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Sunday, 10 March 2013

Work in progress

In this months post, I'm going to talk about a personal project I just finished. Alongside my professional photography work, I also lecturer in photography at  Kendal College, here in the Lake District. Recently my colleagues in art and design staged an exhibition to highlight the professional art work they do outside of teaching, which inspired me to get involved and shoot some artist portraits.

It's not the sort of thing I normally get a chance to do, which was of course why I did it. My idea was to shoot portrait's and some behind-the-scenes stuff with each artist to hang alongside their exhibited work; give visitors a little insight into who the artists are and what goes into these artworks.

It's odd how the dynamics of photography change when you're shooting for yourself rather than a client. No-one's paying you to be there and although the artist's are likely to be just as critical of the results, they can't complain - they're not commissioning me either - so I can do pretty much what I want. It's a risk-free opportunity to experiment and try new ideas with lighting, locations and compositions and no-one's going to shout if doesn't work out. So from that perspective, personal projects like this are a real chance to learn something new.

My first sitter; Thea Rogers - ceramics artist. I visited Thea at her home studio in an ivy-covered stone cottage. The studio was pretty small and functional but I already had ideas of using the exterior walls for a location portrait. We found a dilapidated, half rotted garden chair on the compost heap and pulled that out, (rather more visual than plastic garden furniture) and selected a recent ceramic bowel. Thea never mentioned changing out of her studio clothes and actually I wouldn't have changed them anyway, so all I needed was 10 minutes to think about lighting set-up and re-position the chair to hide a white window behind Thea's shoulder.
I used a large silver brolly, overhead on a boom; a snooted speedlight to camera right to pick out the bowl and another snooted speedlight pointed at the rear wall to create some seperation between model and background. This has become pretty much a standard lighting set-up for me recently, except that I'm thinking of changing out the silver reflecting brolly for a new large white shoot-thru I've acquired - I'm going off the slightly hard shadows the silver seems to produce.

Next up, Annie Coxey - a fine artist who works with mixed media. Her studio was on a small rural industrial estate - an unpromising start until I learned more about the themes in Annie's work which include ideas of loss and departure. The rather unkempt  exterior started to look like a promising location after all! I shot the portrait at the top of this post with a very similar set-up; Over-head brolly for the portrait, snooted "special" for the painting  and a back light for seperation. Only, with this one I switched the silver reflecting brolly for the new white shoot-thru and definately prefer the light quality. It's more open, softer and has much better transitions through the diffused highlight to shadows. I also put a blue CTB gel on the backlight and a 1/2 CTO on the overhead key to add some colour to the grey light of day.

My next appointment would be in the photo-studio at college, to shoot sculpter and 3D artist Barry Willis (no relation!) with a resin moulded piece he was working on.
 I don't shoot portraits in the studio very often and I had very definite ideas about this one. Black and white, very low key, bit moody and mysterious. It's lit with a single soft box at camera left and in fact was the very first frame of the session! I tried other looks and other lighting but when I came to edit, this first shot stood right out. Simple, uncomplicated, very basic. Works just fine. Doesn't look that great in colour though, the skin tones are too warm and it looses impact.

I also shot a lot of production shots of these guys at work, producing their pieces, like this one and I might talk about them on another occasion. The main point I wanted to put across was the value of taking on personal projects where there is no client, no expected commercial outcome and no pressure other than that which we put on ourselves; to learn, and develop as creatives and try new stuff lest we get into a rut. As it turned out, all my images are now part of an exhibition called CASE (Creative Art Staff Exhibition) on show at the historic Castle Dairy in Kendal until April 15th (if you happen to be in the area!). I'm already thinking about my next personal project - the main aim will be to do something different and do some learning.

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