Sunday, August 28, 2011

Engineering your Light

Another day, another cool industrial shoot. This time it's Farra, a Dunedin Engineering firm with its roots in some of the earliest foundries in Otago. In contrast to Speight's Brewery, the combination of fluoro light, dull steel and concrete buildings made for some pretty dull surroundings, so it was time to get the flashes, clamps and gels and add some colour to the equation.

John Whitaker The Daily Grind

On the left, that's John Whitaker, Managing Director of the firm, and the first not to be connected to the pioneering Smellie family who founded Iron Rolling Mills Otago out in Green Island in the 1880's.

My Dad did this kind of work for over 40 years in shipyards, hydro projects, smelters and so forth.  I even worked alongside him in an Aluminium smelter for a few summers, so I get a real kick out of shooting in these environments.  It reminds me of the great era of postwar engineering when men with calipers and welding gear could do anything - or so little kids like me thought.  As well as the big stuff like building maintenance units, hydroelectric turbine components and specialist cranes, Farra make a lot of cool stainless steel stuff like home breweries and the small rotating screen here. Again, we didn't want to interrupt work for too long, so this was another run and gun job, but I think everybody's going to be pretty happy when they see the results in my book.

Rotating Screen

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Return of the Naval Aviator

Robbo and helmet

For those of you attending High School in Dunedin, that was my nephew Sub Lt Christiaan Robertston landing in your paddock in his navy Sea Sprite helicopter. The news article is here.

Yes, we're all proud of the boy Sub Lieutenant and his many deployments overseas, although female members of the family wish he would stop womanising in every port settle down with a nice girl some day. Us guys, we just want to see him fire that Maverick air-to-surface missile at something.

Naval aviator and girl in portJust to show his lighter side, here he is with yet another young woman (his cousin, Miss C(6)) on  a previous port visit. He often wears a heavy disguise to avoid angry fathers, jealous boyfriends and the flotilla of girls he seems to attract wherever he goes.

For a little more on the neph and his machine, check out this post of mine from December 2009.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From Beer to Photography... and Back Again

Speight's Brewery

I subscribe to the theory that beer was the catalyst for human civilisation and thus photography.  No kidding.  Long before anyone thought to bake bread from wheat, people were probably eating an accidentally fermented porridge of barley grains.  The fermentation created a protein profile that was more nutritious and it also left the consumer feeling wonderfully refreshed.  The demand for this porridge - and later the beverage - led to the rise of agriculture.  Bread was invented later as a way to make the raw ingredients store better.  The need to keep tally of the stores led to the development of written language, and it's a smooth ride all the way from there to the printing press, computers and the Canon 5D Mark II.

Anyway, this week I got to do one of my bucket list shoots: Speight's Brewery. Established in 1876, Speight's is a Dunedin institution. So much so that its heritage tour is one of Dunedin's most popular visitor attractions. That's either something to do with the wonderfully preserved brewing gear, or the tasting session at the end.


Either way, I had a blast. It was mainly a job of balancing ambient window light with flash, bouncing off light coloured walls to get a large apparent light source to shine off the beautiful copper brew kettles etc. If this were a full advertising or promotional commission, I'd probably take the time to set up big white scrims and bounce surfaces and really sculpt things, as well as pushing just a little more light up into the ceiling.


As it was, there was so much to get through that this was nearly a run-and-gun operation. The hero of the whole shoot was my new Nasty Clamps. The time they save is amazing. No more fiddling around with light stands. Not nearly so much anyway, just whack a flash on and clamp it to a door, bench, brewer - whatever's handy.

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Nasty Clamp in actionSo here's a Nasty Clamp in action.  Elegant, eh?

With so much to see, I'm going back to Speight's for another shoot. There's lots left to get through, like the board room, the fermentation tanks, and maybe, just maybe, the tasting lounge.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Top Secret

Not a lot of people know that after Fisher and Paykel closed their Taieri manufacturing plant, they moved into Dunedin and now employ well over 100 highly skilled engineers and designers in a design and testing facility above Wall Street Mall. They create cutting edge kitchen appliances for the world market, hiding in plain sight. When somebody mentioned that maybe they should be careful about industrial espionage, they came up with a wonderfully Dunedin solution: They bought some blinds for the design part of the office.

Top Secret

Last week I was given access to the premises for my book celebrating Otago businesses. F&P bought out Dunedin's historic Shacklock company years ago, so I'm profiling them. I never knew whiteware could be so cool. They've got some cutting edge stuff in there, so cutting edge that I'm afraid I can't reveal it. But what I can share is the lengths F&P go to in testing their products.

Test Bed.

Crash Test TurkeyOf course they do the thorough safety testing you'd expect, making sure emissions from gas hobs are within various international standards, or ensuring that oven windows have no dangerous hot spots. Then there's the destructive testing, running rows of dishwashers continuously until a part fails, or surrounding one with an array of microphones in a soundproof room to find out just how silent they run. It's the unexpected stuff that really tickled me, like the crash test turkey.

