Another week, another shoot

General, Photographs

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Having done a few shoots in and around Wiltshire I decided it was time to travel a bit further afield, so I headed for the south coast. My reason was to hook up and work with with wonderful Milly Jean. We hadn’t worked together before so its always a bit nerve-racking meeting someone for the first time and then trying to get the most personal and intimate photographs of them.

I needn’t have worried as Milly’s just a lovely, down to earth person and a perfect subject to shoot. She has a look that changes depending on the smallest shifts in pose and considering I’m shooting portraits, thats pretty impressive.

For this project it’s also extremely helpful as it makes scrolling through the photographs in post production much simpler. My technique for this crucial stage of my processing is to put on some mood music (usually something that fits emotionally with my project intent) and scroll through the images one by one. For this work, I convert them all to B&W and boost the contrast so that I get an overall ‘feel’ for how they’d look converted properly. I then make the selection of the shots I’d like to ‘investigate further’ by flagging them in Adobe’s Lightroom Classic CC. If while doing this I come across a shot that takes my breath away, I also add a colour tag so that I can identify it when I return.

When I’ve gone through all the shots I’ll then be quite brutal and change my viewing mode to “Flagged only” and then go through my chosen frames one by one making more shot specific alterations such as cropping, exposure and tonal changes. All this is just to get an overall impression of how the final image might look if I decided to edit it fully. Usually, any technical problems with the photograph itself such as focus misses or exposure problems, I’d remove the flag and move on, however, for this particular project, I’m less concerned with technical perfection and more concerned with ‘mood’. Having done this I’ll walk from them and re-visit the folder on another day. It’s amazing the difference a day makes when editing! Sometimes a shot that you believe is a world beater and work on for hours can the following day look nothing special at all so time is my friend here.

Milly’s shoot was a joy. We spent as much time chatting and laughing and getting to know each other as we did shooting which certainly helps for a more intuitive and successful shoot. I’ve edited a whole bunch and still haven’t decided quite which one I’ll use as my final choice. The impressive thing is, I have a number to choose from which isn’t always the case!

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Portland Bill Lighthouse

General

Keeping going with the night project has been good during these clear nights and we decided to make the long cross country trip to Dorset on the south coast last week. All the appropriate conditions were looking good. Weather forecast looked clear but with a slight chance of some sea mist rolling in towards daybreak. The Milky Way Galactic Centre would be up just before the pre-dawn light at around 4am and the moon wouldn’t rise until around 5am.

So, off we set for our 2hr 15min slog south. We duly arrived around 12:30am and although I knew the area, I hadn’t pre planned the shooting position so a quick recce was in order. We walked towards Pulpit Rock by torchlight but the rock itself was a bit low down meaning the lighthouse was partially obscured by the surrounding land. Getting the sea in shot, as the tide would also be in, would have been really good but I couldn’t get a good viewpoint and include the lighthouse as prominently as I wanted for this particular image. The other slight challenge was that the lighthouse light is very bright (obviously!) and also emits four beams in its sweep not just the one. This meant that shutter speeds would need to be kept short (around 8 secs max I calculated) in turn meaning iso sensitivities would need to be high.

After a very short snooze in the van we got up at 3am and headed to our planned viewpoint. After a few shots I decided the Milky Way wasn’t quite in the position I thought it was and was able to adjust the composition to a more pleasing one keeping the lighthouse in the centre of the image (I’d stupidly thought the excellent “Photo Pills” app wasn’t quite as accurate as it indeed is!).

Timing the sweeps of the beams from the lighthouse proved tricky and its fair to say I shot quite a few images, shooting it in different places as it polluted the night sky quite heavily. I ended up using iso 6400 and a shutter speed of around 4-5 secs for the main night sky exposure. The compromise was noise versus light pollution from the lighthouse. We got the main shots and then had a play with the wonderful Canon fisheye 8-15mm L lens and the beautiful Canon 17mm TSE.

