Sunday, 25 February 2018

Hippie haven

Week 7 - mid-Feb - as I said was quite busy for me with my birthday, trips and I was shooting as a model in my hippie tent set up in the garden.
I have been decorating bell tents in my garden for the past 3 years, have owned the same number of tents and now I have a big heavy canvas bell tent which is roomy and more durable than my past ones. I kept it up all throughout winter this time - perhaps not the smartest move but it's fine and I put up pretty fabrics and cushions for my shoots with my photographers. I can't keep the fabrics in there over winter obviously because the UK is far too cold; everything goes mouldy eventually.

Anyway, the theme for the other challenge is lyrics to a Kinks song I really love but with a difference:
"Wild thing.. you make my brain sting.. you annoy me with everything.."
..which really is quite harsh considering I don't often get annoyed by anything that really could be illustrated in a photograph.
My biggest annoyance of the week was decorating my tent and then dismantling it because having these fabrics out in freezing weather is simply impossible to maintain. They're beautiful, handmade embellished Indian saris too which I bought in Arambol & Mapusa last year, so it's even more important I don't ruin them as you can't pop them in the washing machine.
Well in that instance I wished I could live somewhere I didn't have to keep taking my favourite little home apart as it's a pain and a lot of work. If I lived somewhere warm and dry all year round, I really would live quite happily in it.
Part of the challenge's description included, "show me your angry side and treat this as your therapy" but I don't like to shoot negativity, (it's just not something I enjoy) don't need to vent any anger and I don't need 'therapy' from any annoyances in my life. So although I've admitted the current annoyance, this is the image of what would be if nature allowed such a thing all year for me. It's still a reality; I just need to pack it up for half the year!

Silly, horrible British weather.. I suffer with S.A.D too. But it's March this week and time to start getting excited.

50 shades of white

I am a little behind on blogging as I've just celebrated another year around the sun, (32 now, eek!) spent a little time in London shooting some London Fashion Week shots, caught up with outstanding retouch work for others and worked on my own selfie ideas outside of the challenges.. (like selfie-ing myself from the loo, see last post!) so I have quite a bit to write up.. some stuff which worked well, and other stuff which was quite horrific.

So back to WEEK 6 of my friend's challenge (from 3 weeks ago now) and the theme was '50 shades of white' - to try incorporate as many whites into an image as possible.

So I did.. I just had a new white lace-up leotard delivered and I had been saving a curly white wig for another snow queen shot (that hasn't happened yet)
I thought if I used my favourite white wall in the hallway I could stand a little distance away and not light it for a darker grey / another 'shade' of white.
Make-up went a bit crazy! I have been using a large pot of Snazaroo white face paint for a while and thought this would be a good time to use it all up. I painted half my face, from my hairline to just below my eyes completely white, fading to my skin tone.. and then from my jawline, down my neck and fading to skin just below my collarbones. As you'll see from the BTS pic, (left) & videos, it was super hard to draw a clean line on my jawline myself, so this had to be retouched in post. I had also bought some illuminating shimmery.. umm.. 'stuff' (it's actually called Unicorn Oil, Illuminating Glow Serum) but it looked rubbish on my lips where I wanted to try it, so I just used more facepaint.
Annoyingly, I still have some Snazaroo left in the pot; it's like the facepaint which keeps on giving.
I left my eyes completely devoid of eyeliner & mascara, and rubbed the white facepaint into my lashes.. not sure you're meant to do that, but I'm pleased to report they're still there 3 weeks later, so all good.

So as you can see, I set up a beauty dish quite high, without a grid but with the diffusion sock. I knew these shots were going to be 3/4 length, so it didn't matter about the light not reaching below my thighs, and the fall-off is nice I think. The dish was positioned far enough away from the wall and angled down towards me so no light, (at least very minimal) escaped to the background.
I've been using the 60mm lens loads recently.. just a really nice focal length for what I've been shooting.

