Last Saturday evening, Gemma Wilks worked with me again for a quick portrait shoot in the New Forest under moody skies.

My original plan, as emailed to her a few days before, was this: ‘As it’s lovely and warm at the moment, would you be interested in a quick shoot tomorrow evening, if your diary permits? My idea was this: you in a red dress, picking your way gingerly along a dusty path (barefoot, potentially) across the Forest, dangling a pair of strappy heels in one hand, with your back to the setting sun. You’ve been dumped (or something) and you’re trying to get back to civilisation. It’s a total cliché but might appeal to the actress in you. Basically, I’d like to try my hand at a bit of environmental portraiture…’

Of course, by the time the evening came, the weather had turned, with the first Atlantic storm of autumn bowling across the country a few weeks early. The afternoon was bright, if windy, and I hoped I would get a good sunset and the backlighting I wanted. It wasn’t to be: my wife, Rachel, and I drove through a shower on the way, and when we parked at Longcross Plain, a plateau near Bramshaw, the clouds were grey and threatening.

Gemma, who had modelled for me for the first time ten days earlier, arrived soon afterwards. Her red dress really made her stand out against the gloomy skies. I put my camera on a tripod because my idea was to use flash in a softbox to light her and mask it out afterwards in Photoshop. In the event, it was far too windy to put up the softbox and so Rachel held a bare flash to one side of Gemma. This is an out-of-camera image:

This made for some harsh lighting effects. In retrospect, I wish I had turned down the power on the flash at times, but with the weather closing in, I was trying to work quickly. The wind was unkind to her hair, yet Gemma took it in good part.

After a few minutes it started to rain. Gemma fetched a white umbrella from her car; this contrasted well with her dress but reflections on the ground made it too obvious that I was using strobe light in the scene:


With the light failing and the rain getting heavier, it was time to make a final dash for our cars.

In Lightroom the next day, I decided that a vintage look would work well. These are the steps I followed with my favourite image from the shoot. Here it is, straight out-of-camera:

Next I applied toning, making the blacks a little more intense by adjusting the tone curve, cooling down the overall colour temperature and adding some film grain.

Then I applied the same settings to a shot without Rachel:

Opening them together as a single layered file Photoshop, I used a layer mask to remove Rachel from the scene. I also used the Healing Brush and Clone Stamp tools to remove some of the foreground clutter. Being close to Longcross Pond, a popular watering hole, this part of the  Forest is carpeted in dried horse manure.

Back in Lightroom, as the finishing touch, I applied a 16:9 cinematic crop:

My thanks go to Gemma, who’s on Facebook as Gemma Wilks Actress, and Rachel, who by day is a successful freelance writer and editor and runs

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