Monday, 10 January 2011

Bacon Butties & Communion Wine

Rest assured I was parked up when taking this - 
harder than it looks as it happens, especially with a point and shoot!

I spend way too much of my life trundling up and down the A1 in the transporter, given the location of dealers our company delivers and collects from.  At Barnsdale Bar, not far from Ferrybridge in Yorkshire are fascinating pair of advertisements in a field that always catch my eye.  Unfortunately I’m not in a position to photograph them from my cab, being a responsible driver and all that, especially as VOSA stopped me so often in December that I’m now on first name terms with all the officers and have invitations to two weddings and a birthday party.

Bust shortly before Christmas an opportunity arose when on a slack business day I rode as a passenger on a trip up to Rochdale in order to get out of having to do some real work in the yard.  The principle advert is on an old artic trailer, with the second sign set against it at the end.  The positioning is clearly deliberate as the signs have been like this for the last couple of years; I just wonder if the cafĂ© owners read into it what I read into it!

Prepare to meet your God - cafe next left. Either the Big Man has popped down to Barnsdale Bar for a bacon butty or the food is so bad it's going to kill you. Either way; 'Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you can eat in or take away.'

A bit more catch up from last year; my Scania broke down one Monday morning (don’t we all?) and this impressive Foden Wrecker was sent to collect it.  The truck sounded more like a railway locomotive and left an impressive cloud of clag when it finally departed with the transporter in tow.

For 2011 I have been upgraded and given a trailer to add onto the lorry on a full-time basis.  Designed for carrying large vans, the new addition makes it the longest vehicle in the fleet – hope the insurance premiums are up to date!

On one of its final solo outings as a rigid, this pre-Christmas 
delivery to Leicester looks rather festive.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Introducing ModelRoute

In recent posts I’ve described how we’ve been structuring photoshoots towards the requirements of aspiring models down at the Kings Cliffe Studio.  This project has now come to fruition, and together with model Sian and artistic director Spike I’m pleased to announce the launch of ModelRoute.  The idea behind our initiative is to offer new models, or those who would like to try modelling, a comprehensive portfolio photoshoot in safe and comfortable surroundings.  For a potential model there are currently two ways of trying to achieve this; either hire a professional photographer (which can cost serious money for a comprehensive package) or find local amateur photographers and arrange a shoot.  Either way can work, but equally there are pitfalls.  A pro will produce high quality images, but to create a portfolio of different styles, settings and themes takes time and that means money.  A lot of money.  Around the price of a second hand Ford Focus in some cases.

Finding a local amateur photographer sounds easy in theory – models can join sites such as Net Model, Model Mayhem etc and search for people willing to work with them.  This can work well, and indeed a large number of people use these sites to advantage.  However, there is a downside as has been highlighted in the media all too often.  Most aspiring models are younger girls, and they can all too easily fall prey to the less desirable element of society who use photography as a smokescreen for less than honest intentions.  It’s all too easy to lure these girls to a shoot, and then try to pressure them into posing topless, nude or worse – several cases have made it into the media, whilst on a more personal basis I’ve spoken to girls who have been placed into awkward and uncomfortable situations either before or during a shoot.

Of course, the problem exits at the opposite end of the spectrum as well.  Because of the aforementioned media cases, genuine photographers trying to get started with a model portfolio can find it difficult to get models to work with them, because unless you have a portfolio and preferably some references, many models will understandably shy away.  The Daily Mail and Daily Express’s constant ‘All Men Are Bastards’ subtle approach to journalism doesn’t exactly help matters either.

It was from a discussion with Sian on this topic that the ModelRoute initiative was born.  Although I had no experience whatsoever when we first met, I was able to work with her on the basis of an open and honest email explaining why I’d like the opportunity to photograph a model, and the rest is history.  Now I know why my mother always banged on about the necessity of good manners.  Apparently the usual approach by a photographer is a simple one-line ‘Fancy a shoot?’  After working with Sian I wanted to work with other models, but for some reason the ones I approached didn’t even bother to reply to my requests – manners cost nothing!  I can understand a rejection on the basis that they’d prefer to see more of my work, but not responding is just plain rude.

Sian came up with the solution; she’d approach models herself and offer them a shoot with me at her studio (a huge advantage) and include hair and make up into the bargain, plus advice on posing and posture to those new to modelling who wanted it.  With the invitation coming from one of their own peers, models were much more likely to respond and would feel better at the shoot by having another girl present.  Certainly the initial response was promising, as models we contacted immediately felt that they were being offered a genuine package.

