The Fashion Week Photographer Pit ‘Is Like One Big Sweat Ball’

Do you love poring over images of runway shows mere minutes after they’ve been taken? Then you’d better thank your lucky stars for men like Frazer Harrison, a staff photographer for Getty Images, who endures sweaty, cramped, and often smelly conditions in order to satisfy your insatiable thirst for gorgeous fashion pictures.

Harrison told us over the phone during a rare break between shows that he’s been taking runway shots for the past eight years. Every season brings a new wave of beautiful clothes, but the one thing that doesn’t change is the hundreds of photographers who stand crammed together at the end of the runway taking pictures for everyone from Vogue to The Associated Press. Because Getty Images is the house photographer for New York Fashion Week, Harrison gets prime placement right in the center of the pit — but he says the great real estate is where the fun of being in the pit stops.

What’s different between the way people look at your job as a fashion photographer and what it’s like in reality?

It’s not really the life of glamour that everyone perceives it to be. Everyone sort of sees the fashion side of it, but they don’t really take into account what goes into the work … The only way I can describe that pit is like one big sweatball. Literally, everyone is herded in there, and sometimes there can be up to 300 people all standing on that riser. And a lot of the time there’s no air conditioning or very minimal air conditioning.

That sounds uncomfortable!

The format of most shows is that you’re literally standing there probably a good hour. It’s uncomfortable to say the least. But that’s probably the worst part of the job. Once the show starts, you really go into a zone.

What’s the actual photo-taking part of the job like? What sorts of challenges do you have to contend with?

You can’t see the back of your camera because it’s so dark. So if you make a mistake, you have to rectify it in the time it takes for one model to walk down the end of the runway. Otherwise you lose that shot, and we can’t afford to lose a single shot.

Because you’re so cramped, your mobility is restricted. So If i start swinging that camera left or right, I can only swing it in a very small arc before I start affecting the people around me. I can’t go up any higher because that affects the person behind me, and I can’t go lower because the person in front of me, sometimes, their head’s in the way.

Is there any creativity in what you do, or are you mostly just taking dead-on shots?

If a collection is exciting, we as photographers get inspired by it and we do try a little bit harder to get more pictures. That’s really what the designer’s job is. If they present us with something boring, we’re going to shoot something boring. There’s not really a lot I can do about it. I can’t make something sparkly if it’s matte.

Do you have to have be a a fashion person to be a runway photographer, or can any skilled photographer do the work?

Do you have to be fashion conscious? I think you’ve got to have the eye to be able to say, “That’s different.” And you concentrate on that. And you need to be able to zoom in on that, and look for the details in the clothes. If you’ve got no interest in fashion whatsoever, I think that will reflect in your imagery somewhat.

I’m not a huge, huge fashion person. As a photographer you strive to make everything you do as good as it can be, either through the repetition of shooting something over and over and over, or through having that moment to just look at something and dissect it and go, “Hey, there’s something there. If I just do this, then maybe it would look really cool.”

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