The Bath House Shoot

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Shooting images for a commercial shoot is very different to shooting a portrait, however you can draw on your skills as a portrait photographer and blend them for use in a commercial setting. I thought I’d share some ideas and tips to help you if you are ever in this situation.

You may have a friend with a business who might want some shots, so hopefully you can learn to work together and create what they want.

And you’ll find lots of pictures, ideas and tips on here to help you with shooting portraits of women too.

The most important thing about a commercial shoot is that the photos are going to help the client sell something. When you shoot a portrait, the most important thing is that the subjects like themselves in the picture. With a commercial shoot the subject is being paid to model, and it’s the Company you have to please. The pictures have to sell their products, so it’s vital that you talk through the shoot in fine detail with the client.

Make an appointment to chat through the shoot and here’s a few questions you need to ask:

  1. What are you trying to sell?
  2. Who do you want to sell to?
  3. What ideas do you have so far?

Once you have built up a picture in your mind, and are on the same wavelength as the client, you can work together to create the shots.

The Bath House Shoot

It's always fantastic when you see the pictures you shot go on the front cover of a brochure - it just makes you feel great! After 25 years, it still gives me a thrill every time!

It’s always fantastic when you see the pictures you shot go on the front cover of a brochure – it just makes you feel great! After 25 years, it still gives me a thrill every time!

The Brief

The brief was to make the bathing, skincare and fragrance products feel sexy, friendly and personable. The company already uses fantastic product shots, but they wanted to involve a person and show how it feels to use the products too. They also wanted a sexy feel to the pictures, more like perfume adverts. I asked them to come up with some mood boards, which they did, which made it much easier for me to see what they visualised.

There were 3 looks they wanted to achieve – sexy, natural, funky & fun and we needed to create a diverse range of shots for each type of product.

And the really tricky thing? We had one day and one model!

Big commercial shoots can often take days, and be very expensive. We didn’t have that sort of budget, we had to get as many different shots as we could in just one day. We needed to be really prepared and plan everything, so that on the day we could be spontaneous and open minded with the shots. Luckily the company owners were totally on my wavelength, and we had great fun organising and shooting.

Nigel and Abigail, of the Bath House are very creative people, both artists, which made it really easy for me, because they had great ideas and great resources.

They sourced some really inspiring clothes, handbags and accessories from a local vintage clothing shop, Vintage Revival. People will often lend you things if you bring them back in perfect condition and give them credit on the brochure.

I suggested we shot at the Midland Hotel, Morecambe in Lancashire, because only having one day to shoot, we needed to have a variety of suitable backgrounds/locations within minutes of each other. This hotel is a beautifully renovated 1920’s Art Deco hotel, situated directly on the beach. It gave us a spacious, neutral coloured bedroom, big bathroom, large wooden deck with outdoor hot tub, art deco staircase, 1920’s hotel facade and pebble beach all in one place!

I visited the hotel the week before and chose the bedroom which had the most light, was very practical to work in and provided plenty of places to shoot. It had a large walk in wardrobe, where we could hang our vintage clothes collection and the make up artist was able to work at the large dressing table with plenty of space left for shooting. It’s very difficult to work fast if you have to keep moving everything out of the way.

TOP TIP: Organisation and planning are key if you are to do a shoot which ought to take a week, in just one day! Look for a location with lots of scope in order to create a huge variety of shots in a short time. It is impossible otherwise! Travelling in between shots is not an option!

Location Plan

Bedroom, bathroom, hot tub, staircase, beach.

Timetable

8.00am:  Nigel, Abi and Debbi arrive at hotel, unpack clothes and props and start ironing!
8.30am:  Annabel, Karen Fundell (make up artist/hair stylist) and Polly (assistant, chief reflector-holder and daughter!) arrive and set up for shoot.
8.45am:  Our model, Ruta arrives – we call room service and get loads of coffee and croissants (always look after your team – REALLY important).

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8.50am:  Ruta goes into make up, Annabel rearranges all the bedroom furniture and checks shooting areas.
9.00am:  Annabel calls down to reception to get a stepladder (as decides to shoot hot tub shots from above).
9.30am:  Model is ready and we start shooting!
1.00pm:  Quick break for lunch and recharge batteries (ours and the camera’s!).
1.30pm:  Start shooting again.
5.30pm:  Mad rush to finish so model and make up artist can catch their trains home! Annabel and the rest of the team pack up and chill out!

