Tim Regas has made a business of photographing people as they arrive at shows during fashion week. This is a skill set that’s harder than you might think. It’s about jostling for the right shot, framing an image in only a second or two, and having a rapport with the power players. Regas has all of these skills — plus a stunning visual sense to boot. He’s shot runways and advertisements, but it’s on the street where his talent shines.
I spoke to the star photographer recently about his draining, thrilling, all-consuming job of taking photographs of street fashion all over the world. He’s funny, and lighthearted when talking about his photography, but there’s also a sense of reverence about it. He truly respects the style makers of the world, and he loves his work. His photography tiptoes the line between fantasy and reality, street documentary and modelling, until they all blur together to create a delightful fusion of colors, trends, and style.
Regas shared some of his work with us, offered tips of the trade, and talked about what he loves about the fantastical world of fashion.
What made you decide to become a fashion photographer?
I’ve always loved to take pictures. I’ve taken pictures for a really long time. What got me on the fashion side of it is … I used to shoot a lot of landscapes, which is a little bit boring. Then I was asked by some designers that were just starting out in Los Angeles if I could shoot the runway at LA Fashion Week. I’d never been to a fashion show before, and I go, “Yeah, I could probably do that.” On the way to my first show at LA Fashion Week, I was sitting next to a makeup designer stylist, and she said, “Oh, we need someone to shoot backstage at New York Fashion Week next week.” And I go, “I can do that.” I’d never been to a fashion week, and I’d already said, “Yeah, I can do that.”
I shot runway at LA Fashion Week and enjoyed it. Shooting good runway is a really technical, crafty type thing to do. Then I went to New York, and for several seasons I shot backstage 12 to 14 shows during the week. That’s an amazing thing, to shoot backstage. You learn a lot about the etiquette of fashion. You see the designers working, meet the models, and you learn how to shoot in a different realm.
The company that I was working with, they started to do fewer and fewer shows, so I was wondering what else I could do during Fashion Week. I got a call from a guy that was representing me in Asia, and he said, “Hey, do you want to go to Europe and shoot street style?” And I go, “I would love to go to Europe and shoot street style? What’s street style?”
I feel like at some point in this story someone is going to ask, do you want to do a juggling show, and you’ll be like, “Yes, I would love to do a juggling show. How do I juggle?”
As long as it has to do with a camera, I’m up for it! So Europe, and not to diminish New York Fashion Week, which is, you know, a thing in itself, but … Fashion Week in Milan and Paris is like the Super bowl. Every day, every show, it’s shows, incredible models, incredible stylists. So if you’re in the business of fashion then you want to go to Paris and Milan. So I started going to Paris and Milan, shot fashion weeks there, shot street style. And I guess I’ve been doing it for six or seven years. So that’s the story of, sort of, failing upwards.
You’re LA based, but you’re going so often to Paris and Milan and New York, what do you find the differences are between the three cities — with regard to street style and shooting?
Oh man, that’s a good question. If you look back at my pictures when I first started, there’s no one in the background and it looks like I’m just shooting all alone. There were maybe five or six shooters max in a day. And now you go to some places, like in Paris, and there’ll be 150 or 200 shooters. It looks like a mob scene. And I kind of like it ’cause it makes it hard for everyone to do their job. I mean, I don’t begrudge anyone going to a public space and taking a photograph, because that’s how everyone starts. So the whole issue is there are certain parts of Europe there’s just going to be a million shooters. In the United States, I think it’s not as bad, but it’s still a little bit crazy.
As far as the backgrounds and places to shoot, although I like Manhattan, Paris and Milan are just fantastic. You’ll be on these incredible shoots here in these parks, you can pull a model aside and sort of set up the shot. You know you have a minute to do it. Just the beauty of the place … For me, I like Milan the most because it’s just easier to get around. I rent a super nice apartment there, it’s kind of in the middle of the action.
Having done so much backstage work and being in the business now for a few years, do you find that it’s easier for you to get these shots than it is for beginning photographers when you’re kind of in that mess?
I see people who are just starting out make beautiful pictures. It depends on the skill-set they bring to it. I think I can anticipate what is going to happen better than a lot of people. I’ll anticipate how a model might react. I know how to set up the shot, if they’re going to even stop for you or if you’re going to have to run.
So the individual peculiarities of each person is important. If they know you, they’re going to stop for you and maybe have a conversation. Where with someone who is new, they will probably be overwhelmed. I think it’s more just understanding how the whole system works and once you’ve done it for a couple of seasons you’ll figure it out.
