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Thornbury Portraits :  Behind the scenes


We had the idea a few years ago when Sophie was knocking on people’s doors organising (what has since become) Thornbury Road’s annual street party. What struck her was how we all live so close to one another in similar style housing, yet each home was completely different - each with its uniquely diverse set of characters. Around this time my photography was becoming increasingly ‘serious’ i.e. I had a few lenses and couple of flashes, so naturally we thought it would be a brilliant project to photograph everyone on Thornbury Road!

Four years passed before we got around to shooting Clemens, our first portrait. A larger than life character, we knew he’d be perfect for finally getting the ball rolling...

Another year and a half passed. By now we had two young children and needed to move to a larger house. Our flat was up for sale, so it was “now or never” to do our Thornbury Portraits project that we’d been talking about for so long. By chance our friends across the street were also moving out of London with their two young children and they wanted a portrait of themselves in front of their doorway. We had such a laugh doing this - it rejuvenated our big plans for the Thornbury Portraits...

So that evening Sophie was instantly on the phone texting a bunch of our closest neighbours, who we knew would be great subjects to get the ball re-rolling, again. We’d had grand plans to photograph everyone on the street; 75 houses with many split into two flats, so potentially up to 100 portraits. This idea went straight out of the window when we realised we only had around 10 weeks maximum to cram as many in as possible. (This seemed a long time, but two portraits per day working weekends only is no time at all).

We printed out the initial photos to show other neighbours the style of imagery we were taking, and to show they’d be portraits not snapshots. Word soon got around and before we knew it we were fully booked! Well it wasn’t quite that simple. Sophie did an incredible job organising the whole thing, spinning endless plates to keep the project from nose-diving (my part was easy - I just turned up and took the photos). I certainly under-estimated the sheer ‘messing about’ factor involved in persuading people to commit to a precise date and a time; children would have weekend activities to go to, one family member would only be able to do this time while another member only being able to do that time. With such limited and precious time slots there was no room for anyone to pull out at the last moment - so once they were booked we were turning up at their homes regardless!

We had two slots per day - 11am and 2pm. This gave us two hours to get each portrait done and dusted, with an hour in between for lunch and to download images/recharge flash batteries etc. We’d turn up at each doorstep with photography gear and our two young daughters (aged one and two). Other than a handful of houses that I’d already been in I generally had NO idea what to expect when I walked through the front door. I knew the houses would all have a roughly similar width and length, but that was about it. So I found myself very much on-the-spot with each portrait, quickly having to figure out the best place to shoot from within the limited space (bearing in mind finding interesting backdrops, places for me to physically position flashes and light-stands, unwanted reflections from mirrors and windows, not to mention trying to avoid repeated similar-looking shots). When I’d decided where we would take the portrait I’d grab a few stills to show the subjects, then we’d explain that I’d need 20-30 minutes to get my lighting and exposures etc set up while they considered potential props and outfits. These initial reference snaps would often look great at my ‘quick and dirty’ camera settings (f/2.8 iso 2000 at 60th/sec), but the instant I changed the settings to anything more acceptable (i.e. f/8 iso 400 100th/sec) - everything would be in darkness. I’d then mess about setting my flashes up - which was never straightforward - and before I knew it the subjects would be rubbing their hands together ready for their “spectacular” portrait... The first photo (certainly at the beginning of the project) was often terrible; the lighting would be illuminating all kinds of stuff that I didn’t want highlighting, with ugly shadows suddenly seeming to appear from nowhere? Nooooooooo! Meanwhile, kids are running about, dogs are yapping at my feet licking camera lenses, the TV is on full- blast in the background, subjects are asking me questions about my photography gear, the beautiful natural light is disappearing - and my daughters are crying! Luckily again for me, Sophie was there to help diffuse this as much as possible, chatting to the subjects keeping them relaxed while I generally walked around scratching my head thinking “how am I POSSIBLY gonna salvage this??” (usually involving lots of swearing to myself). This got easier as the project continued, but I’d hugely underestimated the stress levels involved in getting a half-decent shot. It certainly puts it into perspective for me just how good the pros are!

So once I was happy with the lighting setup the actual portraits were pretty fast and straightforward, though I always had to be mindful that it can be quite tiring for the subjects as they’re not models after all - which again highlighted to us all the demands of being a professional model, and how exhausting even just a ridiculously simple shoot like ours could be. Well it definitely was for me!

