Saturday 27 December 2008

Ring Flash with a twist

Whenever I'm giving demonstrations at shows like 'Photokina' I tend to use ring flash.

For couple of reasons.

It gives the audience a clear view, uninterrupted by softboxes or umbrellas.

It also avoids having to reset the lights every time you take to the stage as another shooter is bound to have changed just about everything,with ring flash you have just one light to consider, it gives cool high fashion look too.

It can look a bit 'samey' though.

While we were setting up the show we had shot some 'straight' test shots which were fine (always get the safety shot in the bag first!)

Safety shot mission accomplished

I thought it would be interesting to try using the Profoto ring flash off camera.

On the floor

Yes, that's right on the floor, at 45 degrees to the model

I did it as a bit of fun, but I was knocked out by just how funky it looked

Still preserving a harsh but wrapped round look, with THAT shadow

I will be using this trick again, at shows and on 'real' shoots

Breaking the rules is fun!

Tuesday 16 December 2008

The Forest

Doom and gloom seems to everywhere one looks these days, world on the brink of an economic abyss and yet......and yet I cannot recall EVER feeling more optimistic and excited.

Why? Well I must admit I cannot really quite put my finger on it but the phone seems to be ringing off the wall these days with offers of more and more exciting projects

My work seems to be reaching a wider and more appreciative audience.

Interestingly I put this down to a couple of things

1. keeping the faith in your work

2. Making your dreams come true in Photographs, no matter how hard and painful it maybe

A little while ago I came up with the idea of one of my current projects ' The Forest'

It is a little too early to give away all of the goods behind the concept but it is based on beauty and how we respond to our environment

It is all self financed too

Every penny

Now I'm not loaded but I believe in chasing my visions, my dreams

To quote from the Great movie 'Ed Wood' starring Johnny Depp


Mr. Welles, is it all worth it?


It is when it works.
You know the one film of mine I can
stand to watch? "Kane." The studio
hated it... but they didn't get to
touch a frame.
(he smiles warmly)
Ed, visions are worth fighting for.
Why spend your life making someone
else's dreams?

I often think of this when I feel at a low ebb

Here is my favorite image(so far!)from the series

Titled 'Europa'

I had the idea sometime ago and I just could not bring all of the strands together to make it work

Small things like the Water Buffalo, Location ,Model etc.....

Essentially all in camera too (apart from a little tidying up, more of which in the DVD)

More than a photo fairy or two on set that day, we were blessed with perfect weather and clear skies which meant that I could rely on the sun do do its magic with 'my' smoke

I'm still using 4 strategically placed Elinchrom Ranger packs

Two for the model and buffalo,two for the forest scene to balance with the ambient light

I hope to be sharing all of this on a DVD which I will be releasing early 2009.

We ALL moan about not having the opportunities or the budget to make great photographs

Go create, enjoy and remember why you became a photographer in the first place

Tuesday 9 December 2008

'Photo Fairies' (Happy Accidents Episode 2)

I just remembered another episode from the 'Photo Fairies' files

I was commissioned to shoot Stephen Clark who holds the Guinness World Record for the Fastest Pumpkin carving

We photographed him on a Pumpkin farm in New York state

Once again it took an age getting all of the pumpkins into position and sorting the lighting out

We placed a strobe in each pumpkin head(as we simply did not have enough strobes we locked the camera down and did this in layers) lighting Stephen with an Elinchrom Ranger inside an Elinchrom Octor mounted on a boom, with two more Rangers shooting a loooooooong way back giving good cross lighting into the sea of pumpkins,triggered by Pocket Wizards

Shot at dusk so I could underexpose the ambient by just over a stop

On a Canon 1ds with 24 to 70 mm L series lens at 160TH sec F9

So where is the 'happy accident'?

Look closely to the right of the image and you will see it.

A cat crept into the shot (Not black, but you can't have everything!)

The client was not very keen on it but it is my favorite shot

‘Photo Fairies’

A couple of years ago when I was lecturing at the Maine Media Workshops I asked one of the students, Jenna Stoltzfus, how she achieved a really groovy effect in one of her pics.

She paused before answering.

In the end she replied ‘Well it is the photo fairies’

When I asked her to explain she elaborated that it was her expression for those moments, those precious pieces of good luck which elevate an image to another place by ‘happy accident’

I’m sure you will all have ‘photo fairy’ moments but let me share one with you.

I was shooting Anna Friel for the cover of the BBC ‘Radio Times’ to publicise her mulit Emmy winning TV series ‘Pushing Daisies’

I thought it would be fun to photograph her on a swing in the studio, bit of a mission but we managed to suspend it from a steel RSJ in the roof of the studio (thoroughly tested by yours truly of course!)

