Since the spring we’ve been busy with our new daughter, so we got back in the saddle in the summer with a Fashion Shoot Experience in Lanzarote, only our second FSE this year since London in February.
This blog post goes into the planning and execution of our shoot concept, ‘Machina Silks’, on a logistical and technical level… taking you behind the scenes on the shooting, lighting and even the setbacks to producing this mission of a vision!
Setting the brief
Where did it all start? We were on the hunt for an exotic venue for an outdoor shoot. We became attracted to the volcanic scenery of Lanzarote, deciding we wanted to shoot there, and thinking of a vision that would enhance the landscape: models in long flowing dresses teamed with futuristic accessories to make feminine but edgy fashion images.
Once we’d secured the photographer bookings to actually facilitate the FSE happening, we sought out accommodation to house and feed the whole team of 25+ (a picturesque yoga retreat of villas, yurt and pool, Casa El Morro). Then the first thing that the vision hung upon was essentially the costumes. Months in advance, we sought out the designers we needed to fulfil the wardrobe demands of the best quality we could find. The styling budget on our FSEs is increasingly being spent on commissioning or buying pieces, rather than putting the money into hiring or having a stylist source the hiring. This enables our vision to be more closely and exclusively fulfilled.
We hired London-based Mariana Abella for the dresses, and Spanish designer Manuel Albarran for the armour pieces. (Unfortunately, we were let down by both of them which led to emergency measures, more on that later).
We commissioned long dresses made in eight different colours. Plain, no pattern or trims, just solid colours that would cover over the model’s modesty but also leave room for the flesh of legs, arms and a bit of torso. The point would be that the sculptural armour would adorn and accessorise. The fabric should be thick enough not to be transparent, but light enough, like chiffon, to flow in the wind. After paying designer Mariana Abella a couple of grand to do this job, sadly she failed at the opportunity and after months of being misled to think everything was successfully progressing, we ended up with a box of unmade dresses just a few days before our shoot. As unacceptable as this was, it sadly happens in the creative industry (even by those being paid)! We consulted a local seamstress who fixed up the dresses in record time. Luckily we did not want perfection in their detail, the priority was to make them wearable, eye-catching shapes. We also had our stylist Minna Attala bring along her sewing machine to do some extra work over in Lanzarote.
2. …sculptural armour
We were excited to shoot with Manuel Albarran’s creations, we had Skyped and emailed with him and were set on paying a handsome amount to hire a set of his works. Unfortunately, his assistant eventually informed us (a month before the shoot) that he could no longer meet the commitment, again showing the exasperatingly flakey nature of the creative industry. We contacted Boyd Batten of Divamp Couture, to meet the extremely esoteric style of women’s armour that we’d moodboarded. He was on board, a total saviour, and provided us with a mixture of purchases and loaned pieces.
3. …and accessories
Over the preceding weeks, Matt went crazy on ebay and a variety of other places to source shoes, rings, bracelets, necklaces and a whole manner of other futuristic gold and silver accessories that would work with the shoot; to the point that the glinting, fetishistic array gathering behind his workspace was starting to worry me… 😉 Minna the stylist also brought along a truckload of shiny stuff, so along with technical gear, we had enough to well and truly fill out all 16 bags of our airline travel capacity.
Costume keying into the location
We hired a native guide, Jose, who would help direct us to iconic spots, secure permits and liaise/communicate with police and landowners where necessary. Upon arrival Matt had a scout with Jose to devise an itinerary for the week, finding the most shootworthy volcanoes and craters for example, determining which were of suitable walking distance for everyone.
On the first day while everyone was still arriving, we did a test shoot with the dresses to check just how pliant they were, and just how windy the island was. Our letdown designer Mariana Abella had used a cheap plasticky fabric that did not flow completely magnificently – but flew well enough, dramatically enough for the impact I wanted. We were still in the midst of optimising the dresses with Minna’s embellishments, so we could see what we might need to tweak on the dresses.
Months in advance we also considered models. We needed slim and tall, but brave and bold models. Our model line-up was prone to contingencies through the months of planning, but with relief we got our final line-up: Kim, our much-loved redhead muse who is now based in Mexico. Monika & Anita, two Polish models new to us, recommended by our photographer client Greg Sikorski. And the fourth model was Liza Junele, a feisty and fit model who came over with us from the UK.
Makeup & hair
With everything going on with armour and flowing dresses, we knew hair should be simple. Slicked, ponytailed, nothing extravagant. In the end the whole styling got a little over-the-top 80s… but theatrical was fine, as we were intent on making long shots that showed off landscape and dresses.
Now to put it all together. This is where I have to step in and make Matt’s months of planning worthwhile.
