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Photography Blog by Duncan Holmes

Studios, lighting, practice and perfection

I've been hibernating a little as winter set in with a vengeance, venturing out occasionally for a few family shoots and a small wedding.

So what do photographers do when they don't appear to be doing much of anything? There's the boring day to day stuff; keeping up the accounts, filling in tax returns, other administrative odds and ends. But then there's also the wheeling and dealing, trying to drum up new business, whether it be wedding fayres, responding to enquiries, seeking new business contacts or whatever. (the "whatever" being ways I have not yet discovered of getting more customers) .
Actress, Nicolette McKeown during a lighting test last year
But the camera is rarely locked away, whilst it may not come out to play ever day, the way that it might if I was a studio based photographer, it certainly still gets picked up. I try to have plans. While I may not have a client on the immediate horizon, there's no telling if some technique, lighting trick/setup or some bit of post production wizardry might not entice a bride, a business client, or some other potential customer to get in touch. So I dabble in the studio and location to polish up my skills.

An evening's lifestyle test shoot with Marianne in Greenock

Experimenting with soft evening summer light with Danielle I'm always trying to learn new skills (when not changing tyres in a blizzard, or huddling around the fire) and trying out new things. An example of this is below where I ventured into the studio for the first time with a bridal theme. (strangely, I had been involved in a bridal studio shoot before, but I'd styled the shoot and someone else took the pictures!)

I'd had an enquiry from a bridal boutique about possibly shooting a new collection later in the year, and I thought it'd be a good idea to demonstrate to them what a studio would offer in such a context.

I like locations for bridal fashion because they add character and context to the dresses and accessories. But locations have their down side too. Logistically your time and access to a venue is quite limited, the dress changes take time and might be some distance away from your shoot location, controlling the shoot can seem more like juggling cats. Lighting can be variable with modern energy saving bulbs casting strange tints to your colours or fighting the window light. There's also an issue around protecting the dresses from damage and dirt which even with an indoor location can be tricky as you wrestle through doors, across thresholds, around furniture etc.

In the studio, with a skilled team of hair, makeup, photographer and the clothing designer/supplier, you can rattle through a surprising amount of different looks and shots that show the garments off at their best. Each dress or look can be given its own flavour and shown in the best, controlled light. The old KISS rule applies, a simple set up with minor tweaks can provide stunning shots.

In the examples on this blog entry, Klara Chomicz kindly modelled while I tested and experimented with lighting. We borrowed an old dress from the boutique, rummaged in my accessories box, Klara did her own hair and makeup and rustled up our shoot.

Klara  - demonstrating lighting for bridal fashion in the studio

We used a gridded strip soft box, mostly from the side, and one or two soft boxes from the front. This simple set up allowed me to light the model's face and head and also show plenty of detail in the dress, without dissolving detail in shadows or blowing the details in the whites (a frequent risk when shooting wedding dresses). For a commercial shoot with accessories I'd switch out my main softbox with a gridded beauty dish to really bring out hair, makeup and accessories, possible with a hair light from the back. For a real life bride I'd aim for softer, warmer lighting and more natural poses.

A full length of Klara in the wedding dress, showing effect of the lighting setupA couple of simple props can change the mood of the studio shot.So these studio shots are by no means perfect, they're experiments, playing with the model's poses, lighting and a general proof of concept.

This kind of experimentation in the studio doesn't only benefit my studio work, some of the same techniques and lighting considerations can come into play when shooting with natural light through windows, bouncing light off of reflective surfaces and finding a balance between the natural available light and any little kicks from flash. Or if I'm shooting fashion on location and need to add my own light to the scene.

Fiona at Cornhill House Hotel. A dark murky day to the left as we look at the model, studio light bounced off a wall in the far right corner of the roomAnd all of this comes into play in the real world too. This last image shows Deborah on her wedding day, lit mostly by window light, with a little fill from my flash on the shadow side to avoid her side disappearing into darkness.
Real life bride, Deborah, in the bridal sweet at the Brisbane Hosue Hotel



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