Despite owning a large, well-equipped studio in the Lake District, Annabel now shoots mainly on location, usually outdoors.
‘I used to prefer the studio because that was my comfort zone,’ she confesses. ‘I had the lights set up as I wanted, and was in control. Then I learned to work with natural light and now that’s all I use.’
When Annabel arrives for a shoot, one of the first things she does is take a look around to find three or four different locations to do the shoot.
‘I look for where the light is good – nice and soft – and where there is an interesting background. Not necessarily picturesque; even a rusty tin shed can make a great background.’
Annabel’s service includes a hair and make-up artist, and, while they’re making the client look beautiful, Annabel also goes through their wardrobes to pick out suitable outfits which will complement the settings she has chosen.
For the pictures themselves Annabel has long been an advocate of handheld 35mm SLRs, even when the norm was tripod-mounted medium format cameras. ‘How can you strike up a rapport with the subject when you’re looking down at an image on a screen which is back to front?’ she argues. ‘When I started out I was told to use a tripod but the pictures were just too static. There was no spontaneity.’
Annabel has been using the Canon EOS system for many years but only in the past couple has she gone digital. ‘I tried it before but the quality just wasn’t there for me, especially with the highlights, which used to blow easily. I suppose I was waiting for the cameras to become good enough for my needs.’
That moment came with the introduction of the EOS 1DS MkII and she now uses this camera exclusively, usually coupled with Canon’s 70-200mm f/2.8. ‘Although I have other lenses most of my portraits are done on this lens, because it’s less obtrusive and intimidating for the subject when I’m not right on top of them.’ It also helps that telephoto lenses have a flattering foreshortening effect on the perspective, too, with a pleasantly shallow depth of field.
Annabel likes to shoot at f/5.6 as she finds it gives the best results, and she takes a selective meter reading off the subject’s face to ensure a correct exposure. To ensure a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake she sets the camera to ISO 400 as a default – though she will go up to ISO 800 if necessary. ‘There’s little noise at 400 and it’s still acceptable at 800,’ she says.