Woopidy Doo….. I really need YOU!

Photographs

So the Chinese New Year has begun and my new project has also got under way! To say that I am delighted is an understatement of heyooge proportions.

For those of you not yet aware of what my new project is for 2012, Olympic Year, it is a series of environmental portraits of British people in their homes. It is intended to show all aspects of life; rough, smooth, well-heeled, poor, famous, unknown, local and national. It is the simplicity of “An Englishman’s Home is his castle” with a modern twist. The twist is that the subjects do not have to be English just living in the UK or UK citizens.

I am on the lookout for interesting MEN that either have interesting ‘room consuming’ hobbies or are interesting just in themselves. I want to photograph them on their territory. In their world. A world that due to the breakdown of the community in this country, few people outside close family/friends generally get to see. Everybody lives differently and everybody has different ‘quirks’ and approaches to what makes a home a home. Males tend to be compulsive and sometimes impractical, compulsive about hobbies or their looks. I want to take photographs, hundreds of them, showing everyday UK citizens in their own private worlds.

This week I have taken my first image and processed it. It is of Les, a Hotel Owner from Wiltshire. It does not sensationalise or undermine Les. It is Les, Les in his world, where he is at his happiest. I am delighted with this image, it is a marker and a standard that I need to uphold and build from.

As a result of this first success, whilst chatting away about the project, I now have two more opportunities, one that hopefully, weather permitting, takes place this Friday. I am so excited. It is going to be such a challenge and such a journey. I have many other people I know on my list but then again, more importantly, there are so many people out there that I don’t know. But you might.

I am now sending out an official plea to everyone. You all know somebody that would be appropriate for this project. The guy that collects/builds/makes/looks after etc etc, maybe that you work with or who is a neighbour or friend, that would make an interesting subject for this project. Maybe they live their work at home and it is all consuming for them. Maybe they have the most spectacular beard and/or moustache, or collection of dickie-bow ties. The project will result in a book and hopefully an exhibition, that will simply show each person in their domain, the titles will be their first name, job title and area within which they live.

I have all the necessary info to hand if you would like it to give to someone you know or alternatively you could email me details at rich@ellisimagery.co.uk and I will contact directly and explain the purpose of my enquiry. It should also of course be a bit of fun as well as being a serious project during the UK’s Olympic Year.

I truly do look forward to hearing from you as soon as you can. You know that if you leave it you will forget about it! Let me know now and I will keep on reminding you!! Lets make this project work and become a serious piece of meaningful art.

Respect, Rich X

Advertisements

Beachcomber

General

Given the views expressed in recent posts regarding the art of photography I thought I would make this post a slightly less serious one!

When we go away for pleasure in the UK we like to tour around and get to see an area as much as possible. However, we also like to chill out and enjoy a slower pace of life. To this end we have purchased a VW T5 Van to convert into a Camper so we can do these trips easier and cheaper in the future. The plan is that we get the conversion done in April when we can then go traipsing around the countryside at (every?) weekends when we feel the weather is going to be ok and just when we fancy it!

It also will provide a great platform to go back into areas previously explored (see previous post) to get those shots that we missed due to bad light or timing or simply had no time to grab.

With this in mind we visited West Wales last weekend and although we stayed in an amazing Guest House, Coedmor Nr Barmouth, that totally ruined our January dieting best intentions, we did tons of driving in our still comparatively new (to us) van. The results are fantastic! It drives like a luxury car (only slightly noisier) and the view afforded by its higher seating is perfect for sightseeing. Being the short wheel base version it still means you can get it into most parking bays and its turning circle is better than most cars I have driven. Our other car is a Mini and it turns better than that!

However, it’s real joy is its engine. We have the 130bhp Auto box version and I have to say, it pulls like the proverbial train and the 6 speed gear box is so smooth you wouldn’t know it was changing them at all. I am so impressed I can’t tell you. I have owned some nice motors in my time on this planet but rarely have I enjoyed a vehicle so much. To think that in a couple of months we will then be able to stop wherever we want and make a cup of tea will make it even cooler and better. Oh, and we think it looks pretty cool already even before the alloys etc!!

Anyway, when tootling around the coast the other day, working our way up to Criccieth we stumbled onto this beach where it was possible to drive your car along the whole stretch seemingly. It must have been a mile or two long and there were cars all along it. I think it is called Treflys near Porthmadog? It is rare these days to be able to drive anywhere you want and this seemed to be a fitting place for our van!

VW T5 Transporter

Our 'Poppy' VW T5 Transporter, pre-op!!

This pic is processed in a 70’s style and distorted slightly, hope you like :-))

Timing…I said………..Timing!

Photographs

It is the end of a week in which many things have happened and yet nothing has happened at all! Confused? Yeah, me too!

