Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Newspaper photography

Here's a niche job:  Newspaper photographer. Not shooting for newspapers - just shooting newspapers.

So many newspaper movies and TV shows are about the journos and editors.  Guess why.  They're the ones who write the stories. After my recent visit to Allied Press though - home of the Otago Daily Times, I can see there's just as much potential for drama in the operations side of the newspaper business.  It's seriously industrial.


These are the ODT's old Goss letterpress machines.  They've been replaced by a new offset press, so they sit there in the dark, waiting for someone to find them a good home.  I love these industrial giants.  And in a strange way, I even love the black grime that inevitably coats any photog who lingers near them. To get the shot below, I put a couple of flashes to the sides and rear to backlight the press as well as one inside and one aimed at the face from an angle to light it and give a little shape.


Once upon a time the newspaper business was filled with fag-addicted, cynical journos, foul-mouthed, grimy printers and massive, noisy presses.  I'm glad to say not much has changed, apart from the process of making the plates that do the printing.  Below is an old linotype machine that the paper keeps around for display purposes - and a good deal of nostalgia on the part of a senior manager ODT or two.


The two Hals below are the machines that now make the plates for the new offset printing process. Where the  linotype machines needed molten lead and compositors who'd declare a demarcation dispute if a journo dared empty the rubbish bin, today it's all digital: image servers, laser etchers and polymer-coated aluminium grapholiths.


You'll already know I'm a huge Strobist fan, so it'll come as no surprise that this was my favourite shot of the visit.  The ambient orange light is what the operators switch to when they have to open up the machines and inspect the light-sensitive polymer-coated plates inside.  It seemed like the perfect light to use, but to add some interest, I shot a little blue light around the back of the room, and shone a bare speedlite on each of the Hals to get rid of the orange wash from the room.


Here's something that hasn't changed: The news still needs paper - kilometres of it every day.  The store here holds just enough newsprint for about three daily editions. No funky colour here, just a speedlite popped behind some of the rolls on the left and one aimed at those on the right to add a little shape.

When the paper finally meets the ink in the offset press, it travels at approximately a bajillion metres per second.  I was lucky enough to be lining up this shot as it gathered pace.  The noise is like being strapped to the wing of a B-52 as it takes off - kinda thrilling, kinda scary - and that's with the earplugs the printers gave me.


Some would say this technology has killed the romance of print.  Others would say the only time the ODT failed to get out in its 150 year history was because of an industrial dispute.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fun with a Fisheye

The view from Minsk

I hear Canon's new EF 8-15mm f/4L USM Fish eye zoom is a lovely bit of kit. I may well treat myself to one eventually, but meantime I'm enjoying my new Peleng 8mm fisheye.  You can check them out here.  They're made in Belarus, weigh a ton and are fully manual.  It's a beast, a relic from the cold war.  It's just a fixed 8mm, can be prone to a bit of lens flare around the edges of the image, and suffers chromatic aberration and softness at the edges, but at about a fifth the price of the Canon, it'll do me nicely for a while.  Above is the nearly full circular 180 degree image it takes on my full-frame Canon 5D Mk II.  Below is something I popped into Dunedin's Octagon to shoot at lunchtime.  This was on the crop sensor Canon 7D.  It proved useful for the panoramic kind of pictures I want for the double page spreads I want to open the chapters of my book on Dunedin business.  Fun fun fun.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Shooting The Emersons


Last week I'd arranged to shoot at Allied Press, the home of the Otago Daily Times in the morning, and shoot over to Emerson's Brewery for a team portrait in the afternoon. I should have known I'd find too much to have fun with at Allied to squeeze into a morning, so I needed to pull off the Emerson's picture as quickly as possible and get back for the 3.00 press run. Luckily, I already had a plan in mind, and was fairly confident that I could pull it off quickly. Richard Emerson has a boutique brewery that is really putting the big Beer Barons on notice about quality and passion in brewing. Since I'm running with a "Tartan Mafia" theme for my business history, shooting Richard and team as this upstart crew seemed like a fun idea. Of course, there were challenges to overcome, so I thought I'd do a little anatomy of the shoot to let you see the process. Challenge number one: The environment.


Grey. Typical industrial setting: lots of fluoro light mixed with diffuse skylight, concrete and stainless steel. I had 20 minutes to make it mine before the staff would assemble. My first job was to add a little colour to the environment. Blue gel on flash, attached out of sight to a keg in the right background via an nasty clamp to colour those brew tanks. I was a little worried that all I'd get was a small specular reflection of my flash. That would have meant to get the whole tank blue, I'd need it to reflect a big blue reflector or diffuser, but the tanks were burnished stainless steel, and not only gave a nice diffuse reflection of the blue flash, they bounced it around each other.


Well, they started to, but I was confident that once I had my exposures between ambient and flashes balanced, things would work out the way I wanted. Another blue flash to cover the background from the left, and while Richard pulled a prop into place, I set my key light for him nice and high.


I wanted hard, high key lighting with no modifier to get a film noir-ish look, but without time and booms, knew that I'd have to settle for light that wasn't really as high as I wanted. Still, as I put some CTO gel on Richard's key, and another light up with one to light the rest of the assembling team, I was getting into the zone. Here's the lighting diagram if it means anything to you. With my sketching skills, I've got to say, it means little enough to me.

Emerson's lighting diagramNearly there. My 20 minutes of prep was up. Shooting in the middle of even a quiet work day, you just can't waste people's time, so I explained my mafia crew concept and started arranging the team quickly.


My instructions were simple. No smiles please, look directly into the lens, and hang tough. I arranged some groups, made sure I didn't have a straight horizon of heads and told everyone that straight arms would make them look like zombies, not mobsters. I guess I've been doing this long enough that I had my lighting ratios pretty good right from the start - good enough for a quick setup anyway. So I shot some frames and bada-bing:


I was happy, but it always pays to listen to your client. They know the business more than you do. Richard knew that the brewery is constantly being rinsed with hot water and is actually quite a steamy environment, so he wanted some steam. I had my doubts about how manageable that was going to be, but it was a good idea, and he assured me it would be quick to arrange. Minutes later, the floor was awash and steam was rising. Just not the way we wanted it. As you can see, it raised a smile or two.


Not a problem. I liked my clean shot, and knew a little digital steam would be a lot easier to work with later on. If this were one of those big Beer Baron budgets, this wouldn't have taken the hour it did. I'd put a couple of days into the shot. I'd probably shoot the background separately to get the lighting even better, and take everybody into a studio or at least in front of a clean backdrop and shoot them all separately, immaculately lit noir fashion with higher light, some hair lights and kickers. Then would come some heavy post to assemble a kickass composite But Richard Emerson and his crew aren't Beer Barons. Not yet anyway. Small is good for now, and for me, so is fast. Getting what I did in short order, I was pretty happy. Almost as happy as a couple of pints of Emerson's Bookbinder Bitter can make me.  

But there was no time to rest on my laurels. Back at the Otago Daily Times, the stories were written, the plates assembled and the presses were warming up...