One Light: Fashion on a Shoestring

14 commentsPhotography

These stores burned down a few weeks lat­er.

For the time being, I’m done with my India sto­ries. In the words of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, now for some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent: “You fly out tomor­row!…” And just like that, I was booked to shoot my first fash­ion spread.

It was mid­night, and appro­pri­ate­ly enough I was at Fly (a gener­ic rooftop bar in Downtown Beirut) get­ting tip­sy with Souly, Carl, and Amine. We were in the mid­dle of get­ting a shot with the mosque in the back­ground of col­or­ful liquor bot­tles (to show “the con­tra­dic­tions that make up Beirut” — and Souly had just nailed it) when Celia’s call came in from London.

Celia was in the process of set­ting up her upstart bou­tique ven­ture called Walk in Closet and had asked me to pho­to­graph her spring col­lec­tion, a line of casu­al pret-a-porter which she had got­ten exclu­sive­ly from London. The cam­paign was meant to be a nor­mal girl being “a mod­el for the day” in her city, and so it was strange­ly appro­pri­ate that it was I (a non-pho­tog­ra­ph­er with zero expe­ri­ence shoot­ing fash­ion) was select­ed for the job. Never one to balk at a chal­lenge, I told Celia to call me once she finds her mod­el and is all set up, and that’s what she did that midnight.

I fin­ished my drink and went home to pack. I ran through a light­ing scheme in my head and decid­ed to go guer­ril­la style: One flash. That’s it. If my cin­e­matog­ra­phy class­es at UCLA (with every­one from vet­er­ans Vittorio Storaro and Steve Burum, to my won­der­ful pro­fes­sors Bill McDonaldJohnny Simmons and Tom Denove) taught me one thing, it is this: There’s noth­ing you can achieve with a 10,000 dol­lar bud­get and a truck­load of equip­ment that you can­not with 100 dol­lars, a hand­ful of kick­nacks… and some thought. I decid­ed to go that route, so I was done pack­ing in less than 20 min­utes. Too excit­ed to sleep, I had three cof­fees and before long it was time to fly out.

In London, Celia and her friend Rita had their own chal­lenges. She was yet to book her mod­el (ten­ta­tive­ly an Iraqi girl who kin­da sor­ta maybe looked the part, but not quite), make her selec­tion of clothes (from 5 full suit­cas­es), choose her loca­tions (from a town that was noto­ri­ous­ly expen­sive to shoot in — ad hoc and with­out a license to boot!) and plan out her schedule.

And I had to make it all look like it was done at Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar with a six fig­ure bud­get and a pro crew.

My first step was to scout my loca­tions, to under­stand the light (we call this a tech scout). Was it over­cast or bright? (It was London, but it was a strange­ly bright sum­mer.) Was it green or urban? Crowded or emp­ty? Colorful or grey? Wet or dry?… All the this­es or thats.

Next, I put togeth­er a shop­ping list of (to use the words of Joe McNally) light-shap­ing tools. My one light had to be mold­ed (bounced, flagged, dif­fused) to look like it was a full stu­dio. Even with her lim­it­ed means, Celia had giv­en me a green light to buy what I need, but I inten­tion­al­ly lim­it­ed myself to one reflec­tor and an umbrel­la, which I got dead cheap from a store on Tottenham Court Road.

On the bus ride back to Imad’s (Celia’s uncle’s) flat in Manor House, I ran through light­ing dia­grams in my head, while won­der­ing what on earth Celia will do with­out a model.

The moment I walked into Imad’s flat, I was greet­ed with high-pitched shrieks of excite­ment by Rita and Celia (for a sec­ond I felt like Johnny Depp). Turns out Rita had man­aged to con­vince a mod­el friend of hers to do the shoot. Vanessa (accord­ing to Rita gor­geous, lus­cious exot­ic, volup­tuous, drop dead, wow), who had just got back from an inter­na­tion­al fash­ion show in Qatar and was booked to fly to Delhi for anoth­er in two days, had agreed to sand­wich in our shoot. Yay, final­ly! I thought. But at what cost? A pro­fes­sion­al mod­el for our shoot? Please. Ego trip, hel­lo? :) Dreading it all I switched into anti­so­cial mode and retired to my room and my non-fash­ion-relat­ed, noth­ing-to-do-with-it-all novel.

