Having avoided covering a full fashion week for a few seasons, my number came up again so, together with AFP colleague Carl Court, I got my fashion on and headed to Somerset House in London for a crash course in classy clothing and cutting couture.

As ever, the most fun was had either trying to capture the madness of backstage life, or in the “off-piste” shows of smaller designers. With security tighter than previous years, the main tent at Somerset House was very restrictive in allowing access but thankfully through a combination of ninja-skills and politeness, I got to work backstage at a number of shows including Temperley, Vivienne Westwood and Inbar Spector.

Two of the things that baffle me about life backstage is the sheer amount of people that are allowed to be back there and also why so many fashion photographers feel the need to have a lackey to hold their flash units for them. Invariably, they end up holding it exactly where it would be if it was mounted and all it does is fill the place up even more. Plenty of other guys mount their flash units on the camera or use ring-flash units so it’s always a little frustrating when your way is blocked by yet another person serving as a glorified lighting stand.

One of the frustrations of working at London Fashion Week is trying to balance coverage of the larger designers with finding the unusual shows at smaller venues from lesser-known designers. While technically, you have the time to shoot loads of shows, your day gets soaked up with negotiating access, travelling between venues, marking positions, defending positions and then trying to get something other than the show itself. If this is done for every major designer’s show, a 15 minute presentation will have actually have taken up four hours of your working day. While it’s clear that you have to cover the big hitters, it’s a pain to see the random and pictorially-satisfying stuff that comes out of the smaller design house and design school shows.

While I tried to amuse myself by finding silly stuff like the shot above, it was refreshing to see the stereotypes challenged by the reading matter of the model below. Not what I was expecting to see backstage at Temperley

As ever, the kit for the week stayed pretty much the same with either two or three bodies (D3/D3s) and a whole bunch of lenses ranging from the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 lens for uber-wide stuff in the thick of it backstage, through to a 300mm f2.8 lens for picking out the detail and/or famous faces in the crowd. Not shooting that much of the celebrity side, I packed a flash but never actually used it. If there were famous people to be shot, there would invariably be more than enough flash being fired to wear the majestic cape of Captain Catchflash. Also, I shot all of the backstage images with available lighting on a nice fast 50mm. It helps when TV crews turn up with their lighting rigs of course… 😉

Another joyful experience is the skill of learning how to balance on a stack of randomly-assembled blocks, boxes and crates to get a decent view from within the scrum of photographers. As you can see from the shot below, there really isn’t much room left to breathe, never mind work. Randomly chopping and changing lenses mid-show is frowned upon as you’re working so closely to the person next to you that you’re bound to knock them, so you learn to choose your weapons and stick to them. Having been sent a selection of slings by the lovely people at Black Rapid a while ago, I’ve worked out two situations where they’re at their most useful. These seem to be any occasion where you have to wear a suit, and Fashion Week. The former is due to the straps being worn under the suit jacket and stopping the crumples from attacking before you’ve even started your job. The latter is due to the fact that you need to keep things close, but not be weighed down with heavy pouches. With this in mind, I attached my 70-200mm to my R-Strap, put the 300mm on one body and the 24-70mm on another, meaning that I’d only have to find a temporary home for the 24-70mm. Not the most riveting of snippets to share I know but it’s a workflow that, er, works!

One of my favourite presentations of the week was by Israeli designer Inbar Spector, who showed a series of skintight laser-cut cat suits and huge flowing dresses, all topped off with jewelled headpieces by Lara Jensen. It was good to at least catch one distinctive show during the week! The aim of the lighting teams at fashion shows is to create a smooth and consistent flow of light onto the catwalk throughout the models’ route. This show proved a bit of a nightmare though, with the spotlights at the end of the runway capable of giving a healthy suntan in a few seconds, while elsewhere it was pretty murky so it was a case of riding those dials frantically as the model progressed.

My last show of the week was the Burberry presentation, held in an alarmingly expensive-looking temporary mega-marquee in Hyde Park. With AFP throwing three of us at it, Carl Court was given backstage, AFP’s latest freelancer Justin Tallis was given the outside arrivals while I got the show. Having not had a chance to secure a decent position, there was half an hour of chin-stroking as I worked out how to fit myself in, before AP’s Joel Ryan decided to shuffle into a different spot, freeing up a nice central location. It really is like Tetris but involving aggressive fashion photographers, unstable stacked boxes and body odour issues. Even French actress Clémence Poésy was concerned about the grumbling and bickering coming from the photographers’ stand…

Another season down and I remain as lacking in style as ever. When will these fashion models finally rub off on me? *ahem*

16 Responses to “Couture Clash at London Fashion Week”

  1. Lovely post Leon, and some cracking backstage stuff (I didn’t have any time this season unfortunately, because as you say, the variety is found back there and not on the catwalk) I’ve still got to put my “Highlight Reel” together, but am still editing pictures for clients at the moment.

