The majority of people see a photograph as a true and realistic depiction of a scene or person. What they might not be aware of is that it's actually an illusion. Real life is three dimensional. We can see distances due to having two eyes, which also allows us to determine whether things have depth or mass. A photograph is a two dimension interpretation of a three dimensional scene. To compensate, photographers use all manner of tricks to capture either the look and feel of real life, or to create a fantasy world. Either way, it's all an illusion.
Of course there are limits to what people will believe in an image. Everyone nowadays is sceptical about retouching and the body image that is portrayed in the media. That said, there are times when it's necessary to trick the audience in order to fulfil the brief laid out. I'm not talking about twisting facts, or being untruthful. There's a whole bunch of moral arguments involved in that. This is more about suggesting things within an image that are enough for the viewer to just accept it without question.
Ok, so I was commissioned to shoot an editorial for the June 2011 issue of U, a Jordanian fashion magazine. The concept for the shoot was simple, shoot 4 images, one for each of the major fashion capitals, London, Milan, New York and Paris to accompany an article on summer style. Sounds easy enough, right? Oh did I mention that due to time and budget constraints, the whole shoot needed to be done in a single day, and all in one location? Gotta love a challenge!
Ok, so how do you create the illusion of 4 completely different places within a day? Well being London based, I knew the "London" shot was going to be fairly simple to do, and I'd spent 9 days in Paris for Fashion Week in March, so had a good idea of what Paris looked like. I've never been to Milan or New York though, so I had my work cut out!
My saviour for this shoot comes in the form of Google Streetview on my iPad! Using a little bit of London knowlegde, some modern technology, and a coffee, I was able to come up with 4 locations which gave enough of a hint for people to accept what they saw.
Because we were going to be shooting all over London, I knew that a massive lighting setup was going to be unfeasible. Not only are the logistics of moving it from one place to another quickly a nightmare, but you don't want to be creating obstructions in the middle of London during a busy weekday! So in terms of equipment, I was travelling light...
So everything was sorted. We had locations, styling, make-up (courtesy of Nina Robinson) and equipment.
So here's a little breakdown of each of the 4 shots...
As I said, London was fairly easy. We wanted to go for somewhere instantly London, but also in a open enough space that we could get some sun and blue sky to go with the bright coloured look.
Tower Bridge is right next to the Mayor's office, which has some really nice open spaces on the south bank of the Thames. We actually shot this one last out of the four as the sun was going to be fairly low in the sky and give a night light on her face.
The "New York" shot was fairly easy to do. Everyone knows that New York is a city with lots of shiny buildings, so I had a look on Google Streetview for big shiny buildings. For security reasons, you need a permit to photograph around Canary Wharf. Apparently, cameras are still a security threat! Haha. So I had a look around The City, and around the banking district. Lots of shiny buildings!
The style for the shot was loosely based on the DKNY SS11 advertising campaign, although I also wanted to make it a little more "New York" in terms of colouring. Of course one of the little problems with shooting it in London is that our cars don't look the same. So luckily, there was a large concrete barrier I was able to block out all the nearby cars with. It also had a yellow stripe running down it which helped the NYC vibe, because, yellow hints at the taxi's New York is famous for. Of course I couldn't resist a little bit of artistic licence, so I changed the colour of one of the cars in the background, just for added illusion.
Milan was the hardest to sort. Having never been there, nor watched many Italian films or tv shows, I had little knowledge of what it actually looked like. Had it been Rome, or Venice, I'd have had a better idea. After some Googling, I found a few images of various buildings, some ornate, some modern. I also looked up various campaigns and editorials that had been shot in Milan for people like Versace and Dolce & Gabbana.
With a little searching, I stumbled upon this solution around the corner from our "New York" location. Ok so it may not have some of the ornate Italian renaissance statues that Milan might have, but it was good enough for us. I did have to remove the "City of London" crests from the bollards in post though. That probably would have given it away! Haha!
This is my favourite from the entire shoot, and it was not only the first one we shot, but also the first location we came up with.
We shot it on Chelsea Embankment. It was the obvious choice for creating the look of Paris. Most Parisian architecture looks very "French". There wasn't really anywhere I could think of that really resembled the same sort of buildings, so I thought about the one thing London and Paris have in common, there's a river running through the middle of them! Of course, much of London's riverfront is flanked by the various landmarks with which it's made famous, so Chelsea's ornate street lighting and lush trees provided the perfect spot to create our own illusion of Paris.
The look and image were inspired by a film I'd watched only a couple of weeks beforehand - "Coco Before Chanel". I realise Chelsea doesn't have an Eiffel Tower of it's own, and the shot still looked Parisian without it, but it definitely added to the overall "look" we were aiming for.
Hopefully this has given you a little insight in the planning and thought processes I often go through before and during a shoot, and some of the challenges I come up against. As always, if there are any other of my images you'd like to know more about, email firstname.lastname@example.org.