How I made my new background….

How I made my new background….


So last week I set about creating a new background in the studio. I had a spare wall and some wood panels lying around from an old room set I had created


So I started with four 8ftx2ft MDF panels which were already painted white from an old room set. I fixed these to the wall using 3×2″ CLS timber, I used plasterboard jointing tape between the joints to prevent it cracking when the paint was applied. I gave this a base coat of black matt paint.


Just before that coat was dry I went over it with a light grey silk paint. There is a reason I used silk… I’ll explain further down.

I bought rapid set Tile Adhesive, now unfortunately I mixed this way to wet (added too much water) so instead of being able to use a trowel to apply the adhesive to the wall I had to use a paint roller. What a mess that made!

But actually it worked out really well, it meant the adhesive wasn’t going on as thickly meaning it wouldn’t need much to sand it back to let the silk paint show through from below. I used Silk because it would pick up and reflect the light through some of the concrete on top of it to help make parts of the background stand out.


As the adhesive started to dry out, I used another paint roller to soften some of the edges of the adhesive and this helped to add a little texture to it, it was also easy to wipe the drips of adhesive away to give it more of a concrete look.

It was -2 in the studio when I did this so it was taking a long time for the adhesive to set, I used two fans to help dry off the adhesive.

For the sake of 3 or 4 hours work, and a little mess this background worked quite well. Including the original price of the MDF this cost around £50 to build which is a lot cheaper than some of the hand painted backgrounds that are available.



I couldn’t help but test it on my boys when they arrived at the studio, it was still wet at this point!





Kit- why I don’t spend much..

I’m lucky.

I’m lucky in the way that I really don’t get excited when a new lens or camera is released. I don’t particularly yearn for near gear or want to upgrade every time something new comes out but more importantly I’m lucky in the way that I won’t go and buy new equipment unless I absolutely need it.

I will be filming a Vlog tomorrow on exactly what travel with to shoots.

I like to think I’m quite prudent when it comes to big photographic purchases, in that I very rarely buy new kit. The only time I can justify a substantial purchase is when either my current item breaks, or it can’t do what I want it to do.

So for instance, up until four years ago I was shooting all of my work on a pair of Canon 60d’s. At the time, a perfectly capable camera for my wedding work and portraits that I was shooting. It wasn’t until a shot a wedding, in winter at Matfen Hall (which is just dark inside) that I realised that I needed to upgrade my camera to a 5diii. Although the 60d performed fairly well in low light, I needed to be able to get up to ISO 8000 without too much detriment to the image quality. So, I went and bought a new camera body. Job done.

With lighting equipment, I started my OFC (off camera flash) journey with Neewer Speedlights after attending a Steve Gerrard Workshop and seeing how a simple one OFC set up can dramatically spice up your images. It wasn’t until I was shooting this wedding at Lumley Castle where the flash power just wasn’t enough, and I was running back and forward to the flash to change the power that I realised that I needed a more substantial portable lighting system. So I went and bought an Elinchrom Quadra set up. This opened huge possibilities for me using not only the 400w of power, but also a very effective modelling lamp. Not the mention the ease at which I could adjust the power from the top of the camera using the remote system.

I see a lot of photographers showing off their latest lens purchase, or new camera body and often wonder- how is it going to improve their work. One of the things I teach anyone who comes to my workshops is that you must master the gear you have, no matter what it is, because one day its all you will have with you. The best lens, best light, best camera you have, is the one you know best.

I remember attending a few Wedding Photography workshops over the years, one where people looked at me funny for using the Nifty Fifty, although I don’t have it now (I dropped it while shooting) this is still one of the best lenses I have ever used. I only upgraded to the 1.4 version because there was an error on the sellers website and I got it £100 cheaper than it should have been. Another wedding workshop I attended I noticed a guy sitting at the top of the table, with two bodies, 6-8 lenses and a load of other gear. He didn’t know how to use any of it, he just thought that’s what he should have. Crazy!!

I think the days of photographic snobbery are finally starting to go away, it really doesn’t make a difference on what gear I have. As long as it does what I need and want it to do!