The result being I have another shot in the bag for my ongoing project and a couple of fun photographs taken during the expedition as seen below. We retired to bed in the van around 4:30am and slept for four hours before being awoken by the lighthouse emitting ear splitting fog warnings to those sailing out on the seemingly millpond-like waters of the English Channel.

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The Milky Way over Portland Bill Lighthouse

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The Milky Way over Portland Bill Lighthouse with van left of shot!

New Project

General

After a fairly quiet couple of months (due to the new puppy!) I have embarked on a new project. It involves night time photography, a powerful torch and UK landmarks. It’s also challenging and interesting. The plan is to travel around the countryside shooting the stars at night over some well known and less well known historical country monuments, follies, ruins and views. The idea is to capture a series of pictures that highlight Britain’s diverse history and landscape and to highlight the fact that these are ‘available’ to all of us with very little effort. These icons are easily travelled to and most are still accessible, even at night. At the same time we aim to convey how totally insignificant we are in the overall scheme of things. These important landmarks and historical monuments only mean something to us on this small island on this small planet in this absolutely enormous Universe. I guess its a juxtaposition of sorts. Important to us, totally insignificant when compared to even just our own solar system, let alone all the billions of others. Both are beautiful in their own way.

If I tell the whole truth I also hope the series of photographs also make us think deeper. Our individual and collective problems and troubles, hopes and dreams, life and death, compared to the world and universe as a whole, pale into insignificance. To help to understand that we are all a part of something truly enormous and great but we really have virtually no understanding of what’s ‘out there’. Overall, the project is about perspective. It potentially has many other aims and thoughts attached to it but I suppose like all ‘art’, it’s up to the viewer to decide what they want to get from it, if anything at all.

Deep huh?

The practicalities? It’s obvious that to do this you need several things to be in your favour at the same time. I have already learned the following requirements:

  • Rigorous planning
  • Constant study of the weather forecasts – clear(ish) skies are essential
  • A knowledge of moon phases/rise and set times
  • A study of the Milky Way Galactic Centre visible dates/times (for shots that include it)
  • A fully researched list of locations
  • Choosing locations with minimal light pollution
  • A knowledge of each location’s availability and accessibility
  • A researched understanding of time needed to get to each location
  • Permission to shoot if private land
  • Warm clothing
  • Good walking boots
  • Suitable camera equipment inc fast and wide lens
  • Comfortable back pack – the amount of equipment is amazing
  • Strong powerful torch and batteries
  • A good head torch
  • Spare camera batteries and cards
  • A very sturdy tripod with good visible (at night) levelling visual aids
  • A quick and easy to align tripod head

The technical aspect is two fold. The shooting itself and the processing. Both are different from normal day time photography and both require specific skills and planning. It’s fascinating to research, learn and experiment and already the results are pleasing. I’ve managed to capture several images already and my previous experience of photographing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) has really come in handy on these trips. I’ve also learnt some good lessons from bitter experience.

It’s hard to tell whether this series will be successful from an actual visual point of view. It’s too early to tell. The learning curve is still steep and the variations occurring in the night light could be compelling or a distraction. I’ve usually shied away from having a ‘style’, however, I’m unsure whether these will require one. That’s the beauty of experimentation and the uncertainty of this type of work. I suppose it remains to be seen if the project as a whole will ever see the light of day but it’s huge fun trying. Getting the buzz. The anticipation, the frustration, the delight when a shot works, the despair when it doesn’t.

The plan is to shoot as many ‘venues’ as possible as soon as possible. Once we’ve gained a body of work (this is a dual project with my close friend and inspiration, Richard Lock) we hope to persuade other more private landowners to allow us onto their land to snap quietly away in the dead of night…

Wish us luck and lots of clear nights!

