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Dance away…

It’s not often that I write blog posts about other photographers, but I’m happy to make an exception here.

I’ve known Hannah for a few years now. She’s a photographer who lives not that far away from me in Newcastle, and I’ve been watching her work with interest (and a little jealousy!) over the last few months in particular.

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Click the image for a larger view

There are a lot of photographers around here who book models to shoot in studios. Often you’ll find these are fashion or lingerie style photoshoots, and whilst there’s nothing wrong with that it’s just something that doesn’t really do it for me. I think perhaps I’ve reached saturation point, as there are so many images like that floating around at the moment.

Whatever the reason, it’s nothing personal, and it’s not intended as a criticism towards anybody. It’s just not for me I’m afraid.

The problem I have with a lot of images is that whilst technically they are very good, they just don’t reach out to me. Yes, that’s a pretty model, and she’s wearing a very nice dress, but I need a bit more than that. There has to be something about an image that draws me in emotionally, and an image being technically competent isn’t a good enough reason in itself.

Hannah’s recent set of dance inspired images succeed where others have failed. I can’t quite explain why, maybe it’s because she doesn’t shoot models, she shoots dancers, and perhaps it’s because she’s not in a studio with a plain background, she’s out in the real world.

It all just feels a bit more organic and natural, and I know it’s been done before, but it somehow still feels fresh to me. She doesn’t overdo the post production, she just has a solid concept, keeps it simple and elegant and captures it all beautifully.

The litmus test for me has to be “Would it go on my wall?”, and I think that in all honesty the one on this page from Hannah probably would. Hopefully Hannah is jumping for joy at the results as much as the subject in the image is.

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You can see more of Hannah’s work at her website:
http://www.hannahtoddphotography.co.uk

“Blue Hubbard”

img-19420This is a shot of acoustic folk / blues band ‘Blue Hubbard’ who I photographed recently at an outdoor event they were playing at.

The image is all about ‘blue’ – the name of the band, the colour of singer Rebecca’s dress, the wall in the background, and the original artwork on the wall behind them.

Composition wise, the image is fairly simple. Band members Paul and Phil were positioned seated on either side, with Rebecca kneeling on the floor at the front centre, at a slightly lower viewpoint. This was so that Rebecca’s dress didn’t merge into the blue of the background. Originally there was a short table in front of the chairs, but I moved this out of shot as I liked the horizontal line that the blue floor rug gives at the bottom of the image.

The great thing about photographing performers is that typically they’re used to being watched, so have that ability to appear very relaxed in front of the camera. Because of this, once they were in the right position the shoot only took a few minutes. There’s no point in firing off hundreds of shots when you just know you’ve got the one you want in the bag!

Lighting wise, this was a gentle mix of diffused daylight through a glass ceiling, with a little fill in flash to bring out the details of the clarinet and texture of the guitar.

The Butcher and the Chef

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If for any strange reason I ever wrote a book called ‘The Butcher and the Chef”, this would be the cover shot!

I’ll admit that this is highly unlikely to happen, but I do like this image, mainly because I remember the circumstances that it was taken. For me it’s got an emotional attachment to it, which all good images should have.

The chef is Michelin Star culinary genius Gareth Ward of Ynyshir Hall in Wales, and the butcher is the award winning Johnny Pusztai of JT Beedham & Sons. Johnny is the ‘go to’ butcher of all the top chefs in the area. Although he’s based in Nottingham he provides products to chefs all over the country, because he’s the best around.

This shot was taken in the aftermath of a summer garden party at Ynyshir Hall back in August. Johnny had just finished preparing, cooking and serving one of his speciality hog roasts for a couple of hundred people, and Gareth and the team had been busy in the kitchens all day providing other delicacies for the event.

I remember from my days in hotels and catering how it feels when the last meal is dished up and sent out, and you’ve finally got the opportunity to take a five minute break before it all kicks off again. These moments are precious, and are often a relief and an opportunity to relax and let off a bit of steam.

Gareth and Johnny have known each other for years and years, so there’s already a relationship and friendly bond between them. The shot above was as simple as asking them both to sit down on a pile of logs, then just wait to see what they did. 30 seconds later it was in the bag. It was processed very, very simply in Lightroom with just a basic, contrasty black and white treatment.

Fine Dining

img-18684The brief: an image of a fine dining venue, showing off the classic stone interior and fireplace, and featuring a party of friends sitting down to enjoy an evening meal. Warm glows and comfort were the key messages to get across.

The first thing to think about is the angle and field of view of the shot. The room featured in the image is pretty huge, but the more of the room you try to get in the shot the less significant the people become. I decided that the best option was to include half a dozen people around the table with the fireplace and tapestry in the background.

