When a sunbeam cuts through a darkened room there are three choices*:
1. Expose for the non sunlit areas and let everything the shaft of light hits appear even brighter (it’ll be white, too bright for the camera to capture any detail but still a good effect for other pictures).
2. Expose for the sunlit area and use a flash to bring up detail in the shadows.
3. Expose for the sunlit area and let the shadow areas go dramatically dark as in this picture.
The storyteller, book and under-fives were in constant movement and were taking part in an Artburst workshop. In Artburst’s own description they integrate drama, art, music and movement in their creative educational workshops, so a lot was dancing in and out of the ray of light that morning. I waited with the camera set to expose correctly for that one area (f – Stop: 20 to get a good depth of focus – 1/200th of a second to stop the action of the children’s movements and finally ISO3200… to allow me shoot at f20 at 1/200th!)
All of a sudden the book came into the light, illuminating the giraffe and watering hole scene in the story, splashing light onto the surrounding storyteller and a passing child and so capturing a tender moment between the adult and a young listener.
(* more choices are available – eg. ‘head out for a picnic’ option not included)
The politically unaffiliated Patchwork Foundation held a Labour hustings and put the four candidates in front of an audience of deprived and minority communities. The foundation encourages the under-represented to play a role in British social and political arenas and I’m guessing the KPMG Canary Wharf sky-scraping meeting room had rarely seen such a diverse group within its walls.
With any set of photographs of a politician’s speech it is so easy to make the speaker look: heroic/deranged/lionhearted/fearful/doolally/plucky/commanding. You can move around the room and bring in objects, abstract words, blurred panels and/or other people to create as many moods as you like. Click here and have a look at what Rex Features* made accessible to picture editors (* many other photos agencies are available) The Jeremy Corbyn selection is apolitical in its results in that they range from ‘looking fantastic’ to ‘nose picking’.
Afterwards you can Google* image search ‘Corbyn labour hustings 2015’ then mouse over the images to see what the different newspapers decided to run with for that event. (*Apparently other search engines are also available)
They say never work with animals but this dairy cow was a pro and a must for all farmyard shoots. When I shouted “Hey Ermintrude! Stop nibbling Neil Khandke, Group Technical and Compliance Director of Dairy Crest!” she coyly went back to her post after expertly lightening the mood of the shot. I continued “Neil is here to lead a visit to engage businesses on the importance of stewardship of the natural environment with a particular focus on water, doncha know?” but it was met with Friesian indifference.
As well as interacting with the cow I moved the camera to get a more striking perspective with the feeding trough, giving the shot a dynamic vanishing point. The subject (Neil, not Ermintrude) is also framed better within the cow shed columns. Afterwards I made the shot more contrasted and saturated which you can see easily by comparing the straw in each image.
Jon Kolko wrote Well Designed: How to use Empathy to Create Products People Love. As the title explains the key is to understand customer needs and feelings and reflect this in the product. (He cites Nest as a good example and for £249 their “beautiful” and “revolutionary” thermostat can be yours; Included in the price is that feeling of warmth knowing it’ll pay for itself in two years).
After Jon took part in an HBR panel discussion at the swanky Claridges Hotel I photographed him with his book. No one else in the two hundred strong audience had any visible tattoos poking out of their business casual attire, and with the large disc earrings he stands out from the crowd. I wanted to capture all of the above so I used one light placed low down to blast the back wall, thereby creating a light mist rising up behind the book and a brighter contrasted background to see right through the earlobes better. The second light coming in from the right was softened with an umbrella to bring out the arm and face but still unidirectional enough to make the shadow areas go very dark.
Look closely at any of the pointillist George Seurat’s paintings and you’ll see a lot of dots (or dabs to be precise) and you’ll also see the many blues and purples he used to liven up the dark shadows (Example on right: Le Chahut – c. 1889). You’ll see a similar finish when you look closely at a photograph shot at 12800 ISO and overexposed in the blacks; The camera’s sensor is amplifying what little light it gets to see* and the interestingly coloured noise is the result. (* It gets to see little light as that is the settings I chose when selecting 1/200th of a second). Digital noise is generally seen as a failing of the camera but it suits my purposes well here. Light itself is blobby and doesn’t arrive in a uniform stream apparently, so it’s not only the camera’s fault. Perhaps the Impressionists could actually see these colours for real in the dark areas too!
My picture here on the left was taken at the Goya Directors’ Dinner held by The Courtauld Gallery; a late 1700s Spanish themed evening complete with flamenco dancer. The Courtauld Gallery, like many institutions that house incredibly valuable artworks has a no flash photography policy. Does the flash damage the work? UV light flash tests have been done on some pigments and you can read Martin H. Evan’s detailed essay to find out more. The results may well be incomplete and the inferences on the data seem to be from the point of view of a photographer instead of a conservationist’s long view, however, the proposal of closing the gallery a few minutes early and turning off the ambient lights to offset the day’s camera flashes puts the problem into perspective.
At the Goya event I photographed, there were only forty-five people enjoying a visual, audio and culinary Goyaesque treat and my view is that any flash would have been an intrusion; the same type of intrusion as a phone ringing during the classical music recital, or perhaps someone squirting vinegar into the ice-cream you were eating (Have I gone too far?) What about being mildly stabbed while enjoying a back massage? OK, You get the point.
Anyway, I’m surrounded by impressionist paintings (with enough time to look very closely at them because I arrived early) and I decided to emulate a past master with my unpatented Instant Pointillism homage to Seurat dot dot dot
Our new baby boy arrived! Meet Fred. Unlike most photographic subjects Fred can’t control his head, arms, legs, digestive system, has very limited attention span and just won’t listen to reason. I inadvertently captured his very essence while trying to do his passport picture. Okay that’s enough, MILK NOW!
