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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.

Jen Goes To Hollywood

Jen Goes To Hollywood

If you have followed me on Facebook or Twitter, or been a reader of this blog for a while, you’ll have seen Jen before. Last week we finally got the chance to work together properly on a Hollywood glamour-themed shoot in a local cinema.

Once I had the location arranged it was obvious a mix Film Noir and classic Hollywood glamour was the way to go so I started researching. Google Images came up with the classic portraits of Dietrich and Harlow while Flick and 500px gave some examples with a modern twist. A quick flick through those images on my iPad over a coffee gave Jen a clear idea of what I had in mind and gave me a last minute refresher of the look I was going for.

As usual, I started simple. Jen in a long black dress with one light. (OK, this image is from slightly later in the set so there are 2 lights in play here). The key light is a grid spot, high camera right aim at Jen’s face. The second is a speedlight tucked away on the floor to camera left to thrown a bit of light on the black dress and pick Jen off the dark  red velvet background.

A quick wardrobe change while I span the lights 90 degrees resulted in this. Hard, gridded light from an Elinchrom Quadra on Jen again from high camera left and some low fill to add some details to her legs from a speedlight camera right. Then to create the spotlight effect on the red velvet above her, another gridded Quadra firing straight ahead from high above camera.

Another wardrobe and location change resulted in this image. Moving away from the hard, Hollywood glamour lighting to my Deep Octa softbox in beauty dish mode. It’s positioned camera right and feathered off the background to keep the wallpaper dark and make it match Jen’s hat and the stripes in her jacket. There’s a speedlight getting in on the action again – low camera left, behind the chair adding a little kick to separate the dark suit from the background.

When presented with the chance to shoot in a luxury screening room you take it, even if it means going off the plan and shooting something a bit more lifestyle. Jen’s bottomless suitcase had something suitable so we set up this shot. One gridded Quadra lighting Jen and a second, added after a few tests, to light the seats further along the row so the background didn’t fade sharply into darkness and loose the sense of where we were.

On the way in to the  screening room we walked down this corridor and I noticed the spot lights raking down the stripped, grey wallpaper.  I used the gridded Quadra again here, dialled down as low as it would go so as not to over power the lights and gelled CTO to match the colour temperature.

I’ve also put together a behind the scenes video for those who want to see a bit more. This is my first foray into video and Final Cut Pro X editing so I’d love to hear what you think.

Massive thanks to Jen Morgan, Daniel Barrett and Yvette Singer at The Showcase Cinema de Lux in Bristol. Enjoy the rest of the images in the gallery below.

Anatomy of a Location Shoot

Anatomy of a Location Shoot

I’ve known Emma for a few years and while we’ve done a few things at car shows, we have never shot together properly. Last weekend we put that right.

Not only did Emma make the trek up from the Portsmouth but I was lucky enough to have my long suffering assistant/producer/gopher/other-half Helen on hand to help as well as good friend and fellow photographer Darren “Skids” Skidmore to shoot some behind the scenes video and stills. Quite a crew!

So after the obligatory coffee and a snack it was on to location number one. If you follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page, you’ll know I’ve been out and about location scouting recently so I already had a few versatile spots I knew would work. The First of those was under Valentine Bridge for a little urban portraiture. I exposed for the buildings in the background which left Emma around 2 stops under exposed in the shade of the bridge so a Quadra head and the Deep Octa were brought in for fill.

Midweek this area is bustling with office workers on breaks, especially on such  a beautiful day, but on a Saturday there are just a few passers-by…

…which Emma soon tuned out!

Over zealous security guards are always a concern when working on privately owned land like this so we kept everything hand held.

And no, that wasn’t a comfortable shooting position!

As the gear is already unpacked, I always like to get as many looks as I can while at a location so Emma got changed into another outfit and we turned everything around and shot against the red brick wall behind us.

A completely different look for about 5 minutes work. Note to self – Buy a better belt!

 On to location two – another bridge a few minutes walk up river. Known locally as “the cheese grater”. Admittedly more by luck than judgement, the sun was in the perfect position to light Emma directly and provide its own fill for the shadows by reflecting off the side of the bridge.

With some solid images in the can it was time to move to the far end of Bristol’s floating harbour and the old red brick warehouses on The Cumberland Basin.

Nothing fancy here, just natural, direct sunlight which worked well with the bright graffiti.

A short walk and a swift outfit change later and Emma’s is rocking the American high school kid look on a rusting iron bridge.

This is a fairly busy short cut for dog walkers, joggers and cyclists but it’s quite surprising how respectful people can be when they come across a scene like this. Many were reluctant to walk through the scene, even if I didn’t have the camera to my eye.

Simple lighting on this one again, just a Quadra head with an 18cm reflector to give a sharp fall off of light and draw the viewer to Emma’s face. Such a hard light source wouldn’t work for every subject but Emma has great skin and can carry it off easily.

