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.....