Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Minimalist Lighting

Long time flickr group member and commercial photographer Kirk Tuck penned this book on Professional Techniques for Location Photography. It took me a while to get around to having a look at it, but I was eventually persuaded by the fact that it had been so widely praised. If you go by the feedback on Amazon, this is undoubtedly a very good book for many people.

Kirk starts the book with a pretty convincing argument for why small is beautiful, with a case study of a complex shoot gone wrong. He explains how recent advances in techology have made this style of shooting possible.

There's a fairly comprehensive section on quality of light, hard light, soft light, position and so on. It introduces different types of light modifiers, some shop bought and others DIY

The gear section is too large for my liking, some of the photos and captions are duplicated and there are some inaccuracies, for instance the SB28 can go down to 1/64 not 1/16. The section could easily have been relegated to very general discussion with perhaps a web link for more details and updates. Its a shame this section is so big, because just about anyone can tell you what flashgun to buy, but only Kirk can tell you how he lit a CEO on one of his shoots.

There is also section on the Nikon wireless flash system which will no doubt be very useful to some people, but less so for people who don't use Nikon flash with Nikon cameras. I'll confess that I pretty much skipped this section because it wasn't any use to me.

The case studies are good, but would have liked to have seen more variety and more quantity. None of the photos would have been out of place in a brouchure or corporate magazine and the images have a really crisp clean look, but it would have been nice to have seen some of the more faddy techniques that will no doubt go out of style more quickly than the images Kirk shows in his book.

If like me you have read back to front and already have the gear, you might think the book isn't great value for money because the gear section is so large. But if you are a beginner or a pro looking to make the switch, this book could very well be the Strobist 101 book that you wanted.

Kaiser Shoes with 3.5mm Jack Plug

A while back I showed you how to modify a Kaiser hotshoe to replace the PC plug with a 3.5mm jack. If you are rubbish with a soldering iron then there is an alternative for you.

The Flash Centre have had a special run of Kaiser Hotshoes made pre-modded with a 3.5mm jack plug that will connect to your Elinchrom Skyports or Pocket Wizards. I cannot recommed a more secure way of connecting your flash trigger than this. No more unreliable PC socket to worry about. However they aren't cheap, they cost about three times the price of the DIY version.

The feet on these things are removable, so you can configure it with a hot-foot or a tripod mounting socket.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Lighting Diagram Creator

Ive always wanted to be able to create those sexy looking lighting diagrams that some people make, but not owning a copy of photoshop I can't use the tools other people use.

Fortunately my friend Huy has created an online lighting diagram tool. Its in beta and doesn't work with internet explorer yet, but it does work reasonably well with firefox and google chrome. Thanks Huy!

If you have any comments please add them to discussion on Flickr

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Environmental Portrait Photogym

This weekend I joined the London Photographers Meetup Group for a photo-gym on Environmental Portraits. Tim Saunders, a professional photographer currently working for the NHS gave us a presentation, explaining what environmental portraits were all about, showing us both good and bad examples from his own portfolio. The presentation was very well structured, easy to follow and Tim's commentary kept the audience laughing and smiling all the way through.

After a Q&A session, Tim sprung the day's assignment on us. We had to go out into town and take portraits of people at work and they couldn't be candid portraits. Not only that, but we also had to try and get them to sign release forms that Tim had provided. As you can imagine, this was way outside many people's comfort zone, but to their credit, most of the attendees managed to get out there and ask people with varying levels of success.

As I work in the area, I had a good idea of where I could go to try and get some victims indoors so I could use my strobist kit. My first port of call was to be St Clement Dane's church on The Strand, but on the way I noticed that the Gents toilets were open, so I popped down there to use the facilities and to ask the attendant if I could take a portrait. Unfortunately she looked at me as if I had two heads and declined. By the time I got up the stairs and into the church, about 5 other photo-gymnasts were already there getting their release forms filled. So I pressed on asking everyone I could find if I could take their portrait. Its a good job that I am used to rejection, because it happened a lot, but other photo-gymnasts managed to get plenty of people to agree, one even getting 6 signed releases. Eventually I found a friendly cab driver who allowed me to shoot him.

I took an initial exposure without flash and as expected the contrast between the inside of the cab and the outside was too great. So I aimed an SB28 at 1/4 power through the cab windscreen, while shooting through the passenger door at f13 ISO400. I wanted lots of DOF so that you could see inside of the cab. At 1/200s there wasn't enough ambient light, so I dropped it down to 1/60s and got a nice balance between the inside and outside of the cab. This was the only shot I took of the day, which kind of reminds me of David Hobby's photo roulette.

After we got back, everyone's favourite image was loaded onto a PC and Tim made some notes about each one to give us a critique. He said he liked my image (but then he did like everyone's). In particular the balance of ambient and flash, but he suggested that there wasn't enough in the shot to show that it was a cab driver, and that I should have got him to have his badge showing in the shot. With hindsight I probably should have worked the shot a bit longer, but I was standing in a busy road and was feeling the pressure, not to mention risking being flattened by a coach.

