Shooting at fashion week in Bangkok did a lot for me. Technically it prepared me to work efficiently and instinctually surrounded by a crowd in a fast-paced environment. Mentally it built confidence in my ability to maneuver in a foreign country and to produce high-quality images on the spot. A lot of times with new generation photography there is the crutch of being able to fix errors in post. Shooting fashion events doesn’t really allow time for that. You either got the shot or you didn’t. All of this prepared me for the final shoot of my trip abroad in Seoul South Korea.
I met Alexis Chang (@alexissujin18) when I was living in Chicago and stumbled upon her Instagram profile. I found her look intriguing and we went back and forth a few times about doing a beauty shoot but we never managed to connect in person. It took her moving to Korea and me touring Asia for us to finally connect in-person. Since I needed to transfer planes in Seoul on my way back to LA I figured it would be nice to spend a few days there visiting and working. Alexis and I talked about it through instant messenger and with the help of another local friend determined some of the best places to shoot. We ultimately decided on Dongdaemun Design Plaza. When I left Bangkok I caught wind that Seoul Fashion Week would be taking place at the same time that I would be there. “Wouldn’t it be an experience to photograph at two international fashion events back-to-back?” I thought to myself. I started searching for Seoul Fashion Week only to find that it was scheduled to be taking place at Dongdaemun Design Plaza on the date of my shoot with Alexis. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Alexis and I met at a nearby tea house and began discussing wardrobe and styling for our shoot the next day. Styling for this session would consist of two looks. Both would be my interpretation of Korean street style. I wanted to use pops of color and texture, hats and chunky shoes, and to integrate fishnet stockings some way since it was the hot trend of the moment. Alexis assured me she had just gone shopping and had some items in her closet that would work. We still spent the afternoon shopping for accessories just to keep things fresh and to give ourselves options. Later that evening when she arrived home we messaged again sending pictures of pairings back and forth until we agreed on what we would use the next day.
The takeaway from this is that unless you are working with a wardrobe stylist in the city you’re visiting you’re going to need to coordinate the styling yourself. Sometimes it’s as easy as going shopping and choosing what you want your model to wear. Be aware that in some countries outside the United States, the return and exchange policies are very different from the ones you may be used to. Some places do not allow returns and some will only allow exchange one time. Do not rely upon any member of your team to accurately interpret your vision by simply looking at your mood board. Ask your model to send you snapshots of the clothes that they have that closely resemble your vision. Ask them to wear them and send snapshots. Be prepared to spend a little bit of money on accessories if you don’t have them.
Stake your claim but be prepared to share
The next day we took the train to Dongdaemun Design Plaza. When we arrived we scouted briefly for locations. Alexis was already dressed in look number one so we were ready to work. The challenge in this situation wasn’t finding locations rather finding locations where other people weren’t in your way. The longer we waited the more people started coming into the plaza essentially filling in spaces we would have wanted to work. We needed to start working quickly. Much like the previous fashion photo experience, find your locations, and stake your claim.
One difference in shooting outside the venue is the presence of a number of street photographers. Do not be surprised to find other photographers piggybacking off you as you shoot with your model. Some may even ask you if they can take a few shots with her. This is at your discretion. If you feel like being nice (which I usually advocate in this industry) let them have a few shots. Be prepared again that a few shots by one photographer will turn into a few shots from another, and another, and another. In our situation, I felt like this would be an excellent experience for Alexis as she was relatively new to this market. The exposure to media and groups of photographers also would help to get her used to intense situations that she may encounter in the future. On a personal level, I took it as a compliment that people liked my styling.
Focus and toggle the intensity
I easily could have turned this into a free-for-all session of me photographing others too however, I came to Korea specifically to work with Alexis. My focus remained on her the whole time. Be aware of your model’s expressions as people are shooting with them. As the photographer, in this situation, you’re pretty much the boss. If you notice your model fatiguing in any way don’t be afraid to politely step in and remove them from the area. I did this a few times when I noticed it becoming overwhelming for her. When we changed outfits to look number two we started shooting in a discrete area so that I could get my compulsory images completed and when she was ready for the intensity of the media and other photographers we went back into a high traffic area and began shooting there. Again, I did this so that she could get the experience of this sort of environment
In summary photographing at fashion events in two different countries provided me with two distinct experiences. In Korea even though I came with the intent of working one-on-one with my model, I was turned into a street photographer by way of my environment. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I was still able to produce some street style images true to my vision but I was also forced into working in conditions that I would have never foreseen. This is another way I’ve managed to train myself in new roles related to fashion photography.