Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Olympic Golden Greats Part 3 - Ann Packer

Photography is just a reflection of life.


Lucinda and I planned to photograph Ann Packer who won the 800 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic games setting a new world record in the process.

But where to photograph her?

All of the Gold Medalists we have shot have been photographed at a location, wherever possible, which is special to them, relevant, or is impressive.

On this occasion for various logistical reasons it simply was not possible.

We had to shoot the portrait at her home in the middle of Winter.

What to do?

We had to arrange the shot so it would work well as a still photo and would make the basis of a good background for a video and interview, as time was short (we used the Canon XF305 and a Canon 5dMkII for the video....what I would have given for a Canon C300....sigh)

We opted for a simple very set build to cover both bases.

We decided to hang a beautiful old style, stitched fabric, Union Flag (the right way up with the aid of Wikipedia) between two Manfrotto BAC1004 Stacker stands (which don't rattle in the boot of the car, thus preserving sanity) and Manfrotto 2983 Crossbar.

The flag is a very handy prop, indeed and has featured in several of my hotshots over the years.

Where did I get it from?

A church roof.

Yes, really church roof.

And before anyone gets warmed up over this and thinks I have taken it a little too far in my quest for the perfect picture prop, I did in fact pay for it.

The Vicar of a rural Oxfordshire church was seeking to renew the somewhat battered flag and I offered him a modest amount of money for the flag.

We struck a deal and have a very well used prop.

Along with the rest of the series we chose to shoot with the Schneider Kreuznach LS 110mm f/2.8 wide open at F2.8 on the Phase One DF with a P65+ back at 50 ISO.

I used my big Gitzo with Manfrotto 405 Geared head for maximum precision.

We lit the set with 3 Elinchrom Quadra flashes.

The key light modified with a Chimera Medium soft box.

The back light for Anne (coming in from camera right) modified with Chimera XXS soft box with a light tools egg crate.

Finally one light to the centre of the flag with a kill spill and a honeycomb grid.

Not a super complex set up but one which was based on subtlety, I like to think anyhow.

Overall I'm very pleased with the shot.

We moved a fair bit of furniture( this takes more time than the shoot in most cases) and turned the living room into a studio.

Its not the first time, nor will it be the last time.

Making the best of an imperfect scenario.

Once again this is part of the 'Olympic Golden greats' exhibition at the John Lewis store at the Westfield centre, Stratford.

Sponsored by Manfrotto and printed by Velmex on Canon LFP Printers.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Thoughts on the Canon C300 after my first Commercial Shoot.

Last week I had a day long commercial shoot with my Canon C300.

The test shoots Lan Bui and I did over Christmas showed the massive potential of the camera

But it is all very well shooting for yourself when it does not matter quite so much, the real test comes when some big corporate client is paying you to deliver the goods.

So what did I make of it?

We were shooting a two camera lit interview with the C300 and the Canon XF305, so the first task was to get the camera's looking something like the same, so I consulted my mate BBC cameraman Mark Moreve who suggested that I set both camera's to Gamma 3.

This worked pretty well, and gave me a look that is in the same ball park.

It is quite notable though that the second camera operator, who has feature film experience, was particularly impressed by the Canon XF 305 'considering it was a small chip camera'

If shallow depth of field is not a priority and you are lighting your subject this camera excels.

But back to the Canon C300......

Firstly, lens choice.

The Canon C300 utilises a smaller chip that has a crop factor of 1.6 x

So I have had to rethink my choice of lenses.

My standard work-a-day zoom lens is my 'L' Series 24-105mm F4 but I figured this was going to be a shade too long and perhaps a bit too slow at F4.

But which lens to go for?

Though all Canon lens are capable of resolving 1000 lines of resolution, I'm a sucker for 'L' series lenses, they are beautifully built and optically they are superb.

Canon make the EF-S 17-55mm F2.8 which is image stabilised too, a pretty ideal range for 'run and gun' but too short for interviews.

Sounding like a lens snob, if that is possible, I found it a good quality solution but I missed the 'L' series construction and build quality, and I was continually annoyed by the microscopic focusing ring, I suppose I will get used to it but what I'm really asking Canon for is that they make an 'L' series which covers this zoom range, but I somehow doubt this will happen as I suspect their focus is on cinema primes etc, but I have no doubt if they ever did it would be a great success....Canon please take note.

The client wanted the interview shot hand held, we were working in a tight space and I have to say as light as the C300 is, the way I and Katherine were holding it back and neck pain did eventually set in.

I tweeted this finding on the way home and was surprised to see that Mark Moreve found exactly the same issue.

It could just be us I suppose, but if you are standing static for any length of time I suspect you might encounter it too.

I have come to the conclusion that some sort of shoulder rig would be a benefit (as Rodney Charters was saying when he was over at New Year)

Video streaming by Ustream

I would like to see the possibility of removing the LCD while retaining the XLR connections.

It would be a small but welcome weight saving and I feel sure that someone will come up with a solution soon.

I intend have a look at the seemingly limitless world of rigs and work out which one to get, but not until NAB as I suspect we will see a raft of accessories built specially for the C300.

Another small quirk of the C300 is the cooling fan which you will hear as you shoot.

It is almost imperceptible and is not picked up by audio, it is curiously reassuring as you shoot.....for me at least.

Battery life was simply wonderful, we did a good part of the day on the smaller Canon BP-955.

Post shoot the workflow was a treat, very easy indeed but we hit a small bump in the road when the 64gb card did not show up as we were backing up, but it turns out that the card reader was not bang up to date and therefore had no idea what a 64gb card was.

