Category Archives: Personal Projects

setting up “the dressmaker”

The built set.

This post will be quite different to others in that it will not contain any finished images. Rather it will go into the process that went into a set of images that tell a story. The actual images will be in the next post.

A number of years ago I saw a brilliant image of a girl using a sewing machine in a moonlit attic. It set a seed that took several years to come to fruition (over three in fact). I knew that I wanted to do an image of a girl and a sewing machine. As it developed it turned into a sort of Cinderella story and eventually became a series I have called “The Dressmaker”.

The first prop, the sewing machine was bought three years ago at the Petone Fair. A second hand shop was selling them off for $20.00. They were leftover when the tables they were originally sitting on were turned into furniture. I bought the machine and it sat in our storage for years.

The machine

Then this year a number of events came together that made me decide to do the shoot.

The first was my daughter leaving home which meant our family room could be used as a studio to shoot in, and the set could be left up. I knew that to make the image look realistic then staging was important.

The second was a chance visit to my works printers where I saw a pile of wooden crates that had packed some new machines they were installing. I thought that it would be create to use to create movable walls, (as well as providing materials to reline our garage), so I asked if I could have them. They said yes and I was shocked when I got home to find a large pile. It took four nights to denail it so that we could get the ply under cover.

What was a pleasant surprise was the state of the timber that had been used to make the frames. There were lengths that looked just like flooring.

There was other timber that I was able to use to build a table for the sewing machine on. The top proved tricky as the bottom of the sewing machine was not a consistent shape. The machine was quite heavy so the table had to be engineered to carry the weight.

The completed table

I had worked out that two ply sheets were sufficient to build a workable wall but how to safely stand them up took some thinking. Initially I was going to build a floor bracket for them to slot into. I had seen other floor standing walls work in similar form. The problem was that such brackets need to be suitable size to handle the weight.

I then realised that if I took one of the left over lengths of timber I could drill some holes through it, and mount it on top of my existing background supports. Then the ply could be safely clamped to it. This worked perfectly. Once upright I used a roll of wallpaper bought from an Op shop to cover the ply and particular the join between the two panels.

The cross support

The final piece to fall into place was when I went to the Hutt Camera Club shoot at Fort Balance. The model Che wore a red dress that had a really long train. When I saw it I knew it was perfect for my shoot, so at the end of the shoot it ended up in my car.

Che and the red dress

I had already obtained cocoa bean shacks from my work as I had intended to use them in a model shoot. I therefore felt I had all of ingredients for the shoot.

From previous work I knew that Kimberley would be perfect for my dressmaker, so I posted a casting call on Facebook and ended up selecting a model for her client.

Sian, who I have shot on a number of occasions also said she was interested. She proved to a lifesaver when the model I had cast pulled out two hours before the shoot was to happen.

The shoot was scheduled and I started to build the set. I had worked out the camera angle and the lighting so as each piece was put into place I could see how it looked in the viewfinder.

To hide the walls in our family room I attached a second backdrop rail at a 90 degree to the ply and hung some old curtain material. To hide the edge of the flooring I used old suitcases and then on shoot day added some more sacks.

I had wanted to borrow a portable clothes stand for the dresses but could locate one so ended up building one from more of the left over timber.

The clothes rack support

It probably took the best part of two hours to get everything into place before I put in the lights. My fill light was my Godox AD600 in a 1.5 metre softbox positioned just to camera left. My main light was one of my Elinchrom set up high camera left and positioned above the end of the clothes rack. This light was gelled orange.

One of my recent purchases was a Godox receiver which should have worked with the transmitter on the camera. It was plugged into the back of the Elinchrom and should have triggered it at the same time as the other Godox lights. For some reason this didn’t work and the Elinchrom was firing after the main light, meaning that it was not having any impact on the shoot. Fortunately the Elinchrom has built in optical slaves which work perfectly.

For the shots of Kimberly on her own I wanted to give the impression of candlelight so I had a third light that was gelled orange, and in a gridded reflector to cast a very targeted light.

Tomorrow I will show you the finished series.

Zodiac series – taurus

My shot for Taurus was one of the first in the zodiac sequence. The model is Te Manava Syme Buchanan and was shot at the 2018 Great Trentham Collaboration. The headdress was designed by me, but the rest of the costume came from CKFilmDesign.

Te Manava is over six foot six in height so I ended up shooting from a stool the get the angle right.

Zodiac Series – Leo

Leo was the second staged shoot in my Zodiac sequence. I had a couple of concerts in mind with Luke was be my main model. In the first part of the shoot I used a mask I had bought online and with a strobe in a small reflector used it to cast a shadow on the wall. I then had Luke remove the mask and a second shot was taken. The two images were merged in Photoshop.

