Fashion photography is about
control. It wouldn't be unusual for 12 people, in addition to
the photographer, to be involved in a studio fashion shoot just to capture
a single cover shot. On the runway it's different. You only have
one opportunity to catch a photograph of a model walking past you as
fast as her high heels allow. (Male models, for some reason move slower;
they prefer to stroll.) Wedding photographers might think of it as a
continuous procession of 100 different brides walking down the aisles
with their daddies and you've only got that one chance to capture
a perfect shot of each one. Not for the faint of heart, eh?
the dress. With the full, flowing skirt design like this
one, be sure to photograph the model from head to toe.
She was captured just after walking onto the runway (and
may have not been up to full speed yet) and I used TIFF
format to maximize image quality. You can also capture
some crowd ambience with looser image cropping, such as
this dress in the spring collection of designer Cat Swanson
made in Fashion Week's Bryant Park venue. Image
file captured with Olympus E-1, 50-200mm ƒ/4 Zuiko
lens at 112mm with f/10 and 1/250 sec at ISO 400.
How do you know it's the end of the show? All the
models parade in a single line giving you one last shot
of each of them but sometimes, as in this instance, they're
walking reallly close together. Crank up the zoom lens to
its longest focal length; make the compression work for
you and blast away in Continuous shooting mode. The image
make with the Olympus E-1, 50-200mm f/4 Zuiko lens at f/5
with 1/250 sec and ISO 400.
Photos © 2003 Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved
Olympus asked me to photograph New York City's Fashion Week using
their new E-1 interchangeable lens digital SLR, how could I say no? If
you've been hiding in a cave, you may not know that the E-1 system,
and its a system including lenses and accessories, has been designed to
be all digital. No "Hybrid" system, as Olympus is fond of
calling the competition, that uses digital bodies with lenses designed
for film photography. Does it make a difference? (Let's get this
out of the way first.) I sure couldn't tell, but there's a
lot more to the E-1 than its design philosophy.
On The Runway
Here's the scenario. The rooms are dark until showtime, at which
time the lights pop on and models start walking fast, and you must be
ready to make a photo right now! When I got to the Cat Swanson show, there
were only a few photographers hanging around the photographer's
riser (the designated place to make runway images) for this new Austin-based
designer's creations. I introduced myself to Italian fashion photographer
Alex Dellagatta (www.alexdellagatta.com)
and asked, "What do I do now?" He told me not to use flash
and that everybody usually shoots with their 300mm f/2.8 lens wide-open
at ISO 200 to minimize depth of field, maximize shutter speed, and get
the best possible image quality.
Crop in camera. With the E-1's small chip size it's
important to maximize image quality by minimizing image
cropping. You can also capture some of the crowd's
ambience with looser image cropping and a slight image tilt
for couture, like this dress in the spring collection of
designer Cat Swanson made at Fashion Week. TIFF image file
captured with Olympus E-1, 50-200mm ƒ/4 Zuiko lens
at 112mm with f/10 and 1/250 sec at ISO 400.
The minimum shutter setting
for photographing these fast moving models, he suggested, was 1/250 sec.
So I set the Olympus E-1 in Shutter Priority Mode at 1/250 sec, but had
to kick the ISO setting up to 400 to shoot near wide open with the 50-200mm
f/2.8-3.5 Zuiko digital zoom. The E-1 has a relatively narrow choice of
manual set ISO speeds, including 100, 200, 400, and an 800 that's
expandable to 1600/3200 via menus on the 1.8" LCD screen.
Tungsten lights illuminate the runways, because Fashion Week is really
for the benefit of TV, and still photographers are just barely tolerated.
One of the coolest features of the E-1 is its 12 preset color temperatures,
so a shooter who worked with the E-1 the day before told me a white balance
setting of 3600º Kelvin should give me good skin tones.
What would I have done without this help? Well, the lighting was obviously
tungsten and shutter priority is always a good choice for fast moving
subjects whether they're fashion models or race cars. Shooting with
the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 lens, which at 2.4 lbs is hardly a handful, but
after the end of a show--they are usually just 20 minutes or so long--my
arms are tired. The smart photographers brought a monopod, but I just
rotated the 50-200's tripod mount so it was atop the lens, making
it easier to handhold, and just tucked in my elbows.
Don't just shoot the front of the models. Custo Barcelona
equipped his models with cute kitty-kat purses and all of
the models' hair--even the men--was threaded
with colored thread you could only see from the back, which
was obviously Custo's intention. Image made with Olympus
E-1, 50-200mm ƒ/4 Zuiko lens at f/8 with 1/160 sec
in Shutter Priority mode and ISO 400.
Don't just shoot full-length images at fashion shows.
With some experience, you can shoot a full-length, mid-length
shot and headshot of the same model in rapid sequence as
she's walking past you. There is a different market
for each of these shots, so hold the camera steady, work
the zoom lens and shoot in Continuous mode. Image made with
50-200mm ƒ/4 Zuiko lens at f/10 with 1/250 sec in Shutter
Priority mode and ISO 400.
It's Show Time
The Olympus E-1 has what might be for some an almost bewildering array
of menu options, but they let you set up the camera to work the way you
need it to under any given situation. In this situation, I wanted to make
sure that when I pushed the shutter it captured an image, whether it was
in focus or properly exposed or not. (In case you're counting, Olympus
claims a shutter lag time of 65 milliseconds, which is the same as the
E-20 and not quite up there with professional film SLRs, as they initially
promised.) Not every photograph I made was in focus or well-exposed, but
during the day I shot 4GB of images and the number of "outs"
was within what I would expect from any pro camera under these conditions.
