Late for the Ball

Late for the Ball_SmallSome times the inspiration for a shoot seems to come from random events. A couple of months ago I saw a box of old patterns in a book sale and bought them. My wife had been talking about using them to cover other objects and I instantly thought that it would be quite cool to make a dress out of them. My daughter then dashed my plans by telling me that patterns generally only contains half of a side because you folded the fabric in half to produce the whole piece.

Knowing that it would be difficult to completely cover a model in a single pattern the concept emerged of a girl that had run so late for the ball that they were literally trying to sew the dress around her.

Posing with the Black & White lingerie set
Posing with the Black & White lingerie set

Rather than post a casting call I approached a model (Suzie) and makeup artist (Crystal) who had both expressed interest in working with me. I had coffee with Crystal to go over the details of the shoot because I knew that hair & makeup would be quite unusual from what she had normally done for photoshoots. I knew that I would be compositing the body but I wanted the face to be from a single image. This meant that I wanted one side to be completely made up while the other was bare.

I sent a photo of Suzie and the dress to Crystal and left it up to her to come up with appropriate makeup. I did want to be slightly theatrical with the look in that I wanted large style rollers in the hair.  Crystal informed me that such things are not really used anymore but what is used really didn’t work with the look anyway.

The studio I had booked for the day is in an old house so I knew that I wanted to use the room as is. I collected a number of props from home (some under strict instructions from my wife such as her dressmaking scissors were not to be used to cut the patterns) and staged it to look like a sewing room.

The final selected pose
The final selected pose

Suzie had brought a number of sets of lingerie so that we could see what they looked like under the patterns, which were attached to her with double sided tape.  We selected one red and a black/white combination to try out. We started with the red set.

I had decided that the way we were going to shoot it was to do the patterns first and then the dress. I was shooting tethered into lightroom which meant that we could see a larger sized image than on the back of the camera.

Suzie took up different poses and once we had them I went through and selected which one I liked the best. Suzie then got changed into the other lingerie set and we shot a few images based around the poses we liked the best from the first series.

Wearing the dress
Wearing the dress

After looking at both sets it was apparent that the red lingerie set produced a much stronger look.

Suzie then put on the dress and we concentrated on getting as close to the chosen pose as possible. Lightroom made this a lot easier as we were able to compare the two images side by side. With the help of Crystal checking the images it did not take long before we had what I thought was a reasonably good match.

Once I had the images loaded on the home computer it was a simple matter of bringing them both into a single file and masking out. I increased the saturation in the lipstick and painted Suzie’s finger nails.

It was quite a fun shoot where pretty much everything went to plan. Thanks to Crystal and Suzie for their assistance in bringing this together.



Just Hanging Around

The finished image

The original inspiration for the shoot by Alessandra Favetto.
The original inspiration for the shoot by Alessandra Favetto.

Last Sunday I has a full day in a Lower Hutt studio to produce images that will be entered into national competitions. The first was inspired by an image I saw in the July issue of F11 magazine by Italian photographer Alessandra Favetto.

I has long held the view that models are often treated as mere clothes hangers, and so I knew that I could use the image as a base. However I wanted to have more than one person in the final image and to have the models hanging from a rack of some sort.

I posted the image in a modeling Facebook group and as I suspected got an immediate response. While I had initially thought that I would cast three models I ended up selecting five. Past experience from shoots had taught me that it was unlikely all five would make it to actual shoot day.

I also knew that the shot could be something that required assistance so I managed to elicit the help of fellow photographer Alan Raga.

As I suspected would happen, in the week leading up to the shoot one model discovered that the timing clashed with a family event and a second one sprained her wrist and ended up in plaster. A third model then failed to respond to any of the communications sent out in advance of the event, and simply didn’t show up on the day. This was exactly the issue that I had spoken about in my recent blog post on “Tips for models“.

The initial shot
The initial shot

In the end Summer & Renee turned up right on time.  I had asked the models to bring a number of outfits so that we had a good variety. Renee brought a small suitcase while Summer only brought two (both of which were very similar). We selected initial outfits and the girls got changed. I had to ask Summer to go and change her bra because she had a purple one on under a white top.

In terms of preparation this was going to be a very easy shoot because no hair or makeup was required. I knew that it would require several images to be taken though and then composited together. Past experience in this area has taught me that when you plan to do this having the lighting, camera position and focal length consistent between all shots make it so much easier in post.

The staging for the shoot was very simple with a large fabric backdrop that extended onto the floor and covering a small platform for the girls to stand. The hangers were suspended on another backdrop support. Once the girls were in position we raised the support up to create the illusion that they were hanging from it.