That said, it was a brilliant, fun experience which I learned LOADS from. We’d never done anything like it before and there’s endless things I could go on about, but here’s a handful of general ‘goings on’ behind each of the portraits...

Behind the scenes     Clemens & Scooby    June 2012


Clemens HAD to be the first subject we photographed. A key figure/character on the street who organises and hosts many of the parties - we knew he’d be a great subject who loves the camera and we’d all have proper laugh doing it! We also figured that we’d need an image to show to other residents to say “look, this is the kind of photo we’re taking” - to show that we were taking portraits, not snapshots.


So we turned up and Clemens was stood there in the doorway wearing an amazing Vivienne Westwood outfit that he used to wear in his ‘clubbing’ days. Wow. Before arriving I’d imagined getting a quirky shot of him doing his ironing, but seeing him dressed like this I knew we needed to go for something a little more ‘grandeur’. The front room was a great option as there was a nice sofa and a huge chandelier, but the large mirror scuppered these plans as it would reflect my whole lighting setup, so we ended up in the kitchen where the doorway served as a fantastic graphic backdrop (I thought the glass panes naturally frame Clemens, leading our focus directly to his face).

I also wanted to create a more stylised look - clearly separating Clemens from his background - so I fired a flash directly behind him on a light-stand which I painted the legs out afterwards (something I totally try to avoid).

Both Clemens and Scooby were absolute naturals.

01 Clemens

Behind the Scenes      Kate, Paul, Jack & Ben    November 2013


Kate and Paul were about to move from their one-bed flat to a family home outside London, so we thought it would be appropriate to get a ‘simple’ shot of them in front of their doorway...

Nothing is ever simple. One problem for me was that it was a super-bright autumnal day. This meant that the top area of the door was bathed in brilliant sunshine, leaving the remaining area - where the family were to stand - in deep shadow. I knew I’d have to use a fast shutter speed to expose for the bright sunshine, combined with a flash to nicely illuminate them. I soon realised there was NO WAY one flash was going to be enough power to do this, so I ended up gaffer-taping another flash to my light-stand to get closer to what I wanted. (That evening I went straight online and purchased another flash, plus a Tri-bracket.)

Doorway bathed in brilliant sunshine, and deep shadow.

The wind was also far more gusty than I’d realised so even with a heavy bag attached to the base of the lightstand - it still went down, snapping the umbrella shaft. In addition to this a car was parked directly outside the doorway obscuring the shot, but luckily it belonged to a neighbour who happily came and moved it for us. Another neighbour came out to see what all the commotion was - perfect timing for his young daughter to get roped into being a human light-stand and hold my flash and (broken) umbrella.

Just as the whole setup was right, little Ben would NOT have his photo taken. Then Jack got upset. It was complete ‘meltdown’ in the street. Luckily after a few chocolate button ‘bribes’ from Mum, we got it!

02 Kate Paul

Behind the Scenes      Marlowe    November 2013


A writer of fiction, I’d initially envisioned photographing Marlowe in her study, maybe by her desk with natural light streaming through the window, but bearing in mind this was deep December - and her study was in the basement - there was ZERO natural light. A quick on-the-spot re-think was needed (something that became a consistent theme throughout all the portraits), so I decided to move my camera gear up to the living-room where the natural light was much better. Much better for about 10 minutes. The light was rapidly disappearing and I knew that by the time I had any kind of lighting setup I was happy with, the natural night would be totally gone - which of course it did - so in a moment of sheer panic I decided to shoot a ‘dark’ shot of Marlowe on her sofa. Brilliant! Why didn’t I just do this in the first place?! Having said this I was still struggling to get the shot I was after, so I asked Marlowe if she had any particular props we could incorporate... “well I do have this...” she said, unveiling a crazy contorted piece of art that had belonged to her father. Perfect!


Lauren, my stand-in lighting model

03 Marlowe

Behind the Scenes      Patricia    November 2013


Patricia is a very dear lady with quite a sparkle to her, who I was particularly excited about photographing (she was definitely in my ‘top five to get’). I knew she had a stair-lift and a great sense of fun, so the final shot was pretty much exactly what I was after. Failing this, I also knew she had a chair in the kitchen where she spends much of her time. We could have done a ‘nice’ portrait there but not the quirky/fun portrait I had in my mind.

While I set up the lights, Patricia stayed in her kitchen with Sophie and the girls, chatting and drinking tea. In this situation I couldn’t rely on either of them to sit in while I did test shots (they were far too busy sipping tea), so a dolls head on a light-stand did a fine job.

