Friday, November 26, 2010

Another Day, Another Planet

Another Day, Another Planet

Thought I'd just throw this one in the pot today. It's another from Moeraki Boulders. I could have bracketed the exposures and combined them in HDR, but sometimes, you want a shady boulder to look shady, and the sun to look like the large thermonuclear reaction it is. It's okay to have blown out highlights sometimes. A good example is the small specular highlights in peoples eyes. They need to sparkle.

This is one of the shots I put out to my "Shot of the Week" mailing list. Sometimes they feature here along with their stories, sometimes not. If you'd like to get them in your email every week, just drop; me a line via the contacts link, twitter etc. I'm always listening.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Moeraki Madness

It was a 4 am start for my voice-activated-lightstand Mike and me the other day.  I had a shoot for Tourism Waitaki that Mike was helping me with; We were due to kick off with some models at 0900, but we thought we might as well get there at dawn, to get some of our own pictures of the famous boulders. They're a bunch of beautiful spherical stones, said to be the remains of eel baskets, kumara and calabashes washed ashore from the wreck of the ancestral canoe Arai-te-uru. The less romantic explanation is that they're septarian concretions that have been freed from surrounding mudstone by coastal erosion. I know which I prefer.
The weather had been mixed all week and as we got there, we knew we weren't going to be in for a spectacular sunrise, as the coast had clagged in.  Never mind, we thought, moody and misty works just as well.
Our mood wasn't helped by another bunch of photogs though. Not long after we'd started, along the beach comes four guys with the same idea. Without a word of acknowledgement, they just muscled in and started shooting over our shoulders. It tended to make us a little bloody minded about letting them in. Mike merely played dog-in-the-manger with a guy toting a medium format camera, while I dropped the C-bomb at them. In hindsight I'm just a little disappointed at myself for not being more welcoming to obvious tourists. They were clearly semi-pro or pro going by their gear, but their attitude was seriously amateur.
I reminded myself that they're just rocks, and this was only ever going to be a recce for me anyway, so it didn't come to a fist-fight. Once they left, calm was restored, and it was beautiful down there on the beach, especially with some small Hectors dolphins surfacing just a few score metres offshore. I took some long exposures, trying to work with soft waves and hard rock, while Mike took a bunch of bracketed exposures to combine later. I'm looking forward to seeing what he gets, we've both got quite different styles.
Alien 5: Moeraki
Leisure out of the way, we grabbed a quick breakfast once the visitor centre opened and got on with the assignment once our models arrived from the local Polytechnic. The light came and went, and it was hardly tourist brochure weather, but we got some interesting stuff that my client was really happy with. My favourite is the one above, partly inspired by the movie Alien. It was a quickie we pulled off on the way to the next location. The girls were lit by Mike with a Canon flash on the left, while I had another low right, aimed at the boulder. With just a little more time, we'd have got some flashes inside the rock working to light the girls up, and a much softer key on them, but we were on a hectic schedule.
It turned into a long day, several different locations, run and gun, with Mike trying his best to give me good light in a few minutes.
So many different conditions and setups, we just about threw everything we could set up quickly at it - bare strobe, softbox, strobe through translucent reflector, silver reflector... nothing but fun.
Historic Precinct, Oamaru
And now, batteries recharged, Miss C(7) handed off to a friend for the afternoon, I'm out the door for a magazine shoot. Yeah.
But this boulders thing. I've never encountered it in New Zealand before. I guess I should expect it at an iconic scene in the goldern hours, but don't some basic manners apply, like, say hello to other photogs at a scene? What's your take on photog etiquette?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Model Mayhem

_MG_0264.jpgAs part of my support for Dunedin Gasworks Museum, I went this week to take some shots of children there.  We're trying to focus our marketing on kids and family, rather than the engineering and steam enthusiasts that the place traditionally attracts.