The illusion of being suspended

The main light was a large octobox set just left of the camera and high. The fill light was set camera right and down low. I was shooting tethered into a laptop with the camera mounted on a tripod.

Once we had the shots of the girls on the hangers we removed the platform and positioned two high backed chairs in a similar position to where each model has been standing. The girls then raised themselves up and I took the photo.

I had originally envisaged three models on the rack but  decided that there was room to shoot four so both Renee & Summer got changed and we repeated the process again.

Putting the images together was relatively simple process as the hem of the skirts provided a good point to merge the images. The hardest part was blending the backdrop and in future I will chose a material that is much more consistent in colour.

As often happens when you look at the images in post you realise that there was something that could have been done better during the shoot. In this case it was the realisation that the dress chosen for Summer in the second shot (orange) was actually hanging next to her in the first series. Fortunately colour is easily changed in photoshop.

The competition it is being entered into closes on August 13 so I still have a little time to tweek it further before then.

It was a very smooth shoot and it only took 40 minutes to get all the images we needed. Thanks to Renee, Summer and Alan for making it an enjoyable event.






An afternoon in the studio

Ashleigh-Jane Cole is a very talented young lady. Earlier this year she modelled for me at the waterfall and in the process made the length of fabric I was using into a dress. She won a designer award at the Trentham Racecourse Wellington Club and now in the process of recording her new album. Today she appeared live on a local radio station and performed all her own material, including one that she only finished just before going to air.

Yesterday she posted on Facebook and asked if any photographers were able to record the session for her. There is a major restructure going on at my paid work so the opportunity to take an afternoon off and do this was too much to resist. The studio is a fairly restricted place and so I knew that I could inly take the minimum about of gear and certainly no light stands. It gave me the perfect opportunity to test out the Rogue Flash Panel that my son bought me for my birthday & Christmas. It ended up being two presents because when the request went in we did not realise that it actually came in two pieces.

Despite there being little room to move around I was reasonably pleased with the results.AJ_Studio-2 AJ_Studio-10 AJ_Studio-16

Josh provided acoustic support
Josh provided acoustic support
Ashleigh-Jane and Anita
Ashleigh-Jane and Anita

Some tips from the photographer to aspiring models

Over the last five years I have worked with quite a number of models who have ranged from absolute beginners to those that are very experienced. While I do not claim to be an expert in this regard I thought I would share some tips for those getting into the model game based on my experiences. These are all from the viewpoint from the photographer as you will appreciate. I welcome any comments others may have.

Be realistic in your expectations

Brynn is a professional model who for the last 8 years has travelled the world being paid to appear nude.
Brynn is a professional model who for the last 8 years has travelled the world being paid to appear nude.

While stories like the girl being photographed at the World Cup being offered a lucrative contract do occur, the reality is that for most girls the opportunities to actual model full time are extremely rare and in New Zealand limited. Most of the offers you will receive from photographers will be for TFP sessions. This is a very old term that stands for “Time for Prints” which actually comes from the film days. In return for their time the model would receive hard copy images to use in their portfolio. Now days it will be generally be digital files.

Generally speaking you will only receive actual payment from a photoshoot under the following circumstances:

  1. It is commercial shoot where everyone is getting paid, or
  2. You are an experienced model with a solid portfolio and references behind you
  3. A full nude shoot

In the event that you can get paid then the amount that you can charge is totally based on the level of experience that you bring.

For everything else just go along and enjoy the experience and learn from it.

I have shot Kat on a number of occasions and would recommend her to others because she is very reliable (as well as stunning)
I have shot Kat on a number of occasions and would recommend her to others because she is very reliable (as well as stunning)

Be reliable & honest

For most photographers reliability will be their number one issue with models and the worst thing you can do it get a reputation as a “flake”. Once the details of a shoot have been agreed it is very important that all parties stick to them. The most important is actually turning up on time and being in a state ready to shoot. Communication is key here to ensure that there are no misunderstandings.

If I am arranging hair & makeup for a shoot then the start time we agree will be when you arrive and the Make-Up Artist (MUA) starts their work. But if we have agreed that you are doing your own hair & makeup then the time set will be when I expect to start shooting. Under such circumstances you need to turn up ready to shoot.

Now we all know that things can happen but if they do let the photographer know as soon as you can. Never, under any circumstances, simply not show up to a shoot. If you do change your mind, be honest with the fact. Do not make up some lame excuse that you think sounds plausible because quite frankly we have a list. You would be amazed how many emergency hospital visits happen to models.