Again, there was practically ZERO natural light in the hallway so I placed a 60inch umbrella just out of frame, which created the impression of natural light coming through a front doorway. This was combined with another flash through a gridded softbox, positioned as close to Patricia’s face as I could get it without being in shot. This was used to create a soft pool of light around her face and upper-body.

I particularly like Patricia’s slippers and how they matched her rug. Plus of course her colourful hats which she loves to wear. These were quickly arranged when Patricia was comfortably in position.

04 Patricia

Behind the Scenes      David, Barry, Sonny & Victor    November 2013


Barry and David were keen to have a traditional style portrait but in a slightly tongue-in-cheek manner. The initial idea was for a portrait of them in their TV room (where they spend much of their time), shot from the TV’s point of view. This was fine, except there was absolutely NO room to manoeuvre or place lights etc, so we decided to shoot in the livingroom which turned out to be far more suitable in terms of space and decor, also lending itself to a more traditional looking portrait. Here I was immediately drawn to the black-painted room-divide which served as a natural graphic frame.


The only real ‘technical’ problem with this portrait was lighting Sonny (the black dog). It seemed that no matter how much light I threw on him, he just absorbed it all - and remained JET black!

It was also funny that by this point we had tried various poses where Barry and David held the dogs. This went on for quite a while, with the guys constantly reminding me that the dogs are “MUCH heavier than they look”. David said he’d lost pretty much ALL feeling in his arms by the time the hero photo was taken. Very funny.

05 David Barry

Behind the Scenes      Anna, Guy, Howie & Ely    December 2013


I spent 15-20 minutes looking around the house for an appropriate place to shoot: On the stairs? Upstairs in their ‘snug’ room? Over-head shot of them on their giant bean bag? I was trying to avoid the livingroom ‘on the sofa’ shot, as I was concerned the portraits would all start looking the same. Having said this I also didn’t want the shot to look too contrived; it was important to me that this was a family shot taken where they all spend time together, so in the end the ‘sofa shot’ was the only option!

Lighting was fairly straight-forward. One large umbrella diffusing the main light balanced with a small umbrella to fill the shadows. There was no space - or reason - for any back or side-lighting. I did have to be careful though not to get any lights reflecting in the picture on the wall.


Just as we were getting going and everyone was relaxed, the boys - in all the excitement - accidentally knocked their heads together. There was lots of crying (from the boys) resulting in the photo shoot coming to an abrupt end. Luckily I’d managed to get a handful of shots before this happened.

06 Anna Guy

Behind the Scenes      Tracy, Edgar & Hugo    December 2013


I’d seen the wallpaper through the front window and knew that was EXACTLY where I wanted them. Plus it turns out that Tracy holds regular yoga sessions in that space, so we wouldn’t have to worry too much about moving furniture.

There’s not a huge amount to mention regarding the lighting (this was actually one of the most straight- forward setups of the whole project). Just a nice backdrop with some colourful characters. I definitely could have photographed the three of them all day. They looked fantastic and performed a multitude of yoga poses brilliantly. It seemed that each time I blinked they’d have changed positions and be in another pose - I could barely keep up! It’s one of my personal favourites. I love the attitude, colour, skateboards - and sense of fun.

07 Tracy

Behind the Scenes      Jamie, Sophie, Evie & Skye    December 2013


We couldn’t do a series of Thornbury Road portraits without including ourselves! It did however HAVE to involve the camera, so we decided to shoot our portrait looking into a mirror - so that the camera and lighting gear would also be in shot.

This was actually more of a headache than I had imagined. Lighting our faces/bodies - reverse into the mirror - was one thing. Getting two young children to look into the reflection of the lens was quite another! So Sophie held ‘Zippy’ out for the girls to look at, which I think works brilliantly. I actually like the fact that they’re not looking directly at the lens - their eye-line draws the viewer’s attention to Zippy, which raises the question: “who’s hand is THAT??” It’s definitely a photo that makes the viewer think.

08 Jamie Sophie

Behind the Scenes      Kate, Tom, Rosie, Jack & Clara    December 2013


After spending time checking out interesting places around the house, the kitchen was really the only room to shoot. On various occasions over the years we’d shared cocktails with Tom and Kate in their kitchen, so it was obvious for us to shoot there with the drinks and cocktail glasses in the background. I particularly like the warm glow from the chilli lights.

Like many of the portraits we were really pushed for space. I’m positioned as back as far as possible to take this shot - practically sat on the gas hob - with the key light/softbox JUST out of view.

