Thursday, December 4, 2014

Improvising light

Yikes, quite a little challenge to overcome today.  I'd shot some staff head shots for Tony and the team at Icon logistics earlier in the week and was using my favourite lighting setup, seen here at work on Tony: A 45cm portable soft box on a stand as my key light, high and camera left, with an Orbis ring flash adaptor for fill.

It gives a nice directional quality to the light, with plenty of detail but with a flattering amount of softness.  There's something about the ring light fill that I love.  Maybe it's that subtle halo-like shadow.


So today I returned to get some shots around the business - NZ customs inspecting a shipment and some containers being loaded at the wharf.  But as luck would have it, there were a couple of staff there who hadn't been able to have their pictures taken the other day.  And there's me with no stand, soft box or ring flash, since I try not to bring the kitchen sink to every shoot any more... my shoulder and elbow joints are starting to complain about all the heavy lifting I do.  All I had were bare flashes and a tripod.  What to do?  I had minutes to figure something out or make embarrassed apologies.

No problemo.  The ceiling was pretty low, so I popped a flash precariously on my tripod, set it to 1/4 power and a 24mm spread and aimed it up.  I was hoping to create a patch of light in just the right spot that would approximate the apparent size and brightness of my soft box.  For fill, I whacked my second flash to about 1/32 power and held it as close to my lens as I could.  It wasn't going to be perfect, but it was going to have to do.


The result pleased and surprised me.  I was definitely in the zone straight away and the new shots wouldn't look out of place against the previous day's.  I could perhaps have zoomed the flash a little more, that bright patch on the ceiling could be a little smaller, to make the light a better match to that of my small soft box.  But we didn't have time to muck around.  This was good enough. I have to say I actually prefer the improvised version.  The big bounce is so soft and flattering, and the bare fill hasn't created any second shadow, due to it's proximity to the lens. I'll definitely use this again some time if I have a low white ceiling.


This is what I love about being a working photographer.  The opportunities to improvise and discover.  And of course, credit where credit's due: Everything I learned about lighting came from David Hobby's Strobist blog.  If you're a student of mine and haven't been there yet, I suggest you go and devour every morsel he offers.

I may just go back to carrying the kitchen sink around though.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hair fashion photography

There's still so much of this year's work I can't share yet because of various embargoes, but I can share some from behind the scenes of my latest studio work.

Jacs and model Flare Model, hair designer and VAL

I've done location pictures for Jax, Kylie and Liv from hair salon Sliver before - the shots above are from our last shoot, but Jax was keen for a different look this time, so we decided that studio composites were the way to go.


It was fun having the studio full of hair designers, models, makeup artist and clothing for a day, and the vibe just got better as we went along.  I set the studio to my go-to composite setting, and made a few lighting adjustments for beauty and hair. Our models had a range of experience but a good deal of talent.



Photobomb above by Mrs C's business, akB!  That's what happens when you share working space with family.

The biggest challenge here was in getting images I could separate the hair from easily when it came to the composite stage of post production.  Thankfully, Miss C(11) was there to lend a pair of helping hands with background support.

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I love working to my own creative vision, but the buzz of having a team collaborating in the studio is unbeatable... offering that vision to the client to add to, letting the other artists and models bring what they have to it and working to create something we're all excited about. That's why I like to make sure the models I work with see what we're getting as we go.  The journey we all go on creates a wonderful working vibe. Working with Brylie, Milly, Ella and Brooke was a real treat and I'm thrilled to say the feedback my directions got from them was very gratifying. I just wish I could show you the great work they produced... but that has to wait.


The final picks have gone into composites against some of my industrial background work and we're all very pleased with the results, which are being printed now.  Once they're out in the wild, I'll be able to share some of them here.  Stay tuned, and prepare to be wowed by a fantastic team effort.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Father C is listening

I've been having a lot of fun with my Mad Dog and Dooley Dunedin musician composites lately. My latest is of Shakes, who's original Surf Punk compositions go back to the early days of the Dunedin sound. Rumour has it that Shakes actually left some seminal Dunedin Sound bands because they didn't surf.

Rocking the Surf

But I must give credit to another musician for the evolution of this work, so to give you just a little insight into my process, here's my first crude experiment in the genre.  The helpful musician is none other than Miss C(10), who is now off crutches and tells me she has grown out of her own guitar and would like a classier model, with electric pickups too please.

