Event shooting in the 90s

When tidying up my office, as a New Year’s resolution, I found some of my old event photo scans from the late 90s. Memories came flooding back and I began to think about how much things have changed since I started out in the industry 25 years ago.

The Shoot

As one of my first paid jobs, I had been booked to shoot a fashion show that was part of a larger event at a castle in the north of England. The event, called A Midsummer Night’s Dream, brought together a collection of brands for an extravagant garden party to showcase products from luxury cars to locally-farmed food. One of my friends invited himself along as an assistant when he discovered that there would be fashion models and free booze at the event. Thinking that having an assistant would look more professional, I agreed and said he could hold the flashgun for me, in case I needed it (though I probably wouldn’t).

Upon arriving at the venue, the arrogance of youth began to wane as I found myself in an environment that was more glamourous and affluent than I was used to. There would be only one go at shooting the fashion show, so I better not cock it up! My assistant and I decided to go to the bar for a couple of drinks to steady the nerves while we waited to start work.

The show I had been hired to shoot started later than planned (something I’d have to get used to in my chosen line of work!) and the warm summer evening light was fading quickly. Outdoor floodlights had been set up but they were not strong enough to light the models sufficiently, so I called my flashgun-wielding friend into action and gave him a crash course in lighting technique: “Point it at the people and don’t fiddle with the switches!”

The plodding beats typical of 90s fashion show music started and the audience hushed as models emerged from the castle and descended a flight of steps to the patio. It was difficult to get good walking shots as the models would often look down to make sure of their footing on the smooth stone steps – luckily there were no falls! After a few outfit changes (and synchronised film changes) the show was over, so we headed back to the bar to evaluate our performance (my assistant excelled at flash pointing and not fiddling!) Of course, nothing was certain until the negatives and prints were back from the photo lab.

Although not technically good, the photos do remind me of fun times! The client was kind enough to have me shoot the following season’s show, which was inside the castle, so the photos can’t have been considered too bad at the time.

The Nerdy Gear Bit

Shooting fast-paced events, such as fashion shows, using the camera equipment available in the 90s was certainly more challenging than using the latest gear. I was just starting out in the business and so only had one camera, which meant having to be fast at changing films and timing the right moment to do so.

My camera was a used manual-focus Canon that could be picked up cheaply after the FD lens mount it used was discontinued in favour of the newer EF mount, which introduced autofocus technology to Canon’s cameras. My only lens was a 28-70mm zoom made by Centon, which was a budget line of photo equipment made for Jessops – a chain of British high-street photography shops. The lens was nowhere near as sharp as the Pentax 50mm lenses I was familiar with from art college, but being a zoom it allowed me to quickly shoot different perspectives without having to stop to change lenses.

The Centon FH-85 flashgun I used was a modular system that could be mounted either directly to the camera hot shoe or on a battery grip, which converted it into a hammerhead flash that could be used off-camera. It was made in Hong Kong, the place I’ve called home for the last 20 years!