09 Kate Tom

Behind the Scenes      Fiona, Frankie & Azabel    December 2013


There was loads of decorating going on with things piled up everywhere around the house, so in terms of space there was really only one place we could shoot. I thought we could make a feature of the work in progress, incorporating the ladder, rolled up wallpaper and vacuum. All shot against the textured back wall. Perfect. This idea suited Fiona as she prefers to dress down, so I thought it would be an interesting contrast to have her in her DIY clothes, with Frankie (who prefers to dress up) sitting down on a luxurious chair, with Azabel sitting comfortably between them high up on the ladder. (Azabel’s twin brother Arron was all set to be standing beneath her in front of the ladder, but unfortunately was camera-shy when the big moment came, so he stood and enjoyed the show next to me).

This is a good example of how colour combinations also play an important aspect. For instance it’s no accident that Fiona is wearing a red top and Azabel has a red pattern in her dress - each helping to balance the burgundy chair. Meanwhile, Frankie is wearing a contrasting yellow dress to the chair with white-rimmed glasses to compliment Azabel’s dress. Sophie spent quite a while with them helping to fish out various wardrobe combinations while I battled to get a lighting setup that worked. All these minor details (I think they were just expecting a snapshot!) - definitely worth it as this is one of my favourites.

10 Fiona Frankie

Behind the Scenes      Jay, Toni & Ben     December 2013


Toni has a lovely house but it was quite a challenge to find a suitable place to shoot that was large enough to pose three people (other than the ‘on the sofa’ shot which I didn’t want). Originally it was going to be just Toni and her son Jay, so I was considering a few options. Then Ben turned up, and the only natural choice to shoot the three of them was over the hob - which worked a treat.

It was a pretty gloomy day so I used three flashes to light them: a main key light onto their faces (this was positioned as far to the left as I could get it - otherwise it was WAY too prominent in the reflections of the aluminium extractor fan/panels), an edge/rim light far right of frame (which helps to separate Ben from the background), then a third light directly behind Toni, pointing back towards the wall (to brighten it up and balance out the shot).

Visually, I’m always looking for things to help the shot to read as clearly as possible; in this case notice how Ben is ‘framed’ by the window frame, and other small things such as Toni’s mug - it was chosen (all be it very much on-the-spot) to clearly read against her red top.


We tried a whole load of options, including Toni wearing boxing gloves, hockey gear and a wrestling mask (at one point we even dragged in a motorbike from the garden) - this was fun but it all felt a bit forced.

I love the final shot, with Jay and Ben looking straight-faced, with a very proud ‘that’s my boys’ look from Toni.

11 Toni

Behind the Scenes      Will & Gladys    December 2013


We arrived at their house on a very gloomy Sunday morning. Will appeared at the door rubbing his eyes - he’d just woken up, and Gladys was still in bed! Fortunately this gave me some breathing space to figure out where I was going to take the photo and set up lights etc.

We ended up shooting Gladys on her comfy armchair with Will sat on the arm beside her (as this happens to be the position where they spend much of their time watching TV). There was little natural light so I placed a large umbrella with a single flash, right of camera, to illuminate the whole scene. A second flash was used to illuminate them only, with a third flash (far left of shot) used to add a bit more interest. I put a warm gel onto this flash to help balance the general colour palette - which I felt was a bit cool - and also to compliment the lovely hanging photos of Gladys and her late husband.

These two were brilliant in front of the camera. Relaxed, warm, fun - and patient!


A typical scenario showing the subjects with Sophie ‘wrangling’ our two girls

12 Will Gladys

Behind the Scenes      Marcus, Charlotte & Oliver    December 2013


For this portrait we thought it would be fun to include Oliver’s playroom, as young children’s lives/ environments change so quickly, so this would hopefully represent a memorable ‘snapshot’ of this ever-changing period.

As with many of the portraits we were in a pretty confined area with very little natural light. My daughter Skye acted as Oliver’s ‘stand-in’ while I messed about with lighting setups, then did a swap with a ‘fresh’ Oliver when the time was right!


Here's a good example of how I’d ‘take advantage’ of miscellaneous objects. In this case to clamp a light to...

13 Marcus Charlotte

Behind the Scenes      Sebastian, Annabel & Alan     December 2013


This was an interesting set up. Alan was in the middle of renovating the house so the place was a complete building site. There was a make-shift kitchen with gas burner etc. set up in the livingroom which I thought served as a fun and unique portrait opportunity but I quickly changed my mind after venturing through to where the renovation was happening - I instantly knew it had to be there!

