It's been a very busy couple of weeks. Thankfully Amazon Prime has made Christmas shopping much easier this year giving me more time to spend on editing my photos. I'm really pleased and excited to present this project to you. It's been weeks in the planning from conceptualising the story, ordering props, hiring the costume as well as the editing.
It follows on from one of my previous projects I did for a uni assignment. This time we were asked to create a thematic set of images, 24 in total, around a subject of our choice but shoot on colour film. I did some mind mapping and created a couple of mood boards. These techniques really help hone an idea and get the creative juices flowing!
I put pen to paper and started to draft out a story. Initially I was going to do something physically based in a WW1 trench. Despite looking around and trying to contact some venues I wasn't able to secure the location I was after. Because time was against me I had to adapt the story. The Garrison in Shoeburyness have a few listed WW2 buildings which I felt would lend itself as the backdrop. Below is a shot of the location when I visited prior to completing the storyboard. This visit/recce really helped to visualise potential shots and to see what I could work with.
I wanted to clearly demonstrate applied colour theory. To do this I decided on a complimentary / triadic colour scheme, typically greens, blues and reds were used in my props. During the research for this project I was also learning a lot about retouching. I came across an article by Natalia Taffarel called 'So you want to be a retoucher'. It's a great read and I recommend you follow the link and check it out. Here Natalia made a quote which since reading has stuck in my brain. It certainly helped me in this project and changed the way I approach my projects, especially when doing a series.
"There’s not a scene in the film 'Amelie' that couldn’t be printed, framed, and hung on a wall." (Taffarel, N. 2012).
I took the stance that every shot must count as much as the one before, that it should be able to stand on it's own merit and be as powerful as the next. Not just in relation to composition but what I do in post processing (skin tone, colour toning, level adjustments etc). It's for this reason I edited the entire series one at a time manually rather than use pluggins.
On the day of the shoot I was quite worried. Not because I had doubts about the concept but because the weather this month has been absolutely crap! It was one of those days that was really overcast and you had to turn on lights to brighten up the house. I thought to myself that the light would be too poor to work with. By this time though I was committed. I had only a few weeks left to get the work delivered and the hired costume from The History Bunker had arrived. In the end I had no choice but to at least try, so I opted for a Kodak film with an ASA rating of 400. By the way, if you're looking to hire authentic uniforms for a period shoot I really recommend using The History Bunker. The service was quick, efficient and the outfit was perfect!
Once on location, I put down the giant bag filled with props, camera, tripod, smoke pellets and anything else I grabbed as I left the house. I pulled out my printed story which also included markings of where I should take my pictures (this was a big help to ensure I didn't forget to shoot a scene). This is where my previous visit and working from my story really came in to it's own. I could direct William who modelled for me and move through the shots pretty quickly. Which was just as well because it started to lightly rain at times which threatened to stop the shoot if it took hold.
The dog walkers and the odd family stopped and starred at us in amazement wondering what we were doing. There used to be a time where I hated people watching, perhaps more embarrassment when I was starting out as a photographer? These days however I'm really not bothered and happy for people to bog at a distance. I think this is where my confidence as a photographer and as an artist have grown over the last year. Which has only happened because I push myself outside my comfort zone... a lot!
Towards the end of the shoot I took some digital shots so I could play with them in Photoshop straight away. William bless him, was feeling the cold by this time so I had to move quickly. By the next day I mixed up a fresh batch of chemicals from the Fuji Hunt C41 X-Press processing kit. I believe the previous batch would have been fine to use, but I wasn't taking any chances! In another project which I'll be sharing in the next few weeks I had a disaster during developing. Being tired and distracted led to the wrong chemical going into the tank first! Having travelled nearly 4 hours back and forth for one of the locations you can imagine the anguish I felt. Once bitten twice shy as they say. I was apprehensive when I made the decision to self process the roll for this shoot. I was tempted to just take it to the lab and have them process for me. In the end I stuck to my guns and went ahead making sure I did everything correctly. It paid off and I was elated when I pulled the roll out of the tank and saw perfectly developed negatives.
Once the film had dried I cut them into strips and started to scan them. After the first batch was scanned I noticed some images looked over exposed. I thought this was rather odd, given I had been using a light meter. I did however have my camera's ASA set to 200 instead of 400 to match the film. It was of course one of those rare occasions where such a mistake actually worked in my favour by exposing my film slightly hire than intended. The latitude in the film should cope and prevent blown out areas. For that reason I checked the scan settings and straight away found that the settings were clipping the shadow and highlight areas way too much. Once corrected I had good tonal ranges and highlight areas.
I cleaned up the scans to remove dust and scratches which I did to all the images before starting any colour toning/grading. I established the look and feel I wanted in one image, then replicated that in the others. It was important to take regular breaks to let me eyes adjust and come back to check the toning. I used curves and level adjustments to darken the images to give that high contrast/filmatic look. Dodging and burning was used to shape and enhance the lighting. My favourite image is of Wlliam holding the playing cards, I'm really pleased with how this image in particular turned out.
I didn't use any fake blood on the shoot because of the risk of getting it on the hired uniform. Instead I created blood effects in Photoshop which worked out really well (here's the tutorial I used https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Td9NRxCgPsI). As with most of my stories that I write I try and push boundaries, which can make it difficult to fulfil on the day. Originally I intended to have a table laid out for a dinner party, but the logistics of getting such big props on location with just two people meant I had to scale back. Did this cause any problems? Not at all, I actually found myself inspired and able to create shots I hadn't conceived on the fly. Such as the view of the playing cards over William's shoulder.
When I submitted my presentation to my tutor I was really pleased with the feedback I got. Even more so when he said a lot of the images could stand alone on their own, testament perhaps to Natalia's quote about Amelie and how it influenced me.
High res images available here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/87206424@N04/albums/72157661954861100