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Recent work: Jess Kemp in the studio

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A while back now I decided it was time to revamp my music promo and editorial portfolio. I’ve heard it said before that all you need to completely refresh your book is 10 shoots — you can use two or three images from each shoot and lo, a whole new portfolio is born.

I decided to test this idea out by finding ten local music acts and offering them a shoot gratis. The only caveat would be that I’d have overall artistic control over what we made. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried, since I found that I shared a vision with each of my new clients pretty closely.

Start simple

Jess Kemp was among the first two or three artists who I approached. As it turned out, she already had an idea that she wanted to try which fit quite well with what I wanted to do… but more on that later in the post!

We started out with simple shots on a plain background. After all, it’s bread-and-butter, always useful to the artist, and gave us both time to warm up.

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Let the camera disappear

Whilst my assistants set things up for the main event, I broke out the X100T and shot a few quiet, naturally-lit images. The weather was typically Mancunian outside, and using a grey sky through a window as your light source is like using the world’s biggest softbox and then putting a snoot in front of it.

Cameras are intimidating. There’s this big black box interrupting the human connection between photographer and subject; a connection that as a photographer you have to work really hard to create in the first place. The joy of a small, quiet camera like an X100T is that it largely disappears, and so interactions between subject and photographer become much more natural.

This picture feels almost like a behind-the-scenes shot rather than something staged, especially with all the studio paraphernalia in the background. That’s exactly the vibe that I was going for, even if it wasn’t the main goal of the shoot.

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Keep the studio tidy

We were working in a rented studio, NQ Photo Studio in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, and we knew that for the final images, which would involve my assistants chucking quantities of coloured powder at Jess, were going to make a horrible mess if we weren’t careful.

To make cleanup easier, and also to make sure that I could rent the studio again in future, we rigged up a ‘box’ made of transparent plastic sheeting for Jess to stand in. It was enclosed on both sides, and at the back, with an opening at the front for me. Having the sheeting in shot didn’t matter, since knew that we’d be blowing the background — and so any transparent sheeting in front of it — to white.

I’m pretty much just going to let this sequence of images speak for itself…

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Whilst cleanup happens, get out in the rain

As predicted, we’d made a mess in the studio. Also as predicted, however, it was a contained mess that could be cleaned up by a couple of people pretty easily. So whilst that was going on, Jess and I stepped out into the Northern Quarter to shoot a few naturally lit street images on the X100T, shooting with overcast skies and light rain.

We turned a few heads, but less than you’d expect; I guess we weren’t all that weird in the context of the Northern Quarter.

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Doing it all again

There was a second part to my work with Jess — a night shoot which we we had to do another day due to the bad weather. I’ll blog about that another time.

I’d love to come back to the coloured powder shoot, and shoot it using different equipment and with more assistants. The Bowens lights that we were using were great, but they have quite a long flash duration, which means that at 1/125th of a second you get quite a lot of blur in the powder as it’s thrown. I’d like to try using Profoto lights, with which you can get super-short flash durations, and maybe shoot these on a Nikon D5 or similar — high frame-rate; plenty of time for capturing reactions.

Maybe before the end of the year…