Category Archives: Model Shoots


Now – there’s a joke in here somewhere about the model being self-raising, but to be honest, It’s too late in the day to be crafting that, so just make up your own and insert it here…

_OHL5221-EditHow much do you need?  I had no idea.  I’d seen a few flour (or “dust”) shots around on flickr, and Pinterest and this seemed like an ideal job for my new high-speed IGBT Lencarta studio lights – movement, flour backlit, hair flying etc.  Well, I bought 4 bags of Sainsbury’s most basic plain flour.  I now have 3 and a half bags of plain flour – which, as it turns out is not much use for baking anything…..

The venue of the flour experiment would be Millwood Photography in Stalybridge.  I highly recommend Millwood studio – Paul not only agreed to let me throw flour about in his studio, helped out on the shoot.  And the brave volunteer to be covered in flour?  Lizzie Bayliss.  I’ve shot with Lizzie before and she is one of the best models around.

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Dancing Again

_OHL4260I keep coming back to this dance theme.  There are a number of reasons.  Dancers, especially classically trained dancers hold themselves with a certain grace and poise.  (well “duh” I hear the rest of the world say, but well, yes it is obvious, however it is a reason why I’m attracted to dancers as subjects).  Next is the movement element – showing movement in a still photograph, whether it be a dancer frozen in mid-leap –where it’s obvious they are moving as they had to be to get up there, to showing multiple positions or a constant motion blur in the image to show the path they have taken.  I had shot with Gabby before, to produce a multiple flash image showing her path from stage right to stage left.  This time I wanted to explore motion freezing, and getting some blur on.

Gabrielle Dams, my subject for this shoot is only 18 years of age, and yet she dances, she sings and teaches a dance class of12-13 year old girls – who all adore her.  She’s very hard-working and always turns in a great performance.

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Grey is the new Green

_OHL0128-Edit-NCFXLight grey specifically.   People used to shoot on a Chroma key green or blue background to make cutting out easier (by selecting everything that is *that* green is was easy to cut out the model for pasting onto something else).  It is still popular in video work.  For stills though, you don’t need to bother with that, as the selection and matting tools in Photoshop these days are very good.  Using these green or blue background also reflects blue and green light onto your subject.  You do still need to blend in your model and create shadows, and match the lights and so on.

However!  Forget all that because if you shoot on a grey background you can just throw backgrounds on top and blend with overlay.  Mask off the model and you’re done. 

(Well ok there a few more steps but it’s certainly less tedious than the usual perfection-selection technique)

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New workshop date for Feb – now *Sold Out*

New 5 hour workshop on lighting techniques with Body Couture Studios in Congleton.  Unlike the half and half lighting/photoshop workshop on the 19th Jan (which is now sold out), this is a pure lighting and shooting workshop.  Sunday 9th Feb from 11am to 4pm, I’ll be covering from simple, one light portraits up to incorporating movement.  From good light, to dramatic light, using gels, fog and fabric; softboxes, reflectors and grids.  Places are limited to 8 at £45 so call Becky at the studio quick if you want to reserve a place – the workshop on the 19th Jan is now sold out!  (see flyer below for details).  Visit  for location details.

PS and movement workshop poster-Edit

Classic beauty/cosmetics shot how-to

_OHL9996-WebI always like to get a shot of every model using this set-up.  Once you set it up, it’s so bullet proof, even I can do it without too much head scratching.  Often called “clamshell lighting” as the lights resemble an open clam from the side, there are many variations on this lighting set-up, however they all have one light centred over the top of the model but angled more towards the horizontal, with another light or reflector below.  You can then light the background from the front or the back.

Lastolite Triflector II


You can actually buy a thing called a “triflector” from Lastolite that has 3 panels that reflect from the bottom, left and right for a wraparound fill.  I don’t use side reflectors – I find it makes the face look fat.  In fact, I don’t use a reflector at all – I prefer to use a powered fill light, as I can then position it lower out of the way, and can have as much power in it as I like.  I almost always use a small beauty dish directly overhead and centred, sometimes with the diffuser on, sometimes not – depends on how good the subject’s skin is:  putting the diffuser on will smooth it out a bit by reducing the micro-shadows around any skin defects.  For fill, I will use a softbox on a floor stand angled up just off horizontal – maybe 30 degrees.  This is powered up to 1 stop below the main light.



