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