Friday, October 15, 2010

Fashion Photography: Fairy Tale Shoot

In the interest of keeping in the Hallowe'en mood, this week I'll focus on the more costume-y side of fashion. 

As you've probably already gathered (from my last photo shoot), a current trend in fashion photography is the Fairytale Fashion Shoot. 

This requires not just styling, make-up and photography know-how, but literary and historical knowledge as well. Of course, special effects play a roll more often than not, but the real star in the following photos are the costumes, and meticulous detail with which the stylist follow their themes.....

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Turn of the Century: The Golden Era of Magic

As a little girl I had very few heroes, but one of them was Harry Houdini. I remember reading a book about him and his life in middle school,and then spending a summer attempting to "train" my esophagus to operate in reverse, the way he did to reproduce keys he'd swallowed (after being locked in various boxes). I won't go into specifics of how that's done. Sadly, stage fright nixed any of my plans as a performer (of which magician was only one of many; tightrope walker, actress, ballerina, gymnast).

I bring up Houdini as a segue to feature highly collectible, and uniquely beautiful, vintage magic posters. In the 1870's Jules Cheret mastered the technique of stone lithography and is credited with being the “father" of the process. His three stone lithographic process allowed every color in the rainbow to be printed with as little as three stones – usually red, yellow and blue – printed in careful registration.

The peak of lithographic popularity coincided with the Golden Era of Magic, from 1890 to 1930.  Thousands of colorful lithographs, advertising impossible feats of famous magicians like Houdini, as well as Kellar and Carter the Great, were generated during these years. They often featured devils and demons helping to perform the illusions, as if magic were Satan's work.

Oh...and if you haven't seen Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige", I highly recommend it.  It's set during this golden age, and (for you Coloradans) features David Bowie as Tesla holed up in Colorado Springs experimenting (which really happened!).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Black Widow Berry Pie

This is my “Spooky Pie” entry for the pie contest blog You want Pies With That?.

Originally I wanted to do a “Four and Twenty Blackbirds Blackberry Pie”, but I just could not work out the logistics of the blackbirds. Instead I did a spider web over spooky blackberry filling.


Pie dough for top and bottom crust (I like to use Jiffy – it’s got cute retro artwork which makes me happy, and it always works perfectly– even at my high altitude)

5-6 cups blackberries, rinsed, picked clean, patted dry (if you use frozen berries, defrost and drain them)

1/2 cup to 3/4 cup sugar (depending on how sweet your berries are)

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

3 Tbsp quick cooking instant tapioca (can usually find in the baking aisle of your local supermarket)

1 egg

Place blackberries, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, cinnamon, almond extract, and quick cooking instant tapioca in a large bowl. Gently fold the berries until they are all well coated with sugar. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

On floured board roll out half your dough in a circle for the bottom crust and line greased pie plate with it. Trim edges and crimp.
Pour filling into bottom crust.

Roll out the other half of the dough in an oblong shape to cut strips from. Use a pizza cutter to cut strips about 1/4 inch (I warbled and wiggled the cutter a little to create wavy and slightly creepier strips).
Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water for an egg wash (we’ll use it to stick the strips together).
Start with at least three long strips to create the base of the spider web (I think I should have used four or five….). Drape the tips over the edges of the crust (we’ll trim later).

Now, beginning in the center, cut strips to size so that they create a web shape. “Miter” the corners (like a frame), so the pieces don’t overlap.
For the best spider web effect, curve the strips a bit in towards the center as you go, if possible.

Wet the underside of the tips with the egg as you go, so they’ll stick.
Make a spiral (not concentric circles), all the way out to the outer crust. Add spider (mine’s not the best, so I’ll let you create your own). I should have put her in the center; I think it would have been much more dramatic.

Trim the excess strips from around the edges, and give all of the crust a good wash of egg with a pastry brush. Sprinkle a bit of sugar over the crust for a shimmery crust. Bake on the bottom rack 30 minutes (or until golden).

Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


Monday, October 11, 2010

My New Portfolio Site is Up!

Thanks to models Natasha Brady and Andrea Tomlinson-Britt, the first portfolio shoot in a series is up on my new website.

Here's a taste of the results. For a story on how I styled this see HERE. All sweaters by me for Icelandic Design, SPRING 2011.

How to Art Direct a Photo Shoot

I just finished my first portfolio shoot models Natasha Brady and Andrea Tomlinson-Britt.

