Monday, 18 October 2010

Loading a Polaroid 4x5 back badly

ViewfinderThe time had come for me to give Philip Payne his 4x5 camera. So I used up the last frame of Fuji FP100C-45 instant film that I had loaded in David Rowland's polaroid back and packed it up. I wish I had made more of the opportunity to use the camera but it was so big and bulky that it was easy to leave it in a cupboard and forget about it. But I did have some fun with it. The big instant prints are kind of gratifying and I enjoyed floating the emulsion off to make wrinkled little prints.

Its very different way of shooting. You have to be careful to do everything in the right order and almost have to rehearse each shot otherwise you risk exposing the film before you meant to. I would set the shutter to "T" mode open up the lens to maximum aperture to focus on the ground glass and then once everything was in focus I would set the shutter and aperture back to the appropriate settings for the shot, put the film back in, prime the shutter and pull the dark slide out ready to take the shot. Focussing in poor light is a complete nightmare. I think if I were shooting with one regularly I would want to use continuous lights.

One of the ironies of shooting instant film on a large format camera is that you end up taking a "Polaroid" with a digital camera to avoid wasting precious instant film.

Of course none of that is anything to do with this post. What I'm really posting about is that I needed to return the Polaroid 550 back to David with film in it, seeing as that is how he gave it to me. I thought I may as well shoot a video of it and post it up here for anyone who hasn't seen it done before. Its not terribly intuitive, but makes complete sense once you have done it once.

Unfortunately I was doing it by memory, which is not such a good idea when you start getting a bit older because the memory starts to fade a bit. The other problem is that I couldn't do a dry run. If I hadn't loaned out my Hasselblad I would have practiced on the smaller back, but it wasn't available so I had to do it in one take. I should let you see for yourself how bad the video is. A bit like acorn antiques all the important action is happening out of frame. And I managed to confuse myself half way through. Just take a look for yourself. I promise I'll do it better when I get my hasselblad back.

Does any of that make sense to you? If not here is what you need to do. First of all take out the dark slide from the back. You won't be able to open it with it in. Open the back up. There is a hinged cover up by the rollers. Pull that open and the whole thing should unfold. Then just lay the film in the case with the black paper facing the hole were the dark slide was. You don't need to thread anything through any holes, just lay it flat and make sure the paper is not curled under itself. Close the back up and replace the dark slide. You should now have a black paper tab sticking out and the white tabs should be just visible. Remembering that you need the dark slide in place! Pull on the black tab quickly straight out of the pack. Don't do it slowly like I did in the video. You should now have a white tab hanging out of the back. That's it done.

When you take the shot, just yank on the white tab and it will pull the first sheet up to the rollers. You don't want to do what I did in the video and yank it before you take a shot as you'll waste the film. After you take your first photo, pull the grey tab through the rollers in one smooth movement and you'll have your first sheet of instant film developing in your grubby mits.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Pro Digital Fashion Photography

Bruce Smith has set out to show you everything you need to set out on the road to being a fashion photography. Whilst I don't think that it gives up all of fashion photography's secrets, it's a pretty good starting point and there is plenty to consider when you embark on a fashion project of your own.

The link here is for the US version of the book but I have the UK version. The UK version now appears to be out of print and worth a lot more than I paid for it. However I contacted Bruce and he has confirmed that the US version is identical to the UK version.

The first chapter on equipment is fairly brief and explains all the choices you can make. It covers cameras, lenses, computer hardware and software, location lighting, gadgets and cases. It doesn't go into a great deal of depth, but he explains from personal experience why he uses each piece of kit.

Despite the fact that the book was first published in 2008 it's already out of date, Moore's law dictating a tenfold increase in diskspace. I can't imagine anyone owning a 4 Megapixel DSLR let alone using one to shoot fashion. But guess what? That doesn't really matter because the message is that there isn't just one tool, you choose the right tool for the job at hand.

The next chapter is on building your team. The emphasis is on the importance of your team and your relationship with them. The team members are your models, makeup artists, stylists and assistants. It also covers casting and shooting tests with agencies.