Overall a great first time out for this camera, one which will feature in forthcoming adventures great and small.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Focus on Imaging 2012

I'm at Focus on Imaging nearly every year.

But this year is my busiest ever, on the Manfrotto stand AND Phase One, where I'm more normally seen.

Perhaps see you there?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Olympic Golden Greats 2 -Dick McTaggart

Dick McTaggart won a Gold medal for Lightweight Boxing at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic games and the Val Barker Trophy as the games most outstanding boxer.

In his career of 634 bouts he was only beaten 24 times.

Truly remarkable.

Lucinda and I set out to shoot environmental portrait in locations that were of significance to the Gold medalist or failing that somewhere impressive.

We really wanted to shoot Dick in Glen Coe, but that was a long, long winter drive from southern Scotland, and Dick was understandably not quite so keen on the idea.

So we started to explore alternatives and came up with the Isle of Arran, which is sometimes dubbed 'Scotland in Miniature' and had the added advantage that it was only a short ferry ride away.

Sure enough it lived up to it's beautiful reputation and we found the perfect location of Glen Rosa, which has featured in a number of fashion shoots.

But the weather played its part and seemingly jeopardised the entire shoot as the whole of the UK was hit by an icy blast and heavy snowfall.

How on earth were we going to get a man in his early 70's to this beautiful but challenging location?

Enter Kate Samson of the National Trust who very kindly offered to assist us.

Without her is would simply not have been possible.

It was around minus 14C....bloody freezing.

We drove by LandRover as far up the glen as we could and then walked for a mile or so.

So it was now a matter of walking with all the gear up the Glen, bring not to fall through frozen streams.

Lucinda was pregnant at the time so I carried most of the gear, which weighed a lot.

I was feeling quite wobbly by the time we made it to our chosen location and I'm not sure how much further I could have gone.

I make no apology for the iPhone footage, as dodgy as it is.

When we found a spot to shoot, time was of the essence and due to the extreme cold we did not hang around very long at all.

Just as long as it took to set up the Elinchrom Quadra, Gitzo tripod, tethered set up for the Phase One and we were away.

Lit with one Elinchrom Quadra from the left, modified with a Chimera medium Softbox, shot with a Phase One DF P65+ 110mm LS Schneider at F2.8

Dick did well but the cold was clearly taking its toll.

We literally shot for a few minutes and we turned tail.

The sense of relief knowing we had pulled it off without any injuries to any of the participants was quite something.

It is part of my 'Golden Greats' exhibition which starts on 5th March in the Stadium Suite of John Lewis at the Westfield centre, Stratford.

Manfrotto are sponsoring the show and I will be speaking about this project and much more besides at 'Focus' on Imaging'

I'm printing the show right now on Canon IPF printers, with their latest and greatest media.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Report from MediaStorm workshop at the Frontline Club

Like me, if you were lucky enough to attend you will have a big smile on your face and will want to put into practice some of the great technique that Brian Storm founder of MediaStorm shared with the attendees.

Amongst which were BBC employees, Channel 4 news, Reuters and various video producers from all over Europe and a pitiful number of stills photographers.

If you are into story and the here and the now, this was the workshop for you.

The stand out piece from the day, for me anyhow,was this wonderful piece.

A family is determined to give their disabled son a whole and vital life. In the midst of a great burden, one small child – with a seemingly endless supply of love – is the blessing that holds a family together. See the project at

Brian not only shared technique but also the methodology and crucially the business model.

Turn in work like this and you have no need to be poor.

If you missed this workshop, which was a steal at £100 for a freelancer, £150 for a staffer, track down Brian and keep a close eye on MediaStorm.

If you are anything like me you will learn lots from him, and do very well with your photography in these challenging times.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Golden Greats -By Drew Gardner and Lucinda Marland

On the 'Nikon D800 is no competitor to Medium Format' post last week.

I posted a portrait shot on my Phase One DF with a P65+ back.

That was part of a project Lucinda and I have been shooting for the past two years.

Titled 'Golden Greats'

We have photographed every senior British Olympic Gold medalist (Individual) it has taken us all over the world and occasionally pushed us to the limit of physical endurance as you will see....

The idea behind the project was to celebrate the often overlooked if not forgotten sporting heritage of Great Britain, of sometimes towering sporting achievements from a different generation.

The media with its obsession with youth often fails to pose the question of 'How did we get here?'

The first portrait I'm posting is of Allan Wells who won Gold in the 100m at the 1980 Moscow games.

He won in lane 8 by getting a greater proportion of his head over the finishing line than the runner who came was that close.

A friendly and affable bloke, Allan gave us some time to shoot this portrait.

We shot it on the Phase One DF P65+ with a Schneider Kreuznach LS 80mm at  f/2.8 1/200 sec, rated at 50 ISO.

If you want an idea of the detail this delivers check out this screen grab of his truing shoe and the 5p coin I used to position him

Getting medium format sharp wide open is, shall we say a can be so hard that you can think the picture out of focus.

But the rewards are worth it .....

Shooting straight into the light just to make the task in hand even more difficult...and the angels sing.

Lit with Elinchrom Ranger 1200, with a Chimera Medium soft box, on a Manfrotto stacker stand.

I will be posting extensively about this projection the run up to the exhibition which starts on 5th March in the Stadium Suite of John Lewis at the Westfield centre, Stratford.

