Photographing Models Half a year on PurplePort

The sun can climb up over the misty lake, you may even be lucky and catch the elegant gliding of the swans as they skim down to the surface of the water. All the time you glimpse through the auburn leaves before they fall to the golden brown covered earth by the water's edge.

Oare Gunpowder works

If you have a camera, are reasonably proficient at using it, and can be bothered to drag yourself out of a warm bed on a cold autumnal morning, there is a high chance you will get a nice landscape picture. Nature has done most of the hard work for you. Okay, so maybe it is not quite that simple but usually if you have good light (and not necessarily a beautiful sunny day) and a nice location you are likely to be on to a winner.

Since August 2015 though I ventured into the world of working with professional and semi-professional models because I thought it was about time I put the large amount of studio equipment I have amassed to use and develop my portrait work. I have loved every minute of doing it despite being as nervous as anything on more than one occasion - the first obviously when booking my first shoot ...

My first ...


In the summer of 2015 I plucked up the courage to message my first model on PurplePort, a site I had joined where you can register as a photographer, model or makeup artist.

Eyes towards the camera

I really did not have a clue what to expect (or for that matter what I was going to do) but quickly learned that working with an experienced model is the best thing a photographer can do to learn portraiture. They know how to pose, leaving you to concentrate on getting the picture.


Okay, I did have some idea of what I wanted to achieve and part of my plan was to capture a kind of Cinderella look using the large hearth area I knew the cottage I was shooting at had.

Add some light

It was only a small room and I realised that part of my kit consisted of the world's largest octagonal soft box!

I had used my studio flash before but for some reason I found myself a bit flustered. I cannot begin to tell you how many school boy errors I made on this first shoot, from leaving camera bags in shot to not looking at the shutter speeds. There were already enough reasons to get camera shake!

Beauty work

I was soon able to calm my nerves down a little and capture some lovely beauty shots. I'd read tutorials and watched many training videos and soon started to concentrate on the technical aspects.

Although there was light coming in from a small window to the left in this shot I again used the soft box as a main key light.

Here are a few more shots from my very first time! Give yourself time when shooting. I never really book any less than half a day (four hours) for a shoot. This gave us ample time to get a variety of shots.

Click on an image to enlarge it and swipe between them

Something different!

Sister of Sinister
No tattoos!

You just kind of fall into conversations with people on PurplePort and before you know it you are doing things you never thought you would do. My default search on the site specifically excluded tattoos. I'm not against them at all but I joined the site to put some meat onto my portrait portfolio and to be honest did not think they would look right. By now though I had been bitten by the bug and really just wanted to shoot. I had been nosey on PurplePort looking a various models' portfolios and was caught by the lovely Kristina, aka Sister of Sinister, who dropped me a quick thank you message for visiting her portfolio. The next thing I knew I was arranging a shoot!

Sister of Sinister

This was also the first time I used somebody else's studio - even though I did turn up with all of my own stuff. I thoroughly enjoyed my first shoot with Kristina and have since returned to the studio to work with her and other models.

Again, the key light was provided by my trusty soft box but I added in additional lighting for the hair and background in some of the shots. It's a real challenge to photograph somebody in a black dress against a black background without making them look like they are floating! I am still an advocate of using a flash meter when using studio flash, especially if you are using more than one light. These days though some photographers do just fire test shots and adjust lighting accordingly - often using the histogram information from the camera.

Leaving the confines of the studio ...


It was time to take the camera out. I wanted to start getting some location based work into my portfolio. Leah and I had tried to arrange shoots before but we finally managed to grab a weekend and shot local to her. I wanted to get some fashion style shots and after the shoot started messing around a lot more with photo effects using packages like On1's Perfect Suit. I do not believe the be all and end all of taking a picture lies within the camera. Many effects were added to old film photos in the darkroom after the shoot; digital has just made it easier and more diverse. The creativity does not need to end after the shutter is pushed.

Autumnal fashion

Shallow depth of fields created by large apertures (f1.6 here) throw the background out of focus and it becomes less distracting.
Contrasty mono images have a nice bite to them.

Recently I have added some portable studio flash to my system, which will allows me to add more dynamic lighting to outdoor scenes from simply getting more light onto the subject to allowing darker moodier backgrounds by deliberately underexposing the ambient light.

Getting scary for Halloween


Up next the fantastic and ever so patient Pinup Doll Alice. No pinup for this shoot though. I had been in conversation with Alice for a while and we had built up a comprehensive Pinterest board of ideas. Pinterest is a great way of collecting photo ideas and sharing them with models so that they know the kind of look you are going for or the sort of images you would like to capture.

Then we realised it was nearly Halloween so all that went out of the window and we enrolled the services of my favourite makeup artist Karen Evans, who set to work turning a beautiful face into a bleeding tree bark wood nymph!

On goes the makeup

Small pieces of bark made with modelling clay were used to create the effect

This was a fantastic shoot because it started me thinking about conceptual ideas and bringing in a team to make them happen. It was not Alice's prettiest shoot and limited in what type of pictures we got so I desperately want to arrange another shoot with her in the future to make it up to her.

Directing models to get different emotions is part of the learning process

Full steam ahead!


Just a week after my shoot with Alice I was off to a local studio to work with the amazing Savra. This young lady turned up to the studio with the most amazing outfits I have ever seen. I had already admired her portfolio on PurplePort and was keen to try and book her. I have, for a long time, wanted to shoot a woodland fantasy style theme and she would be perfect for it. When I heard she was doing a modelling day shoot arranged by a 'rival' camera club and they had some spaces available I jumped at the opportunity to do it. Modelling days are an excellent way of introducing you to studio shoots. Usually there will be a number of photographers there sharing the cost of the studio and the model (or even models). You also have a lot of on hand help to guide you.