That doesn't mean that occasionally in some of the rooms (some are
white, some are black, and one designer started her show with a parade
of models in all-white couture) contrast levels can go in all kinds of
directions and occasionally the autofocus system would just go ka-blooey
and make a fuzzy image. Picking a nearby contrasty subject brought it
back into the world of the living, but often that meant I lost the ability
to make a few frames of a particular model. It should be noted, however,
that people shooting film lost many times that many when changing rolls
during a show.
Some of the Fashion Week venues are painted black, challenging
the E-1's autofocus system to make sharp images, but
the camera easily locked onto this backlit model delivering
remarkably sharp files from the 50-200mm Zuiko digital zoom
lens. This image made with Olympus E-1, 50-200mm f/4 Zuiko
lens set at 117mm at f/4.5 with 1/250 sec and ISO 400.
Even photographing on a runway, it's possible to get
good head shots. The apparent vignetting was caused by a
wire service shooter whose head got in the way, but I liked
the effect. Sometimes it's better to be just lucky.
This image made with Olympus E-1 camera, 50-200mm, f/4 Zuiko
lens set at 200mm at f/5.0 with 1/250 sec and ISO 400.
Here's what happened
next; the people are seated, the lights go on, and the music starts pounding
as the models start strutting down the runway. I set the Olympus E-1 in
Continuous firing and Continuous focus modes and followed the models,
firing short bursts of two to three frames, much like a slower version
of panning race cars. After I made the first one or two exposures, I quickly
"chimped" the LCD screen, saw that the color balance looked
good and the exposure was in the ball park and got back to clicking the
Occasionally, I would use the 50-200mm lens' silky zoom control
to reframe images of a single model in an attempt to get shots ranging
from full-length to headshots during a single pass down the runway. With
Olympus' Four-Thirds System format, this lens provides the digital
equivalent of 100-400mm, which is one of my favorite focal length ranges
for photographing racing cars too.
I am at the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis using a close
to production Olympus E-1 with 300 f/2.8 Zuiko digital lens.
Since I can't use a monopod or tripod to photograph
200mph F-1 cars, I later flipped the tripod mount over so
I could hold this heavy beast a little easier.
I used the camera without the accessory battery pack and standard battery
for the first two designer's shows. When I had the opportunity to
photograph two more shows after lunch, I switched from TIFF to SHQ (Olympus'
highest Quality JPEG) to squeeze more images from the speedy but now getting
crowded 4GB Lexar (www.lexarmedia.com)
card. I borrowed a power battery holder that not only provides a larger,
high-capacity battery but also has a built-in vertical grip and second
shutter release, making it easier to hold the camera steady. For serious
shooters, the power battery holder is a must-have option. Olympus claims
300-400 shots for the standard battery, but at the camera's default
setting I've gotten more than 700 image files from a single charge.
Even without the grip, the E-1 never let me down, power-wise.
Checking The Images
Downloading images, especially from the 4GB Lexar card, was expedited
by the camera's FireWire connectivity and downloading files to my
Apple iBook took much less time than using a USB card reader. USB1.1 and
2.0 connectivity are also built-in. The images I downloaded were extremely
clean, helped by the built-in supersonic wave filter that protects the
imager from dust created by the interaction of the shutter with the elements.
The E-1 uses ultrasonic vibrations to cause the dust to fall off, and
I had to spot only one image from 4GB of Fashion Week photographs, and
it was a single tiny spot. (Under the more challenging, and wet conditions
at the US Grand Prix, none of the 10GB of images I made needed spotting
Only For The Pros?
Make no mistake about it--Olympus builds wonderful cameras. All of
their non-inter changeable lens digital SLRs I've tested exhibited
admirable traits, including the ability to make great looking images along
with rugged, weatherproof construction. At the US Grand Prix at Indianapolis,
it rained on two days, including practice and race day, giving me and
the E-1 a good soaking, but the camera never once gave up even when we
were both dripping wet. The camera's 4:3 aspect ratio seems designed
for photographers who want to get an 8x10 from the E-1's files,
but sharp-eyed readers will notice the Fashion Week images are not 4:3,
and I didn't crop them. All of the fashion images were made with
a preproduction camera, but the production models uses the 4:3 ratio and
the image shape, like the photograph of the Jaguar Racing F-1 car, leaves
me a bit cold. And yes, I know it can be cropped, but I hate to waste
Although preproduction Olympus
E-1 SLRs have all been ergonomically correct they have been sluggish in
performance. Three different preproduction cameras I tested occasionally
lost the ability to focus or make an image when I wanted, especially for
fast moving subjects, but this does not seem to be the case with the production
model I'm currently using. An Alice In Wonderland Tea Party of menus
lets you set the camera to customize your slightest photographic whim,
and you should turn off the put to sleep interval because the E-1, like
me after a night's slumber, is a bear to wake up.
In this Moore's Law driven segment of the photography market, the
Olympus E-1's street price is expected to be less than $1800, so
it ultimately boils down to a personal choice and your budget. There is
much I like about the E-1 and young fashion photographers unencumbered
by inventories of other company's expensive lenses (perhaps from
their film SLR days) should take a hard look at the E-1 and make up their