Photographing New York Fashion Week

My late grandmother was a fashion designer for The Gap. I remember she would create clothes outside of work and attach tags from The Gap on the inner backs of shirts and skirts and pants, all in an effort to have her grandchildren wear the clothes she created. My mother also made clothes for my sister, brother, and me growing up. Handmade clothing was something I learned to appreciate.

I thought of my grandmother, whom I fondly called Mama Ada, on the day I photographed for New York Fashion Week. I thought of how she would have loved to see these up-and-coming designers at NYFW's event, Small Boutique Fashion Week.

A couple of weeks ago, the event planner from Tiffany Brown Designs contacted me. She asked me if I would photograph for Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta-based designer, at New York Fashion Week.

To be honest, I was surprised that she reached out. I specialize in portrait photography, not fashion photography. Frankly, I don't even know the difference between models strutting Marc Jacobs and models strutting something pulled from Zara.

I knew I would be photographing under more uncertain circumstances.

1.) I would be far away from the models. I'm used to portraits where I can get up close and personal. Where would I be standing or seated? I had never photographed a fashion show before.

2.) I would be taking candid shots. Sure, the models would be doing their thing and looking amazing, but I wouldn't be able to direct their body language. If they blinked, they blinked.

3.) The show would be 2PM to 4PM. I didn't know what kinds of lights or windows there would be. The darker the room, the grainier the photos.

I decided to just go for it.

Flash forward to the event.

I got there two hours early to scope out the spot. I took the elevator up to the 12th floor and was instantly impressed by the studio's beauty... and relieved by how much natural light was flooding in. The walls and floors were also white, and light happily bounced off every surface. I breathed a sigh of relief.

I found the event planner amidst all the people.

She asked, "How did you know it was me?"

I told her that she was the only person who looked like she was looking for someone else. It was true –– everyone else was busy applying makeup, attached to chairs getting their hair done, or selecting outfits and changing.

The event planner introduced me to the designer and after a few high fives I went to shoot the models who were getting their makeup and hair done. After a quick couple of shots, I went to find out how I could secure a solid seat. 

A vendor immediately approached my lost soul and tried to sell me their product. I listened for a bit and then asked her who was in charge of the event and where the models would be walking –– just some of the questions running through my head. She told me to look for a man with ripped jeans and I quickly realized that many men were wearing ripped jeans.

Figuring there must be a better way to do this, I decided to approach some photographers setting up in the back. I asked them where other photographers could stand during the show. They said that I should save a seat (and not stand), and that as long as I was out of the way of the cameras they were setting up, and as long as I wasn't moving anyone's seat, then I could claim whatever spot I found as my own.

I chose a spot on the side closest to the windows (always thinking about that exposure!), and started playing around with my camera settings. To be honest, I felt very amateur next to these other photographers with lenses that extended so far tripods were necessary, with cameras so big that mine was half the size. However, I was confident that with my technique I would make it work.

I also noticed that I was quite possibly the youngest photographer there and that there were only two other female photographers for the show. I wasn't the typical photographer for NYFW.But in the end, these things made me feel special to be there.

When I started seeing some of the photographers coming back with Chinese takeout and pizza, I asked if they thought I had time to grab food. It was the now-or-never mentality and since I had only had breakfast at that point, I left some of my belongings saving my chair, and ran out to grab food.

When I came back, the audience had a heartbeat. After peering through my camera and taking a few test shots, I noticed that my previous camera settings weren't sufficient. The sun was dying fast.

This made me slightly nervous, but before I could really fret, the show started and I jumped into action. I wasn't sure when Tiffany Brown Designs was walking, but I used all the collections that walked beforehand to practice getting the correct exposure.

Finally the moment came. By that time, all my camera settings were set. I snapped away and away. It was very different to snap and not look at how I framed my subject, or to not look at the exposure, or to see if the subject was blurry. I had to keep clicking away, trusting that my set up from previous designs would hold up.

After the show was over, I watched the audience exhale. I packed up my things and twirled around 360 to soak in the view. I felt like my grandmother was there with me in a world more akin to her old one. And there on the 12th floor with the sun setting, I felt like I was closer to her new one.