I'll be posting the results here, but first I'd like to give you a little tutorial in art directing a fashion photo shoot (in case you're interested).

Location Scouting:

Finding the perfect location for your shoot can take a bit of lateral thinking. You have a concept (for example; a time period or theme such as “Alice in Wonderland”) which you want your location to convey. But traveling (even an hour or so) can be expensive and time consuming. Everyone involved (hair dresser, models, etc) needs to be able to easily get to the location, so on top of a mountain isn’t advised. It has to be public property (or you need permission from the owner), but even then, people love to harass photographers and models in the middle of a shoot (see Art Direction for how to handle this). 
Take photos of the location to see how it looks in frame.
Our theme was “Faeries in the Wood”. I found a local, public trail in the woods next to a stream, which was only a few yards from a public parking lot (so we could park and schlep our gear).

Art Direction:
I’m actually serious about the handling of the aggressive looky-loos; this happens - a lot. Someone in the production needs to be ready to handle this, because the models and photographer cannot stop to deal with it. That person is usually the art director, which is why it’s always me dealing with the crazies, moving along the homeless (and oblivious) out of the shots, and threatening to call the police when the weirdos get really weird. But more so, the art director plans the theme and brings any props needed for the shoot. They decide which outfit (and accessory) is changed into when, and what else needs to be in the shot. They also handle any repairs needed, and trouble shooting.

What to bring:

In regards to props, I think about my color palette and scour my own house first for anything that fits into the shoot. For this shoot all of the garments were pastels, so I focused on aquas, pale greens and ivories. I looked for anything vintage. I brought one big ivory covered wing back chair and one little shabby chic aqua table I had painted that fit in with the theme. Mirrors and other shining objects (such as brass) also work well in shoots to play with light. I always bring coordinating yards of fabric to shoots because it is a versatile way to get color into a frame.
I purchased a variety of silk flowers at Hobby Lobby (on sale), and usually go thrift-store hunting if there is something specific I need, such as accessories and shoes (you don’t want to go broke, but you do want a great photo).
I made one tutu (see my tutu tutorial) and borrowed another vintage one from a co-worker.
Additionally (to cover every contingency) I bring: a hammer, nails, screw driver, spool of wire, scissors, tape, lots of safety pins (you always have to pin the garments – always!), band aids (you never know), tampons (what I said),  make-up, hair brush/ pins/ bands, hair spray, bug spray, paper towels, baby wipes, windex, a step stool and a big blanket to lay on the ground for the garment samples to lay on.
At this shoot I forgot that the models would have nothing to sit on (since we were in the woods) in between takes, and was lucky we had two step stools.
I also document "behind the scenes". I bring my own little digital camera and a video camera, and shoot when I can, to let everyone (and you) see how it looks outside the photographer's lens.

What to ask of your models:
Models are hip and fun and they have a lot of resources. Ask them if they have something you need, and they may. Natasha has a sister that is a ballerina, and we were able to score two sets of pointe shoes (which we simply could NOT find cheap anywhere else!), so thank God for her.
Because we did not have a make-up artist or a hair dresser for this shoot we sent the models video and photos of how I wanted the hair (Gibson girl like) and make-up (china doll). You can’t expect them to get it exactly right, but it will be a jumping off point (a lot of which can be touched up in post-production). Andrea also brought several excellent accessories which we used.

Prop Styling:
The rule of the prop stylist is: start with everything, and then edit. I began by asking the photographer where his focal point would be and then set up the furniture. As he set up the lights I hung a painting and a mirror to create a living room in the woods. I played with the props and revised as we went along. 

The shoot:
As the art director, once the shoot starts most of my job is to stay out of the frame. I need to know intuitively when the photographer is adjusting his lenses or lights - I can jump in and fix hems, hair, wrinkles in the fabric, etc. I am also the time keeper; I make sure the photographer knows how much time we have and how many changes are left. I make any adjustments needed within the frame, and am ready with the next change as soon as he is. If I want something of the models I tell him, and he tells them – it can get extremely confusing having several people shouting conflicting commands at you (ever seen “Double Exposure”? It’s a wonder those people ever get a good shot! They’re nuts.).
My car packed with props (multiple cars are advisable, because models often need a ride).
Setting up props.
The location.
I even hung silk flowers to style the trees.

The models make last minute adjustments.
Natasha sits for lighting tests.
See the results in my next post!