Catwalk Photography

Catwalk photography, also known as runway photography, is a niche sub-genre of fashion photography, where photographers capture the looks at a catwalk fashion show.

Catwalk Photography Styles

catwalk photograph

The most common form of catwalk photograph is a vertically oriented full length image, where the model on the runway is dead centre in the frame, quite tightly cropped from head to toe, taken from straight-on in front.

These are the sort of catwalk image you will see in fashion magazines and newspapers.

Some other the features of these classic shots are:

  • Front foot on floor, back foot just about to lift off the floor.
  • Arms not too far forward or back.

Things to avoid are:

  • Models blinking
  • Models looking down
  • Feet crossed
  • Flailed arms

As well as the full length image, the catwalk photographer will also capture half length or three-quarter length images, depending on the design of the look, often at the end of the runway.

Position is Key

The key to being able to take a classic-style catwalk shot is position – you need to be dead centre in the pit and at about the same height as the model. This of course is the hallowed “house” spot. Other articles will cover tips on getting into shows and getting a good spot.

Other Styles of Catwalk Photography

Let’s face it, the classic catwalk shot is not that challenging! The challenge is to get into the centre spot in the first place. And if you have a fast camera and fast lens, getting the shot is relatively easy. Its actually harder for photographers in side and back positions to get a shot, but an option is to try for a different type of shot.

LFW Catwalk

Instead of a tightly cropped full length shot, this could be a wide shot taken from low down, or from the side showing the crowd following the model. Even a shot of the model taken from behind facing the bank of photographers, maybe also showing the lights she sees. These types of shots often convey the atmosphere and ambience of the show better than the rather clinical classic shot.

The other opportunity for a potentially more interesting shot is the walk off, where all the models from the show walk off in one line, often clapping. This can provide some nice candid images.

Workflow is Important

Most catwalk photographers are shooting for the designer or their PR, a magazine or newspaper or news agency. For them a fast and efficient workflow is essential to be able to get the images out to their client in as fast a time as possible. Often the designer or PR has promised images to a publisher to a deadline, and in the age of social media designers are under pressure to publish their official photos before social media is swamped with unofficial posts from the audience. News agencies generally want images within 1 hour of the event or sooner. Some ideas for catwalk photography workflow are covered in post “LFW Photographer’s Workflow“.

Part of an efficient workflow is getting the lighting and white balance right. There will often be a lighting test before the actual show where you can check what the lighting will be like, and the lighting team should be able tell you the kelvin of the lights being used.

The walk-through is also a good place to find out if the catwalk includes any unusual choreography. Such as models coming out in pairs, walking other than in the middle of the catwalk. Knowing this before the show means you can be prepared and plan how you will shoot it when the show happens.

Other forms of catwalk photography

As well as the classic straight-on full length catwalk shot, there are other specialisms in catwalk photography:

  • Backs – where a team of photographers is covering an important show, one photographer might be given the task of capturing the backs of outfits, which may show some interest, garment straps, hairstyles, etc. He would normally be positioned off centre in line with where the models walk off the catwalk.
  • Details – the details shot is about capturing details such as shoes, jewellery (including earrings, rings, necklaces), makeup, hairstyles, belts, nail varnish. These types of images are often used by trend forecasters to create a story about upcoming styles or colours. Details photographers often use longer lenses than the normal catwalk photographer would use so that they can get a close shot of these smaller details. They also often also use a focused parabolic flash unit (if allowed) to be able to light the details they are after.

A Final Note

So as a catwalk photographer, you’ve managed to get a pass for the show, you’ve managed to get into the venue early to mark a good spot, you’ve invested in the best camera and lens you can, loaded with expensive fast memory cards, honed your workflow with a fast laptop so you can get your shots out before the competition. And what happens? Well what you find is, unless you are covering a top designer’s show, which is very hard to get into, hardly anyone wants your images, possibly apart from some specialist fashion press and maybe some online only fashion sites. The sad truth is that the shots from fashion shows that are in demand are shots of any celebrities in the front row, possibly a shot of the designer if they are well-known or if you were really lucky and there was some kind of mishap during the show, such as a model falling over.

So why are catwalk photographer pits so packed? Unless they have a commission from a publisher, a lot of photographers are there to gain experience so they can one day be the house photographer, or they can work for the designer or PR agency or event organiser, which is the best option for being paid.