Friday, 6 December 2013

Meeting Mandela - The greatest moment of my career.

I'm often asked what is my favourite photo that I have taken.

I cannot easily answer as there have been so many highs (and lows!) over the years.

Often truly amazing things happen and you achieve great things in difficult conditions and there is no photo to show for it.

Or perhaps there is a moment, not captured by you or anyone else on film for that matter.

In the early to mid 1990's I worked quite a bit in South Africa, covering many different issues from political to environmental.

I was in Johannesburg working with journalists Fred Bridgeland and Ross Dunn of the Sunday Telegraph and there was an opportunity to photograph the recently released Nelson Mandela at a press breakfast.

Being a member of the foreign media I was issued with the name badge with my publication and nationality on it, complete with a mini Union Jack flag.

I shot a whole load of photos of Nelson Mandela addressing the press, not the greatest stuff I will admit, but it was an age before wireless flash was really going on (if only....).

I can't think of anything to say about Nelson Mandela which has not been said a million times before, but his lack of bitterness and an openness to reconciliation are lessons we can all learn from.

After the press breakfast I skulked out of the room to the entrance hall, where I was completely alone, leaving the press throng behind me to try and get the rolls of film in order so I could get them processed for air freighting back to the UK (not a pixel in sight...just imagine it!).

I was deep in faffing around mode preparing and labelling my films when I heard the swing doors to the press breakfast room open. I turned around and I saw an entourage of bodyguards with Nelson Mandela at the centre leaving the press room. Camera not in a ready state to use and even if it had I would no have used it, as they walked by I caught Nelson Mandela's eye and smiled at him.

What happened next will live with me forever.

He broke away from his somewhat nervous bodyguards and stepped over to me.

He reached out his hand to shake mine, his grip was firm and powerful and he had a spark in his eyes which was undimmed by the loss of his liberty for 27 years and a smile which radiated a warmth which would have melted the coldest of hearts and glanced down at my name badge.

'Thank you so much for coming to South Africa to tell the world what is happening here....thank you.'

I think all I could manage was 'It's my greatest pleasure'. My response was lost in this special moment. It was over in seconds as his guards politely and somewhat nervously motioned him away.

The moment lives with me beyond any other in my career.

Nelson Mandela was no saint, nor would he have claimed to be but when President FW De Klerk bravely started the process of dismantling apartied to a brave new world of equality Nelson Mandela took the opportunity without bitterness or rancour to help South Africa take its long deserved seat at the 'world table'

I don't often get into politics even though I'm deeply interested in current affairs but I believe that even though Nelson Mandela had retired from politics he was omni present in the conscience of the the ruling ANC party.

The world will rightly miss Nelson Mandela but South Africa will feel his loss even more. With some challenging times in the current political scene in South Africa, the key players perhaps should reflect on how South Africa made a relatively bloodless transition to where it is now. It could not have happened without the great generosity of spirit, forgiveness, selflessness and above all else, love of Nelson Mandela.

May you rest in peace and may we all continue to learn and be inspired by your remarkable example.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Latest Forest Shot -Behind the Scenes Video

Here is the behind the scenes video form the Moose shoot which gives you a bit of an idea just how BIG an Elk (Moose) is, and how much nerve you need to get on one!

I hope you enjoy it.

There has been a potentially sad twist to the shoot regarding the fate of the Elk which I am just checking out now before I post about it.

Have a great weekend

Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Elk (or Moose, depending on where you live)

'Being invited to exhibit at the highly prestigious Shanxi province-based Pingyao International Photography Festival PIPF 2013 was my incentive for shooting what may be the final image in what may be the final phase of of my Forest Series.  

I wanted to finish with a spectacular image -- one that had, in all probability, never before been attempted.

That is not to say I decided to embark on this shoot as on a whim. The seeds had been sown some years before when I first contemplated shooting (photographically) a moose as part of the forest series.

I had made some inquiries and all evidence pointed to them being potentially dangerous animals, so I did not pursue them as a subject.

Then early this year, while researching an unrelated shoot, I discovered that someone in Sweden had trained Elk that could be ridden.

Elk? I thought we were talking about Moose?

Swedes refer to Alces alces as an Elk, whereas Canadians and North Americans refer to Alces alces as Moose (a North American Elk is an entirely different animal Cervus canadensis)

As much as I like America, Sweden is also a much more appealing location too, for one simple reason - it is drivable, all be it very long drive across six countries, for a total of some 2671 kilometers (1660 miles)I thought that this would be a great opportunity to explore the depths of my iTunes collection and the amusing and thought provoking audio book ‘This book will save your life’ by Neil Strauss.

