Monday, 25 June 2012

About Photography - The Art of Process on a Photoshoot

While I do not normally write about the process of creating an image on a photoshoot; it is something that I talk about a lot with friends and other photographers. And there are a number of reasons I have chosen not write about the process of making pictures, its not about keeping secrets; most of the reasons revolve around the idea that the final picture should do the talking for itself; that showing process can only serve to remove some of the images mystique.. Not unlike a lot of behind the scenes pictures and videos seem to do; have you noticed that unseemly erosion of visual impact?

However last week I was able to work with the artist Elodie Silberstein again and the very positive experience of working on this project (and the previous) drew the whole nature of photographic process into sharp perspective and, due to the nature of the shoot, a sharp perspective that I think is perfect for sharing. So here we go..

The Art of Process on Elodie's Photoshoot..

Know what you are working on.
Before heading to the studio I checked out Elodie's blog to see the Victorian era pictures she had acquired in Paris as part of the research for her performance project. These two pictures immediately reminded me of the artist Joel Peter-Witkin's famous photographic works that are clearly inspired by the Victorian age.. I could see I would need to make pictures that spoke about mystery and otherness, (possibly-probably death) and they would need to have some intangible and slightly disturbing quality to them as do the pictures on Elodie's blog and the pictures of Peter-Witkin.

9b Art Process on a Photography Shoot -600-Duo_3395

We made a start and we made changes along the way.
The first think I do (after settling everyone in in the studio) is discuss the studio set-up; lighting and background, as this takes the most time to get organised and fine tune. We decided on a black background as it would offer the best visual communication for our mood theme and era. Black clothes (& hair) on a black background is always a tricky set-up as you need to maintain the blacks while keeping good tonal separation. Once I was happy with the lighting tested with Elodie & Patricia on set we were ready to start shooting.

1 Art Process on a Photography Shoot - Early shot_600_3263

One of the things I do when shooting more than one subject is to have them walk on set and see where they go naturally. In this case Elodie went camera left, more on that later.. I started the shoot with a 50mm lens on a crop sensor DSLR. We worked fairly smoothly through a few variations of poses, Elodie with the clay flower, then with a fan on to move the hair (& keep them cool); no flower and one hand up on Patricia's shoulder.. That was our first 40+ frames, the top two of the four below, and we uploaded them to the computer to see how we were going.

We liked the direction the shots were heading but thought we could develop them further, I suggested to Elodie trying two hands on Patricia's shoulder to see how that looked. I also decided to use a longer lens to see if that gave a better perspective & went with my 80-200 zoom at about 80 mm for the rest of the set below. We were all settling in now and knew we were making good pictures; the mood was right but did we have enough of the mysterious feeling I wanted & needed for a great shot?

2 Art Process on a Photography Shoot _600-ElodieLook-1-4-up

Even if its all good, its worth changing it around!
Next I decided to shoot both Patricia and Elodie separately just to see how they worked being photographed alone. There was no doubt that we already had some very usable pictures in the 'can' but I wanted to see where else we could go with the feeling of the shoot-and of course we could always marry two singles together if we really wanted to. As I knew I already had good shots.. I thought it might be nice to replicate the feeling of the long exposure time of Victorian pictures by slowing my shutter speed down too. Pat got shot at a 20th, Elodie slower again at a 10th of a second and at those exposure times I was now mixing the studio flash with the ambient daylight in the studio.

3 Art Process on a Photography Shoot _600_3357

4 Art Process on a Photography Shoot  _600-ElodieSolo4-up

5 Art Process on a Photography Shoot - Final Art Portrait5_600-D_3395

We weren't trying to make the picture more interesting; we were trying to get deeper into the image!
By the time I have finished photographing both Patricia and Elodie 'solo' we have been in the shooting process for about and hour and a quarter and something quite different has now happened. Both have strengthened their visual personas, both have tried changes to the poses that are now (in combination with the technical changes) showing something of the 'mysterious feeling' we have all been seeking, we have all become one with the project as a whole. By taking our time, we can now see how this hand position here, the hair blowing and a little burred; how these small but valuable changes are building-evolving a stronger picture.