To try the idea out, we contacted Kaz back in September who Sian discovered on Model-Net.  The shoot was good fun and relaxed in a pleasant environment, so we decided to take the idea further.  Spike now got involved and over several weeks he single-handedly built a quality photo studio above the recording studio at NRS.  Backdrops, lighting, a private changing area and wardrobe area were installed, whilst test shoots took place to try everything out as we progressed. 

By the end of October things were looking good, so we brought in Megan for her photoshoot so that everything could be tried out.  The session ran well, although a few technicalities needed attention before we introduced the service to Mistress Nightshade who launched the new set-up with a fantastic shoot.  Everyone was happy with the outcome, and we realised that we had achieved something.

Attention now turned to presentation as the product was essentially in place.  Spike thought up the name and created the fantastic logo plus the strapline:

The name is unambiguous and clearly states what we are about.  With the name a website could be built, this was set up on Facebook for maximum appeal and it is an effective tool for getting a message out quickly.  To celebrate our opening we have produced the 2011 Model Sian calendar, with the intention of furthering the development of ModelRoute through retail sales.  The calendar also acts as a marketing tool, showing the creative and artistic level that we work to with our models.

Phase 1 of ModelRoute is now established, and I’m delighted to say that we are fully booked every weekend through to Christmas already, with a few weekday evening sessions still available.  Our Sunday sessions are popular as we offer both studio and outdoor location shoots over a four-hour period, so a model gets the full comprehensive package.  Evening shoots are just studio based and are an ideal introduction for those wanting to try us out.  As all shoots are currently free to the model, they offer a truly unique opportunity not to be missed.

It has been pleasing and flattering to be contacted by models who saw the website or were recommended by those who have used us already.  When the product speaks for itself, you then realise that the effort and hard work has paid off.  Phase 2 for ModelRoute is now in the planning stage, as we hope to start working with local businesses on a personal level.  More on this later.  In the meantime, please visit our website, remember to ‘like’ it and why not purchase a calendar?  Not only is it a piece of fine art in itself, the proceeds from sales will allow us to develop our unique service and help more aspiring models achieve their dreams in style and safety.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Last of The Munchies

Following the launch of our new studio facility with Megan on Monday, the team (we need a name!) were now ready to start accepting our first models that would be using our services for real.  We’ve decided to offer models our sessions for free up until Christmas, as we develop and refine our technique and facilities to ensure that every model receives a high quality and enjoyable experience.

As I mentioned last time, our programme is aimed principally at new models with little or no experience, as they find it more difficult to obtain shoots with reputable photographers and therefore establish a portfolio.  We’ve set out to establish a warm, friendly, safe environment and aim to create a good rapport with whoever attends our sessions.  The shoot proceeds at their pace with as many outfit changes as they want so that each model receives a good selection of portfolio pictures.  Evening shoots last around 2 – 3 hours in the studio; Sunday sessions take longer as we also go outdoors into the surrounding countryside for some location work.  Models then receive a full CD of images from the shoot, so it’s a comprehensive package.

It all sounds great in theory, but would it work in reality?  Well, Kat from Grantham was the first to find out on Wednesday evening.  She attended with chaperone Alex, and over introductions and coffee we soon established just the sort of friendly atmosphere we were after.  Sian took Kat off for the initial make-up session, leaving me free to set up the camera and run through last minute checks with Spike.

The session began with a simple and natural set using a director’s chair; this was to establish a nice, steady relaxed pace to the shoot and an opportunity to get to know each other and see how we worked together.  As always, there was plenty of banter from Sian, which really helped break the ice; everyone was comfortable and we were off to a flying start.  This was Kat’s third shoot in total, yet from her relaxed poses and lovely facial expressions you’d think she’d been doing it for much longer.  We used a couple of basic props to add interest, including eating a chocolate.  This shot had to work first time because Sian only had two Munchies left and obviously one of those had my name on it...

It was soon time for an outfit change and some more creative modelling.  Kat’s favoured style is slightly gothic and she’d brought a wonderful wardrobe selection with her.  Choosing a corset style red lacy dress, we went for a more dramatic look.  One feature that I loved about Kat was her long hair.  Naturally dark, she has tinted it with a pleasing autumnal reddish hue that worked very well in the light and really brought out the richness of the colouring.