Shoots

1. Bedroom – using bed:

We started shooting in the bedroom because we were near the make up, so we could quickly make any initial changes, and we had a variety of shots we could do in one place. I see the bedroom rather like a studio – with natural light from the large windows on two sides of the room, and we can keep changing the clothes and products whilst shooting on the bed and chairs, with the minimum of hassle. Moving to different locations involves taking make up, props and clothes with us – so we try to get as much done as possible first before we need to do so.

Try shots like these if you are doing a lingerie shoot too. Natural light is coming from the windows and the white duvet cover is a natural reflector.

Try shots like these if you are doing a lingerie shoot too. Natural light is coming from the windows and the white duvet cover is a natural reflector.

2. Bedroom – using chair:

This chair is a fabulous shape, and we can do all sorts of shots in it. I just experimented, by moving her around until I liked the shot. I then created variety by changing my angles, and zooming in and out, whilst asking her to lean on her hand, look over here, bring your chin down, etc.

This chair is a fabulous shape, and we can do all sorts of shots in it. I just experimented, by moving her around until I liked the shot. I then created variety by changing my angles, and zooming in and out, whilst asking her to lean on her hand, look over here, bring your chin down, etc.

3. Into the bath!

This was a tricky shoot because the bathroom did not have much light – it had an opaque glass fixed screen to the right of the bath, so we had to use a reflector and a large sheet of white card to get as much light as we could, and hold it as close to the model as possible.

The other tricky issue here was to make the model look naked, while keeping her dignity. We did this by asking her to bring a nude colour top and by careful positioning of props we were able to keep the pictures decent.

Note we need to keep her hair dry for the next shoot, so have pinned it up out of the way. Drying and restyling would take a valuable 30 minutes of our shoot time.

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Note how close the reflectors have to be to give us as much light as possible, and I have to keep the camera very steady! Yes we could use flash, or big soft boxes – but using lights really adds to the time it takes to do the shoot (and I prefer natural light to flash on camera). Working like this speeds up the whole shoot, allowing us to do so much more. I just have to be very aware of low shutter speeds and do everything I can to make it work.

4. Hot Tub

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It was a lovely sunny day but it was absolutely freezing when we did this part of the shoot! The wind was howling off the sea and I was in danger of being blown off the stepladder, and off the top floor of the hotel at any second! It proved too difficult to shoot the pictures without showing Ruta’s bikini, so we threw the flowers in the water to hide the areas we didn’t want to see. However if you’ve ever tried putting flowers in a hot tub you will know that they just swirl all over the place in the jets! It was so bright we had to use the reflector to block the sun for the top right picture, but we let the sunlight splash all over when she was pouring the bottle, because we felt it worked better.

Note many of these shots are being composed to allow for dropping products onto the pictures later in Photoshop if necessary.

5. Art Deco Staircase

This was a really fun part of the shoot – the staircase in the Midland Hotel is stunning, and very unique. We chose a white 1960’s jumpsuit and a pink 1950’s skirt suit (very Jackie Onassis!) and really went for the glamorous make up – some of these shots were for perfume, so we wanted a much more glamorous look.

These shots are all lit with natural light from the stair window, with the help of a reflector. The white jump suit could only be shown 3/4 length because the model was so tall the trousers stopped just past her knees! And we had to keep her crotch out of the shots because that wasn't a great look either! She certainly suffered for her art in that outfit!

These shots are all lit with natural light from the stair window, with the help of a reflector. The white jump suit could only be shown 3/4 length because the model was so tall the trousers stopped just past her knees! And we had to keep her crotch out of the shots because that wasn’t a great look either! She certainly suffered for her art in that outfit!

Pictures 1 and 2 show how little natural light you need to take really flattering shots. I love shot no. 3 - just another day in the life of a hotel! And shot no. 4 shows why I'm the photographer and not the model - ha ha!

Pictures 1 and 2 show how little natural light you need to take really flattering shots. I love shot no. 3 – just another day in the life of a hotel! And shot no. 4 shows why I’m the photographer and not the model – ha ha!

We got some really funny looks doing this shot. In fact one passing hotel guest thought there'd been an accident, and we were photographing a dead body! Sometimes I just don't think about how things look to other people!

We got some really funny looks doing this shot. In fact one passing hotel guest thought there’d been an accident, and we were photographing a dead body! Sometimes I just don’t think about how things look to other people!

6. Suddenly inspired by a yellow dress and a fur stole!

Every time we went through the clothes, I found something else I wanted to shoot! That's the beauty of thinking on your feet. So long as you've done all your preparation, you have time to think and be creative when something really inspires you.

