Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

Written by Fredrik Franzén on . Posted in Fine Art Photography

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Fine art photographer Alexia Sinclair was given the keys to a frozen castle left untouched since the 17th century. “When you’re given such an incredible opportunity, you have to create something equally incredible yourself,” she says. “Otherwise it’s just a failure.” Keep reading and learn how she pulled it off.

It all started with an email from the Royal Palace in Stockholm. The Royal Armory was preparing an exhibition on Queen Christina and wanted to feature the portrait Alexia had done of the flamboyant queen as part of the portrait series The Regal Twelve. Alexia was also invited to the opening ceremony in Stockholm.

Never one to let an opportunity pass, and with a well-documented fascination for kings and queens, Alexia asked the Royal Palace if she could photograph a real-life princess while in Sweden. The reply she got was: “No. But we do have a castle you may use.”

A couple of months later, Alexia arrived at Skokloster Castle – a 17th century Baroque masterpiece situated just outside Stockholm. She had done weeks and weeks of research and planning. She had rallied people from all over Scandinavia willing to travel to Skokloster to style, model and assist. She was now ready to start her brand new portrait series, which was eventually named A Frozen Tale.

 

Profoto Pro B4 Alexia Sinclair A Frozen Tale The Kings Hall 600x800 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

©Alexia Sinclair

“I like to produce narrative pieces so I started by researching those important historical figures who had visited the castle over its lifetime,” she says, “I also studied 17th century paintings to get a feeling for the period and this is what I got truly swept up in. Painters like Johannes Vermeer did so much exploration of middle-class life, showing ordinary people doing ordinary things. Ultimately, the series explores two different worlds within the same castle walls: the famous ruling class visitors and the people in the shadows, the middle and working class running the castle.”

The amazing thing about Skokloster Castle is that it is preserved in almost exactly the same condition as it was when it was built 350 years ago (the tools that were used the build the castle are still lying around!). This was obviously a tremendous source of inspiration for Alexia in her quest to capture everyday castle life. But it also brought about certain challenges. For instance, there was no electricity or heating. In fact, some parts of the castle freeze during the winter – which it was when Alexia and her team were there. Hence the title: A Frozen Tale.

 

Profoto Pro B4 Alexia Sinclair A Frozen Tale The Contess Drawing Room 600x450 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

©Alexia Sinclair

 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

It goes without saying that the exotic location had a huge impact on the shoot. The lack of electricity meant that Alexia needed battery-powered flashes, the extreme cold meant she needed reliable equipment that would operate continuously in cold weather, and the flawlessly preserved environment meant she had to work under extreme restrictions.

“The smoke, the leaves, the dog, the goose, the water, basically anything that isn’t a person in these images had to be composited in later. I wasn’t even allowed to bring a bottle of drinking water, and I was pregnant at the time! I had to hide some almonds in my pocket so that I wasn’t ravenous by the end of the shoot!”

 

Profoto Pro B4 Alexia Sinclair A Frozen Tale The Library 600x450 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

©Alexia Sinclair

 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

The lighting was another challenge. Alexia had decided to shoot each room when the sun was shining through the windows. This meant that the team had to chase after the sun, as it moved around the castle and hit it from different angles. Time was of the greatest essence, and there was very little time to set the lights for each shot.

“I always try to capture balanced light in camera before moving into postproduction,” says Alexia. “The Pro-B4 battery packs were used to fill in the harsh shadows cast by the sun. Doing so gives me complete control of the treatment I apply in postproduction because I’m capturing a full tonal range filled with detail.”

The two Pro-B4 battery packs she brought along were equipped with RFi softboxes in different sizes and shapes to light the various sets in exactly the right way. Once everything was in place, the image was shot on a PhaseOne 645DF with a Phase One IQ180 digital back.

“There’s detail and then there’s mind blowing intricate detail,” she says. “The later is what excites me as an image maker. I love the ability to weave layers of subtle symbolism into an image and then watch the penny drop. You can only create that imagery with the dynamic range and resolution of a phase.”

“I light everything as best I can, shoot as sharply as I can and begin in post with the best files I’m capable of shooting,” she concludes.