The scaffolding poles and beams served as strong graphic shapes to frame Alan, Annabel and Sebastian. So once we’d done a few test shots to establish where we were going to shoot, I was left alone to get the place set up with lights etc. I had a clear idea of how I wanted to light the scene, which I thought would be quite straightforward. Nothing it seems is ever straightforward! It was a nightmare to position any lights as there was no ‘ground’ as such to speak of. This meant nowhere to place lightstands, and anywhere I COULD get a light, there would be a scaffolding pole in the way (casting shadows right where I didn’t want them). The natural light was also quickly disappearing, so I had to set up a light outside to shine through the window. (It was extremely windy so Sophie had to stand and hold it - whilst also holding our 1 year old daughter - to prevent it from blowing over)


Finally, with the family in position, and an additional flash that I’d positioned to illuminate the hallway, there was still something missing... I then noticed some dusty workman’s hard-hats kicking about - so they put those on and voila! - everything came together nicely.


These two shots show the individual effect of the background lights

14 Alan

Behind the Scenes      Laily, Aleya & Ed     December 2013


This was supposed to be another quick and simple lighting arrangement - with an umbrella providing a broad light source from outside and a gridded softbox directed onto the family inside. Easy. There was a mild breeze - so learning from my previous snapped umbrella shaft incident - I secured the base of the lightstand to a heavy bucket of water with a bungee cord, and tied the top of the stand to the door handle. It wasn’t going anywhere. (I even covered the bucket in case a flash happened to fall in its direction). All was well - until the sky darkened, the breeze became galeforce, and it started to absolutely PISS it down! - leaving me no option but to dismantle my elaborate anchor and completely rethink my setup.

All worked out nicely though. I love the vibrant colour palette in the conservatory combined with the dark picture frames and Ed’s ‘Geordie’ scarf. These brought together just the graphic element that I was after.

When we’d finished shooting and were packing things up, Sophie was chatting to Aleya about her various interests. It was only then that she mentioned she was really into Japanese Manga and had “loads” of crazy wigs and outfits which she would happily have worn for us had we asked!!


My lightstand ‘anchored’ to a bucket of water and tightly secured to the door handle,

plus an on-the-spot lightstand made of cereal boxes. All very technical.

15 Laily Ed

Behind the Scenes      Tina & Jeff     December 2013


This photo captures JUST what we were looking for when we began the project: a characterful portrait of a couple/family that have lived on Thornbury Road for many years. They both look fantastic. I particularly like the ‘Magnificent 7’ painting - nicely echoed by Jeff’s hat (both physically and metaphorically). They were also celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary - represented by the photo on the floor.


Again, natural light was scarce so we had to move their huge Christmas tree away from the bay window area to get my large umbrella/flash in there. This light worked pretty well on it’s own but the shot was a bit ‘cold’, so I warmed it up by placing a orange-gelled light in the hallway, bringing a bit more interest to the shot and contrast to the blue sofa and walls. (As with many other portraits, we removed any christmas decorations that were visible to keep the shots as neutral as possible).

16 Tina Jeff

Behind the Scenes      Dujhan & Dawn     December 2013


The original idea was to get a portrait of these two relaxing outside the front of their house in the evening, each enjoying a large glass of wine. On a balmy summer’s evening that’s where they’d usually be (cheerily chatting to anyone who passed by). This however was mid-winter, so that suggestion fell on deaf ears!

Aside from the usual costume changes (for Dujhan), and general set-dressing - where for instance we moved a mirror that was reflecting my main light - everything went pretty smoothly and they both looked great.

17 Dujhan Dawn

Behind the Scenes      Shayne & Anil     December 2013


I was now getting used to shooting in confined spaces, but in this instance we had to pull the cooker completely away from the wall to give me enough room to get the shot. Even after doing this the oven was JUST out of frame. Same with the flash/softbox on the other side of frame.

Generally I’d prefer to do as little set-dressing as possible, but each portrait would almost definitely require a few ‘tweaks’ to help balance the shot. In this case we positioned objects under the table to fill what was otherwise a dark empty space. Even the door behind Shayne was angled to graphically mirror the fridge behind Anil - helping to naturally frame them both. Clothing was also a consideration; Shayne looked great in her ‘onesie’ so based on that, Anil made a number of trips to his wardrobe (and ironing board) before we were happy with the combination. There’s loads of minor things like these going on throughout all the portraits - yet hopefully done in moderation so they don’t look TOO contrived!

