Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tips for Shooting Photos Backstage at Fashion Shows

This article was originally published in Independent Fashion Bloggers.

Model Behavior

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

Copyright 2011 Monica L. Shulman - NYFW - IFB


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.


Copyright 2011 Monica L. Shulman - NYFW - IFB

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

NYFW-Monica L. Shulman

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.

NYFW-Monica L. Shulman

NYFW-Monica L. Shulman

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.

Monica L. Shulman - NYFW



Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright 2011 Monica L. Shulman - NYFW - IFB

Copyright 2011 Monica L. Shulman

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