So, let me go back to last weekend when we visited the lovely and picturesque area of West Wales, near Barmouth. This area boasts a few ruined castles (Harlech and Criccieth to name two), gorgeous countryside (Snowdonia National Park) and a beautiful coastline that have many beaches covered in sand and oft protected by large dunes.

In an area like this you would think it was almost a dead cert that images could be spectacularly made and enjoyed for years to come. Well, that is true, partly. Landscaping is an awkward art. It is awkward because a lot of elements have to pass together at the same time. You will often hear photographers talking about light. What they mean is, quality of the light (usually the suns light) and the direction of said source. The trick to a great shot is to find an interesting view, that is beautifully lit and that is new or unique to the viewer.

Getting these elements all together often takes a great deal of research. Firstly there is the location itself. Is it interesting? Would it make a ‘captivating’ image? Would it hold a viewers attention for more then 10 seconds? Would I (the photographer) be able to compose a shot that does all of these things assuming the ‘light’ is ‘good’? Many pro photographers would say that foreground interest is essential (not true in my view but sometimes useful), and that the rule of thirds should be followed (not true again but also, not a bad place to start!).

Secondly, once this location has been discovered, is it possible to get ‘good’ light. It is again considered essential to only make images during the ‘golden hours’ before/during/just after sunrise, and before/during/just after sunset.  The reason for this is that the sun’s rays are weaker meaning less contrast between the sky and any ‘dark’ part of an image (meaning a better balanced image) and the fact that the light is ‘golden’ in hue and softer. To make the most of this it is essential to understand where the sun will rise and where it sets in relation to your proposed ‘image’ and to try to imagine the effects it will create. You need to ask yourself, what time will be better and what time of year will you visit your location. Do you need a cloudless sky or one with some cloud interest?

Lastly, when all of these things are all in place, is the image you propose unique or simply the same as many others taken at the same place in similar circumstances? This isn’t always a deal breaker, sometimes it is a good challenge to see if you can produce a ‘better’ image than others you have seen of the same location but it can feel a little deflating to know you are trying to ‘copy’ a great image! That said, I guess there are very few truly un-photographed places left in the world!

It is of little surprise then that getting great landscape shots in a new area on the ‘hoof’ as it were, is nigh on impossible. I tend to always keep a good look out for interesting and captivating views and areas. I would then hope to re-visit and build my knowledge of the targeted area. Then, it is a question of hitting that area when all of the appropriate elements come together. Weather, light and sometimes even season. It is for these reasons that landscaping can be VERY frustrating and very time consuming. Many a pro will talk of wasted hours waiting for the right conditions to come along that invariably, never do!

So, whilst visiting west Wales and loving the scenery and views, it is almost impossible over a short weekend to grab any meaningful and exciting images. Unless that is, you are very lucky.

We visited Harlech Castle, I can now tell you when I would visit again photographically and where I would stand (roughly) for the best shot and at what time of day! We visited the far shore looking back towards Barmouth and I could do likewise. The railway bridge that spans the Estuary there would make an interesting shot but the tide needs to be either fully out or fully in and I would just love to grab that at sunrise with a morning mist! All these things are stored in my little memory bank for future reference.

Driving up towards Snowdon around the various passes (that in snowier climes would be impassable), I motored past a scene that made me catch my breath. It was a small lake, mirror smooth on its surface, with the sun setting behind us lighting up the far mountains with a gorgeous soft golden light. The light danced over the hills creating an almost perfect reflection in the lake leaving a view that was hard to establish where reflection stopped and view started. It also created a perfect symmetrical mirror image that looked wonderful to me. Well, with a car two inches from my bumper I was unable to brake hard and swerve into the bay on the opposite bank. So I kept going hoping to find another parking spot that would be safe on this twisty road. Alas, I could not find a safe place. We continued on for almost a mile until we found a place we could turn around and speed back to where we had just been. We got there excitedly, I leapt from the van to be greeted by a flat, dull looking scene with no sun. I looked up, cloud was now covering the sun, which itself was slipping dangerously low behind a hill that would shield it forever from  this scene. Whats more, a gentle breeze had picked up, rippling the surface of the small lake meaning the reflection was now nothing like mirror perfect.

I waited a while and then forlornly packed up my gear and drove on. A few miles further  there was a similar scene and we stopped and I grabbed a few frames having waited for the right moment but it never really materialised properly. From this shot you will get the idea but the first view we saw was doubly as impressive as this, better balanced and overall a better scene.

It just goes to show, you can stumble on a perfect picture, but you had better be prepared to set up in seconds because that is all it takes to miss an otherwise perfect moment!

Snowdonia Park

Smooth surface at Lyn Gwynant, Snowdonia National Park, Wales

Oh and for one of the best landscapers in the country see here

Nudes

Photographs

There, that title tends to get the pulses racing! Are you a person that enjoys nude photography or one that hates it intensely as degrading and something that shouldn’t be seen?

