I only had 10 hours to spare on a special Wednesday in Paris, so I made the most of it figuring out how exactly Paris Fashion Week worked for photographers.
Maison Margiela was the only name I’d recognized on the schedule for Day 2. I’m not totally inept of bigger fashion names like Céline, Dior, and of course Chanel. But if anything, someone I knew had to appear outside of a show, right?
I made it my mini-mission to find Kanye West (let’s call it my Kanye Kuest) outside of the Margiela show. I mean, he did sing/rap about it on the Jay-Z collaboration album Watch the Throne (which may or may not have been the way I found out about this label) and he loves Paris and fashion, so why wouldn’t he be there?
1st Thing I Learned: Know For Certain Where You’re Going
This should be a given. The Mode à Paris website finalizes the fashion week schedule a week before the events start. I saw Palais de Tokyo listed on the site, Maison Margiela started at 11 a.m. I thought I was good to go.
I showed up to Palais de Tokyo about a half hour before the show was to start, yet no one was there. I headed to Jardin de Tuileries to bury my frustrations in the oval Monet rooms at Musée l’Orangerie when I stumbled upon hoards of photographers near the museum. By sheer luck, I caught the crowd leaving the Margiela show as well as some models still boasting John Galliano’s hair and makeup visions.
Long story short: if there’s a designer/crowd you want to see, search Google for the exact address more in-depth than I did (like my new friend Raphael told me, pictured below). Paris is huge and the shows don’t take place in one spot.
And unfortunately, my Kanye Kuest was unsuccessful.
2nd Thing I Learned: Don’t Be Shy!
This relates to two things: dressing the part and getting the shot.
If you don’t want your photo taken, take a cue from photographers around the world and wear all black (you’ll look French, too). This is more for the professionals–photojournalists shouldn’t be the news–or if you just don’t want to stand out.
But if you’re in it just for the excitement, exchanging pictures between you and (the few) dressed up photographers could be fun! And you could end up on someone’s fashion blog, not just from lurking in the background of someone’s shot like I absolutely did. Try wearing something crazy to get noticed—wearing a trendy grunge-esque outfit (like I did) just won’t cut it. Wear bright colors or bold patterns, bring heels (and pack some flats—you don’t want to be walking around Paris and destroy your feet), or add some volume to your outfit. The quirkier (but still stylish), the better!
With that being said, photographers at fashion week have their eyes peeled like vultures searching for roadkill. They’re looking for that oomph in their shot, and it’s usually people dressed to the nines or wearing something insanely extravagant for the middle of the day (or, ya know, they’re famous). Some photographers aren’t afraid to cut in front of your shot to get theirs, and if a celebrity is stepping out of a shiny black Mercedes, you will probably get pushed out of the way (don’t do these!). Be fearless and confident in getting that shot, but remember etiquette and don’t be a jerk.
Not everyone dressed up is attending the show—they’re just hoping for their chance to be featured in fashion blogs or news. If they don’t seem busy, ask them to look at your camera for that classic fashion week shot, or ask them to pose in a certain nearby area that has better lighting—even if you just have a point-and-shoot, people at fashion week love having their photo taken. Trade business cards if you can! Don’t beat around the bush, because everyone there knows that if you’re dressed up, your picture is likely to be taken.
3rd Thing I Learned: Wide Angle Lenses are your Friend—Probably
Of course, having a DSLR is your best bet for great fashion week photos. Smartphones are wonderful for easy social media uploading and point-and-shoots will do the trick, but nothing beats that depth of field.
I noticed people shooting with a variety of lenses—35 mm prime lens, 70-200mm zoom, and lenses that I probably can’t even afford to look at. I stuck with my Vivitar 35-105mm film lens because I’ve been using it for the past two weeks in Paris and it’s been good to me so far. My other choice would have been to use my 50mm because it actually has autofocus, but personally I wanted to have a wide angle in case I was stuck in one spot and my subject was close.
I stumbled. I made some gaffs. I took only blurry photos of fast-moving, important people. So, it depends on what you’re most comfortable shooting at fast-paced events. If you like getting super close to the action, a prime lens is probably your best bet. If your fingers are quick to focus on moving objects, go for it. Some people like to linger and have their photo taken, where others dip into the show 5 minutes before it starts and probably figure out a back exit. After a few go’s, you’ll figure it out. I’m sure I will, too.
4th Thing I Learned: If You’re Not Sure, Take a Picture Anyway!
I saw the same photographer take a picture of my friend’s purse at least twice at the same venue—better to have the shot than not at all.
If you’re just starting out and worried that you won’t know who the hell any of these people are, take their picture regardless! If photographers are going bananas over someone, you can probably look them up later or ask one of the photographers. If they’re not as well known but still look awesome, take their picture and ask who they are. It’s good to have their name and what they’re wearing, and maybe a link to their own blog or Instagram.
If Hemingway says Paris is a moveable feast, then I say fashion week a conveyor-belt buffet. There’s so many things to see and so much going on at once–if you think you have something but don’t, it’s probably too late.
5th Thing I Learned: Practice is Key
If you’re frustrated with your photos, good thing there’s a whole week you can practice, practice, practice! There’s a lot of waiting around, too, so you’ll have time to learn what works, what doesn’t, and perhaps that popular model’s name in order to ask her/him for an mini photo session between shows.