Friday, December 24, 2010

Goodbye and Good Luck Mike


Yesterday was something of the end of an era for me.  My mate and photo collaborator Mike Thorsen left Dunedin for a new life on the island of St Helena.  Mike and I have been bouncing ideas off each other fairly intensively all year; I had the honour of shooting his wedding and the pleasure of using him as my assistant on several of my commercial shoots.  On our last gig together for Tourism Waitaki, between me grunting at him to adjust or shift lights and reflectors, he actually found time to take some behind-the-scenes shots.

See how I seem so totally focussed on my subject that I don't even notice Mike in my shot shooting back at me?  And that I look as if I'm in total control and know what I'm doing all the time?  That's how good he is.

CC down the Barrel  In the line of fire  Breaking the Rules

CC shooting for Tourism Waitaki

I'm going to miss our catchups over coffee to talk gear, his expertise in macro shooting and his advice on post production, but what I'll really miss is how good Mike makes me look. I'm expecting to see some great stuff come out of his time overseas.  

Good luck mate, I'm looking forward to working with you again some day.  I'll be your voice-activated lightstand any day.

On that note, it's time to put away the toys, tear myself away from the PC and wrap for the year.  Happy Christmas and a great 2011 everyone.  I hope you've been entertained, just a little informed, and come back for more adventures in photography next year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blow Wind, Blow

Yesterday was one of those spectacularly hot blue sky days that you just want to spend near some water.


Dunedin's beaches can be sublime on such days, so James down at St Clair Beach Resort asked me to pop down there and get some exteriors. It's a job that suits my natural inclination to portray things with strong saturated colours. What we weren't expecting were the Nor'west gales that blasted the south. Up in the hills, gusts were reaching over 150 kmh. It must have been about then that I was perched with James on top of St Clair Majestic Mansions, trying to get the shot below of the resort and saltwater pool in the background.


I wanted to bracket some exposures so I had the option of some HDR post production, so had the tripod set up with my 14kg camera bag hooked on to help keep it steady. We were like straws in the gale up there. You can see Majestic Mansions just behind and to the right of the resort in the shot below.  Funny how the wind doesn't really show but honestly? There were some scary moments.


It would have been nice to go for a little dip at the beach after the shoot, but I didn't fancy having my body sand-blasted. Driving home through wind-blown debris was just as scary. The temperature back home was around 30 C. One of our trees was down, the veggie patch had been hammered, and in the region, fires were burning, power lines were down and roofs were being lifted. In situations like this, there's nothing like the company of a 7 year old and a lawn sprinkler.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Happy Hour

One tiny snag about shooting pictures for a living is that I can't share everything I do straight away.  Often my clients want to release their promotional material or whatever it is first.  And fair enough too.  That's why I can't put up anything from my recent magazine or theatre shoots.  I can share a little of this though, some work I did in a local hostelry.

Mmmm, beer>

It was one of those informal shoots where my client had a family coming in for drinks and dinner who were happy enough to be captured. Kind of a fishing trip for shots for general promotional material. Not a bad idea, we got some useful stuff, but you're always going to get better results from a comprehensive brief. It dawned on me that this shoot wasn't all about the family per se, but more about good looking GV's (general views) and detail shots to build up the venue's promotional catalogue. Before our time was up, my client and I talked and I quickly did a few experiments designed to show him what else we could do. The shiny, colourful stuff behind the bar is great material for detail shots, so I created some impromptu lighting schemes with my flashes (one or two of which needed to be cloned out later - this was just a quick experiment) and looked for some creative opportunities.

Cocktail Hour

You can tell I also pushed the envelope a little in the post processing. I'm sharing these because I don't really expect them to be used. It might not be the sort of thing that fits in with the existing promotional material - the less processed stuff should, but I like to offer clients something extra they might not have thought about and it always pays to push myself in terms of new techniques.

Gimme Steam Glass and steam

We'll see what comes out of this shoot in terms of further business. I was up front and told my client I thought I could do more for him knowing his needs a little better now. I also feel I'm just getting comfortable with this hyper-real look and how to achieve it efficiently. It won't always be appropriate, but it's another tool for my photgraphic trick bag.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bad Press

It's a wrap

There I was, hanging out in the local primary school playground, waiting for thunder to roll.  ND filter, remote timer release, wide angle lens, tripod, rain jacket... and I'm standing around in the big wooden playhouse they have, partly for the shelter, partly because I can climb the ladder to the upper deck to get a great shot of the sky and surrounding suburbs when the lightning comes.

