The Fibre Company: ‘April In Paris’ Collection
So, when a client tells you that they have a collection called ‘April in Paris’, it sounds like a promising start. Only the logistics dictated that it had to be shot in December. In the UK.
It turns out that there is actually a French chateau, quite close to where I’m based. Which is odd, given that I’m based in the far northern corner of England, but true. It’s called the Bowes Museum. It’s about as French as you get, without crossing the channel.
One of Emma Wright’s designs is a gorgeous red shawl called Galerie d’Apollon, named in memory of an iconic still of Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 film Funny Face wearing a red Givenchy gown and matching shawl standing on a stairway at The Louvre, in front of a sign pointing to ‘Galerie d’Apollon’. The early morning light was looking promising so we headed out to set up a shot on the front steps.
Some shoots start out as a struggle, it’s easy to spend a stressful first half of the day finding yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong lighting before things eventually start to fall into place. This was not one of those days. This was the exact opposite. The only stress for me at the start of the shoot was hoping that makeup and wardrobe would be ready before we lost the light. The early morning light just got better and better Jess was ready at exactly the right moment. One of the key shots was in the bag ten minutes after we started shooting.
As a side note, beautiful late morning light in December is pretty much the same thing as beautiful early morning light in April. One of the big differences is temperature. Not colour temperature, that’s easy to fix in post, but actual real air temperature. Wearing a down insulated jacket, this wasn’t big concern for me. For the model, wearing a ball gown, it becomes more of a problem. Jess was, as she always is, an absolute star, switching on her best Audrey like someone flipping a switch when we started shooting… from the pictures you wouldn’t have a clue just how cold she was. At least, you wouldn’t now, after I spent a few hours in photoshop removing the goosebumps.
Even with the most professional model, there are limits to how long you can shoot in the cold before it starts show in ways not so easily Photoshopped. We rattled through as many shots as we could, as quickly as we could before sending everyone back in to warm up and start getting the next look ready. As I took a walk around to find the next the shot, the clouds started to close in, which answered the question of whether it was worth shooting some more exteriors.
The thing about museum interiors is they tend to be really dark. What light there is looks fantastic to the eye, but when you start taking readings it turns out that there isn’t very much of it. Lighting big interiors with flash can be hit and miss and found myself struggling to balance the available light with the light I was introducing. By the time the team was ready with the next look I had something that resembled a plan. Which is to say, I had lots of lights on stands, which is almost the same thing. Happily, I also had a radio remote that allowed me to tweak individual lights’ output between shots. I remember the days before we had instant previews and histograms on the back of the camera, and before we had radio controlled lights, and I know we used to get some good shots, but I can’t imagine how restrictive it would feel to go back to using that technology. Within a couple of minutes of tweaking the shots were starting to look pretty good and we got into a good flow.
We raced around a few different set ups in various parts of the museum that we had loosely planned at the start of the day. Turns out that there’s even less light in the galleries than the hallways…
In the afternoon the sun made another appearance. As luck should have it, just as we were ready to shoot one of the rooms that I’d spotted from my first online recce of the museum. By the time we were ready to shoot the light through the big windows was just perfect, but changing fast. By the time I knew the shots were definitely in the bag, the sun was gone.
With one look left to shoot, we were rapidly running out of daylight. I started on an interior set up that I was pretty sure was going to look great. One of the most important things I’ve learned in this job is recognising when shot isn’t working and moving on. At pretty much the exact moment I decided to give up on the shot I’d planned, the sun made one last appearance and we ran back outside. We got into position at about one minute past Magic Hour and were done by ten past.
Maggi and Daphne had a couple of variations on looks that they wanted to try, and one look that was just asking to be reshot outside. They dashed back in with Jess to get changed.. I tweaked some lights.. and waited.. and waited.. As wardrobe changes go, it probably wasn’t that long, but I could see a big bank of cloud lurking on the horizon, and sun moving inexorably towards it. There are things more torturous to a photographer than showing them the perfect natural light and then making them wait for ten minutes before they can shoot it…
It was one of those days that makes a lot more sense in retrospect. At the time it just a non-stop blur. I think I managed to get one half of a cold cup of coffee all day and don’t remember stopping to eat anything. By the end of the day I the stuff we’d shot in the morning was a hazy memory. As we were packing everything into cars, Daphne turned to me and said, “Well, I’m not sure what just happened, but I think we did something good..”