Driving is key because I’m carrying a very large amount of gear, both photographic and camping, this was done on a budget.

The countries I crossed were key too as passing through Denmark (home of Phase One) and Sweden (home of Profoto)

I picked up my new Phase One IQ280 back in Copenhagen and I dropped into Profoto’s HQ in Stockholm to try out one of their latest offerings the Profoto B4.

Though I have played with Profoto I have never actually used one in anger on a shoot and I figured this could be the perfect opportunity to do just that.

The distances in Sweden are not to be underestimated and once you get to Stockholm it is still a 7+ hours drive to Umea (only a 3 hour drive south of the Arctic circle) with strictly and wisely, enforced speed limits. Added to that, the danger of crossing Elk dictate a sensible approach to progress.

Sweden is a lovely place if you like trees

The schedule meant that we would have just two days in the quirky and cool city of Umea, one day to check out the location and prep gear and another to do the shoot.

We met former World champion cross country skier Christer Johansson at his Älgens Hus Elk centre some one hour outside Umea.

All it seemed was set but Christer did have some doubts about the way the Elk would take to the soft box and they did react in a somewhat nervous manner. 

So I came up with a plan to get the Elks used to the lights, I left one erected outside of their enclosure over night, just so they would get used to it (I have used this method before to habituate thoroughbred race horses to a potentially ‘frightening’ light)

Elk are very interesting animals with certain qualities. Think of a skittish, highly strung and nervous cat trapped in the body of a very big(up to 2 metres tall) gangly primeval animal and you will not be so very far off.

They also have the uncanny ability to sneak up on you, silently and unseen, which can give you quite a fright.

It goes something like this: You are standing in the forest and you look around to see if there are any Elk nearby, coast clear, you look into your camera bag to sort out some equipment for a few seconds, you look up and there will be three Elk, quite close by watching every move you make. I'm not quite sure how they do it but they do it, perhaps something to do with them being brilliantly camouflaged in the forest.

Why shoot this is late August? Simple. I wanted to photograph the Elk with full antlers, so we chose late August as the antlers are there largest then and I was able to shoot the Elk with full antlers but before they shed their lovely velvet.

We may not have ended up actually using the tent on the trip but as you can see the guy ropes, pegs and mallet were rather useful.

We got an early night in our humble little cabins on the outskirts of Umea all set for a shoot at first light.

Why first light? For many reasons but it gives a whole load of lighting possibilities particularly when shooting with the Phase One camera and it’s leaf shutter lenses.

Also the location, even with the very best will in the world, does become strewn with equipment and possessions, if you shoot at dusk you will never find your stuff in the dark....I know this from bitter experience.

When we arrived it would seem the Elk had indeed become accustomed to the lights and they were a little too friendly. As a result I switched to a battered old Chimera medium soft box instead of using a loaner Profoto soft box which could be  ruined with one swipe of the antlers leaving me with some explaining to do, can you imagine the conversation....

Ah the Profoto lights, what did I think of those?

I borrowed 2 Profoto B3 lights and 2 of the very latest Pro- B4 lights.

The new Pro-B4 has a nicer interface than the B3, based on the 'see, touch, feel' principle which Profoto has, using analogue switches and dials for all the key inputs, rather than relying on 'deep' digital menus, which we all know can be clever,but confusing.

I like this interface very much indeed.

Other key points of the Pro-B4 are an impressive 1/25000 sec flash, up to 30 flashes a second, a charge time of only 45mins, and if you plug it into the mains you can use it as a studio pack.

Profoto gear has never been the cheapest, but you really do get what you pay for, some really great features in a superbly built package.

Buy one of these and your bank balance would feel it, but you would have a pack which would go on and on for many, many years.

Next task was to set the lights up in an array, so the Elk could be walked into the frame and I could get the shot, this is a technique I have employed many times in the forest series.

The terrain we were working on was rocky and boggy, which meant setting the lights up took some time.

All was ready and good to go but we hit problems straight away, the elk kept moving out of the influence of the 4 light set up, which meant I was always adjusting the lights instead of shooting, the lighting was simply not going to plan and it looked less than good. Added to this the previously nervous Elks came flocking and got between the camera and Janina.

The Elk may have been a problem but the truly amazing Janina(pole dancing teacher, model and truck driver) certainly was not, climbing up onto the simply enormous moose with great poise and confidence, and believe me it is along way up onto the back of a adult bull Elk.

I was looking down the barrel of failure of some 3500 mile-8 months of planning-one week of my life proportions.

This needed a radical rethink and fast.

