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Caring With Cars 2011

Caring With Cars 2011

Last weekend saw 100’s of beautiful cars descend on The Downs School just outside Bristol to raise money for the neighbouring Children’s Hospice. Find out more about the charity and the cars here and check out my photos from the very wet day below.



I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I get a bit caught up in planning. I like to pre-visualise the shot, plan a location and run though some lighting set ups in my mind. Yesterday reminded me to be ready to take advantage when a shot just happens in front of you.

When I left the car it was surrounded by other vehicles but I came back from lunch to find this scene. Luckily I had my camera over my shoulder and 30 seconds later I had this in the can.

If I’d have planned to shoot there, the car park would have been packed all day, security would have moved me on or I’d have spent hours trying to fix  specular highlights.

Sometimes all your ducks get themselves in a row – be ready when they do.

Everyone’s a Photographer

Everyone’s a Photographer

Is it just me, or is everyone a photographer these days?

I don’t mean everyone has a camera or that photography is a popular hobby, I mean I’m seeing more and more people proclaiming to be a bone fide, card carrying professional photographer.

They have a large black camera, the kit lens and maybe a flash, a web site and business cards but seemingly no idea about the craft of photography. Perhaps you don’t need to know an f-stop from a bus stop when you’ve got a shiny new DSLR? Surely a £1000 camera takes care of all that. But when it inevitably doesn’t, they still post online galleries full of unimaginative, poorly composed and technically inept images next to the words “portrait sessions just £399”.

Then there are the ones who are “now booking shoots in December” when it’s only March. Really? Your out of focus images of your cat have got you enough bookings with aspiring models, brides and families to make it through the year already? Or maybe that portfolio comprised of images from a single group shoot is really working for you and going through the agonizing process of whittling it down to 20 stunning images and ego crushing portfolio reviews just isn’t necessary.

Shooting on location

Now don’t get me wrong, group shoots (where a studio will hire a model for a day then sell time slots to aspiring photographers) are a great way to learn. All the details are taken care of and the studio owner is there to assist with lighting and camera settings. The whole day is designed so you learn a few new ideas and come away with some good shots. So when you download your images that night and find some nicely lit, tack sharp shots of a good looking model bear that in mind. Look at them critically, analyse what worked and what didn’t, learn from them. Don’t simply pat yourself on the back, decide you have learnt all there is to learn and start trying to charge potential clients.

Buying a pen or a sports car doesn’t make you an author or a racing driver any more than buying a camera makes you a photographer. It gives you one of the items you need in your tool kit. Now you need to collect the ones you can’t buy, so know your foundations (the exposure triangle and reciprocals) get out and practice (a lot) and look at (really analyse what you like and don’t like about) as many photographs as you can.

That’s when you can start calling yourself a photographer.

Do Something Different

Do Something Different

It’s advice you’ll see over and over again, not just from photographers but from people in all walks of life: If you want to stand out from the crowd, do something different.

Now while I am not lauding this as the greatest photograph ever taken, but I like to think it’s a good example of “different”

ichelle, owner of this particular drift project S14, was proud to have her car on a stand at Modified Nationals and asked me to take a photo. Unfortunately the car was indoors with no chance of moving it so I had to work with what I had.

The scene as it was - Photo courtesy of Steven 'Jonesy' Jones

At some point during the weekend, an image taken by David Hobby during the shoot out at last years Gulf Photo Plus popped into my head. The idea being to make the car look like a celebrity by surrounding it with ‘paparazzi’. Normally I work with manual flash and simple radio triggers but only having two with me meant I chose to use my 580EXII as an ETTL commander to trigger any available Canon flashes… of which I had only one! So the first challenge was to approach as many Canon toting photographers as possible, explain the idea, and get them in position. (Something I wouldn’t have done a year ago, but thanks to photography I’ve been gradually making my comfort zone larger.) There are even a few Nikonian friends in the final shot with flares from Canon flashes cloned over their non-firing strobes in post.


On the technical side, I had my 580EXII on camera running the show and providing fill flash at minus 1 stop. All the slave flashes we’re set as ETTL slaves in the same group and set to +1 flash exposure compensation to give a nice bright rim effect to separate the black car from the black curtain behind and to light the roof and bonnet.


