The shot: Tests
Photographer: Merry P; Model: Helle @ Premier
Instead of a single shot, I’m going to talk about a shoot. The process before every shoot is always different, but for me the prep generally tends to fall into two categories:
- Not enough
- Far too much
It’s a bit frustrating, but the shoots that I don’t plan out or put any real effort into seem to produce the work I like the best—maybe it’s because I’m a little more relaxed, or maybe I’m just not over thinking the whole process.
For instance, this particular shoot was one of the least pre-planned shoots I’ve ever done; seriously, I thought I was going to have a nice quiet day off until 20 minutes before the first model arrived. Daniel Lehenbauer, a friend and fellow photographer, was at my house during fashion week and we decided to take advantage of all the stunning girls in town and spend a day doing a series of super quick tests.
(Most of what I do tends to be short notice, unless I’m shooting a big editorial, then I’ll only really know I’m shooting a maximum of three days before! Tests are also usually organized the morning of, particularly if there’s no hair, makeup or styling involved—all this really keeps me on my toes.)
Daniel and I rang and emailed agencies when we decided to shoot, and they agreed to send any girls they had free—the agencies have so many girls in town, and they often feel it’s better to get them doing something rather than nothing. That meant we were fortunate to have girls from Next, IMG, Profile, Premier, Storm and Elite.
Photographer: Merry P; Model: Andrea Chovanova @ Premier
Everyone comes into town for London Fashion Week, from all over the world, and if you’re not going to a show then you do your best to avoid central London. This made shooting a little problematic as there were two girls who only spoke Spanish, and my Spanish is unfortunately limited to ordering drinks, but we worked around it and I don’t think it affected the photos.
Looking back now, we didn’t properly plan or schedule that shoot at all. We’d asked for the models to be staggered throughout the day, half an hour apart, but bookers just sent girls whenever they were free (which is understandable). The girls were just coming and going, some sitting around for a while—they said it was a nice break for them from the madness of Fashion Week—and we had food and drinks, too. Many of the girls also knew each other, so they all just chilled out and watched TV.
We had no hair, no makeup, no styling—just a five-minute session with Daniel shooting outside, and then another five minutes with me in the studio. The whole day was insane. We shot a large number of girls that were coming and going in between castings and shows. Despite that, though, the photographs I produced ended up being some of the most popular in my book.
I shot most of these photos on my trusty, if slightly battered, Canon 5D II with the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM in my home studio set up. The background was a grey seamless and the lighting incredibly simple: one Bowens Gemini with soft box, slightly to camera right and above (about five feet away from the model (due to limited space)).
This is my go-to setup for studio tests, give or take. I have other lights and modifiers and I use them when I want (or need) to, but I love the honest yet impressive light you can achieve with something so simple.
Photographer: Merry P; Model: Milly Rinck @ Storm
I’m a big believer in the power of Photoshop and (quality) retouching, but only one or two of these actually went through Photoshop (and only very, very briefly). I process and do all my tonal adjustments in LightRoom, and I think I spent about an hour playing with photos from this shoot until I found a process I liked for them—black and white with a very slight sepia tone, and (on most of them) no true black or white. Then I just batch processed, and tweaked the photos as I went along to adjust for each model’s individual skin tone and any ambient light changes.
Photographer: Merry P; Model: Taii Gordon @ Premier
I like people; I think it’s why I got into photography. I like the idea of being able to connect with someone through a camera and capture part of who they are in the photograph. I think this is particularly well done when it’s just a one-on-one shoot with a model, and there’s nothing to distract either of us.
I was pleased with these photos (well, as pleased as I ever am with my work). I think they hold the power people seem to see in them, because they’re honest and personal; I feel you can connect or somehow get to know something about the models through them. Or at least I like to think so!