Photographing Models on the Runway

Runway photography is more like shooting sports that studio fashion. Leggy supermodels move fast and like a wedding shooter capturing a bride coming down the aisle with her father, you only get one chance. Some fashion shows permit flash but many others do not. On the upside, some runways are  brightly lit with tungsten lighting for TV, not still cameras. Local venues vary greatly in configuration, where you can stand, and many  allow flash. I arrive early and make tests shots with a stand-in to determine how I;m going to handle lighting.

runway modelsAt this local fashion show all of the dresses were made of paper! A Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN with EF 28-105mm lens (at 28mm) was used with a Shutter Priority exposure of 1/30 sec at f/5 and ISO 640 with fill from an EX 550 speedlite. © 2011 Joe Farace

For available light shots, I place the camera in Shutter Priority mode and there’s no time for bracketing? As soon as a show starts take a quick look one of the images on the camera’s LCD preview screen to make sure the exposure is good, then shoot in short bursts in Continuous mode. When there’s  a tiny break during the show, I check exposure on the LCD screen and made adjustments ranging from two-thirds stop underexposure to 1/3 stop overexposure.

runway modelsAt New York’s Fashion Week, runway lighting was bright enough to shoot this at 1/160 sec at f/8 and ISO 400. Camera was an Olympus E-1 with 50-200mm f/3.5 lens at 200mm. © 2011 Joe Farace

When  you know the runway is lit for TV, you can set the camera’s white balance control on Tungsten or shoot in RAW format. At Fashion week, I asked another shooter, who told me the color temperature was 3600 degrees Kelvin and that’s where I set the white balance. Not all digital SLRs let you set an exact color temperature but if not I would have gone with the tungsten setting. When the first person walked down the runway, I made a photo and saw color balance was right on.

photographing runway modelsHere I used my Canon EOS 1D Mark IIN and EX 550 flash with Sto-Fen Omni Bounce attached. An EF 28-105mm lens (at 28mm) was used along with an exposure of 1/30 sec at f/6.3 and ISO 640. ©2011 Joe Farace

Most fashion shooters work with long focal length lenses and I prefer zoom lenses rather than fixed focus lenses because they enable me to create differently cropped images from full-length to headshots from the same spot on the floor or riser. A photographer for Italian Vogue photographer once told me he had to get three shots of each model as they walk down the runway: A headshot to show make-up, a ¾ length to show accessories and jewelry and a full length shot to show the dress. Whew!

Joe Farace is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography published by Focal Press.

Author: Joe Farace

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