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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.

Amber vs The Bulb

Amber vs The Bulb

In a break from my normal location shooting, I spent a little time at Saracen House studio nera Milton Keynes last weekend. My subject was the very talented Amber Tutton and while it’s virtually impossible to take bad photo of her, I wanted a concept to make me images stand out. So, being known as a bit of lighting guy, I decided to take along a suitable prop: an over-sized, squirrel cage light bulb.

Most images were taken with a gridded beauty dish as key light, flying high halfway between me and Amber with a small softbox at ground level, 2 stops lower, for a little upward fill and to seperate her dark jeans form the black seamless.

While this worked well, as Joe McNally says “Don’t get satisfied with one view, and one good-looking frame! Shoot and move, shoot and move.” Changing your angle an composition is one thing but don’t forget you can change your lighting too. In this case, I shut off the strobes and modelling light, opened up my aperture and cranked my ISO.

Thanks to Andrew at Saracen House for making me feel so welcome, Amber for being awesome and Darren for the introduction.

And for the lighting and photo geeks, a little BTS video:

Light Painting A Car

Light Painting A Car

I’m lucky enough to have access to what can loosely be called some studio space (a huge empty room, large enough to get a car in that gives me completely control of the ambient light) so last night I tried a little automotive light painting.

So armed with nothing more than a camera, tripod and an Elinchrom Quadra with the modelling light on although any constant light source would do though.

I’d like to say that was all done in camera but it’s not. There are 3 individual shots that have been composited to make that final shot. Firstly, because of their brightness relative to the Quadra’s LED modelling light, I shot the headlights.

Then it was time to light the car. After a few tests with various softboxes I found the most even coverage came from simply walking around the car with just the Quadra head and 18cm reflector. A 13 second exposure at f/8 gave me time to walk fairly slowly around the car. The first shot below is a lap with the light held fairly low to get light onto the doors and the second was as high as I could reach to bounce some light of the car roof.

For this pass (another 13 second exposure) the light was held higher to thrown light onto the roof of the car.

Once in Photoshop, I layered the 3 images in Lighten mode and did a little burning to darken down the walls in the background. I also added and masked a desaturation layer to remove the slight yellow tinge from the fog lights and remove a colour cast from the wheels and floor. The result:

For a first attempt a light painting a car I am pleased, although looking at the final image, I see a few things I’ll look out for next time.