For the second shoot, I had also recruited two additional models Martina and David who were to play the parts of the unlucky staff being bailed out because of poor performance.

David forgot about the shoot which left me one person short. Fortunately the G9 has a phone app and so I was able to position myself in the shot and still fire the camera.

Lighting for this shot was a main fill light in a seven foot umbrella and a smaller gridded light focused on Luke.

Zodiac Series – Gemini

I am currently working through a zodiac series with the ultimate aim of it being made into a set for submission for honours with the Photographic Society of New Zealand. It has been on the drawing board for a long time. To make the series more particular I am trying to recruit models that are actually the star signs that I am shooting. I was therefore really pleased when I discovered that twins Evie and Emily happened to be Geminis.

They are both fashion designers who have designed a lingerie range so it was an easy pick to ask them to wear black and white outfits.

The costuming allowed me to play with the notion of a split personality (good vs evil), and we made use of the mirrors in the studio. Then it was an easy photoshop masking to bring the images together.

I also wanted to look at the notion of Yin-Yang and the costume colours fitted well with that. I had them lay on the floor and boomed the camera overhead, under a large umbrella.

I has originally planned for them to be on a fake grass and I was going to surround them with bushed to make it look like they were in the womb. Unfortunately the grass could not be found, and my efforts to cut them out and place them on a real grass background did not look convincing so I ended up scrubbing the idea and giving the image a lot of texture in post processing.

The final image has done very well. It received honours in a club competition, was selected in the North Shore Salon and appeared in the 2019 issue of New Zealand Camera.

The Tattoo Project – Sharon

When I arrived at Pixie’s place she had her friend Sharon there for support and assistance. Now I have always said that I have absolutely no objections to models have friends with them on shoots, provided that they don’t interfere in the shoot. In fact I have called on them to assist on more than one occasion or even to model.

In this case it was the latter, because when I say Sharon’s tats and the fifties style of outfit she was wearing I just had to include her. It took a little convincing but with Pixie’s help she because part of the project.

Lighting for these was from the single 7 foot umbrella.

The Tattoo Project – Pixie

Pixie contacted me about taking part in the shoot and as she lived in Whanganui we arranged for me to shoot her on the way back from  the Photographic conference in Stratford.

The original intention had been to shoot Pixie on  the same backdrop as used in the previous shoot so that was packed in the car. But when I arrived at her place that completely changed. She lived in this old villa that was in original condition. The kitchen in particular had an amazing retro feel to it that I knew that I had to shoot her there.

That posed some issues as it was not very large and I was trying to light is using my seven foot umbrella. We managed though. The one issue with using an actual location was that I was getting reflections on the windows from the umbrella.

This was solved using the double tap approach. Basically you take two images in succession. The second one goes off without flash but is such a short duration behind the first that the subject tends not to have moved. You then combine the two images in Photoshop and you use the non-flashed image as the replacement for the windows.

The Tattoo Project – Larissa

Larissa is a tattoo artist herself and when she learned of the project wanted to be involved. When we initially met she was about to have more work done, so we agreed to defer the shoot to allow for this. I ended up shooting her in the same session as Les so it incorporated the same lighting arrangement.

Larissa was a lot more shier than Les so I had to deal with clothing getting in the way of the tatts. You could clearly see how the work was going to evolve over the next year as it was filled in. Unfortunately she moved to Auckland just after the shoot so that opportunity is not available.

The Tattoo Project – Les

When I started planning the Tattoo project I had always envisaged that the starting and ending images in the set would be of traditional Maori moko’s. For my overseas visitors these are tradition tattoos practiced by the original settlers in New Zealand called Maoris. (you can read all about them here on Wikipedia)

Therefore when I saw Les sitting in Lampton Square eating his lunch I managed to find the courage to go an ask him to be part of the project.

Having a full face moko certainly drew attention to Les and he explained to me the significance of it to him. For Maori the tattooing had much more significance than simple body art.

He also said that it was often a conversation starter and he was used to be approached, although people were sometimes hesitant. Part of that is that while tattoos in New Zealand is fairly common generally it only those with criminal connection that cover their faces. Les has tattoos that extend over pretty much over his entire body.

Lighting for the shoot was based on a setup that I learned from Chris Knight. My seven foot umbrella was positioned behind me to fill the details in the shadow and the main accent light was provided by a beauty dish positioned camera right and about 45 degree angle from the subject.