Just around the corner was another pre-scouted location that I’ve wanted to use before but it’s always been too muddy. I find it easy to fall in to the trap of thinking a good location needs to be large, like an epic view or impressive structure, but this patch of ivy in the middle of an industrial landscape works brilliantly.

As you can see, the Deep Octa came out again for this shot, and again the front diffusion material stayed in the bag – I wanted a slightly more specular light to bring out the shine in the leaves.

We’re were on a mission by this point – we just had one more location and one more look to shoot but the call of a beer and some food was strong! Emma is great at choosing outfits to match locations and as soon as she saw the weeping willow, she pulled yet another dress from her seemingly bottomless suitcase.

Going back to what I was saying earlier about locations, it would have been easy to have turned 90 degrees to the right here and shot with Bristol’s famous Clifton Suspension Bridge as a background, but the branches of the willow tree on the river bank made a much more suitable setting for the innocent look we were after. By now it was beer o’clock so we took a break for a few hours.

Up until we trekked out to the banks of the River Severn, the weather had been perfect without a cloud in the sky so we were pretty confident we’d get a beautiful sunset to finish the day off… fail. Epic fail! Just at the last moment clouds bubbled up from nowhere and we were left with this:

Ok, not quite the Ibizan vista I’d envisioned but it’s Severn Beech and you work with what you’ve got! After raving about how good this location was going to be after the previous nights location scouting, I knew I had to pull something out of the bag now I’d dragged everyone down there. The sun had let me down, but what I did have was a willing model, some warmth in the rocks and my own portable sun. So while brave Emma donned her bikini, I set about creating sunset with a Quadra head mounted high on a light stand and a CTO gell. With the cameras white balance on Tungsten and the flash head firing in warm light, the dull grey, post sunset sky turns blue. (I’ve written about this concept before called Working the CTO)

As Emma herself said, “it’s amazing what you can do with a big sweet wrapper”!

With 8 distinct looks in the can, the call of the bar became too strong and we called it a wrap!

Sunday was vampire day! This was the original reason Emma came to Bristol so I had to get something good. Luckily, with Emma in costume and in character that was never in doubt. With the fangs in place and the fake blood flowing I knew I could get theatrical with the lighting. The key again was the Deep Octa as it gives a rapid fall off, lighting just what I wanted it to. I could then play with a few ideas for the background including letting some ambient burn in spookily or go all out Hammer Horror and use a red gelled flash.

I’m just pleased Emma was cleaned up and de-fanged before the PCSO came along to send us on our way!

So there you have it – a behind the scenes look at what a location shoot with me is like. If any photographers reading this would like to work with Emma (and I highly recommend you do!) check out her website and her PureStorm portfolio.

Thanks also to Helen and Darren for being able assistants and taken the behind the scenes photos.

If you have any questions, as always hit the comments.

 

Shooting Sarah at Silvertone

Shooting Sarah at Silvertone

When you are at the World famous Silverstone circuit and you’ve got access to the pit lane, it’s just plain rude not to use it as a location. Especially when you’ve got the lovely Sarah and her equally lovely VW Polo as your subject. 

The plan here was twofold – firstly I wanted to get some good shots in the can for Sarah and secondly I wanted to find out just how well my new lighting rig coped in a typical car show situation. Fortunately, it passed with flying colours.

To work in this situation, a lighting rig, for me at least, needs to be;

 

Light enough to carry: No matter how close you can park, it’s always a distance to anywhere you would want to shoot. I’ve got both heads, both packs and all cabling in a Crumpler Company Gigolo 9500 bag. With my light stands, a few modifiers, and some grip equipment in a fishing rod bag, I am able to move the whole lot short distances on my own. Although this time I had help from Chris Wynne and Darren Skidmore.

 

Quick to set up: You’ve got to move quickly at a car show as you’ve likely borrowed the girls from a trade stand or a car from a Show n Shine area so time is limited.  Another box ticked by the Quadras. The heads are small enough for a Manfrotto Nano 001B stand to support with the pack hanging to add stability and the Elinchrom Deep Octa goes up swiftly. Cheaper eBay softboxes take a while to assemble though.

 

Power: I don’t always get to choose when a shoot is going to happen and areas in shade aren’t always the best looking locations, so I need some punch to overpower and control the ambient light. For this shoot the solution was to use 3 hot shoe flashes for example. At 400w/s the Quadra packs aren’t the most powerful, but still had plenty to tame the light spilling into the pit lane in this case. Although I’ve yet to try, I am certain 2 bare heads could handle full sun.

 

Enough talk, onto some images! Firstly to underexpose the pit lane enough to be able to add my own light I had to shoot at around f/18 at my max sync speed. I should probably take this opportunity to mention the Elinchrom Skyport Speed controller syncs withe the receivers in the Quadra packs at my max sync speed of 1/200th without trouble.

All I had to do now was bring in the lights. A simple, bare head setup for just the car and the Deep Octa softbox (in beauty dish mode) added to the camera right flash for the shots with Sarah.

And onto the results. Let me know what you think in the comments.