A Fine Way to Spend a Friday Evening

Candid event photography is one of life's little pleasures--by which I mean it's a lot of effort for ultimately rewarding results--and one of the great perks of being a photographer. It's even better if the client is kind enough to let you backstage, where you enjoy considerable latitude to, well, get unflattering but honest shots of people.

The twelve photos below are drawn from forty-four strong selects (of roughly 1,200 candidate takes), and arranged in chronological order.

(~6:15 PM) Being the (inconsistently) punctual Asian that I am, I arrived a full hour early to MODA's fashion function, and was greeted by a very empty backstage room. On the plus side, I was also the first photographer there by a long shot, so I had ample opportunity to shoot the setup. I used my trusty Nikon D90 and a tethered flash unit (SB-600) for most of these. The process is similar to what Bruce Gilden does, except I'm just an amateur who's not nearly as quick with my composing and much, much worse when it comes to balancing flash output with the background (my Oriental-ness probably also makes me creepier, which is always a liability). As a consequence, subjects tend to notice me much more than I'd like, though sometimes that results in interesting reactions.

Anyhow, I was meandering about the show floor and saw these designers just sitting--or reclining, rather--on one of several couches by the entrance to the backstage area. I left my lens on manual focus so I won't have to worry about focus-hunting, closed down to a small aperture to give myself a deeper depth of field and therefore some wiggle room (something like f/11, probably), and sort of "dove" into the shot.

The predetermined working distance happens to be rather close (less than half a meter), so I guess she noticed me as I was getting the shot. Fortunately, interesting looking people tend to have commensurately amusing reactions, so I was pleased. Had a model done the same thing, I would have discarded the take.

(~6:35) Being there early also meant that I could grab shots of the (rather ad hoc) dry run. Apparently this was the first time any of the models had actually rehearsed in Harper Memorial, so I guess I should be pleasantly surprised given how well the rest of the show turned out--at least by comparison.

I left my flash on my camera for this one partly because I didn't want people to run into it, but also because it was just easier to grab panning shots with the speedlight sitting on the hot-shoe.

(~6:55) The organizers ushered/herded the models backstage for makeup shortly thereafter. The nice thing about shooting makeup is that the subjects are sitting still and in varying stages of ridiculousness. Said combinations of captive subjects and opportunities for photographic candor are rare and therefore that much more valuable.

Grabbing interesting shots is more difficult than one would expect, however, partly on account of the limited freedom of movement but also because it's tempting to simply shoot things from the "expected" perspective (i.e. eye-level, between the makeup artist and model). This doesn't mean that a heterodox vantage point is necessarily more compelling, but sometimes it produces interesting results. In any event, I was unhappy with how some of the earlier tethered shots were turning out, so I shot a bunch of takes with the flash sitting atop the camera. A diffuser was a must because the ceiling was (1) rather tall and (2) painted black. I cropped out the makeup artist's eyes in the first photo so as to focus attention on her tools, which I thought was much more interesting.

(~7:05) MODA hired a few entertainers and a live disc jockey for their event; I don't know who they are (and, quite frankly, I don't care), but the rappers they found were definitely big on posing for the photographers. They didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about the show, at least during the rehearsal, and their actual performance seemed a just tad bit lackadaisical.

(~7:22) Meanwhile, models were donning their dresses backstage, and some of the selections were definitely more...intriguing than others. I had been somewhat apprehensive about returning to a tethered flash setup mostly because it seemed unsettling to the subjects, but I guess they eventually got used to me running around like a loon, so I decided to reap the benefits of being not self-aware.

(~7:30) Schmoozing invariably attends fashion shows, and MODA's event was no exception. The "VIP" party started at seven thirty, and the most of the folks who showed up could best be described as a gaggle of hipsters, faux-hipsters, and aspiring bourgeoisie who read fashion magazines and took themselves way too seriously. Still, this translated into amusing situations, like the fellow above, who's sipping champagne while savoring his ego.

(~8:05) Twenty-five minutes to H-hour, and makeup's still at it. Personally, I really like the two takes above and the one directly below them; something about the lighting endears them to me. Incidentally, I also shot two of them from the hip--sort to speak; I held my camera upside-down over the subject in the one immediately above, and shot blindly from the chest/neck in the one below. Just goes to show the sort of perspectives you can obtain through heterodox methods (not to mention a touch of sheer dumb luck).

(~8:35) The show was supposed to start at 8:30, but was postponed until 9:15 owing to unforeseen contingencies backstage. Regardless, people were flooding into Harper, mostly, I surmise, for the cheap yet decadent-seeming food.

(~9:35) The actual show was an absolute pain to shoot. Not only did I make the mistake of sitting in the press pit, where my perspective was fixed, but the lighting was positively abysmal. You'd think that a well-funded fashion club would have the material wherewithal--not to mention the aesthetic sensibility--to at least install the lighting they purchased, but nope, they had to set up a bloody chocolate fountain instead. Little wonder why I discarded at least eighty percent of the takes from the end of the runway, including the entire finale.

Anyhow, I have to hand it to the models, most of whom were courageous enough to step reasonably close to the photographers and our wall of blinding speedlights. Anyone who doesn't blink in the face of that much illumination is clearly descended from a superior stock of man.

I spent about an hour and a half going through all 1,200 takes, whittling things down to forty-four promising candidates, which I post-processed in Photoshop CS3, and then these twelve personal selects; I then collapsed into a human-shaped heap of torpor, and fell asleep in my work clothes. All in all a very productive evening.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a load of pretentious bullshit