Every time we went through the clothes, I found something else I wanted to shoot! That’s the beauty of thinking on your feet. So long as you’ve done all your preparation, you have time to think and be creative when something really inspires you.

7. Outside by the dustbins!

We have a beach, and a stunning hotel, but I chose the garbage area round the back! The reason being because the light was stunning, in the soft shade, away from the harsh sunlight, and sheltered from the very strong wind – and I loved the neutral background behind the bright and colourful styling of this shot. We didn’t plan this look – it just happened – I was inspired by the dress and Nigel and Abi had brought a huge variety of flowers – so we picked the heads off some and put them in her hair.

Sometimes when the wind catches this kind of hair, it looks wonderful! Ruta is sitting in the shade and we are using a gold reflector which gives her skin such a beautiful glow. I haven't Photoshopped the blue background - it's an accident because the reflector is casting such a bright gold light in the foreground the grey background is underexposed and just turns blue! I love accidents!

Sometimes when the wind catches this kind of hair, it looks wonderful! Ruta is sitting in the shade and we are using a gold reflector which gives her skin such a beautiful glow. I haven’t Photoshopped the blue background – it’s an accident because the reflector is casting such a bright gold light in the foreground the grey background is underexposed and just turns blue! I love accidents!

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TOP TIP: Note how the wrist jewellery is the perfect colour for the packaging of the perfume and the gold ring is a similar shape to the flower on the box. Just by chance we spotted them in the collection of vintage jewellery and thought they would work perfectly!

8. Car Park

Walking back to the front door I was inspired by the bright sunlight bouncing off the reflector and someone suggested using a bandana on her hair – so we took these shots. Although I had planned the locations, I am always flexible if I spot something inspiring en route!

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9. Random room we happened to walk through!

Walking through this room inspired us to go with a younger, funkier look. We had the perfect 1960’s clothes which we felt complemented the bright blocks of colour in this area.

Top left: Ruta has such long legs, I wanted to shoot from the floor to make them appear even longer, and using the lines in the background and the pole in the center of the room makes her seem taller too. Bottom left: Note the layout of the actual room. It's amazing how dynamic you can make a shot, by shooting from the floor to include the ceiling (top left), and tilting the camera on an angle to alter the perspective.

Top left: Ruta has such long legs, I wanted to shoot from the floor to make them appear even longer, and using the lines in the background and the pole in the center of the room makes her seem taller too. Bottom left: Note the layout of the actual room. It’s amazing how dynamic you can make a shot, by shooting from the floor to include the ceiling (top left), and tilting the camera on an angle to alter the perspective.

I have placed Ruta deliberately within the different background shapes, and moved the camera around to get a variety of different shots, without actually making her move much at all.

The reflector is being used to block out the sun and create soft light on her face. And the white towel is on the floor to bounce light back into her face. If you study the scene shots, you can see how much bright sunshine is pouring through the window.

Then in total contrast – we decided to use a wall in the same room which was a similar colour to a top I liked – showing how effective pictures can be if the clothes contrast completely, or blend perfectly – just a different look!

This is the perfect example of "shooting in a doorway" - something I am always saying on this site! The doorway has top shade, and lots of sunlight flooding in, but I have placed the model in the shadow area - just look how beautiful the light is. It works every time - even in a normal household doorway - it doesn't have to be this high, and it doesn't have to be this sunny - just try it!

This is the perfect example of “shooting in a doorway” – something I am always saying on this site! The doorway has top shade, and lots of sunlight flooding in, but I have placed the model in the shadow area – just look how beautiful the light is. It works every time – even in a normal household doorway – it doesn’t have to be this high, and it doesn’t have to be this sunny – just try it!

10. Five minutes on the beach (with the taxi waiting to take the model to her train!)

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this shoot, and I hope it’s given you lots of ideas for pictures of your own.

Annabel x


thebathhouseshop.com: If you feel like pampering yourself, these products are just gorgeous!

And if you want to stay in a unique hotel: The Midland Hotel, Morecambe

CLICK HERE to see how some of the images were used in the Autumn/Winter catalogue.

CLICK HERE to see the images in the Spring/Summer catalogue.

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Behind scenes photos: Polly Williams/Debbi Stringfellow
Model: Ruta, Edinburgh (www.brightsidemodels.co.uk)
Make up artist: Karen Fundell, London (www.karenfundell.co.uk)
Retouching: Marko Nurminen (www.markonurminen.com)
Clothes: Vintage Revival (www.vintagerevival.co.uk)