Bright and ear­ly the fol­low­ing day, Celia, Rita, her friend Lee, and I made our way to Camden Town to meet Vanessa, and that’s when I got my biggest sur­prise of all: Not only was Vanessa all that Rita said she was (gor­geous, lus­cious, exot­ic, volup­tuous, drop dead, and yes wow, wow, wow) she was nice. More accu­rate­ly, she was an absolute sweet­heart. Suddenly what I thought of as a chal­lenge became a joy.

Over the course of the day, we lit­er­al­ly went all over town shoot­ing with our one light and 5 suit­cas­es of clothes. Vanessa wore a body­suit and would just strip out of one dress into the next (dev­il-may-care style) right there in the street, and we knocked them off one by one. By the end of the day, we had shot close to 35 out­fits in 7 dif­fer­ent loca­tions. At 9 pm we bid our love­ly Vanessa bon voy­age (she was booked to Delhi in the morn­ing) and gave eachother pats on the back.

[Photo gallery is being updat­ed. Please check back later.]

VANESSA FOR WALK IN CLOSET • Click on the slideshow for a larg­er view.

Celia and you the read­er can be the judge of the final pho­tos since I’m always my own harsh­est crit­ic, but I was glad to find that the only Photoshopping I need­ed to do on them was con­trast and col­or con­nec­tion. In the final analy­sis, the most impor­tant les­son I learned is this: yes, you can shoot high fash­ion with one light. What I mean is this: Huge bud­gets, huge trucks of equip­ment, huge egos, and just well huge­ness in gen­er­al, all that came to be seen as nec­es­sary evils of adver­tis­ing are actu­al­ly un-nec­es­sary evils. Advertising should not be about cre­at­ing an impos­si­ble ide­al for the con­sumer to aspire towards (which is inci­den­tal­ly the mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy of the cos­met­ic surgery indus­try as well) but should rather be about cre­at­ing an alter­na­tive real­i­ty which is as real as our own, just dif­fer­ent. You are already amaz­ing and we know it. So how about this?


Samsam May 3, 2010 at 6:33 am

It is simply beautiful: the lighting, the colors, the style, the model, the scene, and of course your skills :)

Nidzara May 3, 2010 at 10:05 am

dude you were in London :))) next time drop me a line and if you need anything let me know
I like your blog, pictures, model and sun in London yess, so happy it all came together for you guys
Good luck with it all!!!

Meedo May 3, 2010 at 11:18 am

Hey! Ummm, no actually this was before I went to the Ashram. I just set up this blog and have been putting out all the stories that were percolating inside me! I'll catch up eventually and start writing in the present tense. Come on Nidzara, do you think I'd go to London and not give you a holler? Shame! x

Camie May 3, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Meedo! Beautiful pictures (you have done an awesome job, - the colors and the place), beautifully said, and she is beautiful :))

Meedo May 3, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Camcoum -- Glad you dropped by. :) I'd like to think I've gotten better since that shoot because it's not often that we get the chance to work with such a wonderful model. She made it all super-easy. :) x

monataha May 3, 2010 at 7:57 pm

great pictures ,lovely and very relaxing colors. It doesn't look like they were shot in London knowing the limited equipment that you have used. Iam really proud of you and iam sure that everybody you have subscribed to your blog,are going to enjoy it every time they sign in.

Meedo May 3, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Yes well we were lucky that we had a window of good weather. It was very sunny while we were there but it had rainined before we got there and it turned all grey again after we left. Celia wanted a fantasy London, one that does not exist in reality, where you can walk around in such springtime outfits and feel the sun on your face. It looks like we got it, barely. Luck plays an important role in every creative project, and it played a huge one in ours. x

Celia May 4, 2010 at 11:09 am

:)) Amazing work!!! Loved them all.... thank you meedo :)))))

SOOLY May 4, 2010 at 4:43 pm

eventho Sooly with an O not U, I LOVE THIS!

Meedo May 4, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Yup but I like Souly (still pronounced "sooly") because it has soul! So I'm gonna keep it that way if you don't mind. x

SOOLY May 4, 2010 at 10:06 pm


Bill McDonald May 4, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Lovely work. You have made one of your UCLA professors very proud.

Meedo May 4, 2010 at 11:43 pm

Bill -- Thanks so much for dropping by. Your comment just made my week.

moshibly May 5, 2010 at 11:09 am

ive seen these when u came back from london, yesterday and today.. amazing

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