New York, the big city of dreams. I was always fascinated with the city. My parents lived there for a while, my sister was born there, I didn’t come into the picture until a couple years later when my parents moved back to Lima, Peru.
About 2 years ago one of my good friends invited me to New York. He told me he’d reserved a hotel in the middle of Times Square for five days and wanted to know if I wanted to join him. Being that I had never been to New York, I jumped on the opportunity.
Arriving in New York I had no idea what would be waiting for us. We walked around Times Square snapping away. Some street photography and some shots of the cityscape. After a day or two I noticed that there was something fashionable going on. Turned out to be the Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion week. For the next few days I dragged my friend to the Lincoln Center where we would take pictures of the people walking in and out of the tents. There was no chance in hell of actually getting into one of the shows because security was really tight. We came back with some great images but I wasn’t finished. I was determined to get into those tents and experience it for myself.
New York Fashion week happens twice a year, in February for the Fall/Winter and in September for the Spring/Summer collections. In the beginning it was held at Bryant Park, in the heart of downtown New York. Years later they moved fashion week to the Lincoln Center. There’s a documentary on how it all started here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-8EFKdn478
Fast Forward to S/S 2013 (Spring and Summer collection for 2013) an opportunity presented itself to shoot for a fashion stock agency based in New York. I was thrilled, for the next 10 days I would be right in the middle of it all. I had no clue what to expect and boy was I in for a big surprise.
I arrived in New York on a Wednesday, the night before Fashion’s Night Out. At base camp we went over some fine details and I was taught in literally 2 hours how to shoot the runways! Granted I’ve shot a few fashion shows in the Bay Area but nothing like what I was about to encounter.
The very next morning I already had a schedule of shoots starting around 10AM at Lincoln Center for BCBG Max Azria. 41 shows would follow this for the remaining 9 days! After re-familiarizing myself with the subway system, I was on my way to Adorama Rentals to rent a Canon 70-200 2.8L with a 1.4x converter (for all you photo techies). It’s important to have REACH from your camera and I was lacking. My longest lens is a Canon 135 2.0.
BCBG turned out to be a big show and being my first show I didn’t know exactly how the etiquette worked in the photo pit so I ended up with a less than favorable position. I think the shots still came out great for my first show.
A few shows later and I was starting to get into the rhythm. Subways and taxi’s would take me from the Lincoln Center on 66th ave down to the Meat Packing District at Milk Studios and Highline Studios where many shows were held. These are top notch studios in New York that during NYFW are converted into runways. A few shows were also held on Pier 57 and 59 at Chelsea Piers. Any given day would amount to 2-3 subway routes and 2-3 taxis. Other times I would walk from one show to another trying to grab a bite fro local street vendors whenever I had a couple of minutes to spare which was, hardly ever! The tight schedule would have a show ending at 2PM with the next one starting at 3PM. Here’s were you have to get creative to figure out the shortest and fastest route from one venue to another.
I met a few photographers who have worked NYFW for several years. I was open to any advise they could offer. I learned about the different “Teams” or “Gangs” that work closely together. You see, all the photographers in the pits are all going for one thing, the perfect shot! When you have over 100 photographers shooting one show and the perfect shot is a matter of a few inches of lens positioning, you can see how stressful and heated a situation can become.
I was informed about this before my first show. Watch out for the bullies. The guy that will try and push you around, get in front of you, yell at you, etc. Needles to say I never had a bad experience with anyone. For the most part everyone was cool. I did see them go off from time to time with other photographers but as for me, I flew under the radar, took my spot and waited for the shows to start. I would shoot next to big agency photographers shooting for Getty Images, AP Press, Reuters, top fashion magazine including Vogue and Haarpers Baazer, they were all there. Teams from Germany, Italy, France and London, would fly in to shoot NYFW and I quickly learned who there guys were. Their accent was the first thing to give them away. They worked in teams, I would see them show after show. One of the team members would arrive at a show very earlier to secure the spots for the other members, they would hire assistants in NY to give them rides from one show to the next and handle miscellaneous tasks. After shooting countless years they have their routine down to a science.
A typical runway show would last between 7-15 minutes. Arriving 2 hours before the show (when possible) I would head backstage and shoot the models getting ready which included hair, makeup and the fitting. They would also do a practice walk-through exactly like the actual show to make sure that everyone knew where they needed to be and the timing was perfect. After this, more backstage shooting. About 1/2 hour before showtime I head back to the photo pit and get ready securing my spot which was already pre-designated with my Pelican Case (priceless). As the crowds roll in, they mingle a bit, some paparazzi style photographers shoot all the crowd photos and the PR organizers show people to their seats.
At exactly 30 minutes past the scheduled time, the shows begin. I can hear the Italian Mafia photographers start to shush the crowd! Their voices project as they yell for everyone to uncross their legs in the front row. What they hate the most is getting a foot sticking out in one of their shots.
As the first model rolls out, you start a rhythm in your head, You see, it’s all about timing. The models forward foot needs to be flat on the ground to make a good shot. If the toe is facing up the shot is garbage and not usable. In order to get these shots you would have to time it perfectly. Doing this while constantly focusing and zooming your lens was not an easy challenge. Other factors were getting the correct white balance for the house lights and also the correct exposure. An average metering would be something like 1/320 F5.6 at ISO 800. This would ensure that I freeze the models movement while maintaining everything in focus.
I was using a Canon 5D Mark II for the task and it did have some down-falls. The focusing system on the 5D Mark II is not the greatest. I used AI servo and all focus points most of the time and once in a while it would be a hit or miss, depending on the light. Another downfall was the FPS (Frames Per Second) in burst mode. I can’t remember the exact number but i think its between 3-4 FPS in burst mode. Too slow for runway in my opinion. Guys next to me were shooting what seemed like 18FPS bursts. I plan to rent a camera next time. The Canon 1DX sounds like a good choice.
Shooting NYFW was a great experience. If it wasn’t for the long hours, no time to grab a bite schedule, and some non-creative robot style shooting on the runways, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again. This time I will hesitate for a minute, pack my gear, and do it all over again…