Thanks for the handy tips Passport Office!
The New Scientist magazine held a series of lectures called Quantum World and headlining was professor of Physics, BBC TV and radio presenter Jim Al-Jhalili. The talks were not aimed at other professors of Physics but at the New Scientist audience who are “… intelligent, curious and want to know how things work and why…have disposable income available to spend on the things they like…[and stay] up to date with the latest technology.” I agree, I even got a lot of questions from audience members about why I was there and enquiries about my Nikon D4s with f2.8 70-200mm lens and they also asked how much it cost.
But I am saving up for a Quantum Camera. They haven’t built a commercially available one, or indeed properly invented a viable one yet, so I have plenty of time. But it can snap things it cannot see! Instead of recording the light that bounces off the object, the camera makes an image from the photons that are paired through a quantum effect. Just think, I could stay at home under my duvet while also photographing a portrait in town! Now, can anyone tell me which way the connected pairs of light beams from my subject went, please?
Just before The Royal Academy of Arts opened its doors to the public to see the Rubens and His Legacy exhibition I caught up with the curator Arturo Galansino in front of the two metre square painting A hunt of lions, tigers and leopards (1615-1618). I say caught up as he was running from room to room doing many interviews. I sat Arturo on the top of the backrest of the gallery bench in the middle of the room so as to get a bit of distance between him and the painting, otherwise Ruben’s animals would have engulfed him, then during the shoot chatted about cheeses from Piemonte… I know, I know, but sometimes you just have to take the subject away from their intense, busy day.
I did wonder whether I should have the painting more in focus but I opted for f2.8 (wide open) which has a very shallow in-focus area. This done, I could then use a relatively fast shutter speed of 1/125 sec. thereby freezing the action when he reacted to my sophisticated Italian cheese related banter. For the record, I didn’t say ‘Say cheese’.
Top Secret isn’t the name of the client, I mean I’m not telling you. To be honest, it is all my clients: As part of the head shots and portrait package I offer ‘Basic retouching’ within the quote. This means I remove spots, shaving cuts, I lighten the bags under the eyes, whiten the teeth and adjust the colour… The idea is that the hard working corporate subjects look as though they have just come back from holiday and not an all night shift. It’s only fair, I think, on all of the people who have no say in when they are to be photographed. It puts the subject at ease to know that I’m also taking responsibility in how they will look in the final image.
I use Adobe Photoshop on the final images for all the retouching. For spots I use the Clone Stamp Tool at 100% and the trick is to clone from clear skin that is of the same tone and brightness which is usually along the same contour line of the face (highlighted with the blue dotted line).
For eye bags, I use the same Clone Stamp Tool but before you clone in from the lighter area just under the bags themselves, change the tool settings along the top bar. Next to Mode there is a dropdown menu with many options: Choose Lighten (This will only clone in lighter pixels from the area you choose to clone from so preserving some of the original detail). The next one to change is: Opacity. Drop this down to 30%. Once done you can use it as though it were a paint brush to bring the dark shadow up a little, but try to do it in one sweeping brush stroke (Edit > Undo and try again and again).
The Patchwork Foundation, a charity that aims to highlight best practice in under-represented, deprived and minority community engagement, held its MP of The Year Awards to that end. An MP from each party is nominated by grassroots community organisations which goes to a judging panel. The Rt Hon Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Minister for Faith) won the conservative spot but couldn’t attend the actual evening event so we did his photograph a little earlier in the day. The venue is the Speakers House, an amazingly ornate Gothic Revival interior but lit with an equally gothic unrevived lightbulb, I’d say, so I had to set up the lights.
I asked Martin Lewis who was to do the comparing to stand in at the lectern to give the photograph more depth and context (well, to make it look like how it may have looked on the night).
Dan Wilson and Marc Almond were a couple of the guest performers at the ASCAP 2014 Awards. Dan Wilson who co-wrote “Someone Like You” with Adele, performed the song solo and even without Adele’s great voice the song still has a lot of power. Marc didn’t disappoint either with his ‘Tainted Love’.
Mouth open or closed – catching people mid speech is never pretty but I think you can get away with it with singers. It conveys a sense of them performing their craft. You have to have the hands in the picture too as this gives more context (or at least the microphone). In fact, the hands express a lot and also give the image another important point of reference to the composition. Try this; Google image search ‘politician talking’ then crop out the hands with a piece of paper… The person doesn’t look as good without the hands, don’t you think?
If you want to restore a listed building but you also want to incorporate modern acoustics, lighting and thermodynamics you’d call a good architect. But who is the architect going to call for help with the effects of, say, the annual sunpath or potential groundwater temperatures on the heating designs? Skelly & Couch, that’s who!
Skelly & Couch celebrated their work using a recent project as a venue: The Farmilow Building in Clerkenwell. Haven’t seen it? Well if you’ve seen any of the recent Batman films or Sherlock Holmes you will have already seen inside. It has been a popular filming location since the 150 year old glass and lead merchants George Farmiloe & Sons finally stopped using it as their base in 1999.
A lot of celebrations are centred around people and their achievements but the guest of honour here was the building and I wanted to show it in context of the event. Standing far back and zooming in with the lens gives you a good sense of scale and the real size difference between objects (i.e. people versus a building). The large atrium gave me room to step back and see the exposed Victorian wrought-iron beams, panelled offices and hoists as well as the exhibition happening on the ground floor.
ITF invited a delegation from China to the UK to talk about transport and in particular how the high speed trains are run. We travelled from King’s Cross St Pancras down to Ashford in the driver’s cabin… None of the delegation jumped up and down shouting ‘Yippee! I’m in the driver’s cabin on a high speed train!’ so I didn’t either. There is also a high speed train driving simulator at the Ashford base that occupies a whole room and is a lot more expensive than an Xbox.