The ‘guests’ were positioned around the table so that each of them were visible and the ones in the front weren’t blocking the ones at the back. I also wanted to make sure that we could see at least some of the face of the couple nearest the camera, so I rotated the chairs a little to get a slight side view when I took the shot. The front couple were chosen to be nearest the camera because they were wearing light grey rather than black, so they wouldn’t merge into the chairs. The men at back of the shot to the right were positioned to add a little balance to the composition.

Next up, how to light it. The ambient light in the room is quite warm, and comes from spotlights up in the roof. I liked this warmth and wanted to keep it, so I took a meter reading for this light and underexposed it by a stop so the candles on the fireplace (and the firelight) could be seen.

img-3109The table and the guests need a little more light though, so a shoot through umbrella with a solid back was positioned high above them pointing down. I also added another shoot through to the left, to light up the couple nearest the camera and illuminate the purple sashes on the chairs. You can click on the image on the left to see more.

The exposure was 1/8sec at f10 at a relatively high ISO of 640. I needed a small enough aperture to give plenty of depth of field, and a low enough shutter speed to let in all that ambient light. I couldn’t go too low though otherwise the guests would appear blurred, so I didn’t gamble on anything lower than 1/8 sec and made sure that they remained as still as they could as I took the shot.

The fire was helped along by throwing in a couple of candles. This gives it a real extra boost for around five minutes as the wax burns. The last thing to do was get the group to engage with each other in some way. It has to be believable that they are all friends, so I asked them all to raise their glasses to make a toast.

Facewatch

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I was recently asked to head on down to London town and photograph Simon Gordon, the entrepreneurial mind behind ‘Facewatch’.

Facewatch is a facial recognition system which enables retail staff to report crimes online, with moving and still CCTV images, directly to the police in a format that is approved and actionable by the receiving force. This has generated a lot of interest in the retail industry, and naturally this extended press coverage requires images to go alongside the text – hence my involvement.

I’ve learned the hard way that if you’re going to travel to a photoshoot you should travel light. It’s not much fun heaving heavy bags of equipment around on the underground, so I’ve got this down to a fine art.

A single bag is all I need, holding a camera (plus backup body), a short zoom lens, a fixed prime (also as backup), two manual flashguns, a compact lightstand and an umbrella. I’ve also a few bits and bobs in the bag like radio triggers, light meter, spare batteries and memory cards. This gives a very flexible set up that can cover just about anything and can be set up very quickly.

The image of Simon on the right was taken in his office on the Embankment. First of all I metered for the ambient, and set the camera ISO to 200, the shutter speed to 1/60 sec and the aperture to f3.2. I wanted a wide aperture as the idea was to focus on the mobile phone in the foreground and have Simon out of focus in the background. I asked him to wear his spectacles as this makes him more recognisable, and we used a white Samsung Galaxy rather than a black iPhone as it stood out a little more.

A large shoot through umbrella was positioned in front and slightly to the right of Simon and the phone, and balanced with the ambient light. I didn’t gel the flash as I wanted the warm lights in the office to light up the background and the cooler light of the flash to light up Simon and the phone, just for a bit more separation.

img-18133The app that appears on the phone screen was pasted in using Photoshop , the original image without this is shown on the left. We had just under an hour with Simon and took a variety of shots, and three final images were used in the magazine.

What’s important in shoots like this where you haven’t been allocated much time is to make sure you get the shot the magazine wants. Keep it nice and simple, fulfil the brief, be happy that you’ve got it ‘in the can’, and then if you’ve any time left you can try something a bit different.

Photographing Kids

img-18323Kids can be tricky to photograph, as they usually don’t want to be photographed and would prefer to be doing something else, like getting up to no good!

I’ve found that the best way to photograph youngsters is to do so in an environment that is comfortable to them and that they can relax in. I think the worst place you could pick is a studio, and I really don’t like those ‘white background’ style shots at all. To me it makes more sense to photograph them in the woods, or playing a game, or out on their bike – you know, photograph them being kids!

The image on the right is of my nephew Ben, and when he’s not pulling daft faces he’s quite a good looking chap! If you ask Ben to smile then he sticks his tongue out at you. If you take too long to grab your shot then he looks bored, so anything longer than 10 seconds and you’ve pretty much missed your chance. The way around this is to make him laugh, and in doing so you end up with something more natural than a forced smile.

This was shot at f4 on a 30mm lens (crop sensor DSLR), so enough depth of field to make sure that he’s nice and sharp but the background slightly soft. A simple toned black and white treatment gives the final image a bit of a classic / timeless feel.

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