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)