Whichever you are there is one thing that always guarantees to puzzle me about nudes. It is that it should ever ‘offend’ anyone? Why? We are all similar underneath our clothes be it men or women. The thing about the nude photograph is that there is a never ending debate about what is porn, what is art and what is gratuitous.

I never like to join in these debates too much, as obviously we all have a different idea of what is what. However, to be offended by the body itself I find extraordinary. I may not like the image, or think the depicted body is beautiful but I am never offended. It is like describing somebody’s face as offensive and that is a very uncommon sentiment isn’t it?

I care not what people think of my nudes with regard to whether they cause offence. It would be hard to call them ‘pornographic’ but I guess in some circles it could be said! Take this image. It is of my beautiful fiancee Hels. She is nude, it was a moment, we captured it, we move on. Is it offensive? Could it ever be described as such? Why not? She is naked, it is subtle I agree but surely not offensive.

A Nude Girl

My point is that we all have our idea around decency. However, I am far more offended by a poor photograph than I am about the body or person in it. I am a nude snob maybe? This shot was spontaneous, planned but relaxed and captures a fleeting glimpse. How many are simply shots of a naked person. The fact they are naked does not make it a good shot. Merely a bad shot of a nude!

This is what saddens me most about lots of forums and debates in camera clubs all over the world. It seems most prevalent in photographs of people. There seems to be masses of discussion about the technical aspects of a shot but very very rarely does anyone ask the question – why?

Why have you taken the shot? What were you trying to convey? Have you achieved it? I once wrote these sentiments on a dreadful thread asking for crit showing a set of portraits shot in a studio. The images were lifeless, showing nothing of the person they were shooting. In fact no thought had been given to the model at all. I gave them my crit! I was immediately praised by another poster who said that my comments were the most helpful he had ever read on the forums anywhere!! I was shocked and saddened that someone should say that. However, the rest of the comments demonstrated my (and his) point. Energy to burn on lighting and f stops etc but none on the model themselves. Why has this occurred?

My theory is (and nobody says that this works or is correct, just my opinion), if you are going to shoot someone, ask yourself why, what do you want to get from them. What is the point? What mood do you want to convey? Happy, sad, scared, excited, love, passion, greed, etc etc If there isn’t a point, then the images will show this and be lifeless and dull to the viewer.

Interesting debate though isn’t it? Happy shooting…

Project Launch

General, Photographs

This week has thrown up some interesting opportunities that could mean for a very exciting coming weeks, months and maybe years. More of that to come.

I have been overwhelmed by the response to the Porthcawl images (Here). I posted them on Facebook and had unprecedented feedback from my friends there. I then thought I should post one on the RPS website as I have been so rude to them recently! Again, some very flattering comments and input. Its always great when you get positive feedback, sometimes you wonder whether your efforts (whats the eye equivalent to ‘falling on deaf ears’?) are noticed.

I posted those images on my website and have been mulling with the idea of changing the way the galleries work on there. The problem is that when I do so, some of the individual comments become badly positioned and detract from the image itself. I am not sure why but it isn’t as easy (is it ever) as just simply swapping the format over, which would be the best solution. Anyway, having set up a gallery I mailed my usual corporate contacts for feedback and future work. This exercise takes quite a while as I don’t just like to ‘spam’ these people, I have met most of them so I like to at least send some kind of personal message to them. However, this month the response seems to have been a bit gloomier than normal. A lot of agencies seem to be struggling whereas this time last year they were not quite so touched by the market downturns. I am hoping that good things come from these again but I think I will have to push harder and again broaden my horizons a bit more.

Over the Christmas break I met with an old friend who feels he has stumbled on a good idea for a wide market. In fact, most small businesses in the UK would be interested in the idea. I listened intently and then decided that I too agreed it was a great idea. We chatted through more detail and the upshot is that together with my niece, we are going to pilot a sales campaign to see if the demand for this service is as we think it might be. Sam, my niece, is exceedingly switched on and very dedicated to getting great results together with an inquisitive and sharp mind. A perfect foil for this old, long in the tooth duffer! If we are all right about this, it will be an exciting few months ahead finding out. If those few months go well then, well, we will see, lets cross bridge one first!

This evening we head off away to Barmouth in the southern area of Snowdonia and the forecast looks good for bright if a little cold, weather. We won’t have much time up there but we are taking cameras and gear so fingers crossed we can snap some decent landscapes again.

Finally, I have decided to fully commit to the “An Englishman’s Home…” project so am on the look out immediately for interesting subjects. If you know of any gentleman, any age, any class, any creed, of any political persuasion, any religion, of any standing who you think is interesting then please let me know. I am particularly interested in men who are dedicated to a hobby or collection, or who are eccentric in any way, or are interesting people in themselves. I am hoping to take portraits in the subjects home. The purpose is to look towards producing a book and or exhibition in the near future.