The downside to model days can be that you are a little more limited on the control you have over the lighting. Try to work with small groups where you do have the chance to suggest setups. Although having a studio owner or more experienced photographer setting up the lights means you will probably get some good shots, it is nice to experiment on how light changes the look and feel.

There is more space in a proper studio

Working in a full size studio (as opposed to my dining room) allows for more lighting! Typically at home I am limited to using a key light (the main light), a hair light, and sometimes background light. Hair lights and background lights allow you to get separation between the model and the background. These studio shots used two strip soft boxes either side of Savra, an overhead light, key light and background lights. You should not just throw lighting at a shot though, each light should have a job and only one job.

Needless to say I have already booked a shoot with Savra to do the woodland theme!

No more shoots, you're out of money!

It was true! The golden rule is I can only shoot models if I have some money from paid photography work and frankly I had used it all up! Then, however, something different came along again, the chance to shoot with my new friend Kristina but this time accompanied by a male model! Tina suggested that having a male model on the portfolio would be a good idea and 'loaned' me some shoot money! Generally loans imply repayment but my wife is an angel so, well, you know ..

the odd couple

Enter the amazing Roger, aka Horace Silver. Specially flown (by car and Channel Tunnel) in from Belgium to do a model day shoot back at Studio Visage with Kristina and her partner Dom. Roger had worked with Savra and Coco in the past in some of my most favourite images on PurplePort and is a frequent Front Page Image star. Front Page Images are specially selected images from anybody's portfolio that the admins feel worthy of attention. One day ....

The long talk

Tina has been very supportive of my photography. Not only has she contended with the inordinate amount of money I have spent amassing equipment but now she was allowing me to wander off to cottages, woodlands and studios to photograph women. I am extremely grateful for the trust she has in me but I was about to push the bar even further - boudoir.

coco and angel

Not only was this going to be a boudoir shoot it was going to be with two models! PurplePort members can push out what are known as casting calls. Basically advertising a shoot or desire to shoot. I had seen both my first, as I like to refer to Coco, and Angel another model, push out a casting call saying they would be doing a boudoir style shoot together in Maidstone where I had originally shot Coco. This was a step too far for me. I really did not think I would have the ability to produce something that did not look like some cheap titillation. I sensibly ignored the castings. Then Coco messaged me directly. Well, I am basically weak. I asked Tina to think about how she would feel about me doing the shoot and was gracious enough to allow her the whole working day to do it.

To try and create more atmosphere I used just the modelling lamps on the studio flash. The lower light levels allowed for large apertures to be used giving a shallow depth of field - sometimes too shallow!

That evening we had our dinner, watched the telly and nothing was said. I concluded the whole idea would be better left to fade away. Hannah, my daughter, went off to bed and I offered to make a drink. As I approached the door Tina said 'So about this shoot ....'. This was followed by difficult questions like 'What benefit will it bring to your portfolio?' Perhaps I should have taken the time during the day to formulate some sensible answers! It was a strange evening as the two of us sat looking at boudoir style photos but after a long discussion I could tell Coco yes to the shoot.

Atmosphere has been added to these using effects in On1 Perfect Black and White


I was elated when Serenity added me to what is known as a 'Want to work with' list on PurplePort. It is a way of introducing yourself and expressing an interest in working with somebody because you think their work is good or could benefit your portfolio by them bringing a style of work to it. Showing restraint from my excitement I contacted Serenity immediately of course! I was not in a position though to offer any paid work - I really had exhausted my funds. A chance piece of work though and a timely visit to Maidstone for a model day organised by another photographer allowed us to shoot together at the tail end of the year. Again pushing the bar still further from my boudoir shoot this was to be an art nude shoot. Another shoot I initially turned down but ended up doing.


This shoot was in a well lit open hall space and once again I found that instead of using the studio flash that had been set up I was using ambient light and in some cases the modelling lights of the studio flash for much of the shoot.

PurplePort is really not the place to be if you are a photographer seeking paid work. There is a very simple law of supply and demand going on. Models are unlikely to hire a photographer to shoot portfolio work for them when there are so many very talented amateur photographers on the site. You have to be very very good to be paid! Every now and again though you may be given the chance to work a trade shoot. In essence the model does not charge you but in return gets copies of photos you take for his or her portfolio. My small steps on PurplePort have just reached the point where I have gone from hiring models, to being added to lists, implying at least some people like my work, to the dizzy heights of being offered a trade shoot. The point where somebody thinks your work is actually good enough to merit them giving up their time and modelling for you in the hope you can give them some half decent pictures back. Thank you Bayleigh!


A sultry look. The style of this picture was created using On1 Perfect Black and White. The effect added created a slight glow and deep blacks. Care had to be taken to prevent the hair from blending into the background though.

A happy return to Studio Visage this time sporting my brand new Elinchrom ELB400 portable flash (so once again spurning the help of the enduring Dom Regan). These are shot sometimes using the flash and sometimes just using the modelling lamps on the flash heads. Whilst using the flash gives a nice high aperture of f8 ensuring good depth of field, using the modelling lamps allows you to open the aperture up as far as f1.2 on my Fuji X-T1 to get a lovely soft shallow depth of field. This is what I love about modelling photography and portrait work in general. You have the control over the light to dictate the style of picture you want. Stick a great model, as all of the models I have worked with have been, in front of the camera and really you only have yourself to blame if you get it wrong. I guess it is not so different from landscape photography after all!

All of the model work I have done has been taken using my Fuji X-T1, 56mm f1.2, 35mm f1.4, 50-140mm f2.8 and 18-55mm f2.8-4 Fujinon lenses. I use Elinchrom studio flash, including recently the ELB400 portable flash system, and a range of light modifiers. If you would like to see more of my work check out my website.

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