The Photographer's Shadow - Zarina Holmes at London Fashion Week
You’ve seen it on films such as The Devil Wears Prada and all over the press, but what is it actually like to go to fashion week? More importantly, what’s it like being a photographer there? Jessica Bracey shadowed Zarina Holmes at London Fashion Week to see if it’s as glamorous as the movies
London Fashion Week has been sitting on my life wish list for many years now, so when I was offered to shadow Zarina Holmes, photographer for Lebanese women’s magazine Laha at the Autumn/Winter 2012 London Fashion Week, I couldn’t have been more excited. As a first timer my list of questions were endless, but what I really wanted to know was how much of a scrum is the photographer’s pit and is it really about air kisses and elbows.
We meet at 11am in the lobby which is buzzing with activity on the first day of fashion week. From crowds queuing for their long awaited passes to photographers on the look out for the best dressed, no outfit is too over the top for fashion week. It was a hectic first impression, but Zarina’s enthusiastic and warm welcome put me at ease as I glance at her photographer’s pass and Nikon D90 complete with NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR II lens, hanging from her neck. Her lens of choice was versatile for both indoor and outdoor shots, perfect for the varied activities at fashion week. “I’m going to be looking out for trends, what’s new, what people will wear, what everyone is doing and celebrity spotting,” said Zarina. I soon learn that being a fashion week photographer isn’t just about shooting the catwalk. Her schedule ranges from going round the designers’ exhibitions, to taking street style snaps, photographing the ‘frow’ (celebrities on the front row) and shooting the esteemed Burberry show.
We head off to the exhibition to find out what designers are bringing to the table for the coming seasons. “It’s all about imagery because it’s impossible not to have photography here. Fashion and photography need each other. In a way it’s the media that influence what designers do, the designers create the outfits but it’s the media that actually project the image.” As Zarina has been commissioned by a Middle Eastern magazine she has to keep in mind the editor’s brief to find classic looks that their target market would want to buy. She stops at the beautiful Chinese inspired designs by Huishan Zhang which would be perfect for Laha magazine. Zarina Holmes calls herself a visual journalist. A photographer who not only uses her eyes as a vital tool in her work, but her ears too. “I love going to the exhibitions and talking to people and finding out their story. By listening to the designers you understand more about the business side and try to help them from the point of view of the media.” One thing that astonished me was the restrictions that a handful of designers put on photographers who wanted to take a picture of their collection. The reason? Plagiarism. “Some people take photos and send them straight off to factories abroad and you see the same designs two weeks later in another store.” This reality soon came to my attention when a well known high street shop had replicated pieces from another jewellery brand present at fashion week.
Shooting Street Style
In the grounds of Somerset House every kind of fashion stereotype was present. The extravagant, the elegant, the bold and the down right bizarre created the perfect street style photo opportunity, a trend that has sparked from fashion blogs. “Bloggers are very good to photograph because they are very influential when it comes to fashion. They’re almost overtaking the mainstream media. If you see some of the pages in Vogue it’s starting to take on that trend with the fashion blogger photography style,” said Zarina. Shooting in natural light between ISO 500 and 1200 these street style shots will educate the readers of Laha magazine about British fashion. A majority of the well dressed visitors were bloggers themselves and certainly knew how to put an outfit together, beckoning for photographers to notice them. With cameras in hand next to their designer bags Zarina tells me that this new breed of photojournalists is causing a threat to the pros. “They have the same high spec gear as us and the means to do it with the internet. It can be a bit of a potential trap for professional photographers because we rely on commissions and when these bloggers come along it becomes more difficult.”
Moving indoors to the Orla Kiely presentation, I feel like we have been transported to a 1940s dance hall. It was certainly an original way to showcase a collection. With a live waltz band, tea cakes and champagne it was the perfect retreat from the hustle outside, but also created another opportunity for Zarina to capture classic British style. Despite feeling in the midst of a period drama, Zarina walked freely onto the dance floor with the models posing for the cameras, they knew they had a job to do. Using my compact camera proved difficult in the low light when photographing the models dancing, so I asked Zarina how she coped in these conditions. “It’s tricky to capture, at the moment my settings are ISO 1000, f/4.5 at 28mm and ISO 2000, f/5.6 at 50mm. I’m using flash to freeze the movement but I’m not a fan of flash photography because I think it makes things look cheap and that you have taken it in a nightclub. My best shots are of the models sitting still.”
Next it was on to the highlight of fashion week, the catwalk. I was lucky enough to get a peek into the Canon photographer’s area backstage to see what other photographer’s get up to between shows. “Fashion week is one of the best ways for photographers to develop speed, edit, plan logistics and improve their skills quickly,” said Zarina. This became apparent when observing how quickly press photographers worked in isolation to get the images sent off to the appropriate agents. In a time of immediacy with the internet and mobile phones, a quick turn around is key, but doesn’t this affect the quality of the images? “It’s becoming more like that yes, which is a shame. I still like to buy good quality prints in a magazine so you can see the full story.” On to the essence of shooting a catwalk, these shows cost over £10,000 and only last up to 15 minutes, but the revenue they’ll receive from it will exceed these costs. As the standard rule of being fashionably late applied to the shows, Zarina had to prepare in the photographers pit an hour and a half beforehand to get her spot. “Most people mark out their territory with a chair or something like that, I’ve never argued with anyone though. Sometimes non-photographers stand there but you just have to kindly move them on. It’s actually quite civil. I know it looks like a scrum out there but it’s very rare that we elbow each other out of the way, if we did then we’d make sure that they were okay afterwards.”
Shooting on AF-C up to 1/125secs, Zarina takes well over 200 photographs in the small time frame to make sure she has got every shot possible. Although the lighting is bright and reduces the need for flash a new problem for photographers is front row bloggers taking images on their iPads. “They’re a nuisance because they block our shots,” said Zarina. After the catwalk she narrows down her selection making the images more pleasant looking in post-production through cropping and adjusting the light, knowing that only a few will be used for publication. “Editors don’t have time to look at hundreds of photos, but after a while you know what you’re looking for.” After a busy day exploring every aspect of being a photographer at London Fashion Week I ask Zarina how hard working it is. “If you love it, then nothing is work.” Maybe I’ll ask her again after a week on the job, thanks goodness we didn’t wear heels.
Zarina Holmes has been a photographer and multi-media journalist for over ten years and started to shoot lifestyle and fashion photography in the last four years. She started out as Photo Editor and photographer at BMI Publishing working with travel magazines, and went on to produce work for BBC World Service and The City Academy. In 2006 she co-founded Sojournposse, an opinion-lead visual journalism collective and continues to be a freelance photographer.
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