I have known Matt for quite a few years, we met thought medieval re-enactment, as I regularly went to train with the Jom's Vikings. He would kill lots of people and I would either regularly die or ran away a lot.
Matt is a very talented guy, the kind of re-enactor I like (there are quite a few types I don't). He is really committed to the hobby but he doesn't have a big ego, is safe to fight and is really friendly. He makes and sells wooden toys at shows and is also a really good fighter. Because we both do extra work, we occasionally still see each other at jobs and also we keep in contact on Facebook.
Matt contacted me about doing a photo shoot, cause he wanted some head-shots done for an up coming production. I had also applied for the production and supplied a few images, which I had put online (where Matt had seen them). A couple were just normal head-shots but I had also done a few photos, wearing my old re-enactment gear.
Below I have described the original shoot with just me and then the shoot with Matt, as they were really a continuation on, from each other.
In the original shoot, I had no assistants and pretty much was taking selfies. For selfie shoots, I will set up the lights and camera, making sure the focus is right (always the hardest part) then set off a 10 second timer, running to the spot where I focused, finally posing and making sure my hair doesn't look too silly, hopefully the shutter goes off. In between shots I would adjusting the lighting, see if I liked the pose/hair looks OK and make sure the costume look fine.
The lighting setup for the shoot had to be kept quite simple, just 3 lights and a reflector. I will always start with one light, and then add lights in as the shoot progresses. This allows me to get each light in before adding the next. I used a big octa on left, with either a smaller, diffuser or shoot through umbrella for the right light, with a small diffuser at the back or just bare flash, depending on the effect I wanted.
After going through the photo's, I thought about what I could change or add to improve the original shoot. My main feeling was that the photos needed more atmosphere and that by adding something like smoke, it would change the feel of the shoot. Of course, where there is smoke, there is also fire. Over the years, I have used CTO gels when shooting fire performers and it seemed natural to light the background orange, using a black background, to simulate fire.
Having the right looking person for a shoot makes a big difference, Matt looks the part, he has rugged good looks, steely eyes and hair that most girls would die for. It also helps that his re-enactment gear looks exceptionally nice and he is good at taking direction, which when all combined, really helps sell the photo.
The lighting was very much an evolution from the first shoot. I pretty much set up a similar lighting set-up as I did at the end of the first shoot (though I add each light separately, to make sure the power levels were right). As the shoot went on, I then added a 4th then 5th light, then adding the smoke and finally tungsten gels to create the fire effect I wanted.
Matt had brought his lovely girlfriend along. A lot of photographers don't like having +1's at a shoot but I have always found it very useful and I will try to get them involved as much as possible. I find there are several advantages, firstly, it adds a second set of eyes to the shoot and often a friend or family member might notice something about the outfit that I might miss. Also they help relax the subject and are an extra set of hands, which means they don't just sit there looking bored, behind the photographer. In this case, she helped with his hair and also set off the smoke in between shots.
Generally, I try to be very chatty during a photo shoot and will often I will also add in the bumbling fool act (similar to Boris Johnson) but because Matt knew me already (he knows I am a bumbling fool), I didn't have to act the part. It also always helps when you have something in common with the subject, so we just chatted about old times but depending on the situation, there are various ways to get a conversation going. This helped him relax more and also made the shoot more fun.
In the end we spent around 4 hours on the shoot, including, set up and all the the take down the equipment. I could have gone for longer but I had to go into London in the evening, so had to finish by a certain time.
The scariest thing about a photo shoot is looking at the photo's after. I always worry that they are not going to be in focus or that I had forgotten to set the ISO correctly or something similar.
All my edits are done in lightroom and I tend to try to keep an edit quite simple. For a shoot like this I will always shoot using Raw, it allows for more adjustments and I can experiment with different colours and effects. There are those who believe that post production is bad and that real photographers don't need to do it. The reality is that Lightroom or Photoshop is a tool, in a similar way to the camera or flash. You can enhance a photo in post production but you can't turn a bad photo into a masterpiece (I have tried). In this case most of the photos were very good (as you would expect from a controlled environment) and I did pretty simple adjustments, just to bring the photos up to the next level.
Post shoot analysis
So generally I was really pleased the the shoot. The workings of the shoot went really well and the images looked good. Matt was really responsive to my direction and I was pleased with most of the lighting and smoke effects.
Of course it wasn't perfect, I wish I had added the CTO gels earlier, at the same time as I added the smoke (which I had originally planned (the truth is I forgot)). I had issues with the the hair light, which I was using as a slave and it only worked intermittently because I had covered the flashes sensor with a diffuser (I used a different diffuser to the first shoot). I did fix the issue and because I had the background lit, it was never a big problem, but I might have improved a few photos slightly. I should have also controlled the background light a little better, as it is easy to see the angle the light is coming in from when viewing landscape framed photos.