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Something beautiful

I long since got to the point where I no longer wanted to work for free. Of course, most of us start out that way; we need a portfolio before we can start getting paying jobs and, anyway, working for free means that there’s less pressure on you to deliver a professional result.

But there are still times when I’ll work for free, even for a day-long shoot. Exhibit A: the shoot I did in April for Stephen James Hair Salon in Morecambe.

It was one of those shoots that comes about through networking. The salon is owned by Steve Warburton, whose son, Ben, I have shot a number of times over the last year or so. Whether Ben recommended me to him or asked me to give his dad a call, I don’t remember, but we came to the conclusion that we could both get something interesting out of working together: I could get some more hair and beauty work for my book (plus all the fun of retouching hair, which is always worth some practice) and the salon could get some promotional images to run on its website and maybe to hang on its walls, too.

So what do you do when you’re putting together a shoot like that, for next-to free? You call your friends and see if they’re interested in being involved, that’s what you do.

And so it was that my team for the shoot came together: stylists from the salon, marshalled by the tenacious Ailsa Edwards, makeup by the incomparable Donna Graham, with whom I’ve now worked several times, photo support from the brilliant Hannah Farrell and last but not least a great pair of models in the form of Amber Hazelton and Weronika Strug. Amber and I have, of course, worked together before. Weronika came on board after my sometime collaborator Rachel Hadley spread the word that I was looking for models.

We shot in the salon; since it’s closed on a Monday anyway turning it into a studio wasn’t hurting business at all. Since we were shooting with the idea of hung canvases in mind, I decided to keep everything very simple: one light in a beauty dish or a softbox, with a reflector to provide fill. We shot everything against a roll of white seamless, though we occasionally threw some gelled light on it to make things a little more interesting.

Using a large beauty dish slightly overhead meant that we could make the hair pop without having to add a hair light most of the time; the reflector added a bit of punch to the eyes and filled in the shadows that the overhead nature of the light gave us. I shot the whole thing tethered into Lightroom so that Donna and the stylists could see large versions the images and make adjustments to the hair and makeup accordingly.

The most important thing in a shoot like this, where the set up is very simple and straightforward, and you’re essentially shooting a modelled product – i.e. the stylists’ ability to come up with creative and interesting hairdos – is that everyone is relaxed and has a great time. Having two models meant that we were able to move from one setup to another relatively quickly, without having huge amounts of downtime for hair and makeup. Since we started fairly early in the day, Hannah and I were able to set up all the lights and get our settings dialed in before the models were finished in the makeup chair, which meant that all we needed to do was make minor adjustments for each look.

I really enjoyed the shoot, and I’m really proud of the finished results. Hopefully this won’t be the last time the SJHair folks and I work together – next time we’re going to do something a bit weird and wonderful.