How To Master The French Braid
In the pit at Simon Gao (I'm the odd one out in the roll neck)
My fashion week is usually documented in a series of grainy iPhone snaps. What's that blur?' 'It's Cara Delevingne, promise.' Choosing a half-decent Instagram filter is as good as it gets. But this London Fashion Week I found myself with an official photographer pass around my neck, 'faking it' at the end of the catwalk at Somerset House.
Hours before the Simon Gao show, I was given a guide to what makes a usable catwalk shot: eyes open, both feet on the catwalk, no swinging arms. Then I was armed with a big (and very heavy) camera. For any camera geeks out there, I shot the show with a Canon 5D MKIII and a EF 70-200mm lens. Then I made my way into the pit.
'There's no room for girls in the pit, in here you have to be a man,' a photographer tells me on arrival. Think the front row is political? It's nothing compared to the hierarchy in the pit. Under my metallic brogues are lines of tape, marking out each person's territory.
Photographers arrive hours before a show to fix their stools in the best spot, with priority always given to the veterans. At the major shows in Paris and Milan assistants will stand in a cramped space for up to eight hours to reserve a place for their photographer.
My pit-mate, Tony Wellington, laughs when I ask if things ever get heated. 'You've never seen an actual fight have you?' I ask. 'HA! Darling, of course. Saw one this morning. Once I saw a photographer being dragged out by her ankles.' As if on cue, the FROW-ers arrive and I get pushed over by a photographer on a mission. It's ok though, she got her picture of Georgia May Jagger.
A non-blurry shot of Cara Delevingne is usually at the top of my fashion week bucket list. But I was surprised to hear from the photographers that whether it's a new face or Jourdan Dunn, models don't matter. You only care about the clothes. The one exception is if Naomi Campbell is staring down your lens; you're allowed to be excited about that.
While I was busy watching Tinie Tempah on the front row, the lights suddenly went down and the furious clicking started. My friends at Canon sorted out the settings for me, so all I had to do was point and shoot. The clicking is constant - as you take numerous shots of each model. I took 303 pictures in ten minutes. Oh and did I mention the camera was heavy?
In the pit you really see the clothes - no iPads or elbows block your view here. The models are only looking at you. So despite my arms aching after two minutes, I was hooked.
After the show I went back to the photography centre, where the real guys were furiously editing their shots so they could be published online in minutes. I was surprised to hear that despite a couple out of focus fails, I managed to pull it off. I'm by no means the next Mario Testino, but with the right equipment I was able to take my first ever non-blurry catwalk shot.
Just when I was plotting my future in the pit, I was reminded by Tony that the hierarchy is brutal. Those in the centre have been there for decades, and fresh faces usually last a season or two. 'They just don't understand the game,' I'm told. Turns out you can't fake it with characters who captured Naomi's epic Vivienne Westwood tumble.
See Emma's catwalk shots in the gallery below...
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