Conveniently, there is a mirror on the wall opposite where I was standing for the shot so if I ever use the hallway white wall for photos, I can see what I'm doing in that mirror which is always helpful. You are never ever too good or too professional to use a mirror; it will pretty much always enable you to perfect every pose, especially when you are taking selfies and concentrating on about a million things at once.
I was pressing the remote shutter on the floor with my foot, which is just out of shot in these videos. Unfortunately after too many times leaving the receiver dangling from the camera, the lead is now broken but a replacement isn't expensive so I'll be getting another soon. I would connect the receiver to the camera and have the flash trigger on top, but for some reason there is no pass-through and the light fails to trigger.. so I leave the remote receiver dangling.

Initially, I was trying to incorporate as many different white things as possible, so I took a couple of white IKEA boxes and photographed them, (holding them in the light) separately to me. This was because a) I thought it might look cool if I photoshopped the second one balancing on a point on top of the first, b) even one box was too big to photograph with me in the photo as the space is tight and I have to position the canera to shoot through a doorway. The boxes were bigger than I remembered, so I had to make them significantly smaller in post too.
Looking back, I'm not sure why I used the boxes because they don't add any context to the photo whatsoever and now I don't even like that shot. I much prefer the shots without the boxes which is why I went back to Lightroom and retouched the other three..

Anyway, here are the results (please click on any photo to see it larger)
Settings: ISO 100, f7.1, 1/100th sec

Thursday, 22 February 2018


Stop press!
Let's take some time out for some silliness..

I can't really take credit for this idea and I'm not sure my amazing and hilarious mate who is responsible for me shooting both my amateur attempts and the finished photo would want to be named(!) but basically, she accidentally sent a loo selfie to the wrong person and it was the funniest thing ever. So a lot of our mutual female friends started doing their own for their best mates for a laugh.. because why would you not(?!)

This is my 'Holy-macaroni-since-when-were-Victoria-Station-toilets-free 32nd birthday weeing selfie above left, and an attempt at a slightly more creative angle on the right, (excuse the naked morning face) then then my brain started whirring and I thought what a flipping great idea for a proper shoot.. as you do.

Cut to this:

The only light was a beauty dish, (almost at full power) aimed at a slightly tilted reflector on the floor, reflecting light back up - no ambient at all. I was trying to juggle the interval timer on the camera and angle it on the floor, whilst Simon was laughing his arse off at me.

Boring settings stuff: Nikon D850, 16-35mm used at 24mm, ISO 100, f9, 1/250th sec
#pissartist #beautyonthebog #bogoir #weeeee #urinthelight #flashinthepan #lookingflushed

Monday, 12 February 2018

'Caged.' As long as it's glitzy on the outside, right?

WEEK 6Vision: Alternating RhythmAlternate patterns of light to bring depth and rhythm to the photograph.

Everything I'm about to write here, is summed up in the beautifully long-winded and slightly boring video below - basically, I devoted most of last week to the planning of this one.
I knew I wanted to create impressive patterns on the wall as well as my face, so I thought of recreating something I had a go at making a few years ago; a large string ball to wear over my head.

The first time I ever attempted making something like this, the ball was a lot smaller and modelled around a balloon - it was Simon who suggested using a beach ball, so I bought a 20" ball and 250m (why?!) 2 ply hessian string from eBay. Already had a tonne of PVA glue, brushes, etc.
The balloon method in the past didn't really work as a balloon's surface isn't naturally shiny. The string stuck fast to the balloon and when popped, collapsed around it, even though it had dried properly.. so I was more optimistic about the beach ball method.