Because Kat was clearly at ease with posing, Sian suggested trying some of the grotesque broken doll genre that we tried recently.  These give a model an opportunity to become a character and take on a new personality.  Sian modified the make up and went to town mussing up Kat’s hair; then with the addition of some simple props and wonderfully dark and fierce facial expressions we got some fantastic images.  Kat got into her new role with enthusiasm, producing some awesome scenes with a riding crop and a stiletto.  She has expressive eyes, a feature I love in a model, and fixed the camera with an eerie and haunting glare.  Finally, to make use of Kat’s long tresses, I switched on the fan and went for some lovely windy images with her hair flying around.  I’ve always wanted to do this, and now I have.  I’m happy.  Maybe it’s just me, but many of Kat’s portrait shots remind me of Kate Bush from the Wuthering Heights era.

The mood then changed to try out our light-and-dark techniques.  These always look good and can be very effective as we use a soft ambient light for dramatic portraits, plus Spike’s lightning strike effect, which is a trade secret. I can tell you, but then I’d have to eat you.  And bearing in mind that the Munchies have run out, be afraid.

Following a break for coffee we reassembled for the final set, which is general portfolio work with our whiteout set.  For these we use simple props for Kat to play with, bright lighting to bring out all her features and I couldn’t resist switching the fan back on again.  This was a very poised and elegant set, with Kat looking fantastic in another black and lacy number with the addition of red and black socks.  Her most striking portraits came from this session, indeed some of the best portraits that I’ve ever taken, which is particularly pleasing.

Before we all knew it, the time had reached 11pm and it was time to call it a day.  Everyone had enjoyed the evening and early results on the computer look good.  I’m pleased with the overall quality of the photos and have found several quite iconic shots that I just love.

Kat is a great person to work with; she's happy to try new things and put lots of energy into making the shoot come alive.  She is most definitely someone that we’d like to work with again, hopefully on one of our more ambitious outdoor escapades.  Her chaperone, Alex, was easygoing and pleasant to have around.  He was interested in what was going on and chatty throughout the shoot; we try to keep chaperones happy as it can be a long job sitting watching someone else get photographed!

As for us (we really do need a name), we felt that the whole session was fun, welcoming and relaxed.  It is great for us when a model tells us they enjoyed the whole experience as that is the point of the exercise, and so we’re looking forward to the next shoot on 14 November – this will be our first daytime session, so all being well will include location work as well.

MUA: Sian
Photographer: Martin Vos

Photos from this set will appear in the MVP galleries once editing is complete.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

The completion of the calendar project (which is at the printer, seeing as you’ve asked) by Sian, Spike and myself was the culmination of our programme of events dreamed up during the summer.  As we’ve established quite a rapport as a team, we decided that we’d like to carry on working together for a bit longer.  Although we are all totally different people, it is interesting how we meld together as a creative team and come up with new ideas – or a new twist on tried and tested ideas.

Sian’s modelling career has leapt forwards recently since she became agency represented by Candyland PR, rewarding her hard work at promoting herself for quite some time now.  Modelling is hugely competitive and it’s a very hard field to work in accordingly.  Being agency represented means increased work with better photographers and more interesting assignments – not to mention not having to work with photographers who think it’s a good idea to undertake a two-day lingerie shoot outdoors in October!

Your author hard at work (by Spike Nepenthe)

All of our big set piece photoshoots have now been done, and one of the things I need to tackle as a photographer is working with new models in order to widen my portfolio.  As an amateur with basic skill levels, finding models that actually want to work with me is a challenge in itself.  I got remarkably lucky with Sian when I met her back in July by accident; not all models are quite so accommodating.  I mentioned issue this a while ago, and Sian immediately came up with a remarkably bright idea.   By using Spike’s studio above the recording studio in Kings Cliffe, we could bring models down for a shoot.  Sian would do hair and make-up, sit in on the shoot and offer advice about posing techniques to new and aspiring models.  

Amateur models are being approached all the time by disreputable and undesirable photographers (or men claiming to be photographers).  Sian and some models I’ve met since have experienced this unpleasant situation, and as most models are young girls, they are extremely vulnerable to pressure being brought to bear on them.  We are different.  Our aim is to reassure the girls that they are safe, comfortable and enjoy a shoot on their terms.  Wear what you want, be who you are and enjoy the experience – and hopefully take home a good set of pictures for your portfolio.  We let them bring a chaperone along to put them at ease, and if they’re under 18 then we won’t consider shooting them without one. With Sian making the introductions, new models feel much less intimidated than being approached by a photographer with no track record – thus increasing their feelings of personal safety.

