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Shoot Stories

Shoot Story: Alex Kelsey in Bristol

My first photoshoot with a ‘real’ model, wandering around Bristol. Featuring street art, steps and a security guard.

At this point, I’d done shoots with my friend Lauren, and with Abi, who I knew a little. I’d also found Holli through Instagram. But none of them had done modelling before. I set up a PurplePort account, and started looking for models. Alex Kelsey was one of the first I found, and when I replied to her casting call, she was up for doing a shoot.

She’s an experienced model, in Bristol. A bit more of a drive than I’d had for a shoot before, but not too far. We arranged a place and time to meet, and Sam and I set off.

The location we’d chosen was somewhere we’d been before, and knew had a few interesting bits for good backgrounds – Millennium Square, near the docks. We got there a bit before Alex, so we waited outside a cafe so we had good access to coffee. And gulls.

Alex’s partner had come along too, and was very helpful, saving Alex having to carry her bag around all the time, or leaving it unattended while we shot.

As my first shoot with someone who actually does modelling, I wasn’t sure how my approach of ‘wander around and see if inspiration strikes’ was going to work out, but it seemed to. Her experience certainly made shooting easy, as she didn’t need any prompting from me to get into poses that looked good!

The gulls around Millennium Square added a bit of interest, too.

Just nearby is a big curved-fronted building which I think belongs to Lloyds, and the steps and railings outside made for some good shots.

A little fire escape hole with steps so steep they were almost a ladder gave us some interesting angles, too, until a security guard came out of the building to tell us off. Apparently, if we set off the alarm, it would upset people in Leeds, which he seemed to think was self-evindently a horrifying prospect for us. It wasn’t entirely clear how we were going to set an alarm off without breaking in or even opening a door; or why we should be far more worried about upsetting someone in Leeds than someone standing right in front of us. He wasn’t threatening to call the police, though, or even ordering us off the premises, just to stop using the stairs we’d just finished using anyway, so it wasn’t really a problem. Totally worth it for the shots.

Further along, there was a big metal block, probably originally for tying ships to, though probably not positioned where it was, but Alex knew how to make the best of it.

With a good chance to blur the distant background, I grabbed a few quick portraits.

Next, I learned a trick from Alex that I’ve used many times since. There was a good window for reflection shots, and instead of looking at the camera, or just looking away or into the window, she looked at the reflection of the camera. The result is her actual face is looking to the side, towards the window, while the reflection of her face is making direct eye contact with the camera/viewer. It’s very effective, and I’ve got other models to do the same ever since she showed me it.

A plain wall made for a full-length portrait that would probably have been quite uninteresting if it wasn’t for Alex’s way of posing – she can make the ordinary look far more unusual.

I’d had the idea of using Christmas Steps, which is a little walk away from where we were at that point. We stopped for coffee at a handy cafe, which meant Alex could change outfit, and we could all sit down for a bit.

I’d have been quite lost, but Alex knew Bristol a lot better than I did, and knew the quickest way to Christmas Steps, so off we went. I think the first shot was a response to something her partner had just said, rather than a general comment aimed at me, but to be fair, I was starting to regret the idea of all those steps myself at that point.

Alex spotted a wall in blocks of different colours, which worked well.

The next shot was one of the only bits of posing direction I ever gave Alex – she’s already got most of the pose, but I noticed her shape was almost perfectly aligned with the shape of the stairs behind, so I got her to tilt her head to match too.

We used the stairs and a big rock to get some different heights.

For a couple of final shots before we finished, we used a bit of Bristol’s almost endless street art.

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