If you're going to attempt this, remember to cover your table or surface with bin bags / plastic sheeting first, then old towels / sheets, otherwise the glue will saturate the fabric and stick everything to the worksurface.
I started by tying a length of string tightly around the ball's circumference, then continuing to wrap the length of string around the ball, making sure every bit was covered in PVA glue. What I know now is that you can dilute the glue with water so it's less thick and you use less, but both methods work just fine.
When I thought I had enough string around the ball to make it sturdy enough to support itself, I stopped wrapping the string. I didn't want too many layers either as I wanted to be able to see my face through when it came to shooting the image.
Whilst the glue was still wet, I held it over the bath and covered the whole thing in silver glitter.. then I hung it up to dry for 24 hours.
Opening the beach ball's valve when dry didn't do much for immediate deflation, and there had been so much glue and glitter, a whole layer of hardened glue between what was supposed to be the gaps had formed. I had to use a stanley knife to edge the string away from the ball and cut away at the gaps, which took just as long as wrapping the ball in string in the beginning.
When all this was done, I cut a hole just wide enough to stretch over my head and was able to deflate the beach ball to remove it completely. I set the light and camera up immediately, as I loved how this had turned out and couldn't wait to shoot it - I knew exactly the image I wanted to achieve in my mind.

If you'd like to make something similar, (they make great lampshades too) here is a 10-minute video I made. As I said above, it's probably too long and far too boring, and I really need a microphone or to shoot this content on something better than my iPad.. but please feel free to subscribe to my channel if this is your sort of thing, as I will be making more videos like this in the future.

At first, I thought a gridded beauty dish might be the light for this, but then I remembered an even smaller hard modifier we had and used that.. I knew the key to this shot would be found in playing about with my distance from the wall and the light's distance from me. I did all my faffing and checking images on the back of the camera with a huge glittery ball on my head by the way - not easy!
The hard modifier gave some nice results.. but I was hoping for a harder shadow and this made the shadow quite soft looking. I moved closer to the wall, but then the shadow was tiny and got completely lost behind me.
I didn't use a boom arm for the light as I couldn't find the clamp - this made it difficult to have the light completely in front of me without it being visible in the image.. (I did a bit of cloning in some of the finished images)
I broke lots of rules too - realised that to get the shadow above my head, I had to underlight - argh! But! It looked really cool - maybe because the effect was broken up by the glitter string over my face, and I got my lovely magnified shadow above my head. I took one image which looked like I was some kind of spiritual spooky Buddha, which made my final pick.

I swapped the light for a bare speedlight and LOVED the results even more because suddenly I got the harder, magnified shadows I was looking for. Sometimes the shadows would be on my face, sometimes they would be on the wall - I tried to take note of which light and distance made which effect.
I shot all this in the bedroom by the way, which is tiny and has a superking bed in it - don't ask why we have a superking bed in such a small room; it was supposed to be practical (it's two single beds underneath a superking mattress) but it has been anything but. Whilst playing about with this shoot, there was often no room to place the light on the floor, so I balanced a very low stand on the bed. The final images came from me being further back towards the wall and the speedlight really very close to my face on the lowest power.
Shooting with an aperture of f7.1 / f8 meant everything was nice and sharp, but the glittery bits have a lot of texture which looked quite distracting from the face. Ideally I wanted my face sharp and the ball out of focus, but I couldn't achieve this no matter how hard I tried. I tried f2.8, then f5.. but neither gave me what I wanted. I got my face blurred and the ball sharp plenty of times though. I guess this was because the ball was slightly nearer to the camera than my skin, and it was brighter and shinier, and the camera couldn't detect a face because it was all broken up by the patterns of the string ball..
Also, by opening the aperture, I couldn't reduce my settings enough, (and the speedlight was on lowest setting) to avoid massively blown highlights.. shutter speed was already maxed out at 1/200th sec and lowest ISO. Actually, according to Lightroom, the highlights weren't blown yet my entire face was white. How does that work exactly? Does this just mean the D850 has such a brilliant dynamic range that info is still there and you'd be able to bring it back from that?! That's mad if so but didn't chance it. Plus I couldn't focus on me at anything wider than f7.1, so I switched it back.