Planning a Fashion shoot… How I do it

As with the style of my product reviews and lighting techniques, the way I do things may not always be the best way to do it, but it is the way that works for me.

No matter what I’m shooting, whether it be an editorial campaign, a model portfolio or testing new equipment for review; I have a plan and then I have in my head that all of my plans could go out of the window.

I prefer shooting outdoors on location for Fashion and Editorial Work for two reasons. I have less control, meaning, I have more of an open mind for change.

So, take my last big editorial shoot which was featured in Surreal Beauty Magazine. I was inspired by a Vanity Fair shoot I first noticed last year featuring Benedict Cumberbatch  which was shot in woodland, with a dark and moody atmosphere. I would watch this video at least once per week trying to figure out, how, where and when I could do something similar.

So in my mind for this shoot was Harriotte (our model) in amongst tall branchless trees, holding the leash of two Great Danes, with a lot of smoke behind and having the scene quite underexposed to give that dead of the night feel. Although we did shoot this image, it wasn’t my favourite from the shoot- infact the most simple set up worked the best for us, and I’ll come around to explaining that later on.

In my mind, to have a successful shoot, I need several elements. A model who “gets” the idea, a strong and consistent beauty team (hair and makeup), an experienced stylist who can build the look based upon the brief, willing photographic assistants and most importantly an open mind from me. I don’t come up with all of my ideas, I’m heavily influenced by the creative teams I work with. If they have something to say, I will listen. If they come up with an idea, I will consider it. If they tell me something won’t work, I take that on board.

Having open communication with everyone involved, in my eyes, helps to get more buy in from the team. Getting everyone involved in the decisions on how to style the hair, which colour lip gloss to use and how to style the outfits means that we’re pooling the knowledge and experience of 6 people instead of just one. I have an open mind to listen to everyone’s input, but I also have the strength to say “No” when it just ain’t adding to the value of the shoot. And by value, I mean the quality of the end product we’re producing.

So, back to this particular shoot. I’ve never shot the type of shoot in woodland- so I didn’t really have an idea on where to do it. I’ve worked a few locations around my studio which have a few trees, but nowhere near the depth that we needed for the shots in my head. We also needed to have somewhere nearby to change outfits, refuel with bacon sarnie and coffee and work from as a base. Luckily, Harriott’s Mother Sarah knew a great spot, literally 25 yards from their back gate. Location- sorted.

As you might have already guessed, Harriotte was the model for this shoot. As soon as I decided to go ahead with it, there really was no one else I wanted for it. In terms of Hair and Makeup, I’m very lucky to work with two awesome ladies on a regular basis for pretty much all of my editorial and beauty work. Rachel White (makeup artist) and Steph O’Neill (hair stylist), these guys we’re brought on board and I created a Pinterest Board to give everyone involved a quick flavour of the sort of look we were going for. Pinterest is an immense tool if you’re looking for inspiration, or looking to collate ideas for shoots to share with the rest of the creative team. While I will often send ideas for hair and makeup to the girls, I pretty much leave them to their own devices now as I trust them to produce great work, no matter what the theme.

So that’s Model, Location, Hair & Makeup, Inspiration and ideas all sorted. The next part, assistants. I like to take assistants on pretty much all of my shoots. Having someone to help with lighting, moving props, pulling out weeds and generally watching out for things I’ve missed is, to me, invaluable. I was very lucky with this shoot to have three assistants with me, Ian kindly offered to bring along his generator in order to power the smoke machine and to be our “smoke maker guy” for the day. I literally could not have shot the sets with the smoke in the background without this guy. If I was working alone, running back and forward between the smoke machine and the camera position just would not be feasible. Colin, a good friend of mine, came along to support with lighting, and the general set up, offering ideas along the way. Again having a VAL (voice activated light stand) means that I am able to keep my position without having to move lighting positions, and I can stay in front of my model keeping dialogue going.

And that is pretty much it- that is how the shoot is planned in a nutshell. I have another big shoot using the same creative team for a magazine front cover and editorial at the end of the month that we will be video and releasing over on my  YouTube channel too, so keep an eye out for that bad boy. But in the mean time don’t forget to watch the behind the scenes for this shoot and see just how we shot the different sets!