What could I have done better? Looking back on the image now I can see I should have had more light on the nose and the door and a smaller aperture would have made better star bursts from the flashes and highlights. But all in all, as it was a spur of the moment shot, I’m pretty pleased, and I have learnt what to look out for if I ever do it again.


The Ripraw Girls at Modified Nationals 2011

The Ripraw Girls at Modified Nationals 2011

 Last weekend saw Modified Nationals at Peterborough Showground roll around again and with it, a chance to see how far my photography had progressed since last year. It was a similar situation to last time – a case of shoot when you can where you can, make the best of the gale-force wind and hopefully come away with something that stands out.

This is time the glamourous location was the back of the Exec building with its sandy coloured walls bouncing the intermittent sunshine around making the scene pretty even and flat. All kinds of meh!

Just out of the frame in that image is a sky full of bright cloud that I wanted to keep some detail in for wider compositions and that meant that at my sync speed of 1/200th I had to stop down to around f/11. Too much for my speedlights to act as main lights so out came the Elinchrom Quadras – one lighting the front of the car, the other hitting it broadside. The speedlights were cranked up to full power, zoomed to 70mm and pressed into action as rim lights to stop the black and blue car blending into the blue and black background and to add a little sculpting to the girls waiting in the wings.

A few test shots later (and a little post production for this image) I had the lights dialled in and giving results like this. I had to make the call and have the speedlight closer than I’d like due to the overall brightness of the scene and this before and after shows the little Photoshop tweak to hide the light and close door in the background.  

With the exposure dialled in it was time to bring on Lucy, Gemma and Jen and get some shots for the guys at Sextons, the car audio people. For these shots the flash that was lighting the front of the car is now being fired through a shoot through umbrella – not the best modifier for the situation but all I had in my bag.

And of course, “camera shy” Chris, the owner needed a pic or two! Notice how the rim lights outline Jen (left) & Lucy (right) and separate them from the car and background. 

Here’s a wider composition to show the position of the rim lights.

Then it was time for a quick costume and set change to get some images for Sextons sister company, RipRaw Clothing.

By this time the Quadras were flagging and had put themselves into slow recycle mode to preserve what little battery life they had left so for the next set up I scaled down and went ETTL for the first time! Shooting a bike this time meant I didn’t need to light such a large area and my on camera 580EXII, and working in ETTL meant I could keep my aperture down to f/4 and bump my shutter speed up to 1/640th. I had my 580 dialed down to -1 2/3 stop of flash exposure compensation acting as on axis full while two 430EXII’s set at +1 stop provided rim light again. You might even spot my voice acyivated light stands in one of the shots!

Photography Sucks!

Photography Sucks!

The fact you are here, reading this blog, probably means you are like me and you love photography. Not just like or enjoy, but love. Put a camera in my hands and I’m happy. I love being able to unleash my creative side that starts to scream from inside if I keep it bottled up too long. I love how it makes me think on my feet in changing light and situations. I love being able to make a picture that looks nothing like the actual scene my subject and I were standing in at the time and seeing the reaction on their face.

But two weeks (sometimes two days) later I look back at the images I was so pleased with and hate them. I see all the imperfections, I criticise my lighting. I scroll though my portfolio judging everything: “This sucks, this sucks, that’s old, I should have done a better job on that, this all sucks!”. Nothing stacks up against the work I see coming from the photographers I admire.

Only that’s not my quote.

That comes from a photographer I admire.

Zack Arias.

It’s so reassuring to know that Zack, provider of inspiration and the reason the “aperture controls flash exposure, shutter speed controls ambient exposure” penny dropped for me, has the same moments. It’s also a little sobering. I had hoped that when I was producing work as good as that and had achieved that much, I’d be living the Johnny Photographer lifestyle.

But it seems like photography is always going to suck.

It’s a good job I love it.


Thanks to Craig Swanson at CreativeLIVE for getting this segment from Zack’s 2nd three day course edited down and posted to their YouTube channel so I could share it here.