Friday 25 March 2011

Infra Red shoot with Ivory Flame and Madame Bink

Readers of this blog will know I LOVE a challenge.

So in the depths of an English Winter I decided to shoot an Infra Red 'Rainforest' type shoot with an 'Eden' vibe

Where to do it?

 I hear Cape Verde is a great location but budget prevailed and I had to come up with an alternative.

So I came up with a green house somewhere in England.

I had the small issue that I wanted it to be a full nude shoot with live snakes.

I asked the location if I could do the shoot and for a fee they agreed.

With the proviso that the glasshouse would be open to the public.

'No problem' I said

At no point did they ask if any nudity or snakes, courtesy of Wrigglies, would be involved.

So operating under the banner of 'don't ask don't tell' it was full steam ahead.

I told the just plain brilliant models Madame Bink and Ivory Flame what they were in for and they did not bat an eyelid, I was more nervous than they were!

With strategic positioning of softboxes and California Sunbounce reflectors, public decency was not offended and nobody rumbled us.

But to say it was a hurried shoot is an understatement.

We lit both of these shots with a Chimera Lantern on a Manfrotto AvengerA4050 lightstand which was which gave the whole scene this great overall look, filling in from the front with a Chimera medium softbox at one stop under the lantern.

I love the A4050 lightstand as it is very flexible, not just very substantial lightstand but a boom too, a must have on any location shoot

Both using Elinchrom Quadra's.

When we had the lighting fixed we just went for it both the portraits and the landscape shots

A very simple set up but it hit the spot.

It was all shot on a Phase One DF camera with the quite amazing Achromatic digital camera back. I used the Razor sharp Schneider LS 110MM lens with a Lee 87 infra red filter.

The video was shot on a Canon XF100 DV camera, which despite its small size is super high quality and has one other feature which was invaluable - it can shoot in infra red too.

The Palms from drew gardner on Vimeo.

All in all a great experience, but nerve wracking all the same.

Wednesday 23 March 2011


I'm always looking for, no searching for 'IT'

'IT' is rather indefinable, it can be found anywhere come in any shape or size, and be just about anything.

For 'IT' is something new (or old) which gives me and my photography the edge, and helps  me to create or reinforce my signature

At the moment 'IT' comes in the form of the unique, exotic and rather pricey Phase One Achromatic+ digital camera back.

The Achromatic back is unique because it shoots in Black and White only

Instead of using a colour sensor, it is the first medium format digital back which uses a black and White sensor.

To quote Phase One

'The Achromatic+ is the first commercially available medium format back that is a true replacement for almost all scientific black and white film types at much higher quality and with far more consistency.
Traditionally, most camera sensors have a Bayer pattern of individual red, green and blue filters for each pixel. These individual colors are then interpolated through numerous methods to create RGB data for each pixel. The Achromatic+ back is designed to be a black and white only product with no color filters on the sensor'

What this means is not only do you get digital black and white quality like never before, but you can shoot in non visible spectrum of light.

Like ultra violet or infra red........

Now this got me excited.

So I decided to try some shots

Not of the traditional black skies and glowing trees (an easy decision to reach in the depths of an English winter) and sweeping landscapes but I thought I would try shooting people.

Some with available light and some with artificial light.

I used a Lee 87 Filter

Which really spiced things up in that I could not see to focus

At all.

Yes, the infra red focusing mark maybe present on some lenses but I found this to be variable in accuracy to say the least.

So tethered shooting it was

Even then it was a pretty 'willow the wisp' to get in focus.

When shooting in the non edible spectrum with things that move, like people and animals, it was a challenge.

But boy what a challenge!

I have not had so much fun taking pictures in a very long time

When digital photography came along so did an immediacy, which meant the 'heart in the mouth' moment of 'has it come out?' was gone forever.

Until now.

You simply never know how things are going to work out when you shoot in infra red.

Fun is back.

But like so many things fun has it's price.

And that price is high, very high.

More than £20,000


Black and White sensors are made in such small numbers that the price is sky high.

Who knows they may one day have an offering which sells for less? I would not hold my breath though.

Perhaps some of the more switched on rental houses will get them in?
In the meantime there are companies which will convert your DSLR to infra red for much less.

But this is still with colour sensors and infra red only, I hope to be trying a conversion out in the future.

I still think it is worth looking into, though.

 It is an 'edge' in a world of 'me too' predictable photographic results.

