As much as I love set construction and working in the studio (it never rains), some things just can't be recreated on set, namely a gorgeous one hundred year old weeping beech tree. I scouted much of the Southern Highlands in NSW in search of the perfect magical tree and was drawn once again to the splendour of Milton Park. The gardens of this the esteemed country estate are home to some of the oldest Oaks, Elms, Beeches and Maples outside of Europe.
With only a week until the tree would lose all it's leaves (it's winter in Australia) we had to act fast to manifest this gateway between the real and the surreal.
Shooting on location is all about planning for that 5 minute window where the ambient intersects with the artificial and creates something otherworldly. With that in mind the only question that matters is: When exactly will the Sun be in that 5 minute window?... and then how do I make sure that everything is ready for that moment.
Set beneath those variegated leaves I went about planning the shoot "Kissed by the Moon". The scene would be inspired by Titania from Shakespear's A midsummer night's dream, and Titania queen of the faries would act as the medium between the two worlds.
Our scene needed to look moonlit, yet register all the detail in the shadows as an eye would. We'd be shooting at ISO50 on a Phase One IQ280, coupled with a reasonable shutter speed as to not register movement from the tree. We'd be using the sun to create artifical "moonrays" and strobe lighting to give my hero a dewy sheen. Couple all the above with a decent DOF and we'd need to time this just right.
Prior to embarking on this journey I needed a costume, one that would befit our nocturnal hero. Following on from chapter one's theme of printing upon the Belgian Linen that I would later sew into the costume; I settled upon the creature of the night that seeks the light. The humble yet incredibly beautiful (detailed) moth.
While I had photographed moths for artworks before, none at the detail I required to print a 2 square meter cape. I hired a Schneider 120mm Macro and set about lighting to capture the most intricate detail I possibly could.
With a makeshift focus stacking rail and an hour later my appreciation for intricate macro photography was well and truely realised.
My shoot crew
My search for the right model to play our hero Titania began with a desire to find an albino model. A strange desire you may think, but to me, a magical moonlit night seemed the right setting for someone whose fragile skin can't be photographed in full sunlight, whose sensitive eyes prefer the shadows, a nocturnal creature like my moth, someone who is "Kissed by the Moon". As fortune would have it, my model Lauren turned out to be a kindred spirit and she embraced her role entirely.
The extraordinary hair sculpture in this artwork was produced by my resident hair genius Sarah Laidlaw. Another kindred spirit, Sarah has been an integral part of my team for many years, bringing with her a suitcase of wigs and a hat full of tricks... and lots of chocolate and hugs.
Typically you'll see a large lad lurking in the shadows of my shoots lugging equipment around. James is my husband, my producer and my gear junky. He takes the stress out of the day with his technical finesse yet adds the stress to life with his demanding deadlines. James is my yin and my yang. Life is one big ticking clock!
With the majority of pre-production coming together at a frantic pace we turn to the intricies of the shoot day. Having used sunseeker the iPhone app to plot the location of the sun we knew we were on to shoot at 4pm. Of course that means rigged by midday, hair & makeup done by 3pm and the model on Location by 3:30pm, leaving us 30 minutes in reserve.
After spending two weeks in pre-production it all comes down to those 5 minutes when the model is in position. We threw in some smoke from our trusty smoke machine, backlit by the gorgeous Sun filtering through the leaves and with that we were done. Photographers get a bad rap for always saying "one more shot", but when you've spent so long planning an image it's hard to let the euphoria end, and that it will when the sun sets.