Shooting for yourself is something I talk about a lot, I talk about it a lot but I have struggled to do over the last 12 months.
In 2016 I shot maybe 20-30 shoots which were for myself to try new skills, develop my work and give myself a break for the paid work I was doing.
In 2017 I did only 4 shoots like this. Now a little of that is because I was a victim of my own success, my commercial work grew massively and became my biggest photography year on earnings and hours worked. This meant my own personal work had to take a little bit of a back seat. Well not a little, it wasn’t even in the back seat, it was left at home in a cupboard which was locked and nailed shut!
Although I don’t really care for new years resolutions I wanted to make 2018 the year that I got a better balance on this. 2016 was too much shooting for myself, 2017 was not enough, 2018 needs to be just right.
So I got in touch with the team. Steph my hair stylist (well not my hair stylist I’m bald) and Rachel my MUA.
Planning the shoot
I’ve probably got 40 Pinterest boards full of ideas for shoots which have never made it beyond the planning stage for one reason or another. None of those ideals really tickled my fancy for this shoot. I needed something new, something that I could create relatively easy with quite an impactful result.
I turned the source I often do when I need inspiration. Not Google. The Wife.
She’s an avid follower up fashion and makeup trends, and when I asked for an idea she came up with it very quickly. It was simple. It was bold and it was relatively easy to put together; Pink & Red.
Shopping for girls clothes
Clothing was quite important on this shoot, I would say it was make or break. If the clothing didn’t compliment the colour and the feel of the shoot it would have let it down.
I didn’t have a huge budget for the clothing so I had to use a couple of different tactics. ASOS’ returns policy and the hope that Primarni had something that fit with the theme.
I don’t have a great experience in shopping for female clothing, but the fact that I was looking for just two colours made it a whole load easier to search for what I wanted.
Add to that the ability to search by price on ASOS, it meant I could get the selection down from thousands of items to just a few.
I ordered two outfits from ASOS before heading out into what felt like the abyss in Primark looking for items that would work.
Now just like searching online by colour, it became much easier to do this in the shop too, pretty much just tuning in my eyes to the colours I was looking for enabled me to cut out all of the noise and just head to the colours that would work for me. It was a relatively painless 10 minutes. Although it took longer for the wife to find slippers for our son…. that’s another story though.
I added a few accessories with ear rings that would help add to the overall feel and style but stopped short of purchasing bags and coats. If I was shooting for a client it would be a different matter as I could pass on these costs, but when shooting for myself it didn’t make that much sense to add this extra expense at this stage.
The Set Up
Keeping with the simple but effective theme, I had a look in my head on what I wanted to create with the background. Block colour was the main thing in my head, no patterns, no complications, just two block colours. Pink and Red.
I already had some Red paper from Creativity Backgrounds (Cherry Red) which I know photographs well. Its deep, it’s not too cheesy and I knew it would compliment what I wanted from the soft Carnation Pink paper roll.
Now having these paper rolls wasn’t enough, I didn’t just want to shoot against block colour, one at a time. Its boring, it doesn’t push me and it doesn’t really do anything for the viewer.
So I used a couple of old diffuser frames which are fairly large and lined them with the paper, one in each colour. This then gave me shapes to use, if they stood up it was a tall frame, if laid down it was a step, if stood on its side it was a base of a wall. Using something like this meant I could change the look of each set with minimal effort and time.
I also used some off-cuts of red paper to use as a “challenge prop” for the models. Harriotte even used it as an awe in a rowing boat while trying to think of ways to use it.
The only other prop I used were some apple crates I bought recently, to help break up the colour a tiny bit but also add a little size context to the scene and to put a little texture back.
Lighting wise I already had the general idea of what I wanted from the shots and how I wanted to light it. Being a creature of simplicity I didn’t want a huge set up, and baring in mind the majority of shots would be taken around the same sort of place, I wanted a fairly static set up.
I opted for my key light being a Pixapro CITI600 with a 90cm Deep Para Box with the outer diffusion removed. This meant that I was getting a slightly harder and more contrasting light rather than using the two diffusion panels and getting a softer light. I did this because I wanted the skin to pop and wanted a little more shadow in the back of the image behind the subject. I used a Pixapro CITI600 and a Pixapro 170cm Octabox as my fill light so soften those shadows ever so slightly and also fill some of the shadows on the models face, although I wanted punch, I didn’t want a lot of shadow on the face.
In terms of the light powers, they were both set to the same power, because the outer diffuser was removed on the Deep Para I gained a little more output on that light and with the 170cm Octa being such a big surface area, it spread the light out a lot more so was less powerful so filled the shadows just the right amount.
Whenever working on shoots like this, especially with a big team involved I try to shoot Tethered wherever I can, onto a large monitor. This means the full team can see what it looks like, if we need to adjust hair and makeup or change an outfit. It also makes it much easier to communicate with the model because they can see exactly what I see from the image.
The majority of the shoot was to take place within the width of the pink backdrop which meant there was minimal movement of lighting and the tethering equipment, which made it a whole lot easier to go between outfits and looks.
The two models, Kandace and Harriotte, took it in turns to be shot in each of their outfits. I changed each set up very subtly in order to still convey the look I wanted but to have enough variation to create an interesting set up images. Things like adding in boxes, taking out screens, etc.
If you’ve followed my work before you’ll know I don’t use light meters, so setting the exposure for the scene was very much a manual process of Test shot > Adjust >Test shot > Accept.
The images were shot at F8 1/160sec ISO 100 – just to save anyone asking.
When we’d finished shooting the full length shots we moved to another area where I’d also hand-made another background. I used an 8ft x 4ft V Flat and stuck dark red sheets of paper so it, so that I had a different colour background but also a little texture through the edges of the paper.
The lighting for this set up was very simple. I added the front diffusion panel back to the front of the Deep Para Box and set it up about 1ft above the subject, 45degrees to the camera left. This helped to create some nice soft deep shadows on our models.
Editing wise I had an idea in my head on what I wanted to create but wasn’t 100% sure on the route I wanted to take. The problem with shooting against large blocks of paper is that there is no texture so it can look a little plan and can sometimes lead to banding in the file.
Due to the outfits the models were wearing, I knew an older film edit would work quite well to slightly desaturate the colours and also add in some texture through the grain of the film.
don’t often use Lightroom to edit anything, but I have some VSCO presets saved in there. I took the images through to Photoshop to tidy them up, remove any creases in the paper and do a minimal retouch on the models before taking it back into Lightroom to apply the preset.
I settled on the Kodak Portra 800 ++ preset, this gave me a level of desaturation I was after but still maintained a richness to the skin. It also put a level of grain into the image that I was happy with.
So there you have it, a bit of a breakdown of just what goes into the planning and production of a shoot like this.
Watch out on my social media over the next few weeks as this shoot will be featured in an American Fashion Magazine.
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About the Author
Chris Ord is a self-taught photographer based just outside of Newcastle, UK. He specializes in weddings, portraits, fashion, and commercial photography. For more of Chris’ work, check out his website and follow him on Instagram and Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.