Very unpredictable and exciting, and a great way to stand out from the rest of the pack.

Something great to go into a meeting with and impress clients

Friday 18 March 2011

Focus on Imaging- Show report 2

Like any other stills guys going into moving images I'm sure many of you, as I have, been stopped in their tracks by the big monster we all fear and don't know enough about.


To be honest you really are best off working with an experienced sound recorder if you want to get the very best quality on a commercial paying job.

Remember, if the sound is screwed, the whole project can be too.

But what about the rest of the time when you are dealing with it by yourself, for solo or low budget jobs?
Well it is quite a learning curve, I have all sorts of Gizmos like booms, Rode NTG-3 shotgun mic, Sennheiser radio mics and the obligatory Zoom H4N audio recorder, for when I need separate audio.
If you are anything like me you will find yourself struggling to handle stuff mid shoot.
Where to put the Zoom H4N while I'm shooting?

Well when I'm working on a tripod I use the brilliant little magic arm made by Manfrotto, the Mini Hydrostat arm 814 which I attach to the head of my Manfrotto 504HD head and I can monitor sound.

This hydrostatic arm has a ton of uses, like attaching a monitor, but also for more general applications, which I will be blogging about at a later date.

But what about working on the fly, you can mount the Zoom on the hot shoe, but that does leave you open to the inevitable 'handling' noise.
I bumped into the irrepressible Tim Constable from Rycote, who are renowned the world over for their sound recording solutions, such as wind jammers and mic suspension systems.
The portable recorder Audio kit, and their mic works on a patented 'lyre' which really does the job.
Rycote has now made a variant of this system to enable the mounting of the zoom to the hotshoe or via a handle which minimizes handling noise.

Tim bought an early version of it to focus and gave me a quick demo.
I shot and edited a short video on my iPhone. There is a higher res version on Vimeo

I have not yet used it in action, but feel it is very worthwhile of investigation.
If it is something which can make a difference to improve audio quality when you are up against it, I m keen to give it a go.

Monday 14 March 2011

Focus on Imaging - Report 1

A couple of ways of doing things

I had heard a little about the new Fuji X100 and it does seem to be a keenly anticipated camera

The last manufacturer to try this route, other than Leica with it's fast selling M9, was Epson with it's quirky RD1. It even had interchangable lens's and could take Leica M mount and Voigtlander lenses.A camera which was ahead of it's time in many ways, but in other ways too different to succeed in the mainstream.

So before the show opened, I went along to the Fuji stand to see why the X100 is so keenly anticipated.

The first thing that strikes you are its look and it does look the part, reminiscent aesthetically of a Leica M3.

On handling it also feels solid as, very substantial. The design team on this project clearly have a passion for Camera's and photography. It fits nicely in your hand and even though I'm not familiar with Fuji camera controls I found the layout to be intuitive in the short time I got hands on time with it.

It is packed with new and innovative features too, most notable of all is the hybrid electronic/optical finder which you can select with a button on the front of the camera.

This set up works better than I anticipated, with the electronic viewfinder even having a line which turns green when you are holding it level.

I suppose I ideally would have liked an autofocus point in the optical finder, not just the electronic finder, but perhaps that's me just being too picky.

On random shooting around the stand it seemed to be very responsive with lag not an issue, though I have to reserve judgement on this as you never can tell until you use it in the field.

The camera has a fixed Fujinon 23mm F2.0 lens which is compact and will suit most people needs for general use.

The 12mp sensor may raise eyebrows amongst some.

Can 12mp be enough? Almost certainly if you don't crop.....but Cartier Bresson we are not, so we will end up cropping. Bear in mind too you can't change lenses either which makes the possibility of a crop even more likely, so as with any camera, to get the best from it fill that frame.

I cannot comment on the final image quality but the test prints which the representatives from Fuji showed me at varying ISO ratings were impressive.

So that would have been that had I decided not to wander over to the impressively confident Sony stand where I decided to check out the mirrorless Sony NEX-5 which first appeared last year at Photokina.

The representative from Sony described the NEX range to be a DSLR in a compact body which I was initially sceptical about until he told me that it had a 14.2 megapixel APS C sensor in the body.

Big sensor, small body really got my attention.

Now in the past Sony have been nothing if not innovative witness their latest DSLR offering with a fixed mirror which allows AF while shooting HD video.