First distract the other Elks which ended up blowing a lot of the food supply of bananas(Elk love them), luring our 'star' Elk (biggest with biggest antlers) further into the forest where there was a whole load of natural light flooding in, this meant I could use this as the backlight and just concentrate on one light, if the Elk stood in the wrong place we only had one light to move, not four.

There was then the issue of the wind, this was causing huge problems for James who was on smoke machine detail with the truly excellent Mini Rocket battery powered smoke machine from Peasoup.

The wind kept changing so when the smoke was drifted in, it frequently did not go where I wanted it to go, so this took many attempts.

As a foot note, I have since discovered you can make the Mini rocket a little more affordable(saving around £100) if you choose to delete the battery and cradle -neither of which I use anyway, as I just attach it to a car battery. It also makes the machine tiny - perfect for shipping.

I shot in the new location with one light using the sun as the backlight and picking up some ambient light at 1/60sec.

The lighting was excellent but I stared to realise, that though I was getting something it all looked static and stiff, rather like a taxidermy example, after all for the sake of safety, the Elk could not be moved.

The food supply ran out, the shoot was over and I did not have the shot.

Then the magic happened, the Elk walked forward, which was potentially tricky for Janina, so she had to jump off into Christer's arms pretty damn quickly.

Just before she jumped I got the shot - The majestic primeval Elk walking with a slightly unsure Janina riding it, pin, pin sharp, with a hint of movement on the moose which I'm very happy about.

I have not mentioned the Phase One IQ280 so far, and I suppose I'm saving the best till last.

Do have a look at the detail in these 100percent crops, in my opinion, it is the very pinnacle of what can currently be achieved  photographically.

I intended to use the WiFi and iPad setup which works so very well, but I had no time before the shoot to set this up-at all. So in trying conditions I reverted to a firewire cable and laptop (I have used the IQ280s Wifi since and I have to say it is child's play to use, fast reliable and simple, something which often is not the case with WiFi, right?)

If you have ever previously considered a medium format back and not quite pulled the trigger, this might be worthwhile looking at. It is the best, most complete, fantastically engineered medium format back ever built.

So next week I travel to China to hang the Elk and all his friends at PIPF 2013 in China, a great honour and big deal for me, I feel it has all been worth it.

'Why did I shoot the forest series?' asked Johan after the shoot.

I can't remember what my answer was, but thinking about it, I did it because I could, because I wanted to do something exceptional, which will perhaps outlive me.

Photography should be about adventure and discovery, that is why I chose photography as a profession 35 years ago.

'Never say never' as they say, but the moment I'm leaving the forest behind, for a while at least, and may never go back there again.

What next? I have always been about reinvention and I'm in the process of doing that right now, it will still be photography,but in a completely different genre, which has been driven but this remarkable digital age we live in.

The shoot could not have happened with out James Mitchell, Jan Christiansen, Micke JohanssonChrister JohanssonKristofer Lönnå  

I also wish to thank everyone else who contributed to this series, all over the world.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Deer

I had long wanted to shoot one of my forest pictures in a bluebell wood.

This year was particularly difficult though as the unseasonably cold spring made the bluebells late, and somewhat stunted.

I was still determined to press on as I knew it would be my one and only chance to shoot the image before the Pingyao International photography festival in September.


The forecast was a little iffy to say the very least, and for this shot I needed the sun, something you cannot count on in the UK, so I bought something along which would give the sun ‘look’ for the back light.

Lighting out put is not the problem but height and angle of the light is, I needed a tall light stand, an exceptionally tall light stand.

I ended up using a stand which is not actually a light stand but a camera stand.

The Manfrotto 269HDB-3U a truly spectacular stand which extends to over 7.3metres(24 ft) in height which with a small amount of tweaking(using a brass spigot which screws on top) will take a Elinchrom Ranger flash head. I used the light stand at its full extension and held my breath(It actually does ship with guy ropes but I had a small crew for the shoot so be didn’t get round to using them)

The key light, camera left, was an Elinchrom Ranger too with a Chimera medium soft box.

I originally was going to do the shot on a longer lens, a Phase One Schneider 240mm LS on a Phase One IQ180, to get some degree of compression on the bluebells but the way the trees and the blue bells were it did not work out and I ended up shooting it on a Phase One Schneider 55mm LS.

I never cease to marvel at the quality from a Phase One back.

Here is a 100percent crop.

I mentioned the unseasonably cold weather and that on the day was the very biggest challenge. Katie really was an exceptional model but she struggled with the bitterly cold weather as you might see in the video, all very well for the rest of the crew who were warmly bundled up in many a layer.

