Friday, 26 December 2008

The New Year's Day Parade

Happy New Year LondonEvery year in on New Years day, the streets of London fill with cheerleaders and brass bands. Its usually really cold quite often drizzling, but these young kids come all the way over here from the United states to freeze their tits off in the could grey light of a new years day in London, and some of them actually look happy about it.

If you don't have a hangover and want some photo opportunities, the new years parade will give you plenty. If you have got a hangover, watching lots of beautiful young people in the freezing cold might help cure it, though I suggest you get advice from your doctor first.

So charge up your batteries put on your fastest lens, take some alka-seltzer and head off to the parade route and maybe I'll see you there.

Check out my write-up of last year's parade for an idea of what to expect.

Friday, 19 December 2008

I Can Dance

VictorEarlier this summer I was privileged to take photos at a special ballet class that my daughter attends on a Saturday. I was asked to photograph the children from all the classes with ages ranging from 3 to 19 years old, with all sorts of different abilities. The photos were put together into a slideshow that was played during the intervals of their annual performance.

I took their photos over three weekends during rehearsals. Spending that amount of time on one subject really helped me to refine my composition and figure out what worked and what didn't. Even though the room was relatively dark, I chose not to use any flash because I didn't want to distract the children and I didn't know if it would cause problems for some of them. So I was shooting at ISO 1000 f2.8 125/s most of the time.

KimberlyThe location was a school hall with full length south facing windows on one wall and a row of east facing windows about two metres up on another wall. Shooting into this light created some really lovely highlights. The high windows in particular allowed me to get some cool backlight without getting into the shot. The biggest problem for me was that the walls of the room were very busy and distracting, getting a clean shot was a problem. I found that using a 135mm lens at f2.8 was blurring the backgrounds nicely. It would have been very easy to just go for tight headshots, to keep the backgrounds clean, but I also wanted to show a bit of the environment, so I started looking for shots where I could put kids in the foreground and background out of focus and have just the one child in focus. I think I cracked it with the Photo of Kimberly shown left.

I took some 3000 photos over the 3 days which I edited down to 300 for the DVD. I wasn't able to go along to the show, but the feedback I got was tremendous. One mother was telling me how her husband was in tears when the DVD was being played. I was a little overwhelmed by the response if the truth be told because I was looking at the images with a very critical eye. But when I watched the DVD again I started to see what the parents saw.

If I do this again next year, I think I would do some things differently. I would certainly take a more active role in managing the space. I wouldn't want to direct the kids, but I think I would make some suggestions about where the kids are located within the room and what direction they should be facing when they are performing so that I can get them in the best light.

One disappointment was that I didn't get great pictures of every child, I need to make sure I get at least a decent headshot of each child before moving on to the more tricky shots. There were certainly plenty of opportunities to do this.

I also want to shoot less and take more time over the design of the shots, be more pro-active and less reactive. The shot of Kimberly was done like this, I thought about how I wanted the shot composed and then I waited until Kimberly turned her head towards the camera.

As a direct result of doing this little project I have been recommended to the school by the parents to shot the school portraits. Apparently they haven't had a school photo in over two years. That's going to be a whole new kettle of fish. I have done a bit of research into photographing children with special needs doesn't lend itself to the sort of production-line flash lit school portraits you usually get. I'm excited at the prospect but also a little daunted.

You can see more of the ballet photos in my flickr gallery

Thursday, 11 December 2008

London Strobists Facebook Group

London Strobist Facebook LogoI have created a facebook group for London Strobists to complement the flickr group that has been successfully running meetups for the last year. Its not there to replace the flickr group but to provide another outlet and means of contacting members. We are running a rolling contest to design a logo for the London Strobists group. It has to be quintessentially London and it has to embody strobism. In the meantime I have come up with my own pop at the theme while we wait for someone to take up the baton.

What could say London more than a bowler hat? Yeah baby! and What could say strobist more than... a strobe. It was a simple concept, all I wanted was a strobe between a bowler hat and a suit and tie so that the London City gent's face was replaced by a strobe. Tie it together with the colour blue in the background to represent the river and its there.

The difficult bit was doing it in my kitchen. I nearly gave up because I was getting so much light bouncing off the walls from the main light source, which was a large shoot through umbrella, that the background light was getting contaminated. But then the voice of David Hobby came echoing back to me "One step at a time.. One step at a time.. time..time..." So I turned off the main light and worked on the background light until it was how I wanted it. I used an SB28 flash with two layers of blue filter zoomed to 85mm. I had the power up pretty high so as to nuke the ambient light. I had the bowler hat sitting on top of my GY180 flashgun and it was silhouetted nicely with a halo of blue light all the way around. Next I worked on the main light, I got it as close as I possibly could to the subject, so that the power would be much higher near the hat than the wall. I also had to bring the subject as far from the wall as the room would allow

Once I had the hat and flash exposed nicely I stepped in and got my wife to take some pictures of me in a suit and tie, I would have used a tripod and remote for the entire shoot but my cooker was in the way. With the two shots in the bag it was a simple process of aligning them in two layers and rubbing out the unwanted portions of the picture. It was a quick and dirty comp for a small logo and didn't have to stand up to close scrutiny so there you go.