18 Shayne Anil

Behind the Scenes      Oluseun & Folasade     December 2013


There were certain portraits where the shot was obvious. In this case it HAD to be the piano shot (the project was lacking musical instruments). We tried various options but this is pretty much what I had in mind when I walked through the door.

The piano was pulled out away from the wall so I could physically get in front of them to get the shot. Lighting-wise, aside from the main key light (a softbox directly over my head), I also placed an orange-gelled flash in the hallway to add warmth and interest, plus a blue-gelled flash in the far corner of the room to bring out detail around the sofa area, which was otherwise in complete darkness.

There was building work going on around the house so the place was a right squeeze - each time I wanted to adjust the position of the blue light I had to climb over a sea of stacked furniture (where my young daughter had also made a ‘den’ where she sat happily watching a movie).

We finally got this shot late New Year’s Eve. Definitely one of my favourites. (It seems like I’m saying that about every shot - but this one definitely is)

19 Folasade

Behind the Scenes      Ali, Tea & Isla     January 2014


Ali and Tea had a lovely flat with an opening partition between the kitchen and livingroom, enabling me to stand back and get the shot on a longer lens (making it easier to frame the shot without seeing the rest of my lighting setup). I thought the green lightshades were quite striking, so to represent their ‘glow’ I placed a green-gelled flash behind them just out of frame. (There’s no way the actual hanging bulbs would throw enough light to have any effect). This green ‘rim’ light also helps to separate Tea from the background, with an orange-gelled flash placed on the opposite side to highlight Ali’s head and shoulders.

Ali is serious about wine, which accounts for all the bottles on the surfaces - though this image doesn’t do his collection any justice. (It would’ve been fun to do an additional ‘comedy’ shot with the bottles everywhere - floor, cupboards, microwave, inside washing machine...)

20 Ali Tea

Behind the Scenes      Myles, Michael, Bertie & Binky    January 2014


After seeing the amazing deer head through the window from outside, this was another shot I already had in my mind’s eye before even entering the house - but yet again what I thought would be straightforward was far from it.

It was tricky to light as the only obvious place to position a flash was left of camera. A huge hanging chandelier already occupied this position, so there was much ‘delicate’ manoeuvring of my 5 foot umbrella to get it into a suitable position without bringing the chandelier down. This umbrella was used to create the overall diffused light (without a flash this shot would be total darkness). I also placed a gridded softbox directly in front of the umbrella to provide more localised lighting onto the guys. In this instance having both light sources in the same place meant I wouldn’t get ugly crossing shadows. (Plus I had no choice, as there was nowhere to put another flash).

I love the shot. Michael and Myles look great in their matching outfits, with the complimenting white/beige/ tan colour palette. And a special mention to Bertie and Binky - who couldn’t have behaved themselves any better!

21 Myles Michael

Behind the Scenes       Kuziva-Aodhán & Seany     January 2014


It was Seany’s idea to get a shot with his son Kuziva in the bath - and it worked brilliantly. The only real issue for me was that it was in a very tight area with (yet again) very little space for me to stand, let alone light-stands etc, so I clamped the key light to the bathroom door with the all-versatile ‘magic arm’.

Getting an even light source onto them was a challenge. The sides of their faces were in deep shadow, so I bounced a light off the side wall through a tightly focused snoot. This created a lovely soft fill light.

To get ‘proper’ bubbles we used Fairy liquid rather than bubble bath - so we were aware of keeping Kuziva in the bath for as short a period as possible. Bubbles ended up absolutely EVERYWHERE, like on a movie when someone over-fills the washing machine with too much soap. Fantastic fun!

22 Seany

Behind the Scenes       Kim, Roger & Mark     January 2014


I’m not sure that Kim Roger and Mark really knew what was going on here, but they certainly enjoyed themselves (or at least I did watching them clamber into position again and again).

The ‘human pyramid’ worked a treat, and they responded brilliantly to me shouting “this way a centimetre. Roger - left thumb forward. Kim - right elbow back. Head up Mark. Now all of you SMILE!!”. Again and again. It was very funny - and exhausting (probably more so for me).

The lighting set-up was straightforward - the only thing worth mentioning was messing about trying to get the left side light to hit all three of their faces - as Mark’s face kept ending up in shadow.

Other than that the right side of the frame was looking quite empty, so after a quick rummage for something to hang on the wall or place on the TV, an Irish flag seemed the best solution. This was perfect - not only because they’re Irish - but it also helped to balance the colours of the rug (a happy accident).


