Balancing Colours

 I recently shot for Moonika, who is building a portfolio to put herself out there for modelling.

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She has the most striking red hair, and so early in the planning process I had to consider how to deal with, and compliment, such a strong colour.

Confession time: I am slightly colour blind, especially when it comes to reds and greens ironically. I often confuse them, particularly when they have similar tonal values. I actually have this constant insecurity that the colour balance in my edited shots isn't very good and no one is telling me I'm messing it up; like maybe everything I shoot has a slight green tinge for example and, best-case-scenario, people think it's a deliberate stylistic choice.

To compensate I have a few photography friends who I bounce my portfolio off to get some honest feedback and see if I'm off track. This is a really good idea by the way, especially while you're learning to colour correct your images. Source some trusted, honest, brutal opinion. 

When shooting though, I try and keep the colour wheel in mind to plan out some sort of balance, because it really is as important as spatial composition.

I found this great graphic on visual.ly, which explains many aspects of colour theory and gives a really helpful overview: 

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Obviously I'm not thinking about all of this when shooting, although I do try and bring some of this knowledge into my compositions. At least knowing this stuff in the back of my mind often helps me to work out when something just 'looks wrong' and I can't figure out why. So it may look very complicated, but let me break down just two of the things I try and stay aware of:

Analogous Colours can add thematic interest. These are colours which sit close to each other on the colour wheel (Pink/Red). If you place these sort of colours together, especially in styling, you can create depth and interest while still playing on a theme. 

Opposite Colours provide separation.  In colour theory they are called 'Complimentary Colours' (Red/Cyan). They will give you the greatest separation from fore-background, whilst playing nicely together.

Let's take the next two shots of Moonika to demonstrate.

I used Analogous Colours in the styling. I say "I", but she brought along this pink scarf for the shoot deliberately, and as a costume designer herself, she understood that the combination of the pinks and reds works well together in colour theory. So the pink of the scarf and red of her hair give us an Analogous Colour theme, but now I have to separate her from the background.

The Complimentary Colour for red on the Colour Wheel is cyan, but there was no cyan to hand to use as a backdrop so I tried the next two best options: green and blue (which strictly speaking is triad theory in the graphic above, but I think you'll get the idea).

First I lined her up with a rich green background to make the red of her hair pop and it worked quite well. Fortunately she also had this great green coat which helped me frame the bottom edge of the image too and draw the focus into the middle of the frame. The green also helped to accent the deep green of her eyes and the colours played well together. The point was that I was getting the separation I wanted. 

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But I also really wanted to try the blue because I had a feeling it would work well and give a very different feel. 

On the day, I was shooting with a photographer friend of mine, Radek (Check him out at Bayek Photography). While we were walking around he noticed a bush with very light green leaves, which when blurred out in the bokeh made her dark-toned hair really pop, so we decided to use it as a backdrop for a while. Even when taking the shot I knew what I was going to do with this image in the edit. I wanted to give the impression of a cold, icy background and let the cool desaturated texture give her hair that extra punch and separation, so when I got the image onto the computer I isolated the leaves in the background and turned them a chilly blue/grey. The final image makes me think of the White Witch in the Narnia Chronicles for some reason, but the point is the separation works really well.

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I can't pretend that I'm always this deliberate, and admittedly the strong colour of Moonika's hair forced me to think more than I normally may have about this stuff, but I am always working hard to keep colour balance in mind when shooting portraits. It really can make the difference between a flat and uninteresting shot, and one that really pops.

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Model Mayhem and 'TFP assignments'

A couple of months ago I signed up to 'Model Mayhem', on the recommendation of another photographer.

'Model Mayhem' is an online collective for models, actors, photographers, make-up artists, designers and stylists. The idea, as far as I can tell, is to create a community where you can work together on projects; some paid, some free.

After posting my profile as a local London photographer I quickly began to get requests for 'TFP assignments', something which is very popular on these sort of sites. I had never heard the phrase, but let me fill you in briefly on what I've learnt, because if you're looking to shoot in this space it is something you are going to have to become familiar with.

Wikipedia says:

"'Time for Print', or 'TFP', is a term used in many online photography communities describing an arrangement between a model and a photographer, whereby the photographer agrees to provide the model with an agreed number of pictures of the best photographs from the session and a limited license to use those pictures in return for the model's time. There are benefits to both parties of such an arrangement: the model can build a portfolio of prints to show to prospective clients at little or no cost, while the photographer gets a model for a particular project with little if any outlay of cash."

The specific terms of the TFP agreement have to be decided before the actual shoot. This includes things like how many shots you will deliver, how long it will take you to edit and handover, where the images can be published etc. It is worth spelling this stuff out in an email when you begin to talk about the shoot so there is no confusion later, and both parties know what they're getting into.

Beyond the specifics, I agree to do these TFP assignments on a few of conditions:

  1. That the model has a concept which will result in shots that will enhance my portfolio. The time and effort spent has to benefit both of us, and considering I will be spending many more hours editing the images I need to ensure that it is time well spent.
  2. I don't limit the use of the shots I hand over, because I believe that generosity will come back to you in the end. My only stipulation is that if the shots are sold at any point that I would receive 50% of the fee.
  3. I also ask models to do practical things like always crediting me, including a website link, when they post the shots online, as well as 'liking' my Facebook fanpage and generally helping me get the word out there.

