dot's top tips: shooting fish at fashion week

Here's a little known fact about me: we have a reincarnated cat. His official name is Tigger, but he is so much in nature like his predecessor, Pooh, that we call him Pooh, too. The timing and circumstances of his birth- and how he found us - was amazing, as if he was conceived the day Pooh died. And, like the Dalai Lama, he even answered to his name.

When we first got him home, he was just bouncing off the walls, young and healthy and filled with this incredible joy at being alive. We could play string forever: he'd be flying thru the air, finally collapsing with exhaustion, gasping for breath from the excitement.

That's a bit how I was at my first fashion week: September, 2009. The first time at the Somerset House location. I had just switched to digital (I'm ashamed at how sharp focus my shots look now: I didn't know how to use the settings) and after seven months of doing street style, not knowing another soul doing it, and going thru the whole hoo ha about asking to take people's photos, not to mention how exhausting it was to run after stylish people... to suddenly find them in one place was like shooting fish.

And the thing about fashion weeks are: people WANT TO BE SHOT. (Except, of course, Kit: when she gets the tee shirt made I want one, too). But while the good news is, everyone is fair game, there are still some general rules that will help the novice, if shooting stylish people is your goal.

• Respect people's time.

Sometimes you'll come across people that want their photos taken, want to be seen on blogs, and - at that moment - have the time to pose. Others are desperately trying to get to a show on time (imagine running for a plane, over and over: that's what fashion week can feel like if you're actually there for the shows). It's pretty easy to tell the difference: if someone is moving fast, that's a good indicator that they don't have time to pose for you.

• Models:

If you see someone freakishly tall and almost inhumanly attractive, who you think might be a model, chances are, they are. And is so, chances are they are WORKING. If that model is running, most likely that's cause she is LATE, and no doubt, terrified that someone really scary is going to yell at her. For God's sake, please don't ask to take her photo. Just because she (or he) is photogenic, doesn't mean that they necessarily want to give it away for free.

Sometimes especially, models don't want to be photographed without their armour on: their hair and makeup and beautiful, expensive clothes. There will be exceptions of course: if a model has the time, and feels confident about his/her appearance, they might well pose for you. If you befriend them, they might even, if you ask nicely, jump for you. (In general: the more famous or successful the model, the more likely they will be comfortable in their own skin and more easy about being shot: like Dree Hemingway, for example: 'when I say jump'). But they are under no obligation. So try to be sensitive and read their face. If they put their hand up between their face and your camera lens and are moving fast, there's your answer.

• Choose your setting.

There's nothing more distressing to a photographer than getting the best shot of somone, only the background is so cluttered and distracting that the subject just doesn't read - and the photo isn't successful. In general I like to choose a background - this is something I"ve learned thru practice from street shooting - I find my subject and take a quick look around to find a background that works. You don't want someone agreeing to have their photo taken and then standing there while their face looks more and more impatient and you're waiting for some idiot behind them to stop ruining your shot. That's why these days you see more street shots with someone leaning against a wall: you simply have more control.

I don't know about other cities, but at Somerset House, the buildings that make up the boundaries of the square are beautiful stone, and there are enough nooks and crannies that you can usually find a great setting. The British Fashion Council also goes to great lengths to create photogenic backgrounds just for that purpose.

• Remember the Inverse Celebrity Proportion Rule

Which is: the more famous someone is, the less time you (a presumably less known public figure) should expect to take up of their time. So move fast. Don't in general pull them aside and start bossing them around. The first time I met Scott Schulman, aka the Sartorialist, I felt so shy that suddenly I got really bossy, and made him stand in the corner. You can read more about it here ('I shot the Sartorialist' - really should have called it 'no one puts Baby in the corner') and maybe I caught him on a good day cause he was a sport about it, but in general, you're running the risk that you'll piss them off. And God knows, no one wants to piss off a celebrity.

Of course, if you yourself happen to be more famous than the person you're shooting, well, all bets are off. (Shown above, Orla Kiely, who I met with her husband, and who had all the time in the world for me: that's true class, in my book).

Oh! Speaking of photography: I was kindly asked by the people with W hotels in NY to do a photo shoot/party for NY fashion week, and I'm so glad I'm here and the plans fell thru, but I can't think of anyone - apart from the Photodiarist - who I'd rather have to it than Shini (curated by Susie Bubble), so if you're in NY right now, check out Bubble + Cube.

• Ask people's names.

For example, this is Paolo, who shoots for Paris Match and all kinds of great publications, and who greeted me with a huge hug when I saw him again in February. Simply because I remembered his name and greeted him each day with a big 'Hi Paolo!'

And if you can, write it down after. Or, better yet, take one quick digital shot of their ID tag. While it's great in general to have business cards (something I always used to give out when I was doing street style photography, because in the beginning, no one knew what it was, and it helped give me an air of legitimacy), really at fashion week, there's almost no point. You might exchange cards but at the end of five days of this madness, all you end up with is a bag full of cards an no idea who they belong to. I find shooting someone's tag right after I've shot them helps me ID them better.

The unbelievable thing is, today, in Florida, I decided to illustrate this guide with only photos from my very first day of my very first fashion week, and lo and behold: I met and photographed two girls who are now my friends! Daniella, of F blog fame (above), and below, Jackie, the Platform Princess!