Such a learning curve this week, but I'm really happy with the results; they are pretty much exactly what I had in mind! By the end of retouching this set, I was using liquify in Photoshop to change the shape of the ball to symbolise shifting truths.
I think my favourite is the first one (below) - again, it breaks an unspoken rule where the subject shouldn't be looking out of frame, but I like the awkwardness it creates to support the narrative. In light of much recent discussion over industry safety and trying to get across to many how distressingly difficult it is for models to speak up about negative experiences for fear of being persecuted, down trodden and / or not believed, (usually all three) the cage represents an inability to break the cycle of the 'popular abuser's' power play. A popular abuser, who is often in a position of perceived power. The glitter is the notion that everything is glamorous and fabulous from an outside perspective..
All these experiences our subconscious knows are wrong are then caught up in this web and pushed to the back of the mind, even though as time passes, clarity heightens and a clearer perspective is formed. By then of course, the abuser has gone on to abuse many more..
It's a Harvey Weinstein / Terry Richardson effect..
I wrote a little response to this article: The End of 'Dead' Models because it touched a nerve. When I first started photography, I vowed to push aside this 'vulnerable girl' look and instead empower my subjects of all sexes. I would LOVE to be given a chance to help change the fashion industry for the better in a big way during my lifetime. The world needs to see a revolutionary influx of passionate, vegan, (exploiting animals in this day & age for fashion is fucking naff) feminist photographers in the 21st Century - I will continue to do everything in my power to shout about it - more importantly work up to a position where we will actually be heard / a greater influence.
I personally much prefer a viewer's reaction to be 'look how awesome this person looks / clearly feels, wearing / eating / using this product' ..rather than the message that the model is indignificant; just a clothes horse in order to push the product further into the viewer's subconscious.
I would always favour involving the model than merely using the model. If I worked in advertising, I'd be striving for a revolution to change the vulnerability and subconscious conditioning which has been happening over many decades into something exceptionally positive for the future.

A narrative however, is different - by telling a story you are not trying to sell anyone anything except the truth.


Mirrors for lifestyle

On 26th January, whilst staying at my Simon's sister's place in London, I did some selfies for fun in the spare bedroom.. this room has gorgeous light.. it's always so soft, and bounced around thanks to white walls and a huge mirrored wall opposite the windows.
This was also the day I discovered I could put my focus on full auto and set it to continuous. This maxed out the camera's ability to 'find' me in the photo and get the focus right.. something I hadn't been doing for previous work.. hoorah!
The remote shutter was on the floor as ever.. I'm getting used to pressing this thing with my foot..

So these weren't for any challenge, only to challenge myself with natural light and some natural back light.. I've wanted to shoot in this room for ages as I've always thought it would be a great space in which to take photos.
I used a couple of lenses.. the very first shot is taken on a 35mm, the others 85mm.. all with an aperture of f4. When I was standing with the window in front of me, I think I may have been slightly uplit as there was a lot of bounce up from the white sheets on the bed; almost as much as was coming through the windows.

I just love the simplicity of these and I'm really happy with how they turned out, especially with the blue-ish filter in post. I love using mirrors.. when using the available light, they just push so much more light back in; they basically act like an enormous soft reflector. And I love wearing my Calvin Klein crop top.. or Kevin Klein as Simon likes to call it, haha.
Please click on any photo to see it larger..

Friday, 2 February 2018

Poor princess

Week 5 - "In a previous life I was a....." Do you ever get the feeling you have been on this earth before?

Here I am again.
I wanted to try shoot a more literal photo to this theme, rather than an animal I feel most connected to, or the life I feel I should have had.

A few years ago my dad went for past life regression. I was so fascinated by what information he came back with (which connected a place with which he always had a real emotional connection) a few years later I went to have it myself with the same hypnotist.
I’m not religious.. I guess I’m spiritual, but I believe everyone’s bloody spiritual.. I suppose my way of life is closest to Buddhism, although I’m not sure I fully believe in past lives or not just yet. I incline to the thought that something doesn’t fully die when our bodies do.. not because I desperately need something to hold on to; it’s no more than a gut feeling.

