Thinking about breaking into catwalk photography? Backstage Tales photographer Rob Case talks about what it’s really like to be in a photographer’s pit during one of the most anticipated shows of London Fashion Week – Pam Hogg.
It’s Friday, 16:15 on bright, cold February afternoon. Thankfully, for the long queue of people waiting to see the Pam Hogg show its not raining. I know from previous experience they will be queuing outside Freemasons Hall for a long time. Attendance for this show is extremely high, so many will be turned away very annoyed and disappointed not to see it.
For me, being the photographer for Backstage Tales with my accreditation pass, getting in is easy. But that’s where the easy part to photographing a Pam Hogg show ends. From here on it will be like a battle in a war zone! The war zone here is the photographers pit.
Having climbed the stairs with my heavy bag, I arrive in the beautiful vestibule and place my bag on the marble floor by the pit. Its already full, and I know I’m going to have a hard time gaining access to my marked spot and set up ready for the show. I literally have to (politely!) push and shove my way in to the centre of the pack where our Backstage Tales marked spot is located. Yes, this is very much like being in a rugby scrum, but here there is no referee to keep discipline and order. I have to negotiate with the other photographers for every millimetre left, right, behind and in front of me. Most importantly, the height I want to shoot at, as I have to be mindful not to obstruct photographers behind me, but high enough to shoot over those in front of me to get a clear shot of the runway. Being small, to gain height I have a photographers step to stand on, upon which I rest my monopod mounted with a heavy Nikon DSLR and a 70mm – 200mm lens attached.
I begin to set up my monopod and as I release each section to my dismay one section becomes completely detached. Small pieces of plastic fall out of the tube and I know this is not looking good. I’m now in the middle of the scrum holding a very heavy camera while trying to execute a repair to my monopod. Although I’m trying not to panic, the gravity of not being able to use my monopod is causing me a lot of anxiety. After much fumbling, to my relief I manage to get the broken section back in and secure. Although, the section itself is unusable, I have enough height to just about see over the photographers in front of me.
While fixing my monopod I was aware of raised voices and plenty of hostility among the photographers in the pit. Everyone was fighting for space and trying to hold on to their territory. I heard one say “right, this is getting too much me, I’m out of here.” I never saw him again in the pit for the remainder of Fashion Week…
Just about every show starts late, and Pam Hogg is no exception. Her show is scheduled to begin at 17:00 but I know from experience, in reality this will be closer to 18:00. People are now filling the vestibule and the front row celebs are being ushered to their seats. I’ve now been balancing on my step with my heavy gear in the middle of this dimly lit, hot, sweaty and tightly packed place for ninety (!) minutes. My limbs are aching, my feet are hurting and every muscle and sinew in my body is being stretched to its limits. The show can’t start soon enough!
I’m aware of a photographer to the left of me. She has shoulder length hair which I know is likely going to obscure my lens. There is a much taller photographer just in front and slightly right of me. He is constantly knocking my monopod, so trying to keep the camera straight during the shoot is going to be near impossible. I did suggest to him earlier that we swap places as it would be much easier for him to shoot over me than I over him. Unfortunately, he didn’t want to oblige and remained glued to his spot.
Most of the photographers in the pit are very helpful. We have the same job to do, and most have a fair amount of respect for one another. I see the same faces each LFW, so after awhile we build a rapport with one another. But with tensions running high for a show like Pam Hogg tempers can soon explode. If you’re new to the pit and not familiar with the other photographers, you’re going to feel like a lamb sent to the slaughter!
At last the lights illuminate the runway and the show begins. High speed shutters start firing like the rattle of machine guns in the battle of the Somme. My target is to focus correctly on each model as they progress along the runway. The light changes along its length so dials on my camera are quickly flicked to compensate for exposure. I try to spot anything of special interest and do my best to capture it in my lens. A quick reset of the dials and I’m ready for the next model who is already on runway. As it can affect exposure, I take note of the colour of their skin, makeup and the costume worn. Is it dark, light, reflective and what special features I should try and capture.
For fifteen minutes I’m running on adrenaline. The photographers long hair at times is masking my lens and her arm swings out in front of me while she presses the shutter release on her camera. The other photographer is leaning and bumping his body on my monopod. As I expected, keeping the frame straight in my viewfinder is proving difficult and frustrating. ‘Dodge and Burn’ (photographers speak) is taking on a whole new meaning! I’m trying desperately to dodge the obstructions, and my limbs and muscles are burning with pain!
Finally, Pam Hogg makes her appearance along the runway, she receives rapturous applause and the show comes to an end. I share the same relief as the other photographers that another Pam Hogg show is over. As for the pictures, I leave it to you to judge. But it was indeed like shooting through a keyhole in the middle of a rugby scrum. So much for the glamorous world of fashion photography!
Would you still like to join this fashion/rugby game? Let us know in the comment section below.
Text & Images: Rob Case