Weddings and Walls

General

Last weekend saw the passing of another great friend into the world of marriagedom and all that this brings!

We had done the Stag Doo and even made a big thing of it (see last post!). We had even decided that we ought to further celebrate during the week of the fateful day itself but the day could be put off no longer.

The Bride and Groom tied their knot on Saturday. There were a few interesting aspects to this great day. The first and most poignant was that the Groom’s Father, a very successful local Baptist Minister was to perform the Ceremony itself. The other interesting aspects were a mixture of the normal complicated family dynamics and nervous speakers and other participants.

As is my want, I wandered around the day with cameras in tow, snapping in a low key more journalistic fashion. Annoying other guests by them realising too late that a ruddy great big 70-200mm was being pointed rather rudely in their general direction! It also made me realise why I never hanker after being a Wedding Photographer myself. The job is way too stressful, technically difficult due to poor lighting and generally, on the day, you are seen as a necessary evil rather than a person of artistic flair and skill. Indeed, such is the (understandable) demand for certain ‘posed’ images, little free time is left for anything too artistic if anyone wanted them anyway!

The Wedding itself took place in a lovely high-ceilinged Church in Wiltshire, bright, with trees guiding the happy couple forward to the middle front for the vows and swapping of expensive metal. The main wall behind proclaims Jesus is “King of Kings” but written large around the Cross and on a fantastic luxurious red emulsioned wall. Even so, my light meter reading was suggesting a paltry f2.8 even at 800/1600 iso. This really meant that for the official photographer, flash was nigh on a pre-requisite for any shots with depth. I, on the other hand, could snap on wafer thin focal lengths with both a 24-70mm @ 2.8 and a 70-200mm on a cropped sensor also at 2.8. This allowed me to hand hold at reasonable speeds with only a small amount of modern ‘noise’ on the shots that I am finding myself adding in post anyway!

I left all of the normal official kind of shots to the pro wedding guy, he knew what he was up to and I spent most of my time seeking out interesting and poignant angles. I found myself way too often dragged towards the large gold letters written on the wall and couldn’t help framing the B&G with the Minister together with this stark and firm message.

I grabbed a couple with rings and word exchanges but found it hard to capture ’emotion’ but hopefully this came through in a couple of them.

It was then a small 20-30min drive to the venue for the reception which was a re-furbished Old Tythe Barn. Sadly, the lighting in here was a lot worse and meant flash only or don’t bother at all. I mostly didn’t shoot due to my dislike of on camera flash and the freedom it prevents. I can however see that a bit of homework on speeches would be worth it with some good reactions from story tellers and their subjects at times.

After a far too long an evening spent tasting different wines, beers and spirits, the local Hotel that was to be our sanctuary was welcome after a bracing midnight walk. A wonderful day and a beautiful service followed by fantastic company and good old fashioned music and giggle!

Processing finds me as always struggling to move away from the retro slide looks of Ektachrome and the like, giving the overall feel amore nostalgic, romantic look in my eyes.

This week has seen me shooting another subject for my project. This time a friend who is completely gutting (and I mean completely gutting) a house for his new young family to move into later in the year. I wanted to grab him during a major piece of wall removal amidst the chaos and debris that goes along with this effort. It involved a well wrapped camera on a tripod and two 500 watt studio lights. I think I only held up the work for the equivalent of a tea break and I managed to get the shots I wanted. At least I hope I have! There are no second chances with this one!

Business continues to be tough this year and breakthroughs feel harder with Corporate Sponsors for the large project. Determination hasn’t waned though so keep watching this space and remember, if you know anyone that might know someone in the right position in the right business, then please please let me know!

Hugs as always….

Groom and Best Man. Nerves? What nerves!

The Vows

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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

Seagull and Surf

Photographs

Just recovered from our shoot down on the South Devon Coast for a lovely guitar company and its UK distributor.