The rules when travelling in the driver’s cabin:
1. Do not distract to the driver
2. Do not use any flash.
Just replace the word ‘driver’ for ‘subject’ and those rules stand firm for most documentary photography. Without flash or interior lights the difference in light levels inside and outside the train are too much even for the human eye so any camera will struggle in this situation. If you want to see the difference between what your eye and your camera can see then just half close your eyes and look around; All the highlights and mid-tone areas are still there but the darker areas get much darker, too dark to see any detail. You can use this to good effect though to create drama. When we were racing though a hill I waited until the light at the end of the tunnel lit the rails and skimmed off the side of the drivers head; The colourfully illuminated control panel gives the rest of the context and the brain fills in the missing picture details… I’M ON A HIGHSPEED TRAIN!
Art on the Underground commissioned the British artist Richard Wentworth to create new work as part of Transport for London’s centenary commemorations of the First World War and asked me to produce the press images to release to publications interested in publishing the story (Here is what Creative review used). Did you see the poster? And did you have a mirror on you?
I photographed the poster in Southwark Station between trains arriving as we didn’t have the time or inclination to run after all the passing public and convince them to fill in model-release forms (there are many examples of these forms, here’s another – I always end up adapting the words to the particular job I’m on, as the one size doesn’t fit all).
The trains were two minutes apart at that time of day and also, it takes a little while for people to clear the platform, so the shoot window was about 30 seconds. This is actually not a bad way of working as it forces you to use the waiting time to stand and think how the shot could be better. I find it’s possible, when other people are involved, to get caught up with getting the job finished instead of taking time during the shoot to stand and think. A lot of photography is instinctual (I take the picture and work out the reason why later on at my leisure). Once you have done the test shots, the instinctual shots, the obvious shots and you have the brief fulfilling images in the camera it is then time to enjoy yourself and over deliver for the client (and yourself)… time permitting.
Up Side Up is where you can find (and buy) interesting objects that are made by graphic designers. It’s similar to kickstarter where the ideas Up Side Up love will get developed into production runs if enough people hit the buy button. I have made a few videos for them and it’s not just a talking head to camera as I have the prototype objects to play with too!
I use two cameras to capture the action and the audio is a separate set up, a Handy H4n . They are very popular, you see them all over the place. They are fairly small but still give great audio results. It’s a far superior sound than whatever the DSLR is able to capture. After being a great stills camera and now a HD video machine there probably isn’t enough room for high quality sound recording just yet… best to keep the whole thing apart. Here is a Nikon D4 chopped in half to give you an idea of the space left inside it. Actually, there is a little space left up above the pentaprism, isn’t there?
Tyne & Wear Museum (Hatton Gallery) were down at Tate Modern for a reception to celebrate the artist, Richard Hamilton and the large exhibition of Hamilton’s work on display. In the 1950s and ’60s Hamilton was an academic at Newcastle University where his exhibitions like ‘Man, Machine & Motion’ still reverberate around their Hatton Gallery.
The reception and talks were held in the East Room on level 6 of the Tate which is a magnificent room that overlooks the river and has floor to ceiling windows – I definitely wanted to get the view and a sense of place into the key speakers shot. I lined up the four people at an angle to the window (from left to right: Judith Nesbitt, Head of National & International Initiatives, Tate / Prof. Eric Cross, Dean of Cultural Affairs, Newcastle University / Prof. Frances Spalding, Professor of Art History, Newcastle University / Julie Milne, Chief Curator, TWAM… Ok, I’ll spell that out too: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. There, can I get on with the story?)
I lined them up at an angle so as the flash from the camera wouldn’t reflect in the window. I wanted a large depth of field (which means I wanted to stay in focus from the peoples faces right back to St Pauls Cathedral) so I chose the f-stop 13. In these situations you have to start with the right exposure for the background, in this case 1/200 sec was correct for the brightly sunlit cathedral made of Portland stone. 1/200 will still sync with the flash (a Nikon Speedlight SB-910)but I needed to turn it up to its maximum power setting as I was also bouncing the flash off the low white ceiling before it illuminated my foreground subjects with a soft light. The speakers were only 2 metres away but the light had to travel from the camera to the ceiling then to the subjects and back to the camera, about 8 metres, while getting dissipated at every turn. Not only that, the f13 aperture is only a small hole that lets in very little of the light that finally arrives into the lens.
I now have a Nikon D4s (after a battle with the insurance company) so everything is back on track. It gave impressive results after it’s first outing to photograph the Opportunity Now Awards hosted by Alice Arnold at The Brewery. Opportunity Now is a membership organisation representing employers who want to transform the workplace by ensuring inclusiveness for women and they filled the impressive Porter Tun room with people. If you don’t recognise Alice Arnold you’ll recognise her voice from many years at Radio 4 as a continuity announcer and newsreader.
My job was to capture all the events happening on stage as well as the winners’ group shots afterwards. In the last post I spoke about the D800 having a sensor that was too big for most of my uses (36MP).The D4s has a 16MP sensor but it also gives you the option to reduce the raw capture to a 4MP image capture (2464 x 1640 4MP) which is a clever move by Nikon – maybe they do read my emails ;) This still gives you an 8×6” print and certainly plenty big enough for all web uses.
The picture of Alice was taken at 1/200 sec, f-stop F7.1 and ISO 3200 and the smaller image is a detail from that shot. The ISO 3200 quality has improved since the D3s, there’s hardly any digital noise (or dodgy discoloured pixels to use a less technical term) in the smooth blue background and Alice’s skin tones.
