“The whole thing is like going to an opera — having backstage access, meeting all the main characters, and seeing how the whole production comes together,” says Michael Ng.
He has photographed fashion shows for almost two decades, on three continents, and in a variety of places: from carparks, restaurants and abandoned buildings to Milan’s grand cathedral and Sforzesco Castello, the Louvre, the Grand Palais, the Crazy Horse club. Once he saw an entire marching band come down the runway.
This rigorous training means Ng brings tightly honed skills to the pit. Unlike most of the photographers he’s shoulder-to-shoulder with at the end of the runway, he doesn’t just turn up and shoot. He runs through lighting with the venue technicians. He attends the dress rehearsal and watches how the models walk, so that he can capture the one who looks down and the one who walks a bit far to the side. He asks the front-of-house security to make sure that the front-row VIPs don’t cross their legs, avoiding feet in the shot.
“If the lighting’s not right you need to see if they can make an adjustment before the show so the shadows are in the right position or there’s enough backlight,” he says. “If the designer wants a real moody show you’ve got to convince them that you can do it halfway — if you want a commercially usable shot to sell your garment, or for people to see textures and shapes, you’ll need a bit more light. It’s a real compromise to get what they want, and what you need.”
Meeting the designers beforehand, Ng runs through a list of questions. Any surprises in the show — confetti, paper cannons, a woman leaping out of a cake? “Stolen Girlfrends Club had one of the models do a stage dive last year, so I had a guy in the right position with the right lens to get that shot — just to cover off everything that’s going to be of value for PR or for their sponsors, and something for media to talk about as well.”
He’ll turn the shots around in a few hours, so that media and buyers have a visual reference while the show is fresh in their mind. First, he selects images for the New Zealand Fashion Week website for international media use, then a cover shot for its free daily newspaper, then three or four shots for designers’ press releases and social media purposes. “Then we edit the whole show for the client — depending on the number of garments on the runway, there can easily be 1000 to 2000 images. So this makes for very long days.”
It’s no surprise that outside runway shows, Ng’s work encompasses subjects that don’t move quite as quickly — architecture, and landscapes.