To get every element working together, the deer, the light, the smoke and the model was particularly challenging this time and in the end it came down to one frame where everything worked out.

In the frame I chose the deer is spot on with just a a little wind in the models hair.

The shoot was over in a relatively short period of time, well under an hour, there are limits when working with live animals and cold weather conditions.

Stay tuned for the grand finale which will be posted just before I depart for China to hang my work at the Pingyao International photography festival.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Packing the car

Ok, I admit it.

I have not written this weeks blog.


Well I’m packing the car and I’m about to go on the mother of all road trips (for me anyhow)

Where to?

A little detective work on this blog will give you your answer....

It is a road trip which will take me just short of the Arctic circle.

I intend to finish the first Phase with a real flourish and shoot something that has in all probability has not been shot before and in all probability will never be shot again....

It is my first full on shoot with the Phase One IQ280 too.

I will be posting as I go.....

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Fox - My latest work in 'The Forest' series

Though it is the latest work to be released out into the wild, it was shot way back on a bitter freezing cold day in March.

Why the middle of Winter to shoot this 'art nude' ?

One thing lacking in my 'Forest' series is Winter shots, and I do intend to further rectify this.

I have had my eye on this location in Southern England for 4 or 5 years (yes that long) and I knew Winter would suit this unique location.

Firstly, planning the shoot was a nightmare, it involved getting a trained fox and model in the same location when it was not lashing down with rain.

Models, trained foxes and crew, all add up to not inconsiderable expense, which means you have to get it right - It simply had to work.

Up until two days before the shoot it was not totally confirmed due to the awful and freezing weather.

When I pulled the trigger on the shoot I had lucked in without realising it, we shot on the only day it did not rain or snow for around a month.

Location photography involves a huge amount of luck but I have my own weather 'formula' before I go ahead with a shoot.

If the weather forecast says 'sunshine and showers' with breezy conditions, in a relatively consistent weather system then I go for it. The wind is the important part though, as strange as it seems, because this allows the weather to be 'pushed through' and change to something more favourable even for a short period of time, and hopefully I can get the shot.

So we had the weather but the temperature was still hovering around zero degrees Celsius.

I checked with the model 'Ivory Flame' who rather bravely said she would go ahead with it.

I scouted the location out the day before and I knew the best time would be very first light, around 0600.

Easy enough, you might think but the huge logistical challenge was physically getting the excellent, if weighty,  Elinchrom Ranger packs down to the location which was 30mins away from where the car was parked along very tough and rocky terrain, where it was often difficult to maintain your footing, special mention to the Manfrotto stacking light stands which means you can transport the stands easily in 'racks' without bags, it makes moving stands much less painful.

Logistics nearly did scupper the shoot, 30 mins does not sound too bad but then you have to come back for the next lot of gear, making it an hour round trip.

We started to drop gear at the location when it was still very dark at 0430, it took 4 round trips to get all the gear down the track, if I had been on my own that would have been 4 hours, even though I had my good friends Jarek 'Arumlight', James Mitchell and Jonathan Marshall assisting it was brutal, and we only just made the latest 'window' of light for the shoot at around 0830.

 I made special arrangements for smoke this time, as there was going to be no opportunity to power my colt turbo smoke machine, I needed something powerful and battery powered.

A phone call to Ben at Pea Soup, the Smoke machine experts, identified the machine I would need for the job, and we hired a Mini Rocket rigged up to a car battery (you can use the battery supplied with the machine, but I feared the bitter cold temperature would take its toll and I wanted staying power for the shoot)

In hindsight, this machine is better suited to the type of work that I do, even though its output is not as great as my Concept Colt 4 turbo smoke machine, its size, weight and sheer portability make it a gem of a machine, perfect for location work wherever you are.

James Mitchell was on smoke machine duty, hiding behind the rocks camera right, diffusing the smoke with the aid of a Chimera softbox which was in reserve.

It was crucial that the smoke was drifted behind the subject and not in front of the subject ( in my next shoot I use the smoke in a different way, drifting it over the model, to get a different effect)

I borrowed a Phase One IQ180 for the shoot because I knew the super low native ISO 35 could prove to be be super useful if the ambient light was a little strong.

Little did I know by choosing to test drive the Phase One IQ180 that I would trip myself up with a simple error, but the advantages of the back would save the day.

I only bought a FireWire 400 cable with me and figured it would work well on my old MacBook Pro, indeed I tested it before the shoot by tethering my P65+ with the FW400 cable and the FW800 adaptor I had bought.

