John Tuckey "101" Workshop
Last updated February 19, 2015
John Tuckey is a photographer based out of Warwickshire in England, specializing in black and white portraiture recalling the classic, film noir and glamorous look of the Hollywood silver screen era. You may recognize the name from a few of his guest posts here on the site recently; "Into the Shadows" and Essence of Earhart."
The core of my work is portraiture, my passion is for monochrome. Whether it's an RKO radio classic film, an old Pathé Newsreel, or an old copy of 'LIFE', I've always been fascinated by the world seen in black and white.
Much of my work draws heavily on this rich monochrome heritage. Timeless scenes, and beautiful women, elegantly portrayed. For some these days this is no longer art, but I hope all would agree there is artisanship nonetheless.
Attending school himself initially for set design and dressing, he's long been a classic movie buff, and both a fan and study of the Hollywood style in particular that is the subject of this workshop - which he simply calls "101." Aptly named as an introduction to the style - starting with basic, single source lighting and scaling up to multiple hot lights and modifiers to achieve these classic sets, poses and results. It is the workshop on February 7, 2015 that we're reviewing here.
The model we were lucky enough to work with was the beautiful and talented Raphaella McNamara (or Raphaella With Love as she's also known), who hails from Manchester. Her looks and wardrobe lent themselves perfectly to the style we were after in the workshop, as you'll see below. She's an experienced model of six years, which made posing easy on the workshop attendees.
On a side note, there's actually a "202" workshop in the works, which expands upon this one - more suited for beginning photographers, it covers much more of the basics. As such, it's a two-day workshop.
|Location||UK, USA potentially|
|Subject||Classic Hollywood B&W|
|Cost||£400 (£800 for "202")|
|Duration||10am-5pm (6 hours)|
|Skill||Intermediate - advanced|
The workshop is camera agnostic, so you can shoot whatever platform you prefer... Though Tuckey himself is primarily a Leica M shooter, and what we used for the workshop as well. The other two students of the workshop shot Canon and Nikon DSLRs. As for lenses, the ideal for this workshop would be a 50mm equivalent with a relatively bright aperture of f/1.4 or thereabouts. The nature of the style, and this workshop, emphasizes close-quarter shooting with a shallow depth of field - and using both available and hot lighting. You should have a spare battery on-hand and SD cards capable of storing 200 shots (or so) as a minimum. We shot 188 photos with our Leica M Monochrom and Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH.
The skill level of the photographer attending the workshop is best at intermediate and above. This way, essential skills such as camera controls, composition, understanding of exposure, contrast, lighting ratios, etc. are already familiar. No prior experience as far as actual lighting is required however, as it is all covered in the workshop. You also need not have worked with a model before, but you will need to give minor direction for poses.
The number of people attending each workshop is kept to a typical maximum of four in number, both to ensure maximum shooting time as well as ensure a personal, almost one-on-one instruction and guidance. Our particular workshop consisted of three shooters.
The stage as it were in this case, was a lovely English country estate, tastefully appointed and lending itself perfectly to the subject matter at hand. The workshop was held entirely in a sitting room with large windows, affording relatively plentiful natural light from multiple angles. While the overcast winter sky outside wasn't the brightest, it was perfectly diffuse and low in contrast.
The hot lighting consisted of essentially an Arri Compact Fresnel Three-light Kit of which we used the smaller two Arri lights; one at 150w and the other at 300w, both equipped with adjustable focus (fresnel) lenses and barn doors, sitting atop adjustable lightstands. On-hand was a medium uLite Octabox and 5-in-1 Reflector by Wescott as modifiers. No flash of any kind was utilized - thus the shallow depth of field and fast lens requirements for this particular style and workshop.
The workshop got off to a prompt start at 10am, with the model taking her place by the window and John instructing the group on single light sources, such as the lovely natural light coming through the window. Once the basics were covered, a basic shot to take advantage of and illustrate this lighting was set up - with the model performing various poses as each workshop member had a chance to shoot at his leisure. We were able to direct the model, approach the shot from various angles and never felt rushed. During the shooting, John would point out various things to potentially improve our shots... Shooting angles, sweet spots for capturing the human face and how the shadows fell upon it, etc.
Once one section or aspect of the workshop was covered and shot by all and any questions answered - it was onto the next section. This time John covered the use of a reflector, to add light to the shadowed side of the face and lower the contrast a bit, illustrating how to aim the light, emphasizing once again proper shadows falling on the face. With John holding the reflector (and aiming it according to our wishes), he kept an eye on us as we again took turns shooting this new arrangement.
Next up was a move to artificial lighting, in part because of the weak natural light towards the center and opposite sides of the room and in part because of the expanded use of seating, props and poses with the model. Since no flash is used, an Octabox was fitted to a hot light and used purely as a diffuse light source. More than enough for lenses shot at/near wide open at f/1.4, especially in close quarters. First we took turns shooting with just that, then again with the reflector... Noting the differences in the way the light was weaker and less able to be reflected.