Manfrotto are sponsoring the show and I will be speaking about this project and much more besides at 'Focus' on Imaging'

I'm printing the show right now on Canon IPF printers, with their latest and greatest media.

God knows how I have time to post this...have to dash

Friday, 17 February 2012

Left field lens release from Canon?

In the last week or so Canon released 3 lenses.

A new 'L' series 24-70mm zoom and two non 'L' series wide angle primes, a 24mm F2.8 and a 28mm F2.8

Non specialist, and affordable, wide angle primes are cinderella's when it comes to being updated so this has to be a good thing.

I'm sure the optical design will have been improved but what really makes these new lenses stand out is that they are image stabilised.

Yes, that is right they have IS.

Wide angle lenses with IS.

I really did have to do a double take when I saw the announcement.

On the face of it a curious move as they are the easiest lenses to hold at low shutter speeds, but I really do see the logic in the move.

When image stabilisation was first introduced I considered it to be neat if gimmicky party trick.

In its first releases it could also be a little unreliable too, I know quite a few photographers who had the 'L' series 70 -200 F2.8 with IS fail in the harsh conditions of the Gulf and as a result would actively seek out non IS versions of the lens.

Needless to say, the lens was updated and the problem was banished and it became a firm favourite..

I owned a Canon 100mm F2.8 for some years, and I really liked its performance,.

When the 'L' series 100mm F2.8 was introduced I could see no reason to replace it.

I then borrowed one for the 'On the fly ' work with the 'Loose Birds and Game' project.

Here is a low light quails egg at F2.8...for a dreamy look

It was sharper than the non 'L' but my word, the hybrid IS sent my hit rate at low shutter speeds through the roof.

All of a sudden it was a lens I HAD to buy.

I hear you say' Yes, but you are talking about telephoto lenses, why on a wide lens?'

IS will be useful on wide lenses for some fast moving situations, but it still seems like over kill.

Until you take into account video.

Yes, I believe that is what Canon had in mind.

Even if they do not state this on the spec sheet (difficult to think of why they omitted this key benefit)

IS lenses are good for stills but when used for video IS is a revelation.

Smooth shots are childs play...if you have not done so already, have a go, it makes a big difference.

Baffling why they did not put it on the new 24-70mm.

In fact I would like to see it on many more EF lenses too.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The death of Newspapers

Highly respected stills and video shooter Dan Chung was interviewed by 'DP Review' this week and he said he 'Does not really see a future in photojournalism as a way of making a living'

North Korea's Military parade in Slow Motion from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

And I do have to say that I agree with him on this and much else he has to say in the interview.

How did we arrive at this point?

Firstly newspapers have simply not got a handle on the state of the market and how they are going to survive, and I will return to this point later on in this post.

Secondly Photographers employed by newspapers in the UK have been all too slow to adopt new technology, namely video.

Video has been embraced by UK newspaper photographers with the same enthusiasm as one would greet a rabid leper.

A lot of extra work(true), a lack of understanding of editing and audio (understandable) and little interest or  enthusiasm for the brave new world that is here whether we like it not.

When video was first foisted upon newspapers in the early days of DSLR video, there was the possibility of them shooting it, indeed some did, with notable moments of success.

But the truth be told very few of them WANTED to take on a ton of extra work for seemingly no reward for their trouble.

In time the powers that be got the idea that picture desks and picture editors might not be the best people to run with this great opportunity.

On the whole neither picture editors or photographers put up much of a fight to hang onto this important stake in their own future.

In-fact a collective sigh of relief could be heard, that they no longer had to try to grapple with producing content that their masters simply did not and mostly still do not know what to do with.

It that moment not only was the battle for photographers jobs lost, but so was the war.

Video has been almost universally been handed over to the growing 'online' department, who commission video by non photographers which often does not have quite the look or feel as one might hope for.

And this has not just happen on one paper but many.

As one well known newspaper photographer told me 'they will always need profile pieces of people talking about their pensions etc, so I will be ok'  I thought, but did not say, 'You will be OK until they start asking these people to take photos on their  phones and send them in with the story, the quality will be ropey but accountants don't care about that, they just look at the bottom line'

So, by letting video go photographers have lost a stake in the future, their voice and sooner or later their jobs.

Harsh but true.

Another photographer I know who works for a major Sunday broadsheet newspaper was sent away on a weekend long course to be taught FCP 7, at the paper,s expense.

Subsequently he never used the software ever, not once.

Turkeys voting for Christmas anyone?

But it is not really the photographers' fault.

The vast majority of the time if a British newspaper gets a good and interesting video, they simply do not know what to do with it, or the editor has no interest at all.

So it is disregarded, and forgotten.

Even 'The Guardian' who is the rightly respected market leader in this area does not have a full handle on what to do with video.

Yes, they sometimes (not often enough) feature some very good video work by the likes of Dan but what do they do with it?

Give it they lose hundreds of thousands of pounds and hundreds if not thousands of readers every week.

Content could be better linked to advertising but somehow it isn't.

News corp are trying the pay site model right no, and I'm not sure how popular that is, nor am I convinced that there is enough unique high quality video content on their sites.

Imagine as a subscriber to the Guardian and Observer you knew that your favourite photographer/film maker was making a couple of cool movies a week, and you could only get them on the iPad edition of the paper  would you be inclined to pay for the app?

I think so.

It is all about unique content, keeping that content interesting and relevant.

The only way newspapers are going to survive is if they TRULY( and not just make noises that they are) embrace the technology around them, and start to think outside of the box, perhaps becoming a lifestyle portal for readers who they know share their values.

