Tuesday 12 February 2013

Photographing Black on Black

Sony Mount Arax 35mm Tilt and Shift Lens

Its been some time since I switched to Nikon and I kept meaning to sell all of my Sony equipment but never quite got around to it until now. So this is a bit of a cheeky post to drum up some interest in my junkebay items and also a serious little tutorial on strobist style shooting for black on black.

So in this post you will learn the secret of black on black. What a specular reflection is, how to use led lights as modelling lights on small flash and how my slick and sexy looking Sony gear makes you want to switch brands and buy it all off me.

The secret to shooting black on black is in the highlights. Because there is no contrast between a black object and a black background you need to create that contrast with highlights. In this case I wanted to photograph my awesome shiny black Sony equipment on my equally shiny black coffee table. (not so shiny anymore)

Minolta 135mm f2.8Minolta Maxxum AF 50mm F1.4Olympus WCON 08B Wide angle converterSony/Minolta Mount Arax 35mm Tilt and Shift Lens

What I needed to do was to reflect some nice big light sources in my table to create a soft edged pool of light behind the equipment and add some shine to the equipment itself so that it looks clean and sharp.

For this shoot I used three light sources. Lets deal with the pool of light on the table first. For this I used a white shoot through umbrella directly behind the item I was photographing.  If you imagine that the table was a perfect mirror you could place the umbrella and the object on the table so that the object was sitting on top of the reflection of the umbrella. This kind of reflection is called a specular reflection. why? Because the latin for mirror is speculum and the people who make this shit up don't want just everyone to understand it.

Now the thing is that the table top is nothing like a perfect mirror, some of the light is reflected in all directions and this is called a diffuse reflection. So what you get is a sort of fuzzy out of focus image of the umbrella reflected on the table.  The umbrella is white, the reflection is white, but somehow our brains interpret it as black because we know the table is black. It doesnt look like a black table with a big grey smudge on it. (Well maybe it does now I've said that.)


One of the difficulties I had doing this, was shooting with flash, I couldn't see the reflection in the table. My little Nikon SB28 flashes don't have modelling lights. So what I did is clamp an 64-LED Video Camera Light next to the flashgun and turn the lights off in the room so I could see what the hell was going on. I was able to position the specular highlight in the right place on the table and then I adjusted the size of it by half closing the umbrella. I had a reasonable idea of where to place it because the angle between the camera and the item on the table should be the same  the between the item and the flash. After getting it approximately in position I used my eyeballs.

That was the background taken care of, but I also wanted some light reflected around the objects themselves. So I put two flashes in softboxes either side of the subject. This gave me some specular highlights on the sides of the subject in view of the camera.

I'll leave you with this setup shot of a bottle of  1969 port. I was trying to get a more subtle edge highlight by turning the softboxes out away from the bottle. But you can see how I closed up the umbrella and you can see the highlight on the table.

The bottle is now empty but the ebay items are still on sale until the 20th February

Tuesday 1 November 2011


The video was last updated on November 27th

This Movember I have decided to shave off my facial hair in the name of charity and grow a moustache. I have no idea how long its going to take to grow fully, but I'd be happy to accept suggestions for style. I shot this stop motion video of myself shaving the beard off and trying out a few different styles in the process. Which do you think I should stick with?

I shot the video using off-camera flash. Its a very simple one-light setup, because its going to have to be up all month so that I can take photos every day of the tache doing its thing..

For those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, its just a white shoot through umbrella to the left of the camera with an SB28 flash inside it at 1/8 power. The camera is set to F11 at ISO800 and a shutter of 1/250 so I can shut out all of the ambient light.

I'm using low power so that I can take a bunch of photos in fairly quick succession. I could probably have pushed the ISO a bit more than ISO 800 and squeezed more out of the flash but I might start to get some ambient light creeping into the pictures. The flash is triggered with an elinchrom skyport radio transmitter and I'm using an RF602 trigger to trigger the camera. I just used windows movie maker to create the video. Its very clunky and I'm sure there was better out there, but I didnt do much planning as you can probably tell.

To get everything close shot on shot, I have marked where to put my feet with some gaffer tape on the floor and the camera is locked down on a tripod so that it doesn't move. I've also marked where the tripod feet are so that if it does move I can put it back.

