Mel Pettit Photography

People photography…and more!

Trials and tribulations 1…..

This is the first in what I intend to be a series of blogs looking at the changes I’ve encountered since I decided to give up my old day job, take redundancy and early retirement.  I’m hoping it won’t be negative reading, because that’s not my experience of my new life at all.

Going full time with my photography has brought some surprises.   I thought I was ready for the move, completely prepared and up for all of the challenges the change would ring to my life.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, wedding photography in particular is a very hard market to break into, and I certainly wasn’t expecting instant success.  So it has proved.

In the beginning I carried on pretty much as I had been doing when I was part-time.  Lots of private and personal shoots mere mixed with paying events, mostly weddings and family occasions.   I undertook some training, ventured to Hungary and later in the year I went to the Swiss and Italian lakes on a road-trip.  It was a great start, but pretty soon I realised one thing, and that was that eventually my photography was going to have to support my lifestyle, or my lifestyle needed to change.  Things were not sustainable.

Gradually those changes have started to take effect.  The first casualty was shooting for fun.  I used to do a lot of model work, which allowed me to practice and improve various techniques.  I particularly enjoyed working outside in the elements with ever changing backgrounds and lighting conditions, as opposed to working in a studio where everything is much more controllable.   Sadly I just can’t shoot for fun now.   Models need to be paid, they have a life to live too, and I won’t insult them by trying to offer TFP.   I need the potential to earn something off my model shoots, so photographing for stock was an opportunity that opened up.  Of course, it’s not quite as easy as that.  Nothing ever is, is it?

Shooting for stock has limited the number of models I can use.   Some of those I’ve worked with in the past are signed to agencies, so can’t sign the model releases that I need to be able to use my images on a commercial basis, unless I pay the agency’s commercial rate.   I could use the images editorially, but ethically I don’t think that’s right unless the model is aware of my intentions.    That leaves me with models that aren’t signed, and there are plenty of them, but without meaning to be unfair, I have to choose carefully.

Shooting for fun then is non-existent for me now.   There’s a host of other things that have changed too, and I’ll be looking at those things in subsequent parts of this series of blogs, but despite things which can at first sight appear to be be negative, I know that I’ve made the right decision to go full time.  I wouldn’t change what I’m doing now for the world.

I’ve included a link to my wedding website below, however that’s another thing that’s going to change in  a big way.   More about that in the next post!

Mel Pettit Wedding Photography

Qualifications?…… Yes

Why qualifications now?

This might be a lengthy blog about qualifications, but there’s a bit of background to go through.

I don’t need pieces of paper or qualifications.

I’ve never been big on qualifications before.   I dropped out at school around 14, when I found it was much easier to make people laugh than study.  That may have had something to do with the education system in place at the time, but only partly.   I loved going to school, but it was really all about socialising for me, the learning was definitely secondary.    Consequently I left school with just one ‘O’ level, in English, and that was due to the respect I had for my teacher at the time.  I made the effort, or as much as I thought was needed, and got a C.  I was content with that, but my teacher wasn’t.  She made it very clear that she thought I could and should have done better.

I didn’t stay on for the 6th Form.  I’d had enough and wanted to get out working and earning some money.   My initial job was with a superb carpenter, who taught me a lot, but it wasn’t the job for me.   After a year I left and got a job as a clerk with a tyre fitting company.   Employment there also lasted about a year before I got restless and wanted something more challenging.   Step forward the Royal Air Force.   They were looking to recruit, and after getting two jobs fairly easily without qualifications, surely I could get a third.   On top of that, an old friend had bet me that I couldn’t do it, that it wasn’t my type of life.  I love a challenge.

Perhaps some pieces of paper might have helped.

My first interview was at the Careers Information Office in Ipswich, Suffolk, close to my home town of Felixstowe.  I went through all of the basic stuff, they checked I was still breathing which was a requirement, and then invited me back for another chat.   They seemed keen to get me in, tough I found out later that manpower at the time was low.  We started talking jobs, but was pointed very firmly towards supplier which they dressed up to make it sound like a fabulous area to work in.   I was keen to join, so agreed.  It was only when I got home and started reading about pay that I felt a twinge of disappointment.  Technical trades got a much higher salary, and that was the first time that I got a feeling that some qualifications would have helped.

Now I want some pieces of paper.

