Gemma Holley Millinery

Hi Jon could you tell us a bit about The Portrait Kitchen?
We are a husband and wife portrait service. Jon is the photographer and Anjee manages our clients and provides input around styling. We used to hire studio space but one day decided to run the service from our kitchen which has enough space to manage upper body, head and shoulder shots which in turn suits millinery. Working from our home means that our clients have a relaxed environment to have their work documented. It also means we strip out the hire cost of a studio so the saving can be passed onto the client. We are based in the Midlands, UK

What sparked your interest in millinery?
It felt like a natural fit with our set up. We did a lot of research on what was out there for millinery photography as well as how milliners presented their work. What struck us most of all was how much polystyrene headstands were used. Of course a lot of the time that could be down to budget restrictions. But our belief is that a hat comes alive when it is properly placed and well lit on a human head. We aim to ‘humanise’ the hat. The hat then has a context which can help it sell.

I have always been captivated by elegance and style and for me a hat is a statement that can deliver confidence and make the wearer feel empowered.

Who have been your influences?
When I was younger I was always mesmerised by photographers like Norman Parkinson, Cecil Beaton and Irwin Blumenfeld. They all presented women in a way that was both feminine and empowering. They also gave a sense of narrative that drew you in to learn a bit more about their story, even try to be a part of it, if only in our minds. Narrative matters in our millinery photography because we want the buyer to think “that hat is so me.”

If you could give a few pieces of advice about how to shoot hats what would they be?
I think it boils down to composition. I see a lot of milliners post on Instagram and part of their hat is cropped out. There are ways to get around that.

In any photography light is key so managing how that works can be defining. The photography technique I use is about eliminating all light then filling back in with modified light that is controlled. If you use an iPhone you get the advantage of immediacy but smartphones can normally only work with ambient light.

Then there is colour matching. Setting a black hat against a black background can mean the hat is lost. We have a large selection of coloured backgrounds. A good photographer will also be thinking about what lens to use, the lighting set up, how the model looks and is posed all of which, when done well, can make a huge difference.

Why not just use Polystyrene headstands?
I can understand the logic of using them and for many it is driven by budget. I sometimes think that another milliner may appreciate a hat on a polystyrene headstand but will your buyer? Your buyer probably wants to see the hat in a context, even create an impression that they can relate to.

Jane Fryers Millinery

How many hats would you include in a photoshoot?
Our intention is to create an ongoing creative relationship with our clients. We are keen to focus on quality of output rather than quantity of input so typically we would shoot up to 5 hats in that timeframe. It could be more, it could be less but this would be discovered during the free consultation. If a client had 20 hats that they wanted photographing, we’d want to work out a plan of action that is practical, deliverable and properly costed up front.

Why do you use professional models?
Whilst some milliners may have friends that have a ‘look’ we prefer to use models that we have worked with and understand our approach. Modelling sounds like easy work but I can be demanding in what I want, which is the best for our client. If we do our job well the client will return for future seasons.

Three hours of modelling can be tiring so I don’t want shoulders to start drooping two hours in. A good model will maintain focus and posture. Our models will take a proportion of our fee so that they are financially rewarded from the shoot. Models that aren’t paid run the risk of not turning up on the day or arriving after a long night out.

Our models have to fit various criteria which might sound a bit OCD but they all matter. Things we look for are neck length, jawline profile, hand size and unblemished skin. We always advise that they wear neutral clothing or necklines so that the buyer’s eye is not distracted.

You have a very distinct composition style. Could you tell us a bit about that?
We like our images to be clear and without distraction, almost minimal. We avoid shooting at full length because the viewer’s eye can wander to look at say the dress, the heels or anything in the background. Time spent doing that is time spent not looking at the hat. The main focus has to be the hat. We use various colour backgrounds that match the dominant colour of the hats. For example, if the hat was red we’d use a green background so it stands out.

For the models we prefer to use those who can create subtle pointers in terms of how they naturally position their hands or can twist their upper body and neck, again to emphasise the hat. When considering a model, we tend to look at their posture as much as what their face looks like.

Do your clients attend the shoots?
Yes, although we have been asked to do photographs where clients send their hats from the other side of the world. We have never done that but we could as long as the client paid for insured delivery and return. We live in a pet and smoke free home. I have heard stories that milliners have sent hats to be photographed and they have been returned in a bit of a state. We would never do that, least of all because this is a community and reputation is everything.

We prefer the client to attend because they will know how they want the hat to sit on the model’s head. Plus, we like meeting our clients.

If anyone would like to learn more what would you advise?
We’d suggest going to our site at https://portraitkitchen.co.uk/services/millinery/ where we explain a bit about what we do. The best thing is to contact us and then we can advise what to do next.

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