The back drop canvas was a hired, as was the ‘fake’ daisies and turf.

Setting up, as you may have guessed took a long, long time….

Anna was all set up in position on the swing, lit with a large Chimera Softbox on an Elinchrom 1200S head, mounted on a boom, high and to the right, about 45 degrees.
I filled in the shot with ‘zebra’ (silver and gold reflector) by California Sunbounce, on the floor at about 45 degrees too.

I had one light, another Elinchrom 1200S with a honey comb grid on it, lighting Anna from behind, with a poly board or ‘Gobo’ to prevent flare into the lens

The shoot was going very well, then by total accident, the ‘Gobo’ was kicked, moving it for one frame.

One solitary frame, where the expression was great, the pose was perfect.

And it flare coming into shot from the left hand side of the frame

I was gutted.

Contemplating retouching, I looked again.
The ‘Photo Fairies’ had landed

What one moment I considered to be shot ruining flare, in fact helped make the photo.

We had put up a canvas background to give us a blue sky, and what the flare from the backlight did was give us the 'sun'

Needless to say this was the one they used for the cover.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

The Death of Nelson- 200 years on

Some time ago I was commissioned to shoot a series of images to portray the life and death of Admiral Nelson, the Royal Navy hero who died at the 'Battle of Trafalgar' in 1805.
A  dream job, but a tall order as it was for an editorial client, so our budget was not enormous.
The centre piece of the series was to recreate the moment when Nelson falls on the deck of 'HMS Victory'
With the co-operation of the Royal Navy, we came up with a plan which my Producer Clare worked on for many months to put together a team of cast, crew,historical advisers, make up,props and assistants (x 5).

A date was set and we were on!

Now we were faced with a problem, we could only go onto the ship when it was closed to the public, meaning we had to wait for the last visitor to leave at the end of the day, we had to leave HMS Victory by 11pm (I think?)

To compound this problem the client was coming up with more and more shots, we had more than a dozen different shots to execute in an evening. All seemingly possible when you see them written down but in practice-Madness!

It meant that for the two key shots you see on this page we had a little more than 90 mins, yes you read that right.

We over ran on the first shot on the Poop deck, which portrays the famous moment when Nelson instructed the flags to be raised declaring 'England expects every man to do his duty'

We were working from a contemporary (ish) illustration of the moment

We wanted to get it pretty damn close and this is what we came up with.....

I found that by changing angle (getting lower) it gave a pacier look, but more to the point it covered up a multitude of historical and budget issues (ie modern buildings all around the harbour and a lack of sailors....)

Flags in the foreground lend a dash of colour (check out how many directors use flags in their movies, cheap colourful animated space fillers...)

Nelson and the officers (who had been cast to be as close as possible in looks and height as the historical characters) are lit with a large Chimera softbox on an Elinchrom Ranger to bring them away from the background.

The sailors on the rigging were added in post as we were not allowed to climb the rigging for safety purposes.

Now as photographers we can all be guilty of spending too much time before moving on to the next shot, I certainly was on this occasion, but I wanted it to be RIGHT.

This left me short of time for the next setup, which is where Nelson falls mortally wounded, from a single bullet of a sniper on the French ship 'Redoubtable' which had locked masts with 'Victory' while trying to board and seize it.

We were working from another contemporary painting 'The Death of Nelson at Trafalgar' by Dieghton

Now as you can see, from this image there are a LOT of sailors and action shown in this picture, which we simply did not have the budget for, so I decided to focus on the action on the right side of the painting, showing Nelson falling

Here is my plan from the day....

The plan was not just for me and my immediate crew, it was for all of the actors and extras so they knew which pose and position they would be in.

One thing which I decided not to compromise on this time was the position and angle of the camera on the poop deck

Even though this meant the retouching job from hell by Paul to remove the quayside buildings and skyline of Portsmouth and replace it all with another ship the 'HMS Trincomalee'  which played the role of the French ship 'Redoubtable'.

I wanted a subtle and 'painted' look to the image, so there is one main light(once again a medium Chimera Softbox on an Elinchrom Ranger) on Nelson (played by the amazing Alex Naylor) and the officers coming to his aid 

While the rest of the deck was lit with a large Chimera Softbox on a Elinchrom Ranger mounted to a Redwing cantilevered boom (my assistant Felicity calls it 'Vintage' but it rocks!) which was then mounted onto a Manfrotto Avenger 'wind up' stand to light the centre of the deck around 1 stop under the 'Nelson' light.

To top it off we then unleashed the smoke machine (operated by the brilliant and long suffering Paul Hughes from behind the large wooden chest)

Now there are many ,many things I would change about the shot.