Moving forward some 40 years since I joined up, my attitude has changed.   As a self employed photographer one of my tasks is to sell myself to potential customers.   That can be done by displaying my work, and hoping it’s of sufficient quality to get people to part with their money in return for some images which they love.   Therein lies the problem.  It’s an argument that has been flogged to death, but it’s still valid.   Everyone has a camera on their phone, which of course makes them great photographers.  Comments are left on their Facebook pages, like ‘stunning’ and fantastic photo’ and lots more besides.  Are they really that good?   I don’t think so a lot of the time.

This is where the piece of paper comes in.   The Guild of Photographers offer a range of qualifications.   When I say offer, I don’t mean that they give them away.   It’s hard to gain them, all panels are judged by a number of the UK’s leading photographers, and they are critical.   It’s my intention to go down that route.   I’ve managed to gain Qualified status in the area of professional photography, but I don’t intend to stop there.  As a wedding photographer, my next goal is to get qualified status in that specialisation, and then Craftsman in general and wedding  photography.   It’s going to be a long and hard road, but I want those pieces of paper.   I’ve seen the light after all of those years.

There’s a bit more about the Guild of Photographers qualifications here and here.

Mel Pettit Wedding Photography

Qualifications, The Guild of Photographers, Qualified

Scarlett Fox at ‘Ginger’ Cottage

Fashion, Portraits and Boudoir

I’ve been wanting to work with Scarlett Fox since I saw her profile on a popular portfolio site.  Following a recommendation from a friend of mine who had worked with her previously  I got in contact with her.   We booked four hours together to shoot some fashion, portraits and boudoir at a location in a small town just outside Doncaster, in South Yorkshire. I had a two hour drive to look forward to, so it was going to be a long day for me.

Remarkably I found the location without taking my usual twenty minutes searching.   Sat navs are wonderful devices, but they don’t seem to be able to take you right to the door of your destination.  Thankfully that wasn’t the case this time and I was able to pull up right outside the cottage.   That’s always good for me, as I invariably have to lug my lighting case around.

We hadn’t worked together before, so we talked over the shoot with a mug of tea.  That’s always a great way to start any work, especially when the tea was as good as it was.  Scarlett was very easy to talk to, and it was obvious she had bags of experience.  With the shoot parameters set, we got on with the job in hand.

The cottage we were working in had lots of rooms and space in which to work.  We did most of the fashion using a mix of natural light and my Profoto A1.   I love that light, it’s so portable and good both on and off camera.   Once again, the B2s and my B1X didn’t come out of the case, but I didn’t need the power.

We started with the long green dress on the window ledge, then moved to the green top and jeans.  Most of the shots in below are fashion, but there’s more here on the fashion galleries page.  We changed the style after that, and did some boudoir in one the upstairs bedrooms.   The natural window light suited black and white, which I love.   I’ve included a couple of shots from that set here, but you can see more on the boudoir gallery page if you want to take a look.

Time was moving on quickly, so we grabbed some portraits , then moved to the bathroom for a few more fashion shots.  The final set of the day was my favourite. We used natural light on Scarlett, with the A1 placed behind her.  This had the effect of separating her from the background which clashed with her hair.  I love those shots.   the silver of her jumpsuit complements the red of the wall perfectly I think.

Suddenly it was all over and I had another 2 hour drive to get home, but I had a big smile on way face all of the way back.

 

 

Amber Chelsea Gray at Thurston Lodge

A Lingerie Shoot

This lingerie shoot proved a bit problematical to put together. I had booked the venue separately as I had worked at Thurston Lodge before and loved the place. All that was left to do was to find a model, but I had one in mind.  We got the date in her diary, but sadly she cancelled the week before the session, so I had to find an alternative quickly.

I had one particular model in mind, and after making contact I confirmed the booking with her. All was fine until the day before the shoot when I started feeling unwell. Without going into the gory details it became rapidly clear that I wasn’t going to be able to attend the venue.  A couple of phone calls and e-mails were sent to explain the situation. I’ve never cancelled a shoot before because of illness, but I simply couldn’t get out of bed.  Amber and Mark at the venue agreed that we could rearrange and it was left at that.

For a number of reasons, it took just over a month for us all to be available. Amber arrived at my house on the day of the shoot and we travelled together to Thurston Lodge.    The venue was some 40 minutes away from me, but that gave us plenty of time to discuss the shoot parameters.   We were both clear with what I wanted to achieve in the four hours we had together.