The sad fact is that many people think that because the shoot is not paid that it is somehow a lower standard of responsibility than a paid shoot. The reality is that while no money is changing hands all of the parties are giving up things to take part and therefore there is a cost. If a model gets a reputation of being unreliable when it comes to shoots that she will personally benefit from, then there is absolutely no way she is going to be recommended for paid work.

Practise your craft

Janelle really knew how to express what I wanted with her poses and facial expressions during our TFP shoot that when I had some paid work I did not hesitate to involve her
Janelle really knew how to express what I wanted with her poses and facial expressions during our TFP shoot that when I had some paid work I did not hesitate to involve her

Dancers quite often make good models simply because they know how to isolate parts of their bodies and use them to create expression. Dancers achieve this control through countless hours of practise. Really experienced models operate in a similar way in that when a photographer asks them for a particular look or pose, they can instantly achieve it. The way that they have done this is with practise. Now some of this will be at photoshoots but not all. Practising in front of a mirror is valuable because you get the instant feedback on what you are doing.

Know your limits and be prepared to stick to them

Most models will be required to have some images in their portfolio that show a little skin. Some people have body issues and won’t get undressed with the lights on while other people can walk around in front of complete strangers in the nude without batting an eyelid. We are all different and it is important when you are starting out to know how far you are comfortable to go when agreeing to shoots. This can fall into several area such as:

  1. The amount of clothing worn ranging from fully clothed to fully nude
  2. The poses requested and the angles that the photos are taken from
  3. The subjects of the images.
This shot of Aleks is relatively tame but a slight variation in the pose and only a slight movement to my right the image would be exposing a lot more than  perhaps the model wants to show.
This shot of Aleks is relatively tame but a slight variation in the pose and only a slight movement to my right the image would be exposing a lot more than perhaps the model wants to show.

It is also important that when you are discussing shoots that everyone is clear on what the terminology means. For example “implied nude” means that the photo gives the impression of the model being nude when in fact they may not be. A close crop of a naked back may not show the fact that the person still has clothes on. However some people think that implied nudes mean that the model is actually naked and items are covering the strategic bits. While the end images may be similar the actual shoot itself will be quite different.

Once you have established those limits and agreed them with a photographer then it is important to stick to them. That is not to say that once you have done an initial shoot at a particular level you will not want to try again and push the boundaries a little further.

Don’t appear to have double standards
This actually leads on from the previous tip. If you have set a limit on what you say you are comfortable with then don’t have images that show you will go past it. I see this so often in model portfolio on sites like Model Mayhem where in the profile narrative the model states that they do not shoot nudes, when in the portfolio there are nude images. Now that quite clearly says to me that this model has a double standard. It is better to be upfront and state something like you are prepared to shoot nudes but only under certain circumstances and then outline what those are. For example some models only shoot nudes with photographers they know and trust, or will only shoot them in a paid shoot.

Respect limitation on the images
This has happened to me on a couple of occasion and believe you me it is really annoying to the photographer. During the process of producing the final images you may be shown unedited versions for selection purposes, or you may be given final images with watermarks on them. Now I realise that you may be dying to show your Facebook friends these images but if the photographer has shown you them for your selection, DO NOT share them. You will eventually get the images that both you and the photographer want to be seen and only these should be out there.

And if you get an image with a watermark NEVER remove it.

Be Safe
Finally as I have a couple of daughters, “be safe”.

In the 1990’s there was a cop show called “Hill Street Blues” and every episode would start with the officers being briefed. The sergeant would always finish with the words “Let’s be careful out there”. While there are a lot of very good and sincere photographers out there, unfortunately there are some real creeps out with camera’s who prey on models. There are some simple rules that can keep you safe.

  1. Try to meet beforehand in a public place to talk over the shoot. If you get a bad vibe from the meeting then end the discussion there,
  2. Ask to take a friend along. This is especially important if the location of the shoot it remote.

Now I know that not all photographers will actually allow you bring along a friend but I always do for the simple reason that if a model in uncomfortable it tends to show in the images. There are however a couple of caveats. Firstly I tell them that I will put the friend to work as an assistant, and secondly I will generally not allow male friends to shoots that involve lingerie or nudity. This is for the simple reason that I have found that models get uncomfortable when their boyfriends are around and you are trying to create a connection with them.


Getting stopped in the tracks

I had an interesting experience yesterday that I thought I would share some thoughts on.

