Thursday, March 5, 2015

Photographing the Forestry Industry

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My dad knew I loved hard work.  He used to joke that I could sit and watch it all day long. It's kind of true, I find a nobility and beauty in industry that matches high level sport any day, so when I get an industrial assignment, I'm grinning as I reach for my hi-vis vest and steel caps.

Yesterday was a double-header.  The first job was in the morning for Gough-Cat.  Their 555D is new to New Zealand and there just happened to be one operating up on Long Spur road near Trotters Gorge. I'd been asked for some hero shots. This one didn't make the cut, so I can share it here:

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The day was fairly dull, which helped me give the Cat a little more smack with a pop of on-camera flash.  It was just enough and no more.  I'd actually brought a studio light and power pack in case I needed more punch, but it was a pretty busy operation and there wasn't really the need to overpower the ambient light... not that it wouldn't have been fun!





_MG_0318.jpgWhat really struck me about the operation on site was the total lack of men on the ground. Extracting these logs was a fully mechanised operation. One monster stalked the hills, cutting the trees.
The Scorpion-like 555D dragged them in bunches to be processed, while two other monsters hefted every tree, stripped the branches and bark, sawed them to length, dumped the unwanted ends and neatly stacked the finished logs.  It was terrifyingly efficient. And all pretty safe, inside those reinforced cabs.


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The job done, it was time to head to the next gig, but not before a brief pause on the road in.  There was a little coastal cloud creating some beautiful atmosphere in the lit patches, and I couldn't help thinking it was a beautiful location for a fashion or beauty shoot.  But industry has its own special beauty and I love to capture it.  This was one of the logging trucks coming in:


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Portrait of the artist as a working man there.

Time for some cool detail shots before departing.

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I think it's always important - where there's time - to exercise your aesthetic muscles whenever you can, just stop and smell the pine needles. It keeps you open to what's in front of you when you're on the job.

Naseby was to be a video shoot and a different proposition altogether.  Many of the trees had already been felled, and I was mainly there to shoot some aerials of the operation.  That didn't stop me shooting some stills though.

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The Naseby operation also had some bushmen on the ground. On a hot, still day like this, these boys earn every dollar they're paid.

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And tomorrow?  Back to Naseby.  Got to complete the video sequence.

These have been some big tiring days, not without some physical effort and skull sweat of my own but by the time I'm done I'll have captured the whole process of log exports, from harvest, through transportation to vessels loading at the export ports.  It's been a great assignment.  I love the opportunity to tell the whole story.

My Dad was right. Whatever it is you want to call what I do, it sure beats working.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Daylight Flash: Popping with Leslie Rugby

I've been working with Otago Rugby legend John Leslie of Leslie Rugby again over the last couple of weeks.  We're shooting some young grass roots players for instructional material for his coaching workshops and web videos. Soon all the stuff I've been doing for him over the last several months will be transforming the appearance of his website and online commerce.

The kicking lesson

Son of All Black captain Andy Leslie, John played 123 games for Otago and 32 for the Highlanders in the Super 12. He led Otago to the National Provincial Championship title in 1998 and then went on to play for Scotland (scoring the fastest every try in test rugby, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it 10 second effort against Wales in 1999), Northampton Saints and Newcastle falcons.  He's what we call a top bloke and I love working with him to get exactly what he needs.  He's got a terrific product and his coaching really works.  The young players he works with are really impressively skilled and soak up his instruction like the perfect little learning machines anyone under 18 is.  Boy I wish I still had that ability to learn quickly.

Leslie Rugby Coaching Tackling practice

So anyway, some of my own students are dipping their toe in the world of lighting, so a little story from the latest shoot might be instructive for them.

I'd already shot some instructional poses the week before.  They did the job, but I wasn't exactly thrilled with the result.  I was using natural light only and the conditions were pretty variable. I chose to shoot natural light because a light on a stand just wasn't ideal as we had a lot to get through and there were balls and bodies flying everywhere. That'll teach me.  Normally I break into a sweat at the thought of leaving the house without at least two speedlites and rightly so.

