backstage photos can be easily captured with a point and shoot because you are able to move around easily, get close up and stand far away.  Plus, the light backstage, particularly where make-up is being done, is usually pretty great so you don't have to worry too much about being stuck in a low light situation.  Having said that, if you have a dslr you will have much more flexibility.  And, you should definitely take both your dslr and your point and shoot if you have them so you can take out your smaller camera for quick for snapshots.


When I'm out on the street shooting personal projects it's usually just me and my camera and one lens.  I'm not one of those people who goes out with every piece of equipment I own – a bunch of different lenses and other bells and whistles.  That's not necessarily so during fashion week.

I usually take two lenses (personally I think that's all you need in this case) and sometimes (usually) even two cameras so I don't have to switch lenses back and forth.  But, if you're like most people you only have one camera and that's fine too.  It's really a personal preference but there are a lot of photographers who like shooting with a prime lens (a fixed focal length).  And, while I love my prime lenses I really love my zoom lenses for fashion shows because, again, they provide more flexibility.  I feel most comfortable knowing that I can capture different types of images without being limited by focal length.  I can get up really close and shoot candids in a non-intrusive way and also use a wide angle to capture a whole scene.

girl biting cell phone
The light backstage is generally pretty great.  Sometimes you're really lucky and make-up and hair is being done in a room with loads of windows giving you amazing natural light (yay!)  Take advantage of that.

I've mentioned this little tip regarding using a flash in previous tutorials: if you need to use the in-camera flash, and this applies to both a point and shoot and a dslr, take a little piece of tissue paper and put it over the flash to diffuse the light a bit.  It will help you out by controlling that bleached out look. Having said that, always be sure to check that your white balance is set to the appropriate light.  Take a few test shots to be sure you have it right.

Still, even though you can try to manipulate your in-camera flash, I always use my hot-shoe flash.  As with all of your other equipment, if you have a flash that attaches to your camera, you should read the manual so you can learn how to use it properly.   If you choose to direct the flash directly at your subject, consider investing in a hot shoe flash cover (basically a screen or diffuser of some sort).  There are a variety available at all different price points and you can even make one yourself.  Alternatively, if you can, I would suggest turning your flash up toward the ceiling and bouncing it off the wall.

I'll cover using a flash in Part Two when I talk about runway shooting – ie. if you're standing on the media riser, don't use one.  Seriously.  I remember one time in the middle of a show a few of the photographers were actually swearing (and I'm using this term mildly) at someone for using a flash.  I thought they were about to throw down!  Not fun and certainly distracting but definitely a learning experience.

Memory Cards

Take a lot of them.  They fill up fast and it's best to have them.

3.  Use your imagination

Even after you've gotten clear instructions on what you need, be sure to use your imagination to get the best shots you can and take photos that are a bit outside the box. Sometimes you won't know how great a shot is until after you've uploaded the photos and are in post-process. You already know that you're a creative person or else you likely would not be working at or attending a fashion show in the first place. Leverage that creativity to get the most interesting and unique photos you can.
girl having meal

ladies pump shoes

And, don't be afraid to talk to people backstage.  Models, hair stylists and make-up artists are professional and I have always found that they are open to having their photo taken backstage not only for behind-the-scenes candid shots but for posed photos, as well.  Except of course you should never shoot while people are changing.  Usually there is someone backstage telling photographers to leave or to stop photographing but I have actually been there when a photographer was kicked out for taking pictures while models were changing into first looks.  Some of the models are underage but beyond that, for obvious moral, ethical and common-sense reasons, don't do it.  Like anything else, just be aware of your surroundings.

backstage makeup work 1

backstage makeup work 2

backstage makeup work 3

hanging dresses with tags

horizontal photo strip

applying eyeshadow

listening to music at hair salon

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24 Responses

  1. Rachel

    This is an amazing post – I wish I’d read this a few years ago!

  2. Eb

    Good post. I’m learning how to take effective photos at fashion shows. This was a good help.

  3. Gabby K.

    This post was really interesting. I’ve never been to a fashion show but I’m hoping to get to one in June in my hometown, and its nice to have some tips to start from.

  4. Lyka Ricks

    Oh! I now Love to be in backstage. The action is there! You can feel that everyone is into it.. (feeling your essence not just presence).

  5. Camille

    I attended Japan Fashion Week just recently. I must say it’s hard to get decent pictures. And there’s always better pictures from the pros who have a nicer view of the show. But it’s great to be able to show a more detailed perspective. Something a bit more interesting than runway photos you’ll find everywhere.

    • Monica Shulman

      It definitely is difficult to get good shots on the runway…especially if your seats (if you have one) aren’t great. And I completely agree with you, youshould definitely get the standard full body shots but also try some new things to make your images stand out by what’s already out there. have fun!

  6. Style Maniac

    Recently attended my first fashion show as Press for my blog. Just as you said backstage had great light and the photos turned out great. The runway shots … not so much. Although after stylizing with Instagram I got a few atmospheric ones that were fine for my own purposes. Luckily your other piece of advice held true here, too–I thought before hand about what I wanted and it wasn’t to capture every outfit but simply to capture the feel of the event.

  7. Laura Hueto Puig

    Wow, thanks so much for this post!! I’ve been able to go to a couple of shows lately, and it’s true that when you learn the most is from experience, but it’s very helpful to read other people come up with different tips and ideas… Looking forward to the next one! 😉

  8. polarisedsunglassses

    Fashion is not just about look it is about to feel. Why we make boundaries of fashion warp around the look, hair style, clothing. its much much more than that.

  9. SpyGearFactory.eCrater.com

    Really cool pics, liked post a lot.

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  10. muchin

    i lov this post! im a ecuadorian photographer and yeah this has help me a lot! what camara do you use? and flash? i have canon 430 EX ii and sometimes it freezes like i have to wait about 30 seconds till i can shot again and that make me nuts, when im taking photos at an important event and then the flash freezes im like ¨ok wait¨ and that makes me look so unprofessional. Thanx

  11. CJ Inzana

    Wish I would have found this post two days ago. I did my first fashion show, and the person that hired me really had no idea what they were doing. They told me to just to take photos before, during, and after the show. I felt really weird about taking photos in the dressing room, I wasn’t sure it was something photographers really do, so I opted out of it and just did runway shots and a few of the after-party. I guess I know for next time!

  12. Sven Eselgroth

    Hi! Great article! I shoot many fashion shows and love it. I particularly like shooting behind the scenes and have done a couple blog posts on my approach to lighting for this type of thing with diagrams and photographs to show how my set ups look.

  13. Olivia


    Merci pour ce super article !
    Pouvez-vous m’indiquer où se trouve la partie n° 2 ?
    Merci beaucoup
    Bien cordialement

  14. Parag Shewale

    It was a real help… Covered a fashion show…. Tips are really owesome….

  15. IGTARD

    Monica Shulman’s the real deal. Well written but more importantly well photographed. If you want to do this pay attention. find a show and go. Find a show you can photograph. find some style and get high photographing it. Share with designers, pr agent, coordinators, hair people, make up. lighting people, music. get there early. Be professional. work with other photographers. Hope to see them next time. More than that hope the want to see you next time. Get finished work to everyone. Repeat. Done this a few times.

  16. Olga

    This is an absolutely awesome article with great tips! I’ve done my first backstage photoshoot last weekend and it’s a shame I saw this article only afterwards.

    I arrived to the backstage too late when they finished the make-up and hairstyling, so had a bunch of models playing with their phones before the show. This was a misunderstanding between me and PR manager. Anyway the photos are actually quite nice.

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