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Phlogger aka Andrew Walmsley

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Model night shoots – a winter’s tale

In this article, we are going to go through some of the recent model night shoots. We will go through my experience in working this way, what transpired on the night and some results.

During winter (Dec 2019/Jan 2020), it’s been a pleasure to take part and organise a few model shoots. The twist on these was to shoot on the street at night and use what is around you.

Ashleigh in phone box (canon 7d)

Just like many people during these winter months, you get too comfy, eat and drink more. So that inner voice started suggesting getting off my arse and out where I belong. It was clear I had developed a pattern of blogging and podcasting, without my own photography.

I can’t stress enough how much I’ve always felt at home on the streets. I think it goes back to my childhood, so many times out on my bike visiting mates and wandering around my town. Always had this innate feeling of independence and searching!

The final element of these shoots would be a personal challenge, so we are going to talk briefly about lighting. However, I’m also stressing about the choice of cameras here too. From my personal Nikon d200 (digital), to my friend’s Canon 7d and my favourite – the Bronica ETRS medium format film camera. I purposedly chose to shoot as much film as possible and selected Kodak Ektar, which most people use for landscapes due to its sharpness and lack of grain (Kodak’s sharpest).

My experience

Traditionally the street would mean precisely that, pictures of strangers (candid) from the night. As my interests change and new passions arise, portraiture has naturally become the forefront. Most of this is because I’m surrounded by gifted portrait photographers and learned so much from the likes of Jay Good, Darren Nicholson, Jay Clarke and many others.

Mobile shot from the night (very low light)

I can see quite clearly the change in myself, especially with confidence. Originally I would rely on Jay to organise the shoots with the models, then he would set up the backgrounds and lights too. You would then be left with the model but someone would help you adjust the lights. This was just inexperience and it’s not like there are free seminars to learn how to use lighting. Don’t worry though, it’s not uncommon, I mean some of the lighting equipment was not cheap. It was actually quite funny as I didn’t even know how to open a light stand or collapse them! At this point, I was totally reliant on their knowledge and equipment which held me back, as I wouldn’t change anything out of stupidity, a lack of confidence and experience.

Fast forward to the current day and I turn up to a shoot set up my own lights and equipment. The difference is huge as you are organising people and date/times and thinking of creative imagery. I’m always hesitant about submitting too many ideas here, as anything can change – like people dropping out or the weather changing.

The first shoot

With the onset of winter and dark nights I thought it would be prudent to try and incorporate the street with a model. The first shoot was with Ashleigh (model) and my friend Jay Clarke (photographer). I wanted to use lighting from shop windows on the high street for backgrounds and to use them as gels! Yes, bear with me on this.

In our city we have a very open university campus, so arranged to meet as they have some lovely neon signs at the performing arts school (LPAC). On this occasion, I was practising using my friend’s Canon 7d, just prior to using it for a wedding. It seemed a good idea to use it a few times, to allow me to get used to something different and be confident on the day.

Shot on Canon 7d (Model: Ashleigh)

This was the first time I had used my own lights on the street and started to understand the practical side. There would be challenges to overcome, namely lightweight lighting stands and umbrellas. The umbrella only needed the smallest amount of wind for it to want to fall over. With the stands being so poor too, we quickly learned. So we changed the approach for some shots and held these for each other.

One of the fun challenges I like is to use what you have around you, something I’ve called the street furniture. For Ashleigh, we decided on the recently constructed footbridge over the train line. The staircase has plastic/glass along the edges and made a great way to use the water drops – just nature playing her part.

Lincoln railway footbridge (Model: Ashleigh)

Shannon + Yasmin Shoots

Hope you like the name of that, very creative eh! Yes, so these were my first sessions with another young lady called Shannon Ashby and Yasmin Rowland who we had met at a recent group shoot.

It’s always great to meet people in a small group (we do this for safety too) on the streets. Model’s tend to be more natural with looks and they are forced to use what they have brought with them.

Car park staircase with Yasmin (film shot)

Having been so passionate about getting back out with my camera that had just been repaired, I wanted to be very brave – I only shot film. It was a big risk, but since my mate was coming to, my theory was Shannon would still get great pictures from Jay too. Between us photographers and mates, we have a great relationship and help each other, so I prompted for a meter reading when it was my turn (more on this soon).

Jay Clarke shooting with Yasmin (mobile shot)

The weather did seem to worsen as we arrived on the street and we were keen to look after our equipment, so I suggested a lift next to the railway line. The reason I said this was because of the metal and how it would reflect the light. What looked in principle an absolute dirty hell turned out to be a great location. My friend Shaun was kind to keep holding the lift door open too, so we shoot with a decent focal length.

Lift picture shot on film (Model: Shannon)

We also used the light colour from the “stop” light a zebra crossing as a gel effect on Shannon’s face. We even tried the same thing with the green of the “go”. This did look good on Jay’s digital camera, but unfortunately, my metering was a little off, as you can see below.

Using only the light from a zebra crossing (Model: Shannon)

On the second week (with Yasmin & Shannon) we discussed the idea of using another metal but much older footbridge. With the iron construction and blue metal framework, this would really compliment Shannon’s hair.