My Model Mayhem profile is here is you want an example of the environment: http://www.modelmayhem.com/2929596

Here are some shots from a recent TFP assignment I did with Cecilia from Paris: http://www.modelmayhem.com/714751.

She was staying in a very swanky flat in Bermondsey for the week, and so we met up and shot in the streets around the apartment. We didn't have very long together, and unfortunately I had no specific brief, but I was able to deliver the 10 shots I promised, and I ended up using a couple to broaden my fledgling headshot portfolio.

I always set myself the goal of editing one image an evening in the days following the shoot; that way the model waits no longer than 2 weeks for the final images to be delivered. I want the people I shoot with to remember me as being timeous and professional, as well as able to make a good image.

On a related note: I found this 'open letter from a model to photographers'. Definitely worth a read: http://jenbrookmodel.tumblr.com/post/45762723033/dear-photographer-kindest-regards-model-xxx

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Shooting on Brief

I mentioned in a recent post that Brooke contacted me to do a shoot with her. She had quite a strong vision for what she wanted to accomplish. In her words, she wanted a "Lolita" feel to the shoot. I haven't seen the movie myself but, between a quick google image search, and reference shots Brooke sent me via email, I quickly had a decent mood board full of shot ideas.

What a pleasure.

It meant that I wouldn't have to pull every shot out of thin air on the day, with an expectant subject looking at me, waiting for visual inspiration to strike. She had done the work for me. She knew her look, and she understood what she wanted. It was then just left for me to interpret it and make the technical choices to get the shots she was looking for. I know this won't happen every time, or even very often, but it showed me how much better a shoot can be when shooting for a client with a clear vision.

On a practical level I obviously wanted this reference material with me on the shoot.

Pinterest turned out to be a ready solution.

The week before I set up and shared a Pinterest board with Brooke where we could both pin images to use as a guide on the day. I downloaded the app to my phone which meant that I could pull up the different images we had pinned as we were shooting to use as inspiration, and to ensure we were getting the kind of shots we agreed on. It was like having a portable mood board.

Perhaps embarrassingly, this is the first time I've shot like this (with this much planning and purpose I mean), and it made for a much less stressful, and more productive, shoot. I often have those quiet moments of inner panic where I am trying to work out what the hell to shoot next, and what the client will think of my next crazy shot idea; but using this method I had all that covered before I even arrived.

Not only this, but Brooke could see exactly what we were aiming for as we were setting up for the next shot, and she could instantly know how to pose and hold herself, rather than me having some secret vision I was slowly trying to direct her towards. It really greased the wheels and meant we got all these shots done (and more besides) in under an hour.

I am hoping to make this part of my work flow for all briefed shoots in the future.

It really works.

For the technical stuff; these shots were all taken with my 5DmkII and either my 50mm f1.4 or 85mm f1.8 lenses. The only additional light used was a large reflector with mixed silver and gold to bounce the sunlight back in as fill. Shot 3 is a Bokeh Panorama, which I will get to explaining in a post soon.

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Personal Attention

I was recently contacted by a local up-and-coming actress named Brooke Burfitt.

She was interested in getting some headshots done for her portfolio. I didn't realise it, but actors and actresses need headshots done at least every two years, even more if their look changes regularly, because casting agents are looking for a bang-up-to-date representation when trying to fit potentials into a role. I suppose this is obvious, but it hadn't occurred to me that there may actually be a big market here.

Anyway, as we were setting up on the day Brooke was talking about her experiences with headshot photographers in the past, and how they made her feel like 'just another piece in a production line'. She would arrive at a studio and be given an hour, sandwiched between a slew of other performers. She told me how it didn't feel special, and that after hair and make up she only had about 20 minutes with the photographer, who then smashed out a few shot options in record time, charged her £200 for the hour, and only provided one final shot for the pleasure. Every additional shot she wanted needed to be purchased at a per-shot rate.

As I was fighting to open my old reflector with the broken zip, I made a mental note to ensure that this would be a good experience for her.

The location was a challenge. We were shooting in her friend's small bedroom, which had little natural light, but I had to work with what I had. Time to be resourceful. Whilst ordinarily I would have traded the locational difficulties for a professional studio and gear, I did like the fact that I could give her some dedicated time, and make her feel special, and not just like another item on a conveyor belt of would-be stars.

We had spoken briefly online before hand and she had told me she was looking for something feminine, sweet and virginal. I already had pastel tones in mind, and when I looked around the room I noticed it had an interesting green wall paper, which I thought may make a nice headshot background, and some nice pink bedding on the double bed.

The techy stuff:

Headshots: I ended up using my 50mm prime, shooting fairly close (not that I had an option). I used a speedlight in a softbox, on a monopod, held overhead by an assistant. I added a small handheld reflector just under her chest to give a nice catch light in the eyes. Pretty traditional clamshell setup.

Bedshots: I ended up exposing for the window light and then using a speedlight to fill from the other side by bouncing it off the ceiling from off camera. Even though I knew I would be fighting 3 colours of light in post I decided to turn the bedside lamps on to warm up the scene. I think it worked out quite nicely in the end.

The most important part of the shoot for me was that she had fun. We were there for a few hours (more outdoor shots from this shoot to follow) and we were able to take out real time and make her feel like this was 'her' shoot. I hope that even if I become a big shot I will always be able to build in real time with clients and make them feel valued. I never want people to feel like they are being pushed through Sean Tucker's Production Line.

Personal attention needs to become a value.

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