Next, the use of adjustable focus (fresnel) lights was explained, along with the different wattage models on hand and the use of barn doors as well as the use and effect of soft and hard light to obtain some of the signature styling in conjunction with various poses of the model. Finally, we explored using a lovely, old and large mirror to shoot reflections, again wide open - to create a really soft, ethereal style. These various combinations were shot by each workshop participant again, with John mentoring along the way.
We took a break for lunch at a natural stopping point in between sets. Lunch was catered and plentiful, consisting of sandwiches and finger foods. We had a nice, small group where questions were easily fielded and answered over what we've covered so far, along with a heads-up of what's to come and general shop talk. Once we all had our fill and relaxed a bit, we migrated back to the sitting room to continue, save for the model who took the opportunity to change outfits for the afternoon's instruction.
The afternoon was focused more on staging, lighting and shooting the classic Hollywood styles of film noir and glamour. The real meat of the matter, as it were. The first style, film noir - was introduced through the creation of hard lighting upon the model and throwing the background into darkness, creating further contrast in the image. Also explored was the use of the barn doors and flags to achieve the look we were after. We all took turns shooting as we gently guided the model in several different seating and lighting combinations.
We then changed things a bit by adding a second light to illustrate the lighting of background objects selectively and to utilize bokeh as a tool in layering the image, adding interest and sparkle. The lovely room we were in lent itself perfectly to these tasks, as you can see the artwork on the walls or the chandelier above and behind the model's head in the shots below.
Because of the small, nimble group, we were able to cruise through the various sections, covering quite a lot of ground. We were given the option at this point of reviewing and critiquing our shots thus far, or trying out another technique. We all decided on the latter, as the time remaining easily afforded us the ability to explore one of the truly classic glamour poses, often seen on female movie stars of the era... And one we were eager to try our hand at. This pose in particular was a recreation of an iconic photo of Veronica Lake that John clued us in about - it's actually a bit of a trick shot. So we staged and lit the scene, with the model taking her place and striking various poses as we shot.
Veronica Lake original photo
We finally wrapped everything up at 5pm, with John answering any remaining questions and asking us what we thought of the workshop and what we had learned, and just generally discussing the day amongst ourselves. All in all, we managed to shoot 200+ photos each, covering over eight different lighting situations or styles, the use of modifiers, props, backgrounds and a literally countless numbers of poses struck by our model over the course of each. Having an experienced model made this as effortless as we desired (though we were encouraged to direct) and ensured that we each had unique enough photos, despite similar sets and lighting.
As the various photos above illustrate, the results were easy to obtain between John's direction and the model's help in posing. Throw in the proper lighting for each style desired and the appropriate clothing and set pieces, and it was easily absorbed and executed. After each round of shooting, our images were reviewed and discussed with John and each other - sort of "checking off" as we completed each style before moving onto the next.
Another neat touch was the use of a clapboard that we could take a picture of occasionally as the day progressed... Upon which was written the upcoming section's focus. This way, when reviewing our photos later at home, we would have a record to refresh our memories.
The small size of the group ensured that we were able to not just cover the material in-depth and get almost one-on-one mentoring, but also cover a large variety of styles. Obviously, we'll each need to take what we've learned and practice further on our own. But it was pretty clear after the workshop that we now were armed with some key styles for use in our own portrait assignments. We each gained new tools for our repertoire.
In reviewing our photos, we're quite pleased at all that we learned and went over in the workshop as well as the "keeper rate" of our photos. Definitely a learning experience, yet it was also fun.
The "101" workshop by John Tuckey has something for everyone. If you're not familiar with models, lighting, modifiers or "set construction" that's okay - it's covered. Even as an advanced photographer already understanding many of the concepts covered, the styles themselves require specific "recipes" for success - even if they do seem fairly simple at first glance. The instruction made these easy to understand and follow for everyone, setting the groundwork for further exploration and fine-tuning. No matter what we each brought to the workshop in terms of our own skills, we all learned something. As mentioned earlier, if you're really needing a full introduction, keep an eye out for the two-day "202" workshop.
The small size of the group ensured that we covered a great amount of material, got to shoot frequently and also had very direct feedback along the way - which helped a great deal. A lot of workshops try to accommodate too many people. You end up with a sort of "group shoot" stampede as people surround the subject, or you end up waiting too long in between shots, waiting for everyone to finish. The close instruction is lost. There's also no "lecture" feeling to this workshop, because of its very hands-on approach. This keeps it moving, keeps it interesting.
We really enjoyed this workshop and would highly recommend checking it out yourself, especially if the style interests you - or if you're just looking to learn about or round out your knowledge of lighting and modifiers. The next "101" workshop will be in Warwickshire and is on April 4, 2015 - there are still places available. If you'd rather attend a workshop in the USA, be sure to register your interest with him!
Just some additional photos from the workshop.