I can make all the excuses in the world, there was so many check lists, it was very early, we were very tired but I made a massive mistake.

I had checked the wrong end of the cable, it fitted just fine into my old MacBook Pro but I needed the adaptor to plug into the Phase One IQ180 and the cable connection was simply too small for the adaptor and it would not fit.

The bottom line is that I should have done a trial tethered shoot and I did not.

It meant I was shooting untethered and relying on the LCD of the Phase IQ180.

Sounds like no big deal but if you are shooting pretty much wide open on a large sensor medium format camera, focus is more critical than you might imagine.

I had raved about it in hands on short tests, but in this baptism of fire(or should that be ice?)it simply excelled, a double tap on the simply magnificent LCD gives you 100 percent magnification in a clarity that surpasses anything I have encountered, which was rather a good job, as I no longer had my laptop to rely on as my 'helm' of the shoot, checking and controlling the lighting.

This shoot heavily influenced my decision to go for a Phase One IQ280, which I hope will bring me all the benefits of the IQ180 but with the capability of monitoring the shoot on an iPad.

When I worked out the optimum angle for the shot with Ivory Flame on the rock it was slightly tricky as the camera position was IN the river itself, which was fast flowing and very cold. 

The Gitzo GT5562LTS (with its great stability and high load capacity, and yet  packing down into my carry on luggage is becoming my everyday tripod)was beyond rock solid in this quite tricky situation, as ever I used my Manfrotto 405 geared head for the super precise and fine fingertip adjustments.

Having a tripod/head combination that is so good that you have the confidence to place it anywhere cannot be praised highly enough, last week it was on the very top of a thatched roof, with a weighty combination which would have some sweating.

Likewise the optimum position for the key light, camera left, a Elinchrom Ranger with a Chimera medium softbox was on a small island in the middle of the river, which called for some pretty deft foot work from Jarek to get it into position whilst keeping his feet dry. 

My backlighting continues to head down a softer route, and I used a small Chimera soft box on an Elinchrom Ranger for Ivory Flame.

I used an Elinchrom Ranger with a kill spill on the sunlit bank of the gorge to push some backlight over the top of the fallen tree.

The fox 'Arthur' from Amazing Animals was handled by Emma Hill who with the aid of pilchards on a twig, and more than a little animal handling talent, managed to get him to look the right way.

'Arthur' had his own small soft box aiming at him from the opposite bank, camera right.

It is critical that the model does look spot on for the shot and Martine Rodda did a fantastic job on hair and make up.

Ivory Flame was coached on pose and wrapped up all ready to go into position as soon as I was ready for the shot.

Just one hitch, the weather.

The wind, which was pushing the weather system through, had broken the cloud to such an extent that the harsh early morning sun was shinning deep into the relatively steep gorge we were shooting in.

I really had not planned for this, but the IQ180 has a deeply useful native ISO 35 which allied with the leaf shutter on the Schneider Kreuzenach LS 110mm F2.8, enabled me to balance the light, bearing in mind that the river bed was in complete shadow, while the bank of the gorge was in full sun.

I processed it in Capture One 7, if you have not done so already give the free trial a go, it is superb and intuitive.

I was really not sure how it would look at the time but I think it has worked out just fine.

Perhaps my favorite shot in the series - so far anyhow.

As with the rest of the forest series it cost quite a bit to do, around £2000 and was not sponsored or commissioned by anyone.

A follower of this blog, Iden Ford, sent me an interesting and thought provoking email which talked about what made the greats in rock and roll create something.

I'm not a great, nor am I in a Rock N' Roll band, but for me what it is all about is having an idea and going out there and making it happen, no matter what.

Truthfully, I have no idea where the Forest will take me, but I am living the dream and the first series will have its world premier (in printed form) at the the Pingyao International Photo exhibition in China this September.
Between then, along with the regular posts, there will be 2 more 'Forest' posts, one of which will be about a multi country epic adventure.

*please note, due to pressure of work I will not be posting again until next Friday 16/8/13

Monday, 5 August 2013

Rotolight and Den Lennie

Firstly let me state right away that though I am friends with Den Lennie of F-Stop Academy (indeed we made ‘Stills in Motion’ together) I have had no communication with him on this matter whatsoever.

Den posted a test on Vimeo of different light sources and somehow, for a period of time, the post was removed, even though the video was Den’s.

To read the whole sorry story, of what did and did not happen with Rotolight, in this rather unfortunate affair you can read Den’s post on the matter which also includes a full statement from the manufacturer.

Goodness me, the video was taken down, and later reinstated but pandora’s box was well and truly opened.