I leave you with my most visited subject of last year Danielle Watson who in the recent series, “This is England ’88” has gone from strength to strength with her acting career so far!

danielle watson, this is england

Star of This Is England, Danielle Watson

Storm Force

Photographs

Three times previously I had headed in vain to a place where I knew there were amazing pics to be had. However, everything had to be right. Firstly, the wind needed to be blowing, and I mean blowing. Storm force gales were the order here.

Secondly, high tide had to be not only in daylight hours but preferably in the afternoon so that the sun was shining onto the waves and harbour wall from the right.

Lastly, there had to be some sunlight, again, preferably in between showers which would give a good sky backdrop.

All previous attempts had resulted in the camera not even being taken out of the bag. The  reason being the light was wrong (too dull) or the waves were not being up and spectacular enough.

Well, this last Monday evening I watched the weather forecast with growing excitement. The Met Office was fluctuating between a steady 30 and 40 mph winds with high tide due at 12.33pm on Tuesday. The best thing being that the wall of rain should also be clearing by midday. Well, all this seemed too good to be true so we got up early, packed coats and walking boots together with our flask of hot strong coffee and off we set. The weather going there was absolutely atrocious, which was perfect, if you get the idea! The M4 was extremely wet and winds were high.

As we neared our destination however, the winds seemed to settle to barely a whisper and although the rain had all but passed us overhead, we feared that the stormy seas whipped up by gale force winds might not be as we were picturing.

We arrived as a passing deluge passed us overhead and our first look at the viewpoint we were to be using confirmed we need not have been worried. Waves taller than a house were crashing into each other and over the harbour wall. We could see we had a few minutes of sun before another major shower blew in from the sea. We quickly set up and fired off a few images. The settings were relatively easy to organise. I needed enough depth of field to capture all the frothy action but a high enough shutter speed to freeze the spray in mid air.

I used aperture priority, a very sturdy tripod and a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. The settings were as follows: ISO200, f9, 1/800th second and around 110-140mm focal length. I was not worried about noise on the images as I was going to be converting these to mono anyway and also because the Canon 5D Mark II at ISO200 will have no noise problems at all. I was a little worried about movement as the wind was blowing a gale and keeping the whole set up steady was challenging but at 1/800th (in strong sunlight) things were good. I also set the drive to continuous mode as although the 5D II  doesn’t have a great images per second drive it is more than adequate and I quickly realised the waves looked better sometimes as they grew and sometimes as they were falling away, this meant I captured both.

The approaching shower turned into a massive storm and lasted all of 10 minutes but enough for us to seek shelter in the van! A cup of hot coffee later and we were off again to our place on the harbour wall. There were many other ‘togs around, all expecting to catch the excitement of the scene before us. I trust we managed that too. For the full set of images please click here http://www.ellisimagery.co.uk/section573937.html

We ventured home after treating ourselves to a fish and chip late lunch and over 500 images nabbed for future processing. The processing itself was done in my usual way and that is to carefully select the appropriate images first. Out of 500 there are many that can immediately be binned, in this case, mostly because the waves were not ‘exciting’ enough. Once that has been done and the best selected the full processing begins. One thing I never hear commented upon about processing is the user’s mood/attitude. I personally find that if I am in the wrong frame of mind, I cannot make my good images ‘sing’ from the screen. If that doesn’t happen then I walk away.

When the mood is right, the processing is almost as enjoyable as the shooting itself. Here I played with B&W conversions for hours. Tweaking levels, sharpening certain areas, dodging and burning waves to bring them out in all the explosive glory. There is just never one ‘right’ way to do this and all my images are quite different and processed deliberately that way. My cropping is also very flexible. Again, I simply have no time or patience with anyone that says you must crop perfectly in camera everytime. Why? Capture the beauty of the moment and make sure all your levels and settings are spot on and frame roughly too large for your likely final edit. Sloping horizons are another area I try to get right but am not anal about at this stage. Deal with them on the computer later.  Concentrate on the important aspects first, those you cannot change later. With todays massive sensors, (the Canon 5D Mark II is 21mp!) you can crop to your hearts content still leaving an image large enough to print to a very large scale. Worry about the final crop back in the comfort of your own home. Who on earth ever said a good picture can only be 6″X4″ or 8″X10″ or ratios thereof? Ridiculous. In this day and age, prints can be any size. My theory is, crop whereever is best for that image. The consequence of this is that I have always made a conscious decision to crop where the image is cropped, in post production. You may not agree with my choice but it has been a deliberate act!

All in all, I am pleased with the set, they illustrate the explosiveness and excitement on offer that day. I hope you like them too…

Storms blow in at Porthcawl, South Wales