What a way to begin 2015! Jen Brook is an amazing model who contacted me back in March 2014 after I had given a talk at The Photography Show in Birmingham saying she would love to do a shoot with me (I’d meet her briefly backstage that day). I waited for a perfect opportunity to do a shoot and 8 months later we were throwing ideas together for a shoot in Belgium in 3 amazing locations that I had found throughout the year.
The night before Jen arrived from Manchester at my house at 9pm we were chatting away trying on the amazing dresses that had been sent over by the incredibly talented Molly Mishi May, my spare room became a dressing room for the night, a blizzard of lace, satin and flowing gowns. It was 1am when Richie and Darren (who kindly said they would help out with the shoot) made it to the house from Norwich and were off packing a tonne of equipment and ball gowns into the car. I had recently saved up for a Elinchrom Quadra kit and this would be the first time out shooting with it, which I was really looking forward to introducing flash into my model shoots on location.
Arriving at the ferry with lots of time to spare, me and Jen curled up on a sofa for an hour of much-needed sleep, which continued into the early morning in the car as we drove and finally made it to Maison Viron, a quaint manor house left to ruin deep in the Belgium countryside. Tired we made our way in with arms full of bags and dresses in the rain into the house. The trickling rain our sound track as Jen applied makeup and I set up my lights for the first time. Firing of a couple of tests shots I tried to keep the flashes to a minimum as its a big risk while inside an abandoned building not to get caught. I captured Jen in a beautiful vintage nightgown tragically on looking an antique pram and baby basket that had been left in the house to decay. She was a beautiful ghost figure, we also shot a photo for her Dream Catcher Project, after wandering round the house she had stumbled across a desk light by window light with books all over the place and I captured her sitting at the desk in the darkness, light only by the window.
This was the first shoot of 2015 just a couple of days in, I was excited to not only be shooting the amazing Jen Brook, but also going on an adventure to Belgium to create some fantastic shots with my brand new Elinchrom Quadra Kit which includes the Ranger Quadra Hybrid Pack with Lithium-Ion Battery. I’ve used studio lighting for many years, but in the studio, the problem I have with taking flash lighting on location is the fact that normally it is big and heavy and often it’s just me who will have to carry it. It makes it difficult as all my shots are in abandoned buildings, but in 2014 I became aware that the only way I could push the quality of the shots with models was to use a flash. I was recommended to look at the Elinchrom Quadra kit as it is very small and portable, I was shocked to find, quite how small! On delivery I found the flash head to be just slightly larger then a speed light and only 0.25 kg, but with a hefty 400w in power made it a perfect solution for me, and with the mount adapter the possibility to use all the great reflectors, soft boxes that Elinchrom produce. On arrival at our first location, a creepy abandoned house in the Belgium county side, I quickly set up the lights to use for the first time. The softbox was incredibly easy to put up and very quickly compared to other soft boxes I have had to battle with putting up in the past. Within 2 minutes I had the lights on their stands, a Roxalux Softbox Octa 100cm for the main light and a Grid Reflector for the back light. Soon we were driving to the next location via some food and more sleep for me and Jen, when you go without your bed for a night we grabbed as many zzz’s as we could along the way.
We started shooting in the abandoned Blue Christ church racing against time as the sun was setting, it was freezing cold and Jen slowly started to turn blue, so instead of completing the shots planned for the location we decided to make a return after our first location of the second day. I had to adjust and compact the plans of the next day and feared we wouldn’t fit all the shots in on time. It’s always a challenge shooting during the darkest days of winter when there is so little hours of daylight. Jen had brought a cute tiger water bottle to keep her warm, but hours after he had been filled with hot water, he too was freezing cold and so we made it back to the car to go get some food to relax a little in our compact hotel room.
Our next stop was a beautiful abandoned church and I had some stunning ball gowns deigned by the talented Molly Mishi May, I aimed to create some drama with these gown, we had its of dress tossing by my assistants Darren and Richie and I bought my smoke machine along. I light this shot with one Roxalux Softbox Octa 100cm raised up high and pointing down with Jen facing the light, on inspection of the 100% image you see a lovely catch light in the eye and a even at 100% the face is clear and not blurry or muddy at all.
Alarms set bright and early and much more alive after a good nights sleep we made our way to the abandoned spa where we would shoot the next 3 shots. Poor Jen had to endure a climb down into the building, she was so brave and we made it into the building! When we finally made it inside, still before the sun had risen we shocked to find the doors to the main room had been locked, but then we noticed people inside and they showed us an alternative way in. They were also doing a photo shoot so we decided to head upstairs out of their way, I had Jen perched on a balcony with a huge drop down in a stunning Molly Mishi May white gown. Luckily when we decided to shoot downstairs we did a swap and they headed upstairs. Inside the glorious main room of the spa, with ornate fixtures all around, I set Jen up in the middle of the room and we began tossing the dress for some dramatic shots that I adore. We had to be quick as the room is overlooked, so we got the shot in under 3 minutes and then hid again.
Our last stop was a derelict spa, we arrived early before the sun came up as we didn’t want to be seen entering the building, quietly we made our way to our target, this stunning entrance hall with ornate decoration throughout. We were surprised to find another group already doing a photo shoot with a model, so we went upstairs and set up in a small room out of the way and away from sight, we began with our shots upstairs. The thing with this location was that we had to be careful not to draw attention to ourselves as the main room is overlooked by the public outside.
On a strict budget with time, we had to leave the spa at 11 to get back to the church where we would re shoot in the daylight, after the drive to the church and taking everything out of the car, we arrived at our previous entry point to find it had been locked!! I can’t tell you how my heart sank and at first Richie was joking around, but alas it was shut, I decided to do a walk around to see if there was another entry point and disappointed return to the group as there wasn’t, I was shocked to see they had been joined by a large group of guys. Apparently they had been inside and had wedged the door shut, luckily they had decided to leave at that point and our entry was again available. The church was a completely different place, the sun was shining and the natural light was gorgeous, I decided I would reshoot all the shoots that I had done the previous evening as the warm sunlight made such a difference to the photos, it’s always worth that decision to go that bit further in order to get the shot. I’ll never forget Jen stood in a huge ball gown (that had its very own suitcase) stood in the beautiful abandoned church light streaming through the windows in a cloud of smoke, she looked like something from a fairytale.
To make it back to the ferry in time we left 4 hours to drive back and after the ferry journey the next mission was getting Jen to her train on time, bless her she still had to get back to Manchester that night and with a deadline for the train and a delayed exit from the ferry Darren drove like a lunatic on a mega mission to get her back to the station, poor Jen gets travel sick and looked green as he swerved around the roads enduring, but with mines to spare she legged it to the rain and made it by the skin of her teeth. It was a tiring shoot due to our all night drive to Belgium and it being freezing cold and it had its challenges throughout, but its always the ones that take the most effort that are so worthwhile and the crazy things that happen that leave you with the stories to talk about for years to come. Thank you Jen, your endurance of the cold, lack of sleep, rain and climbing into difficult places will never be forgotten and Darren and Richie for the effort and helping creating these shots.