Not part of this project but an example of a beautiful night sky and light pollution

Not part of this project but an example of a beautiful night sky and light pollution

Nude Pregnancy

General

I was approached recently and asked if I would be willing to take some pregnancy photographs that were not ‘cheesy’. Now, starting point is, what is ‘cheese’? Couple of emails later and we both agreed with each other’s definitions of cheesy pregnancy images. You know the ones. Hand hearts over bump. Baby’s name in bricks over bump etc etc.

We agreed we were looking for low-key imagery that highlighted the beauty and wonder of the final stages of pregnancy. My client was more than willing to be brave and try some nude stuff as that best showed her wonderful state and gorgeous curves off the best. She is, by her own admission, not a model but just a person wanting to capture her current beautiful state.

We met up after discussing ideas and thoughts on email and she proved to be both more than capable as a model and also great fun to be around. Her beauty was both inside and out. For obvious reasons she wishes to remain anonymous but has given me permission to publish a couple of the finished images images. we are both pleased with the outcome and think these images demonstrate her ‘miracle of life’ state and celebrate the beauty of motherhood.

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More Golf!

General

A couple of weeks ago I asked my good friend, Nick Brennan if I could take some photographs of him playing some shots at his course, Bowood in Wiltshire. Now, as he is a top professional, I decided to trust him where perhaps, I wouldn’t have trusted a lesser player!

My aim was to get right in on the action. We started with some drives. I stood about 60 yards down the middle of the fairway and asked Nick to fire some drives over my head. It sounds quite dangerous but with a tripod, a 7D and a 400mm f2.8 strapped to the front, I felt quite safe (for good measure I was crouched down and only looked through my viewfinder!)

It quickly became apparent that even though I was potentially risking my good health and equipment, the shots weren’t dramatic enough! So I got a bit closer. Anyway, here are the results.

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From there we went up to the green to shoot some bunker shots which do look quite dramatic with the sand splashing around Nick.

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We then tried some chipping, these balls were landing approx 12 inches away from me but it is difficult to give the images that sense of drama!

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Finally, we tried some putting and changing the focal point from Nick to following the ball as it arrowed towards the cup with me lying on the damp turf! Huge thanks to Nick and to Bowood Golf and Country Club which is in fantastic condition for the upcoming summer.

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Book of Life

General

Since finishing the most recent project, I have found myself with some time to do the things that needed to be done after many weeks of finding my nose pressed against the grindstone! One of the things that I find a most enriching and interesting journey is to produce a photobook of my year.

I have completed this personal ‘diary’ for a few years now and this year will be as challenging as all the other years to date. The reason it is difficult is that it is a very pure and naked way of assessing how your skills have developed over a period of time. The beauty of the task is to select images that mean something to you personally and not necessarily because they are technically perfect photographs. This means that the book is both personal and important to you, the artist.

These books, so far, have not been commercially available, just given as Christmas gifts to nearest and dearest. Some of the images are deeply personal and some have been fun whilst others have just been a record of activities undertaken during the year. In this respect, it is a diary. A pictorial Diary of my life. This makes it challenging when trying to select the right images, those that capture that emotion, that moment, that feeling. Some are simple and easy to pick for all sorts of reasons. Others you find other people looking at and wondering what on earth you are doing selecting such an image for publication.

I have decided that this year there will be more comment where necessary and no comment where the image speaks for itself. Photographically the year has been an interesting one. Previous years have seen a slant towards landscape or portrait but this one is probably a big shift towards commercial and live music.

Making commentary about one’s own images is also a task that requires much thought. Too much and you seem over indulgent, too little and the impact can be lost. I try to be sparing, allowing the image to breathe but I find myself like a lyricist not wanting to print the words sometimes. A balance is going to be the key here methinks.

In the meantime as I undertake this time consuming task I leave you with a personal image of my daughter snapped literally moments before her school dance performance. The image speaks massively to me, beautiful innocence, lively expectation and youthful confidence. I love this picture, almost as much as I love her, because it speaks so totally about who and what she is. To you, Holly, my stunning, gorgeous daughter…

Holly, in dance make-up