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My pictures would be better if…

My pictures would be better if…

Chase Jarvis posted on his blog last week asking his readers to finish a sentence: “My pictures would be better if…”. So I did. I thought about it carefully and put my reply out into the world amongst the huge stream of comments.

My pictures would be better if I got myself out of my comfort zone more often, took more risks and had a better idea of where to aim my passion/energy/hustle.

So now it’s out there, maybe I should clarify.

I stay in my comfort zone by only working with models I know when I could be arranging things on Model Mayhem and Purestorm for more variety in my portfolio.

Taking more risks would allow me to go after jobs and arrange shoots that the nagging voice in head tells me I am not ready for. There are lots of great venues I’d love to shoot in (bars, hotels etc) so I need to pop into these places and talk to the boss. I’ve done it once and that resulted in a shoot in a cinema in a couple of weeks so why don’t I do it more? Could I shoot a family portrait session or even a wedding? I have come a long way but I know I can go a lot further.

The big one is knowing where to focus my energy. I get myself super motivated, I produce solid work and I’m ready to work my face off – but I don’t know where to direct all that enthusiasm. I can’t progress if I don’t know what direction to set off in. Although it feels safe to hide behind the fact I’ve not sat down and thought about it yet, it’s much easier to steer a moving ship so it’s time to get sailing. There’s no point in having lots of business and marketing ideas if I don’t hang out my shingle so I need to work on a business plan and find out if there is a market for what I want to do. I’m talking about walking away from my day job on a whim but I do want to be able to spend more time doing what I love rather than what I must. Isn’t it better to try and fail than not try at all?

Hence the image at the top: my Big Book of Hustle. This is where the ideas go. There is where I write down the hard questions, and with any luck, some answers too. Time to man up!

Am I alone in this or do others have a heap of motivation and energy but no target to aim it all at? Am I the only one who has a clear picture of the end goal but has yet to work out what achievable steps to take to move towards it? Hit the comments below if you have the same problem or any solutions.

Anatomy of a Location Shoot

Anatomy of a Location Shoot

I’ve known Emma for a few years and while we’ve done a few things at car shows, we have never shot together properly. Last weekend we put that right.

Not only did Emma make the trek up from the Portsmouth but I was lucky enough to have my long suffering assistant/producer/gopher/other-half Helen on hand to help as well as good friend and fellow photographer Darren “Skids” Skidmore to shoot some behind the scenes video and stills. Quite a crew!

So after the obligatory coffee and a snack it was on to location number one. If you follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page, you’ll know I’ve been out and about location scouting recently so I already had a few versatile spots I knew would work. The First of those was under Valentine Bridge for a little urban portraiture. I exposed for the buildings in the background which left Emma around 2 stops under exposed in the shade of the bridge so a Quadra head and the Deep Octa were brought in for fill.

Midweek this area is bustling with office workers on breaks, especially on such  a beautiful day, but on a Saturday there are just a few passers-by…

…which Emma soon tuned out!

Over zealous security guards are always a concern when working on privately owned land like this so we kept everything hand held.

And no, that wasn’t a comfortable shooting position!

As the gear is already unpacked, I always like to get as many looks as I can while at a location so Emma got changed into another outfit and we turned everything around and shot against the red brick wall behind us.

A completely different look for about 5 minutes work. Note to self – Buy a better belt!

 On to location two – another bridge a few minutes walk up river. Known locally as “the cheese grater”. Admittedly more by luck than judgement, the sun was in the perfect position to light Emma directly and provide its own fill for the shadows by reflecting off the side of the bridge.

With some solid images in the can it was time to move to the far end of Bristol’s floating harbour and the old red brick warehouses on The Cumberland Basin.

Nothing fancy here, just natural, direct sunlight which worked well with the bright graffiti.

A short walk and a swift outfit change later and Emma’s is rocking the American high school kid look on a rusting iron bridge.

This is a fairly busy short cut for dog walkers, joggers and cyclists but it’s quite surprising how respectful people can be when they come across a scene like this. Many were reluctant to walk through the scene, even if I didn’t have the camera to my eye.

Simple lighting on this one again, just a Quadra head with an 18cm reflector to give a sharp fall off of light and draw the viewer to Emma’s face. Such a hard light source wouldn’t work for every subject but Emma has great skin and can carry it off easily.

Just around the corner was another pre-scouted location that I’ve wanted to use before but it’s always been too muddy. I find it easy to fall in to the trap of thinking a good location needs to be large, like an epic view or impressive structure, but this patch of ivy in the middle of an industrial landscape works brilliantly.