It was an excellent idea, and we got down to work.  Sian sent out invitations to a variety of models of differing styles and personalities, whilst Spike undertook a full refurbishment of the photo studio.  I drank lots of coffee.  As the weeks passed I undertook more studio shoots with Sian in order to learn about lighting conditions and techniques, and generally aimed to improve my performance.  As my portfolio grew so did confidence, and I was able to add three new models to our winter roster by offering them our great package.  I was really pleased to get three acceptances as I felt that I was finally contributing something to the scheme in a more positive manner.  Although I did enjoy the coffee.

Am I coming or going?

Spike unveiled the new look studio on Sunday, and what a transformation!  There are three backdrops and two floor coverings along with a rack of props, private changing area with make-up table, a flexible lighting rig set for various styles and even background music!  Downstairs boasts a refreshment area and facilities to make the studio more welcoming.  Even chaperones that attend with models haven’t been ignored, and have the use of a laptop to keep them occupied during a long shoot.  It’s a superb achievement, and Spike has done the project proud with a great deal of hard work and enthusiasm.

With the studio complete, all we needed was – wait for it – a shoot!  On Monday we welcomed our first model that would try out the whole set up and give us all a chance to try out our new surroundings.  Megan is Sian’s younger sister and although she has no real interest in modelling herself had actually just taken part in an exotic shoot the previous day as part of a Sexy Clown Promo Shoot at the appropriately named Voodoo Lounge in Stamford, as part of a Candyland project created by Lucy Slessor.  The photos are amazing, and no one would think that this was Megan’s first ever go at modelling.

We scheduled a couple of hours for the shoot, and kicked off with some ‘Sister Shizz’ featuring Sian and Megan together in a fun set of posing and spontaneity.

Megan followed this on her own creating a set of headshots, and here her natural poise and style came through in a very relaxed and informal session.  She has lovely coppery coloured hair that looked great under our lighting, and has a nice range of facial expressions to suit different moods.

Dramatic portraits were next up, with a black backdrop and subdued lighting adding intensity to the scenes.  As well as portraits we added in some props to liven things up a bit, with Megan cheerfully accepting everything that was thrown her way.  This session ended with Spike experimenting using a flashgun on the floor, and these were by far the most dramatic pictures of the evening.

Following a break and change of outfits, Megan posed demurely in an elegant black dress.  Megan doesn’t do elegance or dresses by nature, and was pretty much trussed up in it by Sian.  Nevertheless, she took to it rather well, especially once the black cape was added.  

As a reward for her patience Megan chose to wear a more down to earth hoodie fashioned outfit for the final scenes, and back in her natural element her personality really came out in a playful set with make-up and a guitar.  I think this ties in with her heroes, 30 Seconds To Mars.  Now, being of certain age, I assumed that this was a film.  Apparently it’s a band, and did I get some stick from Sian and Megan about my ignorance.  Oh well.  They’ve never heard of Rene and Renato, so I guess that makes us even.

Overall the shoot seemed to go pretty well.  I got some good photos that both Megan and I are pleased with, so I’m happy about that.  There were some techniques that need addressing before the next shoot, but overall the studio worked well, Megan was amazing and I really feel that we are potentially offering a great package to our new models in the future.

Models: Megan and Sian
Hair & Make Up: Sian
Photography Martin Vos

Sunday, 17 October 2010

I Wish ...

Kings Cliffe, Wansford

Every so often as I browse other photographer's work on the 'net, I come across some work that makes you stop and think; I wish I could achieve that standard.  And then you come across a site where you think, 'there is no way in the world I could ever achieve this standard'.  Such a site is Ross G. Photography that I stumbled upon recently.  This is more than just photography, it is stunning visual art that can only come about through vision and a level of creativity that few people possess.

It would be wonderful to be able to get into the minds of a genius like this for a day, to be able to interpret a scene the way they do, and see the possibilities of the unfolding vista - not to mention backing it up with the practical knowledge of how to actually capture the image to camera!

I've been fortunate enough to have met a highly creative photographer recently and had several opportunities to work with him.  Spike's galleries are well worth a look; he is another person who sees more than just what appears to be in front of his eyes, no matter how simple.  When I've been out on location with him, or even in the studio as he rigs up an incredible lighting system for some special shots, you can't help but think 'where do they get their inspiration from?'

This scene is a case in point.  It's the same as the stream at the head of this article, but whereas the top shot is a fairly bog standard stream-in-the-countryside picture, Spike had the vision to slow the water down and create this stunning silk effect.  Simple and easy to do, but you need the creativity to see the potential of a scene, not just a pretty stream.  Had he not suggested stopping and experimenting I'd have walked straight past it without thinking.  A stream is a stream is a  .... piece of art!