Most people take part in Movember to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer, but If you would like to sponsor me, I would prefer the money to go to Great Ormond Street Hospital that looked after my daughter Christina so well when she was born.

You can send your cash here http://www.justgiving.com/monster-munchkin

Alternatively if you are in the UK you can send money by text by texting


To: 70070

You can send more than a pound if you like and you can still add gift-aid by following the link that you get sent on reciept of your SMS

Saturday 24 September 2011

A Photograph is just a click

I was having a discussion on facebook with a friend, who is painter, photographer and film maker. During the course of the discussion he told me that a photograph is just a click. It might be a simple statement of the relative ease of taking a photograph compared to his other artistic pursuits, but there are all sort of other implications that could be read into it. I thought it would be entertaining for me to bore you all with my philosophical musings on this statement. I appreciate that this is a bit of an odd post coming as it is after 9 month's silence, but I've got to restart somewhere, haven't I?

For the record, none of what follows is the opinion of my friend.

A photograph is just a click. That's it, no effort, just a click, the shutter exposes the sensor in just a few hundredths of a second and its done. Click. Its certainly not a false statement, but neither is it true.

The statement implies that compared to painting for instance, photography is not skilled. That the photographer can effortlessly capture the image in a click. While that might be true for some, it ignores the fact that there are many ways of taking photographs with a varying degree of skill and difficulty. At one end of the scale you might accidentally snap a photo as you trip up and yet still create something you love. At the other end of the scale you might have a commercial photograph that may have taken months of preparation before the click and more after the click. In an interview in The F Stop Magazine Anthony Crossfield said that his image The Hunt took six months to create. That's an extreme case. You might argue that it's photo illustration rather than photography but it is art created by photography, which counts in my book.

This illustrates my next point, that a photograph is not just what happens when you press the shutter. Some of the magic happens before the click and there is scope for further refining of the image after. In some forms of photography the tripping of the shutter is such a minor part of making a picture that the photographer will get an assistant to do it. Preparation, Visualisation and Composition come first and then the click. In fact one click is frequently not enough. Philipe Halsman's photo Dali Atomicus took 28 attempts over a period of six hours.

After the click there is still more than can happen in post production. With the advent of photoshop there are a huge number of things that can be done going way beyond the tricks of the darkroom.

All of these things before and after the click can be done without skill, or they can require a huge amount of skill, knowledge and effort to pull them off. When I assisted commercial photographer David Rowland on one of his jobs, the skill and experience that he used to light a washing machine was an eye-opener to me, finessing light and shade to make the tones of the silver machine look perfect. Just for an image that was going to appear for a couple of seconds on a TV commercial.

A further implication is that photography is not as worthy as other art forms where skill and effort are seen as a requirement. Look at painting. does it always require skill and effort to make a beautiful image? To paint in the style of Mondrian requires a very modest amount of skill and yet his work is celebrated. If you took two paintings, one of which took a lot of skill and effort, the other without technical prowess that was produced in a short space of time? Which would be the most worthy? There is no answer to that question because skill and effort alone do not make the picture. You can have skill and perseverance and still produce images that nobody but your mother would love. Granted that there is some enjoyment to be had from recognising the skill and hard work that went into creating an image. But on the whole, in photography nobody cares how hard it was to create an image.

The whole question of value is a big problem in photography for people wanting to earn a living of it. People recognise that it takes along time to create a painting but photography its seems, is just a click.

There is an implication in the statement that the length of time it took to create the image is important. Why? The worth of an image is independent of the time and effort used to create it. If you find an inkblot beautiful then it simply is. If you find a photograph beautiful then it is. Art can be found as well as made. The fact that its just a click has no real importance at all.

To finish off I'm going to paraphrase a story from The Way Of The Assassin. I think it illustrates my point more succinctly than my ramblings so far.

A rich man asks a master artist to draw him a fish. The ultimate fish that represents all fish. The master agreed to paint the fish and told the man to go home and he would contact him when the painting was done. So the man waited and days became weeks, weeks became months and months became years. Finally the rich man returned to the artist to demand his fish. The Artist took a brush and in just three strokes painted him a fish that was all he had dreamed of. The rich man asked why it took him so long to give him the painting when it only took seconds to paint. The artist went to a cupboard and opened the doors, out fell hundreds of paintings of fish