We met up late in the afternoon on Wednesday, all four of us meeting at our place for the loading up of gear and the formal introductions. Benno from the guitar distributor (aka ‘The Client’), Artemis (aka ‘The Model’), Alma (AKA ‘The Assistant’) and my good self of course. After exchanging pleasantries we loaded up all our gear including surf board, wet suit and various technical equipment for every eventuality.

We headed off down the M4 and realised the surf board on the roof wasn’t secure enough. We stopped and restrained it further. We set off again, and realised the the new restrainers were making an awful racket in the wind and that we would all have brain ache by the team we reached the M5. We stopped again.

Once on the M5 we stopped off for a cuppa and to borrow another, larger board from a friendly publisher who happened to know what he was doing. He pointed out the error of our board restraint techniques, and off we set again with a VERY secure load! We arrived at our destination, a small south Devon coastal Inn, checked in and headed straight down to the location for a reconnaissance mission to the beach. It looked very promising and after consulting our charts and maps and working out the sun rise and set locations we decided to head back for a well earned bite to eat and a drink.

We spent a very relaxed evening eating too much gorgeous steak and drinking west country cider and bursting our seams with way too much hilarity and mirth!  We braved a quick nightcap before we staggered upstairs aware we had set ourselves a stiff target of being awake at sunrise of 5.15am and making it to our location by 6am as the sun rose above the hills.

Well, full credit to us, we made it on time, nobody complained (well Alma had a headache but she didn’t moan too much!) and we set off driving the full 500 yards to the beach car park. Only, it wasn’t open at that time of the morning! So, we travelled 150 yards and then carried all of our gear the rest of the way to our first location.

Now, the shoot was to be trying to capture the essence of beach life. Surf, sea sand and……guitars! Our intention and aim was to make images that would translate into beautifully crafted adverts in specialist magazines highlighting the high-end acoustic guitar range’s coolth and beauty as part of this hip and trendy scene. The processing would reflect this also. We had thought of some fun straplines for the ads like “Seagulls (the guitar brand name), they don’t only nick yer chips!” but settled on something much wiser!

With that aim we headed for the sand dunes and gorgeous wooden fence and awaited the rise of the red hued sun. We were not to be disappointed. We had a few ideas and we sprang into action. We shot using a variety of props and scenarios both into the sun and using it’s early morning wonderful colour on the dewy grasses and sand. We shot mostly wide open at f2.8 or wider with 70-200mm or 85mm lenses. We used a bit of fill flash from a softened strobe and when the sun got stronger we used a reflector to help fill the shadows. After several changes of clothes and shots our poor little Artemis was looking decidedly blue so we headed back to the sanctuary of our Hotel for a much needed cup of Earl Grey and a fry up!

Suitably refreshed we headed upstairs to attempt to grab some indoor shots that somehow captured the atmosphere of our ‘theme’. After a bit of discussion and trial and error we decided that although we would be able to grab some nice images (see below) we would not be able to further the advertising ideas we had for the brand.

We headed to a slightly different location back on the coast and discovered that the good weather had brought out a lot more people which would make shooting just a little more challenging now it was later morning.

We managed to continue shooting different ideas, some that worked, others that didn’t, with changes of clothes, backgrounds and styles. Again, we shot mostly with 70-200mm at f2.8 to minimise depth of field and ‘throw out’ the gorgeous background into an even more delicious looking backdrop. We dispensed with fill flash but could have done with some at times when the light from the sun became too harsh. The reflector does a good job but contrast is too much when the big orb in the sky is at its stunning best!

Happy, knowing we had some great shots in the bag we headed off to Kingsbridge town for a very late lunch before starting our long and tiring journey back to Wiltshire. ‘The Model’ and ‘The Assistant’ still had a way to go from here so probably weren’t home much before their eyes were ready to be rested for a longer time than the night before. We were all content however that we had achieved our goals and most importantly, “The Client” seemed to be very happy with our results even before we have got on to the serious processing. The shoot was a brilliant example that maintaining humour throughout makes for better images and a much better atmosphere in which to create and receive new ideas and thoughts. We shall publish the ads as they are to appear in the mags when we have them signed off.

