I pull in to a series of warehouses on the south side of town. Along one side are several bays offering auto body repair and on the other side are nondescript, two-story buildings with little detail as to what they hold inside. We arrive at our destination – one of those unknown cement blocks. I imagine the inside to have a single waiting area, a small toilet space and another room in the back, perhaps with a backdrop or green screen for shooting. I know my photographer, Thomas Dodd, is an artist who prefers to take his model from a solid backdrop and drop her into a world of unknown possibilities.
As I thought, there is a small receptionist area, but no one sits behind the desk. To the left is a giant bay filled with scenes and settings. A patent red leather couch sits on one side, across from a white wall and a tall window that allows the only natural light to flow in to the building. Down the row, construction has begun on other sets.
I stepped into a photographer’s co-op.
Several different artists lease this space, and each one has access to the areas on hand. Thomas explains to me that it’s different from other rentals; he doesn’t have to book a time – just show up when he wants. However, that means sometimes someone else might be using an area. For now, we have the place to ourselves.
Thomas shows me to a dressing room, complete with clothing rack and an area for makeup. It is nothing fancy, but it is better than ducking behind a tree in the forest to change. My friend and fellow costume designer Anthony Canney has come along to play dresser for my photo shoot. We quickly get me out of my civvies and begin the process of dressing The Queen.
Surprisingly, and I know it is because of Anthony’s help, it takes about 20 minutes to get into Esther.
When changing on location, it’s good to keep in mind exactly what your setting will be. I knew we would be in a building, and I was told beforehand there was a changing area. I packed everything the way it is stored in my house – the dress split up in two garment bags, the accessories in a hat box, and the standing collar and whisk just sat in my back seat. If we were going to be outdoors, or in an area where I didn’t have an area to change, I would have had to change my entire packing and traveling routine.
One time, I was in a wooded location with a photographer and we had planned for three costume changes. Two were superhero costumes: basic spandex bodysuits that I can easily step in and out of. The other was a more complex, armour-based outfit. I had that stored in a long, plastic bin and everything that needed to be hung up, placed on hangers and strung up in the car. I really dislike wrinkles in costume, so when I travel to a photo shoot, I take utmost care to make sure my costumes stay in the best possible condition.
My shoot with Thomas goes quickly. In about an hour we have over 400 images. He’s a true professional: even when his light blew, he utilized the natural light from the window, along with his one mounted light, to continue to capture some flawless photos.
It’s things like this you need to be prepared for. From Thomas’ side, he worked with what he had. As a model, I did not complain or question his methods. Even though I know how a camera works, and could rig about ten different light setups, it’s not my job to direct the shoot. I trust the person I am working with. As long as they treat me with respect and don’t make me feel uncomfortable, I am going to do the same with them.
With a costume like Queen Esther, there is only so much I can do in terms of posing. Normally with a shoot, I will have ten or so poses I’ve practiced in front of a mirror. I also like to bring a book of references with me. It helps both me and the photographer, who may be unfamiliar with the character, get a sense of how to look and move in the picture.
Even if it’s something out of character, I enjoy taking the photographer’s instruction. They know what I look like in their viewfinder, they have a good sense of the framing of the photo, and generally they have a concept in mind and how to execute it. I also enjoy working with photographers who tell me where to look or what to do with my hands, which can often be awkward and hidden behind my back.
We wrap and Anthony has me out of my costume in under ten minutes. I take care to put my costume away in its garment bags and store my crown and accessories in the boxes they came from. I don’t want to risk anything breaking on the way home. Also, it will be easier to store once I get in the house.
We say our goodbyes and Anthony and I make our way back. Now, the best, and sometimes most stressful part of the shoot starts: waiting for the final photos!
Join Meredith next week for the conclusion of “My Day As a Cosplay Model.” If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.