 Old school

Kids and tools

Miss C(7) was definitely up for the job, but I thought it would be good to have a young lad along for balance, so she suggested one of her classmates, Mr M(7).  Now it just happened that he had a very important play date scheduled with Mr C(7) (no relation).  And so it was that I set forth on Tuesday with 3 youngsters, my camera and lighting kit and just an hour to get some usable shots.  I also had a bag of sweet bribes and energy supplies.  Keeping kids well fueled is essential if you want them to work.  I just don't know how they got children to labour hard in Dickensian times on starvation diets.  Another useful secret lost to history there.

Mr M

Now like Gremlins, there are risks to feeding children - it's easy to overfuel them, which is what I think I may have done.  Either that or the two lads were simply overwhelmed by the steampunk wonder that the DGM is.  Whatever the reason, my plan for a few well-lit scenes rapidly devolved to get-what-you-can.

The Engine House is a complex mix of window light and different overhead sources, which makes pictures taken with the ambient light pretty unattractive.  My first setup had me trying to highlight the machines with bare strobes and  the kids with a strobe and shoot-thru umbrella for some soft light.  Nice idea, and the test shot above of Mr M(7) is one of the results.  Unfortunately, test pops were about all I could get, as the minute I went to adjust my light, the youngsters raced off to explore some machinery (I can't blame them) or boiled over with giggling, jumping, song and dance (I still can't blame them).  As you can see, the umbrella gave me the nice soft light but spilt everywhere, including the shiny walls.  I decided the best course of action was just to light some machinery dramatically, hope it provided some highlights to the kids wherever I managed to get them to stand still, and use my ring flash adapter to fill the harsh shadows on their faces.


It was a step in the right direction.  Losing the shoot-thru lost the distracting and unattractive background and the tools and  machines look good in hard raking light.  That left me to try and get a performance out of the kids.  What I learned here is that you don't have to worry about them under-performing.  It's pulling them back from rolling their eyes, sticking out tongues and making faces down the barrel that is the hard part.

Overacting 101

Oh what I wouldn't give for some professional models and the time to light them but considering we only had an hour or so between the end of school and the museum closing, I'm satisfied with what we got here. Thanks to our design wizard, our brochures are going to look great.

Model Mayhem is a web community where fashion-interested creatives like models, photogs and other artists can meet.  But this was real model mayhem.  Everything they say about working with kids is true, it's not easy but before I make this sound like anything less than fun, let me summarise: I spent the afternoon in a life-size 19th century Meccano set, with all my favourite electronic and digital toys, with three other people just as excited, bursting to laugh and play at the first opportunity.   And to cap it off, the kids may not be as professional as working models, but they work for pikelets.  Big tick.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Landscape, Lighting and Little Surprises

The art of making landscape images takes many forms. A while ago, in an effort to get MissC(6) out of my hair for an hour, I gave her a camera and told her not to bother me until she had shot a great landscape picture. She promptly turned around, took a shot of the New Zealand Pictorial Calendar behind her and handed me back the camera with a look of great satisfaction.

At the other end of the scale, there's my mate Dave. Dave has recently played a few gigs behind the drum kit in my band Bluestone - and very well too. He's played some serious gigs with some serious bands in the UK and is as Geordie a lad as you can expect to meet this far south of deepest darkest Newcastle.  Thankfully I was born in Hartlepool, about 30 miles down the road (with its own Yorkshire-influenced Geordie dialect).  I had the accent whipped out of me in primary school, but can translate for the rest of the band when needed.

David Johnston

I was just a little surprised when this Blues/Rock Percussion God told me what he does in his spare time.  Knowing he puts me just a degree of separation or two away from AC/DC made me expect either power boating, Motor cross or the ancient English sport of shin-kicking.  But a couple of years ago, Dave started painting landscapes, and bloody good ones as it turns out.   I was already impressed at the images that he had to show me on his phone, but last week he asked me to come around and capture some digitally for him before he offers them for sale. Wow.

Art by David Johnston

Dave takes months to make these pictures, spending weeks prepping the canvas before creating the image, then honing details like reflections and small pebbles, and applying glazes to apply colour effects to things like sky and clouds.

