Pete Wright’s photography is all about capturing and producing the tiniest details, from the initial setting all the way through to print. It was Wright’s attention to detail, in addition to his technical expertise, that made Temptress a Sunset Print Award winner at the recent PPA Southeast District competition.
Wright pulled out all the stops for this photo shoot, which he did for a clothier and a jeweler. Both clients gave him free reign to produce images that would make them shine. Wright chose to render the images in his signature style, Film Noir.
“I went to both of my clients and told them what era I was shooting, so they pulled out vintage clothing and jewelry. We had a hair and makeup artist come in and created the look we wanted for the models. Then I went on a hunt for a location and found a music studio that had created a speakeasy bar authentic to the era with the correct lighting and fixtures,” explains Wright. “My lighting style is different because I still shoot in the way they would have shot in the ’20s and ’30s. I don’t use any kind of modern soft boxes. Instead, I use modifiers like Fresnels, Snoots and Barn-Doors that are more appropriate to the era so that the lighting is very dramatic and the shadows very purposeful. And, when you have someone sitting for a photo, they know they can’t move and you pose them exactly the way you want them to so the light falls just right.”
Wright adds that he also rented vintage furniture and appointments, like a crystal decanter from the era, and had the hair and makeup artist and experts from the clothing and jewelry store on hand to make sure everything about the scene was perfectly in place so that he could concentrate on the lighting and capturing the image.
Wright shot the male and female models together and then separately. For Temptress, Wright directed the female model to sit in the chair, pick up the cigar and to “act like she owned the place.” He says it’s important to set the scene for the models so they exude the attitude needed to tell the story the image is meant to portray.
“A lot of the strength of the image was in how it was lit, the confidence in how she was posed and how she came across, and the research that went into finding the right location. As much as I like to take credit for my images, it was a team effort to make sure that all those little things you might overlook are taken care of so you don’t have to worry about it on the back end,” explains Wright. “It was so different than what people are used to seeing. Most of what the judges see at competition is rendered in color. When you don’t miss anything and every decision you make about the shot was thought out the judges notice that.”
Wright adds that the final touch is choosing the right paper to print on, and printing it with master photographer and printer Jeff Bowman. Wright used Sunset Photo eSatin Paper for the final print, and says the paper is especially crucial for his black-and-white prints as it renders true, deep, rich blacks that he can’t get elsewhere.
“Because we do so much black-and-white photography it’s so important for us to use a paper that shows the true black. I see a lot of prints where the blacks are not true black; they’re a little muddy and don’t have the depth and contrast,” says Wright. “Jeff Bowman introduced me to eSatin. I always noticed his images looked so great on that paper. We’ve been printing our competition images together on that paper for six or seven years, and we’ve always had great success. When an image is put under the lights and you use something with a high gloss, it becomes too reflective and almost milky under the lights. If you’re using an art matte paper, especially with black-and-white images, it can come off the printer looking great, but after a few hours, because the ink is still soaking into the fiber of the paper it looks more grey and muted. They’re great for a watercolor or pastel image, but not for the majority of my competition prints.”
Wright adds that another important differentiator for his competition work is that he and Bowman prints it themselves. The ability to control the output, and to re-do the print if necessary, is crucial to his success at competition, he says.