If they carry on the way they are, they are facing oblivion.

Magazines are not so far behind them either....

I offered so very relevant footage to a women's magazine online department only to be told, that is one for the editorial department and when contacted them they said it was down to the online department.

So the 'readers' of the iPad edition never got to see it just because no one could quite be bothered.

Having hundred of thousands or even millions of people reaching into their pocket and PAY for a newspaper is a too potent a drug to give up on..... so they have difficulty accepting that within a generation a newspaper buying public will largely be a thing of the past.

Storm in London

There are many visionaries.

But not many who can back their visions with actions.

Brian Storm is one of those.

I met Brian when he was a high flier at Corbis, I was struck by his boundless passion for photography and his amazing 'can do' approach, this was a man I wanted to do business with.

He left Corbis suddenly, and unexpectedly.

I really have no idea where Corbis is  in the world of stock but you tend to hear the word 'Getty' more than Corbis these days

When the history books are written I'm prepared to wager that the day Brian left will be spoken of a watershed moment for the company.

To be honest I don't really think they have recovered from losing him.

He really is that significant.


Well, look at his website and you will see what I mean.

Brian is cutting edge and he had one eye on the future which has become the present.

Mediastorm is all about telling stories with mixed media, you are shooting great images, whey not record some audio at the same time which also tells the story?

Or even mix video's and stills?

Sit back and enjoy some of the world's best photography presented in a contemporary way which allows a whole new audience to share the experience.

Based on 14 trips to Afghanistan between 1994 and 2010, A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan is the work of photojournalist Seamus Murphy. His work chronicles a people caught time and again in political turmoil, struggling to find their way. See the project at

Surviving the Peace takes an intimate look at the impact of unexploded bombs left over from the Vietnam war in Laos and profiles the dangerous, yet life saving work, that MAG has undertaken in the country. See the project at

For the story to be told and a truth to be told.

It is not all about the art either.

Presenting your work in this manner makes you relevant to clients.

Clients who will pay.

Every-time I listen to Brian I learn.

A lot.

On Monday 20th February Brian has a workshop at the 'Frontline Club' in London.

I'm not sure if there are any places left, it cost only £100.00 for the day if you are freelance.

It is a bargain.

If I can get through this mountain of work I will see you there.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Passing of one of my very best friends

I meet lots of people.

But few of those leave a lasting and indelible mark on your life.

Clive Langford Mycock was one those truly very special people.

A dear, dear friend.

A giant of a man in every sense of the word, 6 feet 7 tall I think.

With a big heart and a generosity of spirit, even if some times he hid it, it was always there.

I would spend many hours with Clive cooking up with all sorts of crazy plans.

He was always open for a photographic adventure.

When I worked on the Sunday Telegraph, I was tasked with coming up with a photo to illustrate the snow which blanketed much of the UK around Christmas 2001.

We went up onto his farm in the beautiful Staffordshire moorland and rescued a sheep which was in a spot of bother, along with his favourite sheep dog 'Pip'

Appearances can be deceptive for the sheep was way heavier than it looked, so a testament to this mountain of a man's amazing strength.

It made the front page of the paper.

He was one of the most intelligent and worldly wise men I have ever had the privilege to have known.

So often he was the voice of the countryside, making many an appearance on the BBC, speaking up on all matters rural.

The world is smaller, quieter and less colourful without him.

I can't really find any more words right now.

Rest in Peace my friend.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Why the Nikon D800 is not a medium format competitor

Judging by the fact that Nikon has closed preorders for the D800 it would seem they have a hit on their hands.

Interesting to note this even though Canon called an end to the megapixel 'arms race' with the Canon 1D-X which has 'only' 18 megapixels and yet replaces the 1D MKIV and the 1DS MKIII.

This is particularly interesting as Canon make their own CMOS sensors and are therefore able to call do more or less what they want in terms of specification, not relying on third party sensor manufacturers.

So there must be something in it, right?

Infact when the eagerly awaited Canon 5D MKIII(if indeed it is going to be called that)is launched I'm prepared to wager that it will have a similar number of pixels to the MkII, no I don't have any insider knowledge, but the 1DX does certainly suggest that.

But the whole Canon v's Nikon thing is not the Point of this post.

It has more to do with some claims made that the D800 will be a competitor to medium format.

I recall in some early reports of the excellent in its day Canon 1DS MKIII that some people were giving up on medium format....well some people may have but it didn't quite work out that way did it?

The D800 may have a lot of pixels but I don't believe it is a true medium format competitor.


1. Physical sensor size of medium format gives the most wonderful depth of field, if you enjoy a full frame sensor, imagine how your images would look if the sensor was bigger?

Here is a portrait I will be talking about more in the next few weeks, for reasons that will become clear

I shot this on the Phase One DF and P65+ with the Schneider 110mm LS lens at F2.8, full frame, un-cropped.

2. Dynamic range? 12 stops of full fat goodness. Do I NEED it? Not always, but it fits so beautifully in with my analogy of the Phase One being the 'ultimate blank canvas' it has the ability to record what is in your mind better than anything else.

3. 16 Bit colour capture. DSLR's capture in 14 bit, 14 to 16bit not a big gap, right?


14 bit capture has 16,384 possible values for each colour channel.

16 bit capture has 65,536 possible values for each colour channel.

Quite a difference.

4. Aspect Ratio

I find the aspect ratio of 35mm does not suit my creative shoots nor indeed my really big commercial shoots

It is too wide, and I often end up cropping one or another of the ends off the shot.

