Fork andles.. andles for forks
So I thought this may be a fun one to blog as we're approaching Halloween and candles are kinda halloweeny right? Plus the time and effort needed for a shoot like this despite it from the outside probably looking like a pretty easy on basic black drop shoot, is well worth chatting about. And ya'll know I like to talk about lighting right, if not just so i can re-enforce, remember and further understand my own approach.
In fairness i've come back to this paragraph as i'm ranting about the misconceptions of modelling and the industry below which could apply to any bespoke shoot, but on the most part for this task, our difficulties were balancing a few important things. Firstly, keeping such a 'basic' shoot interesting is right up there. It needs to be more than just a candle in an unusual place or a few cool concepts. We did toy with going editorial fashion but in the end we stripped it back to this low key, slightly sexy, yet slightly unnerving vibe as it was still awesome but the most realistic on a tiny budget. The curves and highlights, the models emotions and all that fear, moody, atmospheric vibe plays a part. Then there's using different techniques to balance the lighting between powerful flash, candle light and even at times using the ambient lighting of the room to add in warmth, contour and add rim and hair light too. Plus the biggie... playing with fire! It's not big, it's not clever, but it is kinda fun. Both photographer and model are probably gona get burnt at least superficially, and candles aren't the easiest to attach to a model and aesthetically melt while trying to hold them in place, so without a specialist make up artist and only two sets of hands, it was pretty new and difficult territory for us both. As a whole, for about the four different set ups we did (as near unnoticeable as that fact may be), it took us about 7 hours... including tea of course!
Despite a few close encounters with lighter flames and hot wax that we both suffered in real time, Georgia didn't come out unscathed... and she lets me know about it, ha ha. This is where working with a friend and understanding a models willingness, and trust plays a massive part.
Anyways, the industry rant... there's a massive misconception in photography that a model turns up, looks pretty and a photographer lets a machine do all the work with a little lighting knowledge, and then every one goes home having raked it in (yeah because there's so many premium jobs like that around). I've met plenty of models with experience who tend to be on this wave length too... but it really isn't the case. Of course your average client also wants you to deliver a vogue editorial with no budget and for a laughable fee too. Anything top end, editorial or creative requires prep, patience and skill before you've even clicked a shutter, applied make up or opened the studio.
Some of the most amazing yet unnatural poses to do that are the hardest to get in to can take several attempts, or require rest as they can ache much like planking, etc. It's not a matter of 'pose pose pose' glamour style every time the lights flash and someone who's pretty will look great. No matter how pretty or in shape someone is, the lighting is gona change that if something is off or it's lit to narrative rather than to their ideals. Also if they look like they're chewing on a wasp and you cant manage to charm them otherwise, then you're on the back foot and pulling teeth before you've even started. Bespoke lighting, especially harder lit and low key like this, can be hugely unflattering because those shadows are what show the texture, shape and form. Millimetres movement leaves no room for error sometimes.
More specific to this set however, is there's also the technical challenge of weighing up how much you wish to open up shadows or otherwise blow them out (pure black, or it barely registering as detail) which would be a no no in your average set up. Here it commands a lot of artistic licence in both atmosphere and their intended use, as most printers try to avoid blown shadows which can make a photo look flat. Leaving it up to a printers to interpret with their software (or maybe even human intervention) may wash out the print and look crap. Stuff like that needs to be considered as it makes all the difference. It's a constant learning curve, especially printing which is a headache. That little bit of extra effort in opening up the shadows though even though you're not thinking along those lines, can only be considered if you know the rules of course and will be far better quality done in camera than in post. Those thoughts playing by the rules may be a gateway to elevating the shot to something much better if you were being otherwise complacent. At the very least it offers options to choose later. Knowing the rules can sometimes help knowing what is missing and is so valuable for those reasons, but so is knowing when to break them too.
Lets use these two images as an example. Other than one has the addition of added candles along the spine which you may think adds a little something something (or not... options!), we actively changed things up and choose them for different reasons, while dismissing others too.
There's minimal difference, but I can tell you I rejected shots having actively used lighting and/or reflectors to open up the shadows a little so you could see more of the body. We'd cleaned up most of the candle wax in the second shot from off of the back as i wasn't sure i liked it at the time and whether it was distracting. Did you ever think that 'til I pointed it out? The top shot i'd say is more sexy and about Georgia. There's a halo around the hair which rather than just blacking out the face, it gives an air of mystery like it's more cloak than lighting issue.. technically speaking it's much better too as a result. The flow of hair somehow makes it sexier and the candle wax has connotations and allows for the imagination. The bottom shot is reduced to being more about candles and 'just' a nice and interesting bodyscape if i'd have cleaned up the wax on the bra strap in post. If your photographer hasn't thought this through, then they're just getting lucky. Getting lucky is great to learn from but doesn't offer consistency, and I can tell ya that anyone who cares is doing this kinda stuff or getting frustrated (even if they don't show it) when something's missing and they're searching for an answer. How 'this stuff' is interpreted of course is subjective and a whole different kettle of fish, which is why a photographer should only ever shoot for them self! Even if they're listening to the client and taking on board their ideas and feelings, ultimately they've been picked over others because of how they shoot, and that's the constant you have to accept from when choosing your photographer. if you don't, there will be gritted teeth, clashed egos and probably disappointment from both ends from working with each other.