I borrowed a Nikon D800 as my insurance claim is not yet finalised (see previous blog post). The sensor is too big for a lot of my uses especially when the client (HBR London) needs an image to tweet on the night. The JPEGs are 7360 x 4912 pixels which is big enough to project onto an area the size of (plug warning) an ethnically sourced Afghan Action rug. It seems such a shame to resize away all of that collected detail, but go it must right down to 600 x 400 pixels …Otherwise you will break the internet. The size of this picture (left) of Avivah Wittenberg-Cox delivering her talk on: Why does ‘gender balance’ matter for business? is 600 x 400 pixels)
A good use of the D800 mega sensor is a group shot that needs printing to 60 x 40 cm (or the size of a small fridge) as I did for the Newcastle University Law Society. I have, of course, cropped this down to 600 pixels to fit here, but take my word for it… you could read all the name badges on the original.
My equipment was stolen! Ouch. My Nikon D3s (serial number 2006381) and 24-70mm F2.8 Nikon lens (serial number 20010612) . Can you check in your camera bag if you’ve bought these (and send them back to me – Thanks!)
So I had a two day job covering BITC’s Leadership Summit at Tobacco Dock in Shadwell and after Day One I thought I would leave my camera bag in their cloakroom overnight (so as I could travel unencumbered the next morning because there was a transport strike on). Prince Charles was arriving for Day Two so the place was on a security lock down, I was told. The next morning at 9.15am I discovered the camera and lens were taken from my bag. It took me a while to understand as I stared blankly at the space in the bag where it should have been. Two thoughts vied for space in my confused brain: 1. – Who has stolen my flipping camera! and 2. How am I going to photograph Prince Charles in 15mins without a camera?
The show must go and I am insured.
For 1. I told the client to call the police for me and 2. asking around we found a very wonderful person called Oggi Tomic from the production crew who lent me his Canon EOS 5D Mark 111. What a saviour. Thank you Oggi.
With a few minutes to go I did a some tests. I found out a Nikon Speedlight won’t communicate with a Canon body (no great surprise). In these situations switch everything to M (manual) and punch in the settings yourself. I rushed to the start point of the day which had enough daylight and thankfully the main sponsor Jaguar-LandRover had conveniently cut a Range Rover in half so I didn’t have to do any extra thinking about what to use as a backdrop.
Back at the crime scene I was dismayed to see it hadn’t been cordoned off with the main suspects being rigorously questioned under hot lamps (which I could have provided). Tobacco Dock’s Private Security, Tower Hamlets Local Police and the Met Police for all Royal Security weren’t there. But they did make sure they never got in each other’s way.
So what did I learn? CCTV footage needs a director behind the camera; Don’t leave anything in the cloakrooms at Tobacco Dock, 50 Porters Walk, Shadwell, London E1W 2SF (that’s right, I’m naming and shaming); Be insured and fight the loss adjusters at every turn.
I got a call from The Brooke (an international animal welfare charity dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules) as their president HRH Camilla The Duchess of Cornwall was to visit a photographic exhibition to celebrate its 80th anniversary. Richard Dunwoody, the retired champion jockey, was the photographer and this was his debut exhibition held in the crypt of St-Martin-In-the-Field (near Trafalgar Square).
I wanted to get a picture of them together, looking interested in the exhibition to tell the news story. The problem with this type of shot is that you have two people chatting (one chats, the other reacts, the other chats, the other one reacts) so very seldom are both looking happy and interested at the same time. The other problem is they are both looking in the same direction and at a picture that is on a parallel plane to them… It would never be a classical pose chosen by Michaelangelo. But I had a plan! In fact, I had a floorplan of the crypt with Camilla’s route through the place (see below).
I could see from the route there was going to be one good opportunity when they would be looking at a picture with another large picture behind them. I know no one is looking at this thinking they are looking at the mountainscape image behind but it serves as a symbol of the wider activity and creates the relevant context. Not all plans work but this time they turned to the out of shot image, Richard wasn’t obscuring Camilla, both reacted positively and simultaneously… Click.
This year’s headline act at Inconnections HAC Comedy Christmas Lunch was Dara O’Briain. Do you need the Wikipedia link back there to see who he is? He does seem to be on a lot of TV programs and I’m not surprised; I think he is a very clever, funny man. His current routine includes material about having a young child which speaks directly to me. I can’t report to you any witty one liners as his show is so much the man himself and the delivery of his thoughts on life… (Oh okay, here’s a link to his official website where you can hear a few).
Just before my shoot with him I had set up some lights in a crowded backstage space. As I went to move a table out of the way, a security guard came up and said he was going to throw me out if I moved it again… It reminded me that to do this job you not only have to have the skill to get everyone on your side but you have to remember to constantly see that everyone is still on your side. The security guard made a mistake but it was just before Dara walked in and it really threw me. The most important thing is those precious lead up moments to the actual shoot and it was a bit of a mental struggle to get back on track. The power of a real life TV celebrity in front of my camera made the security guard fade away, I think. I already know how important the preproduction preparation of a shoot is but I’m adding a chapter called: Constantly Check In With Everyone Who Feels They Have A Claim On The Space You Are Using. It won’t be a long chapter, it’ll have the above title and it’ll say: Constantly check in with everyone who feels they have a claim on the space you are using. Even if they are wrong they could still ruin the shoot.
I once had a HiVizibody* stand in front of my camera to stop me taking pictures claiming I “could be doing hostile reconnaissance”. I wasn’t, but if ever I do embark on a career of hostile reconnaissance I’ll probably use a smaller tripod.
(*I’d like to credit Andy Drysdale for coining this phrase).
THA (Tables Humane Association) 2013: No tables were harmed in the making of this portrait.