This dark shot is a good example of what the camera would typically ‘see’ without a flash being fired. This was pretty much the case with every portrait.

23 Kim Roger Mark

Behind the Scenes        Olivia, Jacky & Rose (the cat)     January 2014


I looked at various options around the flat but the kitchen had a warm ‘lived in’ quality that I really liked, plus for the time of year there was reasonable natural lighting that I wanted to make the most of. Having said this there was still a fair amount of ‘creative’ lighting that I thought was needed to get the shot, so aside from the main key light (a softbox just out of frame) I also bounced an orange-gelled flash off each of the side walls to represent light coming from the under-cabinet lighting (the strip-light far left of frame was visible, but certainly didn’t throw anything like enough light to help the shot in any way).


I was also keen to go with a wider-angle lens to accentuate the converging lines of the kitchen surfaces and cupboards - which help to guide our attention to Jacky and Olivia. They were both fantastic. (Plus of course Rose the cat, and Olivia’s little frog on the floor in foreground)

24 Olivia

Behind the Scenes        Miriam      January 2014


Compared to other houses we’d been to on Thornbury Road, this was quite an unusual space with a cosy living area up in the roof with nice bold graphic lines running throughout.

The natural light coming through the skylight was amazing when we arrived, but the sun was going down and within 30 minutes had all but gone. Nooooo! (I knew there was no way I’d be able to replicate that kind of beautiful lighting so I almost considered calling the shoot off. By this point in the project though I’d become far more confident about making whatever situation work, so I just had to forget about the incredible lighting that I’d missed).


So we got the shot and Miriam look fantastic, but throughout the shoot it had been bothering me that the space behind her (right of frame) was lacking ‘something’. I wasn’t quite sure what - until Miriam flicked a switch as we were leaving and a beautiful set of background lights turned on, nicely illuminating the dull corner of the room. I couldn’t believe it. Not only had I missed the natural light, but I’d also managed to miss the electric lights that were there in front of me the whole time! I quickly shot a ‘clean’ frame of the room with the new lights on, which I was able to incorporate into Miriam’s ‘hero’ shot afterwards. (A wasted few hours had I got the shot in the first place.)

25 Miriam

Behind the Scenes       Alfie & Ben     January 2014


Ben’s a DJ so it seemed an obvious choice to shoot him with his son Alfie by his decks. The decks however were positioned right up in the corner of the room with nowhere to put any lights - plus there was a huge window directly behind, so any lighting I did manage to get onto them would show up beautifully in the reflection. Luckily for me the decks were on wheels so we were able to ‘re-locate’ to a more convenient area.

Compositionally, I wanted to make good use of the squares and circles that surrounded them - the decks, shelving, speakers, lights - all lovely graphic elements. Plus it’s no accident that Ben’s wearing a stripy top, which nicely compliments the lines of the vinyl collection.


Lighting was pretty straightforward - though I did have to strap a small flash into the lamp (far right of frame), as the actual lamp bulb was too weak to have any effect. I also covered the bottom half of my softbox to prevent too much light hitting the decks.

They were such a great team; I love the ‘father/son’ thing going on, their matching bowler hats, and the combination of Ben’s records and Alfie’s (or Ben’s) toys.

26 Ben

Behind the Scenes      Jess, Vicky, Charlotte, Simon & Cat    January 2014


This was a huge house with an amazing staircase - scope for a really dynamic/interesting portrait. I did a few test shots of the group looking down at them from the top of the staircase - but even by my standards it was quite a precarious position to shoot from, plus I knew I’d struggle to light them all properly with my limited gear. I was also aware that it would look quite different to the rest of the portraits - an important factor as they all needed to hold together as a collection.

So with everyone stood there looking at me, while Sophie wrangled our crying baby daughter, I reluctantly made the creative decision to shoot a more formal shot in the hallway. I’m so glad I did. There was loads more space, and they looked great bunched together around the stairs.

After a bit of chat, it turned out that they’re all pretty ‘sporty’, so we thought it would be an interesting theme for them all to be in their sporting outfits. (I wanted one of them on the floor doing press-ups but for some reason no one was keen).

Lighting-wise, it was a challenge to evenly light the five of them. I had a large umbrella to the left which gave the overall fill, and a main key light focused on their faces/bodies. The background was looking dark/ boring so I placed a flash further up the staircase, which I bounced off the door to bring more interest to the shot.