As you can see, the Deep Octa came out again for this shot, and again the front diffusion material stayed in the bag – I wanted a slightly more specular light to bring out the shine in the leaves.

We’re were on a mission by this point – we just had one more location and one more look to shoot but the call of a beer and some food was strong! Emma is great at choosing outfits to match locations and as soon as she saw the weeping willow, she pulled yet another dress from her seemingly bottomless suitcase.

Going back to what I was saying earlier about locations, it would have been easy to have turned 90 degrees to the right here and shot with Bristol’s famous Clifton Suspension Bridge as a background, but the branches of the willow tree on the river bank made a much more suitable setting for the innocent look we were after. By now it was beer o’clock so we took a break for a few hours.

Up until we trekked out to the banks of the River Severn, the weather had been perfect without a cloud in the sky so we were pretty confident we’d get a beautiful sunset to finish the day off… fail. Epic fail! Just at the last moment clouds bubbled up from nowhere and we were left with this:

Ok, not quite the Ibizan vista I’d envisioned but it’s Severn Beech and you work with what you’ve got! After raving about how good this location was going to be after the previous nights location scouting, I knew I had to pull something out of the bag now I’d dragged everyone down there. The sun had let me down, but what I did have was a willing model, some warmth in the rocks and my own portable sun. So while brave Emma donned her bikini, I set about creating sunset with a Quadra head mounted high on a light stand and a CTO gell. With the cameras white balance on Tungsten and the flash head firing in warm light, the dull grey, post sunset sky turns blue. (I’ve written about this concept before called Working the CTO)

As Emma herself said, “it’s amazing what you can do with a big sweet wrapper”!

With 8 distinct looks in the can, the call of the bar became too strong and we called it a wrap!

Sunday was vampire day! This was the original reason Emma came to Bristol so I had to get something good. Luckily, with Emma in costume and in character that was never in doubt. With the fangs in place and the fake blood flowing I knew I could get theatrical with the lighting. The key again was the Deep Octa as it gives a rapid fall off, lighting just what I wanted it to. I could then play with a few ideas for the background including letting some ambient burn in spookily or go all out Hammer Horror and use a red gelled flash.

I’m just pleased Emma was cleaned up and de-fanged before the PCSO came along to send us on our way!

So there you have it – a behind the scenes look at what a location shoot with me is like. If any photographers reading this would like to work with Emma (and I highly recommend you do!) check out her website and her PureStorm portfolio.

Thanks also to Helen and Darren for being able assistants and taken the behind the scenes photos.

If you have any questions, as always hit the comments.

 

Quadra ECO Ring Flash – First Impressions

Quadra ECO Ring Flash – First Impressions

Focus On Imaging is the biggest photography trade show in the UK – think of it as our version of Photokina or Photo Plus. While it’s not as large, you still get a few product launches there and this year I was particularly interested in The Flash Centre‘s launch of the ECO Ring Flash for the Elinchrom Ranger Quadra system. If you have followed my blog for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of the Quadra pack and head system and I’ve been hankering after a ring flash for quite some time.

I’d looked at the Orbis and Rayflash gadgets that attach to a standard hotshoe flash and bounce the light around a series of light pipes but wasn’t impressed. They seemed a little fragile, are expensive enough to not be an impulse purchase and they eat up a load of power (around 2 stops in fact).

Let’s be generous and say a 580EXII is kicking out about 100w/s at full power. Drop that by 2 stops and you are down to 25w/s – that’s the minimum a Quadra pack can put out on it’s A channel. With such little power, you’re not going to get the prominent halo shadow that’s the signature of a ring flash and working outdoors you will need to work very close to get any effect at all.

The Quadra ECO ring flash, kicking out 400w/s at a few metres away, is a total different proposition. Plenty of power to create that halo shadow and enough to tame bright sunlight at a reasonable working distance. The Fast Show is coming up and I plan on seeing how it copes in daylight then, so stay tuned.

So, first impressions then?

It’s a solidly built bit of kit! The brackets that hold the flash to the camera attach to the tripod mount and are very adjustable to allow for a range of cameras and lenses. There also a tripod mount on the base.

The flash itself is all metal, except for the clear acrylic cover on the front to protect the flash tube. There is also a clip on translucent cover to diffuse the light slightly and hold any gels to may want to add.

The power lead that connects you to the pack is 2m (slightly shorter than the 2.5m leads that come with the Quadra A and S heads) so you can just sling the pack over your shoulder.