My own modelling galleries with Sian clearly show his influence when compared to my existing work that is bland and lifeless by comparison.  Whilst camera techniques and settings can be studied and learned, vision can't be taught; you have to be a natural born artist in the same way that the best actors or models are naturals.  That's where I'm going wrong in my own work, and the reason why I've now reached a point where I have doubts about my capabilities to reach any kind of artistic standard.  Some of the inept decisions I made on the calendar shoot didn't help either; nearly having a model go down with hypothermia doesn't exactly inspire confidence.  It reminded me of a great quote from the film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Michael Caine and Steve Martin.  "Know your limitations: you are a moron!"

'Nuff said?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Calendar Girl 2 (Beyond All Reason)

Contemplating a hard day's work.

The manic weekend of modelling continued after Sunday’s sessions of Christmas and Broken Doll that I mentioned in the previous article.  On Monday Sian, Spike and myself began our latest joint project – creating a calendar.  I came up with the idea several weeks ago, and after some less than in-depth research, decided that it would be a viable project.  Well, sort of.  It’s a bit late in the year to start work on a calendar given that WH Smiths, Hallmark et al are already bursting at the seams with them.  However, we were all full of enthusiasm about the idea, and having got the concept and a potential printer lined up, we set about the task with relish.

Obviously the calendar would be based around Sian’s modelling, and to that end it really had to be lingerie if we were to actually sell any.  There are dozens and dozens of lingerie / swimwear calendars out there, so we put some thought into creating something different and unique that would stand out.  Sian’s wardrobe received a lot of careful thought – a calendar needs 12 outfits plus a cover photo, so we agreed on 13 different, sexy and tasteful sets for her to wear.  Each lingerie set was allocated a particular location so that it would work with the chosen background.  Shoes then had to match the outfit.  It began to feel like an Apprentice task, Surallen.

Most lingerie calendars consist of a girl posing in skimpies inside an unimaginative studio creating pictures that range from seductive to gynaecological depending on the calendar’s promoter.  We wanted something different; something that would demonstrate our creativity as a team consisting of photographic skill, artistic direction, inspired locations and modelling capabilities.  Both Sian and I had fancied a go at shooting in an abandoned factory, and indeed a while ago I found an excellent location near Halifax that I wrote about here.  Unfortunately the owners of said factory read my blog and sealed off the factory as of last week, only days before the shoot.  Thanks, guys.  Of the three people who read this, one of them had to work for elf n’ safety.  Hmmmm, nice one.

It would have been awesome...

Fortunately, Spike knew several locations around the area that would provide some great alternatives, and as I had access to The Nene Valley Railway I knew that we could find enough places to create the same sort of run-down, derelict industrial landscapes that we sought.  Clothing wasn’t a problem following our eventful trip to Corby on Sunday, so mid afternoon on Monday we packed up the equipment, outfits, accessories and a pack of Fox’s Chocolate Biscuits and set off.

The first location was at Stamford, using the long demolished brickworks for the initial sets.  These provided abandoned works, rubble and piles of gravel that worked particularly well for the first two sets.  I wanted some pictures in a Pirelli-esque type setting, where the model is just a tiny part of the overall scene, but still stands out in sharp contrast to the bleak surroundings.  We were assisted by dazzlingly clear skies that contrasted with the otherwise dull greys of the area we were filming in.

Following this we moved into the woods, where Spike had discovered an abandoned corrugated iron cylinder with masses of yellow warning tape discarded nearby.  Or he’d brought it with him and dumped it; you can never tell with Spike.  It created the look we were after, so Sian changed into plain white lingerie and heels for this set to contrast against the dominating browns and greens of the area.  The set worked very well and we were pleased with it.

Next stop was further into the woods, where Spike got even more adventurous by finding (or cutting down, you can never tell) a fallen tree with a large Y shape branch that Sian could pose in.  It wasn’t easy for her to get up there and the language wasn’t pretty, but once in position she was comfortable enough.  Well, she stopped swearing which I took as an encouraging sign.  To maintain our surreal industrial look, Spike took an old steel frame up into the tree to make a prop for posing – it’s amazing what you find if you go down to the woods today!  These days you get illegally dumped chemical drums, rusty beer cans, left over needles and discarded Y-fronts with questionable stains on them.  If today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic they’ll all end up pissed, high as kites and spreading STD’s around.