 

Profoto Pro B4 Alexia Sinclair A Frozen Tale The Feast 600x450 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

©Alexia Sinclair

 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

Alexia prepping the shot

As mentioned before, not all things could be shot on-location. The goose, the pouring water, the sunlight shining though the smoke, all this had to be shot in Alexia’s studio in Sydney.

“In those days, the castle was heated with stoves and open fire places and, as a result, filled with smoke. But we couldn’t fill this priceless piece of history with smoke! So what we did was that we filled our studio in Sydney with smoke and flashed through it with our Pro-8. So the light beams you see coming from the windows are actually the light beam from the Pro-8.”

 

 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

©Alexia Sinclair

The model looking through the spying glass in the series hero image was also shot in Alexia’s studio. The reason for this is simply that Alexia did not notice this spectacular location until the very last minute.

“I spotted this extraordinary room on our way out of the castle,” she says. “Without the time or resources to shoot another character on-location, I shot a background plate of this room to produce a composite artwork later. Titled The Cabinets of Curiosity, this particular image celebrates The Age of Discovery. Forming the hero image for the collection, the frosted fantasy figure embodies the series title, peering through a telescope out to the frozen lake beyond as snow flakes drift into the castle.”

Considering how much time Alexia spends in postproduction, you might ask why she even bothers going though all this trouble? Why go to a frozen castle in Sweden? Why not just shoot everything in the studio and fake it?

“I don’t believe anything you do in Photoshop can ever look as real as something you actually light and photograph in real life,” she says. “This might come as a surprise to some, but I actually add as little as possible in postproduction. Anything I can shoot in camera I do. The things I do add are the things I believe I can’t capture in real life. It might be something that only exists in my imagination, or it might simply be a goose I’m not allowed to bring indoors.”

This way of thinking also explains Alexia’s choice of lighting. While there are many lighting tools and solutions to choose from, she is utterly convinced that it is vital to do everything as perfect as possible right from the start.

“Consistent light from Profoto is crucial to my speedy post-production pipeline,” she says. “I don’t want to spend hours color matching assets because of cheap light. It’s far cheaper and inspiring to use the best gear and get it right in camera.”

 

Learn more about Alexia Sinclair and her Frozen Tale at her website.

Learn more about the Pro-B4 and other Pro packs here.

 

On a final note, below is a complete gear list for all the gear heads out there:

  • 2x Profoto Pro-B4
  • 1x Profoto Pro-B3 (just in case)
  • 6x Pro-B Head Plus
  • 2 x Softbox RFi 3×4’
  • 1x Softgrid 3×4′
  • 6 x C-Stands
  • PhaseOne IQ180 + 645DF Camera
  • PhaseOne 28mm Lens
  • Schneider 55mm Lens
  • Schneider 80mm Lens
  • Gitzo GT3541 Tripod
  • Induro PHQ3 Head
  • Macbook Pro
  • Wacom Intuos5
  • HyperJuice External Battery
  • OWC Thunderbolt Enclosure running Seagate 4TB Constellation ES.3 Drives

 

Profoto Pro B4 Alexia Sinclair A Frozen Tale The Armoury 600x450 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

©Alexia Sinclair

Profoto Pro B4 Alexia Sinclair A Frozen Tale The Attic 600x450 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

©Alexia Sinclair

Profoto Pro B4 Alexia Sinclair A Frozen Tale The Portrait Hall 600x798 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

©Alexia Sinclair 

Profoto Pro B4 Alexia Sinclair A Frozen Tale The Marble Room 600x800 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

©Alexia Sinclair

sm dig4372 600x400 Alexia Sinclair Traveled to a Frozen Castle, Left Untouched for Hundreds of Years, to Shoot Portraits That Will Blow Your Mind

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Comments (59)

  • toni

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    Precioso Trabajo , enhorabuena

    Reply

  • Kristian

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    Beautiful images Alexia. Lovely concept – perfect execution – great retouch

    Reply

  • Niko

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    Nice concept, perfect realization, lovely pictures!

    Reply

  • Kathrin

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    deeply impressed! So so beautiful.

