The Test Shoot

There were still plenty of variables following our meeting over dinner. We’d made wild guesses about how many pictures I can produce in a given timespan, and made vague plans to use Harriet’s place as a setting. She’s got a nice flat that’s centrally located and for reasons best known to herself was most insistent that I use it as a setting for photographing porn. Her place has got this sleek, minimalistic look that naturally looks like a set as well as being fairly open-plan which gives room for lighting and moving and so on.

And so it came to pass that on the next Saturday I cycled over to Harriet’s house. I’d left late, finally getting there around two hours later than planned. She’d been on the phone complaining at me – how she was ready to be photographed, the flat was ready to be used as a stage, and I was ruining her mojo. Suitably chastened I made my way over to her place, where I sat on her sofa for an hour while she actually got herself dressed and made up.

Harriet, like many of my friends, is a trifle odd. One of her oddities is that she holds herself to be a fat ugly pig. This is not the case – she’s practically waiflike and generally quite attractive. In short: she would look delicious with her clothes off, but she believes otherwise. So much otherwise, in fact, that she spends a lot of her time dressed in either baggy clothing or showing as little flesh as possible. So how are we going to do the test shoot?

We made pretend porn instead.

Harriet was dressed in black riding jodhpurs, a black top, and tan knee-length boots. This was, for the purposes of our test shoot, her skin. On top of that she wore a variety of other outfits, which she could then gradually strip off while posing and revealing her black outfit underneath, which through the power of imagination becomes her body. Yeah, it’s not going to get anyone off, but that wasn’t the point. I needed to find out how many images I’d be taking per set, how flexible her flat was for shooting in, how long a shoot takes, how much time to leave for changes between rooms and outfit changes, etc. I’ve never paid a model before – I’ve been fortunate enough to have a steady stream of volunteers and a pool of willing friends – so I’ve never paid that much attention to the clock. The style of photography is much more different when shooting porn too – the time interval between pictures is much smaller.

Despite her aversion to removing her clothes Harriet is not shy. She pranced around the flat flaunting her body parts at the camera. We both got attacks of the giggles at various points. It also showed up some problems. I thought we’d be able to shoot in the hallway – it’s got these mirrors at the end of it that I thought could be fun – but it turned out to be hell. The mirrors were awkward to use, the space was a pain in the arse to light, there were distracting background elements, and it was quite cramped. We tried our best but I don’t think we’ll be using the hallway that much, if at all.

After the shoot was over Harriet and myself got talking about camera gear. She remarked about how awful she found the viewfinder on her camera even after adjusting it. This reminded me of the dioptre adjustment on the camera, and I discovered that mine was hideously out of whack. That’s why the viewfinder in my camera was so unremittingly awful, and I found it so hard to focus on things, and my eye started to hurt after extended shoots. For those of you who don’t know about it the dioptre is a small wheel that allows you to adjust the viewfinder to suit long and short-sighted people, letting them use the camera without trying to squint through glasses. If you’ve got an SLR go and check yours now – most of them click when they turn, so if you count the clicks in one direction you can put it back how it was if you don’t find it improves the quality. I felt like such a fool when I rediscovered this control but I’ve since talked to several other friends and found they’d forgotten theirs too. A quick adjustment later and they were raving about how clear their view was now. It is a genuine revelation.

We’d shot for a little over three hours, and I’d walked away with 800 images. But were they any good? In a word: no.

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The First Meeting

Simon and myself had batted around a few ideas via email but completely failed to reach any kind of consensus. As was fast becoming tradition, we decided to talk over dinner.

We’d actually done a fair bit of the businessy tough stuff via email already – how we’re dividing profits, who takes what role, etc. We’d also decided at what level we’d pitch our site, but we were nowhere near a consensus about whether we wanted to go for a general or a niche site, had no company name, and no site name. The details were vague.

As expected this evening had what I suspect to be the first of many uncomfortable conversations. I’m good friends with Ruth and Simon but we’d never sat down and discussed what turns us all on, or if we’d ever paid for porn. Simon turned an interesting shade of puce before divulging his tastes (I was surprised what he liked but it’s nothing weird), and Ruth is pretty straightforward. My own tastes didn’t really come up, and I’m not the kind of fellow to just blurt them out. When asked I will tell.

Then we had dinner and talked about other stuff, after which Ruth and myself sat down with the Internet and had a hunt for some models. Turns out you’re looking at about £30 to £80 per hour for an adult model, and a lot of them are hideous. The flasher principle (“Can you give us a description, miss?” “Well, officer, I wasn’t looking at his face…”) doesn’t apply; we all agreed that people in porn should be pretty. We also spent a bit of time looking at the cost of hiring studios and/or buying studio equipment, before we both realised (duh!) that you hardly ever shoot porn in a studio. Studios work well for portraiture, or product shots, or still life, or even art nudes – but you never ever see porn shot against a seamless backdrop or backing paper. It’s a heinous violation of the fourth wall, even worse than when the cameraman speaks during a video. I present to you C’s rules of porn photography, maxim 1:

The role of porn photography is to stay the fuck out of the way and make the viewer forget he’s looking at a proper photograph.

You want the viewer to focus on the model. You do not want the viewer to start thinking about how this girl is not naked and smiling at him, but because a photographer is there with lights on stands and telling her to smile. If you do that then reality comes crashing in and you’ve spoiled the fantasy. That’s never good.

Digressions aside, we did some mental arithmetic. We had a location to shoot (Harriet’s flat). I have some basic lighting gear. I have camera gear that is more than sufficient. We have the skills in-house to actually build the site. The only cost of getting off the ground is paying models so we can generate content. I pulled some numbers out of my posterior, and suggested that we can get 4 or 5 sets per 4 hours of model time; this means that each set will cost us somewhere between £24 and £80. I guessed that I could produce around 300 usable images in 4 hours, but it was just that – a guess. It soon became clear that the next step would be for me to do a test shoot and find out just what we can expect from the images.

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An Introduction

It all happened so quickly. A friend had told me over dinner that he had resolved to get rich, and that he had decided that it would never happen while he worked for other people. I’d confessed that I had similar thoughts and told him that I wanted in if he did go into business for himself. Then I forgot all about it.

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