Artemis

Seagull Test Shot on Location in South Devon. Model - Artemis

Unused shot for Seagull. Model - Artemis

The Killers??

Photographs

We were invited to attend the “Hard Rock Calling” festival at Hyde Park by “James” on Friday. We decided to train it up and back as we thought there might be some alcohol involved. Again, we were assured both guest and photo passes as the Godin project continues to roll. We arrived without a fuss at around 3pm at Hyde Park. We had already had a hearty lunch and bottle of wine to get in the festival spirit!

We approached the “Media and Guest List Booth” and asked for our tickets. As we have become accustomed, these moments are always fraught with a bit of worry, “have they remembered to put us on the list” etc etc. Well, this time, they hadn’t. Saul, the guitarist, was quickly contacted. He assured us he would sort it and get the guys to get us in. Well, 60mins later we were starting to doubt we were ever going to make it in through the front gate! We had already become personal friends with the Security Guard, Rob and the girl in the ‘hut’ Debs. But we were still not in! At last, Kat arrived. Kat was all of 20 years old but she was a PA to the James Tour Manager and we felt we had a lifeline. We wandered back to the smallest hut in the world at the entrance to Hyde Park. Nope, no tickets there. We wandered back to where we started this escapade and Kat asked Debs where our tickets were and what she had to do to get us in. A quick phone call to her Manager and his calling to Justine and we had a pass!! Wow! However, I reminded Kat that we needed a photo pass and she nearly collapsed in front of me. However, three minutes later we had everything. Passes and an entry to the massive gig featuring James (our reason for being there), The Kaiser Chiefs and The Killers.

After entering, I saw an entry point titled “Guest Area”, well naturally, I tried to get in with our wristbands. Amazingly we got in without any fuss and found ourselves pretty much behind the main stage in an area with a few private bars and food areas etc. Well, not wishing to appear rude and not believing our luck, we proceeded to make use of said facilities and grabbed a beer, or two. Within minutes it seemed, we needed to get front of stage where we were going to be photographing to get pics of James and the fabulous Godin Saul was playing. Well, we wandered out to the front, pushed our way past the thronging masses and made our way to the front left stage and showed my photog pass to get into the ‘pit’. “Sorry, you have to go through the ‘Guest Area’ to get into the pit” we were told. Ben flashed his wristband and said ‘Really, can’t we come this way?’. Incredibly, we were ushered quickly through the wrong way and entered the pit. I then set up and proceeded to grab the shots that were the reason we were here. 3 songs later and that was it. We were out, as per normal.

Only, I had a feeling, I had a feeling we had some pretty cool wristbands that were better than the normal bands we received. On trekking back through the backstage areas I decided we should try t0 get on the mainstage and join family and other artistes for the rest of the gig. Well, guess what? Instead of being hiked off as per normal we were waved through and on the main stage we went!! I had my 5D II and a 70-200mm f2.8 strapped to my front, hardly inconspicuous but still no worries from anyone. I shot away, nobody turned a hair!! Amazing. When we had all the shots we wanted we went back behind the stage and wandered unchallenged anywhere we wanted and ended back up at the Guest Area for a few beers.

When The Kaiser Chiefs came on we decided to do exactly the same. To the front for the photog pit and then backstage after the 3 songs. Incredibly we did exactly that. Wandering on to backstage at the fourth song unchallanged due to our wristbands. Cool or what. The Kaisers were amazing! Backstage, I snapped away and then something was shouted in my ear. I couldn’t hear so asked Benno to repeat it. It sounded like he had said, “Prince Harry” was right behind me! Haha! I turned around and guess what, there was Harry! Seriously, I was stood with a 70-200mm lens and two feet behind me was Prince Harry! Well, I wussed it and after 10 mins we left. Leaving Harry to his girls and his privacy and I had no shots of him! Should I have gone for it? I don’t think so, I didn’t want any of him, I was just pretty amazed he had the same goddamn wrist-band as me!