So now its time to put the two sitters back in a single frame and see what happens. I keep the slower shutter speed. I put Elodie camera right-no that didn't work! The hair was uncontrollable and the dynamic between the two is just not working. We swap back to the 'original' positions and its all happening, stronger, more intensity, more mood and more feeling! Seven more minuets and 30 frames and we are finished. The whole shoot to deliver one main shot for the Event PR and one or two alternative shots has taken roughly an hour and a half to shoot.

6 Art Process on a Photography Shoot _600-ElodieDouble2-4-up

Now it just a question of RAW converting the selected final files and doing some photo finishing to complete the job.

What I found most interesting about this shoot is that while we started off with quite good shots, by taking our time we worked our way via art-process to stronger and more interesting images. And while that is more-or-less what is always meant to be achieved, its not often the case that there is enough time and trust to make the images as well as they could be made... On this shoot we were able to put it all together to make the kind of images we really were after.

7 Art Process on a Photography Shoot  _600-412FinalVersions

Memorium #2 White Ribbon Day, Silberstein and Patricia Alvarez , B&W PR Shot

Memorium #2 White Ribbon Day, Silberstein and Patricia Alvarez Colour PR Shot

Telling Stories in Pictures all over the world..
Kent Johnson, Sydney, Australia.
0433 796 863

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Location Scouting & Testing for Fashion Photography

I have always been surprised that so many people seem to be happy with the idea that the camera makes the picture happen and the shot that comes out of the camera is just fine as it is. 
It 's one of the new ways of seeing photography that digital technology has brought to us and for better or worse its here to stay. I call this aspect of digital photography the “Mirror Effect” because when you look in the mirror you see someone you know, its you! No surprises there. Not that you will always be happy with what you see in the mirror but that’s another story. With digital photography, that little screen on the back that shows the scene in front of the lens is a lot like looking in a mirror; with a good exposure there should not be any real surprises at all...

What you see is what you get...
Nothing special required...

But when I went out location hunting yesterday; the "Mirror Effect" completely let me down, yet again, as usual! Sadly the scientists and engineers that built my digital cameras left out the 'Ideas and Inspiration' buttons, the 'Technique' button too was missing not to mention experience and the creativity that gets the pictures really happening!

What I needed was not just a mirror; I needed a recipe to bring out the parts of the shot I wanted, to create the feeling I was after. I had all the ingredients together at the location I had found, now it was time to cook up a real meal.

This was the second time I had been to this little netted swimming spot. Its just south of Sydney and although there are quite a lot of these netted seaside 'baths' around, this one has a tidal wall jutting a little way into the bay and a view of mangroves across the water which reminded me more of Brisbane than some part of Sydney. Something a bit different to the Bondi surf beach most of us think of as Sydney beaches.

Another part of the recipe for this location scout was having my photographer friend Sandra stand in for some of the shots. And although these days Sandra is a photographer she has in her past life been a quite successful international fashion model and her experience in front of the camera also helped deliver the feeling I was looking for. A big thank you to Sandra right there for adding that final important modelling experience ingredient to my location recipe.

A special Sydney location
Soft light – open shade
Location stand-in model
Camera and lens (50mm)
Old Skool camera filters
Manual focus
Exposure, Time + F stop

Survey the scene to find the part that 'works' best for the picture.
Choose filters and test they make the mood you are after.
Place model in the right light, set camera exposure F-Stop and Time (slowish shutter speed hand held for this one); adding feeling to the mood.
Work with model to get the 'right' picture.

Serving Suggestion
After uploading pictures to the computer, select best shots and make final 'photo finishing' adjustments to the shots. In this case I do add a 'film' layer and adjustthe colour, contrast and sharpness. Show final image to the world!

Winter knitwear on the beach in Sydney Australia.

OK it is just a test image from a location scout not quite a picture of perfection; that will come later on a well organised shoot. But I did learn a lot about the location, the light and what was required to get a lovely shot with mood and feeling that also works well with the fashion. In this shot its Sandra's knitted cardi/shawl, my Otto & Spike scarf (thank you Natasa) and Akubra Squatter hat from Strand Hatters that we improvised our little location test with. And I do like the shot and I can see a lot of potential for shooting in this location in just this style; something a little different for a Sydney seaside fashion shoot.