    It was a pleasure running into you at the Inbar Spector show though, and I couldn’t agree with you more. f4.5 at the end and f9-10 at the end wasn’t helped by the reflective nature of the clothing and headgear! But a cracking show nonetheless. It’s always nice to find those quirky shows amongst all the “safe” collections.

    Oh and did I spy the Canon “Best Shot” winner in that Daks photo? bastard. 😉

    Cheers – Kris

    Posted by Kris Mitchell
  2. Lovely set mate as always from you at fashion week. Some funny screwed up faces i recognise in the crowd of photographers.

    Posted by Dan Kitwood
  3. @Kris – Cheers bud. I don’t know how guys shoot all four weeks back-to-back. I think I’d go a little insane! As for the Daks picture, afraid not as I shoot on Nikon. Not sure they’d be happy about having a non-Canon winner!

    @Dan – Cheers fella! There should be a special prize for who recognises the most faces. 😉

    Posted by tabascokid
  4. Thanks for this informative post. You´ve mentioned Black Rapid. Your opinion on the double r-strap? Have you used it already?

    Posted by Manuel
  5. No worries, Manuel. Thanks for reading! I was sent a DR-1 Double Strap and an RS-Sport strap some time ago and tried it out in a number of situations. My conclusions were mixed. The upshot being that, as I said in the post, they’re great for wearing underneath a suit if you’re shooting a wedding or conference and want to look smart. The other time that they’ve proved valuable is at things like fashion week where you’re trying to be as small as possible due to working conditions. Without the strap, I’d have to carry another pouch to hold the spare lenses but letting it swing by my side works out better for me.

    On the down side, I didn’t find they worked that well for every day use. Aside from the look of them when using it (which always reminds of a child pretending to be a commando), the fact that the cameras are attached to you results in you often standing around with them still on your shoulders whereas you’d normally just put the cameras down. It might seem a small issue but I used them solidly for a week and I had serious neck ache by the end of it. :(

    In conclusion, if you want to look smart for jobs, I’d consider investing but only if it’s a regular occurrence. Hope that helps!

    Posted by tabascokid
  6. Absolutely stunning!

    Posted by petra
  7. Outstanding blog, my liege, and very informative. Now, tell me this: would you get Ms K to wear any of those glad rags?

    Posted by pixpilgrm
  8. The Canon best shot winner was Tristian, but it was a very similar frame to yours Leon, shame you couldnt manipulate the file data! having said that a mate of mine just wont the NME Nikon comp and he is Canon! pah!
    always a joy to read, I got a small taste of it this year, going on Mens day, which I’m told isnt the same at all, but better than being stuck in the office remotely for once!

    Posted by Rowan
  9. Great stuff Leon. And I LOVE the Lecter bag!! *want one so badly* :o) x

    Posted by Beth
  10. Stunning ! Like the way you do things so well

    Posted by Michael McGuinness
  11. @Petra – Cheers petal!

    @Akin – What do you mean “get her to wear them”? That’s her in the yellow spandex. 😉

    @Rowan – Damn you Nikon for pulling out of sponsoring Fashion Week! There would have been a time when 50% of my time covering the week would have been spent at the counter, blagging freebies but I have to simply wander past these days. *sob* Yeah, no-one ever covers Men’s day which is a shame as I think it could make quite a nice set of frames purely because there’s such little interest, if that makes sense.

    @Beth – Cheers, Sis! Christmas is only a few months away now…

    @Annabel – Thanks Annabel. Much appreciated. As Kirsten may tell you, fashion and style aren’t my strong points so I guess I just enjoy exploring a foreign environment! :)

    @Michael – It’s all smoke and mirrors. The blog never shows the screw-ups!

    Posted by tabascokid
  12. Thanks for your answer. I would use the double r-straps mainly for wedding and events with a bit pressure. For lazier assignments i´m using no strap or the single strap.

    Posted by Manuel
  13. beautiful shots, well done! I especially love your portraits and that last picture is just sublime!

    Posted by STEFANIE
  14. @Manuel – Yup, that seems to be the best way to use and abuse them!

    @Stefanie – Thanks Stefanie. It was a nice way to end my week on fashion. :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  15. Wonderful Blog Leon put with some nice pics

    Posted by Andrew Schofiled

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