Saturday, June 16, 2012

Freemasons fellows

A few weeks ago I got a call as a result of a referral from my good mate Lindsay (Sid) Somerville, former Dunedin commercial photog and bass player with my band. Former because Sid's now enjoying life in Auckland. The client was Fran Cockerell from the Dunedin School of Medicine's Dept of Womens and Childrens Health, and the job was to shoot some environmental portraits of the newest crop of Freemasons fellows. Along with all the other good work it does, the Freemasons Charity awards fellowships in Paediatrics and Child Health. We were thinking of a quick standup of the group out in the children's pavillion garden if the weather allowed, and a few individual shots in the clinical setting. Sounded like fun. I just wasn't expecting to be shooting a medical version of Charlie's Angels. Doctors didn't look anything like this when I was a kid. In Southland in the 60's and 70's, you got treated by a cigarette-smoking frown, with tattooed forearms and dense ear hair - and that was just the nurses.

Freemasons Fellows

My supermodels subjects, Doctoral candidates Rebekah Luo, Katie Appleyard and Dr Mee-Yeuw Chen already looked fantastic. All I had to do was get the lighting right and not screw up the focus. I learned from reading Strobist David Hobby that open shade is your friend for outdoor portraits, giving you control over your light, so I found a nice autumn background, slightly underexposed for it, and popped the girls into frame with their backs to the low sunlight, filtering nicely through autumn leaves. They were beautifully back lit and separated from the background. The ambient light on their faces was a little flat, but fine for fill. All I had to do was put up a flash in a 40cm softbox to add a little key for some added definition and a little sparkle to their eyes and bingo. I also had a 1/4 CTO gel on the flash, just to warm things up a skerrick.

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While we were there, I thought we might as well have a little fun and popped them up on some of the playground equipment. Now the girls were facing the sun but the clouds were playing ball, flattening out the light, so again, I used the softbox for a little eye twinkle and warmth.


Inside, things were a little more challenging, due to the tight spaces and clinical look to the place. For Mee-Yeuw, I decided to work with it, keep the setup simple, the light clean and bright and pop her against some props with the tools of her profession, stethoscope and chart. I bounced flash off the wall for fill and added the softbox for key and sparkle. The sheen on her hair is coming from window light.


Rebekah was assisted by a model I've worked with before, Miss P(8), classmate of my daughter Miss C(8).  The window was throwing a nice patch of light on the wall behind Miss P, so I bounced some flash off the ceiling and wall to push a little fill into their faces, and added a warm hair light (hand-held by Miss P's mum) for Rebekah that also added a little warmth to her pyjama-clad patient.


I might have guessed Katie had done some modelling. To say she already lit up the room is something of an understatement. (BTW, if you'd care to follow her delightful fashion and lifestyle blog it's here: Sweet Apple. If you're a budding fashion photog that would like to collaborate with her, I'm sure she'd love to hear from you, just join the rear of the queue) What I wasn't expecting was her co-model, young Mr J to steal the show. It's true that kids and animals can be hard to work with, but if you've the time and patience to let them give you what they have, you can come up with golden moments.

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Mr J's props were definitely fun, so I decided to underexpose the ambient light to lose the clinical feel, pop the softbox and 1/4 CTO gel low and try some low side light from an unmodified flash with a full CTO gel. There were times when Mr J got in Katie's light, but I don't think she minded at all. It's one thing I love about photography and a hard one to teach my students. Obsessive as I can be about my light and composition, sometimes, the moment you capture is the most important thing.


To my male friends and followers out there, I know what you're thinking: "Worth getting sick for". Forget it. These doctors work strictly with kids, ensuring them a better future by looking at things like the effects of sleep and new vaccines. And thanks to the Freemasons Fellowships, I'd say our kids future looks better every day.

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