It was a good day, a great learning experience, and it has also given me a little more confidence to go out and ask strangers for portraits, which is something I had planned to do last year but chickened out of, so watch this space.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

London Marathon

My Wife's friend Penny is running the London Marathon this year and will be donating her sponsorship to Great Ormond Street Hospital. She chose GOSH because of the help we got there, when my daughter Christina was born. If you can spare a couple of quid (or dollars) to help support this remarkable hospital and encourage Penny, I would be very grateful. If you don't, I'll start doing some nude self-portraits and post them to all the flickr groups I'm a member of. You have been warned!

Donate here Just Giving

Monday, 12 January 2009

The Great Facebook Rights Grab

Not a lot of people realise this, but when you post any content onto facebook, be that photos or text, you are granting facebook a licence to use your images for any purpose they like. This aspect of facebook is starting to get a little publicity now from PhotoAttourney and there are facebook groups dedicated to pressuring facebook into changing their terms. The biggest I have found so far is here

I discussed this with a well known pro photographer a while back and his take on it was that Facebook was now the second largest collection of images on the internet and that they would never dare upset their users by using their images in this way. But what if facebook changed ownership or went into administration, the new owners could sub-licence the images to a library and there wouldn't be a lot you could do about it.

If they never intend on using the rights that their terms of service grab, then why not change them?

In the comments, James Hill pointed out that Facebook now host 10 Billion images. Its interesting to note that Doug Beaver, a representative of facebook, replied to one of the comments in the linked article saying, "I think we're focused on the social aspect of sharing photos with your friends at the moment. Perhaps we will find ways to monetize photos in the future, but right now I think we want to make it the best social photo product out there."

So they aren't planning on making money out of your photos now, but they are thinking about it

Friday, 2 January 2009

A new year

So this is the first anniversary of the blog, its been a pretty full year, I started it with 12 resolutions It has to be said that I haven't managed to keep many of them, but the ones I have kept have been worth it.

Number one on the list was to take a photo every day, unfortunately my camera broke down a few days into new year and without my digital crutch, I lost momentum. Never mind, I shall try again this year.

Corporate HeadshotClosely related was resolution number 2. Take a portrait every week. That was totally unrealistic, I simply didn't have the guts to get people off the streets and shoot them. So this year I shall tone it down and just resolve to take more portraits

Pict00050Third on the list was to run photography sessions every month at work. Well that never happened. The closest I got to that was to do the company Christmas card with a couple of assistants. I did do a few strobist meets and I assisted at a photogym for the London Photography Meetup Group but that was about it. For this year,I'll be little less ambitious and resolve to assist on another photogym and do at least one session at work.

The EpisodesMy fourth resolution was to photograph bands at my local bar. I did photograph one band but didn't make a regular thing of it. To be honest I don't think I'll be taking this up again this year.

Temple CloistersProbably the best in terms of encouraging me to take photographs was number 5 on my list: Walk London at Lunchtime. A can't recommend this enough to you. If you live in a big safe city, take a full hour for lunch and go for a walk, try and be systematic about it and visit every street within walking distance of your workplace, you are bound to find lots of interesting things to shoot and you may find other benefits like really knowing where you are. I will be revisiting some of the most interesting spots and will also be looking a little further afield.

Number 6 was to use my Hasselblad more often. Ironically the demise of my Minolta helped me along with this. I did manage to trash a load of film by loading it back to front, which put the nail in the coffin of my 366 project, but I did use it more often. Now all I need to do is get around to developing the film.

Ballet ShoesSeventh on the list was to complete a project. Though not quite what I had in mind, shooting the ballet was a great little project. I hope to do it again this year.

Submit a story to JPEG Magazine, was number eight on the list. But I was s busy with the blog that I didn't even think of it. I would consider it again, but JPEG is no more.

My ninth resolution was to re-read all my photography books. Not only did I do this, but I also bought quite a few new ones. What a great resolution that was.

Ten was to re-read Light Science and Magic and treat it like an exercise book. That never happened. I did do few photos based on ideas from the book, but this was probably a bit too structured an approach for me. I could revive this resolution but I think I'll already have enough on my plate.

The next on the list was to try an organise a big shoot with a MUA and stylist, I came close to doing it a couple of times, but didn't quite get it off the ground. Better luck this year I guess.

streetshoot-4My final resolution for the year was to do some assisting. I did assist on one shoot and through that I made a good friend. I had also asked commercial photographer to consider me if anything good came up. He gave me a call in August and told me he was dong a shoot in a film studio, they were going to do big singing in the rain number. The only problem was that I was on Holiday at the time. Maybe next time I'll get a chance to do more.

Having the resolutions has been great, its really encouraged me to take more photos and to get out more. Its even improved my health. This year I'll make an effort to get more done.