But overall it stands

Quite an education for me, and taught me the art of the possible.

Both shots are on the Canon 1ds with a Canon 24-70mm 2.8L lens

Wednesday 26 November 2008

One light....

Some of my recent posts have included some really quite complex lighting set ups.

In fact at a presentation in Denmark recently a member of the audience asked if I was capable of taking a simple shot anymore......

Well, very often I do resort to one light.

Yes, just one!

I was commissioned by 'Hello!' magazine to photograph the hard man of British cinema and football Vinnie Jones

Famed for his performance in 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'

Contrary to appearances Vinnie was the perfect gentleman, even if he was blessed with a rather mischievous sense of fun.

When shooting these 'at home' features it can often be a case of how quickly one can move the lights and camera around the rooms in the allotted time more than anything else.

I wanted to try something rather un 'Hello!' at the end of the shoot

Vinnie loves the countryside and I suggested that we could make a single portrait of him in a nearby field.

So, a couple of barbed wire fences later Vinnie was in position.

Using a single Elinchrom Ranger with a Chimera Medium Softbox from the front at approx 45 degrees around and a little higher than him we achieved this rather pleasing effect

Crucial to this shot though was the sunset.

I underexposed the background by 1.5 stops and used the setting sun as my back light.

Giving lovely rim light on his jacket, and more than a little depth to the image

The client AND Vinnie were very happy with the result

Wednesday 19 November 2008

High Dynamic Range (HDR) - My way

Search for high dynamic range (HDR) photography on Flickr and just see what you get?

Well, the search will return more than a few photos which when viewed you feel like you have just partaken of some kind of mind altering substance.
To be honest aesthetically not really my cup of tea.....

To be clear High Dynamic Range photography is combining photographs of differing exposure to give a result rendering a greater range of tonal detail than the camera can capture in one photo

In just about all of my work I use HDR.
It may not be instantly apparent but I do

My definition of good post production is that one cannot tell it has happened

Here is a good example of how I use HDR

This image was shot as part of 'The Bridge of Doom' series over 3 days in North Wales, in January.
The fashion shoot had a 'spy thriller' theme.

'Agent Laura' parachutes into a forbidden zone to recover a secret map, dodging guards as she escapes.

The original (and rather uninspiring!) idea I came up with was for her to be burying the parachute upon landing

When we were up on the mountain though we were blessed with a breezy day, and we started to fool around with the parachute in the wind

Watching the crew at play made me realize that this could make a great shot

With a little coaching Laura was soon running with the parachute and we were running alongside her shooting as we ran with the 'Lighting team' running just to my right with the Elinchrom Ranger with a Medium Chimera soft box (front screen removed but inner baffle still in place to give a slightly harder more contrasty look with half a stop more power)

The tricky part was shooting just at the right moment when she was in front of the back light, another Elinchrom Ranger but with a grid spot.(we do clone the stand out in the finished pic)

Running on the slate was quite hard, we all fell over at some point.

We did about 20 'runs' before we were exhausted

We got one frame

But my friends all you need is one frame if its a 'killer'

Here it is straight out of the camera....

Shot on a Phase One P30, 250th sec at F8

Pretty good as it is but missing some detail in key areas, notably the jacket which is made from just about the most extremely non reflective fabric known to mankind

The parachute too is just a 'shade to 'hot' for my liking

So, I processed the image a second time, in Capture One, this time at + 2.5 stops

I then layered the two images together in Photoshop like this..

1. create a new layer on the light image

2. select 'all' on the dark layerthen copy and paste the dark layer onto the light layer
3. copy and paste the dark layer onto the light layer

4. select the eraser tool from the tool bar and carefully selecting a suitable opacity 'rubbing through' to the background layer to achieve the desired effect

I then processed the image a 3rd time this time at minus approx 2 stops in Capture One and repeated the process to get the tones exactly as I wanted them in areas like the sky and parachute


To some photoshop wizards out there this may seem a long winded way to go about it, but it works for me.

I understand too that with the amazing shadow/highlight recovery too in Capture One 4 I could go a long way without layering, but this gives me an amazing degree of control and the look I want.

Here is the finished result. 

Sunday 9 November 2008

A Leopard comes in from the Cold.....

It was after my experiences in Kosovo that I decided to try something other than photojournalism

I embarked on a new project with more than a little help from my now producer Clare

To photograph the UK's most unusual Guinness world record holders

High on the list was Tom Leopard, who was the most tattooed man in the world, with close to 100 percent of his body covered in Tattoos

He lived on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

During our research we had heard all sorts of unlikely stories of how Tom lives

We set out from Kyleakin in a small boat with rather too much camera equipment (less really is more my friends...)