Lingerie and boudoir was the order of the day, and Amber had brought plenty of lingerie with her. I like to photograph lingerie away from bedrooms.  I much rather use other places at the location to add some variety. We moved around the house, from top to bottom, shooting as we went. Once again I used as much ambient light from the large windows as I could.  I did have to boost the available light with my Profoto kit occasionally as some rooms were quite dark.  Primarily I used the A1 both on and off camera, but I also used my new B1X with a large silver parabolic umbrella for some sets. For once, the B2s were unused.

A selection of images from the shoot are shown below. If you want to see more, head off to Chic Fashion & Boudoir and take a look at the Amber Chelsea Gray gallery.

The North Yorkshire Moors with Angela Kate Hudson – NSFW

A little bit of Art Nude

Sensual Edge Photography

Having worked with Angela earlier in the year at WindmillArt Studio, I knew I wanted to do some more art nude with her.   That’s a style I like to do outside, as constantly changing backgrounds can add a lot of context to the subject.   The trick with location art nude, as always, is to find somewhere that is photogenic and not busy, something that can be challenging in the UK.   The North Yorkshire moors provided the ideal backdrop though.

I loaded up the car with my equipment and headed north early in the morning.   I had a three hour drive to get to Harrogate, where I had planned to meet Angela.   I had a lot of good memories of Harrogate, it was town to which I had been posted during my time in the RAF, spending a year there before moving down to RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire, close to where I now live.   I hadn’t been back there for some 23 years.

We started with some fashion and portrait shots in and around Harrogate,  which was still recognisable to me after all of the time that had passed since I had lived there.  A lot of memories were brought back, most good, some not so, but I left the town centre with Angela for the moors with a nice warm feeling about the place.

Angela knew a lovely spot where we could shoot our art nude set and being a hardy northerner the thought of some moody skies and a bit of rain didn’t worry her at all, in fact we were both hoping for the odd shower or two.   Sadly the skies were flat grey and the rain never arrived whilst we were there.   It did as I was on my way home!

Here’s a few shots from the set.  It was as chilly as it looks, but Angela coped with it perfectly.

Jessica’s Project – Genesis Hair Company

One of the things I love about my job, now that I’ve gone full time, is the freedom to do work that I wouldn’t have been able to do in the past.   After working with the lovely Genesis Hair Company in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, on a charity event earlier in the year, I was contacted by creative stylist Jessica Harvey with a view to photographing a project of hers.

The theme for the shoot was mermaids and woodland, and it was to be shot over two days.   The mermaids session was first and after selecting a suitable location Jessica got to work very early in the salon on the morning of the shoot.   Whilst Jessica was working I made my way to the location to await her arrival.   That gave me plenty of time to assess the weather conditions, although most of the photography was planned to be done in a disused and run down swimming pool.  Thankfully the weather behaved and we were able to work in and around the pool and outside too.

The woodlands themed shoot followed a week later.   The lighting was interesting, most of the shoot was done with natural light in the open areas, but the woods were very sheltered so I had to break out my Profoto B2 location kit to add the punch that was needed.   I was pleased that the winds were light, as keeping hair in place when there is a strong breeze is problematical to say the least.

The hair and make-up work carried out by Jessica for both shoots was very intricate and detailed and I think she did a magnificent job.   The models were her friends and had little experience in their roles, but they did all that we asked of them splendidly.   Photographers can take professional models for granted occasionally, forgetting how hard it is for those not used to having a camera in their face and lights going off all around them to relax and produce the looks that are needed to fulfill the stylist’s brief.

There’s a selection of shots here. but you can see more at https://www.chicfashionandboudoir.photography/fashion-galleries

2017 Road Trip Days 1 and 2

The Swiss and Italian Lakes

Twice a year or so, Appleton Photography Training run road trips to various parts of Europe.  This time around, I got the opportunity to go on a trip to the Swiss and Italian lakes, and what a journey it was.

The reason why days one and two of the trip are combined in this post is because the Saturday and Sunday merged.  Let me explain.

The group, with one exception, met at a location in Milton Keynes.  Making up the party was Andrew Appleton, photographer and organiser, together with his wife Helen, who is a superb stylist and make-up artist.  Steve was the assistant and driver, an expert luggage packer who no doubt does Tetris in his sleep.  One model, Sharon, and one dancer, Alexa, made up the business end, leaving three photographers, James, Colin and myself.  The fourth photographer, Mike, was collected from Slough station en-route to the Eurostar.