At the back of one of the main parks in Upper Hutt is a model railway set. I am not sure what gauge it is set to but the trains that run on it are fully working steam train models capable of pulling small carriages that kids ride on. On Saturday I was in the park shooting kids play soccer and saw on the notice that the railway was to be in operation on the Sunday. I thought that this would make a great shot for my “Photo A Day” so on Sunday afternoon I made my way down there.

These are quite impressive machines.
These are quite impressive machines.

It was a  clear blue winters day, and as the opening had received good promotion in the local newspaper, there were lots of families with your children. I wanted to take photos away from the crowd and also try to handle the sun so I positioned myself at one part of the track, took a couple of photos and moved to the other part of the track. I then moved into a place in the centre of the track that enabled me to shoot back to the station area.

As I was leaving a man came up to me and asked what I was doing, in a tone that was not all that pleasing. I explained what I was doing and after some discussion the matter was sorted. I actually grabbed an email address of him so that I could send in some images for them to use. He had also asked another guy you was also standing ready to take photos. He was a father waiting for a child to pass on the next train.

I should point out that there were no signs prohibiting entry to this point and the whole area is in a public park therefore under New Zealand law I was fully within my rights to be there and take photos. The guy did point out that they had had issues in the past (not that he elaborated) and given that it was an environment where your children were present I could understand this, however it did reiterate the situations that we as photographers can face.

Why do we seek to be judged?

In more ways than one last week was a very flat week photographically speaking. After spending the previous week wandering the streets of Melbourne I returned to Wellington with a cold. The weather all week was crap and so was my main work (as we are going through a restructure). It was therefore a real struggle to find the motivation each day to ensure that I shot the image for my “photo a day” challenge. It was therefore probably not a good week to have several images up for judging in the week, and my underlying mood probably resulting in feeling particular bad when the results came out.

First up was my Audio-Visual entry in the Tauranga AV competition and the results came out on Monday. I ended up getting nowhere, which I have written about in a previous blog entry, and are still waiting on some feedback from the judges.

Then on Tuesday night I had two images being judged in the Hutt Camera Club Ladder competition. The set topic was “wear & tear. Both images got an “accepted” grade which again was disappointing as I had hoped for higher. The judge was a local professional photography who admitted that he shot weddings and therefore was not overly qualified to judge other types of work. The images and the judged comments are shown below.

An old petrol pump that we found on the edge of the road. The judge thought that the crop was too tight and that he could not get the context that the pump was in.
An old petrol pump that we found on the edge of the road. The judge thought that the crop was too tight and that he could not get the context that the pump was in.
The old wharf at Patea. The judge couldn't work out what it was and thought that the leading lines created by it went nowhere
The old wharf at Patea. The judge couldn’t work out what it was and thought that the leading lines created by it went nowhere

Finally on Sunday I entered my “The Wolf Within” print to an image critiquing session of the Wellington branch on the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographers (NZIPP) under the creative portrait category. NZIPP judge on a different way than used in camera clubs, or any competition run by the Photographic Society of New Zealand (PSNZ), so I was interested to see how the image would do there. The event was sponsored by Canon so it was a great opportunity to see what the image looked like on high quality paper. The Wellington group use the session as a lead in to the annual NZIPP Iris awards so many of the images were ones that the photographers were considering entering. The judges were aware of this therefore the amount of feedback received was actually greater than perhaps would have been if it had been an actual competition.

The image scored an average of 66 which was midway through the range considered to be of “professional standard”. I had hoped for a little more, but given that there were three very experienced judges and the comments made about the image the mark was probably accurate.

The Wolf Within - The judges did not like the texture applied to the image. They thought the red in the eyes should have not been applied to both eyes. That as the wolf is normally evil that it should have been in shadow rather than in light, and that I should have removed the bright line on the left of the image.
The Wolf Within – The judges did not like the texture applied to the image. They thought the red in the eyes should have not been applied to both eyes. That as the wolf is normally evil that it should have been in shadow rather than in light, and that I should have removed the bright line on the left of the image.

At the end of the week I felt really down about the standard of my work and I really questioned why I had bothered to subject myself to this process.

After consideration I decided that you need to invite such critique if you are to advance in photography because in it, like life in general, we learn so much more from our mistakes than our successes.

From the judging at club

  • I need to look at whether the photo has sufficient information in it to satisfy the viewer
  • If an image has strong leading lines make sure that they lead to something important

From the NZIPP judging

  • Make sure that your lighting will not cause confusion with the viewer
  • When applying textures make sure that they actually add to the image
  • If the rules allow for the use of photoshop then use it to remove any and all elements in the image that may distract.