As we landed on the beach close to where he lived he greeted us warmly

Contrary to appearance I found him to be one of the most kind gentle and lovely human beings I have ever met

Eccentric? Yes

But I say 'Vive le difference'

We spent all day with him in his tiny and humble dwelling, made from little more than rocks.

With no running water or electricity

Tom used all his experiences from his life in the Navy to keep everything clean, tidy, and in order

He had a great philosophy, living very much in tune with nature and did not believe in killing anything, even fish

As we sat talking to him otters popped their heads above the water to give us the once over

It was a very,very special day.

The BBC reported last week that the cold isolated life has become too much for him now he is in his mid 70's

He has moved into an one bedroom house, you can read the story here

The shot was taken very simply with one light (on the left handside), a Norman 400b in a Chimera medium soft box.

I just waited until the light began to fall and I could balance the flash with the ambient light, and then underexpose the the background by approx 1 stop

Not making a difference.....?

Last week I delivered a lecture to the Cambridge University photographic society, where I charted my photographic career to date

At the start of my presentation I showed a series of images from an incident which was largely responsible for me leaving the photo journalism industry

On the afternoon of Saturday 25th June 1999 I was driving from Pristina in Kosovo to Skopje in Macedonia, heading for home

Journalist David Harrison and I were on assignment for the Sunday Telegraph covering the NATO KFOR ‘invasion’ of Kosovo 
It had been a long and difficult assignment , at times harrowing too, witnessing some of the results of ethnic cleansing and the suffering of the population

We came across one of the many military traffic jams which were a familiar sight.

Stopping, we got out of the car to see what the hold up was.
We found a small team of lightly armed British army medics engaged in a life or death struggle to revive a Kosovan civilian who had been shot

It was a very hot day, and the medics were giving mouth to mouth resuscitation to the victim by the dusty roadside.

I started to take pictures and initially faced a somewhat hostile response from some members of the team who did not want me to photograph this amazing struggle for the mans life
I politely pointed out that I worked for the ‘Sunday Telegraph’ and that I was just showing the British public what a brilliant and selfless job they were doing.

I agreed to keep my distance and they allowed me to continue my work

Seconds later we came under automatic fire.We all dived for cover under the Landrovers

When anybody raised their head to see where the gunfire was coming from it was rewarded with a volley of bullets

All the time the medics carried on working to save the man’s life.


I had one roll of film and 2 lenses with my Canon EOS 1, to try to retrieve more film from the hire car would have been sheer stupidity

So, I had to document the whole incident on 1 roll of film

A real challenge, to make every shot count

The rest of the convoy had been held back at a safe distance, behind the cover of a petrol station

Two soldiers ran from the relative safety of the held up convoy to join us

They were shot at as they ran.

I found my self willing them to make it as they ran for their lives

I managed to make one really great shot, where you can see the fear and tension of the soldier who is running for his life

Soon an ambulance arrived, the male and female medics risked their lives with weapons drawn to evacuate the man

Eventually the more soldiers arrived and located the source of the gunfire.

It was thought to be one man

With outstanding professionalism they did not shoot him, they arrested the suspect

The whole incident lasted for about an hour

A number of medals were awarded for bravery in this incident

Apparently the most in a single action of the whole campaign

David and I were the only journalists to witness the drama

It was ‘our’ exclusive

What is more we had plenty of time to file the copy and images

We raced back to Pristina, David wrote his dramatic account while I processed my film in a cupboard

We filed on time

And waited for a response from the desk

‘Good stuff ‘ they said

And then silence

Ominous silence

Surely the front page? If not, page 3 with a whole spread of images?

Sadly it was to be neither of these

The ‘Sunday Telegraph’ chose not to run a single image


Well, it turns out that the only page available was the front

And it could not run there as Rupert Murdoch was getting married, and they wanted to run that image instead

We had risked a great deal to document this remarkable incident

For nothing

At this point I asked myself why I was doing the job.

Low pay, high risk and then the photos do not see the light of day

Until now

Nearly 10 years later

Here they are in their entirety

The first frames show the team struggling to revive the victim

The first shots come in...but from where?

Finding 'Hard cover'

Calling the ambulance forward.....

Making a run for our position....under fire. A heart stopping moment

Loading the casualty into the ambulance....while people take cover under the Landrover on the left....

David Harrison alets the 'Sunday Telegraph' to the situation via satellite phone

As soldiers look through their 4x scope to watch the arrest team go in.....

One man is arrested.

I never did establish the fate of the wounded man

If anyone out there knows any of the soldiers who took part in this action I would be more than happy to let them have photos.....