Anyway, my regression was weird as I couldn’t really place any meaning from it at the time. I’m not sure exactly how far back I was taken, but it could have been the Medieval era and I was born into a royal family.. specifically a princess.. I’m not sure on the country. I wasn’t happy as I had fallen in love with a man but he wasn’t my arranged marriage, had no wealth and so was threatened to stay way, but I loved him and we met up in secret so my ‘royal’ family didn’t find out and have us killed.
I remember my hypnotist, Sue saying a year and asking what was happening; I told her I was sat at a banquet and was utterly miserable, that I didn’t want to be there and would rather die than have to lose the man I loved.
Anyway, apparently I ran away with my lover and never saw my family again. We lived in complete secrecy like paupers and never left our hut for fear of being found, except to go out to forage for food.
We had lots of children, but only two survived, (they were both girls) but one day when my lover (we could never marry) went to get food he didn’t come back.. I could only assume he was found and killed.
Sue took me to another date, but I couldn’t see anything.. it was black and I could only assume I had already died. My daughters, (who were no older than 9) and I died from eventual starvation.

Ha, how morbid!
Well, what to make of it.. it sounds crazy, but it’s not like I was searching for my brain to make something up. This all poured out like a stream of reality. It was a weird feeling as I felt all the emotions too.
It was quite traumatic.. like a really vivid dream, but it was like for half an hour I’d snapped back to being a different person rather than been asleep and just woke up.
I didn’t get what any of it meant and when fully conscious again, Sue asked me how I am with money. Well I’ve never actually felt comfortable unless I have a couple of £k in my savings for fear of running out. That could just be because I’ve never had a stable income, (by choice) and if any of this bears any meaning, then I made a conscious decision to run away from wealth to live an honest, happy life by me, rather than others.
It’s different to this life, but not massively because although I have worries about running out and not being able to cover my back, I also am more free-thinking now, an optimist truly believing that ‘something will always come up.’ I feel protected in some way purely by following what feels right.
But if this bears any truth, it didn’t work for me back then, ha.
I do remember I had long blond-ish hair in braids and I was sat at the bottom of some gardens, so I tried to recreate that first vision I had to be as true as possible..

The camera was on a tripod, I used an 85mm lens, I had the remote trigger in my hand and this is just natural light.
The gown I've had ages.. I turned it red from pink in Photoshop as I really don't like the colour pink. It was kindly given to me by a photographer who bought it for me to wear on one of his shoots back in 2009! Sometimes it works out to be a hoarder..

Introducing The Hacienda

I have quite a bit of blogging catch-up to do!
The week before last, I spent a bit of time in London doing various things including modelling jobs and attending birthday parties. When I'm with Simon, we mostly stay with his sister in Sutton, but occasionally we hang out at this glorious place called The Hacienda.. this time it was just me as Si was working elsewhere.
Anyway, I modelled for a studio day and ran a bath that evening to relax.. but ended up doing a selfie.. because I'm clearly obsessed. No, when I saw the brief for this week's Dogwood challenge and that I'd be staying here at that time, I knew it had to be a bath shot as it's quite honestly the most enjoyable and relaxing experience. The Hacienda bathroom is beautiful and spacious with a beautiful free-standing roll-top bath and always full of lit candles - you can always get genuine quiet time here. I decided to try shoot in the candlelight.

WEEK 4 Creative: Quiet Moment. Peace. Serenity. Tranquility. Convey a quiet moment.'

I'm finding myself using the 35mm a lot more than I ever have.. mainly because I keep forgetting we have a 60mm, but that would have been too long for this shot. 

My camera was on the tripod up as high as it goes, tilted down and the main light came from the candles placed on the side of the bath, (swapped the tea lights for big church candles) but I added a bit of fill light, by..... umm.. tying my phone with the flashlight app on to the bathroom door with my pants. There was a little bit that stuck out at the top of the door - phone was balanced on that, torch shining down with my pants being used as an elaborate elastic band.
I guess I could have asked Sean for some tape or something more practical, but he was in the living room watching a film, and by this time I was starkers and wet from getting in and out the bath so many times to test the composition.. plus the camera & tripod were completely blocking the door, so thought it best to leave my improvisation as it was.