The NEX is anything but conventional in form, and if you are as old as I am you will recall previous attempts by other manufacturers to reinvent the form of cameras have not always been successful and when I hear of a new form camera I get nervous and wonder how the shareholders will feel about such a brave experiment.

Sony have taken a smart path though with the NEX range as it is a camera which is based around a lens instead of lens stuck on a camera.

Why is this such a big deal? Shake baby shake.

Or should I say lack of it

Anyone who comes on one of my workshops will know about this all too well.

Hold a camera properly by cradling the lens in your left hand and the road to sharp images is open to you.

With the NEX you cannot help but hold it by one of it's interchangable E mount lens's (there is even an adaptor to let it take the legendary Carl Zeiss lenses.

It ships with an 18-55 F3.5/5.6 and fits so snuggly in ones hand, it feels fantastic.

So we know the design route is unconventional, but the net result of this is a stable and beautifully built package, which ought to make other manufacturers sit up and take notice.

The feature set is no less outstanding.

I enjoyed the flip out LCD, which as with the rest of the camera felt very robust.

Carrying out the same shooting random people doing stuff on the stand test it seemed extremely responsive, with no discernible lag, but once again one would need to shoot for real to find out

I even got to try out the rapid fire 'sweep' stitch mode for shooting panorama's which worked very well in camera.

I did not get to see any images from the NEX but would expect them to be very good.


I said a couple of different ways of doing things and they really could not be more different.

But they are I feel competing for similar ground.

Both are beautifully built.

But any similarities end there

One company is looking at past glories with retro styling and a clever feature set the other is trying a new road with it's avant-garde approach in all areas.

Which is best?

I have used neither so I cannot say, but that is down to the individual user and their shooting style.

If you shoot nothing but street photography at close quarters then the Fuji may be the one for you.

If you want a camera with a versatile camera with depth of capabilities thanks to it's interchangeable lenses, then the Sony could be the one for you.

Accepting the 'horses for courses' argument, and that both cameras are beautifully built, like many things in life price will inevitably come into play.

The Sony NEX-5 costs roughly half the price of the X100.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Focus on Imaging 2011

It may just be me but in what seems to be the trend of all trade shows right now numbers seemed to be down (to my eyes at least)

3 years ago show goers would have been able to visit strong and significant stands by Apple, Canon, Hasselblad and Microsoft to name but a few.

None of those players were represented in any significant way at all this time.

It is kind of a chicken and egg situation, fewer big players attend, attendance at the shows falls, the big names find it easier to justify not coming.

One could argue that with the high cost of stands at trade shows they have made the right call.

The beneficiaries, in my humble opinion, were the very well attended stands of Sony, Panasonic and Nikon.

At the Phase One stand I saw bigger crowds and more interest than ever, thanks in no small part to the ground breaking IQ digital camera backs. In the middle of these uncertain times Phase seems to be bucking the trend. Since shooting the food book 'Loose birds and game' I have seen further benefits of the platform compared to 14bit DSLR files, with CMYK conversions from the native 16bit Phase One captures being on a totally different plane.
The amount of fiddling with the files was minimal, compared to the sleepless nights the small but significant hardcore of DSLR files gave me.

If you are involved in shooting pictures for books I would heartily recommend you investigate them, even if all you can afford is a used one. It's about the quality of the file, not just megapixels.

I will be splitting detailed reports into two parts.

Friday 11 March 2011

Lee new little habit.

The Big Stopper blocking out the sun...

After years of not owning a filter system, I started to use Lee filters.

I find the ND and the ND grad filters particular useful.

As a result I can be seen on a regular basis scrabbling round in the bargain basement bins of the camera retail world looking for that bargain.

I now have quite a collection for all occasions.

But the rare and obscure filter, which was bought to my attention on this blog by Sean Bolton, had eluded me for a few months.

The Lee filters 'Big Stopper' which as the name suggests is a big stopper of light. It is a 10 stop ND filter, yes that's right 10 stops.

 Because the filter is fixed you don't get the optical issues which can manifest themselves with a Vario ND filter, no matter how much you pay for one.

After leaving my name on a couple of waiting lists for a couple of months Robert White finally came up with the goods, though I had to pay in advance to secure the order.

I hear word that Lee Filters maybe getting on top of  the somewhat problematic matter of the supply of their filters sorted out following more staff being employed.

