Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Mood Boards; that White-Gold Blue-Black Dress Internet Phenomenon & Contemporary Fashion Photography..

A few weeks back while talking with a model about shooting a fashion/portfolio test I was asked if I could supply a mood board for the shoot. Now this may seem to many quite a common and reasonable request; but considering our conversation and that the model had seen my shots of the location, shots from previous shoots at a similar location and as confirmed to me, a good slice of my website; I was a little surprised (but not shocked) to be asked for a mood board. To which I replied "it will be something like my pictures you have seen only with you, and at that location".

And the reply was, "but everyone uses mood boards"..

So what has any of this talk about mood boards and shooting on location (or anywhere) got to do with the; is it white and gold or brown and blue dress, the picture that took the internet and social networking by storm? My answer as to why I do not often use mood boards is in part due to a/the similarity with this whole dress/colour photograph fiasco; and to be fair I suppose if I was in conversation with a client I may have been a little more subtle, but here was my response about supplying a mood board for the planned shoot.

"Mood boards are for the visually illiterate who don't actually know what they are looking at; especially when looking at pictures." Ouch! Well keep reading below.
Mood boards? Location test shot books for use on editorial fashion shoots. Another type of mood board. Photography by Kent Johnson.
Mood boards? Location test shot books for use on editorial fashion shoots.
The White-Gold Blue-Black Dress internet phenomenon
This was very well demonstrated with the The White-Gold Blue-Black Dress internet phenomenon. Visual people were able to look at the dress and the OTHER information the picture contained.. Washed out, Overexposed, Backlight (bright behind), and extrapolate out what was really going on both in and with the picture including an ability to read the correct colour. Black and Blue. (Unattractive dress? Well that's another story)..

So what does that have to do with Mood Boards?

The colour perception issue with that dress and an ability to read what is happening to make up the picture is just the tip of the iceberg. I lay the blame for the popularity of mood boards on the ease of digital photography. Ease of access to information, the lifting/collating of pictures you like and ease of publishing does not equal an ability to create great pictures or visual literacy. And many, very many 'Mood Boards' that I have seen do not communicate a mood at all. Their main use seems more akin to an IKEA instruction sheet for a series of parts (made from pictures one loves) to be assembled into a "new" and "Original" picture.. Of course Slicked Back Hair and Big Hair; dark moody light and bright sunshine.. (Conflicting visual themes have often been the main theme of many mood boards) don't laugh! Don't convey the same moods and usually can't be contained in the same shot/shoot/series of pictures. A Frankenstein approach to image creation is very likely going to give you a Frankenstein result, and if you don't know the Frankenstein story let me tell you, it does not end well for poor old Frankenstein!

I am all for being inspired by great work and I have my heroes of photography who have inspired me by their approach to image creation and the pictures themselves. Well made mood boards; which are more about mood than detail; and mood, you can play with vs detail which is pretty explicit; can be a great guide. But; the mood board really does need to be made by someone who understands the nature of visual language and how to interpret and show the feeling they are after through visual representations.

Notebook with polaroids and drawings for studio swimwear shoot including inspiration postcard of Australian champion swimmer Miss Beatrice Kerr.
Notebook with Polaroids and drawings for studio swimwear shoot including inspiration postcard of
Australian champion swimmer Miss Beatrice Kerr.
While all artists work differently I think it would be fair to say that most working photographers are highly visually literate and are working on pictures and the art of looking every single day. Personally I am constantly photographing locations and situations that interest me with a view to future projects.

When it come to photo shoots where I need to have a real feeling for the location, the lighting, the time of day, how the end result will look. I go on technical scouts, sometimes with the client; pre-shoot the location; and on occasion make the little photo print books (mini-lab prints taped together) as a guide to the shots I am after. These pictures are often shared with the team via email, the little book brought on location as a guide, an inspiration, not an instruction manual.

My second ever fashion editorial for Mode magazine (way back in the day) was inspired by a picture postcard of Australian champion swimmer Miss Beatrice Kerr. In collaboration with fashion editor Kate Stead I designed then painted our huge backdrop for the shoot incorporating sea and sky. All from one inspirational picture.

It's important to grow your visual literacy through the actual process of creating, successes and failures. It is important to trust your team and the way they work; original work comes from original ideas not from a cut and paste approach to creativity. Look at what has been done; be inspired; experiment, don't be afraid to fail (not everything works that's OK), create something new. Be in the moment and go with the mood that takes you!

Drawings for possible painted backdrops for a swimwear fashion shoot. Drawings by Kent Johnson.
The final drawing for a painted backdrop for a swimwear fashion shoot.. Drawing by Kent Johnson.
The final drawing for a painted backdrop for a swimwear fashion shoot.
model and painted backdrop for a swimwear fashion shoot.. By Kent Johnson.
Model and painted backdrop for a swimwear fashion shoot by Kent Johnson.
Carpark - Bush. Books of location test shots for use on editorial fashion shoots. Another type of mood board. Photography by Kent Johnson.
A finished fashion shot from Alice's Dreamtime. By Kent Johnson.
From 'Alice's Dreamtime'.
Title page, model and painted backdrop for a swimwear fashion shoot by Kent Johnson
Title page, model and painted backdrop for a swimwear fashion shoot by Kent Johnson.
Fashion shoots made from the 'location' photo notebooks.
Alice's Dreamtime
Midnight Cowboy
Knitwear On Location

Call or email to book you photo shoot today.
Kent Johnson,
Sydney, Australia.
0433 796 863