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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!