Time and light were running out now, but there was one last photo opportunity at the former quarry where we got some absolutely outstanding pictures with Sian silhouetted against a sunset.  The photos are as good as anything I’ve seen in that genre as Sian’s striking poses took an average scene and turned it into art.

That was as much as we could do in the light, but with four months nailed we were confident that with a full day of shooting on Tuesday we’d complete the task.  Retiring to the Brewer’s Fayre in Peterborough rounded the day off nicely.

Tuesday dawned with leaden, dull skies and temperatures to match.  Not ideal circumstances to have a model wearing next to nothing all day.  One of my favourite expressions is ‘they didn’t think it through.’  Er, okay – yes, hands up.  I am an idiot.  We set off regardless to The Nene Valley Railway where I’d arranged access to the track between Wansford and the tunnel mouth so that we could film on the railway lines without being run down by a train.  That sort of thing really spoils the day and is best avoided.  The first session would take place around the tunnel mouth and adjacent to some long parked up, abandoned and graffiti-ed rolling stock to provide a sombre and dark atmosphere to the pictures.  This element of the day was very successful, so we moved into a moss covered Danish coach for some interesting interior photos.  

Then it was time for the next set – something Sian and I have always wanted to do.  Recreate the girl chained to the railway tracks in the path of an oncoming train!  Now whilst the Nene Valley were very accommodating in every way about using their facilities, even they drew the line at running a loco down the tracks towards our heroine.  Something to do with health and safety, of course.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong?  It wasn’t a problem as there was a handy mail coach on the siding we chose for this scene, and suitably cropped with a bit of editing it works well in the photos.

Spike prepares the chain.

Sian lies down on the job.

"I don't want to look!"

By now the problem was the cold weather, and Sian was suffering badly from being exposed to long periods of photography in next to nothing.  She wouldn’t give up, however, and kept on changing outfits then performing as required.  It got to the stage where I was extremely concerned about her health and wanted to call a halt.  Sian wouldn’t hear of such a thing.  Part of the problem is that financially the calendar is all-or-nothing.  If it doesn’t work I won’t have a pot to piss in as the banking system puts it.  This inadvertently placed Sian in a position of guilt, as she didn’t want to call it off without enough material to use.  By now that side didn’t interest me at all and I’d have happily settled for studio work to fill any gaps, but Sian was doggedly determined to press on and give her all to complete the shoot.  So now I felt appallingly bad about making her feel that she had to continue, all of which put a real downer on the day.  We’ve never experienced this before on our shoots together, so I felt like an absolute arse for not anticipating the problems of shooting outdoors during October in lingerie.  That was probably the most unforgivable aspect of the shoot.  

Thankfully Spike was on hand to see both sides and came up with an ideal compromise solution.  We’d do another couple of very quick railway sets then go home for four hours of warmth, food and coffee.  Once warmed up, we’d pop back out for a night time shoot that would be well planned with everything set up so that Sian would only be exposed to the low temperatures for minutes at a time.  At that point both Sian and myself were in ‘yeah whatever’ mode and just wanted to get done.  The last two sets were achieved very quickly – and remarkably effectively – before packing up returning to base in Stamford.

Sian's body double creates the pose so that the camera can be set up for the shot ahead of getting Sian on set.  This scene cloned the opening of Queen's 'Breakthrough' video and was one I was particularly keen to recreate.

Had it not been for Spike, that would have been that.  Exhausted, cold (particularly Sian of course) and feeling down in the dumps, we were pretty fed up and done in.  Neither of us could face any more calendar, but Spike worked away on his vision for the night shoot as we demolished a McDonalds.  Fortified by food and a rest, we set out once again – to a Little Chef!  Well, not quite.  Close to Wansford on the A1 there is an old Little Chef that has been abandoned for years.  The condition of the place is predictable; boarded up, smashed up, graffiti everywhere and littered with debris; it’s a lovely spot to wind down in after a crappy day.  Photographically, however, it was the perfect location for some artistically lit night time pictures.  We were organised now thanks to Spike having worked out a plan, and three different locations, each requiring a new outfit by Sian, were marked out.  At each point we set up the camera and lighting, checked and tested it before Sian came out of the car, posed and popped back again.  She could stay in her dressing gown until the last minute, thus keeping warm and preventing the problems encountered during the day.

I'm putting on my top hat
Tying up my white tie
Brushing off my tails
And I'm steppin' out dear
To an abandoned Little Chef.

