But 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.