Let's hope so, as supply issues seem to be the only thing standing in the way of this great little company going from strength to strength (in fact I was chatting to the guys from Lee filters at 'Focus on Imaging' and yes production has gone up but demand continues to outstrip supply by some margin....sigh)

I will be using the 'Big Stopper' on a moving image shoot I'm doing combining the Canon 5D MKII, for all the cool, special detail shots, and the brilliant Canon XF305 for the rest.
It is easy to see why this video camera has been such a big hit with Broadcasters and production companies alike, and it is now on the BBC approved camera list and I hear they have bought a large quantity of them.

I will post the results of the final edit shortly.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Heston Blumenthal on the Cover of F2

I have been a pro photographer for just about ever

But I never tire of getting a cover shot.

I was interviewed by freelance photographer magazine 'F2' about my foray into food photography
 with the book 'Loose Birds and Game' which has been getting some good reviews too.

For one week only (until 11/03/11) I'm offering readers of this blog a special discount price of £20 inc postage which makes it cheaper than anywhere else on the net, just enter the code F2LBG3

Sea Trout Ballontine

The shot on the cover was of gastronomic wizard and all round really good bloke Heston Blumenthal for  'GQ' magazine.

I shot it with Elinchrom ring flash with a Phase One P45+, a good way of doing a fast moving dynamic shoot which requires a breathtaking pace and adds that little pizzaz.

We had to do a ton of set ups in a very short space of time and the Ring flash made it possible.

A word of caution though, it is quite heavy, so best head down the gym and pump some iron first!

The interview in 'F2' magazine, which ended up being a talk about the industry and careers in photography amongst other things, has inspired me to run two affordable 'Going Pro' seminars

London, The Brunswick Centre 10/05/11

Birmingham, The Flash Centre 12/05/11

The seminars will be all about the nuts and bolts of going pro and how to get the clients you want, whether you have just graduated from Uni, are investigating a career change or just want to get better clients.

I will be sharing how it has worked for me over 30 years and how you too can apply my methods.

It will be limited to 25 places in each location.

I will blog in more detail about this after Focus on Imaging, in the meantime if you are at Focus drop in to the Phase One stand and I can tell you a little more.

See you at Focus.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Missing Government UFO files - Using infra Red as a creative editorial tool

The Runway Landing lights at RAF Woodbridge....not a UFO in sight
I'm silly busy today preparing for Focus on Imaging in Birmingham but I simply could not resist posting this rather topical image.......

Now I'm not a big UFO conspiracy theorist but there was an incident in 1980 which is still unexplained.

In 1980 at RAF Woodbridge there was a famous UFO landing incident, which true or not caused quite a stir

Well, the papers on the incident were due for release under the 30 year rule and guess what?

They have gone missing.

Sadly I do not have any pictures of the incident, but 20 years later when I was working for the Sunday Telegraph I was sent to the scene to come up with a creative image to illustrate it.

After several hours driving round the area I was getting nowhere fast, coming up with little other than lacklustre GV's.

Then I saw a guy parked up from a local breakdown company in his tow truck.

Me. 'Excuse me mate, do you know the site of the reported UFO incident

Him.(Smiling) 'Yes, I remember it well'

Me. 'Can you take me there?'

Him. 'Follow me'

So we drove around the perimeter fence of the defunct cold war airfield until we reached a bridleway into the forest.

'It was around here somewhere but I'm not exactly sure where' he said, rather amused at the thought of assisting me in my mission.

So, we had the rough location, how on earth was I to make it look dramatic?

Enter my fun camera the brilliant Canon G2.

While only possessing 4 mega pixels, it was in its day a honey of a camera, in fact I still have it

As well as delivering very good results it had one other quirk - if you used it with a Hoya Infra red filter it gave some pretty whacky fun Infra Red results.

My plant to come up with a light hearted alien inspired shot was hatched.

I put the camera on self timer around my neck and shot these images of Mr Tow truck and I fooling around in the late afternoon light which was casting these silly long shadows, check out the long 'ET' style fingers.

The biggest problem was not laughing and causing camera shake.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Focus on Imaging 2011

This year I will be back at 'Focus on Imaging' on the Phase One stand.

There will be familiar material in my Presentations but there will be a TON of new stuff too.

Not just the food photography from 'Loose birds and Game' but a whole raft of fresh and exciting work I have shot with the Phase One Achromatic+ back.

I will be showing all I have shot on it, but would like to talk more in detail about it after the show on this blog.

Here is a little teaser from it.

Shot in the infra red spectrum.

The boys jacket is infact black.