It didn’t take long for the enjoyment and creativity to start flowing again.  Buoyed up with the success of the new set up, everyone got back into our normal swing of a shoot.  The mood changed rapidly, and as a result so did the shoot as a whole.  The piece de resistance came up on the roof of the restaurant.  By positioning Sian at a particular spot, I could not only capture the night sky above the distant City of Peterborough, but also the vehicle headlights down on the A1 as well!  We quickly established a routine; the camera was readied and from my vantage point I’d see oncoming traffic, particularly lorries with masses of bright lights.  I’d call out ‘Now’, and Sian would whip off her dressing gown as Spike shone a torch onto her for illumination.  With a slow shutter speed of 2 to 4 seconds I’d then get the long stream of light from passing vehicles in the background.  This was a novelty for us, and we got excited about the whole thing.  Finally we got some pretty impressive shots and were able to return to base – but this time buzzing with the feeling of a job well done.

And thus ended the two days of intense and hard work by all of us.  Although by far the most difficult shoot we’ve tackled, the end results look pleasing and the calendar itself is now a distinct possibility.  The event proved the worth of working as a close-knit team, and despite the setbacks along the way we stuck at it and completed the task.  Spike proved a Godsend yet again with his artistic ideas, lighting techniques and being able to draw on his experience to advise me how best to get the shot.  Not a lot of photographers at his level are willing to pass on the benefit of their experience in order to help out a newbie, so I really appreciate his enthusiasm and help to get me started.

As for Sian I have nothing but admiration for her commitment and willingness to work her socks off – quite literally.  She had the most difficult task of us all; always having to look great, constantly getting changed, and having to pose artistically whilst freezing cold isn’t a task anyone would relish.  The fact that she carried on working until the last picture was taken is testimony to her dedication, and it really overturns the popular myth that a model has such an easy life.  I only hope that the calendar will be a success and reward all her efforts, because if anybody deserves success it is Sian.

Thanks are due to the Nene Valley Railway for permission to film in restricted areas and across the running lines.  I understand that the Health & Safety Executive ran out of Andrex when they saw what we were doing.

Other than a few Nene Valley photos, none of the calendar set have yet been published for obvious reasons.  We are currently moving into the choosing and editing stage before hitting production and ultimately (and hopefully) sales.  If it doesn’t work, guess who’ll be the one to confront Surallen!

You're fried!

It’s My Fault For Messing With The Bras!

I’ve noticed recently that the shops have shelves piled high with cards, wrapping paper, gift tags, Santas, angels, stars and Christmas Puddings.  Add to this the fact the sales staff look grumpier than ever, and you can only conclude that in the retail world it is Christmas time once again.  Oh how jolly.  Still, there is one reason to look forward to Christmas – an opportunity to undertake a sexy seasonal photoshoot with my favourite model, Sian.

Essentially, although my photography is coming along quite nicely thanks mainly to the unstinting assistance and tuition from Spike, I need as much studio experience and practise as possible.  Sian is always happy to dress up (or down!) and try some new ideas, outfits and poses so that I can practise techniques with her – and hopefully we both end up with some great pictures that may be used to add a new element to our portfolios.

The Christmas shoot began in surreal fashion with a trip to Corby in order to buy some suitable clothing and lingerie for this shoot plus the following project (more on that later).  Lingerie shopping is something of an alien task for me, and I immediately thought about the classic episode of Father Ted when the priests got lost in the lingerie department of a store, which is where the title of this article originates from – probably not what you were expecting, I take it.

"There's no way oot.  There's just no way OOT!"

Whilst we managed to find some rather nice gear for the next project without difficulty, searching for a simple bright red bra-and-knicker set plus some suspenders and hold-ups proved to be quite a challenge.  I mean, it’s Christmas – and has been since July according to Asda.  So wouldn’t you expect to find festive lingerie lined up rack after rack, given that you can already purchase extra special mince pies (that are out of date in November – who thought that one through)? 

Well, we tried Primark, Peacocks, TK Max, Matalan, Kwikfit (which I thought meant access to high speed changing rooms but turned out to be some car place) and many, many more women’s fashion outlets before finally coming across the one and only set of red lingerie in Corby.  “Buy it!” demanded my model.  I bought it.  