We took our stands out and shot here, the only problem we must have chosen a very busy night as members of the public were constantly passing us. After shooting for an hour we moved on as it was slowing us all down and not fair on the public.

Lincoln blue bridge with Shannon (shot on film)

People always say don’t shoot in certain ways as it’s not complimentary, but I like to push this. The image wanted to show attitude and I was careful to compliment Shannon at the same time. On this one, I’m below her on a slope but still feel it worked really well.

Shannon on street (shot on film)

Our final idea due to the cool weather was to get some shelter in a car park, so we asked permission and shot on an unattended floor. There is a variety of street furniture to choose from, columns, full height metal barriers, painted walls and signage. Again my metering failed a little here with Yasmin, needed a little more lighting.

Yasmin with the metal grating of the car park (film shot)

Sleaford shoot

We were trying to arrange another shoot in Lincoln, but due to Emily’s (the model) location, we decided it would be fairer to drive to her neighbourhood. Like many of us, we have families to work around and this is a creative and fun hobby after all.

Emily on D200 (note light from torch)

This time I decided to meter myself so I planned on shooting film again, but using my own Nikon D200 to meter and get a few test shots. The reason I did this was I can meter, move a model or a light and get what I want. Then I confirm the shot and use my preferred beast – my Bronica ETRS medium format camera. I was determined to shoot as little as possible, conserve film for the perfect ones.

So the location was set for Sleaford and managed to get 3 photographers (Jackie Hayes and Shaun Johnson) and 2 models. At the last x-church shoot we had met the lovely Emily-Jo, who was great to work with and also liked what images I produced.

Emily at the X-mas shoot

My friend Jon Scrimshaw had recommended Aiden VR Model who worked on their film during summer 2019. I managed to interest her in coming along as I was keen to meet see her handy work.

Unfortunately, it was not exactly ideal weather for shooting as it was pretty windy and there was a chill in the air. We did ask the models to dress sensibly with coats, gloves etc and try some wintery shots. I think one of the things I’ve taken from my time with models, is their first-rate attitude to getting the shot. They would rather freeze to nail the image, each and every time – honestly, I’m humbled by this sincerity.

Aiden shot on my Nikon

The location we met was actually perfect, as this building has a great modern effect on the front entrance (see above shot) which I used to frame Aiden centrally. We used simple lighting – a flash & an umbrella but the pictures and exposure we still great. Hopefully, both images will show you digital cameras and film can work great together, one is convenient and the other renders skin beautifully.

Aiden shot on film

The shoot went on but not without consequences of technology. Yes, we had an incident with the wind knocking over one stand and smashing my flash over the floor. Unfortunately, umbrellas act like sails in wind, so the slightest movement and over it went, batteries flying all over. We, therefore, changed to holding the stands and shooting one at a time.

Aiden picture on film

The night did work out well since we were sharing equipment, it provided time for Jackie and Shaun to set up each time. They could plan the look and we would help them achieve the lighting whilst the models and Aiden’s mother could chat. This is another part of street shooting that is really nice, you can spend a few minutes getting to know their partners or family. It’s a family feeling and something that resonates in me – people first, photography second.

Our final location of the night was a corner near a closed bar, to hide away from the wind. This corner allowed me to set up my stand and use my larger parabolic umbrella to give a little more light. I was simply blown away how well film handled the skin tones here – this image is straight from the scan, no editing just to show you how beautiful Kodak Ektar is.

Aiden on film

Conclusion

Although it may only be January (2020) I have learned some great lessons about night shoots already:

  • plan for weather
  • keep warm
  • shoot in groups
  • be creative
  • find willing models
  • you can shoot film
  • you will make mistakes

Since learning from this experience I have already invested in some heavier duty light stands and a better bracket to hold the speedlights too.

The nature of shooting during winter has also taught me to be fluid with plans. You cannot beat mother nature, so work with her, try different locations, go inside for shelter if you need to. Models can do their thing anywhere, especially like those mentioned above.

Firstly, please don’t hesitate to contact anyone I’ve mentioned here, they are all lovely people and open for collaborations.

Behind the scenes shoot with Shannon, Jay & Shaun

It’s been so much fun so far, the constraints keep me on my toes, as long as I have film I will keep shooting, sometimes with digital too. I have to confess, the Ektar performed great, but it’s clear it does need light and can see the consequences when you expose incorrectly.

Having seen some great shots have provided me with my mojo again, despite some failures. But I have to stress it’s not easy manually focusing at night, due to the lack of light and when you are using flash. Eventually, we used a torch along the same focal plane as their eyes, which helped with consistency.

Emily-Jo shot on film (little underexposed)

If you want to see more examples of this work don’t hesitate to check out my social feeds. While out I’m starting to record small videos on location, so keep watching @phlogger.co.uk on Instagram or my page @Phlogger.co.uk on Facebook. I would like to thank my friends at Kodak Alaris for the Ektar too and hope you liked the article too.

Until next time “be true”.

Phlogger


Model links

Aiden – https://www.instagram.com/aidenvrmodel/

Ashleigh – https://www.instagram.com/falsxfrxxdom/

Emily – https://www.instagram.com/thepinupmum/

Shannon – https://www.instagram.com/shannon.ashby_/


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