I got a call from Clarence House asking if I was available to do a group shot of The Prince of Wales with the Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and opposition leader Ed Miliband with 50 young people inside Buckingham Palace for the Step Up To Serve launch. I said ‘Yes, I am available…’
I promised I’d take 30 seconds to complete the photograph once HRH was in place (the young people were on the stairs for 20 minutes – Sorry kids!). I wrote a 30 second script that I memorised the night before to keep the shoot on track and to keep what I was saying appropriate for the diverse audience. I wanted to get a laugh from the whole group; If you think of the duration of a laugh as a bell curve I like to photograph people just after the curve’s summit, as their eyes still hold the laugh but the mouth is returning to normal. This happened on the second sentence (which wasn’t the plan!). It went: ” 1. Young people, this is your moment to swell up with pride! 2. Let that pride rise up to your cheek muscles (laugh)” …click, flash! (The BBC News 24 used this clip in their report). I like to think I bring a bit of inverse theatre to group shots ( I call it ‘inverse’ because I’m doing the performing but it is the audience that is being watched).
The picture here is at the end when my digital assistant overheard Prince Charles saying to the PM something like ‘He’s good, isn’t he?’… It’s possible my reporting here is being embellished massively but I’m running with it.
Technical news: The was the first outing for my Phottix Odin radio triggers (attached to two Nikon speedlights) which worked really well. That’s right, I’ve decided to make sure I’m not reliant on plugging in anything, anywhere ever again. I’m a self contained photo island! A good job too as there aren’t many plug sockets in Buckingham Palace.
What have the Theme from M*A*S*H, Downtown, Music to Watch Girls By, Crossroads theme, Messing About On The River and the theme from Emmerdale and Neighbours all got in common? (Do you see where I’m going with this?) The lovely, quiet, unassuming Tony Hatch entertained the ASCAP award winners with a medley of a few songs he has written. Here’s a bigger list: Tony Hatch, Songs…. and I only manage a monthly blog post.
Clayton M. Christensen, professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of The Innovator’s DNA gave a talk at the Victoria & Albert Museum as part of an HBR event. Here I have sought to capture his energetic delivery style as well as show a snap shot of the increasingly complex slide that was expanding behind him that illustrated his thoughts.
Sedus filled an eight storey building in Croydon with office furniture and before everyone came in and sat down I photographed it for them. On some of the images I used the daylight, flash and artificial lighting in the same shot *. The artificial light was on a power-saving-eco-setting that would only come on once the motion detectors were triggered. I was on my own on the seventh floor so once the camera was set up on the tripod I put the self timer on 20 seconds, clicked the shutter, then ran around the empty building waving my arms frantically for the next 19 seconds to get the lights to switch on. I may have alarmed the neighbours.
* (I corrected the white balance in Lightroom and exported three versions of the same same shot to merge together in Photoshop)
Joanna Lumley (my keyboard defaults to type National Treasure after her name) and James Corden hosted BITC’s Awards 2013 at The Royal Albert Hall. This is a shot during the rehearsal which was a very quick run through of where they would be standing and sitting. Most of the content of the performance and Q&A hosted by James was genuinely unrehearsed, irreverent and very lively.
As well as taking photographs I like to think my expertise extends to the eating of pizza. It was the perfect storm of my skill sets the day I photographed Ponti’s Italian Kitchen for their new website. The oven flame was used to cook the Quattro Stagioni as well as dramatically backlight it. Che bello!
One of areas targeted by the Prince’s Regeneration Summit is Burslem (one of the six towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, doncha know?). They have a vibrant minicab service getting people to and fro the federation of towns but far too many boarded up shops and houses in each of them. The aim of The Prince’s Regeneration Trust here is to continue the work of restoring Middleport Pottery, ‘providing jobs and training opportunities for local people, creating new courses in local schools and colleges, and inspiring a whole community to raise its aspirations’. Not a small task. Prince Charles spoke to so many people involved in the regeneration work and I photographed them all as the entourage bustled through the town. One of the only peaceful moments was when he was invited to take a seat and finish off painting a piece of pottery. An air of calm descended on the room as he quietly took up the brush (I think they knew he enjoys painting).
The Gulbenkian Theatre is on the huge University of Kent campus just outside Canterburyand they hosted ART31’s workshops and performances. The two shots here are from right at the end of the mask workshop and the theatre improvisation workshops; after the whole session the participants were so well into their characters they were able to form creative group shots with just a little guidance from me. I guessed this would be the way, it was important not to rush in at the beginning and frighten them off. Before they started I sat with the theatre lighting technician and turned on a warm set of floodlights and highlight spots to illuminate the whole performance area. With this set up I was able to shoot into the group from any angle. Thus have I quyt a moral lesson from my Canterbury tale, about the virtues of forward planning and patience… Discuss:
When I was at school and the teacher put a film on, it was probably because it was raining and we weren’t allowed out to play. I would never have expected the lead role of the film to walk into class, sit down with us and be interviewed. Jeremy Irvine (who played Albert Narracott, the leading role in Steven Spielberg’s version of War Horse) did just that in a South London school. The event was organised by FILMCLUB, a national education charity which ‘provides young people with a chance to transform their lives through film’. The members can watch and review a huge selection of films and there are currently 3961 to choose from (It would take me an entire academic year to decide which one to start with). I would definitely do my homework if the main character was going to see it too. Not one of the students said ‘a dog ate my screenplay’; they were transfixed but not at all shy with their questioning which delved headfirst into how Jeremy had got into acting, got the War Horse role and if he could do accents… and would he prove it to them right away! He did.
