Professional Photographer Magazine kindly asked to interview me for the July Issue of their magazine.
Tomorrow I have a location lifestyle shoot planned with a couple of models so I thought I’d give a glimpse on how I prepare for some of my shoots.
It can be surprising to some people just how much pre-production can go into even the smallest shoots especially if they are on location.
My shoot tomorrow has it’s own particular added elements that need careful preparation and close attention and that is because the backgrounds have already been captured several months before.
When I travel I often will go out capturing my chosen locations before dawn or dusk for the best light (depending on what I’m after).
If I have a choice I prefer dawn not because I love to get up at 4am (in the summer) but because there is less likely to be any tourists around especially in popular city locations.
Saying that having been a retoucher for 21 years I know some clever techniques to very simply remove people from images in post without the need for any stress while on location if needed.
My models will be captured either in my studio or as is more often the case outside in natural daylight and supplemented with lighting if required.
So for this shoot to be captured and be successfully blended realistically in post-production there are many things that need careful attention. Here are just a few of the basics.
The light quality
The surrounding elements and their colour
Camera angle (perspective)
Lens focal length (this can be tweaked a little)
As I said these are just a few things that I’m carefully looking at.
To help me with this I create a markup image for quick reference (shown below).
Here are a few samples from a previous shoot.
As you will see in the second picture in the bottom row if possible I’ll always take a snap of myself in the scene.
You have probably already guessed that this gives me a great reference when I shoot my models to how the light in the scene should be interacting on them even if it’s not a pretty picture!
So one question you may ask is why go to so much trouble why not shoot the models in situ like many photographers?
Well, I first should add I’m definitely not against doing it all in camera and often do however there is a multitude of reasons why it might not always be possible.
The main one is simply the logistics of getting models, stylist, makeup artist and the many other people that make up a production crew to a particular location at a certain time.
For me, it’s partly the above plus, of course, the substantial costs involved as some of these images are purely self-funded portfolio pieces so budgets can be naturally tight.
The other more personal reason is it enables me the luxury of more time to concentrate on capturing the changing light and various angles the locations has to offer with more flexibility.
It was interesting to read that Lord Litchfield towards the latter end of his career shot in a similar way.
As far as the post-production is concerned there is, of course, some work (and cost involved) pulling all the elements together but then how often these days does an image not have some retouching applied before being published? If planned and executed correctly the image can often come together remarkably quickly.
As I said above I’m quite happy working and doing it all in camera and have done so many times but for me working this way provides a flexible alternative providing it’s planned accordingly.
Today was one of those morning where everything seems to work for you seamlessly and you come away feeling blessed.
I arrived at Lyndos village pre dawn to capture a couple of locations and came across this stunning side street with a beautiful white washed church and the sunrise lit bay behind.
As I finished the image a street cleaner arrived jet washing the cobbles adding an even better surface for the dawn light to bounce off.
I decided to reshoot the image again especially as the colours had further intensified from the rising sun. A fabulous morning of exploring and shooting some stunning locations.
I woke a 4.45am and once again managed to avoid waking the wife and kids (I think) and tiptoed out of the hotel room.
A family holiday always includes some planned photography shoots which often means some early starts to avoid the tourists and capture the best light. This trip despite being in Rhodes the previous year was no different.
My plan for the following morning was to capture some street lit dawn images around the old town in Rhodes. I had no particular location set in stone it was more of a suck it and see what I stumbled across.
I woke a 4.45am and once again managed to avoid waking the wife and kids (I think) and tiptoed out of the hotel room.
At this time of the morning there were no tourists around just gangs of street cats,street sweepers and groups of scary drunk girls to dodge. It’s a fantastic time of day (night) to be exploring but you do have to be careful as on more than one occasion I’ve almost tripped over and woken the odd person sleeping rough!
The morning went well and I captured 2-3 locations and was finished by sunrise and back at the hotel in plenty of time for breakkie.
Mature Travel In The Pesky Sun
This mature travel lifestyle shoot was something I had planned for a while but my workload and that of Jerry and Annabel my models seemed to hinder things.