As Nikon seem to have done in their D800 brochure, rather proving my point.

5. Speed.

By it's very nature medium format is not, nor has it ever been a speed king.

You have to slow down, think.

And consider.

When that happens the quality of my work just goes up.

It's when one adds all of these qualities together that you end up with images that are removed frm anything that a DSLR can produce, no matter how many megapixels it has.

The Nikon D800 is going to be a very good camera, but don't for a moment think it is going to challenge or replace medium format.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Canon Japan 1D X Sample images - A rare rant on the web from Drew

Canon Japan have published a range of sample stills from the Canon 1D-X, and very promising they look too.

They go a good way to substantiate Canon's claim of less pixels of a better quality being the way to go with DSLR's.

On the same site though there is a sample video titled 'Heart beat' which I have quite a lot more to say about.

My default position on this blog is to applaud and encourage creativity, as we all(myself included)tend to talk about photography more than shoot it.

'Heart Beat' is a clever way of showing the stills AND video capabilities of Canon's undoubtedly excellent new offering.

A great idea is one thing but good execution is another.

The video content of 'Heart Beat' is good, but the stills content of the video......oh my word.

Once again I do not doubt the quality or the excellence of the Canon 1D-X, but how on earth some of these stills ended up in this video beggars belief.

I take bad shots.


But they end up on the cutting room floor not in the video.

Not in a video extolling the virtues of a camera.

Like every great act of humanity photography happens in the brain, and the camera is just a tool to express that idea.

Perhaps it's me being a grouch (this is my second day in bed with man flu) but have a look yourself and let me know if you feel I have been unfair.


Rant over

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A star turn from the Bui brothers

I know that in all probability this Vimeo/Nikon beginners guide for shooting video on your DSLR is not aimed at you.

But perhaps someone in you circle of friends or family might find it useful.

Either way I still find it disappointing how few people actually shoot video with their DSLR and anything that can change that, even at a beginners level must surely be welcomed.

Do More with Your DSLR // Trailer from Vimeo Video School on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

'A Holiday in Cambodia' or how tried to kick start my career - Part 2

Lying in my hotel bed, I started to imagine what it would be like to go home beaten, broke and having to face my colleagues and telling them I had gambled and lost was one of the darkest nights of the soul I have ever faced.

To lose a love is hard, but to lose one's dreams is difficult to recover from.

What to do?

All sorts of crazy options ran through my head and I drifted off into a somewhat troubled sleep.

It was the middle of the night.

The phone rang.

I picked it up, somewhat dazed.

It was difficult to believe but it was the picture desk of 'The Sunday Correspondent' newspaper.

'Oh hi Drew, we have a journalist over there who is trying to get into Cambodia, would you like to meet up with her?'

I really could not grasp it but needless to say I said 'yes'

Morning came and after a memorable tuk-tuk ride I met journalist Amanda Mitcheson on the other side of the city.

Amanda was a talented, clever, very experienced and tolerant journalist, the tolerant part was particularly important as she had to cope with possibly the greenest photographer in the history of journalism.

She and I had to come up with a game plan to get into Cambodia.

Simple, right?


Firstly, we needed a journalists visa from the Cambodian embassy and there was no embassy in Bangkok, as Cambodia was not formally recognised by the West and Western aligned countries, the nearest embassy was in Laos, so we had to get a tourist visa for Laos, to cross the Mekong river as tourists and apply for a Cambodian tourist visa in Vientienne (as they did not issue journalists visas) and on arrival in Phnom Penh the plan was to throw ourselves on the mercy of immigration in Cambodia and declare ourselves as journalists, we knew this was possible but it was rather a hit and miss affair by all accounts. (Don't try this at home folks, I tried this in Mozambique and was deported straight away....)

It was a real education for me in so many ways, the labyrinthine task of getting visas took many days and as I'm always saying in my blog just goes to show that the photography is the easiest part in many ways.

So after a somewhat epic journey to Laos to pick up our tourist visas we set off for Cambodia, not knowing what awaited us on arrival.

We were met by smiling officials, it was almost like they knew we were coming but perhaps that was just my paranoia, I do recall that another couple of people on our flight were not so lucky and were turned straight back.

We were taken straight to the ministry of the interior who gave us a minder who was never very far from us at all.

Cambodia may have been liberated from the brutal Khmer Rouge regime but it was a country that had a long way to go, with very few cars and sporadic electricity.

But to say a civil war was raging, with the remnants of the Khmer Rouge being supported by the West (difficult to believe but true) the people were open and remarkably friendly.

On the first day we were shown the train which was frequently attacked with mines and RPG's by the KPNLF and Khmer Rouge insurgents.

I took this shot from the roof of the train as it pulled out of town.
Shot with a Canon F1N with a 20mm F2.8 on Ilford HP5 (I think)
I had a huge bundle of Cambodian money (Riels) stolen from me while I was on the train, it nearly filled the camera bag, really it did. I was gutted until I realised it was worth less than $50 dollars....hyper inflation has its bonuses.

The minder actually was pretty good at taking us around to all sorts of things that you would think would be out of bounds, such as army training camps and various areas which you would think would be considered as sensitive.

At the end of the day though I suppose it was about conveying their message to the outside world.

I shot this rather interesting portrait of an Army conscript during his lunch break who really started to fool around for the camera, to the great amusement of his mates.

The impact of the war on the rural communities was hard stuff.

Lots of injuries from land mines and gunshot wounds from exchanges between the sides.

Seeing the impact of war on innocent bystanders for the first time left a lasting impression on me.