It reminded me of the days when I used to shoot the pics for a leading Sunday magazines newspaper motoring column.

All car manufacturers at some point in their history have made a car which was not quite as good as should have been.

The reviews you read in the media tend to accurately reflect the situation.

When a less than favorable review is written, the press offices for the manufacturers might possibly call the journalist involved and pull them up on what they considered to be unfair treatment, and possibly invites to future car launches in exotic locations may be withdrawn, though this was rare.

More often than not nothing was said, and the matter was quickly forgotten as the press offices need the journalists as much as the journalists need cars to write about.

There was one manufacturer however though who wielded a very big stick.

A harsh review could, on occasion, be followed by stern words to the editor or even the proprietor, threatening to pull all of advertising from whole groups of newspapers.

I’m not sure of the specifics, but deals were struck, and the ship sailed merrily on.

A victory for the manufacturer who showed just how strong they were and how they were not to be messed with.

Or so it seemed.

I heard tales of journalists giving the brand a wide berth and avoiding reviewing the companies products, not wishing to expose themselves to a whole world of pain.

The car company won the battle, but lost the war, getting less coverage than they might have.

Any company, who makes anything at all, needs to consider very carefully the unforeseen consequences of wheeling out the big guns, and how it might make them appear.

I know from my own experiences that the car manufacturer who adopted a more measured and softly spoken approach, with the invitation of a re-test of what was a faulty model, fared much better in the short and long term, than the manufacturer who used strong arm tactics.

Any manufacturer would do well to make note of what has happened in the last week or so, and consider if Rotolight’s response was indeed a wise one.

Friday, 2 August 2013

If you have not done so already, check this out

360 degree panoramic photos have been around for a little while now but have only just come of age thanks to the iPad and broadband internet.

To say that they vary wildly in quality in an understatement.

They go from some occasionally rather scruffy examples used by the likes of estate agents and holiday resorts to mind warping, brilliantly executed panorama's like this one by Jeffery Martin which is a towering achievement at 600,000 pixels wide (yes, really)

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Helping out with the smoke machine on the new Amelle of the 'Sugarbabes' video

When I was running through the requirements of gear for the Amelle of the 'Sugarbabes' video 'Love is all we need' with Rodney Charters, the subject of a smoke machine came up, I said I had a super powerful one, Rodney took me at my word.

The smoke machine was going to play a key role in the back lit performance shot in the studio

All seemed good until it really started to sink in that everything in this shoot seemed to be so much bigger and remarkably engineered than most of the equipment I encounter when shooting video.

We arrived at studio 3 of Park Royal studios and soon the subject of the smoke machine cropped up, I pointed to the small bag that my smoke machine was in, and it would be fair to say that quite a few faces dropped, indeed there were murmurings that the machine was simply too small for the job.

It was a big studio after all and these folk did have all the gear delivered in a sizeable truck, I confess that even though I put up a spirited and confident defence of my smoke machine, that I did begin to have doubts.

Faces dropped further when I unpacked and powered up my Concept Colt 4 Turbo smoke machine.

'We can get another one if you like?' came a voice.

They were clearly used to much bigger machines.

Perhaps they had a point, the studio was 80 feet long, 47 feet wide.

As you can see from these screen shots I need not have worried.

As you can see more than enough smoke.

It is not how much smoke the machine emits but the quality of smoke.

Believe me this matters.

It hangs in the air for a considerable amount of time before having to be topped up, it is user friendly too, with the smoke aerosols being egg white, so safe to use.

The crew were suitably impressed.

More stories from the shoot coming up this week....

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Umea helpers?

Less of a post more of a come on.

I will be shooting a very special project in Umea, Sweden on 22-23/8/13.

I'm seeking some local Swedish helpers for what should be highly memorable shoot.

If you follow this blog regularly you will have some sort of idea what it is.....

If you are interested mail me at

Monday, 22 July 2013

I bought possibly the most expensive Canon 6D ever

The Canon 6D is a remarkable camera, a big bang for the buck.

Though it cost less than £1500 has cost me a huge amount of money.

Let me explain.

The 6D has many strong suits, small, light, quiet shutter, great low light performance but its killer feature is Wifi.

It takes photographic possibilities to a whole new place, giving me an advantage in remote shooting which enables me to get pictures that you cannot any other way (I'm still not quite ready yet to share the results but they are very impressive)

So far so good 'only' £1500 spent, where could it possibly go wrong?

Well it has, in the very best possible way.

A few years ago I bought one of the very first Phase One P65+ backs and I have been very happy with it.

