With any product it’s important to have great images, with a fashion product it’s not a need, it’s an absolute MUST HAVE. First impressions count and so the photo’s of your garments, in our case, shirts, need to be spot on.
The right photographer
Photoshoots are also expensive, there’s several good reasons for this. First and foremost you have the photographer, which if they’re any good… they’re busy. We had something of a competitive advantage, I’ve been working with professional photographers for over 20 years as part of my branding business. I‘ve worked for all manner of clients…from fizzy drinks and breakfast cereals through to Michelin chefs and luxury accommodation, I’ve worked with many great photographers, and for this project I knew exactly who I wanted to shoot for me…Geoff Lloyd.
I’ve known Geoff nearly as long as I’ve been in the branding business, we’ve worked on lots of stuff together and share a lot of similar interests. I knew he’d get exactly what I wanted to do, and capture it brilliantly. This part was easy.
The crucial ingredients
The next bit is harder, much harder. So after the photographer come 2 other vital ingredients – models and stylists. Picking the right models is crucial to the success of the images, if you don’t have a clear picture about who you’re looking to appeal to, then picking the people who will become the faces of that business is nigh on impossible. A good model agency is worth their weight in gold, their knowledge of the people on their books is simply awesome, saving you days of your life flicking through books and portfolios as they quickly pull together short lists.
Then comes the stylist, what these folks do, has to be seen to be believed. I am forever amazed by the resourcefulness, creativity and outright energy of these people. They turn the everyday into the extra ordinary, the mundane into marvelous…they are wizards - the tools of their trade - vast and their skill -immense.
The photography was beginning to feel like it could just consume all my start-up budget in one bite. And there was the dilemma, I needed the shots to be right, they would set the tone for everything that followed, there was no room for compromise.
I figured the sensible place to start was with Geoff, he’s a good friend and would be absolutely honest with me, so I’d quickly know if what I wanted was even remotely possible. We kicked around loads of ideas, from borrowing friends to railroading in relatives, aspiring students and more but the issue of money remained front and central.
Then we had a break through, what if I styled the models? After all these shirts are my designs, if I can’t make them look good on folks then who can. Now don’t get me wrong, on the wizarding scales of a stylist I’d rate myself as a 1, maybe 1.5 out of 10. Where I’m stronger is organization and application, getting stuff to a place with the supporting bits needed, I can do that and regularly do so for my clients, so why not for this project?
I wanted the shots to be authentic, I wasn’t looking to create perfection. My vision was one of vibrancy - the diverse influences of the urban landscape, street art and the good vibes of café culture. The little hidden gems, slightly off the beaten track, packed with character and characters, producing amazing, quality products. I felt that if I could capture some of those positive vibes and that buoyancy then we’d have something and I felt like the Northern Quarter in Manchester was the place to get it. I’d lived near the city for nearly 20 years and it has an amazing vibe.
The golden ticket
Ok, photographer sorted, location and styling sorted (stepping well outside my comfort zone here, but hey, by this point I was way past over analysizing things, I’d already put my neck on the line several times and there would be bigger hurdles that I’d have to face). But we still had the issue of the models, where were we going to get some people to wear the shirts. Geoff did suggest that I do it. There were a lot of valid reasons it should be me, not least because I was building this brand, I’d designed the shirts, I could see it made a lot of sense. But I’ve always known that I’m something of an introvert, I love making things, sharing stuff but I’m not the biggest fan of the spotlight. Geoff could sense my hesitance and said he’d reach out to some of his contacts and see what could be done.
Wearing many hats
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done a lot of photoshoots in my time and I figured I could be in some of the shots but, and there was a big BUT, when I’m directing a shoot, I’m thinking about all sorts of composition issues, colours, positions within the shot, what we need, don’t need, how things are going to crop and I’ll be having on-going dialog with the photographer throughout, about whether we’re shooting from a low angle, the type of light that makes the product look great, focus length and tonnes of other stuff. I pretty comfortable doing all of that, working through my shot list, covering the bases, but when you’re in the shots as well, the headspace and processing of what you’re looking for and what you’re doing in front of the camera and how that plays out – it can be done, I’ve done it, but it is a very tiring process. I was keen not to wear multiple hats for the shoot.
A stroke of luck
Geoff struck gold with a casting agency, BOSS, they had a handful of new models with no experience who might be interested in doing some work in return for shots to put in their book. This was a risk, but it was a risk worth taking, it felt like the moment the sun comes back out from behind the cloud, there was away that we could achieve this. Two models were selected and dates put in the diary. Fingers crossed we’d get reasonable weather.
