It's a drear Belfast Sunday and I'm nursing the tail end of a horrible headache. Not the type caused by riotous living. The most riotous I get during term time is eating an extra Wispa and dancing round the living room to Deacon Blue, or Hamilton if I'm feeling super modern. No, this is more of a too much marking and waking in the middle of the night to worry about the GCSE controlled assessment sort of headache. Average March life in this job.
But enough of headache types! I'm off to a day-long portrait photography workshop, and I'm determined to learn as much as I can, so I drink a lot of water, dose up on paracetamol with caffeine and drive to Conway Mill, where lovely encouraging Ross McKelvey will be teaching us today.
It's a gorgeous building, shot through with beams of natural light, intensifying as the sun comes out later. Most of our work, though, is done with studio lighting, which is my biggest learning curve of the day. Lighting is everything. Like, actually everything.
Models Amber and Melissa arrive, looking like normal pretty girls until, with Stephanie's beautiful make-up and through a lens, they're revealed as super-symmetrical goddesses who have been sculpted into being by Rodin or Bernini, where most of the rest of us were created in the P1 play-dough tray, lovable but slightly squished.
There's a great feeling of camaraderie amongst us students as we take our turns shooting each model. We're eliciting our chosen poses, but as the shutters click, the girls change expression, adjust angles, fine-tune lines in a seamless, elegant flow. It's hard work for them and they are exceptionally patient.
Standing back to observe, checking our own work and seeing what our colleagues are producing gives perspective, and I'm learning how I want my light to fall, what details to check in the pose and which looks resonate. We've been so well taught that, basically, every shot turns out well, leaving us space to consider the fine details. At the end of the day I have dozens of gorgeous shots.
I have also learned that:
- Lighting is, yeah, everything.
- And natural light works too, but it's harder to manage.
- Professional models are worth every penny. (Though I'm still casting round in my mind for relatives and acquaintances who may turn out to have professionally sculpted faces and might be enticed to turn out for a shoot....)
- Hands can look awkward very easily.
- The lines of an outfit are key. Fashion isn't important. Unless, presumably, it's an actual fashion shoot.
- Watching and listening all the time yields all sorts of vital information.
- This is fun. I'll be planning some more portrait work of my own over the next couple of months.
I drive home through a rather brighter Belfast and dance round the living room a bit with my Wispa.