So, a while later and I arrived at the front of stage for the main act. The Killers. Well where were all the other photographers? I got out my camera and within seconds I was pounced upon by the Head of Security! “No photographs of The Killers” he told me. “No way”, I said, “I have been given clearance”, I lied. He radioed through, I ignored him and walked away. He held onto my coat and received his answer. The answer I knew was coming. “Sorry Sir”, he said, “you have to leave!” Bollocks. Never have I been so pissed off. I love The Killers. Oh well I thought. I have this wristband. I shot backstage to get a prime position for some shots from the side of the main stage. Within seconds I realised I had a great wristband but not the best wristband. “excuse me” said the lead singer from The Kaisers, as he pushed past and got onto the main stage. I was told that my pass was not gonna get me on, I needed a green band and I didn’t have one! Bugger!

Out to the front we shot with the plebs! Pissing it down we got soaked but loved the set and sang along to all the classic Killers tracks.

A brilliant gig but so nearly the best we have ever been to……. but not quite!!

Tim Booth

Tim Booth from James performing at Hyde Park

Rene & Olly

Photographs

Today we are going to be mostly shooting Olly Murs and more particularly, Rene Woodward at the Colston Hall in Bristol. Given that the last shoot we did at a live gig in Bristol for Rene was with Jessie J (see below) and the lighting for the show was poor photographically, today we have another go. Although my client was fairly happy with the Jessie shots, I am keen to better them and get a better overall image of the very gorgeous Rene playing the Godin in ‘anger’!

We have to be in Brizzle for the sound check (as that often gives us better light!!) which starts at 4pm ish and the gig begins at normal gig time of 8.30pm ish. Technically, I will take along two bodies, the 5D Mark II and the 7D. The 5D will be the preference as it shoots with better noise at higher iso’s. I will almost certainly put on the 70-200mm L f2.8 to the 5D and the 24-70mm f2.8 L on the 7D. Although there is a lot of cross over as the 7D effectively makes the 24-70 a 38-112mm because of the crop factor. I am probably going to plump for a single focus point but use auto focus and the AI Focus mode. I used it at the Jessie gig and most shots seem to be accurate. I might switch that however depending on the circumstances of the gig and the degree of movement from the performers. Rene is a ‘mover’ which is great for good shots. The preferred focal length will also depend on the ‘pit’ which although is great as you get really close in, sometimes is awkward because you tend to take a lot of ‘up the nose’ shots. I often prefer to shoot across the stage using a longer lens. This can lead to difficulties with camera shake which is why I am almost permanently on widest aperture and keep watching shutter speeds changing iso’s up if necessary.

There is a lot to think about for these shots and simply turning up and firing doesn’t work. It also helps to visualise the type of shot you are after. You usually get 3 songs to shoot which means often less than 12 minutes shooting time. That isn’t long if you are hoping to experiment. Switching lenses is costly time wasted. Having covered quite a few gigs now, I am experienced enough to understand lighting and hopefully have a solid grasp of good composition and interesting approaches. ISO grain is always liveable with, poor focus and (most) movement blur is not acceptable.

At this particular gig the trains leave early and I am not sure quite how we get back to sunny Wiltshire after 11pm but hey, thats a problem for later. In the meantime, focus (pun intended) and concentration are the key words for my 12 mins of ‘action’.

A 'moody' Rene Woollard playing with Jessie J April 2011 at O2 Academy, Bristol

Badders Anyone?

Photographs

Did a few interesting things over the weekend that meant no time for any ‘serious’ photography but then, thats what bank holidays are for isn’t it?

I decided that too much of my photography is serious ‘work’ and that I seem to miss out on the more impromptu snaps that others seem to capture so easily in this world of Facebook and Twitter. Therefore, I ‘needed’ to have a more handy camera than my big weighty DSLR Canons. So, being a ‘tog, I couldn’t just opt for something ‘normal’ and ended up deciding to get the Panasonic GF-1. The new Fuji X100 looks great but way out of this slightly whimsical budget! So, with the decision made the trick was now finding one (they are no longer being produced) at a discounted price as the new (and imho, inferior) GF-2 is now out. Well, having trawled through all the usual suspect retailers I settled on a big high street chain. Only, I wanted a 20mm f1.7 lens kit and they didn’t have one. Or at least not in Bristol where I was at the time. So, after a few phone calls, one was located in Exeter, so off we quickly high tailed it, as it was one of the only kits left in the south UK.  We duly picked it up on Saturday afternoon for an amazingly good price!