Th government took us on a flight to the besieged town of Battambang, to prove that they were firmly in control. The Russian pilots had to make a very interesting approach over the mountains so we avoided ground fire. That banished any fear of flying, forever.

One thing to remember, it was well and truly the days of film, so 36 exposures on a roll and what on earth to do with all those shot rolls? Leave them in the hotel? Put them in a camera bag that could get stolen? I would keep them in the pockets of my combat trousers, looking like a circus clown.

During the two weeks on the ground in Cambodia I could see the spectre of my day job looming on the horizon, and I wondered how on earth I  was going to fit back in shooting Golden Weddings and kids parties.

As I left Cambodia for Bangkok I vowed to return, never having seen some of the great sights of the country like Ankor Wat but so far have not, it would be great to see the country now, though I hear progress has swept away much of what I saw.

On our return to the safety of Thailand,we had a chance to view the refugee camps on the Thai side of the border where the KPNLF were operating from. But it would mean missing my flight home to life on the local paper, needless to say I came up with some half baked excuse which the paper did not buy and headed off to the refugee camps where I shot this pic of Cambodian kids kick boxing, while their dads were over the border fighting the very people whom I had befriended in Cambodia.

That is the thing with photojournalism, it enables you to live many lives which are not actually yours.

All too soon my time was up and I had to return and face the music, I had returned to my day job a whole week late.

I brought back a ton of fake Rolex watches for my workmates who had done their very best to cover for me and my unauthorised one week extra holiday.

I nearly pulled it off too, but one person ratted on me and the game was up.

I was called into see the Editor who was understandably not quite so keen on my approach.

He threatened to fire me, but before he could I handed in my notice and quit.

There and then.

You see on my return to London I was called in by 'The Sunday Correspondent' Picture Editor Michael Cranmer who told me that my pictures were so well received they were running a whole page on them, and more besides.

He then broke the news to me that the safe pair of hands who he had previously chosen for the job had quit, and he asked me if I would like to fill his shoes.

I have no need to tell you what the answer was.

And that is how I got into the world of British broadsheet national newspapers which made me much of who I am today.

As a footnote I was at a party a few weeks after my return and another photographer said 'I was just lucky' he had been to Cambodia and the papers did not run with his stuff.

It was luck, yes.

But you make your own luck.

As my good friend Andy Morgan who became a colleague on the 'Sunday Correspondent' would often say 'Fortune favours the brave'.

Part 3 to follow in the future.....

Monday, 6 February 2012

'A Holiday in Cambodia' or how tried to kick start my career - Part 1

I had worked on the local papers since 1979, officially employed at the age of 16 as junior photographer on the Spalding Guardian, though I had worked there for a year before in the summer holidays and at weekends, getting around on my bicycle with a Rollieflex, before going back to the studio to shoot flat copies on a Speedgraphic.

Me in my 20's 

God it makes me sound old.

The weekly newspaper was a great place to learn but I yearned for bigger and better things, so when I was 25 (I think?) I landed a job with the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph in Kettering.

Not exactly the big city but it suited me at the time.

The local papers were a fantastic place to learn about photography news but more than anything it taught me about people.

I made every kind of mistake you can make in a job without getting fired, god knows how I didn't.

My photography was variable to say the least and my people skills were.....well lets just say I was young and the editors phone rang a coupe of times with helpful and illuminating comments from members of the public after I had paid them a visit......

A great experience that I would not trade for anything.

Just don't ask me to go back.

The excitement of working in a town of 60,000 at the Northants ET began to wane after a while and I decided I wanted more.

I was lucky enough to work alongside some very talented photographers, John Robertson was notable amongst these in that we would 'compete' with one another to see who could get a photograph in the National Newspapers first.( Our contract with the local allowed us to do this, not because they welcomed the idea but because I don't think they thought any of us would actually do it..)

I seem to recall that John was the first of us to score a hit, he got a picture in 'The Guardian'

Not to be beaten I managed to get a photo or two in 'The Independent'

Here is one I have managed to dig out from 1988, where I went out with the British divers who were rescuing seal afflicted by a canine virus.
I shot this with a Canon F1N with 200mm F2.8 on Ilford HP5 (I think??)

But my moment of 'glory' came when I went to the Isle of Harris where my friend Steve McComb was working as a postman and I photographed him walking to deliver the post to the last village in the UK without a road during the Mail strike, I suppose you could call him a strike breaker but the only picket line was some black face sheep which didn't seem too bothered about pay, conditions or pensions.

The photo made 6 columns on the front page of 'The Independent'

I had arrived (or thought I had)

I now had the taste for travel, (to Scotland), and I was starting to live the dream.

Nothing was going to stop me now.

I heard that a new Sunday broadsheet quality newspaper 'The Sunday Correspondent' was going to opening, and I figured that it would benefit from my considerable local newspaper experience and that they should employ me...

So I waited until they had appointed a Picture Editor, in the shape of respected former Sunday Times picture editor Michael Cranmer.

I then subjected him to a bombardment of letters and phone calls until he gave me an interview.

Remarkably my sheer enthusiasm won him over and I was shortlisted for one of the contracts on the paper.

But like a minor team's magical FA cup run, the dream had to end and so it was that sanity prevailed and he gave the job to a much more established and respected name.

It was a blow but the last thing to do was to face up to defeat and reality.

So I decided I needed to photograph a war.

Whilst having a day job on the local newspaper.

I had a fascination with Cambodia ever since reading John Pilger's account of the killing fields, and how the world stood by.