And then we required stockings.  That proved to take longer than the search for the Titanic.  Nobody sells stockings.  We tried everywhere, and had worked down to Poundland when Spike asked a random member of the public where we could possibly get some.  I have to wonder what the poor woman thought to that.  It isn’t everyday that you get accosted by a pair of highly dubious looking blokes, one of which was well over the hill yet accompanied by a very pretty girl – even in Corby.  And they’ve seen a lot of things in Corby.  Hiding her astonishment rather well, the surprised woman suggested we try Boots.  Oh yes, why didn’t we think of that?  So obvious when you think about it, which we had spectacularly failed to do.  Mind you, even Boots had a paltry selection on offer, and all we got was a pair of fishnets and some hold-ups.  If any ladies out there want a glamorous night out, I’d give Corby a wide berth.  On the other hand, every shop had acres of tights on display – so if you feel the urge to whip out a shotgun and blag a bank; well, you’ll not have to worry about forgetting some tights to stick over your face.

I rob banks with Pretty Polly tights because I'm worth it.

Back to the studio and down to business.  We set up a dinky little Christmas display, ironically using my decorations and tree that I don’t put up at Christmas because I just can’t be bothered with the hassle.  Well, I go to the family home for the festive season of total boredom and over indulgence, so I can just about manage without a house full of sparkly crap in the run up to not being there.  

Sian modelled first as an elf, followed by Santa’s little helper.  Her naturally cheeky face and coquettishness admirably suited this set, which was a lot of fun.  Slipping out of her Santa suit, we did some shots with the infamous red lingerie before getting creative, as so many of our sessions often do.  Time to get Spike upstairs!  The idea was to wrap a string of Christmas tree lights around Sian’s body, dim the studio lights and place Sian on a black blanket that was overlaid onto some white camouflage netting that we’d previously used on the floor to provide a bright, festive feel.  In the glow the netting took on the appearance of trampled snow, and indeed the set has the feel of an outdoor shoot in many ways.  Spike took a great deal of time to get the setting just right, and by subtly controlling the one remaining ambient light source enabled me to move around and take the pictures.  They are quite intriguing, and provide refreshingly different seasonal photos to contrast with the almost obligatory set pieces that we started with.  The set was fun, we all enjoyed the creativity and it was useful to come away with a new theme of pictures for my portfolio along with more studio practise.

Following a coffee break, Sian wanted to try out a new genre of modelling for a project that she is involved in later this month – Broken Doll.  I wasn’t particularly familiar with the concept, but basically a model is dressed in a typically dolly style outfit with striped socks in vibrant colours, pale make-up that whitens the face but contrasting with overly bright red lipstick and heavy black eyeliner to enlarge the eyes.  The key to creating an effective picture lies in the model’s empty, hollow facial expression and awkward, grotesque poses in order to create the appearance of a discarded and broken toy doll, or the little lost girl look.

It is a difficult enough task to perform at anytime, but after the fun and amusement of our Christmas shoot it required a very sudden and harsh change of direction.  Sian was unrecognisable in her new guise, and as the set went on and we added new effects, props and worked with expressions, she developed into her character so well that the atmosphere became quite uncomfortable. At one point Spike made her cry – he steamed in with the subtly of John Prescott at a Greggs Open day and upset Sian to the point of real tears, which I had to capture as they rolled down her cheek.  For this I needed to be inches away from her face, and it was actually rather uncomfortable to be so up close and personal to someone who was clearly in distress.   Of course it was a planned artistic effect, but nonetheless, so realistically portrayed that it was completely believable.  Yes, it sounds strange and ‘arty’ to say that, but the actress in Sian took over her normally bubbly larger than life personality, and left behind a hollow, depressed and empty shell.  Her normally expressive eyes are lifeless and dull, and she appears to gaze straight through you, rather than at you.  There is a distinct sense of pathos in the pictures, and when Sian looks to camera you can feel her whispering, “Help me …”  

Overall, it was an amazing feat of modelling skill to pull this look off so convincingly, more so when you consider that Sian has never tried this genre before.  The pictures say it all and prove my point.  We ended the session with the ritual uploading and viewing of pictures, and I was gratified to hear lots of “Ooh, I love that” coming from Sian.  If the model that I’m working with likes her pictures, then to my mind, mission accomplished.  I was delighted to be able to add two new genres of pictures to my portfolio, and feel that we all gained a lot from this particular session.

Following some development work I’ve now created an online portfolio to ultimately replace the oversized fashion gallery I started with, and have established a new webpage that can keep track of my progress.

So that's enough modelling and photography for a bit then.  Not on your life!  Within hours of completing this Sunday set we'd be back together again working on our biggest project to date  - coming soon!

Gallery: Christmas Set

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