Last Sunday I did a shoot for Clapham Film Unit. I have worked on several of their documentaries now, shooting production stills which are used both as publicity shots and as a record of the work done. (This is essential for projects such as this which are partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.) Its interesting work, though great care has to be taken to keep a very safe distance from the sound-man's microphone while they're actually recording. If I need to be close in then often the shots are grabbed just before the director Charlotte Bill says, 'Action!' (yes, they do really do that) or just after she says, '... and cut!'
This project is called These Dangerous Women, which is how Winston Churchill referred to them. It is about the efforts of a group of women peace activists to attend an international congress in The Hague in April 1915. Their aim was to bring World War I to an end. These pioneering women, who didn't yet have the vote, travelled to Tilbury docks in Essex, where they had been promised a boat to Holland. Despite having permits to travel they were thwarted by the closure of the shipping lanes and an 8-day wait at the docks ended in disappointment.
The documentary will be finished to coincide with an exhibition opening in Edinburgh next March to mark the centenary the events of April 1915.
Part of the process of making the documentary has been to get contemporary women to research the fascinating lives of those pioneering peace activists. In Edwardian costume these volunteers travelled from around the country to London, then on to Tilbury, and you can see my photos of the days events here.
I do different kinds of work for different clients, and often spend my working days sitting at the computer captioning, key-wording and removing dust spots from images. Quite dull stuff. So sometimes its just a treat to do a nice simple shoot. The key ingredients? One soft box, one close friend, her 2-month old son.
The set-up couldn't have been simpler. I had the camera on manual and measured the exposure with my light-meter, which goes way back to my days of working with a Hasselblad. But these I shot digitally on a second-hand Canon 5DS which I bought back in January. Shooting digitally makes for lots of quick shots (at least as fast as the light will re-charge) and also ease of printing for the client.
I shot in colour and used Photoshop adjustments to convert to black and white. Adjusting the different colour channels separately allowed me to hold the strength of the dark tones in his blue eyes and tone down a bit of redness in his skin. It would have been possible to make the image more high-key but in fact I wanted a bit of bite to the darks as I think it makes for a stronger image. The client has the option of using the colour version instead but I think there's something wonderful about monochrome for portraits.
Anna Watson: photographer, parent, juggler