One of my most interesting clients I don’t post about* is The Prince’s Seeing Is Believing program (run by BITC) as the images invariably include minors and vulnerable adults. These visits take some of the finest and most successful business brains and ask them to attempt to solve social problems through responsible business practice (Typically a room of 10 delegates could be responsible for many thousands of employees as well as the considerable affect they have to the communities in which they operate). We go into prisons, homeless shelters, schools in areas of poverty and many other charities helping those at the less fortunate end of our communities. The first and last 2012 visits were in Tottenham. A Report Back seminar is then held at St James Palace with HRH Prince of Wales (Here’s the Report Back document for the last year’s visits – click here).
For these jobs I leave the flash in the bag, put the shutter on the ‘Quiet’ mode, wear shoes that don’t squeak and have my ears in the ‘open to receive’ setting.
* CONTRADICTION ALERT! I am indeed posting but they have had this large 16 page spread with all my pictures in The Sunday Telegraph supplement (3rd February) so I feel it’s okay to mention it on my blog.
Hey, stop staring out the window, the year has started..! Are you using up your allocated company charity days effectively? If not, get BITC to help mobilise your whole company by registering your interest here. I photographed the January launch for the 17th May 2013 Give & Gain Day. Since BT are a partner they held the event on the top of BT Tower. I got the job done but I also spent more time than usual looking out the window. This shot is the view towards St Paul’s Cathedral and Canary Wharf, but you probably guessed that already.
Sean Lock performed at the HAC for a comedy fundraising Christmas lunch organised by Inconnection. His adaptation of his own material for a rowdy pre-christmas crowd was really entertaining. It’s great to watch a performer in complete control. He’s is very much like his dry on screen persona in real life too.
I photographed him as soon as he was off stage at the back of the pavilion. The HAC pavilion is a temporary seasonal structure (on top of the cricket pitch!) with black curtain walls, a black ceiling and black floors which absorbs all the light. I decided to point two lights straight at him and expose for the face and leave everything to fall away into the black to give an on-stage performance look but still keeping his gaze straight to camera.
I don’t advertise the slogan ‘will work for food’ as it lowers the tone. I will, however, work and then eat the food. The pastry chef at the Corinthia Hotel London created a selection of cakes for their Festivi-Tea event. If you get the chance to stay the night here, have a cocktail at the bar, eat breakfast, nibble on their bespoke chocolates then I certainly recommend it. What’s that..? No, you’re still here on my blog. You haven’t been redirected to Trip Advisor unless you click here.
I covered the glittering ASCAP Awards and photographed Annie Lennox with her award. She used this picture on her Facebook page. I am always keen to see how many likes I get with all my posts and get excited if my popularity count makes it into double figures. This picture on Annie’s page is currently at 7,192 likes… Here’s her uplifting words she said at the podium upon receiving the ASCAP Award for Sweet Dreams
“..Almost thirty years after it’s release, and still going strong! I was on the verge of giving up and heading back to Scotland on the day that we wrote and recorded it… Dave and I had released four albums and we seemed to have reached an impasse. The line “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” was a sardonic swipe at my miserable countenance of our predicament. It just goes to show that you never know what’s just around the corner… Your biggest disappointment might become your greatest treasure in the end.”
The Berkeley Group did a study on how to measure the social sustainability of new housing developments and wrote a report called Creating Strong Communities. To illustrate the document I went to their Empire Square development and sat and watched how the people living there reacted with their environment. None of the people pictured are models or were prearranged, I just let everyone do what they wanted to do and then asked permission to photograph them in action. The end result was very real and very rewarding. I may just have to let you know what the client said “I’ve just been through the photos and I love them! Actually made me feel quite emotional. You’ve done a brilliant job of communicating real relationships and the flow of human life in the development, against the backdrop of the interesting shape of the buildings and communal areas, and given us a huge range to choose from. All this without a minder. You must have been exhausted. A fab afternoon’s work. Thanks.” You’re welcome Zoe, call again!
Canada. It’s a big country with big trees and big rocks and big animals.
I photographed the actor Tom Hiddleston (Loki in Thor ) who plays Henry V in the BBC’s Shakespeare season. The British Museum invited him to see their new Shakespeare exhibition before it opened and hosted a screening of the movie. As you can see by the blue surgical gloves, no one is famous enough to touch the nation’s antiquities with bare hands and the museum was keen to show this. The seal-die he is holding depicts the young Henry on horseback and is over 600 years old. I asked Tom what the reason might be for his character to be wearing a light blue latex glove…”throttling the French”. But of course! I used a soft box close to Tom’s face while he skillfully angled the seal to the light for me. The light falls away quickly into the darkness and creates the dramatic effect I was after while still illuminating the face softly. I blasted the background with another flash set right against to the wall to bring out the subtle texture of the theatre setting.
This was the first time HM The Queen spoke publicly about her eldest son’s charity work and my client was keen that I get The Prince’s Charities logo in when she spoke – I got two logos in the one shot! The location was The Weaver’s Triangle in Burnley which is due for regeneration. After following the Royal trio around the cluster groups for many handshaking photo opportunities I was ushered into the press pen for the formal speeches (here’s the best picture to illustrate a press pen, just substitute the sheep for people with cameras). The Royals were seated with their backs to a huge arch window, the only light source into the empty warehouse (A photographer’s backlighting nightmare) You just can’t see any detail against the light. I decided to rest the camera on a ledge with a longer exposure and hoped to capture a flash from another photographer’s camera at an angle to me. This is the only one that worked but it works well, I think.
