It ain’t over till the “FIT” lady sings!!

I’ve been negligent in writing these posts, those that will have seen my video on Face Book will know we (as a family) have had a really trying 18 months for one reason or another. Hence the radio silence, the clock ticks forward and I’m back at the keyboard.

I’m probably sat here a little too smug at the title I’ve penned for this article, let me explain. This is a tribute really to one of my most favourite people and a beautiful young woman who I’ve had the pleasure of shooting over the years, who has just announced her retirement at 25 (I think).

For those who don’t know Valis Valkova has the voice of an angel and this classically trained beauty if finishing her modelling career at the end of the year to pursue in full earnest her opera career – listen to her sing!

Now I’m obviously pleased for my friend but also sad as this bittersweet moment means less opportunity to shoot her. My smugness comes from the fact that the title echoes three things. The famous saying “It’s not over till the fat lady sings” a rough reference to opera, the fact that an incredible model is retiring to sing full-time and the sketchy bit, the reference to “Fit”.

You may or may not know that Valis was born in Liverpool and in the scouse dialect “Fit” translates to beautiful! Granted that was a very long winded intro and explanation but the point was, I’m a little smug and its loosened off the fingers for typing – so onward.

A few months back I booked Valis to model for me in one of our famous “Shoot Club” events. Shoot club has been running for years, it is a chance to experience a BIG Dog BIG budget shoot for a fraction of the actual cost that it would be to an individual. The way a big shoot works is quite simple, the delegates that are with me act as assistance for a couple of hours in the morning and I shoot a picture teaching lighting, photographico and posing principles. Then after lunch the delegates are set free in the location we’ve hired, choosing the models on hand, making use of the styling and props supplied, shooting their own visions and own imagery within the parameters of the location and day. Not only is it an amazing way to learn but it’s a fantastic way to get portfolio and competition pictures because the delegates are genuinely doing it for themselves without intervention from me, we even encourage the delegates to bring their own lighting Kit and any additional props and outfits that they may want to create imagery around.

I don’t want to get too carried away talking about shoot club, because my next blog article Will be about what I personally shot at Pipewell Hall with my afternoon shooting, I brought another of my favourite models for me to shoot in the afternoon, I just don’t get enough camera time with pixie so this was a treat for me and we created some beautiful images together as you’ll see on the next blog. If you want to see where the next shoot club event is, just click on this

So onto the education!

The lesson I taught at Pipewell Hall was about mixing supplemental flashlights with the existing ambient light. After scouting get the location I found almost the perfect place to demonstrate and teach this technique.

I positioned Valis at the foot of a magnificent staircase, at the first landing of the staircase was a large window which had ambient light flooding through it. To camera left was a corridor running alongside the staircase which gave ample opportunity and room for me place my Elinchrom ELB 500, this was my key light. This is the light that gives shape and form to the image.

As the ambient light flooding down the staircase wasn’t as powerful as I wished I used the ELB too mimic the direction and quality of this light, this sets the mood and tone of the picture. In my first image I wanted her to look kissed by pale moon light that way the warmth in the architectural mood lighting (lamps) would glow with the warmth offering a strong visual contrast.


The shoot progressed I added a third light, to be precise a second supplemental light, a third light if you count the ambient, which I was using as fill. I used the technique here known as dragging the shutter to control how much fill I required.

This second light was a trusty ELB 400 with the addition of a CTO gel positioned over the flash tube. This light was placed through the doorway you could see to camera right it was used to enhance the intensity and volume of the warm lights cast by the lamps.

It is the combination of increasing and decreasing the strength of the key light and the second ELB, be used as an accent light, along with how much the shutter was dragged and therefore how much ambient light was added, or not, that gives the subtlety of changing effect within the imagery.

As mentioned earlier it was almost a dream combination, you could say the planets aligning, of usable areas in the location. As you can see from a few other shots, were the door and the architrave is being used compositionally, my shooting position was off in a side room.

The benefits of this was not just compositional, it gave me enough distance from the subject to be able to use a longer lens this means that I can use two tricks to enhance my picture. Firstly compression of prospective that the longer length of lens gives, this in simple terms means compressing foreground, mid-ground and background together, which can be very flattering when shooting human form. It also gives me more latitude when using differential focus to isolate the subject in my frame by keeping the subject sharp and having less important areas within the frame gently fall out of focus.

I decided to bring my extremes of “system” with me to the shoot, I shot my Olympus alongside my medium format Pentax 645 Z. it amazes me that still in today’s world we bicker about sensor size. Surely it comes down to fitness for purpose and the job at hand. Sometimes you need medium format but most of the time I’m lazy I want to carry less! I think it virtually impossible to tell which shots were taken with what at this size on the web. I suppose what I’m saying is don’t get too hung up on kit just enjoy your photography and creative image making whatever you’re shooting with be it a phone or a 150 megapixel Phase 1. It’s the image and the image creation process that’s key. If we are lucky we end up with the breadth of equipment to create with. Till then just enjoy making pictures, thats what all this is about.

I’ll end this part one of my BIG shoot adventure at Pipewell Hall with a tribute Gallery of images of the lovely Valis, so many moods captured in mere minutes gives testimony to her ability and prestige as a model. I’m sure she will take the opera world by storm.

My next written episode Will concentrate on the time I spent creating with pixie and the fab images we made together.

I can’t wait till later in the year when I take a workshop over to Lanzarote for a little winter sun, education and fun. Pixie is one of the models for our next adventure which means it’s first time we will be shooting art nudes on a BIG Dog abroad event.

If you’d like to see the sort of thing we get up to on a week away just click this link and maybe we’ll see you at the back end of November coming with us to shoot some cool images and have an amazing time with this immersive education.

Till next time, all the best.







Leave a Comment