Shooting Fashion Cinema Style

A fashion shoot is a long and very full day. On the day itself there’s lighting to set up, set designing, make-up to do and outfits to sort out. There’s plenty to do before shoot day too, with meeting after meeting over theme and style, casting and location etc. It helps to see a fashion photography shoot like a short film made with stills, and as with a film there is pre-production, production and post-production. This fashion shoot was for Jehan Couture, a dress designer from London. We met over a period of a few weeks to sort out the finer details. There was only one model required for the day and, after considering a few options we chose Lisa, a model I’d worked with a few times in the past. With the budget being small we made the location the designer’s own home and styled various areas as and when we used them.

Only a fraction of the time on a fashion shoot is spent taking photographs, the majority of time being used for preparing the clothes, model and set, but as the photographer there’s still plenty to do and there’s no real down time until the shoot is over. The Jehan Couture set lasted twelve hours and in that time we achieved six final images for publication. A fun but hard-working day. I used one light and a reflector for most of the shoot as I wanted minimal lighting and hard lines. I’m a big fan of muted colours, which to me give a very cinematic feel and I nearly always tone colours down in post production. The whole team worked hard and that shows through in the final results.

Capturing Pregnancy

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Personal work does not get much more personal than this: My wife, six weeks before giving birth to our son. This was something we had been talking about photographing for a while, but of course we had to wait for the time to be right, for the bump that was our child to be a good enough size to photograph. When my wife was seven and a half months we knew the time was now.

 

I set up at our home studio with the help of an assistant, opting for the stage backdrop (something I’m a big fan of but which doesn’t get used so much these days). We used two flash heads to light Sam: one, the key light, to camera right and above her, the other camera left and at eye level. My assistant held the reflector just to my right and in close to Sam to bring extra light onto her front.

We shot in quick bursts as, for obvious reasons, staying on her feet for too long was impossible, and put Sam through a variety of poses. Sam is great at bringing out the right facial expression for the camera, even if she’s in discomfort (two years ago I photographed her in the snow with barely anything to keep her warm, and she still kept smiling), and this day was no exception. As always, if I asked for something from her that was what I got.

 

We kept the session short and took plenty of breaks. Ideas flow if you just let them even if you don’t have much time, all you’ve got to do is have the camera ready to record them, and these were shots that we didn’t want to pass us by. I wasn't a social photographer back then, so capturing a pregnant woman was a new experience for me, but we got what we wanted: a keepsake of a time that, looking back, seemed to be over all too quickly.

And then, six weeks later...

Window Light Photography – Using Natural Illumination for Great Portraits

The sun: That great, flaming ball of hydrogen and helium, 4.5 billion years old and the source of all our heat, light and energy. The window: not quite as old (it didn’t come into popular use in homes until the early 17th century), formed most commonly of silicon dioxide and found most commonly kicking around under your feet at your local beach. To the photographer, these two ingredients blended together in just the right way form the underlying framework, the holy grail, in fact, of natural light photography.

Here the pages of the book bounced the window light nicely into the face

Here the pages of the book bounced the window light nicely into the face

Your subject turned toward a large window will light the face evenly. Bounced light can then be used to fill in any shadows.

Your subject turned toward a large window will light the face evenly. Bounced light can then be used to fill in any shadows.

For anyone getting into photography in any serious way artificial light is an integral and essential element of the process. It would be very difficult to embark on a long photographic journey without some form of fill-flash or softbox , or combination of both. I personally use two lights for almost everything. However, there are times when turning off the electricity not only saves your wallet but also produces something quite magical in front of the camera. If the light is right (as in not too harsh with direct sunlight streaming straight in) fill the space a few feet away from a large window with a person or object and you’ve got yourself a giant softbox that didn’t take a lot of time to put together.

But if you think that’s all you must do don’t be fooled, life isn’t that simple. The camera sensor and the human eye read light differently. The human eye adjusts to changes in colour and quality, the camera does not. You must make the adjustments for the camera to read correctly, and in this case that means bouncing back the light from the opposite side of the window to create an evenly lit scene for you to photograph. If you didn’t do this then one side of your subject would be in bright light and the other in shadow, with your camera’s meter doing its best to find a middle ground. You can employ a variety of tools to bounce back the light, companies like Lastolite and California Sunbounce make purpose-built reflectors that quite often fold up neatly and then spring into action when required. You don’t have to go to such an expense though. I use sheets of white polypropylene or silver card, depending on how much light I want to kick back. I also have A4 metal sheets for smaller objects like food and still life (N.B: watch your fingers on these, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stabbed myself on the corners while reaching for them).

Getting this right takes time and practice and it’s unlikely that you’ll get it the first time around. Study your subject under the light you’ve created. Move them closer and further away from your window and try your reflector in various positions. A word of warning: choose the colour of your reflector wisely. White produces a subtle, soft fill light, whereas silver and metallic are quite a bit harsher. The gold side of your purpose-built reflector can put a warming glow on your subject but can also make them look like Donald Trump – I never use them.

As always experiment, have fun and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

The warmth of the surroundings in this picture reflects a subtle tint back onto the model.

The warmth of the surroundings in this picture reflects a subtle tint back onto the model.

Abstract Portraiture

I started thinking the other day about portraiture while doing some retouching, and how fluid the process is. You start with an idea but more develop while you are working. It’s often a collaboration between you and the person you are photographing. The creative process bounces between you in rapid fire the further you get into a session. It’s not always like this, but it happens often enough to take a lot of pictures you hadn’t previously considered. This is when I like to look outside the norm and get a little bit abstract with my photography.

This can be a bit hit and miss but it’s a great opportunity to experiment. After all, isn’t that how we learn? Over the years I’ve come up with a number of interesting shots this way (as well as a whole battalion that will never, and should never see the light of day), and they all tell their own story in their own unique way. The secret, I think, is to not be afraid to mess up. We’re not paying for film anymore and memory cards are cheaper than ever, so keep shooting and keep experimenting. Take pictures from behind, or from a lower or higher angle than you normally would. Get in closer than you’re used to, or just photograph parts of your subject. Photograph the hands, the hair, or a close-up of their tie, anything that defines your subject and tells the viewer a little about them. This is play time so anything goes. Experiment and have fun.

Putting something in front of your subject can have an unusual and often striking effect.

Putting something in front of your subject can have an unusual and often striking effect.

Try photographing from behind...

Try photographing from behind...

... or focus on a single detail. There are no rules here.

... or focus on a single detail. There are no rules here.