Melody Hossaini, the former BBC1 The Apprentice candidate was the guest speaker at an IFS event. She is now running her social enterprise InspirEngage International. I took the first picture using the natural light coming in from the 30th floor window with just a flash bounced off the white ceiling to fill in the shadows. Melody told me about her last experience of being photographed as a speaker at an event and was dismayed the photographer just came up with close-ups of her in action – they didn’t give a sense of place or the energy of the interaction between herself and the audience. This will happen if the photographer just sits at the front and points the camera forward – it is easy not to capture the real essence of an event. In most cases it means moving around and predicting what will happen to capture the shot. In this second shot I moved to the back of the room and waited until Melody had got the audience reacting to her and I feel it communicates better how she is able to motivate a crowd.
Although I specialise in photographing people, every year I get the opportunity to shoot a more static, but surprisingly fun, subject. Potholes – they’re the bane of many drivers’ lives, but they’re my models for the HMPR‘s annual Alarm road maintenance survey.
I love this job. Asphalt is everywhere, but I see it in a different light when I’m tasked with capturing everything from the smoothest new ribbon of road to the worst ruts in a city street. And, as much as I enjoy the dynamic, interactive nature of photographing people, it can also be a pleasure shooting things that sit still.
I’ve had to prowl the countryside looking for the perfect pothole. I’ve surprised a few drivers by asking them to reverse through a particularly photogenic rut so that I can capture the splash. And I’ve trained my friends to report the most gruesome examples on their commutes.
And I’m not alone in finding something oddly fascinating about potholes. The magazine was chosen ‘guest publication of the week’ on the BBC’s Have I Got News For You?
MOSAIC : a charity that creates opportunities for young people of all backgrounds growing up in our most deprived communities – was invited to tea at Clarence House. It’s amazing inside, it’s just like an everyday family sitting room with ornaments and family photographs on the furniture – except that the family is the Windsors and the ornaments are worth more than a semi detached in East London. Here the first picture shows the room before everyone is assembled for tea and biscuits. I like to have the shutter in quiet mode when no one else is taking pictures but I’m not very impressed with it – it’s just not very quiet. The clatter of the reflex mirror is just spilt into two clatters. Nikon says: ‘the mirror is raised and the shutter is released but the mirror is not lowered until the shutter-release button is released. Thus the photographer can choose when the camera releases the mirror‘ …erm, that’ll be right away since I can’t see anything while the mirror is left up and I need to take another picture, please. I was asked recently ‘Can’t you just choose to turn that noise off these days?’ Damn those Smart phones and their sound effects!
It got very busy when the Prime Minister David Cameron met HRH Prince Charles for BITC’s Communities Summit at The Roundhouse – Number 10 entourage meets Clarence House entourage – my most useful piece of equipment in the camera bag was my roll of black gaffa tape (yes I know, that links to Clerkenwell Screws, a manly place for manly men who know the right terminology for bits and things and who’ll never need a website). I had less than 10 seconds to get this group shot but most of the morning to set it up. I marked out on the floor where the BITC delegates should cluster and stuck down marks on the floor as indicators for where they should leave gaps for the PM and HRH (you can just see the tape on the floor by their feet). It all came together like a well oiled flash mob, then they departed in different directions moments later. Job done though.
Seen Paul Gascoigne lately? He doesn’t look too bad. He now talks about his past with incredible honesty and is able to have an audience laugh with him. He is definitely on the mend and I think we may see more of him in his new cleaned up form. You have to look at past video clips of him to remember just how great he was on the pitch. This was one of those jobs I had plenty of time to set up (two Elinchrome 250 Watt heads) and plenty of time with Gazza who arrived early with his very caring manager / friend. Gazza was very interested in the camera I was using as he was looking to buy a family member a present. I did say the Nikon D3s may be overkill for a birthday but I would certainly be happy if I found a Nikon D4 under my next christmas tree. There are many beautifully designed places you could link to for a review on the new Nikon D4 but I find Ken Rockwell foregoes any of the last decade’s web design trends to give you the raw techie nuts and bolts ;)
The two establishments meet – Tracey Emin and HM The Queen at the official opening of the brand new Turner Contemporary Museum in Margate. Any royal visit is scrupulously choreographed with places and timings fixed well in advance so Tracey and her mum (out of shot on the left) had plenty of time to get excited as they waited in front of the Turner painting for Her Majesty to come along for an informal chat. They seemed to get on just fine and I didn’t hear the reported gaff a newspaper spoke of. I was concentrating on the light which is great in the galleries that face the sea but not in the one at the back where the two were meeting (I had set up a studio flash on a radio trigger in the corner to bounce off the ceiling but that got shut down – shame) . The architect, David Chipperfield who designed the place was keen to capture the famous Turneresque lighting bouncing off the sea and channel it into the galleries. It puts Margate back on the map and is definitely worth a visit (and so is the chip shop across the road).
So Sir Steve Redgrave is 50 (here pictured with John Inverdale the BBC Sports presenter). He entertained a room full of Prestige Ticketing’s clients who were all looking to them to look after their clients during the Olympic weeks with top notch corporate hospitality – food and drink from the best of British suppliers! I tasted the best Devon cheddar cheese and learned it can also be a verb – to cheddar (let me link you to a respectable cheesemaking definition before you end up on Urban Dictionary). The event was held in Vinopolis where the brick tunnels were up lit with coloured lights. I decided to go with the lights for the background and light up Sir Steve and John’s face with the flash on camera bounced off the curved orange brick ceiling – the white balance control in Adobe Lightroom 3 will always bring the skin tones back to normal with a few tweaks.