First composite test

Christmas is coming kid. I'm sure Father C is listening.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Abstract, hammer and tongs with Mad Dog and Garth

I've had some enjoyable commercial projects lately - specifically for a national hotel chain and an international truck manufacturer - but with Spring here it's been good to get out and get some more personal projects in the mix.  Rejuvenation and growth is what that's all about.

So I've been a little more assiduous about attending meetings of the Dunedin Photographic society.  I decided to enter a print in their latest abstract competition after hearing a talk there by Frank Pawluk of Aoraki Polytech.  That was a great creative kick to the head, since I haven't really done much abstract work before.  I learnt to see so much more in abstract work, and am pleased to say my early attempt took first place on the night.

Biology and Physics

Meanwhile, down at my favourite photographic haunt, Dunedin Gasworks Museum, Blacksmith Nate Savill was holding some master classes with the assistance of Peter Mason, so I popped down to get a few shots of the boys in action. That's Peter on the hammer and Nate on the tongs.

All the fun of the forge

Expert forgery

Peter just happens to be a regular at another of my haunts, the Dunedin Muso's club.  I've been itching to get two of the club's members into my studio for some time.  Graham "Mad Dog" Dooley is club president and Garth Cambpell a dedicated volunteer.  The two go together like whisky and mayhem.  You just need to see some of the out-takes from our very short session to know that.

Garth first:

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And here's Mad Dog:

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Its characters like these that make Dunedin special, and combined with some of the city's dramatic nocturnal spaces, they helped make some great pictures.

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Garth Vader

We had so much fun we're going to do some more, so there's going to be a Mad Dog and Garth series, where I'll introduce some more of Dunedin's special musical characters. I've got a feeling it will get very interesting.


They only come out at night

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Southern Showdown

My latest little video project has been for my mate Doug Kamo of Main Event Ltd. Main Event is running the Southern Showdown, a fantastic boxing match that raises money for some great local charities. Doug engaged me to shoot the contender profiles and training sessions this year and I was pretty excited about it. It would give me a chance to apply the kind of lighting I've been applying to some stills projects. When Rea (below) started working the bag and breaking sweat, I knew things were going to go well.

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This dramatic double rim light is just made for athletes. Of course these guys don't exactly need my hero lighting to look tough. If you ever told someone "You fight like a girl", you haven't seen these girls.  Meet Lauren:

Female Contender

Profiles done, I turned things over to my assistant Joe to capture some of the gruelling training the contenders are going through.  I'd have done it myself, but the sessions coincided with some other commitments of mine, so I stuck around to make sure things were running according to plan and left Joe to it.


Of course before I left I couldn't resist the temptation to shoot some motion stills to try and capture the dynamism of the training sessions.


Just using ambient light here, which was nice and bright in the gyms.


The only trick was to shoot from a tripod to keep things nice and sharp while the longish exposures (around half a second) created the motion blur on the fighters.

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It's a technique I like but haven't really had much opportunity to do, so had some fun and got some ideas for future projects.


Seeing the training sessions and listening to the contenders talk about their motivation for fighting is quite inspiring and I know they'll all be very entertaining bouts.


Think seriously about attending, and giving a little to one or more of the charities concerned.  I know you'll have a good time and do some good as well.


In fact, I'll guarantee you a good time.  Doug (that's him standing behind Joe above) not only engaged me to shoot for him, my blues band will be playing before and after the fights.  We're a pretty gritty combo, so we'll be a good match for some great boxing.

See you there!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Tilt Shift Lens

Plenty on the go lately. Some local event coverage, a museum shoot, another for a national hotel chain, and in the video arena, contender profiles for an upcoming charity fight night. I love the variety. So to keep expanding my style and skill base I decided to invest a little of my earnings in a new bit of kit, the Samyang 24mm tilt-shift lens.

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Tilt-shift lenses are mostly used for architecture. Having the ability to shift the lens in relation to the sensor lets you change the perspective of a shot to straighten verticals that tend to lean backward when you tilt your camera up at a building. It'll expand my range of technique nicely.

The tilt functionality lets you change the plane of focus from being parallel to your sensor to something approaching perpendicular, creating zones of focus in a shot that people aren't normally accustomed to seeing, so the pictures can be really striking. The lensbaby accessories made this effect really popular and helped give birth to the whole toy photo craze where you can make an ordinary scene look like a miniature because of the novel depth of field effect. More recently it's been done to death in Photoshop or Instagram. It could have its uses for me in product photography where I'd want to get a whole table of objects in focus at a wide aperture, but for now, it's not something I've bothered playing with.

