A couple of years ago, I came across the work of Regina Pagles (http://www.reginapaglesphotography.com/) who uses a variety of models sourced from the town that she lives in (UTAH, USA). The background, lighting and table are always the same. In fact, she has blogged that she never ever moves any of the items in the room to ensure reproducibility. See examples of her work here
The genius of Regina's work is the reproducibility of her work coupled with great post production skills to get a consistent "look". She also has an amazing talent for using props within the image to tell a story (sometimes quite ridiculous but often humorous). Her prop library is extensive and she has many different items (wigs, tens of pairs of scissors, food, stuffed birds and the list goes on).
The other strong element in her pictures is the table which was intriguing to me as something so simple and yet provides a stage for the photograph. Additionally, I suspect, it offers a barrier for the model to feel more comfortable behind - something between the camera and the subject. The one thing about the table that I never felt comfortable with was the direction of the slats of the table. They are perpendicular to the shot rather than in line with the camera direction (maybe I am a little pedantic?). When I built my first table for the table series, I was certain that I wanted the lines of the timber to lead to the subject - and I think this works well. For me in the beginning, the table was the stage but the background was the hero (along with the subject) to set the scene and entertain the viewer. With my latest experimentation, I decided to forego the background and work on making the image stand alone with the table as the centre of interest with the subject. I have dabbled with lighting the background and more recently making it completely dark. One of the realisations that I have made is that the lighting looks 'better' to me when it's more targeted with long moody shadows and expressions from the subject to match.
In parallel, I was amazed by the work of Bill Gekas (see here). Bill employed both the look of the old masters dutch painters like Vermeer through replica vintage clothing, beautiful lighting and careful attention to detail in his backgrounds. Typically achieved in camera, his work is quite extraordinary. He also used his young daughter as the subject in many of the images but put them in scenes that might be normally meant for an older person. A clever and interesting representation. Given that I had three (sometimes willing) children, I was ready to begin.
One of the other important elements in making these images look their best is the costumes. Making the clothing look the part is really one of the most important elements in my opinion. This is often where I have been slowed down in this process as accessing these items is not simple and I am no seamstress. I have been fortunate that my maternal grandmother has not thrown anything out (including my mothers childhood clothing) and as a result, we have been able to utilise some of this wardrobe recently to great effect. I have also engaged my wife to produce several items where specific items were required.
In summary, my series has elements of both Bill and Regina's projects but I can happily say that I have put my own stamp on both and now I am continuing to evolve the theme to see where it leads and to learn more in the process