In some ways I could not see how it could easily be improved over the short term to make me part with my hard earned cash, it has been my mainstay for 'The Forest' series which is due to debut its first phase in full at the Pingyao International Photography festival in September.

The all new IQ backs came along and with their new wonderful touch screen LCD and up to 80MP I was impressed, but not quite enough to pull the the trigger.

Why not?

I felt that there was something else coming, some further potential to be unlocked that Phase had not owned up to.

With the IQ2 backs my suspicions were confirmed and reliable WiFi made a bow.

All of a sudden it made sense, with no need for a laptop to shoot 'tethered' with challenging and complex setups.

One day, I thought

After the 6D experience I have come to realise that day is now.

There are all sorts of clever and highly lucrative jobs I have lined up for this back.

I went for the Phase One IQ280 as tempting as the IQ260 was with its capability of one hour exposures.

It is a sizeable investment BUT as I said the WiFi capability more than justifies the investment which I believe will cover itself quite quickly.

When I take delivery next month I will share my experiences with you.

Friday, 19 July 2013

David Collins

There is a very sad link to my previous post, which was focused on skin cancer prevention.

This week interior designer David Collins died from skin cancer aged just 58.

You can read more about him in his obituary in Vogue

His magic touch transformed some of the biggest named bars, restaurants and hotels won him a place in the coveted GQ man of the year awards.

I was asked to photograph him at the Wolsey in one of his creations.

He was a high flyer but a really nice guy, witty and funny too, with a fine understanding of the important part that light and lighting plays in the ambience of a special venue, in fact we talked extensively about this.

So even though he was not a photographer he really 'got' lighting.

This shot was far from easy.

Lit with multiple lights in a busy high class restaurant, there were understandably lots of conditions we had to abide by.

I recall it was one Elinchrom Ranger bounced off the ceiling, another with a Chimera medium softbox as the key light, with one more concealed with a snoot lighting the wall behind him to give the little glow.

Not that this matters one jot, but I know some will want to know.

Skin cancer is something that many of us in the UK do not take seriously enough, not enough sun we think...

Well we are wrong.

As the video I posted earlier this week said, we should be more aware of the potentially harmful effects of the sun particularly in the beautiful weather we are having.

Rest in peace David.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

My latest corporate project - The John Lewis Golden jubilee trust.

I'm pleased to say, a very busy and diverse time I'm having at the moment.

Stills, moving and 'new' media too.

I really have a great deal of admiration for The John Lewis partnership.

A company which has an authentic commitment to the community with projects like the golden Jubilee trust, where they encourage selected partners(they are a partnership) to go on paid secondment out into the community helping charities take their work to the next level.

I was commissioned to shoot this short about Will Robbins.

All shot in one (very full) day with the Canon C300, with Zeiss ZE glass.

It was shot by myself and Ed Checkley, Edited by Melissa Tanti, with the music by Doug Black-Heaton.

We integrated a fun Banana time lapse by Wildern school which forms part of the campaign.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Monday, 8 July 2013

A fine video by the Bui Brothers- plus an interview with Lan

My very good friends the Bui brothers shot this superb 'adumentary' video for Manfrotto.

It could have been cheesy but wasn't.

I had a little chat with him earlier today and he gave an insight into the project

You can read about what it takes to pull off such an ambitious project here

Quite inspirational.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Opportunity Knocks

A little over a week ago.

The phone rang.

Voice  'Hey Drew'

Me  'Who is that?

Voice 'Its Rodney Charters, would you fancy helping out on a shoot? I need someone to be first Assistant director'

Rodney is the highly respected DP of '24', 'Dallas' and 'Shameless'

Rodney with the Arri Alex M

Four days later I was in the middle of the most intense video shoot as first assistant director.

I cannot recall leaning more in such a short period of time.

Quite simply unforgettable.

It all goes public in a weeks time and I'm looking forward to sharing what exactly does go on behind the scenes of a music video when executed to the highest standards with heaps of drive and passion.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Clever folk in Denmark

My Canon 6D is proving to be a real hit for what I'm using it for with its WiFi opening up a world of possibilities (I will tell you more in good time, I promise)

I find its WiFi to work superbly indoors, outdoors it can be a little hit and miss in some circumstances.

Why? I'm not really sure to be honest, perhaps there is some limiting factor in the construction of the body? I am looking into it though to see if I can get round it.

Spare a thought for Phase One with their Wifi capable IQ2 backs.

Getting a Wifi signal out of a solid piece of aluminium digital camera back might seem to be impossible.

Here is how they did it.

I marvel at scientists and engineers who seem to overcome insurmountable laws of physics.

