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Vision would be nice, part 2

This will make a whole lot more sense if you’ve already read part 1.

On Saturday morning Tony and I met outside X2Studios, waiting to be let in and begin another day of shooting, this time in controlled conditions. There were, of course, a few things to throw us off our stride right from the off. First there was a mix-up about the time we were supposed to be starting. We thought we’d booked for nine o’clock, but Tim, the studio owner, thought we were starting at eleven. Luckily Tim was perfectly happy to come round earlier than he’d expected and let us in. Next, we needed to set up the studio itself, since we’d had to be moved to X2’s newer studio after an accidental mixup with bookings. The new studio space is great – it’s an ex-office / work room as far as I can tell, and there’s tonnes of space in it – but we needed to set up a background and carry lights across from one studio to the other before we started. By the time we’d set up our first model for the day, Grace Harvey, was more than ready to go. Our second model had, sadly, cancelled altogether, so we decided to shoot for half a day instead of a full day and then spend the afternoon post-processing.

Once again, I found myself drawing a blank for inspiration. Grace is fairly new to modelling and it was only ten o’clock in the morning, so I didn’t want to push either her or me too hard too fast. Where to start? Start with what you know. I threw up a 28″ Apollo softbox (which, incidentally, doesn’t fit anything larger than a GM 400 particularly well) and got a few nice simple portraits.

Model: Grace Harvey

Whilst Tony shot with Grace for a while I wracked my brain for something interesting. Amongst the modifiers we’d brought over from Studio 1 was a Bowens Sunfire reflector, which is basically a big white beauty dish with an optional extra reflector and diffuser that sits on the outside of it. It gives a soft-ish light that still has a fairly hard fall-off. I had Grace sit down (though her dress didn’t make life particularly easy) and got some nice frames of that, too.

Model: Grace Harvey

Tony shot again and once again I went back to banging an umbrella reflector against my forehead in the hope something would be knocked loose and cause a neuron to fire in a creative way. I realised that I hated the seamless backdrop that we were using – a sort of parcel-wrap brown affair – and that that wasn’t helping me any. Channelling my inner Zack Arias, I set up a couple of lights to blow it to white. Combined with an outfit change, things started to click a little more for me.

Model: Grace Harvey

After a couple of frames on white I found that could even make the backdrop work in its normal brown colour, this time by switching my white balance to tungsten and using a full-cut CTO gel on an SB-900 to light Grace, all of which leant slightly more interesting tones to the shadows.

Model: Grace Harvey

Due to the earlier studio booking mix-up we had to move back to X2’s Studio 1 at 1pm-ish, which gave us only an hour to shoot a couple of looks. Tony shot with Grace first in our new studio, flying a gridded softbox over her head and getting some frames of which I’m genuinely jealous (there are quite a few of those in his take-home from the weekend, in fact). I’d spotted a simply massive beauty dish with a grid on it and tried to work out how to use it. At first I thought to just swap it out for the softbox that Tony had boomed out over the front of the set, but the boom was sagging horribly under the added weight, so I had to think again.

Start with what you know, right? I put the light off at camera right, simply setting it down at arm’s length from my shooting position, putting it about 30˚ off centre. Even with the grid, it was big enough to give Grace’s face a broad light. After trying a few shots with some motion in them, I realised that the one thing I really wanted to capture before we wrapped was Grace’s ability to appear vulnerable and delicate (of which she is neither, so far as I can tell). A few frames stolen whilst Tony was setting up an Orbis ringflash for his last shots of the day, and I got the kind of shot I’d been looking for all morning. One where I connected with my subject through the viewfinder and felt like it was more than just a few pixels on the screen.

Model: Grace Harvey

And so, at 2pm, we wrapped. Happy, more-or-less fulfilled and once again, exhausted. It had been a busy couple of days, and after a sit-down post-processing session with Tony in the Sun Hotel in Lancaster I was ready to crawl into bed and sleep. But I also knew that if I’d had to, I would have been able to get up and shoot again.

What did I really learn in those two days, aside from a few things about how modifiers look and what kind of seamless backgrounds I don’t ever want to own? That I can be a professional about this. As the apparently ever quotable Zack Arias once said:

Someone asked: “What’s the difference between a professional and an amateur?” You can just keep it going. You figure it out. You figure it out on the fly.

That’s what I did. I figured it out on the fly. My well of inspiration was getting low and yet I still managed to produce frames that I genuinely like and enjoy showing to people. Are they my finest work? No. I know I can do better. But the fact that I didn’t walk away when I spent the entire weekend feeling, on and off, like a hack? That’s not nothing.