It's a polystyrene model, seen here next to a typical Kiwi oven. Big eh? It's the size of a standard American Thanksgiving turkey, something pretty important to know if you want to make ovens for the US. I expected them to use pH and temperature controlled water in their dishwasher tests, but not the exactly prescribed spinach or ketchup for their soiled dish testing. It's logical, as is the rigorous toast browning test they subject their grills to.

Toast testing

It's a fascinating place, but like a lot of industrial premises it's made for results, not for aesthetics, so to tart a few shots up, I threw a bit of light and colour around, like the red-gelled flash inside the oven in the turkey shot above. Here's another example, a wide shot of part of the prototyping area, a rather dull space under the ambient fluoro lighting:

Prototyping area - before

All I needed was a wide shot to reveal some of the space the facility occupies, and I didn't have a lot of time to arrange lights, but with just a couple of gelled flashes and a Nasty Clamp or two (See my last post about these, they're suddenly my favourite piece of kit. They make flashes quick and easy to arrange in this kind of environment where light stands are inconvenient to lug around and erect) I was very quickly able to lift the scene.

Prototyping area - after

Much sexier. And the bonus? Otago colours!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Another handy gadget for photographers

Joby Gorillapods are very versatile little tripods that double as clamps. I've found mine extremely useful for sticking my flash in places where a lightstand isn't practical and was thinking of getting a couple more, but today I saw this:

The Nasty Clamp combines the Joby's segmented leg with a clamp.  It also looks rather... suggestive, but that could just be me.  It's supposed to be able to support a 580 EXII flash and a small softbox, so with the way I like to light things on the go, it looks like just the kind of thing I'm after.  Think I'll get one or two and check 'em out.  I'm also looking forward to getting some new Carhart flannel-lined work pants in the mail.  I love my old pair, they're perfect for photogs who have to work out in the cold.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Android App for Photographers

Just a Google phone
At last, somebody (chainfire) has come up with a DSLR remote app for Android users.  This one allows you to fully use your Canon DSLR from your Android device with just a USB cable. There's been a DSLR controller out for the iphone for some time, and not being a Mac or iphone user (I started off as a Mac lover but it's a long story...) I've been awaiting the development of an Android equivalent.  It's still in beta, but I gather demand has been so high, the developers have released it early, and there are some enthusiastic reviews already.

I'm looking forward to hooking it up to my new Samsung Nexus S (that's my old HTC Magic in the picture) and taking it for a drive. You can check it out in the Android market here.

UPDATE: Seems the app is fine on Android tablets, but not yet working on phones without host functionality like my Nexus S.  As the Android Market notes say: Most Honeycomb TABLETS should be compatible. At the moment the only PHONE that is compatible is the Samsung Galaxy S2, with the 2.3.4 KG series firmware or newer.".  Fingers crossed for the full release...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Who Ate All The Pies?


At last, I was able to step away from my manuscript and to a little shooting for a new client today. Steve Turner runs Who Ate All The Pies?, the finest gourmet pie bakery I know of.  I have to say, Dunedin is becoming a great town for food and beverage, from boutique beers and its famous cheese rolls to whisky bars and fine dining.  And shooting for these establishments definitely has its perks.

Due to a slight glitch in communications at the bakery I arrived without a good brief and the bakers weren't prepared for an intrusion by a flash-popping photog. That wasn't the only challenge. It's a typical small bakery with just enough room to work, not to pose or shoot, there's lots of stainless steel and few places to hide lights, and the overhead fluoros lend things an inorganic blue/green ambience. James Hacon who who had organised the shoot was delayed in a conference call and I was aware of the clock ticking on client time. Not to worry, time to improvise and get to work.

Bakery. No brainer: Shoot product coming out of the oven. Easy - CTO gel on one of my Canon flashes, into the bottom of the oven and another flash bouncing off the ceiling to light Steve. It looks realistic, but it's normally black as night inside the oven and those pies actually just came from the fridge. You can tell because Steve's wearing hygiene gloves, not oven mitts. But we got the look we wanted.

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Thankfully James' call ended and I got a brief: He wanted some shots to tie into a promotion around the international rugby games we'll be having in Dunedin as part of the World Cup tournament. He'd bought a bunch of team jerseys so we had some fun with a few ingredients around the bakery. The family sized pasties made the perfect rugby ball for the England jersey, potatoes seemed right for Ireland, and for Argentina we went into the freezer of the butchery next door for Steve to pack down in a scrum against a side of beef. Georgia? No problemo, a quick Google search and we learned that as well as rugby, the Georgians are fond of a clear grape liquor called Chacha. A borrowed shot glass was all that took. Running out of interesting backgrounds, I decided to pull Steve out front of the shop, have James hose his coffee machine in blue light to contrast against the red jersey, while Ray held up my new 40cm ezy-type softbox with the 580EXII inside for Steve. I'm looking forward to using that bit of kit some more.


Steve and James were happy. I came away with a Venison, rosemary & red wine pie, Ray with a Beef, bacon and tomato one, so we were pretty happy too.   It wasn't exactly the well thought out Rembrandt lighting session I'd like to do, but when the pressure's on, sometimes you just have to kick for touch.

Now I'm waiting to hear about some largish projects I'm bidding for, which will be interesting.  Also hatching up something very exciting on the pho-tour front.  An announcement on that is still some way off, but worth waiting for.