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Photo of the Week – Stop the Bus!

Photo of the Week – Stop the Bus!

I was confined to an exhibition hall because a monsoon had descended on Peterborough Arena and the rest of the show I was at was rained off. Not exactly conducive to photography but hey, I like a challenge and that challenge came from ‘Maxxis babe’ Sarah. Something like “Go on then, come up with an idea!”  “Give me an hour” was my reply.

I walked the hall but came up with nothing interesting. The place was rammed as a some of the outside parts of Modified National had squeezed inside. The atmosphere was great with everyone trying to make the best of it but there was barely room to move.

The only real option for a location was the Maxxis VW van but just shooting the girls with it in front of the Maxxis truck under the orange hall lighting wasn’t going to cut it. So I came up with the concept of the girls traveling the UK with this as their tour bus in a sixties, Summer Holiday style.

So here’s the original image. Everything but the bus is underexposed almost making it look like a composite already. Ideally I’d have preferred the bus on a plain or at least a simpler background but I had to work with what I had.

orig2

Obviously there was going to be a fair bit of compositing involved but the first job was to get the lighting right. The only light in the hall was coming from the high ceiling lights so the inside of the bus was dark and gloomy. If I dropped that onto a bright sunny background it was going to look very wrong. So, with the idea explained to the girls, out came the flashes.

The first is tucked away in the glovebox in front of Amy, camera right. It was set to a wide angle and feathered over towards Sarah on the left to even out the exposure. It’s not perfect but it’s close enough to pull back in post production.

Lana, Nickie and Danni in the back (seriously rocking the 60’s vibe by the way!) were lit with the second flash. It’s sat on the floor firing up towards the panel behind the front seats to make a nice big light source. Being a heavily modified van, this panel was covered in orange audio amplifiers so there was a MacGuver moment when some of the sticker sheets the girls were giving out we’re used to cover the amps and make a white reflector. Without this, the colour cast would have been very strong, especially with the amount of orange Lycra in the shot!

After a few test shots I knew I had the interior lit just right but the front of the bus was far too dark so a third flash is sat on the floor facing upwards hitting the front with just a wink of fill.

After using almost every Photoshop selection technique I know I had a finished layer mask.

Photoshop layer mask
Applying that to the original shot gave me a nicely lit, floating bus, ready to drop onto a suitably sunny background found on a stock library.

Bus Cutout
A quick Google for an Austin Powers font and a touch of the Warp tool and the image was done.

Austin Powers style text
Yes, it’s ridiculous, cheesy and hammy but it shows the sun can still shine in an exhibition hall in rainy Peterborough.

composit2

Lessons Learnt

Lessons Learnt

I recently decided I wanted to freshen up my portfolio so I gave myself a kick up the arse and arranged a studio day for myself. Living in the South West, when most of the models I want to work with live in the Midlands and the South East, is a pain when it comes to arranging and funding travel. So, in a flash of inspiration, I booked Saracen House Studio, just outside Milton Keynes for the day, lined up 3 models and even a professional make up artist. It made more sense for me to travel to the people I was working with than have them all travel to me individually. My goal was to get 6 portfolio worthy shots. I feel I came up short, but I did learn a few valuable lessons which made the whole day worthwhile.

Timing

When hiring out a studio for 8 hours my immediate thought was to shoot for 8 hours to get my money’s worth, so I arranged the arrival times of the girls to overlap. That way, when one was in hair and makeup, I was still shooting the previous model. This causes two problems; Firstly I don’t get to greet the model, sit down, have a chat over a coffee and talk thought what we are about to try. It all becomes a bit hurried and there’s no time to build a rapport before she’s in front of my camera. Secondly, and it didn’t even cross my mind when planning, there was no down time for me. I was working nonstop from 11am to 7pm. Admittedly that’s only 8 hours, a normal working day but even in the worst day job you get a lunch hour! Besides having no breaks, I was “on” constantly with no chance to freewheeling, even for a minute. I was driving the bus with everyone looking to me for what to do next.  This is what really took it’s toll. It might be just me, but I can’t stay creative under those conditions. I can’t force it. I got tired, my creativity waned and I started doing safe things. Nothing new, just simple setups, things we have all seen a million times and that’s just not the sort of work I wanted to produce.

Sets

This is a simple one. I won’t use sets in a studio again, because even in a quality place like Saracen House, they still look like, well, sets in a studio. I’ll stick to a classic white/grey/black seamless. If I want to shoot in a bedroom, I’ll  book a nice hotel suite and take my own lighting. The best images were the day were the ones shot against seamless.

Working with other creatives

Most models can do their own hair and makeup. In fact they’d be pretty limited if they couldn’t, but they will generally have a go-to look that they turn to. That’ll mean that most shots you see of them will be somewhat similar. That’s why I booked a make up artist (or MUA) to be on set all day. This is something I’ll definitely do again. Emma Stroud and I bounced a few messages and images of the models back and forth before the shoot and she was able to decipher my rather blokey descriptions of looks and come up with a style to suit each of the girls. Emma’s styling had a sizeable impact on the shoot and led things in directions I probably would not have thought of on my own.

Preparation

I went in to the day with quite a few loose ideas and concepts thinking they’d be jumping off points and things would organically evolve as the shoot went on. To some degree that worked, but you burn through more ideas in 8 hours than you’d think. I’m not sure what would have worked better. I should have either come up with more of those jumping off points or I should have taken along fewer, but more fully formed ideas. I am erring on the side of the latter as the last time I shot at Saracen House, I had a detailed concept in mind for my hour shoot and came away very happy with the results. 

So next time…

I won’t shoot non-stop all day.

I won’t try and simulate locations in a studio.

I will definitely work with other creatives like MUA’s and stylists.

I will prepare more. Either more loose ideas, or a few fully formed concepts.