    Reply

  • Wayne

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    Great work Alexia, very impressive.

    Reply

  • Irene

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    Absolutely stunning! And very inspiring!!

    Reply

  • Elaine Borges-Ibanez

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    Absolutely fascinating! Loved the creativity, the storytelling, the magical use of light of course and your own story of how you were offered this opportunity in the first place.

    Reply

  • ROMAN

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    Beautiful styling, very good lighting, and photographer with great imagine for history.

    Reply

  • Peter Dancewicz

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    Beautiful work, very inspirational. Seeing behind the scenes is worth while, thank you for sharing. Wish we had amazing castles to use here in Australia.

    I could only imagine the work/time spent in post production.

    Reply

    • Alexia Sinclair

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      Hey Peter!
      Think of the money I’d save if there were castles in Australia… of course i’d spend it all on fake snow then ;-)

      Reply

  • Lisa

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    absoluty Beautiful!

    Reply

  • Clark Blomquist

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    I was struck of the concepts that reminded me a novel “Good Lord You are Upside down” about a lady photographer with this kind of imagination. Alexia, you have shown what strict discipline is needed to create truly imaginative art through photography and graphic talent.

    Reply

    • Alexia Sinclair

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      I haven’t read it, but how very true re the discipline. The trick is not to stop, otherwise procrastination sets in ;-)

      Reply

  • Peter Edistein

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    Excelent work!
    Very Creative and out of the box!
    However in my opinion a little more less artificial would make more live.

    Reply

  • craig john

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    Good lord, this is phenomenal. Many thanks for sharing your work and your process, Alexia. I love watching a masterful artist at work. :)

    Reply

  • Sandra

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    This is truly amazing and breathtaking.

    Reply

  • Edu Tilcara

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    Alexia , Felicitaciones por tu trabajo , Me impresiona la produccion de ,vestmenta y arte de la misma . ademas de la calidad en general

    Reply

  • walter

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    Breathtakingly beautiful! Love the concept and the artwork. Thank you for sharing the inspiration.

    Reply

  • David A. Haldane

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    Breathtaking work…simply amazing. I’m inspired!

    Reply

  • Mauricio Madrid

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    EXCELENTE TRABAJO DE RETRATOS SON COMO PINTURAS DEL RENACIMIENTO …. ES VOLVER AL PASADO , LA FELI CITO

    Reply

  • ashley

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    This is so beautiful! I am in love with any time period stuff, but no one can deny how incredible this work is!

    Reply

  • Efrem Bottani

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    My preferred one is the men in black who is writing: it seems to me he is moving the world with the power of the knowing.

    Reply

  • Mario

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    I felt like I went back in time….the portaits are magnificent. Sinclair is a true master of her craft. I have traveled extensively in europe and I was immediately taken back to another time. I will follow her work and I know I will take my own work to another level.

    Mario Carranza, Bogota, Colombia

    Reply

  • Bruce Bidinoff

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    Beautiful imagineering.

    Reply

  • L'Americana

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    thepines1878.com

    1878 Victorian mansion in Dutchess County, New York.
    Now available for film locations.
    Conveniently located in horse country under two hours drive from Manhattan.

    Reply

  • Mike Burton

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    Fantastic body of work right there, mere words do not do this justice!

    Reply

  • Elena

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    Of course the pictures look so stunning, its a 645DF camera!

    Reply

  • Richard

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    WOW……..Stunningly beautiful exquisite work you would make Vermeer blush with pride if he was still alive. A true artist using the medium of the 21st century.

    Reply

  • Arnold Crane

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    Peter Edistein makes the most sense of all of this which is merely a promo for ProFoto, which I rely on and use.
    I don’t see any other reason for a pregnant woman to go to a cold castle with almonds in her pocket, unless she is being paid mightally, and has about 1/2 doz assistants to take a reading, set lights, check the computer screen, feed her almonds, 4 more to clothe the models, 3 to unclothe them, and 2 union drivers. In addition to 4 more to set up an tear down the light stands. PLUS 2 more art directors that were hired by the client, and 4 stylists, and a hair-dresser.