This trip was my first experience of the Eurostar, but sadly I didn’t see much as we had the late train over, departing at 23:30 or thereabouts.  We had arrived at the terminal in good time, where I discovered France starts as soon as you get through the security barriers.  That was a bit bizarre.  After some refreshments and a little shopping expedition to get some snacks to tide me over the crossing and the initial stage of the journey in France we boarded the train.  Some 23 minutes later we were out the other side and disembarking at Calais.

The first leg of the trip was an overnight drive to Colmar in France, just short of the Swiss border.   The total length of that stage was 638 Km, around 7 hours travelling time, but it was broken up by stops at service stations for fuel and food, and a longer break at Epernay in the Champagne region to do some street photography of the buildings belonging to the various champagne houses.   There’s some photos below of those buildings.  All of the structures were very symmetrical no matter who they belonged to.   We got something to eat and drink in Epernay, and then set off for the second leg of the day to Colmar.

We stayed at the Hotel Roi Soleil Prestige in Colmar, arriving there in just enough time to grab a shower and get ready for an evening shoot in the town centre, around an area known as Little Venice.  There’s shots of both Sharon and Alexa in the gallery, doing their stuff.  They both drew a bit of a crowd, but we were able to carry on without any unwanted interruptions.  It was all over very quickly,  and we returned to the hotel before going to the next door restaurant for a steak and a beer.    Bed followed, as we had to be ready to leave at 08:00 the following day for the next leg to Lake Lucerne and then onwards to Colico and Lake Como.

Yes, I do charge for my services…..

Before I start this blog, I’d like to make it crystal clear that this is not a rant, nor is it pointed at any particular individual.  I hope that this post will provide the reader with my point in a balanced and considered view and you’ll see where I’m coming from by the time you get to the last paragraph.

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of photographers out there, many of whom shoot weddings.  There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s how I started.  A few kind people who knew me took a bit of a gamble and gave me the opportunity to shoot their big day, and I jumped at it.  My point is that I did it for free, on the understanding that if it went wrong there would be no comeback.  That’s a massive leap of faith on their part, but the important thing for me is that I did it for FREE.

I liked what I did, and so did my couples.  Nobody threatened to sue me, and prints were sold.  I also started to design and produce albums, all for no charge except for the actual cost of the prints.  I made not a penny.  After a while, wedding photography got serious and I decided to up my game substantially, and I decided to charge for my services.   That action started to cause a few problems, not least that I stopped getting inquiries from people who would have approached me when I wasn’t charging.  I knew that would be the case and accepted it wholeheartedly.   The annoying thing for me is that I was considered to be expensive.  It’s not my intention to discuss my prices, you can see those on my website here, it’s the thought that some people think that I just turn up at the church and venue, point my cameras at the action and pretty pictures appear from nowhere and make lots of money.  Therein lies my first issue.

Note that I said cameras, plural not single.  Well, I shoot weddings, so one camera is not enough.  The thought of having a body fail on me whilst I’m mid-way through shooting a wedding mortifies me.  I need two, one as a back-up, but we’re not talking about any old cameras.  I’m talking about having kit that’s able to cope with low light situations in churches, some of which are dark, very dark indeed.  That’s magnified by not being able to use flash during the ceremony.  To counter that, I have very capable camera bodies to deal with situations such as that.  Good cameras cost a lot of money.   That brings me neatly to my next issue.

If I had a pound sterling for every time I’ve been told that my camera must be good to get the pictures I do, I’d not be photographing weddings.   As I’ve mentioned, I do have good quality cameras, but I don’t turn up at a venue, put them on the ground and let them take pictures on their own.   As good as they are, I have to have some input in the picture taking process.  I have to assess the location, light, people and a load of other things before I press the shutter button to get the shot the bride and groom are going to love.  That’s me pressing the shutter button, not the camera doing it for itself.  How do I make the right decision?  Through training and experience, that’s how.  Experience you get as you go along, but training costs me annually.   The cost word seems to be appearing frequently here.

What if it rains?   That’s ok, I’ve got some studio lights, some portable flash heads and some flashguns.  That’s enough to get me out of any sticky situations caused by the weather.  Sure enough, each one of those items costs me too.

I could go on for quite some time yet, listing things like my PC, electricity, heating, petrol, repairs, replacements, consumables, insurance – your photographer is insured for public liability and public indemnity I’m sure – but I think you can see my point.  Factor in editing time, about four hours for every hour at a wedding, taking into account my booking fee only, and I’m getting considerably less than £1.50 an hour.  Would you work for that?