My fab studio base at The Monks Yard was also a factor as the site was moving a short distance to a larger and even more beautiful location at Horton Manor.
The image assets I planned to create were to be composite images (backgrounds and the models captured separately) so ideally, I wanted to shoot in natural soft light and add the sunlight where I needed it with my own lighting for complete control.
I did say I didn’t want any rain but the fabulous sunlight we received on the shoot day was also unwanted (yep no pleasing me) so shade was required to get the lighting as I needed….but no problem.
Shooting images this way can solve many problems one being the costs and logistics for the client taking a large crew and models abroad for long shoots.
It’s not that I’m against jetting off and shooting models in situ I have shot this way for many years it’s simply about providing alternative solutions and getting the images the client needs.
I have to admit I do love the freedom shooting this way provides me with both creatively and being able to move quickly from location to location without the logistics of moving so many people.
Being in a beautiful country and heading out (often on my own) at dawn to capture backgrounds for a lifestyle concept I have is wonderful.
Capturing the model images to blend into the location images requires some pre-planning to match not only the lighting and perspective but several other factors too for the image to work seamlessly.
For this reason and the fact I enjoy the process, I always like to shoot all my own image elements needed but occasionally I have no choice as with the cruise ship images here to use stock shots.
Isn’t compositing cheating?
I do admit to having moved the bay of Bodrum and surrounding mountains a few feet for better composition in one image many years ago but then the image was a personal shot and not used to sell a visit to Turkey.
There’s definitely a responsibility to be truthful when shooting to sell a holiday location and you always have to consider that on every image created this way as it’s easy to seek perfection.
The locations you see here are as I captured them with nothing removed from the scene…honest!
Somerset Photographer Capturing Summer On The Moor
Sometimes I have an idea and before I know it I’ve captured all the images required and I’m sat in front of the computer bringing it to life.
Others, however, can sometimes sit around in my head for months or at best sketched out in Photoshop, this image is a little of both those.
As a Somerset Photographer over the years, I have been capturing people and animals for a personal project “Life In A Somerset Landscape“.
It had been a while since I had added to the work and I really wanted to capture Burrow Hill which is a situated close to Hambridge in South Somerset for part of the project.
I remember seeing Burrow Hill for the first time one summer’s day, a quaint small hill with a single tree on top complete with an idyllic rustic swing attached to one of its branches.
It felt slightly surreal like I had stepped into a Jack & Jill Ladybird book!
Commercial Lifestyle Photography “The Anniversary” From Silage Pit To The Romantic Waterways Of Venice
Commercial lifestyle photography means being not only well planned but also fully briefing everyone involved.
I’m an honest chap but I do confess that when briefing the models for this commercial photography photoshoot I left out the fact we were shooting in an old farms silage pit!
It all started a month or so previous while shooting a worldwide commercial photography advertising campaign for my client Mimecast.
One of the mature models on the shoot that day was the very experienced (and ex Milk Tray Man from back in the ’80s) Tim.
Tim like myself was keen to update his Book with new images so we agreed to collaborate on something to benefit us both.
An Anniversary weekend was the concept that Natasha my stylist came up with during our meeting to discuss ideas for the shoot.
It was perfect and from that point, various ideas started to develop and I decided that Venice would be a perfect backdrop for an affluent couples romantic anniversary weekend.
A quick casting with model agency Ginger Snap for a suitable wife for Tim and Andrea was approached and sold on the glamorous concept!
Unfortunately, budget and time restraints meant no Italian location shoot (or jolly as the wife would call it) with models in tow were going to be on the cards.
My original plan was to fly out to Italy and capture the background scenes I needed but work and other commitments meant it might be a while before I could do it.
I did however already have several images in my archives that were perfect for my vision for the shoot and a selection of these were shortlisted.
By studying the images for camera perspective, light quality and direction I made a shooting plan needed to seamlessly composite the models together with the locations.
I’m very lucky I have access to wonderful studio spaces when I require one.
On this shoot however I needed to blend the models into mainly daylight scenes and In my opinion, recreating daylight with artificial light rarely blends as seamlessly as I’d like.
