A few weeks ago I saw the documentary which June Newton made about her husband, the photographer Helmut Newton. I have had his book Sumo (the affordable mini version:) for a few years, but after seeing this film, I felt a sudden compulsion to shoot some strong amazonian women!
I had to stay a night in Brighton 2 weeks later so I booked a large room at the Grand Hotel and started researching for Brighton based models and creatives. I selected a model, Amanda Swan, who was actually based in Woking but who had seen my portfolio a few months earlier and expressed an interest in working with me. Another model based in Brighton was booked for the afternoon, Newton often worked with two models creating dramatic scenarios and tension within his photographs. The idea was to shoot something well out of my normal comfort zone. Most of the work I have done with people has been from the shoulders up but this was about pushing my own creative boundaries. Of course, only Helmut Newton could make ‘Helmut Newton’ images so rather than trying to replicate his actual photographs, I just tried to use some of the elements he used and see what I could come up with. Above all I was determined to make pictures which were as far from a ‘glamour shoot’ as possible, trying to capture a little of the drama, flair and boldness so evident in most of his work. That was much harder to achieve than I expected but overall, I’m pleased with the results and Amanda was delighted to add something a bit different to her portfolio.
Preparation and Kit
I put together a list of ideal clothes and accessories for the models and sent them outlines of the shoot. I had a number of dramatic 2 model scenarios staged out in my head and written down. When the day arrived however, the Brighton based model who was a burlesque dancer, advised me that she would not be able to make it, having been booked to work at an all night after-show party the previous evening. Nonetheless, when I arrived at the hotel, I was pleased to find the room was large, bright and equipped with a massive balcony 6 floors up looking directly across Brighton beach. It was a sunny day but I had also brought along a variety of lighting options to supplement the daylight. I had my Westcott gridded strip-softbox with a TD6 Spiderlight, which is an array of 6 daylight balanced fluorescent spiral bulbs putting out 1200 watts of light. I also brought a Lupolux LED fresnel lamp which puts out 650 watts of light in a soft spot or a harsher wide beam. Additionally I had my Quantum Q-Flash which was rigged up to a McGillicudy 18″ beauty dish with a soft diffuser panel attached. I used my Olympus OMD-EM1 and brought pretty much every lens I have, you never know!
We started straight off in full ‘Helmut mode’ doing some nude and topless shots by the balcony doors, mixing the daylight with my continuous lights. This was my first serious attempt at these kind of images and my first combining daylight with artificial light sources, so there was a learning curve to be broached and a degree of trial an error! But the beauty of continuous lights is that they’re pretty much WYSIWYG so it doesn’t take long to see what works. We worked through a few outfits, moved furniture about the room and took much needed breaks. Being deprived of a second model, when a bell-boy brought us some drinks we roped him into the shoot and he was very happy to help out. If I’d had a bit more time we could have thought up some more dramatic scenes but I didn’t want to keep him too long from his work.
Inevitably I reverted to type and started to make the kind of headshots I would normally do, but with time running out we quickly regrouped and headed out onto the balcony where the sun was just starting to go behind some clouds. It’s been one of my new year’s resolutions to get to grips with mixing off camera flash with daylight and this was the perfect opportunity. I setup the Q-Flash on the balcony went into manual mode for everything and before long found the perfect mix, dropping the ambient exposure down to about a stop under with the flash about right. Using the Slim Turbo battery and some pocket wizard triggers, the Q-flash just kept working faultlessly, never missing a beat. And the resulting blend of daylight and flash is one I could easily get hooked on! If I had more time I would have stuck some ND filters on and opened up the lens a bit, but that will have to wait for next time. As ever with these things, the day just flew by and I only managed to get through a fraction of the ideas I had planned.
So here it is, absolutely nothing like a Helmut Newton shoot of course..:) but it was at least inspired by his incredible style and sense of fun. If this has taught me anything, its that he was an immensely creative photographer.