The NEC (October 2017) It's like my local park. I'm sad enough to pretend that catching Pokemon by the lake contributes to exercise as it exceeds my daily steps, plus with the added bonus of that TV advert '10+ mins of brisk walking', I now have an excuse to eat cake. My attention span is also brought under control with an aim to progress and the sense of minor achievement that is more than just avoiding dying more quickly because of my piss poor diet and aimlessly walking. I kick ass at gyms too.. poke-gyms! Right now we've got that out the way. In the last few years the NEC has seen the addition of Resorts World, the living wall, ambient lighting on trees (as you do, it's pretty) and along with the lake and fake beach, it is constantly being tweaked. It comes to something when the main eyesore is the Hilton Hotel which looks anything but a Hilton. On these walks I noticed pockets of light, leading lines, compositions and sad things only a photographer notices, and then I finally got around to sticking a model amongst them rather than thinking it. I'm not really one for fashion and lifestyle shooting, but having shot Chynna a few times in the past and knowing she loves hers, I knew I could give her some shot ideas and let her pick a suitable outfit. I think I pretty much just said funky casual that could work with urban and autumnal vibes, and she came back with the Romance get up that really worked. I'm not one for Pinterest either despite having an account, I bespoke nearly everything, and the moodboard looked a little like this:
The challenge for me was just bringing shots I had in my mind to life and using (mostly) ambient light while letting go of anything that wouldn't work that I may have mentally pictured, and of course doing anything that jumped out at the time. I'm not that kinda shooter usually, I work with narratives and ideas and much prefer modifying light and being in control of the shoot where possible. The idea I have to shoot something a certain way because the light is good there and then limit my self on locations and ideas I want to use because it isn't, is stupid.. unless that is your sole aim of course. Usually I like a specific one (aim) that gets the excitement flowing in advance and speaks to me. To be fair, if you know enough to be realistic and have scouted in advance, you can second guess and pre-prep or make decent call in real time all the same, you just have to shift the creativity from a narrative/concept/message to using the light and enjoying that process instead. For instance, I did kinda want blue skies (top right on the mood board) for other shot ideas, but that was never gona happen and would have presented it's own challenges with other shots, so you just accept before you go out that there are no definites and you're in it to exercise your photography muscles with minimal gear.
So yeah, my main aim was to pull off some ideas I had from mental pictures of a location that had heaps of potential, but without abusing said location, attracting too much attention or modifying the light much while getting a cross section ambiences and challenging myself to do stuff I don't normally do. It's good practice embracing the devil from time to time, and every now and then ya gota let the haters know you can do this stuff in yer sleep and shot (the majority of it) on a second hand £200 85mm prime. In fairness, the luxury of the 5d mk 3 's ISO performance at night and low light shouldn't be sniffed at, and I did break out the wide and use the work horse 24-70L for a couple. There's a bit of harsh flash in there too, but i don't mind it. When shooting this whimsically or with a certain style/narrative in mind that i'm not sure what I want to do with the lighting til the day, I tend to look at unconscious mental pictures i've stored... ie 'could I picture this in the context of so and so's work who i think nailed this narrative, and/or so and so's publication' - you get the drift. I'd advise not studying someone else's work like so many books tell you too tho, that's a fast track to a copycat. Be influenced by sure, and by all means if you don't like your results and do theirs, do work out why, but let your unconscious and style put a spin on it! Lighting is a tool and it's all been done before and even the roughest most 'amateur' versions of it have been accepted at professional levels, so as long as you know your shit and if you like it, that's all that matters! When you're mixing it up and creating different vibes, you must be aware of that if you have a certain goal in mind it may be more suited to a certain feel and lighting, this is where head in book painting by number pros drop the ball because their ego in terms of academic execution is more important than the product. Ultimately though you've just got to accept that people who aren't there will critique it with the idea of unlimited space, budget, resources and to their ideals and book fed rigid ways. It'll either work or it wont, and your tastes and knowledge will dictate 50% of that while the circumstances and gear the other 50%. Arguably post processing too, but I never (rarely) shoot to post process and stylise for branding or trends. Don't get me wrong, I do photoshop and it makes a hugeee difference, well to be precise, many small things make a huge difference, but I don't shoot to do so and certainly not with the intent of blanket stylising on trend. I may keep the white balance overly warm if the narrative dictates it, or even cool it right down after the fact in RAW, but it's the polish, it's what cleans up something that physics wouldn't allow in real time. If I really like something but didn't feel I got it, then i may 'fix' it, but I never aim too.. other than white balance, my camera is so bias towards the magenta channel anyway, I have no choice but tinker and go off the emotion/my eyes of the moment in post.
Talking of the dreaded 'shop and the million arguments for and against it, it's like this for me, you can't always get a pose, emotion and narrative vibe from the lighting down without a lot of time and experience on both sides of the camera. Often one thing will challenge another in that scenario too, kinda like the exposure triangle, so post is the solution to cleaning up unflattering elements in that situation and getting it up to an editorial standard. It's always nice to keep it a little rough and real around the edges however, perfection is boring and forgettable, but I look at it like this. In real life you don't inspect and judge every pore on a person, every angle, shape and form while holding a conversation with them. Their personality will also camouflage parts of this in your psychology too and create it's own bias, however, still images will be ripped apart. No two ways about it, you're recording in HD details the human eye will never pick up on. Be it by a fellow pros arrogance. By the insecurities and needless judgments of others. We all do it. What photoshop should do is create the best version of someone and the situation, not change them/it... unless you're a digi artist rather than photographer, then knock your self out.
The Confetti Field (July 2017)
Much like the NEC shoot, this was about working with whatever natural light was thrown at us in the small week window the fields and team allowed, but I did have the bonus of Jon Sidekick wielding a reflector for me. I next to never work with an assistant usually, dragging people out on shoots and telling them exactly what to do always feels a little guilty and waste of their time if it's not paid. I've been there and done it myself, and totally don't mind it, I enjoy seeing how other people work and being around the kinds of photographers(y) that interest me, but it is however another set of eyes, ears and brain cells that can actually slow things down ironically. The flip side of course is helping stay mobile and being more malleable then your average light stand, and with less intrusion on others in public spaces etc etc... plus Jon is the most chilled human being you'll ever meet. I guess this is where seasoned teams who shoot together often come in to their own. A photographer can schmooze with the talent and get them used of their company in make up but also bark (whisper and pretend they're kind) orders at an assistant to set up some kinda light ratio knowing they're on the same page and are used to how you work. Back to the shoot. Short of actual bad weather, we had everything from the heavily overcast to blue sky sun with fast moving clouds. You shoot, you wait, your prep a shot and then the light changes and you cry a little. Green grass and a lack of contrast from heavy cloud present problems too, but it is what it is and I don't have a battery powered studio strobe to compete with the sun and clean up skin tones etc. My HSS speedlite barely competes bare bulb from about 8 feet, and as a general rule it very limiting and not the most flattering... but i've used it to great effect like that in the past. As above though, it just depends on so many factors of what you want to achieve. This is why I like options, prep and prefer to bespoke everything and never rely on a one sizes fits all approach. You can get seven pro models and hit them all with the same light source and it will not be ideal/flattering for them all. Depending if you want quick turn over of clients however, often things in photography are as much about practicality, but all are a fine balance of limitations and problem solving to get the best out of a situation.