I had the pleasure of working with Maria at my studio in Burlington, Ontario recently. Maria responded to one of my castings for a model to collaborate with me on a series of B&W / Dark Glam images.

For this particular session, I was trying three new approaches to my sessions.

Mood Boards

Pre-planning / brainstorming with Microsoft’s MoodBoard (http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/downloads/1d38121c-ee72-488d-846d-8a396541eff6/) with the JPGs going up on a shared Google Drive (I used to use Evernote but I find it increasingly restrictive and less than friendly for collaboration). The idea is to share a folder between you and the model, both contribute ideas and then nail down a few that are your favourite. I take those favourites and produce a mood board so we can get an idea of the kind of images we like and why we like them. This also serves as a good platform to make sure you and the model are on the same page when it comes to the session, the last thing you want is to produce images that the model isn’t happy with or vice-versa.

Set Planning

I also decided to try set planning with Set.A.Light (https://www.elixxier.com/en/products/setalight3d.php). This is a bit of software which mimics different studio set-ups, so you can change lights around, move the model and you get an idea of where the lighting will fall, etc.  It’s useful to a point. One nice feature is that if you like a particular set-up, it can produce a PDF with the lighting arrangement, light heights, power, angle and a bunch of other stuff so you can try it out in the real-world. I found it gives you a good starting point for lighting.

Post Production Workflow.

My regular post production workflow is probably quite a common one. Lightroom ingests the images, let’s  me set a few parameters for colour balance, exposure etc. and then into Photoshop for the heavy lifting (skin clean up, hair retouching etc.). I’m by no means a Photoshop expert, in fact I’d be hard pressed to say I’m even a novice but it’s a necessary evil and for someone with limited skills, finding out how to do something can be a frustrating and exceptionally time -consuming experience. So I decided to download trials of some well know portrait retouching software. There’s a few on the market, but the one I settled on was Portrait Pro (http://www.anthropics.com/). I just ran a test file through the software on its default settings and was immediately impressed. I still found the overall look too ‘plasticky’ but it has options to dial down the settings and once I had done that, I would say it did 80% of what I needed in 10% of the time.  It also allows you to save your settings and make them the default for either male or female. That’s a huge boon. Each image still requires some tweaks in Portrait Pro and every image still needs to go through Photoshop for other things but I’m convinced it will save me hours of both time and frustration in the long-run.

I would have to say all three take some getting used to (Microsoft’s offering is free, I wasn’t expecting much but it exceeded my expectations) and I have used the same tools in other sets since that time. If you’re a photographer I would recommend looking into these products (or their competitors, I have no vested interest in any of them other than to tell you my experience).

Here’s a quick graphic showing the mood board with inspirational images, some notes, a couple of set designs etc. Now for a basic setup like this I probably wouldn’t bother with a set plan but since I was trying out the software and getting used to moving lights, models around etc. I thought it was a worthy exercise.



So I share this with the model, if she likes where we’re going, the images give her examples of what is required in terms of posing, expression, the overall feel we’re aiming for, it also helps to nail down wardrobe, hair and make-up choices.

In the end though, it’s up to use to put our spin on things. In the example above, we ended up with a black leather jacket and corset. We added a fan to move the hair a bit more and make the image a bit more dynamic.

During the session itself, the moodboard application is open  so we can refer to it from time to time. I found this very useful, the model will sometimes want to go back to the inspirational images and talk about a particular element of one of the images (e.g. “I like the way her hand is positioned”), I may also want to go back and review the images, my notes or even the set plan.

As usual, the moodboard and set plans can only take you so far. Treat the session as dynamic, fluid. Just because the model is looking one way, don’t assume your model will look her best that way, go through a series of alterations, turn more to the left, chin up, chin down, look away from the camera, move the light until the shadows are where you want them, where the catchlights are just right according to your own taste. Inspiration, moodboards, set plans are only the beginning, it’s up to you and your team to direct the image in the direction that you want and produce results you can all be happy with.

In Maria’s case, I found the most compelling images were always when Maria’s eyes were turned away from the camera. It just worked for her but it helps to have your camera tethered to your computer. You can review a series of images and ask the model for her input, “why do you like this one more than this one…”, “these seem to be on the right track, let’s get back into this pose and make some small adjustments to see where that leads.” At the end of the day, I’m looking to produce one or maybe two images from a three hour session (the model gets around 5-10 processed images) so attention to detail is paramount, take your time, review and rework until you know you’re taking keepers in every frame. I find the mood of the session changes when things begin to click (no pun intended), as a photographer I feel more comfortable because the elements are coming together, I would imagine the same is true for the model and the rest of the team.

Here’s a selection of the images we took on our theme of dark glamour.

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