I started by doing shots where my hands were together in Namaste and the shutter release was between my knees in the bath, (sat on my bum, knees up) and pressed together to get it to fire.. but there was a more flattering photo in the end.
The shutter speed was ridiculously slow, so any movement saw photos completely blurred.. the trigger squeezing between my knees wasn't an option in these circumstances, lol. 
I love the mirror opposite the bath and whilst there were some composition issues in the beginning, (before I tilted the camera) I found the composition I wanted which showed both me and my reflection quite quickly.
The biggest issue as ever was focus. I still had not read up on all the stuff this new camera can do and at the time didn't realise I could get the auto focus to actually track my face.. the ISO was right up, but I had no option but to have a slow shutter speed and a wide aperture.. a nightmare really.
Anyway, it ended up focussing on the right hand side of the mirror frame. I'm annoyed as it should have been on my reflection, but I'm pleased with how the photo turned out overall and I think it portrays a quiet moment well, which is the main thing.

I managed to get the shot before the water got cold so I could enjoy a relaxing soak as well. I didn't feel like fiddling around with studio lights for the shot.. I can use them and feel more confident by the day, it just takes me decades longer to get it all together and I knew I'd struggle keeping the feel of the ambient light.

Had a great night's sleep and I shot some more stuff the following morning before Simon came to meet me for lunch.
I set up in the main room, which has gorgeous natural light from huge windows.
These next photos aren't really for any purpose, I just saw the soft low sunlight and knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to shoot.
The bokeh (below left) is from a pretty standing lamp which was on and just in shot in the foreground.. settings are F5, 1/100th, ISO250 shot on 85mm.

The Hacienda mask..
Apparently no-one shoots this, perhaps because it's so heavy and wide but I love it. The added bokeh is from Creative Commons and used as an overlay.

My other weekly photographic challenge from Alley for week 4 was:

"The doorway to your soul - this week, I want you to photograph a door.. this door is going to tell me all about you as a person.. so for example, this could be the door of the church that you got married in, this could be the doorway to your home. It could be a door you drive past every day on the way to work.. it could be a piece of architechtural beauty, but I want this door to be passionate. So shoot the door and then edit it to describe the doorway to your soul.. change the colour, change the texture, edit something onto the door, age it, contrast it, brighten it, darken it.. make this door reflect who you are. This door, after all, is the deep soul within you, the person I might not yet know.."

Phew - thanks Alley! But this wasn't hard because again, I knew it had to be The Hacienda. This place is SO special to me. The studio is no ordinary studio; it was opened pretty much exactly a year ago just off Brick Lane, London as a non-profit studio where all proceeds go towards Shelter From The Storm charity for the homeless.
Over the past 10 months, this place, Sean the owner, the 12 resident models and all the creatives who have created work here have collectively raised almost £6k, hopefully with another successful year coming up in 2018.
The Hacienda is a beautiful creative hub for all people in the industry to come and make stunning work, whilst supporting the cause.
Being a socialist and an artist in a few various forms, I have never felt more passionate about anything in my life. It's heartbreaking to see so many people homeless; many of whom never thought they'd be in the position of no longer having a roof over their head. I believe if you are in a position of fortune to help others who are without sufficient food, drink, shelter and warmth, then you must step up and help - The Hacienda is the angel which provides a slight comfort to those many millions in need.

It takes just £16 to feed, water, clothe and give shelter to one homeless person for one day.. this is the link to the new Hacienda Just Giving page set up for 2018 if you would like to donate to our cause. We would be very grateful.

This innovative and unique space is my second home.. I feel very lucky.. I will continue to walk through these doors to work there, create, invent, socialise, and raise money for those less fortunate than I for as long as I am welcome and it continues to run.
Here are the doors to my soul.

Now for the boring technical bit, ha.. I used 35mm on the D850, F15, ISO 100, 1/125th sec.. had a Bowens octabox on full power set up 45 degrees to my right, camera on tripod in front of me, and a fan at my feet which was blowing my chiffony gown up.. ooh la laaa.

Thanks to Sean for letting me use his place 

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