News + Features

From the Runway: Photographing Bridal Fashion Shows

October 26, 2022

By Jacqueline Tobin

Earlier this month, Syed Yaqeen covered New York Bridal Fashion Week (NYBFW)—a frenetic, fast-paced experience that included lots of pre-planning and working closely with the designers themselves. Yaqeen sat down with us recently to share how he got started in photographing bridal fashion shows, what’s in his gear bag, the biggest challenges involved, and tips on how other photographers interested in working in this field can take the plunge as well.

Photographing Bridal Portrait Shows
Reem Acra, New York Bridal Fashion Week 2019. © SYPhotography

Photographing Bridal Fashion Shows: Insight from Photographer Syed Yaqeen of SYPhotography:

1. How many years did you shoot weddings exclusively and when did you transition over to doing bridal fashion events?

I started to photograph weddings around 2005 and then in 2014 I was asked to photograph NY Bridal Fashion Week by a publication. I honestly didn’t even know bridal fashion week was a thing till then, but I was very excited to blend my love of fashion and wedding photography into one. I didn’t really transition away from weddings, but as time went on I got more involved in the bridal fashion world. There are alos lots of events happening leading up to Bridal Week—photographing the “look books” that are mostly used as product catalogs, and then some designers also do editorial shoots (commercials) to show their vision of the collection. There are also promo events put together pre-bridal week and then, finally ,the presentation/runway. I have photographed all of it for many designers.

2. Do you still shoot other photo genres? What are they?

In addition to bridal fashion, I do still shoot a very limited number of weddings but I am doing a lot more “lifestyle branding portraits” these days.I work with authors, entrepreneurs and life coaches creating lifestyle portraits that help them connect with their audience. These images are used in their websites for branding and rebranding purposes, and of course in social media.

[Read: 3 Reasons to Incorporate Business Branding Photography into Your Bookings]

I also have the privilege of working with non-profits, helping them document the wonderful work they do. There, I get to blend my lifestyle photography and documentary photography for great causes.

3. How does one get started photographing the bridal fashion shows? Are there steps to follow? How do you get access to the shows?

The industry is very different now from when I started. It is a lot more accessible these days, thanks to social media. So, for anyone interested in wanting to start, I suggest reaching out to the designer’s PR team—they are the “gatekeepers.” You can also try to work with publications directly and photograph the shows for them.

4. What’s the main difference, between shooting weddings and shooting bridal fashion shows?

Interestingly enough there are lots of similarities. Everyone involved is stressed out, wants everything to be perfect, there’s months of planning and then it’s over. The main difference though, is that weddings have those “moments”—first look, first kiss, maybe a dip during the couple’s first dance. You can’t miss those if you are photographing a wedding!

For bridal fashion, it is very much hand-in-hand with the designer. I am creating images that interpret the designer’s vision of the collection and it is very much about the complete collection. I love the details, so I always chat with the designer about their inspiration for that collection and their fabric selections. This helps me understand what to focus on.

5. What’s in your gear bag for these fashion shoots?

I have been a Canon shooter forever, so over the years I have used most of the company’s line-up. Currently I have a Canon 5DSR, which generate huge file sizes and is pretty fast. For lenses, I use the 50 1.2mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm (a must if you want to shoot runways).

As of last month, though I purchased a FujiFilm XH2S (now eyeing the GFX 50S II). Love the colors that I am getting thanks to Fuji’s film simulations. I am still using my Canon lens with a Finger EF-FX Pro II lens adaptor. I also shoot film. I have the Pentax 67 and love the medium format and the big negatives. I use a Contax G1 for quick back stage shots.

[Read: Creative Lighting Techniques for Portrait Photographers]

6. Do you use mostly natural light during these shoots?

No, not really. Most of the time the commercials are photographed in-studio with lots of strobes. The editorials are sometimes photographed on-location and depending on “the look” and location, it can be in natural light. But even then, lots of fill flashes, flags and reflectors are used. Of course, runway shows are pretty much always lit up with theater lights.

7. What are some of the biggest challenges photographing “live” at the shows and what do you do to solve them?

Some of the challenges during live shows are the guests who are attending. Sometimes they will stick out their legs too far out and if they are seated on the front row, it shows up on the tight runways (lots of editing afterwards). And then there are guests with their super bright color phone covers. Depending on my position in the photographers’ pit, those phones can be very distracting (glad people are not using their Ipads anymore at these shows). And lastly, uncooperative photographers. We are all cramped in a very tight spot, high stress, all trying to get the best shots. Being nice to each other can go a long way.

8. Where do the images end up? Are you shooting solely for the designers and do they own the images?

The images end up everywhere that is “bridal fashion” related—from bridal publications to fashion blogs. Although most print publications use their own photographers so depending on who hired me, my photographs have been all over the place. One year I photographed a collection that ended up being used for the designer’s commercial and for editorials. Those images were in seven or eight leading print magazines in the same month. That was fun!

I have worked directly with designers and in those cases depending on the contract, the usage rights and image rights vary. Most of the time for commercial shoots, the images are licensed for a specific period of time. I haven’t had anyone buyout full usage rights. I always own copyright.

9. Anything else to add?

Yes, I have some tips for photographers who are interested in photographing bridal fashion shows: If you are interested in working in this field, make friends with the PR people. Once you get started, please figure out the rates you should be charging. Stop doing free stuff. And the most important part—be nice to others. Remember what May Angelou said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Syed Yaqeen portrait

Syed Yaqeen is a visual-storyteller, editorial documentary shooter and award-winning wedding photographer. He is based in NYC and Reading, PA, and works with non-profits and commercial clients to help tell their stories by creating impactful images. His style is decidedly fashionable and sophisticated, and from weddings to branding to editorial lifestyle photography, he works with an artistically astute and diverse clientele in NYC and beyond.
Photo © Ahmet Ze