The chapter on pre-production covers all the elements you need to pull together for a successful shoot. From choosing a location, to building a set. Its also talks about how to get your ideas and the timing of the shoot. Theres a lot of information in this section and you could use this to give yourself a checklist of things to plan for on your own shoots. Some of the discussion is about the practical aspects of the choices you can make such as daylight studio vs location. The pre-production chapter also dicusses lighting. The lighting section has an extraordinarilly detailed description of how to set up a white background using 4 lights. Running over two pages this description has multiple setup shots and tells you what f-stops to meter at. There follows 30 pages on different lighting techniques, but these are more general and less detailed than the white background setup, but no less valuable. Lots of diffeent scenarios are discussed, from ambient, to ambient plus flash and pure flash photography. It would certainly get you off to a flying start if you wanted to reproduce the lighting styles that Bruce has shown in this book.

The next chapter on production is about what happens on the day. Some of the sections in this chapter may seem more suited to pre-production for instance the section on knowing your market and knowing your client's needs. also knowing what the layout will be, but it is something you would do well to remember on the day.

There is a good section on composition and how it relates to the thing you are selling and the layout of the finished shot. The subject of composition would make a book in its own right, so he doesn't go into great detail here, but relating it to your final goal is the important thing.

There is some good advice about creating energy on a shoot and on directing models and he also discusses exposure and metering and white balnce. Time management gets a couple of pages devoted to it and there is also a discussion about usage for the advertising, editorial and catalogue markets.

The chapter on post production has some discussion about editing, making your selections and a few pages of retouching for the most frequent types of thing that Bruce might do. However it is a very small section.

The penultimate Chapter is on marketing. Covering promotion, developing style, building and showing a portfolio. There are also a couple of pages devoted to fee structures.

Finally there is a short chapter devoted to inspirational photographers. La Chappelle, Latigan, Perou and Rankin each get a full page photo and a page of text describing their work.

So that's the end of this mammoth review. as you can see a lot is covered in the book. Not all of it in great depth, but it will lay down a framework for you to work from and build upon. I guess you could call it fashion photography 101.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Photography and the art of seeing

Freeman Patterson's book bills itself as a workshop and like any workshop it has exercises that you can follow to reinforce the lessons. The book is built around three principles of observation, imagination and expression and offers techniques and insight for developing these areas.

The section on observation concentrates on overcoming barriers to seeing and the exercises are designed to help you do that. Its about breaking rules, thinking laterally, studying the familiar and clearing your mind to make room for observation.

The section on imagination is fairly short and in many ways the barriers to imagination are the same as the barriers to observation. Imagination, abstraction and pre-visualisation are discussed with good examples and exercises.

The section on expression is about conveying mood or feeling in your photographs. The photos that Freeman uses to illustrate expression are mostly landscapes that have been designed to express a feeling such as joy or a concept such as dreaming.

A large part of the section on expression is a discussion of the unique properties of cameras. Its actually very low on technical detail and I guess you might see that as a good thing or a bad thing depending on your level of technical ability.

The remainder of the book is about visual design and how this might relate to expression and emotion. The sort of things discussed are the use of colour, line and tone. Freeman has a very different approach to a more technical work like The Photographer's Eye or David Prakel's Composition. This book has a more personal and emotional style to it.

The book throughout is illustrated with Freeman's photos. For the most part they are landscapes often very delicate in tone and composed to the point of abstraction. His other photos are a little less inspirational. I also felt that the images in the book were let down by the printing. They seemed over-sharpened lacking in detail and there was some banding on some of the images. I would have liked to have seen more variety.

For me personally I didn't feel that I got as much out of it as I could have because I didn't do the exercises some of the lessons have stuck in my addled mind but its a book that for me requires re-reading.

Having said that, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to someone who was doing a 365 project because it would be easy to incorporate the exercises into your daily routine. If you are the kind of person who would work through exercises I think you could get a lot of value out of it.