Each morning the styling would begin whilst photographers breakfasted. Around 10am we’d all get into the cars, with models styled as much as possible, and drive to the first planned location. Upon arrival the photographers and assistants set up gear whilst models get their makeup tweaks done in the backs of the cars, lace up the Divamp pieces, and buckle the endless shoes buckles on their knee-length Gladiator sandles…
On an FSE we have multiple photographer set-ups going on at once. Each group of three chose a spot to set up and shoot with their model, dividing the time between them (or collaborating, depending on what they chose). I shot alone, assisted by Brent McCombs on the first couple days, then by Matt for the rest of the week.
Now I’ll go through some of my set-ups.
Camera & lenses
For all shoots I was working with my Nikon D810 and I chose to stick with my 24-70mm lens throughout. This lens was just right for the composition of pretty much every shot I wanted, enabling me some focal flexibility when I was standing in a precarious spot.
From the first visions of this shoot, we knew lighting would be key. It was about creating strong, vibrant and dynamic fashion images with frozen motion and a polished, commercial edge. The landscape must compliment the scene, hence the point of coming to Lanzarote, but the model must also stand out boldly against it, to warrant the point of the circus of fashion production.
We used broncolor Move 1200L kits. Each with a standard reflector, because they’re small, compact, easy to move around, and don’t blow over on the windy island of Lanzarote. And as we were shooting outdoors in direct sun, shooting at full power means no attenuation (loss of strength) from modifier diffusers. The small reflectors focus the light giving us a very strong ‘contrasty’ light source, mimicking the sun.
The Move kits come in backpacks which made ease of portability on a fast-moving shoot like this. Time was of the essence, to finish up and get back for lunch each day. Plus, the Move kits’ performance was consistently rock-solid so we could concentrate on getting stressed with everything else instead 😉 Having a broncolor battery charging station back at the villa was invaluable for recharging all our batteries in one go. Each evening we would dump them all off, and go relax and feast with everyone.
My go-to setup is the light at a 45-degree angle, coming in from high angles where possible. Shooting from the side avoided a flat lit look on the outfit, and emphasised the shadows in the flowing curves of the fabric. Below are some shots of the set-ups, and further below, my finished results.
We shot about 18 set-ups, from which my favourite 6 finished images are below. Editing was a fine balance between preserving the natural dynamism of the shot, and embellishing it to make it the best it can be. Except for ‘Red Rum’, I combined multiple shots to thicken or increase the amount of fabric, though this was surprisingly subtle for most of them. The magic had already been captured. Shot selection, as ever, is key: there were some shoots where it just didn’t look striking enough because of a white sky or a difficult angle. I believe the final 6 below are the ones where everything ‘clicked’.
In editing there was also the option of changing colours of dresses with the Hue & Saturation adjustment. I experimented with this, but in the end I kept the colours the same as their originals. For example, I tried both ‘Red Rum’ and ‘Violet Vista’ in pink. They just didn’t have the same impact. It’s important to step back and compare to the original and be honest about whether your changes are worthwhile, or to revert.
(To view the finished images larger, visit my Facebook page.)
Above, ‘Dune Rose’ was my overall favourite shot, it came together like liquid silk, in-camera. The wind picked up the dress perfectly and Monika became a flowing vision. We used an ND filter so we could stop down for maximum dramatic effect, shut out the brightness of the day and enhance the drama of a beautiful landscape. The sky was particularly glorious.
Shooting with – and catering for – a group of other photographers is the main challenge of our FSE event, combined with having to think and shoot creatively for myself as a participant too. In addition we had two designer setbacks on the production planning of this shoot, but being able to adapt to contingencies is an important life skill not exclusive to being a photographer. We also had the responsibility of taking care of our 4-month old baby Lilith on her first trip abroad, which we made easier by inviting Matt’s sister on the trip to help as ‘nanny’. We brought Lilith along on most of the drives out, sheltered and fanned in a pram. It was interesting for me to get back into the first big shoot since her birth, and to exercise the photography muscles again, whilst still putting Lilith first in our new lives as parents. Fortunately we were well rested each day because nights are easy with Lilith… I’m going to drop a plug here for bedsharing/co-sleeping because without this happy and healthy life custom, I don’t think we would have the strength to jump back into international photography shoots so soon!
CREDITS / WITH THANKS TO…
All our participating photographers! Arturo, Ivonne, Jeiran, Greg, Richard, Chris, Isaac, James, and Ian.
Models: Monika Gocman, Anita Sikorska, Liza Junele & Kim D
Designers/wardrobe/styling: Minna Attala, Divamp Couture – and Tina rescue seamstress!
Makeup & hair: Grace Gray and Elbie van Eeden
Assistants: Neill Warburton, Gay Lennard, Daniel Lennard, Brent McCombs
Casa El Morro for warm friendly hospitality
Last but not least, Jose the guide who was great help.
I also wrote about the Lanzarote shoot from an intimate perspective on my personal tumblr blog: Away in the Canaries, an adventure of fashion & family