This is a blog on my experiences as a photographer at London Fashion Week, February 2016
What is it?
London Fashion Week, LFW for short, is one of the World’s most important fashion events. It is an exhilarating mixture of established designers showing off their cutting edge designs to the new up and coming seeking to break in to the lucrative fashion market. Along with the catwalk shows there are designer showrooms, trade shows and presentations; surrounded by a sea of fashion bloggers, journalists, wannabes and celebrities.
Just gaining accrediting is something of a hurdle. LFW is a trade only event (mostly anyway). Getting press accreditation involves application to the British Fashion Council with supporting documentation including an assignment letter from your media organisation. It also involves payment of a considerable fee. Acceptance is far from guaranteed and even getting the coveted credentials only gets you in the door of the main venue.
Where is it?
The main catwalk shows and the Designer Showroom is the Brewer Street Car Park in Soho, London. While perhaps not the most glamorous location it certainly has the urban feel. In addition there are show venues all over London from the Royal Academy of Arts to the Saatchi Gallery. I have had a mad dash across London to get from one location to another.
When is it?
LFW occurs twice a year. In February for the Autumn/Winter collection (AW2016) and September for the Spring/Summer collection (SS17).
Why do I want to be a photographer at London Fashion Week?
LFW is a very exciting and interesting place for a photographer. If you are lucky it can also be quite profitable. It is very fast paced, competitive and demands a high level of technical skill to get the best possible photographs, in the shortest possible time, in difficult, cramped conditions – a real challenge.
The payback is the opportunity to take pictures of beautiful models on catwalks, also, on occasion backstage at a show and see the very latest trends in fashion for the coming year.
There is also an enormous amount of street fashion to be seen and photographed around the venues so it is not just for those on the inside. One well known fashion photographer tells me she spends as much time outside the venues taking street fashion shots as inside as, in her view, it is a more interesting and creative environment than a formal catwalk show and there is always the chance of catching an up and coming designer right at the start of their journey.
Planning to cover LFW is, if you are an independent “junior” fashion photographer is a nightmare. Although there is a published schedule supported by the very able British Fashion Council PR team: that is only the beginning, a draft blueprint if you like. First, there are both “on-schedule” and “off-schedule” shows. It can be difficult to find out what off-schedule shows are taking place, which does not aid event planning. There are a large number of events to attend across London. One fashion photographer told me he had worked eighteen hours non-stop including covering a late night after show party, he had not had time to eat in twelve hours...
Even with accreditation, entrance to on schedule catwalk shows at the main venue are not guaranteed. Some shows – mostly for the major designers, also require an invitation from the PR company running the show. Unless you are an established photographer such invitations are almost impossible to obtain. The PR companies all have lists of preferred photographers (and I am sure that if there were any allegations of money passing hands they are untrue); unless you are a preferred photographer you are not going to get in to the show. It gets worse. Photographers are urged to apply to PR companies for invitations, but the PR companies are under no obligation to respond. Every year I have send out a number of requests for invitations and most do not respond. You only know that you have been accepted when the invitation arrives on your doorstep a couple of days before the show. Thus I am forced to ”overbook”
The reverse of this lottery is that I receive invitations from a number of designers and PR companies to events (front and back stage) and after show parties. I am fortunate that I have a rapidly growing reputation as a fashion photographer and my pictures have been published in a number of countries and publications. Thus the number of invitations I receive continues to grow. Particular thanks to HPRLondon for their support.
Also the above means I can be planning and re-planning not only on the day of the show but even during shows themselves. Great fun if you like that sort of thing.
The Catwalk shows and fashion presentations
These are both fun and highly competitive. In most venues there is a photographers “pen” at one end of the runway. Positions have to be marked out with gaffer tape before the shows and there is much competition to get the best spots alongside cheating, when markers are removed and arguments over who has which position and rows about obstruction of vision as a clear line of sight down the runway is everything.
The photographer’s pen can start to fill up an hour before the show. That is because there is normally a rehearsal before the main event. This allows the models to know their path, stop and turning points on the catwalk. This provides photographers and videographers a good chance to check their position, line of sight and pre focus. One of the key skills in fashion photography is consistence of shot. The rehearsal gives us an opportunity to check our settings and focus points ahead of the rush of the show itself.
Last year I was particularly taken with Ong-Onh Pairam; an up and coming designer who deserves exposure and is sure to be a top name designer.
This year I covered two catwalk shows J JS Lee and Eudon Choi, both interesting designs and very good shows.
I was also lucky enough to be invited to the outstanding Lantern Sense fashion show held by Fashion Scout in the historic setting of the Freemason’s Hall. I was on the front row of the audience for this show which gave a different perspective and some outstanding shots; not to mention goody bags for my wife and daughter.
The catwalk models really showed how creative and interesting fashion design can be. In addition I was opposite a celebrity packed front row which gave yet more photo opportunities.
I have to say that the sheer variety of venues in London for the shows is what makes London Fashion Week head and shoulders above its international competitors.
The catwalk shows are remarkably quick. The models move at a brisk walking pace along a relatively short distance (although I suspect it seems like a really long way to them). Often, as one model reaches the end of the runway the next has ready started. So, it is fast paced with no room for mistakes. The wrong auto or manual focus setting can ruin an entire show for a photographer as you have no time to check your shots until the end of the show. I take, on average, two hundred shots during a show so I know I will have a good number of clean, well-focused shots.(and quite a few poor focus shots like this).
Presentations are much easier to photograph. Generally, although not always, the models are either not moving or moving very little. The downside can be that there may be quite large crowds and the lighting may not be optimised for photography. However, presentations do allow the creative designers to show there full skill set. I really enjoyed Clio Peppiatt’s presentation, cutting edge design in a funky setting.
The Trade shows
There is always a designer showroom at the Brewer Street LFW venue. I normally make a point of visiting. There are always some interesting photographic opportunities, including the use of off-camera flash for some more creative photography or just to get some clean product shots. There is always the possibilities of coming across some of the designers visiting their pop-up stands.
This year, for the first time, I went to the Scoop International Womenswear trade show held at the very attractive Saatchi Gallery. There was an eclectic mix of designers ranging from full lines to handbags and other accessories. Some may not find this as interesting but I think it should be on every fashion photographer’s itinerary. The breath of fashion coverage is outstanding but in a more relaxed and intimate environment than a catwalk show.
I used off camera flash for the trade shows using an YN568ex, fired with an YN622N II. I did put my Nikon SB700 on camera for a few shots at the Lantern Sense fashion show. I would not normally do this as I am sure it can distract the models, but I wanted to get low ISO shots to pick up the remarkable detail in this show.
Over the two days I attended LFW (I had to miss the weekend because of other assignments) I took over a thousand pictures. Many photographers will say this is not necessary and excessive. But it costs nothing except my time going through them all in Lightroom, but it meant I was sure to get a core of good sellable shots.
London Fashion Week is the premier fashion event in the world in one of the most exciting cities in the world. Getting to be an accredited photographer is a privilege and an exciting, challenging event. The photographic opportunities are vast and potentially profitable. I personally also enjoy giving up and coming designers some well-deserved media coverage. My only regret is that I was too tired to attend any of the after show parties….
Please note that the photographs in this article are not my “best” as they are used commercially – however I do hold the copyright in all photos and unlicensed copying is prohibited. All my photos contain watermarks, visible or invisible.