Monday, 8 April 2013

Learning how to light with The Worlds Youngest King

Lighting was not always my 'thing'

For the first half of my career (back in the days of film) I never really went near a light.

It was only when I started to see the work of a tiny number of my peers that I started to realise that there was something in it.

My first forays into lighting were erm, pretty variable.

And not in a good way.

Superb photographer and good friend of mine Graham Trott, who was doing rather well at the lighting thing let me in on his set up.

He told me he used Norman 400b flash units with a Chimera Medium softbox.

Armed with this info I duly went out and bought the combo.

And so it began, that was back in early 90's

When I was working on the Sunday Telegraph newspaper I found out about this remarkable story, about the worlds youngest king, Oyo IV of Toro kingdom in Uganda, who went to school in the UK,where he was treated like just another kid, but was being crowned back in Uganda at a ceremony called the empango and the paper having had their fill of it, I pitched it to Life magazine who commissioned me to shoot the story, I worked with my partner and journalist Clare Pillinger on the project.

This remains one of my most special and treasured assignments, the type of adventure I yearned for when I was a photojournalist.

Truly exotic in every way.

If you have even half a chance to go to Uganda I strongly suggest you take it, for it is a vibrant and wonderful country, with a very friendly population and where most of the countryside is an emerald green which you will not quite see anywhere else due to its equatorial location.

I gather quite a bit has changed since I was there though.

Back in the day it was case of hiring a Land Rover and driving 200 miles up country to Fort Portal on some of the most challenging roads I have ever driven, a quagmire of deep ruts in places which would have your heart in your mouth for many an hour.

I was just watching the Africa special on 'Top Gear' when they were driving through Uganda and some of the roads were truly staggering for their billiard table like smoothness, tarmac seems to have taken the place of mud, Africa is a continent undergoing massive changes, for the better I hope.

The empango was a complex ceremony and just like any news story it was a matter of working out where to be at exactly the right moment.

I hope these shots give some sort idea of what the ceremony was like.

The Royal family could not have been more welcoming and accommodating, having photographed the family in the UK I had formed a friendship with them.

The empango was a complex ceremony and just like any news story it was a matter of working out where to be at exactly the right moment.

I knew this spectacular building, the old palace which was burned out by the troops of Idi Amin, would play a key role in the shoot.

When covering an important event alway look for a vantage point where you can set the scene from, and this was a gift.

I shot these images from the rooftop, while making sure I did not get stuck up there, preventing me from shooting on the ground.

I shot a ton of images which told the story of the ceremony quite well, I thought.

But I did not have THAT one shot which would hold the piece and potentially make a cover.

Due to the intense and busy nature of the ceremony there was limited opportunity to do something special.

But find time the family did, and I shot this image at the back of the palace as the sun set over the mountains of the moon.

I have to admit I was struggling for a shot until King Oyo IV until he readjusted his crown and I caught this moment.

No EXIF to refer back to so this will be from my memory, but it was shot at a super slow shutter speed (a technique I continue to use) no faster than a 15th sec on my Canon Eos-1, on a 'L' series 70-200mm, stopped down a fair bit (it looks like F8 ish to me)

My one Norman 400B flash was place off to camera right, modified with a Chimera Medium softbox.

The light is long gone (replaced by the excellent Elinchrom Quadra) - gave it away on this blog in fact.

The softbox is another story.

I'm still using it, and though it is very, very dog eared and has been drenched in heavy rain (a few times) blown off a hill side, urinated on by a possessive tom cat(not mine, but a subjects, I hasten to add..), run over by a car, fallen out of a tree and fallen over dozens of times it is still crisp white.

It is one of those quality things, in terms of quality of light and build, and I cannot recommend Chimera highly enough.

You get what you pay for, and I would not use any other kind of soft box.

Did I really know what I was doing with lights back then ? Not really, but I found that getting hands on with a single light and just moving it round a little taught me more about lighting than I ever learned in a seminar.

What of King Oyo IV and his family? It is a long time since I have been directly in touch but I hear all is well with them and I hope to return one day to visit them.

I wonder if I ever shall?


ohnostudio said...

Drew, thanks for the story. That crown shot is wonderful. I'll bet that when you shot it, you got "that feeling" - you knew that was it. That would be interesting to talk about - that feeling - with no LCD to look at.

If that old softbox of yours could talk, I'll bet it would have some fun stories to tell ;-)

Drew Gardner said...

Hi Libby,

Indeed it gave me 'that feeling' you only got with film.

Knowing that you saw the moment, but not knowing if you were technically on top of your game to actually to have captured it.



Good old Clive said...

Enjoyed looking through these photographs, a bit of a nostalgia trip having lived in Kenya for 3 years many moons ago.
Also enjoyed your interview/chat with Frank Doorhof, tons of useful info, thank you.

Drew Gardner said...

Thanks Clive

I Love Africa.

You beat me to it on my chat with Frank.

Was saving it for today.

My 'new' blog routine is to post on a Monday and Friday.