It’s sort of a weird thing, isn’t it? Because unlike paparazzi shots which are about trying to trick and find celebrities, people know and want their pictures to be taken at fashion week. That’s sort of the point. But you’re still trying to get shots that look as if people are caught off guard or just kind of walking down the street. How challenging is that?
A lot of these people, the only reason that they’re going to the show is to get photographed. So, although they want to look like they’re full steam ahead going to the show, they’re certainly hoping to be photographed. So they’re not necessarily going to be that difficult. There are some other people who are over it, you know? It’s not important to them or they’re so famous that that sort of photograph is not doing it for them.
So, those are the people that you kind of have to approach in a different way. I’m the only person from Los Angeles that shoots there on a consistent basis that I’m aware of. Kanye was walking down the street one time in Paris, he was just going full speed ahead, people weren’t even saying anything to him, they were just afraid he was going to yell at them. I go, “Mister, will you stop for an LA shooter.” And so he stops, he’s all happy, he poses, and then he goes on. That’s my move for a lot of the people from LA, they’ll stop for an LA shooter. They’re so taken aback that someone else is from Los Angeles that they’ll usually stop.
What do you love about fashion photography and about what you get to do?
I love making beautiful pictures. The industry has moved a little bit away from just shooting models coming off backstage onto the street, now it’s a lot more “it girls”. But with the models it’s crazy that you would be shooting these girls and then go by a news stand and they’re all on the cover of the magazines. It’s just really kind of the opportunity of a lifetime and I just respect how hard they work, how amazing they can look after doing six to seven shows.
I also like the comradery of the other shoot styles and street style shooters. Even though everyone is direct competition, there’s a lot of comradery as far as “Hey, where’s the next show?” because sometimes we don’t even know where the address of the show is. That sort of exchange… just surviving the next three weeks or four weeks…that’s kind of a fun thing. And the moment just to be in the city. I love being in Milan and Paris. Working there is so much different than being a tourist. It’s a different approach to seeing the city and that’s one of the reasons why I go there.
How do you keep yourself sane with super long days? Do you find breaks? Are you on your feet all day?
You’re definitely on your feet all day and it’s brutal. If you’re shooting in New York in February, it could just be absolutely freezing and snowing and you have to be there. On the other hand, you could be in Paris in September and it’s not going to get dark until 8 and you wish it wouldn’t get dark until 8:30. The light is so beautiful.
Theoretically, it’s really difficult, but I think people are just kind of used to it. We’ll literally shoot every minute of the day, we’re not waiting for a show to start. Once people arrive, we can go to the next show, or the show that started before that and take the exits. So there’s always something to shoot. You could literally be shooting all day long and you’re shooting two or three thousand pictures a day and then after you shoot, you go home and edit. It’s just an incredibly full day and I don’t know how people do it. That’s just what you do.
How do you make money as a street photographer. Are you being paid specifically to do street photography or are you selling individual photos?
I have a little bit different approach. I have long time clients that pay me and I’ll give them a certain amount of images every day. My guess is eighty percent of the people who are there shooting street are not making money at it. They’re either building a portfolio or think it’s a great thing to do which is completely acceptable and fine, but they’re not making a living on that.
I also work with individual people that are involved in fashion week. It might be “it girls,” it might be companies or brands. They want specific shots and I’ll shoot for them and provide them with images. I also build a portfolio for my own personal stock of images. I have relationships with companies who want to run street style pictures as part of their editorial offering and eCommerce environment.
Do you have a philosophy in your photography or in life that you kind of live by?
I don’t know if I have a philosophy of life, but my style of photography is to be as energetic as I can and sometimes it’s hard to do. If you look at my Instagram post from yesterday, it’s shot of the girl in traffic just striding up the street. That’s really what I like. For me… I just want to have energy and fun and just try and make that girl look beautiful because her fans are just expecting that from you. You can’t have a normal picture of some of these superstars, their fans will go crazy.
It’s kind of cool to hear that you’re looking out for them too. It’s like a mutual agreement that you’re going to make them look the best that they can look.
I do look at some pictures by other people, God bless them, and I don’t think the girl looks great. That’s not part of the contract. I mean these girls look great, they put a lot of time into it, you might as well shoot them well.
Runway Paris Fashion Week
Details at Fashion Week
Beauty Backstage NYFW
Caroline Vreeland and Peace Love Shea
Model in Tuileries, Paris
Swim show at Miami Swim Week
Beauty Backstage NYFW
Olivia Palermo in London
Louis Vuitton resort show at Bob Hope Estate Palm Springs