Up, dressed and ready to leave for Manchester city centre
We’d arrived in the Northern Quarter, time to scout around, look in more detail at where we could shoot, what looked to have potential and check any lighting or other issues. Cue lots of drives around the block, down tight alleys and dead ends as we spent the next 20 minutes checking out every nook and crannie that looked remotely interesting.
We’d arranged to meet our models in the TeacupKitchen where Geoff had shot before, the owners were happy for us to be there as long as we bought some food and drink and didn’t get in the way of their customers. I was armed with clothes hangers, safety pins and tape, Geoff had his camera box and tripod, there we were walking down the street, people must have wondered what on earth we were up to.
This was a great location - a vibrant coffee shop with a really nice, homely feel. They showed us to the quieter part of the shop and we got straight into the most important part of the day…breakfast. Days like this simply run away with themselves, taking this opportunity to eat something nutritious now would prove to be a smart move.
The first model, Matt arrived, turned out he was doing his degree in Manchester after a stint in the states working as a physio. Geoff wasted no time, getting the camera out and set-up. I got Matt a drink and showed him the shirts before sending him off to the bathroom to change.
The second model, Chris arrived, he’d travelled from Nottingham where he was studying economics. We did introductions, I showed him the shirts and then it was time to really get going. We sat Matt and Chris facing one another in various poses, with various shirts on, we wanted them chatting and laughing, like long term friends, given that they’d only just met and were complete novices, they really got into the vibe of things quickly and we got some fantastic shots.
The café was staring to get really busy, time for us to leave, we’d covered a lot of stuff and now it was time to go to the flower market. Here there were some fantastic old red brick walls and a practically deserted courtyard (until you get the camera out, then the whole world decends to see what’s happening).
Here we had what will definitely go down as my weirdest shoot experience…ever. Chris had joggers on, this was fine for the sitting stuff as you couldn’t see what he was wearing on his legs, but at the flower market it wasn’t going to work. He didn’t have anything else with him, that left me with two choices (time to get my magicians hat on) buy some jeans or lend him my pair. We were tight on time as we only had the models until 2pm, so we went for the later. Finding a bar on the corner we headed for the toilets for a wardrobe swap. We walked into the men’s toilets to find 8 people with clip-boards in there. WTF! My reaction was to turn around and get straight out, but one of the men (there were men and women in this group) said they were just leaving, and in one of the most bizarre experiences of my life, 8 people came out of a very small men’s toilet in this bar.
On the streets
For me, the shots from the streets capture the urban vibe really well. There was some awesome street art, the sun was out and we rattled through costume and location changes.
Only an hour left with our models, so back to another café that looked like it had a good vibe. After a quick chat with the owners and some exchanged tweets we bought some drinks and set about capturing café culture, street side Manchester style. By this point there were more people about and inevitably people started asking what we were doing. I’m always happy to talk and share what I’m doing but time was ticking, so we tried to keep the chat, short and sweet, suggesting people get involved in the shots usually worked!
Time for the models to go. Myself and Chris still needed to switch clothes, after the last experience I wasn’t keen to try another bar, so we went to our friendly café and asked if they had anywhere we could change? They let us use their store room…well it was more of a cupboard really, but the only company we had in their were bags of coffee, phew!
Location change, time to drive to Manchester airport where I’d arranged access to a Tesla through a friend at BCN. By now it was blistering hot, not ideal conditions for shooting shiny cars. Matt (not the model) had found a practically empty car park for us to use, he was busy so just handed me the key (that’s not a key), quickly running through how things worked and was gone, saying call me when you’re finished. Thankfully Geoff was fully prepared with a light diffuser and we got some great shots of me, well my hands and arms exploring the controls of this amazing car.
All five shirts have been shot within the car, time to go, we thanked Matt (gave back the key that wasn’t a key) and headed for the studio to start looking at what we’d got. It was also time to spruce up the shirts from their day in the spotlight.
Number of shots so far 732! Time to start looking through and refining. Whilst Geoff is processing the shots that we have selected I’m ironing the shirts and figuring out what we’ve still got to do tomorrow. Time for a well earned brew…or two.
The next day was all about the studio shots, I looked down my shooting list, ticked off what we’d got and we planned the next day whilst the shots continued to process.
367 shots viewed, around 120 selected for processing into jpegs, 90-odd of which were ready and had been transferred onto my hard drive. Beer time, take a break and get some food.
Back on the ‘puter to work through and select the rest of what was to be processed from the days shoot. We were both shattered, eventually calling it a day around 11pm. The plan for tomorrow, up by 7, out by quarter past and in the studio before 8am.
I know that what we’d done hadn’t been physically exhausting, but mentally, my brain was smashed and I slept like a log.
Day 2 and my time in the spotlight coming soon.