When I work with Laura Hollick, my job is as the photographer is to be the visual editor. A lot of photographers talk about editing as the process that happens after the shoot, with choosing and touching up photos. While I agree that’s something that needs to happen, I also think a good deal of the editing must be done before and during a shoot. The energy you direct towards this important editing phase, especially when you’re doing conceptual work, the easier and smoother your post-shoot editing process will be. It doesn’t mean that every single detail must be planned in advance, but it does allow you to hone your visual communication down to its essence so that your photos are “speaking” clearly and strongly.
Anyway, Laura is a bursting fountain of ideas. She’ll bring an idea to me, and it’s up to me to compress it into the rectangular frame of a photo. In a recent shoot, Laura wanted to put a black fairy in a swamp with an interesting dead tree. She’d found this location on a drive in the country, and asked if we could do a photo there. I scouted the location with her, and we decided the tree would make a great counter-balance to a sculptural costume piece she’d made in her studio. The sculpture, along with the tree, would form the wings of the black fairy, and communicate the concept of her connection to nature. Whenever there’s an opportunity to scout a location before the shoot, I do it. Sometimes time constraints or other circumstances don’t allow this, but if it’s at all possible, I’ll take the opportunity. Scouting a location allows you to come prepared for any difficulties the site may present, as well as giving you an idea what time of day and weather conditions will yield the best shooting conditions.
I took the photos above on the day of the shoot. These “sketches” are an important part of my editing process as we move towards getting the final shot. I tried various combinations of pose and camera position and orientation. I experimented with different focal lengths to try to come up with a good balance between drama and distraction.
As a side note, one factor of primary importance to me is the comfort of the model or subject of the photo. If the person you’re shooting is uncomfortable, you’re almost certain to get a bad photo of them. This is one reason Laura wasn’t wearing her costume in the sketch photos until we needed it to figure out the composition. I don’t want to feel rushed because she might be feeling uncomfortable or awkward in a costume. So, we avoid putting the costume on until absolutely necessary.
There were a lot of competing elements in this location, including trees, bushes, tall grasses, reflections, clouds, etc. I wanted to keep the black fairy clear of distractions, but in balance with other environmental elements so she would stand out. At the same time, we were limited by the fact that the tree had to be in the right position in the frame to form that other wing. In the end, I found just the right spot and focal length to get the shot. Laura was standing on a chair, which was slowly but surely sinking into the marshy ground; we had to work quickly once her costume was in place, otherwise our whole setup would have toppled into the swamp! Laura did a great job of looking serene, even as the chair inexorably tilted towards the water. We’d been blessed by a stormy-looking sky that day, so I snapped a series of bracketed shots so I could maintain the detail of those beautiful clouds. Later, I discovered that judicious processing of the RAW file allowed me to extract the detail from just a single exposure.