    Reply

    • Alexia Sinclair

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      Hi Arnold, thanks for the comment. Actually profoto approached me to do the feature well after I had shot the work which was purely a personal project.

      All the cast and crew were volunteers and fans of my work who did it for the love of creating something special.

      All I can say, I wish I was paid mightily, then I could help those who helped me.

      haha.. art-directors.. oh how far from reality you are.

      Reply

      • Gretchen Dorian

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        It’s all about Passion….Love the Passion that flows from your work!

        Reply

  • DAVID VERA NAVA

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    COMO FOTOGRAFO, SE LO LABORIOSO, EL TIENPO Y DEDICACION, QUE SE DIO A TU FOTO, PERO SOBRE TODO VEO QUE TRABAJAS CON ARTE, CON DEDICACION Y AMOR A LA FOTOGRAFIA, Y QUE ASI DEVE SER, NO SE EN QUE PARTE DEL MUNDO ESTAS JEJE ,PERO YO DESDE ACA, EN TIJUANA BAJA CA. MEX, TE MANDO UN FELICITACION MUY CINCERA, YA TIENES UN FANS MEX
    ICANO JEJE,ENHORABUENA.

    Reply

  • zero

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    ????????···

    Reply

  • Arnold Crane

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    Alexia: Didn’t wish to “rain on your castle”. Your work is absolutely beautiful, but I am now 81, and but for a few of us, if it wasn’t done in the camera, it just didn’t happen. The photos are gorgeous even if done in post. I like to say, “I am just a plain country boy”, but as you probably know I am nor. I specially love the photo of the beauty behind the telescope. I am still working in film, with old Graflexes, specially modified, in addition to my Nikon D’s and Leica D’s, Q-Is it going to be a boy or a girl ?

    Reply

  • DJ

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    Absolutely Epic, u just made my day :-)

    Reply

  • Blog @ BorrowLenses

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    […] The guys over at the Profoto blog often bring some pretty awesome work to our attention. This piece on fine-art photographer Alexia Sinclair is arresting in its detail and depth. Check out the BTS video below, and head over to the Profoto blog for more info. […]

    Reply

  • Lori Hackysack

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    Fantastic! Your work is amazing!

    Reply

  • Kim Carrasco

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    Exquisite!

    Reply

  • Uncle Draggi

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    All of the photos above are, indeed, wonderful. The conditions under which you produced them are, also, remarkable. But the thing that says -the- =most= about this series of photos is this: all of the models are =volunteers=!! They did all they did to help you =because= it was -you- doing the shoot. -That-, to me, speaks volumes. :D

    The only thing that would put “the cherry on the sundae” would be if each person made their own costume, as well. 8O

    Reply

  • Michael Gielen

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    I am very impressed of your picturesque photos with calm and magical storys. Very well done!

    Reply

  • Josh

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    They are well done images. The liberal use of Photoshop (or other image manipulating tools) turns them into mixed media pieces. Calling them photographs, when the photo is but a component of the final piece is like calling a theatrical stage performance a painting because it is performed in front of a painted backdrop.

    Reply

  • Arnold Crane

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    i totally agree with Josh.
    My and our entire photograph world has turned into a totally PRINTMAKING one–and there is NO relationship to what we all knew just a few years ago. It has made me quite sad about this. I am old enough, that I probably will not outlive whatever film is remaining–but do wish more talented people would grab their holders, load some sheets of real film, and learn what magic one can produce by shooting film and not relying on just “fixing it” in photoshop.

    Reply

  • Weekend Link Love

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    […] you still want to believe in fairytales, these incredible portraits by Alexia Sinclair might […]

    Reply

  • dino

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    Nice Shoot … but i’ don’t love work with add background to my shoot. Alexia have nice idea , and wonderful work tools, but this kind of pictures are a lot a painting that real photo.
    I don’t want to say that it’s not goog job , I would rather go to a real castle.
    I like going to the beach with the bride and groom, and take shoot with the real background. But this is just my thought

    Reply

  • Mostafa

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    Well done Mr .
    May I ask what’s the type of camera you used ?

    Reply

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