The Khmer Rouge had been ousted by the Vietnamese, leaving a rather interesting situation of the bad guys (in the West's eyes at least) putting an end to mass genocide whilst they stood idly by.

I wanted to experience something amazing and tell the world about it.

So, I booked a three week holiday.

Got on a 23 hour Aeroflot flight to Bangkok, where in the process my fear of flying was replaced by an aversion of truly awful airline food.

Upon landing I checked into a hotel and I phoned the 'Sunday Correspondent' spoke to the picture desk and told them I was in South East Asia and I was available for work (I had told them I was going and they made encouraging noises but I don't think they thought I would actually go through with it)

'Erm Great......(Very long embarrassed pause) we will let you know if anything comes up'.

It was then I faced the true gravity of the situation.

I had sold my car to finance the trip, I was totally out of my depth, I had no plan, I was alone a long, long way from home and at this rate the money would run out in a few days.

What on earth was I going to do?

Find out in Part 2.

Zack Arias - Another Phase One Convert

2012 looks like it could be a very interesting year- in terms of what some of the more notable names on the web are shooting with.

Firstly, David Hobby announced that he had bought a Phase One, and rather eloquently put his case forward as to why he made this choice.

Now, another big name on the web Zack Arias has chosen a Phase One, this time in the shape of the cutting edge IQ140.


Well, if you read his blog you will see he shares many of the reasons that David Hobby does.

Image Quality, Sync Speed, Slowing Down and 'That Look', amongst others.

Image quality is on a higher plane from anything else, without doubt in my mind and you can reach the heady heights of 1/1600 Sec sync speed with big flash which is unparalleled but I want to take a closer look at the two later points, Slowing Down and 'That Look'

'That Look' is rather difficult to put ones finger on but it is a massive factor for me. I believe that it is a culmination of sheer physical sensor size, dynamic range, 16 bit capture, optics.

There are other factors too, Zack does allude to it but I believe sitters sometimes do behave differently when in front of a medium format camera, even the most non camera aware sitter is often aware that this camera is different.

So, a sense of occasion and the formats sheer difference should be overlooked as in my opinion they are a factor.

Slowing down is such a big deal.

When you slow down you think, when I slow down my attention to detail is greatly enhanced, which makes a massive difference to the final shot.

Great photography happens in the brain.

At the end of this month I have a major exhibition (more details very soon.....), and not one of the prints are  smaller than a meter along the longest edge.

I would not consider anything else other than a Phase One for this.

The photograph of Shala at the top of this blog, taken at the excellent 'Nordlandsdagarna' in Sweden where I was invited to speak at last year, is shot on a (Borrowed) Phase One IQ 180 (and other than downsized is untouched)

The excellent IQ180 is not cheap, by any stretch of the imagination.

But take a look at David Hobby's approach, he bought a Phase One P25+, he wanted the big sensor and 16bit capture to give his photographs 'That Look'

I shot my 'Alice' series entirely on the Phase One P25.

These backs are available secondhand at very modest prices, if you want a foot on the ladder you could do much, much worse.......

Friday, 3 February 2012

The Raven

I'm going to finish the week with an adventure.

While I had the Phase One Achromatic+ back on loan I decided to do an animal shoot.

I have long had a fascination for Ravens(Corvus corax), the largest member of the Crow family

They crop up not only in the bible but also in Norse mythology, where Odin had two Ravens, one called 'Thought', the other 'Memory'

Ravens are incredibly intelligent, reputed and can even be taught to talk...Really!

But where to find a Raven?

I got in touch with Vanessa Blackburn at Corvidaid, a charity which cares for injured members of the Crow family.

She was more than happy to help but she was not sure how 'Mavis' the Raven would fare, as this was her first big moment as a 'star'

Whats more how would we get her to the location?

Watch the video and see what happened.

We were working right next to a road which had more traffic than we had anticipated, but the location was worth the juggling act, though the warning triangle did come in useful, bear this little trick in mind if you are going to try something like this, for the sake of safety.

I lit the shot with a single Elinchrom Quadra, bare bulb, triggered by Skyport (Lithium Ion batteries for this versatile flash are on the way I hear....)

Without any form of modification it gave off just enough light to give the stark look I was looking for.

The 55mm Schneider lens, with its leaf shutter, was a dream and perfect for the shot, enabling me to get just the right level of ambient light to flash ratio.

It was filtered with a Lee 87 Infra-Red filter which means the only thing hitting that sensor is infra red light(I had the holder on upside down just for good measure.

Interesting to who uses this great filter system, everyone from Joey Lawerence to Diego Huerta.

But this of course means you cannot see anything through the camera which means my tethered set up, made from Manfrotto bits and pieces was the tool for the job.

In case you missed it I did a video for the Manfrotto School of Excellence which explains the set up in detail

All in all it went very well, though if anything the BTS video(shot on the ultimate BTS camera diminutive but super quality Canon XF100) perhaps makes it look easier than it was.....

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Just what does it take to shoot 31k portraits?

You may recall I blogged about Diego Huerta's quite brilliant and heartfelt project to photograph '31K Portraits for peace'

The genius of it is it was more about the sheer quality AND quantity.

Check the website out and find your favourite.

But what does it take to shoot 31k projects in a year?

Well, apart from a ton of determination the right gear.

Diego has posted this excellent photo description of all the gear he used.

Would it have been my pick of gear? Well not exactly but darned close.

I was truly inspired by the sheer effectiveness of his set up after shooting an image for 31k in my back yard, it was a multi handed operation which was not entirely successful, though the pic did work out well in the end.