The thing is, hanging around playgrounds with a camera while there's a class in after-school care just is not a good look.  Even though I'm known to everyone as Miss C(7)'s dad, I felt kinda pervy.  After half an hour or so, I skulked home.  The rain had passed without a storm anyway.  On the way past the classroom, I made sure to stop and make small talk with one of the teachers, chat about the weather, and my obsessive hobby.  I almost showed her my test frames of the sky.  A reputation as a kiddie stalker is something you just don't need.

So home I went to play around with some frames from my last shoot with Stuart Devinie at Fortune Theatre.   Pushed the fill light, contrast, clarity and blacks sliders to the max and got this.  The different looks that are quickly and easily possible when you shoot raw are just amazing.  I'm going to keep experimenting with portrait styles.  You never know, I might crack that Dave Hill look one day - although this is somewhere between him and Andrzej Dragan.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Newspaper Man

The Newspaper Man

I recently had the chance to shoot some pictures of actor Stuart Devinie for Dunedin's Fortune theatre. I could've done it with the theatre lights or my camera flashes, but wanted big, soft light, so rigged the softbox and umbrella onto my new 1000 WS studio strobes. Lotsa light. Bang, bang, bang. I was ready to get all creative on the job, but my client wanted straight stuff to cut out and composite with other material. Maybe next time. Just for this posting I decided to ramp up the clarity and contrast - a bit like a high pass filter to give Stuart some edge.

I'm dying to do some stuff in the style of the Brakhas. Check 'em out. I love where they're going with their Sketchy Mondays blog, as mentioned in David Hobby's Strobist blog. I think their Glee cast pictures are particularly inspiring. Reverse engineer the lighting on those shots and you'll see why I'm trying to make a bracket that will hold four or five of my flashes in a row together.

With the increasing load of commercial work I'm doing, I'm getting more commercial gear. There's been the aforementioned studio strobes, and a Pure Sine Wave inverter to power them in the field. I'm expecting some backdrop stuff to arrive any day. I may do some posts on that stuff soon. Right now there's thunder forecast, and I'm hoping to get some lightning shots later. Fingers crossed...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Clever Pixies

Pixie Town Hotel Gardens

In this day of digitally scheduled broadcasts this may seem foreign to modern viewers, but back in the day, TV was live. Shows were started with the push of a button, determined by an analogue control room clock and stations frequently had to make up or fill a few minutes here and there to stick to the advertised programme. Long pauses while presenters stretched until the incoming feed came online, test cards put up during breakdowns and silent, stately black screens were commonplace. When I was a kid the old NZBC TV station DNTV2 used to run this filler piece - basically an early music video of the Pixie Town animatronic display set to "So What's New" by the Tijuana Brass. I loved it. The display used to be housed in the DIC department store until it went out of business in the 80's, but now it's kept at the Otago Settlers Museum, dusted off and switched on every Christmas.

Pixie Town Hotel Fire Brigade

Handmade, driven by gears, belts and levers; lit by Xmas lights, I wonder what today's kids make of it. I've taken Miss C(7) and although she didn't exactly linger for hours, it's become something she looks forward to, something of a Dunedin Xmas ritual, like the Santa parade. Well last week I got the job of shooting some new publicity pictures of it. Another little dream job.

Roll Em Drycleaners _MG_1680.jpg

To be truthful, it doesn't pay the kids to linger, as closer inspection reveals these Pixies are a slightly sinister lot: Hard drinking, donkey-kicking tricksters. But I was in Pixie heaven. I shot them with a 2 light setup - my Canon 430 EZ at low power and high for key to simulate the Pixieland sun, and my Yongnuo 460 into the Orbis ring flash adapter for fill. Nice and quick. Occasionally there'd be challenging shots, like the Carousel. It was lit with fairy lights inside that came on and off intermittently, and it also turned, so getting the exposure and frame I wanted took some patience. I could have spent more time on it, but am reasonably pleased with the frame of the Lovers Nest here.


The scenes captured, I did another quick pass with just the Orbis and my 100mm Macro lens, getting closeups of the wee faces. Not exactly Dora the explorer friendly or pretty for that matter, but these are from another time, handmade made by Kiwi grownups for Kiwi kids to enjoy - not some corporate drone designing a merchandising product. Last year I shot Humpty Dumpty - a companion piece to the little pixies - it had real human teeth, and was seriously Gothic/sinister. These little guys could just have real human hair, I wouldn't be surprised one skerrick, but it's those quirky little details and surprises that are part of Pixie Town's enduring charm. Go see it some time.

Pixie Fireman