For the past few weeks, I’ve been planning and conducting photo shoots for a group exhibit I’m part of, ‘Inside is Out, Outside is In’ that is ongoing at the Colour Factory. Lia Steele and Rhiannon King are the other two Melbourne-based photographers part of the show. For this exhibition, we each approached the common theme of ‘skin’ by using portraits and stills. I’m presenting a series of portraits of coloured women as my subjects where a particular trait of their personality is explored.

In preparation of this series, I spent a lot of time sifting through photo books to sketch out the sets. I had never photographed dark-skinned models before this project. I knew that not only did I have to carefully choose prop colours to enhance the skin of my models, but I also would need to work on my lighting skills. 

In terms of set designing, I realised the moment you introduce objects or props in a portrait, it creates a shift in the composition, which can easily negatively affect the overall result. ‘How did they do it?’ was the main question I had about composition. I looked at several painted portraits in order to get some ideas. ‘Simple but strong’ was my motto throughout the planning. 

Shooting Beyond was the only done under the natural light of a skylight. The effect was acceptable but diffused light may have improved the shot. I ended up softening the image and lightened the hair. The minimalism of the shot enabled to achieve the intended ethereal effect.         

Elements was done in the studio where everything was set up. I built my own flash diffuser for this shoot, which I ended up using the rest of the project. It was probably one of the highlights of the project, as it dramatically changed the overall result of my final images: the light was nicely wrapping the subject without creating some hot spots. Also the fall off was less harsh.In this shoot, I wanted to introduce each of the 4 elements of Nature. The most difficult one was ‘air’. I thought of showing some movement with a ribbon blowing in the wind. The flying ribbon on the left bottom edge was deliberately blurry. Could I have done this differently? Maybe. The speed of the shutter wasn’t fast enough but then again, it was a matter of syncing flash and shutter speed. The alternative would have been to shoot the ribbon on its own and paste it on the final image. I’m not if the effect of movement would be the same if the ribbon was still.  

I did run into a hurdle when I couldn’t locate in town a stuffed bird I needed for the 3rd image,All seeing. I phoned all the prop stores without any luck and was just about decided to make my own bird. Perseverance led me to a lovely shop owner who generously agreed to lend me the stuffed bird as long as I shot on location. The actual location was a low ceiling basement where a space was cleared for my shoot. I went down to measure the size of the space and concluded I needed a wide-angle lens to fit the final composition. I rented a 14-24mm lens which I couldn’t have imagined working without in the end. I had brought my own backdrop, some white paper as reflectors and my regular gear. The shoot went well and I chose one of the last ones of the day. Shooting in a confined space that wasn’t mine made me appreciate doing shoots in a studio where you have your own space and where you don’t have to carry your equipment. However, challenges create opportunities to improvise and to try out new equipment! 

Shooting Do the damn thing! for the project was the biggest in terms of production. My model, Maxime Banks who is also an artist, painted a canvas on site while I filmed her. The use of video added another dimension to this project and I was able to put together a short film from the footage I’ve taken. You can watch the video here. I didn’t rent a HD camera for the project, but it will definitely be something I will look into in the future. We were both pleased with the final production and I did post on the web the short film I made from this art performance and collaboration. The show ‘Inside is Out, Outside is In’ is on at the Colour Factory from 8 October to 30 October.