I've been more interested in using the shift ability to take 3 adjoining frames for large panoramic shots in the style of Joel Grimes. It gives a very different look to just panning the camera. To my eye it seems to deliver a very distinctive distortion effect which I rather like, so it's been assimilated into my style bag. So here are some scenes to enjoy from my favourite museum and photography haunt, Dunedin Gasworks Museum and various Urbex (urban exploration) locations.

Bond Street Alley

Spawning ground


I'm also planning to use it for backgrounds for some composite work (thank you again Mr Grimes). Here's an example.


Shame about the model, but you get the picture. Here's one of my latest favourites, from my LE G2 phone, another bit of Urbex photography. I shot it on a recce and wouldn't mind going back with my DSLR, but I'm not convinced I'll make a better picture with one.


For me, it just goes to reinforce the important lesson that you don't need fancy lenses to make pictures you like.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Busy is Good

A four-letter word has gotten in the way of my blogging this year: work.

That's no complaint. I've had some terrific clients and seriously fun jobs in the last few months. Now that I've caught up on most of my deliveries, it's time to briefly share what I've been up to. My last entry was about the drone, my new piece of kit. But like I say, photography is not about the gear and I've barely had time to do much with it. The video work I'd been doing in Arrowtown led me to a very exciting project called Cloud 9.


Cloud 9 is an ultra high-end travel experience with the legendary Kiwi sheep farmer and travel entrepreneur Bill Shaw. We'll come back to the Cloud 9 story when the video is released. For now its enough to say I had a fantastic time with Bill and the project's Executive Producer Rob Andrews.

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A gig with my band Bluestone at the BRONZ motorcycle rally near Alexandra was just one of those hilarious road trips you can only have with a blues band. Spinal Tap meets the Blues Brothers. Honest. Cool bikes too.

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On the way back home I took a major detour to one of my favourite fishing haunts to pick up some landscapes for the calendar I contribute to. Some flies were cast. Some trout got smoked. Of course the shot below is an abstract. You don't think I'm going to blow the whereabouts of my fishing hole do you?

Can't see the forest for the trees

Back in Dunedin, I got to document a 19th century worker's cottage before it was dismantled. That felt a little like a crime scene shoot.

Handyman's dream

Historic fashion items for Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. What can I say, I love to light.


 There was the visit from a Scottish government dignitary. Run and gun.


A distracting week of hospital visits while Miss C(10) had some very scary surgery.


I attended Warbirds over Wanaka again. Always fun, although this year I couldn't catch up with my helo flying nephew and his wife as they're now stationed near Melbourne.


I started work on another exciting project for Leslie Rugby. Stills this time, kind of art-driven and for a couple of days I had assistance in the form of Eliza, a lovely work experience student and a rapidly healing Miss C(10).

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There was a little renovation project at home. That's um, still in development. Note to self: Don't tear your walls down in a Dunedin winter unless you plan on getting them up again real fast.


A lovely young lady hired me to shoot her 21st birthday party.


There have been many, many corporate headshots. In this situation over half of people come in dreading the experience and it shows on their faces. I really empathise with dentists. Despite that this is a job I really enjoy.  I like to take the time to draw my subjects into the process, have them relax and reveal themselves just a little to me to get a shot they're happy with.  After all, that ID picture is going to be on a card or website for a while. It's worth getting something folks are pleased to see. Check out the warm reflection we got off the red wall camera right!

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Back to the blues, it was high time I started work on a decent poster for my band so I've been noodling around with concepts for that. Our blues style is kind hard-edged so I milked a little attitude out of the lads and dragged them down an alley before robbing them of their phones and wallets at camera-point.  I seem to have left myself out of this picture:


The Motorsport New Zealand awards night was another opportunity to hone my people skills.


And finally, the apparel part of the Leslie Rugby project is now in progress. That macro lens actually starts to pay for itself again!


On top of all this, there's my role in helping up and coming photographers via SIT's Diploma in Digital Photography which is pretty damn rewarding, especially when I see the quality of work some of them submit.  It's a great motivator to stay fresh and keep improving.  Like they say, if you want to learn, teach.

It is so good to be busy. And to all the clients who trust me to make them look good or don't get nervous when I say 'actually, I've got an idea for something very stylish for you', a very big thank you indeed.