The Writings

A Blast From the Past - Reuniting With Lee

You might not be aware of this, but I love shooting food. Love it. So, when Wendy from CRAVE DC told me about the opportunity to shoot a chocolate artist named Lee of Art By Chocolate back in March, I got excited. Very excited. So excited, in fact, I wanted to make sure I came across legit so I could possibly work with Lee in the future. I read up on photographing food - and more specifically, shooting chocolate - looked up her website to get a feel for what she does, magazines that have dessert photos, etc. I wanted to rock this shoot like always, but I felt more attached to this project because it involved food and food styling. After the shoot, I felt really good about the end result and hoped that it would result in working with Lee again. However, I didn't realize that my next shoot with her would be her modeling for me and not food.

A couple of months ago, I received an e-mail about shooting with her again and got extremely excited. She told me to get in touch with a make-up artist named Angela Spicer, who was interested in shooting a project that she described as "retro". "Fair enough," I thought, and tried to mentally prepare for the shoot once we set a date. I looked up different images from the past, trying to get inspiration that I could put my own creative twist on. Lee's features reminded me of Twiggy, and considering Angela said "retro", I looked up a lot of images from Twiggy's history of modeling to get more ideas. When I'm asked to do a shoot, I want to make sure I do it right!

I arrived at Salon XYZ, where Lee was getting her hair and make-up done, and the location was very close to Lee's house, where I imagined we'd conduct the shoot, since Angela didn't particularly mind not shooting in a studio format. Lee's hair was being done up, and in the meantime, I went to check out the dress. Now, I'm not sure if I have a different interpretation of "retro" and "vintage" or what, but when I saw the dress, it was nothing like what I had in mind. Maybe I saw too many works by Andy Warhol and had mod on the brain, but I certainly didn't prepare myself mentally for the dress. However, despite my preparations for something else, the dress fit Lee perfectly, and the hair and make-up done couldn't have enhanced Lee and the dress any better!

As I saw it all come into place, I started picking up ideas on how I wanted to shoot and process the images. Walking along with Lee back to her place, however, I noticed how she was smoking a cigarette, carrying the dress, and her appearance with the make-up on... I wanted to shoot her hanging out, smoking a cigarette, as if she was at some formal event and was finally able to take the edge off of having to be proper by having the opportunity to smoke. It would've been a cool little twist to the whole experience, but things developed further as she pulled out a cigarette holder she had been holding onto for a while, not knowing how or when she'd ever use it. The pieces started coming together, and the project was fully developed: I was shooting a diva who was at an event, trying to escape the party and just relax.

The weather held up well enough that it was overcast (God's light diffuser), and the lighting worked really well. The best part of the shoot, though, was what ended up developing. I had talked with Lee before, but watching her in the shoot was even more of a treat. She nearly transformed into this character, which truly enhanced the shoot into something beyond what Angela and I could even churn up! We started at Lee's balcony and spiral staircase, but the biggest challenge was trying to get a shot of her without also getting the countless power lines into the shot. I managed to get some good angles, but the brick buildings in the background enhanced the urban image I was initially going after.

In my opinion, the true moment when it all came together was when we went to the front of Lee's house. There, she had a bench underneath a tree with a twisting, winding trunk, and I instantly fell in love with the location. Lee was still able to be well-lit, despite the overcast conditions, but it was also very green and colorful. I managed to position myself to get light posts and cars on the street out of my shot, making it look like she was in the middle of nowhere - something I love and tried to attempt in my shoot with Emily Nolan, since it's very Annie Leibovitz, whom I really admire. I think some of my best shots came from this scene, since it was a little more scenic of an environment, which was right up my alley.

In the processing, I really wanted to give the images this vintage feel, as if it was possible that you were looking at something taken from decades ago. As soon as I moved the sliders in Lightroom the way I wanted and got this particular color and look to the image, that Eureka moment left me no doubt I got the look I was going for. I immediately saved it as a preset so I wouldn't have to continue moving the sliders each and every time, and subtly tweaked it per image (el Duh). The one thing I'm most proud of is that I edited the images solely through Lightroom - a feat I've been unable to do because I'm so used to working with images in Photoshop, and old habits die hard. I seem to be getting a little speedier in post-processing, so hopefully this will translate well in future projects.

Overall, this was a wonderful shoot. Everyone involved - Angela, Patrick, and the fabulous Lee - were truly helpful in my inspiration for the shoot and keeping me creative. I always say how I never thought I'd be shooting these pseudo-editorial shoots, and yet here I am. The funny thing is that it reminds me about getting a tattoo: as I was getting inked, I was thinking about the next tattoo I'd get. After shooting Lee, Angela asks me, "maybe we can do a 70's style shoot next time?"

It would be my pleasure.

Until next time,

- Patrick

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