If this is your first time visiting my blog and are wondering what my finished work looks like; you can click this link to view my fashion photography on my web site.
Or email me to discuss your fashion project.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Black & White Fashion in Colour Redux..

I loved this this fashion story 'The Girls Who Fell to Earth' when I first published it in 'Black and White' here on my blog back in 2009. It was a tricky shoot to pull off on the day; we were running about and hour or so behind schedule having added a second model to the shoot extending the time in hair & make-up; being late December the sun was already high in the sky as we began and that by itself was enough to make the shooting more difficult. But bright, very bright coastal Sydney light was not all we had to contend with, the wind was blowing at gale force strength! Blowing so strong that after the first shot I was seriously contemplating packing the shoot in and rescheduling for a more weather friendly day. But we were on location with about 10 fabulous high fashion frocks from the top graduating designers at Sydney TAFE, Christmas was fast approaching and time really was running out. We had to shoot, we had to make the best of a very bright, crazy windy day!

The whole story was shoot as black and white in-camera which is the way I shoot black and white (B&W). I just set the cameras setting to B&W so as I review the shots I am not seduced by the colour of the scene. Its the closest digital equivalent you can get to loading a camera with  B&W film. Of course the 'miracle' of digital is that if you shoot RAW you can always get the colour back. First time round I worked on this shoot exclusively in B&W to maintain my vision for a B&W shoot. But as I went through the shots I did see a few of the RAW files 'POP' into colour in Adobe Bridge and off-and-on ever since I have wondered if a 'colour lunar landscape' version of this story might not work just as well albeit in a different way to the original B&W.

Last week I gave into my curiosity, going through the whole shoot again and making a completely new selection of shoots and working them up from scratch as the new colour edit. Only Elizabeth Di Marco's purple dress made the cut to both the B&W and colour version with a couple of frocks not making the transition to colour at all; they just did not work as colour on this shoot. However I now have two 'new' outfits appearing for the first time, the tan hooped dress and the bold B&W striped jacket and skirt.

Kathryn Beeson, high fashion black leather dress, Lunar Landscape, on location Kurnell Sydney.
high Fashion on Location, Sarah Starkey moon dress,  Lunar Landscape, on location Kurnell Sydney.
high Fashion on Location, Sarah Starkey moon dress, Lunar Landscape, on location Kurnell Sydney.
Sarah Starkey high fashion black dresses, Lunar Landscape, on location Kurnell Sydney.
louise Maniscalco, high fashion shoot, headshot, eyes and shawl.
Christopher Morro mermaid dress on rocks with wind swept hair, High Fashion on location Sydney Australia.
Elizabeth Di Marco, lunar landscape shoot, the girls who fell to earth.
Ryoko Watanabe, high fashion, lunar landscape location shoot Sydney Australia.
Full length Christopher Morro high fashion couture dress, on location.
Melinda Johns high fashion shoot with lunar landscape, Kurnell Sydney.
Black and White striped two piece couture outfit on location, Sydney Australia.

Bold B&W striped jacket on location.
Bianca Linton, Melinda Johns, High Fashion black dresses, Landscape and Fashion on location Sydney Australia.

Hair & Make Up, Kathleen Hendry.
Stylist, Lucinda Petroeschevsky - Mayer.
Assisted by Melinda Johns.
Models, Sarah Crawford & Anna Hill @ Platform.
Photography by Kent Johnson, 0433 796 863
Assisted by, Harry Perlich.
Shot on Location at Kurnell National Park Sydney Australia.
December 14 2008. Colour Redux, June 2012.

View the B&W horizontal scroll version here.

Fashion Designers
Elizabeth Di Marco
Sarah Starkey
Melinda Johns
louise Maniscalco
Lisa Catanea, Bianca Linton
Christopher Morro
Sarah Starkey; Ryoko Watanabe
Kathryn Beeson
Bianca Linton, Melinda Johns