Have a good look at his set up and I would be very interested to hear how your setup would differ.

In the meantime , let's raise four glasses to this fine human being and all he has done with his remarkable project.

My Ten tips for Great food photography.

I was fortunate enough to work on a now multi award nominated food book 'Loose Birds and Game' by Andrew Pern multi award winning chef and co-owner of 'The Star inn'

It was a truly mammoth undertaking, which has opened many doors for me in the world of food and drink, and bringing in a regular amount of work.

I like to think I picked up a couple of cooking tips along the way too.

Its worth bearing in mind if you have an interest in food photography that the self publishing revolution means there will doubtless be some good work to be picked up.

But how to go about it?

Food photography has more associated folklore than any other field of photography with stories of petrol being poured on food to 'give it the right sheen', a smouldering sanitary product placed user food to keep it warm and moist, hollowing out mass produced fish fingers and substituting it with a fine Cod fillet, not cooking the food at all and just using a blow torch, and of course the realms of using things that look like food which are not intact food at all.

All of these are reputed to be true, some I doubt, but a couple I know are.....I wonder if you can spot them?

But lets be honest here, there are two different types of food photography, one where you have a team, including a food stylist, who's services can be worth their weight in gold, the other kind a more 'real word approach, rather like the excellent series 'Heston's Feasts' on Channel 4, where a more real world aesthetic take precedence (I wonder what they filmed it on? some shots had a DSLR look to them but I suppose it could have been a Sony F3, though it would have been a bit unwieldy in a kitchen)

So this is post is not for you if you are about to shoot a major food campaign, it is aimed ay the smart one man shooter who has been asked to undertake a food photography project for the first time.

1. As I so very often say 'Shoot what you Love, Love what you shoot' if you have no interest in food at all and you try to convince the client you do, despite your lack of experience you are playing with fire. If you have no interest at all consider declining the assignment.

2. Try to get some sort of idea of what dishes/food you will be photographing, go away and research what it SHOULD look like, if cooked and shot well, this will give you some sort of target to aim for. Ask the client what sort of food photography he likes, will it be something like Jamie Oliver's photographer David Loftus? Or do they like the very clever and different food photography that one sees in Pret A Manger?

3. Work closely with the chef who is preparing the dish, perhaps spend time with them as they cook the dish for you, building great relationships is all
 This too will give you an idea of what the food should in fact look like and make the most of the that time to come up with a plan of how you both think it should look. Yes, have some sort of game plan, even if you don't stick to it.

4. You will need some sort of space, no matter how small, so work out where you are going to shoot it. It should be close to, or in-fact IN the kitchen for reasons I will come to shortly. And it should be near a window....

5. The cornerstone of good food photography is to shoot with natural light. Natural light is just that, and it has a look and feel which is very difficult to achieve by other means. You can, and I have shot with flash but the nuances of lighting food are not to be taken lightly. Lighting with natural light with a series of homemade reflectors to add or subtract light from areas of a dish will take you a long way. Make sure there are no artificial light sources anywhere even close, or at least that they absolutely cannot influence your dish, imagine the shadow areas of your beautiful dish filled in with the green of a fluorescent or the yellow of a warm plate....

If you have never ever used a grey card in your life, this it the time to start using one, at regular intervals throughout the shoot too. You know that that colours of the food are spot on

6. Timing. This is the big one that no-one talks about. It does not matter about anything else if you keep hot food hanging around on a plate, everything you will have done will be for nothing.
The food will flag, sag and the fat and juices will congeal and no matter what you do it will not look right.
Sometimes you will have minutes, sometimes only seconds.
When we shot the Gull's egg I reckon we had under 60 seconds to get the egg yolk running just right before it congealed. We shot six gull's edges which cost £80.00 from Harrods and only one shot worked out. Gulls edges are so delicate, cutting the top off ruined many and then we over cooked some too.
I'm very pleased with this shot though.

7. Find the way in to the dish, don't be afford of moving the plate around, there really is no hard and fast rule, the view point might look good from overhead but it really is down to you to move the camera around and find the 'right angle' but be aware that if you have shot all the dishes from overhead and you choose to shoot one at just below eye level it might look out of place.

8. Keep it simple. Don't go for the overcomplicated look. It can look fussy and down right messy.
With food photography, less really is more, I'm a big exponent of the simple white plate.

9.Invest in a good quality tripod and precise head. I favour a Gitzo, with the brilliant Manfrotto 405 geared head, perfect for food photography with its precise adjustments (the Manfrotto 410 is much cheaper but nowhere near as good ), if you are shooting for a more depth of field you will be using a slow shutter speed if you are going for long exposures it is advisable to lock the mirror up and, you would be amazed at the amount of vibration mirror bounce can cause.

My well used 405...

10. Get a good macro lens. In my opinion there is simply no substitute for a really good prime lens for food photography. I shoot with Phase One and Canon and I have a macro lens for both.

The 120mm F4 Phase One Macro lens was used for all the plated dishes in 'Loose Birds and Game' while my Canon 'L'series 100mm F2.8 Macro with its very handy hybrid IS system was used for detail shots on the fly in the kitchen.

I reckon both of these lenses are some of the sharpest currently available anywhere.

So there you have it, if you would like to see the fruits of this project I have a limited number of books at a very special price available thorough my blog.

A mere £15.99 plus postage for a seasonal taste of the countryside.

I'm considering doing free webinar about food photography, if there is appetite for one, do let me know.