I'd been thinking for a while of an effective way to help with posing group shots in my studio. I hate having people on the same level as each other, or posed unnaturally. I far prefer the groups to look as though they've posed themselves - it makes for a much nicer composition. I had the idea of using boxes that could be dumped in the space and the family members could then pose themselves organically, and I could tweak their positions, hand placements, levels from there. My initial idea was to find old chests and stools from antique shops and reclamation yards but these tended to require some restorative work, but more importantly were too different from each other in shape, design and colour. I wanted them to be similar to each other and complement the colours and tones that I like for my portraits, and fit in with the colour grading that I do.

So it was clear that I would have to build the boxes myself. I like a bit of diy so I decided to buy 2 Ikea Knagglig crates, deconstruct them and see what I could come up with.

Taking them apart was quite a challenge! They're very strong crates and the nails are driven in deeply. I took a lot of care in pulling them out as I wanted to reuse them later.

Once both crates were dismantled I rebuilt them as one box, repurposing the nails that I'd pulled out. Some of the slats were left over, so I used these inside the box to strengthen it as people would be sitting and standing on them (and manhandling them in the case of children!).

I wanted to stain the boxes in a dark oak colour once finished, but before doing this I needed to 'age' them. I assembled a collection of tools to hammer, scratch and generally batter the boxes.

I then proceeded to stain them with an exterior grade coloured varnish, which would offer some protection as they would be dragged and piled on top of each other in the studio. I ended up applying 3 thin coats to build up to the colour that I wanted, and sanding between coats to prevent a 'plasticky' feel but more importantly to prevent a shiny finish, which would prove a nightmare with reflections under studio flash.

I'm really happy with them and I use them constantly; not only for group shots, but for my headshot sessions too - it allows me to bring more angles into my clients' poses by getting them to rest a foot on them, or leaning on them.

I also use them to help my youngest son learn how to fly.