Now and again the shots were just a little flatter than I'd have liked. Lacking you know - pop.   It's okay, but I really want something a little better than that for my clients.  And lets face it, it's not hard to add a little light.

Our second shoot started on an even duller morning, but I came prepared to add a little pop - from a stand and a single off-camera speedlite triggered from my camera with a cheapie radio trigger, all exposure handled manually.  Underexposing the ground slightly and lighting from the side helped pop the players off the background and also sculpted them a little more.  The low ambient light provides enough fill in the shadows, but the speedlite is the power player here, not the sky.  The difference is obvious, even when I take an unlit shot and hit the auto tone button to brighten things, our player is a little more three dimensional with some strong directional light on him.

See below:  Lit, unlit with same exposure, then the same unlit photo with tonal adjustments in Adobe Lightroom.

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I've learned my lesson, even if it took me a little longer than John's young players. Everything looks good when you put it in a better light.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

First Presbyterian Church, Dunedin

I went to church yesterday. Not something I make a habit out of, but with most Dunedinites away on Summer vacation, business is nice and quiet. I've been meaning to pop up the road and take some new interiors of First Church for a while now, so it was a good time to go and shoot something just for myself. It was also a good opportunity to try my new Canon 8-15mm fisheye zoom.

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The results speak for themselves, even though this shot has benefited from blending 3 exposures - there's a lot of shadows and highlights to deal with in the old Kirk, so I've done a little HDR tweaking. This is the full fisheye, 8mm on my full frame Canon 5DII. To be honest, I was more than reluctant about getting this lens, I'm already happy with my old 8mm Peleng, but the Canon was a technical requirement for a certain job. At about 3x the price, I expected some improvements. At f/4 it's just a little slower than the f/3.5 Peleng, but it does have AF and the ability to set the aperture on the camera - the Peleng is fully manual.  The image quality is definitely nicer and the ability to zoom out to 15mm is pretty cool too:

Who says Presbyterianism is dour?

After fun with the fisheye, I put on my Samyang Tilt Shift lens, another fully manual beastie.  The idea was to create some large format pictures of the interior by shifting the lens and combining portrait mode pictures. Again, I added a little HD tweak.  Just for comparison, here's the single portrait orientation frame, straight out of the camera:

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I love the green in the alcove behind the pulpit, the natural light effects in there really help give it some depth. HDR just helps it all pop a little.  Here's the HDR stitch, 7573x5671 pixels :

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At 15mm the fisheye is funky, but the details in the stitched 24mm fixed lens shots are beautiful, although the method is not without it's own idiosyncrasies.  You still get a reasonably strong parallax or perspective distortion. That could be fixed with the shift function of the lens, but then combining the frames becomes a different exercise which I wont bore you with. Lets just enjoy the shots, eh?

The stitched view from the pulpit comes in at 7209x7369 pixels:

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Although I like saturation and light, I'm not one for really lurid HDR, pushing the sliders all the way, so these are subtle exposure blends rather than full on tone mapping. I may want to use these as composite backgrounds one day, and with that in mind, I shot some frames down one of the aisles.

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Of course, the big picture can only tell you so much about a place, so before left I shot some details with my workhorse lens, the Canon 24-70 2.8L.

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While I was doing all this I had a lovely chat with the Reverend John Sinclair who was in the Church's heritage centre. The building was designed by notable Otago Architect RA Lawson and John was able to point out many of its unique features, sturdy design and workmanship. Only a few small enhancements to some of the structure will see it exceed the current earthquake code handsomely.

So there it is.  A little shoot just for me, no other purpose than some pictures in my bank for now. In a way, creating these pictures was a meditative process not unlike prayer. Although I profess to being an atheist, a grand old church like this is a beautiful, peaceful place to spend some time reflecting on things larger than yourself - and their glory.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.