The graceful power of chestnut, "Woodfalls Inigo Jones"

Joy Dawes, Finnisterre

Joy Dawes with Finnisterre

Sunday was spent in an ‘unofficial’ capacity at the cross country day of the Badminton Horse Trials. I have been several times before and I decided that this time I would take my 7D with just the 70-200mm f2.8. I wanted to capture the ‘power’ of the horse rather than the fence or rider. In fact, for this purpose, any other element than the horse, was going to be incidental. I therefore chose to shoot wide open at f2.8, thus ensuring on this bright Easter Sunday, that the motion of the horse should be pretty much frozen. These beasts are amazingly honed athletes and I hope the shots I have made portray this. It is quite an exciting experience being there as nothing happens for a few minutes until horse and rider appear at pace, there is a pounding of hoof on ground, a mad flurry of activity for a few seconds and then they are gone as fast as they arrived.

Bank holiday monday was spent lounging after a quick visit to Bath with new GF-1 in tow and many family snaps made!!

It is quite a cathartic experience to be able to just take a photo without having to worry about composition or depth of field or exposure etc etc… I wonder how long it will last?

Turmeric and Coriander

Panasonic GF-1 20mm at f1.7 capturing some of the curry spices

The evening was taken up by my new found hobby of cooking a new curry every week. I have done this for 3 weeks so far and it is going well!  Nothing too complicated other than looking up a recipe on the internet and then going for it. We have stocked up on all the necessary herbs and spices and this week was the turn of the good old Chicken Korma. It turned out well but maybe not one I would cook again as there are so many others to investigate and try out first…Mmmm…

Finally, there was the difficult task of deciding what Olympic tickets to go for and hope to get. I am not fully sure of the procedure and how they decide who gets what but if it all comes off then we have a week full of competition and a shed load of money going out of our account. However, I think it will be just one of those amazing spectacles that you just have to be a part of, rather than apart from, otherwise it will be a tough month and the opportunity will pass by. I for one, cannot wait, here’s to hoping we get some great tickets!

Video and Paperwork

General

Yesterday I spent most of the morning trying to shoot a video of a Champagne flute full of, well, yes……you guessed it, Champagne! Now, it all sounds quite easy doesn’t it? Whats your problem? Fill up a glass with said Champers and then mount your wonderful HD video camera on a tripod and shoot the glass fizzing nicely?! Well, yep, exactly what I thought, only, as ever, it is not quite as straight forward as all that.

Firstly I had the problem of getting close enough to the glass so that nothing else is in the shot. I also had to limit depth of field as I didn’t want to see the background. So after much toing and froing, I settled on the Canon 7D and a 70-200mm zoomed in to almost max 200mm (I now realise why I need a macro lens!).

Second, and by far my most difficult problem, was the reflections on the glass once you are close up. Being glass, curved and highly reflective, goddamn it, EVERYTHING bounces back onto the surface. So, solution? Well…I have a light tent and can put in a black background…nope, fail. Everything at the front of the tent reflects and to light it was difficult as it looks way too harsh. Seems to be far harder than the problem we were having with flash and stills.

Anyway, just as I was about to despair and give up, I thought of the old, place glass in front of a small soft-box, fully on at 150w so that the background is totally white! A quick kelvin adjustment on the white balance and off we went. I have no video software so had to send it to the client in wrong orientation and with the need for some slight brightening but other than that, job done. Why oh why did I not think of that in the first place? It is such an easy and ‘done’ thing!! Grrr…

The rest of the day was spent on admin and accreditation forms etc. Today I have done some emails and booked a train ticket for London tomorrow and my visit to Covent Garden. Now, where is that ebay seller with 100mm macro lenses!!