They're lovely, but Dave's canvas prep and glazes make his paintings quite glossy - always a challenge to shoot pictures of. You need to light the canvas evenly, avoiding hot spots and direct reflections. You also need to keep the canvas parallel to the plane of your sensor and get the camera well back to minimise image distortion - not always easy in small rooms or installations. Thankfully I had this all in mind and got the job done in short order.  As usual, most of the knowledge I applied came from what I learned over ad David Hobby's Strobist blog (link on the right) but the book I'm reading at the moment would have come in handy too.  It's  Light: Science and Magic by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua, pretty much required reading for photogs who want to master the technical side of lighting.  I'm eating it up, but that's the kind of geek I am.  Dave's an artist.

I'm sure Dave's stuff will sell well. Keep an eye out for his signature. Probably a good time to invest in his pictures.  I'd appreciate it if you did, cause I'm pretty sure that as well as more canvas and paint, he'll invest some of the money on this really nice set of cymbals he's got his eye on that will make him (and the rest of us in Bluestone) sound even better and let us earn some beer money.  Support the arts and you benefit the whole economy folks.

I shot the man himself with my Orbis ring flash adapter.  Still loving that smooth lighting effect on human skin.

David Johnston's Landscape

All in all, it's been a fun week, shooting a story for Woman's Day and doing some event and group photography for the Partners in International Management conference at Otago University. I've got another tourism shoot coming up later this week - which has me looking at investing in some very cool lighting equipment.  Stay tuned for that story.

I really love this job's variety and the range of people I get to meet while doing it. They surprise you in wonderful and amusing ways.  Kind of like when a 6-year old takes a great landscape picture without even leaving your office.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

DIY - A Dad Thing

Alice Head Shot1

I've had my Orbis ring flash adapter for a bit more than a year now and I love the soft, even light and trademark shadow it creates.  If you're shooting with it for an extended period of time however, it can be pretty fatiguing to hold your rig, and lots of zooming or manual focus can become a real hassle.

That's why buyers began screaming out for an adapter to hold the Orbis onto their cameras and being smart, that's why its manufacturers took their time to create one that would work and last long.  When they finally brought it out a few months back, I'll bet more than a few Orbis owners thought "well I could have made that".  I know I did.

Homemade Orbis rig

So the other day, I decided to pop down to my local Mitre 10 Mega store for the hardware to build my own version.  There are similar hacks all over the net, like here  but here's my recipe:


1x 1000mm x25mm x 3mm aluminium bar (approx. $NZ 9.00)

2x 25mm 1/4" threaded bolts - I recommend hex heads, but slots will do

2x 1/4" threaded bolts - about 1/2 inch if you can find them. 

2x 1/4" wing nuts

2 spring washers

1x fibre washer

1 strip of cork floor tile

2 blobs metal putty

You might have to run around for the bolts - the camera fittings that you need them for are in imperial measure, so not that common any more.  I ended up going to Steel & Tube to get mine.

Cut the bar into 2 lengths, drill holes for the camera mounting and adjustable section on the camera portion.  Drill slots for the flash mounting and the adjustable section on the flash portion.  Smooth rough edges, bend into right angles.

Glue the cork to where you're going to sit your camera.  Mould the blobs of putty around the bolt hex-heads to make knobs and let them cure overnight.

That's it.  To assemble, fit both sections together and fix with the bolts and wing nuts.

 Homemade Orbis rig

Use the knobs you made to fix the camera and flash.  If your bolts are a bit long, use fibre washers to make them a nice tight fit to stop things spinning in the mount.

Homemade Orbis rig Homemade Orbis rig

Hey Presto.  The aluminium I used is a little thinner than the real version, but I think it's going to be fine. 

Homemade Orbis rig

The job done, it was time for my assignment: a couple of shots of Miss C(7) as her school's indoor soccer player of the day.  You might think this would be easy, but she can be a hard model to direct and when she's also the demanding client, it becomes a hard job indeed.  Hardly worth my hourly rate, believe me.

Player of the day Player of the day

In terms of material cost, I probably saved myself about a hundred dollars.  But if I was charging for my time and skinned knuckles, I'd probably be out of pocket.  DIY can be like that, but the feeling of satisfaction you get from it is priceless.  A bit like taking pictures of your player of the day.

Definitely a Dad thing.