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Lighting-stock 4 – the HCCC studio-fest

Martin Pawlett and I have been organising these events for the past couple of years now for Holmes Chapel Camera club, and I guess, the first one was why I bought some studio lights in the first place.  In past events, we’ve shot whoever turned up, and wanted to do that again.  However as we also wanted to demonstrate some lighting, and I wanted to play around with some experimental stuff as well, we also hired some professional models to bolster the line-up.  Martin hired Laura Norrey – a fantastic model who specialises in a vintage (40’s) look.  I use PurplePort a lot for my model sourcing and it works very well.  I put out a casting call for the day asking for “TF” models.  “Time For…” or “TF” means models giving their time, in return for images for their portfolio.  I got a number of responses, although may didn’t have transport and the venue we use is a little out of the way.  Still, we got two models this way – Jade and Emma.   I also then hired Bella Bibby via PurplePort for the lighting demos.

As the date approached, we had 3 of our TF models pull out (we didn’t get these via PP) so I looked around for some replacements.  Bex at Body Couture did me a great deal and came down with Ellie Anderson  making the numbers up to 7 models on the day.  I also hired Amanda Hall of Visage-Design who did a great job on the make-up for the beauty shots.

Lower Withington Parish hall is brilliant for this.  It is big, has a very high vaulted roof and a stage.  It also has a lot of back rooms we can use for make-up and so on.  Here’s a 180 degree panorama of the hall with 3 main lighting stages installed:-


Image copyright Chris Davies 2013

That’s me in the middle shooting Emma Halloway in her very cool shiny PVC two-piece.  On the left we have Anthony Holloway with Ellie Anderson and Bella is looking a bit forgotten on the right there.  I’m sure Martin is just out of shot fixing something …. Continue reading

Crossing the streams

Ah um so this is another one the great wizard of photons – Mr Joe McNally casually did one afternoon (well that’s what it seemed like when it was edited together with a load of other shots in a Kelby Training video) and I just thought “oh yeah – I could do that” followed by “ah but…”  and then “unless you…” and finally “I could do that”.


I’m talking about mixing ambient light with flash in a selective way – either outside, or using continuous lights.   Normally, in the studio, I would start off by confirming I’d banished the ambient light so this was going to be interesting.   Joe has a phenomenal shot in his portfolio shot in Beijing of a woman in traditional looking Chinese garb with lots of flowing patterned silks streaming out behind her in the wind.  As it moves away from her, the fabric becomes more and more blurred from motion.  Joe made this happen by lighting only the front of the model with flash, and adjusting the shutter speed to dial in the required amount of blur on the trailing silks that were hidden from the flash light. Continue reading

Sarah Rae

Been meaning to try out a Joel Grimes style high-key blown-out image for a while.  I got a message from a local shooter – John Gannon, who’d recently built a studio – in his back garden, was busy teaching himself to shoot pictures and had a fantastic model – Sarah Rae from Bournemouth, at his studio all day.  It just said – you’re local – fancy shooting with Sarah in my studio – just pay Sarah for her time.  Well


– how could I refuse?  It would seem rude! John’s back yard studio is a good size and he’s equipped it with basic lighting, a lot of backdrops, and even a little make-up station.  Sarah showed up right on time with a massive wardrobe packed into 3 cases.  She had been on tour in the North West for 3 weeks or so.  I only intended to spend a couple of hours there, however Sarah has such a fantastical look – intense impressions, with an overwhelming sense of concentrated attention – and John’s a brilliant bloke – very generous, helpful and dead easy to get on with.  I ended up spending 4 hours shooting with Sarah, and we got some great results.

