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An Insiders Look: New York Fashion Week With Victoria Will

by Victoria Will
featured, photo & video

People often wonder what it is like to be at Fashion Week. Well, I can’t tell you what it is like to be one of the people who grace the front row, but I can share with you what it is like to be backstage to cover the event— and I’d be willing to say that it may actually be the best seat in the house.

Here is a little window into my world backstage during a fashion show. What takes place behind the curtain to make that 10 minute runway show successful. A timeline illustrating the course of events, and what I need to cover for my fashion clients and magazine editors during the course of the show to call it a win.


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New York Fashion Week


The designers have always given me the liberty to capture my own unique point of view, so I look for moments that show off the clothes in the best and most unique ways possible. At the same time, I also intend to capture the high energy of the show with thoughtful, spirited portraits of the models.  In a lot of ways I draw on my roots as a photojournalist, waiting and watching for those special moments. At the same time, I have to be deliberate in making portraits that tie together the designer’s vision and my voice as a photographer.

Backstage work is unusual because not only is it challenge-filled, but it is always, to a T, incredibly hectic — the spaces are cramped and often dark. It feels like I am guest at someone else’s house. This shoot is not on my terms or my timeline forcing me to follow the flow and work closely with others in order to tease out successful images. That said, it’s these challenges that I love, and through those adversities that my most creative self finds its way to surface. One of my most beloved results from this work is that my future personal and portrait work is often inspired by the challenges I encounter during fashion shoots. You never know where you will draw on inspiration and I often find it backstage.

So here you have it – a typical Fashion Week BTS shoot through the viewfinder of a photographer.4PM  — Arrival

For this 6PM show I arrive at 4PM, 30 minutes after the models, hair and makeup crews arrive. I want to give them time to set up and get going. Once on scene I spend the first 30 minutes getting the lay of the land. Every show is different and I want to make sure I have scouted everything from the dressing areas to the runway and everything in between.

4:30-5PM – Hair and Make Up

I spend time in the hair and makeup rooms making sure I capture that coverage, looking for interesting, eye catching moments. This is always a fun place to play. Since the hair or makeup can vary from dramatic to subdued,  I like to experiment with macro lenses and play off the light that is already provided to really show the beauty work.

Fashion Week

Fashion Week

5-5:15PM – Dressing Room

I spend time in the dressing area where the clothes that have now been steamed, hang on the rack as outfits ready for their models.  This is when I can really see the details in the garments and see the designer’s vision literally laid out on hangers.

Fashion Week


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New York Fashion Week


5:15-5:30 Rehearsal!  

At this point I head out to the runway to watch and shoot the runway rehearsal. It is as much a run through for me to check the light as it is to see the path of the runway. I use the rehearsal to pick my spot for the show.  (Not all runways are straight, some have twists and turns.) I avoid the photo pit which has the most direct view of the runway, and opt instead for a spot that will provide something more unexpected — and hopefully more interesting.

5:30-6PM Crunch Time

The tailors are making any final alterations on the clothes and the models are having their finishing touches done — from head down to their nails.

6PM First looks

This is when the models are dressed in their first outfit and line up in order. At this point, it gets very crowded and tensions are high. The show is about to begin and everything must be perfect. My job becomes to capture these “first looks” in a clever and inspiring way while also staying out of the way.

Fashion Week

6:15PM Fashionably Late

We’ve all heard the term “Fashionably Late”. While I don’t know its origin, I do know that there is no more perfect term for the start of any fashion show. I have never been to a show that started on time. However, it isn’t because the models aren’t ready or anything to do with backstage. It is always due to the front of the house — the people there to see the show have not taken their seats. Once that happens, the music starts and the lights are up

6:15-6:30PM  Showtime

Fashion Week

Fashion Week

Right as the lights are about to go up, I skip out to the spot I scouted previously to shoot some alternative shots of the show. It is always amazing to see all the parts of the process finally come together. As the girls come out one by one, I try to find an interesting take on each outfit. It’s not until the end of the show during the finale when I focus on the accessories, shoes, bags and hats.

Fashion Week

6:30PM Finale

And just like that the show is over! After the designer takes his or her bow, the backstage is in a mad dash to clear out and then I’m off to the next show.

GO TO GEAR LIST:

  • Canon 1dx Mark II
  • 24-70 f2.8
  • 50 f1.2
  • 135mm
  • 100 macro
  • Canon Speedlite
  • Off camera Flash cord
  • LED Light panel (small)

Looking for some Fashion forward classes to get you Red Carpet ready? Check out our curated selection of Fashion Photo and Design courses offered at 25% off now through the 16th.

New York Fashion Week


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Victoria Will

With a focus on portraiture and lifestyle imagery, her photographs appear in newspapers and magazines worldwide, from W Magazine to the Associated Press, The New York Times to Vogue. A graduate from Princeton University, she hails from Washington, D.C., but now resides in New York with her photojournalist husband, their son, and two French Bulldogs.