27 Jess Vicky...

Behind the Scenes       Tatiana & Andres     January 2014


We were especially excited about this portrait as it was our first (and only) ‘pregnancy’ shot. They had a lovely bright sofa situated within a bay window area which on arrival seemed like the obvious place to shoot, but I abandoned this for three reasons: Firstly, I didn’t want another ‘on the sofa’ shot. Secondly, it would’ve been a nightmare to position my lights without them being visible in the window’s reflections. Thirdly - and perhaps most importantly - this was supposed to be a ‘pregnancy’ shot with a nice profile view of Tatiana’s bump - which was no good if she’s relaxing on the sofa. So we shot in the kitchen area which worked out great. Here I made a point of framing Tatiana and Andres within the large ‘+’ shape of the cabinet, which helps to draw our attention to them (and the bump).

Lighting-wise, other than a large umbrella for the key light and reflector as a fill, I placed a flash directly behind them which I bounced off the wall. This created a bright area to help separate their heads from an otherwise dull-looking background. I also bounced an orange-gelled flash off the side-wall to bring additional interest to the shot. This proved tricky to do without Tatiana’s head casting an unwanted shadow on Andres’s face.

As ever, wardrobe played an important role... notice their socks/tops. We went to great lengths to find a suitable matching combination!

28 Tatiana

Behind the Scenes        Liz      January 2014


What an amazing photo opportunity. We visited Liz the week prior to our shoot - a luxury as I’m generally on-the-spot with each location. I decided the only place to shoot was the kitchen as it was crammed with all sorts of interesting ‘stuff ’. The downside of this meant I had pretty much NOWHERE to stand, let alone space for gear/light-stands etc, so it was quite a challenge for me to set up.

This was also a fantastic excuse to drag gear out of the bag that (when needed) are the only thing for the job. In this case it was the ‘magic arm’ which I used to clamp my key light to the window frame behind me. I can’t imagine any other way I could’ve done that - though I’m sure a creative solution would soon have presented itself (such as the oven grill being an ideal stand for my bounce light).


With somewhat of a ‘gardening’ theme emerging - in the form of plants, books and tea-towels - I thought it would be fun to have Liz wearing her special gardening hat whilst holding her secateurs. I noticed a pair of pink washing-up gloves on the side which I asked her to wear as I thought they’d match her scarf - “oohh I’d NEVER wear those” she said - and swiftly produced her pink and yellow gardening gloves - perfect!

29 Liz

Behind the Scenes       Maureen & Bill     January 2014


Bill and Maureen are key residents of Thornbury Road who we’d been excited about shooting from the very beginning of the project, so it was extra special to have them as our final subjects.

I was keen to capture them in a formal setting - but in a non-formal ‘tongue-in-cheek’ way. So we had Bill (an avid Daily Mail reader) sat with his hat on enjoying himself while Maureen relaxed with her plans of traveling around Australia - hence the boomerang on the floor.

The lighting setup was pretty straightforward, though there was quite a bit of glass about so I had to watch out for reflections - in this instance I actually made a feature of their chandelier. The fireplace had a natural lovely red glow, but this hardly showed up at the exposure I was shooting, so I placed a flash with a red gel in the fireplace which produced a ‘fake’ red glow that spread nicely around the fireplace and onto Bill and Maureen. (At the end of the shoot I shot a ‘clean’ frame of the fireplace at a longer exposure, which I added to the final shot).


Probably the biggest challenge of the shoot was finding white socks for Bill. He only seemed to have dark ones but it was important to me that they were white/light to balance Maureen’s slippers, otherwise his lower legs were getting lost. Luckily after much digging about, Maureen found a pair for him and the shot was saved! Best possible ending to a wonderfully fun project.

30 Maureen Bill

Behind the Scenes        Exhibition      July 2014


Throughout the whole project we didn’t have any definite plans on what we were actually going to do with the final images - a website gallery or perhaps even a coffee-table book? Seeing them all together as a collective piece though we figured an exhibition HAD to be held for everyone involved. So that’s what we did.


Coinciding with the Thornbury Road Street Party that summer we arranged an exhibition throughout July at the Ritzy Cinema, Brixton - an iconic venue that was perfect for showcasing our portraits of the local community to the wider public. We had an incredible champagne-fuelled opening night viewing where everyone came along with friends and families - a corking ending to an incredible project!

Here’s an interview with Sophie regarding her involvement with the local Brixton community, which features the exhibition from around half-way through...

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