So, first up was the Joel Grimes nuclear detonation light-everywhere shot.  Joel uses some really big modifiers to provide fill left and right and a medium/large softbox to provide slightly more directional light from the front and centre.  Go watch his videos on “Lit Up” – they’re really useful. I didn’t have 2 really big modifiers, however, the walls of John’s studio are all white, so I pointed both of his small softboxes at the left and right walls/pitched roof which had the perfect angle to reflect that light as a massive soft light source back onto Sarah. Continue reading

Miss Fahrenheit


A trial of running a studio background in our kitchen.  Not ideal, however it worked just fine for head-shots, 3 quarter and we even squeezed in a few full length ideas.  I can see a few ways of getting some more room to the sides for the lights for future shoots.  First time I’ve ever put out a casting call for “TF” i.e. Time for Images, or doublespeak for a collaboration shoot between model and photographer.  I advertised for a model for this shoot on Purple-Port – a marvellous photographer/make up artist/model/studio networking and marketing site.  Miss Fahrenheit applied.    This all worked very well.  I hear stories all the time about how either the model or the photographer didn’t show up and I guess you will get those, however I got a good feeling from the emails that Miss F. was serious, and besides, I was doing this at home, so the risk was minimal as I hadn’t paid out for studio time. Continue reading

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Up until recently I had been processing most portraits in Portrait Pro Studio.  Portrait Pro does a great job for 80% of the retouching work – especially on hair and skin as long as you don’t go too wild with the sliders.  However, one of the things I don’t like about it is the way it handles exposure and contrast of the image generally – I can never get beauty style shots light enough and so always end up applying a custom preset to the resulting tiff files in Lightroom afterwards.  It doesn’t do a great job on the eye sharpening or iris contrast either, so I started applying fairly blunt adjustment brushes to the eye area in LR too.  Having read Scott Kelby’s “Light it, Shoot it, Retouch it” (which is excellent by the way) I’d played around in Photoshop replicating Scott’s approach with great success – however, I don’t like to use external editors such as Photoshop or Portrait Pro if I can avoid it as this generates manual steps in my workflow and intermediate tiff files.



On the last shoot I did, I thought I would try to process some of them purely in Lightroom, translating the techniques Scott uses in Photoshop.  Here’s what I did to the image on the left:-

Most of the work is done with the adjustment brush.  However I started by making global adjustments to blacks, whites, shadows and contrast and then using the healing tool to remove obvious blemishes.






I then created a series of brush presets that I could use going forward:-

  • -90% clarity – applied with a broad brush with no auto-mask to the skin to soften it.
  • Increase exposure and highlights, reduce saturation on the whites of the eyes, with a small increase in white balance to compensate for the de-saturation.
  • Increase contrast, saturation, clarity and exposure on the iris and pupil only.  Apply with auto-mask and no feathering
  • Apply generally over the eye area: increase sharpness, clarity and contrast with small uplift in exposure (0.19)
  • Increase in saturation, slight decrease in exposure to lips.  Sometimes I’ll add a tint to this.  Apply middle without auto-mask or feathering.  Apply up to edges with auto-mask and no feathering
  • Big brush over hair area, increasing highlights, small decrease in sharpness and clarity and playing around with vibrancy, tints etc



_DSC2372A final crop and I’m done.   I really like the clean result this gives.  The downside is that Lightroom really starts to creak under the weight of all the brushes, and healing clicks and collapses occasionally requiring a restart.   More memory would most likely cure this though as my current OS can only address 4Gb.

I have also created presets for toning the image, used on the image to the right which was processed in Portrait Pro and then finished in Lightroom.  This was a revelation to me when I read it somewhere, a while back:  using the split toning tool in Lightroom to tone the highlights and shadows instantly gives your high key beauty style shots a print magazine style.  Use the yellow preset colours for the highlights and the blue preset colours for the shadows – and then adjust using the sliders on the split toning tool.

On the whole, you can get very good results purely in Lightroom up to a fairly advanced state of re-touch.  Where it’s not so good, is in actually editing pixels.  Anything more complex than a simple skin blemish heal and it will struggle.  You are better off doing these in Photoshop:  the clone stamp and healing brush tools are far batter for removing stray hairs.  Of course you can also make other adjustments in Photoshop such as adding hair, altering the shape of the face with the pinch and liquefy tools and so on.    What I like about working purely in Lightroom though, is that at any time, I can branch off a virtual copy to try something out, and the catalogue manages all the various versions.  Sure, you can create copies of images in Photoshop, however it’s not as slickly managed.   I can also then sync the global adjustments to all of the shots from that set and then get to work with the brushes again…..


See the images full size in the People gallery