Of course, all rules are made to be broken, so trust your instincts, judgement, and discretion.

But mostly, let's try to remember our manners, boys and girls. The basic rules of etiquette still apply at all fashion weeks, anywhere in the world. If you can learn the words 'please' and 'thank you' in whatever tongue that city speaks, you'll do just fine. And let a smile be your umbrella.

(I shot everything here on Day One, London Fashion Week, Somerset House, September 2009).


Platform P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Platform P said...

OMG Jill I love this post! Your advice is hilarious (but true)! I think this was my first blog fashion week too.

1. I look like a douche bag, haha- what is it with me and squinting?! I also REALLY hated that outfit; better to dress down and wear great shoes I now say ;-)
2. The guy in the first shot has such a great smile- such a good shot.
3. Lastly, I can't believe I've met you in a previous life, haha!

Can't wait to see you at LFW, come back to London already! xx

Sister Shirley said...

Thank you so much for this wonderful post! In my innermost dreams I'd be a street style photographer, so I love being able to live vicariously through you.

Have a great and fortuitous week!

the nyanzi report said...

great advice.

Daniella said...

HAHAHA OMG. i'm so squinty too. this is too funny!!! can't wait to see you at lfw xxxx

jill said...

Well it was REALLY bright that day. Probably because of all the shiny stars!

David (Nyanzi) I think that was the same day I met and photographed you, too. I'm trying to find the shot now!

Sister Shirley: thank you. If there's anything you'd like me to do while you live vicariously thru me, just let me know.

Daniella I forgot to link you! Sorry babe. Doing it now.


Kit said...

OMG Danielle is recognisable in the picture - full blonde hair :D

Hmm what was I doing on Sept 09, I think I was having a hard time/lazy time shooting street styles, given up after 4 shots.

Re 'Don't Shoot Me' tee I want a Henry Holland style slogan tee :P

Jo - Lost in the Haze said...

Thanks for the great post! Feeling tempted to be a street style photographer! x www.lostinthehaze.com

mtg said...

Did you ever find your beautiful jacket??

Shopgirl said...

Love this post! thanks Jill!! The shots are so much fun to see! So excited for my first LFW!!

the style crusader said...

Ahhh, this post is awesome! Am totally late to meet someone now because I didn't think the post would be as long as it was or keep me so hooked throughout all the tips. This is so great jill. And so funny that you snapped dan and jackie way back then. Love this love this love this. Can't wait for next friday. xx

Pearl Westwood said...

Great post Jill, so funny! Sorry to hear about the W thing, ur such a good sport about it too xx


You look gorgeous in the last shot, I'm so so excited about seeing everyone ... NEXT WEEK! I can't believe it.

Such a great guide, I think this should be handed out at Somerset House!

styleeast said...

Great advice, and lovingly written! I adore the shot of the lady in black and white with the pink bag. I also would like to further inspect those tattoos from the 2nd shot (tattooed arms = my weakness!). And finally, that shot of you is lovely, sparkly in more ways than one xx

mtg said...

Phew! I am so relived to find out your jacket was not actually lost!!! lol
I have misplaced a pair of beautiful amber earrings from Baltics and it is absolutely driving me nuts!!!
Glad you're having some family time in Florida.

Unknown said...

I loved reading this...I doubt I will ever photograph models, anyone famous or even vaguely so but it's good to know a few insider tips! I wish I could go to fashion week for three reasons...1. to people watch (one of my favourite pastimes) 2. to look at fabulously beautiful clothes and 3. to hopefully bump into you :) (corny but true!)

Li said...

that's so rad, jill .... i always thought shini from park and cube take fantastic photos (somehow i never got around to see her fashion report) but really loved her still shots of items she found trim/fabric stores - i hope the you had a fantastic time ... so sorry that i missed you - i had impression that you are coming to new york ... but somehow didn't get around to keep in touch w/ your plan! maybe we can catch up next season!

great post, btw. it is very helpful for someone starting out and shoot during fnw - it can be such an intimidating experience ...


Fashion Limbo said...

Jill I finally get to see your beautiful face, and you have a gorgeous smile! in some of your pictures you are hiding, or your hair is in front of your face...loved this post, truly interesting. I wish I had a fashion week to attend!!

SabinePsynopsis said...

OMG, Jill, you bossed Scott around?!? And he's taking it with a smile... I'm sure because he knows exactly that knowing how and where you want your model makes you a great photographer. When I went to FW for the 1st time (last autumn) I was absolutely flabbergasted at how the 'professionals' told people to 'stand here' or there, while I was so shy I could hardly find the courage to ask anyone if I could take their picture at all. I'm not really sure this has changed, but we'll see... xoxo

Dri said...

Hello, dear!
I really liked your blog!
I have a fashion blog too. You can enter, and send a comment. I would apreciate it!Nice pics!!!I really want use some of them in my blog. If you do not mind, for sure!

Style At Every Age said...

What a great post!

Unknown said...

thanks for all the interesting tips, read the whole post through and through


Les Garcons said...

Some really great points, some obvious, some not so obvious. Keep up the good work.

Sora said...


A La Mode said...

Wow Daniela looks HOT here! I love that photo of you Jill! You need to be on your blog more often xxx