Posted by Richard Amor Allan

This is a potted version of the presentation on January 23rd 2014

I’ve been shooting portraits in various styles for a little while now as a hobby-level photographer, getting some feedback and constructive criticism from some photographer friends of mine (including the lovely folks at the Willfield Camera Club) and from the members of a couple of photography websites.  In the first half of 2013, I felt like I was starting to get stuck in a rut with my photography, I felt like I wasn’t really achieving anything or getting anywhere, so I talked to a friend and colleague of mine, Catherine Dineley, who is a fashion and editorial photographer.  Her advice was to refresh my portfolio and push myself outside of my comfort zone, to set myself a challenge and to see if I could do it.

They say the best way to see if you sink or swim is to throw yourself in at the deep end.  So that’s what I did.  (Metaphorically.  Otherwise the camera gets wet.)

I’d been talking with a friend of mine, Nikki Wells, a make up artist with her own company called Lipstick Vixens, and it transpired that she was looking for a portfolio refresh as well, and so I pitched an idea and got her onboard:  we would book two days in a studio, put up castings on and set up events on Facebook that would be open to any models who wanted portfolio shots doing on a free basis, and see if anyone was interested.   The response was better than expected, and my first lesson came about as a result:  scheduling is everything!

Having chatted with Nikki about what was feasible and what wasn’t, we came up with the idea of booking models in two hour slots that overlapped by an hour.  For example our first model of the day would have a timeslot of 0900 to 1100, the second would have 1000-1200 and so on, through to 1700.  The rationale was that whilst one model was in hair and makeup with Nikki, another could be in the studio shooting with me.  This gave us seven two hour slots each day, fourteen slots in total.

To cut a long story short, we managed to fill all of the slots with models either recruited through the casting calls posted.  Timeslots were offered and accepted, maps and directions were sent out, drinks and snacks (including a large provision of Jaffa Cakes) were purchased, batteries were charged, and a second Make Up Artist was invited to come along to help out – Olivia Fairbrother, an up and coming MUA whose work I’d previously seen and was impressed with.  We also recruited my friend and fellow photographer Shelbie Wark as a production runner for the shoots, as well as taking a model slot herself.

Each model was invited to bring along some changes of outfit, and was asked to turn up without make up.  The challenge was that  Nikki and Olivia would take a look at the models and the outfits, and come up with suitable hair and make up.  I would then photograph the models as they came through, wearing the outfits they had chosen.

This was the first time I’d shot in a proper photography studio, and I was as nervous as heck.  I’d shot in studio spaces before, using either constant light or portable flash heads, but this was my first shoot with a ceiling-mounted rig and an infinity curve.  The main lighting came from two Bowens heads at the front (both with softboxes), with two heads at the back illuminating the infinity wall (which were switched off for the grey background shots) and a fifth head pointing forward from the corner to give a little definition to the right side. After a few test shots, we were away!

The next lesson came really quickly – scheduling can go out of the window very easily!  Allocating two hour timeslots with a one hour overlap worked well on paper, but the reality of it was that with multiple outfits and make up changes, the models would be yoyo-ing back and forth to the changing room, and I’d end up shooting models in whichever order they were ready to be shot in.  Model 1 in outfit 1 would be followed by Model 2 in outfit 1, then Model 1 in outfit 2, then Model 2 in outfit 2, then Model 3 in outfit 1, then model 1 in outfit 3, and so on!

What I’ve got here are combi shots of each model in the outfits and make up that they were shot in.

The first model I’ll feature here is one who as a Club we’re familiar with – our very own Yolanda, who like me was also doing her first proper studio shoot:

Yolanda had brought along a retro cherry dress to start with, and so Olivia set to work giving her a vintage make-over and hairstyle.  Her other outfits were more ‘rock chick’, with a sparkly top and a blue dress, and so Olivia tweaked the make up and hair to suit.  She was willing to give anything a try, working well with the props on hand and coming up with some lovely poses.  A fun model to work with (I’m not just saying that because I’m married to her!)

Also starting the day were two models who knew each other and through pure chance during the booking process ended up with sequential timeslots, and so they requested to do a joint shoot, so we said that would be fine. Scarlet and Savannah turned up with skeletal bathing suits and latex dresses, which gave Nikki a chance to try out some candy skull designs as well as alt-girl styles of make up.

Both Scarlet and Savannah ended up staying well beyond the end of their timeslots in order to do more shooting and sample more jaffa cakes!  Both models were very creative, and more than happy to take on board suggestions and ideas, they were very positive and I couldn’t have asked for more from them.

Next up on Day 1 was Jimi, who brought along some alt-girl / rock chick outfits, and also borrowed a colourful dress from Nikki to shoot in:

Jimi was able to switch from happy smiles to a look of pure attitude in the blink of an eye, and her colourful hair streaks gave rise to some colourful eye make up to match. She had a great array of poses and expressions, and was good at working with the light. She was also fun to work with, which is always good!