A perfect test for my new Nikkor lens; the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm F/2.8G ED since you ask…I haven’t named it though… I refer to it as the ‘wider angle, wide open lens’. The speed of the silent wave motor and of course the silence of it is impressive. I see a real difference in colour rendition with the ED glass optics (In short, the coating corrects the direction of the rogue light beams; in long, click the link where they use the lovely term ‘chromatic aberration’ which rolls off the tongue and makes you sound really smart). My choice of subjects for my test needed colour and unpredictable movement so the arrival of Fraser in his Olympic/Jubilee romper suit was the obvious choice. I’ll do my best not to make him my only choice of subject ever from now on. I’ll limit his appearances just to when he gets so cute I want to burst.
Diverse Productions are doing a program for the BBC called Home Movies presented by Kirsty Wark and Dan Cruikshank. The program involves a lot of time sitting on sofas talking to experts interspersed with home movies and this is where the real visual interest comes from so I wanted to incorporate this in the background of my publicity shots I was commissioned to take, as well as capture an essence of Wilton’s Music Hall where it was filmed. I had plenty of time to think about what to do, but the usual few minutes to execute it… Here is how: DVD projector onto back wall, soft box bounced off the lowered ceiling on right, Kirsty and Dan were grabbed between takes, job done!
The (remaining) ‘Boys of ’66 squad’ presented Fabio Capello with a signed England shirt. I was there for MBN, the FA and the National Football Museum. He seems a very ‘hands-on’ bloke and his English is getting much better. I set up the ’66 squad and a space for him to sit down (we only had Fabio for 30 minutes; he didn’t stay for lunch) and down he sat and grabbed Gordon Banks and Geoff Hurst’s knees. There was no need for me to ask them to smile. The room was very crowded so I had to use a wide angle lens and bounce the flash off the ceiling (I say ‘flash’, it was an Elinchrom 500 flash head plugged in with a radio transmitter – I could light up the whole room no matter who he decided to put his hands on).
I followed Nick Cowley this week. He is an HEA (Home Energy Advisor) for G-Ten and the client was the Sustainability Team for Camden Council. Nick can assess your house and give you advice on how to use less energy by replacing all the light bulbs with energy efficient ones, put reflectors on your radiators, rig up a monitor on your meter and check the walls and roof insulation. It was a job full of visual demonstrations which is increasing rare in our service economy and a real joy to photograph. My favorite is this one in the attic, the sun shone in to illuminate the curious house owner and stair well and I just bounced the flash (SB-800 if you’re interested) against the brick to light up the inspection with a warmer yellow (brick) light.
I’m 5ft 8″ and (not forgetting the) three quarters; I stand as tall as any average man but this wasn’t enough when I was in a room with both the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race teams for a charity dinner event hosted by Martin Bayfield (the rugby international) I may have exaggerated the height a little with the camera angle in the far left photo but it felt like I was a small child again.
So they all go to a top university, they are all tall and they are all fine specimens of athleticism (I wasn’t the alpha male in the room today). The client was MBN Promotions and I’ve photographed many sports stars, old and new, for them over the years.
4000 BC? No, 4000 ISO! There isn’t much light in the British Museum so as to preserve their many artifacts from the ravishes of light over time so in the preNikonD3S period which finished at the beginning of 2010AD taking photographs with no flash and being able to see anything in them afterwards was a problem. I am so old I remember putting film in my camera and worrying about pushing the development two stops; I now regularly shoot at 3200 ISO and the results at 6400 ISO are very good too.
This job was for theHistory of the world in 100 objectsproject. Did you know there are still people out there who can make flint tools?
Now, I’m a dedicated pay-as-you-go Oyster card holder and this particular morning’s London transport wasn’t pleasant or indeed quick… but if you ever get the chance to go through London on the same means of transport as HRH Prince Charles, complete with four motorcycle outriders and police escort it is much, much quicker (and I didn’t have to touch in).
I did a few sneaky royal waves out the window to immobile motorists; is that wrong?
The client was Business in the Community
I was in 11 Downing street to photograph Alistair Darling, our current Chancellor of the Exchequer for the charity Mosaic. The dynamic range between eyebrow and hair wasn’t enough to need an HDR double exposure image though. My new Nikon D3s was up to the job in low light.
Linklaters, the international law firm in London, is so big it is like entering a small community I’m going to call Legal-town. Managing just their own waste is a big job and is taken seriously. I set up the studio lights and equipment in the restaurant area (close to the bins) and arranged rubbish on a backdrop of the company colours.
I had the good fortune to photograph Nelson Mandela at his house in Johannesburg in 1998. I just sold the use of the photo to a Swedish publisher for the front cover of ‘Mandelas Arv ‘ by Richard Stengel.
Thank you on-line translators, but I’m guessing the title of the book is not ‘Mandela’s inheritance tax’. I’m going to go with ‘Mandela’s Legacy’.
Ever wondered where you can learn how to be a bricklayer or carpenter? The King’s Cross Construction Skills Centre teaches local teenagers and adults to do just that. The idea is to supply the King’s Cross site across the road with a locally sourced skilled work force.
On a shoot like this the equipment gets covered in brick dust, cement and wood shavings and so does the photographer. I had to go to The Goldsmiths Guild Hall soon after, probably the most ornate building in the City. Nobody noticed as I unwound the extension cables and a small garden wall fell out.
I followed artist Jessie Brennan as she took a group of London Underground staff on a creative voyage for Art On The Underground. The Southwark Tube volunteers took brass rubbings from the Tate’s escalators through to constructing their own cardboard city in the underground foyer, all this while answering travel enquiries from bemused passing commuters. I wonder if Picasso could have been as prolific if he had been wearing a TFL uniform.
Art on the Underground is Benedict Johnson‘s client. We cover for each other’s clients when the other is busy (or break their arm while skateboarding).
We’re happy to announce that Alastair Fyfe photography has launched a new website.
The new site features Flash image galleries showing some of Alastair’s recent work. If you don’t see what you need, please contact us.