With it mounted to a 5D with battery grip and a 25-105mm lens I had no trouble reaching the zoom ring or shutter buttons and while its by no means small, it is lightweight and doesn’t get in the way. I did find the flash illuminated the specks of dust on the front element of my lens at certain focal lengths but that’s more than likely down to me fitting the ring too close to the body.

What’s that? A sample photo you say? Well, OK then! Thanks to Helen for being my guinea pig… again!

Rallying in the Rain

Rallying in the Rain

Last month, I spent a weekend getting up close and personal with some classic rally cars as they hooned around a wet and muddy Stoneleigh Park.

It was all relatively low speed stuff on a tight tarmac circuit full of 90 degree turns but Race Retro is a great opportunity to get close to the action.

This selection was shot in a mix of manual and shutter priority mode

The weather was appalling, but it didn’t dampen anyone spirits and everyone knows rally cars look better in the rain!

Shooting Michelle

Shooting Michelle

I’ve known Michelle Westby from the car show scene for quite a while now but it wasn’t until Autosport in January that we finally set a date to shoot together – part of my “Actions, not thought” motto for 2011.

Unfortunately, the weather let us down so a lot of our ideas were rained off but luckily I have a range of sheltered locations to call on. (In fact I can’t recommend building up a notebook/online list/map of local locations enough).

So first off, we headed underneath an interchange in the middle of town to mix a muted background with a pop up of colour.

This was lit by an Elinchrom Quadra in an 80cm Deep Octa held by a (very tired) voice activated lightstand.

By the time we’d finished the fitness themed set at the first location the drizzle had begun to fall so it was time to head underground. Fortunately, we had parked under a road bridge that made a nice grungy background for something with more of a fashion look.

The key light here is a softbox camera left but there are also a couple of speedlights out of shot pumping light into the ceiling to raise the overall exposure as it was pretty gloomy by now.

With the rain still falling it was time to move on and shoot Michelle in something a bit sexier in a location she’d specifically requested. Those of you that have been here for a while may recognise this location from my shoot with Georgia Graham.

As well as modelling and doing promo work, Michelle is an accomplished drifter so she brought her Nissan 200SX S14 along for a bit of light painintg. One pub lunch and a car wash later, it was time to shoot the car. Chelle had seen the light painted test shot I did of my car and wanted the same for hers but as it was still too light to get the long shutter speeds needed we did a quick rig shot. Wolfrace Wheels have kindly donated the wheels for this car so I wanted to keep them prominent in the shot by turning them to face the camera. As the Nissan is set up to drift, it has had it’s diff welded making it nigh on impossible to push in a circle so the engine had to be kept on. This meant getting a sharp shot at the shutter speed needed to give enough blur was tricky. The location wasn’t the most exciting either (a car park) but after a bit of Photoshoppry I am quite pleased with the result.

Masks and Layers

Not bad considering we were lurching around a car park in 1st gear!

By now, the sun was fading fast so it was time to roll into the studio and set up the camera on a tripod. It’s widely stated that shooting a black car is harder than any other colour and I can definitely verify that! Using the same technique, I shot my white car with just 3 exposures and 3 simple layers in Photoshop.

This was a little trickier! 12 layers and 10 layer masks so I could paint in certain parts of each image to get the right reflections on the bodywork.

I (and thankfully Michelle too, after driving all way way from the South East!) think the results are worth it.

Light Painting A Car

Light Painting A Car

I’m lucky enough to have access to what can loosely be called some studio space (a huge empty room, large enough to get a car in that gives me completely control of the ambient light) so last night I tried a little automotive light painting.

So armed with nothing more than a camera, tripod and an Elinchrom Quadra with the modelling light on although any constant light source would do though.

I’d like to say that was all done in camera but it’s not. There are 3 individual shots that have been composited to make that final shot. Firstly, because of their brightness relative to the Quadra’s LED modelling light, I shot the headlights.

Then it was time to light the car. After a few tests with various softboxes I found the most even coverage came from simply walking around the car with just the Quadra head and 18cm reflector. A 13 second exposure at f/8 gave me time to walk fairly slowly around the car. The first shot below is a lap with the light held fairly low to get light onto the doors and the second was as high as I could reach to bounce some light of the car roof.

For this pass (another 13 second exposure) the light was held higher to thrown light onto the roof of the car.

Once in Photoshop, I layered the 3 images in Lighten mode and did a little burning to darken down the walls in the background. I also added and masked a desaturation layer to remove the slight yellow tinge from the fog lights and remove a colour cast from the wheels and floor. The result:

For a first attempt a light painting a car I am pleased, although looking at the final image, I see a few things I’ll look out for next time.