 

A day with Angela Kate Hudson

Chic Fashion & Boudoir Photography

Sensual Edge – Glamour & Art Nude Photography

When I got interested in photography as an enthusiast, group shoots and model days provided me easy access to excellent models, so I knew I would get great shots, unless I as the photographer made technical errors.   It was a great way to learn, with each of those type of shoots having their own pros and cons.

It has to be said that group shoots can turn into something akin to a Rugby maul or ruck.   Not all by any means, but it does help to know who your shooting partners are so everyone gets a fair crack of the whip.   Another problem is that you generally work on one set with one costume, which means that the scope to produce a unique image is virtually non-existent as images will be duplicated by your shooting partners.   Add to that the shooting over your shoulder brigade and thing can be very fraught indeed.

Model days are better as you get to choose the model and studio that you want to work with, and you work one to one with her.   There’s no interference, and you can take your time over each set.   If your pre-shoot communications with your model were good you’ll even have her wardrobe sorted out and you can light the set to suit the look.   That’s a much better state if affairs.

Lately, I’ve stopped doing group shoots and cut down on studio days, preferring to organise my own stuff.   As a photographer I believe that I need to take responsibility for all aspects of a shoot and organise it the way that I want it to be.   It forces me to push my limits and to learn new techniques quickly and apply them.   That’s something I’ve recognised I need assistance with, so I’ve asked to be mentored by an expert photographer, to get me to the level that I want to be at.   There will be another blog about that soon!

An opportunity to put some of my knowledge into practice came recently at an outdoor summer shoot.   The event was hosted by Conrad Webb, the owner of WindmillArt Studio in Linton, Cambridgeshire.   Conrad provided the venue, 7.5 acres of beautiful grounds surrounding his lovely house and the windmill.   The rest was down to the participants.   Photographers could choose their models, and vice-versa.   I was lucky to be in a conversation with him at the time and heard Angela Kate Hudson was looking for a photographer.   She had been on my want to work with list for a long time, so I asked and was very pleased to be accepted.  The shoot was on.

The day was gloriously hot and sunny, though did mean that I had to deal with harsh shadows.   We took cover wherever we could and got on taking pictures.   Angela can model excellently across many styles, but I’ve always been a fan of her art nude work, so that is the genre that we shot most.

Here are a selection of shots from the day.  They cover all of the genres we covered during the shoot, hence they sit in the NSFW category.

Fashion in Budapest – Day 2

Day one was finished by a couple of beers, a rather nice Italian meal from a restaurant just a few yards away from our Airbnb and an early night.   The reason why I’m mentioning that is because day two was going to be a very early start indeed.  Alarms were set for 05:00, though in truth we were all up by then because the courtyard at the back of the block we were staying in became active even earlier.   There was a shop attached to the building which took deliveries to sell during the day, and they weren’t the quietest at doing that to say the least.

We needed an early start as the first location was at the Fisherman’s Bastion.  It is a big tourist location so we needed to get there before they did to make the most of the views.  Our taxi arrived  on time and we set off, all laden with kit.   Most of the shots in this gallery were taken there, and we got two looks from each model.  It was a very busy morning for everyone, working in a temperature of 27c at the hottest.

My first shoot of the day was with Atalanta Smythe, and I was assisted on lights by my shooting partner Jonathan Hilder and Mark Goddard.  Atalanta wore a long black and sheer dress for the first set, and we shot right at the top of the location with stunning views.

The initial set with Amie-Jayne Boulton was shot on some beautifully lit stone stairs, enclosed by bricks.  By this time the tourists had arrived in large numbers, so we had to wait for bus loads of people to pass on occasion, but that didn’t interrupt Amie’s flow.

From there we moved back outside with Atalanta.   Passing tourists meant that we kept on the move, but parties still formed to watch Atalanta do her stuff dressed in her black halter-neck top and salmon pink jeans.   Our enforced movement meant that it was inevitable that the paths of the models would cross, and when they did we got the chance to do some duo shots.

After spending the whole morning at the Fisherman’s Bastion we went to a restaurant where I sampled an authentic beef stew with noodles.  It was delicious and very filling, so I was glad we got a few minutes of rest before setting off to the Chain bridge, our next location.   We shot on the bridge and on the river bank, again attracting a lot of attention.  Mobile camera phones were very much in evidence.

My final shoot was with Atalanta Smythe in front of the beautiful Parliament building.  I don’t think we could have done that same shoot in front of the UK Houses of Parliament, we wouldn’t have lasted more than two minutes before being moved on.  Things are much more relaxed in Hungary.

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