It’s been quite a while since I last updated – purely because I’ve been keeping so busy, but I thought it was time for a new blog post off the back of a recent group shoot I attended / helped with. Instead of doing my usual review of the day I thought I’d change it up a bit, and write a little article. This one’s called “Why group photo shoots are excellent”. Read on!
I’m pretty active on a particular forum. This forum’s got absolutely nothing to do with photography, but yet there is a thread on it (which was around before me, which has been ‘curated’ by me and which is now in the hands of someone else) entirely dedicated to photography. We chat about photography, we throw ideas around, we post photos, every now and then we’ll even comment on the photos that have been posted and we’re generally our own little community. A few years ago we started doing ‘meets’ – basically getting together and taking photos. The first such meet was at a campsite in the Manifold Valley where we all got pretty rained on and didn’t take many photos, and since then we’ve continued to get together at campsites – and more recently, as more and more people in the thread have got into portrait photography, we’ve arranged studio group shoots.
For years, studio owners have run group evenings – the owners would supply a model, then interested photographers would come along and usually pay around £30 to photograph the model in a variety of settings which have usually been pre-planned by the studio owner. I’ve done these type of shoots myself, and they’re a pretty good way of getting into model photography. The problem you get is with the amount of photographers in attendance (you could be talking 10 to one model), with the limited time (around 3 hours maximum) and with the sets and lighting being pre-arranged by the studio owner you may not get much time to build the rapport with the model, experiment with lighting and generally try things your way. Don’t get me wrong – these types of events are a fantastic way for complete novices to get used to studio photography, they give a quick and easy way of building a portfolio and it allows photographers of all experience levels to meet other photographers and new models.
We do things slightly different. Take the recent shoot we did on the 23rd of February. The catalyst behind this shoot was one I’d previously done at Bodyline Studio in Nottingham where I’d paid £35 to shoot various models of varying ability at this studio. I came back from the shoot and I was very impressed with the studio – so I told the other people on the thread that I thought we should organise an event there. One chap, John Lovell decided to run with the idea – he proposed a date and once we’d all agreed it was convenient he started organising it. Through various modelling websites such as Purestorm, ModelMayhem and the current favourite – PurplePort we identified a number of models that we wanted to invite to the shoot. Our budget wasn’t huge, so we tried to find a balance of models ranging from paid to ‘time for’. The concept of ‘time for’ is pretty simple – the model gives up her time in exchange for images for their portfolio – if the model is relatively new then she benefits from additional images she can use to get paid work in the future, and the photographer benefits from getting a ‘free’ model. Sometimes though (and we were fortunate in this case) you get instances where ‘time for’ models don’t show up – for whatever reason. Because of this we always try and get one or two paid models to supplement the ‘time for’ – you can be pretty certain they’ll show up if they’re being paid, and often you’ll find they don’t need as much direction as new models, which can be great if you’re a new photographer just learning studio work. We finally settled on our models for the day – Frances Baker, EmmaLou Dynamo, Lauren McGee and Jo-Louise.
The next thing was to get a Make Up Artist. Seriously – a good make up artist can really benefit your shoot, don’t underestimate the value they bring. John asked me to put out a casting call on Purpleport, so I did. Within a few hours I had a good number of responses, so I went through and had a look at their websites. When I saw Simone Cattell’s portfolio I knew that she was right for what we wanted, so contacted her and told her we’d love her to attend. She was really keen on the day and told me that her friend, Melanie Rhodes, would potentially be interested in doing the hair for us. I was delighted to have two experienced, keen people on board for the day.
So, on to the day… The whole point of our group shoots is learning. We have people of all abilities joining in – from experienced people such as myself to those who have never been in a studio before. We all have our different ideas of what we want to achieve from the session and we all help and support each other. With a good number of models in attendance we were able to split into two to three groups, each group working with a lighting setup and a model and getting some shots. As we’re all about learning and experimentation you usually find that one of the more experienced people will take the lead in setting up some kind of lighting. What you usually don’t find is that the lighting is the same once you’ve finished! Experimentation is the key, and moving the lights around, seeing how they affect the outcome of the shot, turning them up, turning them down, playing with different modifiers, even moving them a few degrees – it all changes the final picture, so far from having a setup and having to stick to it we positively encourage moving them all around. Even if what you do doesn’t work then you’re learning – move the lights round and try again.
Every now and then you’ll stumble upon a lighting set up that really works – such as the one above. For this, I’d taken my Lee Colortrans 500W fresnel and set it up behind a Venetian blind which I’d been given to use at a previous group session but never got round to opening. It was a really simple set up – but one which was really effective. After I’d finished getting my shots and the others stepped in for theirs you didn’t see anyone moving this set up around! Another popular set up was later on in the day where one of the other photographers had come up with a concept of backlighting one of the models while she was protected by an umbrella standing under the shower in the wet room. It was another simple idea, but one which everyone liked and wanted to grab a shot from.
Because we had various photographers of various experiences we each had different equipment – both camera and lighting wise. I have quite a few different types of light and lighting modifiers and I was very happy to share and/or explain how to use them to create different looks. Two of the most popular and used bits of my equipment on that day were my Lencarta Safari Ringflash – which produces a very distinctive halo around the subject, and my Lencarta honeycomb grids – which concentrate the spread of light into a tight, round spot. Off the back of using my Ringflash, one of the photographers at the day has already gone out and bought his own! It’s good to share and use lighting equipment because you get to use and try out new equipment and ideas which you may not be familiar with.
And finally, group shoots are excellent because you get to work with so many new people. From the models, to Simone and Mel on hair and make up, to the other photographers on the day, everyone has a great time working together, sharing ideas, collaborating and having fun. With a studio with such a variety of different sets to work on, with various looks provided by the models, with different styles created by hair and make up and with inspiration and ideas from the other photographers it’s almost impossible to come out of the day without some amazing photography – photography which is a credit to everyone who took part.
The cost of the day at Bodyline was around £80 per photographer, which included the studio hire for the whole day, payment for a couple of the models and lunchtime pizzas and drink for everyone. It’s excellent value for money, considering you could easily spend that amount on a single model and studio hire for two hours by yourself. With less experienced photographers also gaining free tuition from the more experienced photographers, and everyone benefiting from the ideas and creativity of the whole crew then it really is a cost effective way of learning, experimenting and creating awesome imagery.
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