Also up on Monday was local actor and musician Ross Grey, who was looking for some new headshots for his CV and for promo purposes.  Ross had chosen two main outfits – his musician’s attire and a business suit, and so we shot him in close up to get what he needed.

As with all of the models on Day 1, Ross was lovely person to work with, very happy and chatty with a positive outlook!

Two cancellations on the first day meant that we’d been able to shoot at a more leisurely pace, which on reflection was a blessing as it meant that we were able to fit in all of the make up and outfit changes with a little time to spare at the end of the day.

The morning of Day 2 was much more hectic!

The second day started with Tylerr, modeling with us on her birthday!  Tylerr had brought along three outfits:  a pink beachwear dress, a fitness outfit and tutu, and a flowing black dress.  Nikki took the opportunity to try some experimental make up on Tylerr for the fitness outfit, and some more conventional make up for the other outfits:

Shooting with Tylerr gave me a chance to try out some low-level lighting, bringing the rigs down towards the floor and shooting from on my elbows, and Tylerr was happy to pull pose after pose until we’d got the kind of shots we were both looking for.  Tylerr’s got a creative vision and isn’t afraid to experiment!  A lovely person to work with.

Launa was next up, and it was Olivia’s turn to do the hair and make up.  Launa had brought along three outfits – a vintage-feel dress, a red open-weave dress and a skull-top and black skirt combo:

Launa was able to pull off pose after pose, with very little direction.  She understands light well, and plays to it, giving us some great results.  She was also happy to go with the flow on the day, and was a pleasure to work with.

By this point we had three models in our ‘system’, and the pace was picking up!

Jayde came along with two main outfits, a long dress and a rock chick look:

One of the lighting changes that we’d made for Day 2 was that one of the front flash head softboxes had been replaced with a beauty dish, and we also gained access to a flat panel reflector on a mounting stand, which meant that I was able to use more bounced light for the close up portrait shots.  Jayde was very patient with me whilst I experimented with the lighting, and rewarded me with some strong poses and expressions.  As with all of the models on the shoot, she was fun to work with.

Next up was Nat, a model making her studio debut, and she chose to shoot in her original outfit but spotted some wigs to try out and create different looks with.  Both Nikki and Olivia had a hand in Nat’s make up across the three shoots that we did:

Nat had some great ideas about how she wanted to pose, which for me meant another trip down to the floor to get some low level shots! She was very relaxed about the whole process, and brought an air of fun with her – she was happy to try new poses and ideas as well as to bring her own ideas to the shoot, and was happily chatty throughout.

A hiccup in the schedule (not out fault) gave us the opportunity to get creative.  Olivia had the chance to try out her take on a 1950s sugar skull design, and roped in a new model to take part – her mum and driver Christine!  Olivia painted up Christine with a half-skull half-vintage look as well as some more conventional make up:

Christine was a revelation, with a natural posing ability and a willingness to experiment with ideas and suggestions. If she had any nerves about being in front of the camera then she certainly didn’t show them!

Next up was Rahat, who came to us with three outfits and a clear idea of the shots he wanted to attain:

Rahat was keen to experiment with the lighting and angles, coming up with pose after pose. Olivia’s make up was designed to bring out Rahat’s natural features whilst not overpowering the shot.  Rahat showed a great interest in the shots as they were being taken, and approached the whole shoot with a great positive attitude, despite his timeslot being shortened through getting lost on the way and arriving much later than planned.

To round off the shoot, it was the turn of two of the ‘staff’ to take their turns in front of the camera.  Make up artist Nikki is also a model, and had brought along a long black dress, a rock chick outfit, and a long pink wig for the other models to use, but ended up using them herself – she also took a liking to my leather jacket!

Directing Nikki in front of the camera was a smooth process, she has a great array of poses and ideas, and was happy to make and take suggestions.  She is tremendous fun to shoot with, she likes to share a laugh as well as keeping a professional angle on the shoot.

Last but not least on my list here, Shelbie had brought along an elegant purple dress, a flowery summer dress, and a vest-and-shorts combo:

For someone more at home behind the camera than in front of it, Shelbie showed what I felt was a natural talent.  She was pulling off pose after pose, took direction well, and gave some great results.  She too was a revelation, being shot after two days of production assisting!

Looking back at the shoot, I feel that I’ve learned so many lessons, which ultimately is one of the aims of the whole experience.  It highlighted that no matter how much organising you do, things will sometimes stray off plan.  You’ll end up dealing with the unexpected, but sometimes those unexpected things can be a blessing!  The whole experience has for me been worth it, I’ve come away from it having gotten some shots that I’m proud of, and more importantly I’ve worked with some genuinely lovely people.

So that’s the story of thirteen models in two days.  It couldn’t have been possible without the hard work of make up artists Nikki and Olivia, without the much needed assistance of Shelbie, without the advice and guidance from Catherine, and from the greatly appreciated input of every model who turned up and put in such great turns in front of the camera.

As to whether I sank or swam, I’ll leave that up to you to decide!