Clever stuff indeed.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

A Marmite moment

A little while ago I was on a shoot which had started very early in the morning.

The lovely guy who I was photographing offered me a cup of tea and a slice of toast.

What would I like on it?

'Marmite' I replied.

Marmite is an acquired taste and as it says on the jar 'taste tip-spread thinly'

'I think I have some, I don't eat it myself though' replied my host.

I carried on shooting.

A few moments later he bought out a slice of toast with a layer of Marmite so deep, 5mm or so in places, rendering it beyond inedible.

As my host did not eat Marmite and was not familiar with its super strong taste, he did not know that it should not be laid like tarmac.

I said thank you, took a bite and my taste buds had quite a time of it, my head all but being blown clean off.

The British curse of being over polite.

But what does one do in these circumstances?

Sometimes the stakes are much higher, with people who one cannot offend at any cost.

A very good photographer friend of mine was on assignment with a big name reporter from a British paper in Afghanistan.

They were working in Helmand and were invited into the home of a very important tribal elder.

He had prepared a special meal for them.

A local delicacy of fresh water fish which reeked of diesel oil.

Quick as a flash my friend came up with the mother of all lies which got him off the hook, without offending the elder.

'Fish is against my religion'

The elder nodded sagely and offered him some simple food instead.

The journalist looked daggers at my friend as she could not use the same excuse and could not decline the dish.

She ate the dish pungent mouthful by pungent mouthful and paid the price for some days to come.

An upset stomach is a horror when you are working under difficult conditions.

I have been there many, many times.

My friend and his colleague did not have the get out that I did.

A voracious Labrador which eliminated the Marmite laden toast in the blink of an eye.

After all, one must not offend the host.

Have a good weekend.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The danger of not updating your equipment

I frequently urge fellow shooters NOT to buy new gear.

I have spent more money than I care to recall over the years on photographic kit.

I decided to spend money on other things instead, you know like home and family.

My mantra has become 'make the most of what you have' and 'photography is not about what kit you have' also 'its not what you shoot with its what you do with it'

I stand by all of those statements -to a point.

A couple of months ago I updated my Macbook Pro after many, many years of putting it off as an unnecessary expense.

A few weeks ago, after much prevarication, I bought a Canon 6D (though I could have bought a MkIII).

 Like many others, I thought it would be a small incremental improvement over the my 5D MkIIs, on paper there is really not that much difference.

 This did not bother me though, as I bought it for the WiFi (more of this in a future post as it really is most effective)

Though these two purchases were unrelated and bought for different reasons  the combined impact has been huge.

Case Study - the never ending 18 hour shoot for a corporate client.

Last week I was shooting for a major corporate client.

It is an assignment I have been commissioned for annually.

Now this shoot is a challenge, combining high level portraiture, group photography, some 'fashion style' action and event shooting all in one day which goes on for a rather long time.

Its varied nature is DSLR territory and I have used the 5D MkII, which I thought was just fine.

This year I used the 6D which made quite a difference.

The 'fashion style' action shots which in past years have been variable with 1 or 2 shots out of 3 sharp saw a 100 percent hit rate, the AF not missing a single high action shot.

The dreaded, but inevitable on camera flash of fast moving awards ceremonies was simply so much better than I have experienced before,  a world away from the somewhat variable results (will it be under or over?) on my MkII.

Simply every shot was sharp and well exposed, not a duffer amongst them.

Brilliant in someways, depressing in others, with tech trumping experience.

I always shoot RAW and this occasion was no different for this exacting and choosy client.

Many, many frames indeed, heading towards 32gb in-fact.

The client needed some key shots that night, as I was processing them on my blazingly fast Macbook Pro with its SSD I noted just how little time this was taking.

I normally process all the images the next day.

Then it dawned on me.

If I sat down for just few hours I could do the whole lot while I was in the right 'head space'

It took less time than I thought too, less than two hours, as so few adjustments were needed.

Leaving me to have a lie in the next day before going to a quite special night 'secret cinema' night out to see the quite exceptional Laura Marling in East London, where an old school building is transformed into a 1920's country house event, with actors, musicians and entertainment.

In other words, I had saved a day of my time.

Hanging on to gear which is good enough but not the best can cost you time and results.

This really was driven home to me.

When to upgrade and with what gear?

That is the great balancing act, one which I will have to reassess.

My old accountant used to say 'be careful of spending money to save money' he was mostly right on this but if over time the time you save is cost effective by purchasing new gear then it is worth it.

Just when to do it and what to buy, that is the great balancing act in an age where most shooters I know are earning less, not more.