If one reviewed how many opportunities arise out of chance meetings I’m sure that much of the world’s business arose from such happens chance. One morning at the University I joined the queue for a much needed ‘tasse de the’, when I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation immediately in front of me, especially when the gentleman concerned commented that ‘he must contact someone from the photography department’. I introduced myself and found myself volunteering to help the makeup department on an assessment by taking photographs of the students work, namely 16 models who would be made up with original designs and wearing original costumes.

The details were sketchy as this was the first time the department had tried this.

As the date drew close I was still much in the dark over the details as the lecturer for whom this supporting venture was being arranged was having severe difficulty receiving my emails. Not knowing exactly what was being required meant booking equipment became a little difficult as i would be guessing what was needed.

Regardless I reserved two studio flashguns and stands with accompanying soft boxes, and a white paper background roll. I wasn’t sure if the paper roll had a background rigging kit so hedging my bets I took along my own.

The time of the shoot arrived and myself and Arthur (a fellow photography student) carried the equipment to the makeup studio.

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It became obvious that no one in the makeup suite had actually considered how much room was required as the initial room on offer to use for the photography was just 3 x 3 metres. To have half a chance of capturing full-length images of the models I would need at least a space 3 meters x 9 meters, longer if possible.

The only space available was in the make up room with all the models, artists and all their bags and boxes. Most photographers I’m sure would not work under such conditions, but to me a promise is a promise. As the first subject was ready we set up the equipment and took basic light readings. With only two flash guns at my disposal my priority was illuminating the models evenly across their faces and bodies. As they would be individually shot, the same lighting set up would suffice for each model. We positioned the flash guns either side of the camera and at an angle of around 45 degrees pointing down. The ceiling restriction meant we didn’t quite achieve 45 degrees but it was close enough. The angle was important as research on fashion and portrait shoots had suggested that mimicking the angle of the sun would make the images look more natural. The flash gun soft boxes would diffuse the light taking away any harsh shadows and reducing shadows on the backdrop to a minimum and carefully positioning the model about 1 – 1.5 meters from the background meant I could also get the background reasonably evenly lit. Lighting the background would have been preferable but space was most definitely a premium so I went with the best set up I could create based on the room available to me.

Marking the optimum spot for the models to stand with a piece of gaffer tape ensured that speed could be achieved and that once we were happy with the light readings and test shots each model in turn could be photographed knowing that as long as they stayed close to the mark on the floor our exposures would be ok. Checking the results every 10 – 20 shots and making minor adjustments also ensured the results were consistent.

The makeup and costumes were very surreal, the models were in the most inexperienced. To add to the poor novice models plight the room was noisy, busy and cramped. Maintaining the girls attention on me also became a challenge as some of the shoots degenerated to a shouting free for all with both staff and artists also trying to direct the model. To add to the confusion, the artist would dart onto the set without warning to alter the costume or adjust makeup, or take shots themselves on their phones. Everyone was so keen to make the shoot a success I initially didn’t have the heart to put my foot down and impose discipline.

Eventually we were half way through the shoot and took a well earned break whilst the next eight students prepared their models. I was determined to learn from the first half of the shoot.

As the next shoot began I started to lay down some ground rules, pointing out that directing the model from any place other than where I was standing was pointless as the view through the camera was actually the only view that mattered, and also that shouting instructions to the model was unprofessional as it undermined what I was trying to achieve. Trying to keep the mood positive I encouraged suggestions for poses but asked that those suggestions were put to me first. That worked for about 30 minutes…

Order slowly emerged as the day wore on as the number of people in the room slowly diminished, thus reducing the noise level and allowing both the model and myself to concentrate.

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Reviewing the day was a must.

Learning from your mistakes is essential for progress. Having the shoot in a quiet separate room large enough for purpose and a clear brief outlining the purpose and use of the finished results would allow me to ‘take  command’ of the shoot. (Trying to command the shoot in their space, the make up room, just didn’t work on so many levels.)

This would ensure that anyone entering the shoot room would be professional, respectful and self disciplined.

Encouraging the models artists and staff to rehearse poses and ideas while they wait to be photographed would help the day run more smoothly. Adding some relevant background music would also be possible thus helping the model relax and become creative. A good rapport between model and photographer is essential for successful photographs and this also can be achieved in a separate photo shoot room.

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The best benefit though is that the lighting can be much more creative as I would have the space to add more lights and tailor the lighting for each design.

Considering all the problems the results were surprisingly good. Credit goes to the models for their tremendous effort in very difficult conditions, perhaps a big learning curve for them also!

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