My preference (when possible) is to use the real stuff! Once I had the correct quality of natural daylight I could then add some extra lighting to add any modelling if required.
For example, in the dancing image in St Marks Square, the dawn light was pretty soft but did create some light modelling as you can see on the lamp post.
With this in mind, a flash diffused with a 7ft umbrella was added to the right of the models to help melt the models and background together or if you prefer “sell the fake”.
So why shoot in a silage pit? The silage pit was my shooting preference for a couple of reasons. A, For the most part, I needed overcast soft daylight and the bright concrete wall’s and floor provided good natural reflectors giving fairly shadowless even light.
B, This also had the added bonus of providing a clean uncluttered background to aid the masking in post-production.
On top of this next to the shooting area was an open-sided barn with a roof.
This would allow some protection if the weather decided to get worse (rain) or better (sun) both of which would have not been welcome in producing the images.
It also was a handy area for setting up the laptop so we could preview the images and do quick composites as we went along.
A great team effort saw the day come together perfectly apart from one light that didn’t want to play ball which was quickly replaced.
Big thanks to our models Tim, Andrea and their agency Ginger Snap. Stylist Natasha Musson and Monks Yard for the use of the Venetian parts of the old farm!
Behind The Scenes
Lifestyle Photography Shoot, A Black Sheet And A Shaded Barn, Capturing Jock The Diver
Inspiration for creating lifestyle images can appear when you are least expecting it.
A year or so ago I was snapping pictures, my kids, while they were exploring rock pools on a small Cornish beach.
I was pretty engrossed with capturing the best shots I could on my iPhone while not dropping it into the water again (yes I destroyed the last one this way) when suddenly a dark dressed figure appeared between the rocks heading for the water.
The guy was all geared up in a wetsuit but not for surfing for diving complete with tanks and spearfish and I remember thinking what a great image this could make amongst the towering rocks.
A year or so on we revisited the area and I decided to return to the beach to capture it and create the image that had inspired me.
Capturing the background was pretty uneventful and my hopes that there might be an amazing coincidence and the diver might turn up faded along with the beautiful light.
No matter, part of the fun creating composite images is tracking down people to photograph so I hit the web and contacted several local Diving clubs and shops seeking a suitable willing model.
I eventually got chatting to Mike “Jock” Stewart who teaches people to dive not far from my studio base. After chatting for a while he explained to me I may not want to use him as he was 66 years old and retired !… I explained even without having met him that he would probably be perfect.
Yes, I could have hired the kit and got a young attractive model but as a lifestyle photographer of many years, I want to shoot a mixture of work besides how much more interesting to have someone passionate about their sport with years of experience and many tales to tell.
A time was arranged to shoot the next day and I set off to get a few things needed like a bag of sand to help add the small details needed to complete the composite.
Like with all composite images there are several things that need careful thought before shooting like perspective, the colour of the surroundings, focus and of course matching the quality and direction of light.
At this point, I should show you an impressive shot of the interior of our beautiful old Hamstone Barn stuffed with lighting and grips..but in reality, a black sheet from Asda and the open shade of a disused farm barn was all that was needed to blend and match the lighting to the background scene.
Not all that impressive I agree but I knew this would give the best result, after all why try and recreate daylight in the studio when with a little manipulation you can have the real thing.
The shoot went like clockwork and Jock was a pleasure to work with and quite happy to have water, oil and sand thrown over him!
The 3 completed images came together seamlessly in post-production partly due to some careful pre-planning and plenty of image retouching knowledge.
Creative Post Production The Making Of “The Last Harvest”
This image was inspired by my strange fascination with Maize fields which are abundant in the Somerset countryside from late summer to early autumn.
Of course, the idea developed in my imagination into something more than just photographing a field full of crops into the final image shown here.
The most difficult part of this image to perfect was the masking and transitions of the Maize heads onto the background.
After several but not perfect attempts I managed to come up with an unlikely solution to the problem which fulfilled my severe obsession for fine details in my images.
View more creative post production videos
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