Archive photo

Moody technique post from the old website

I have been cleaning up some of the behind the scenes stuff on my original dg28.com website and got side-tracked looking at some of the old technique posts (again). I really liked this one from July 2003 which was originally entitled “Choosing a Mood”. Anyway, here is the original post cut and pasted:

©Neil Turner/TSL. July 2003. English, Media Studies and Philosophy teacher in a north London comprehensive school.

©Neil Turner/TSL. July 2003. English, Media Studies and Philosophy teacher in a north London comprehensive school.

Every time you take a photograph you are saying something about what is in the image. It’s impossible to avoid a frozen frame being anything other than an interpretation of that moment so it becomes a mark of a good photographer to make sure that every element of the image (composition, subject matter and light) helps to paint a consistent story. 

The mood required for every image – especially with portraits – is something that you have to consider very carefully.Some lighting guides will tell you that there is a lighting set up for each mood and that it is a simple matter of placing light A in position B and light C in position D to achieve this. I have to agree that there are some obvious starting points for many of the moods that I use, but there are many other factors that have to be taken into account when setting the scene.

Even a short list of variables such as time of day, age of subject, subjects clothing and location mean that there can be no such thing as a standard lighting rig. This portrait of a teacher who feels that he wasn’t prepared during his training for the attitude of pupils needed a lot of thought.

We met at his home in a pleasant London suburb and I was determined to give the whole portrait a real inner city feel. I asked him if there were any dark alleys or heavily graffitied walls near his home but he couldn’t think of any. We got back into my car and went in search of a location, being very careful not to identify the location in the photographs. We found this shady wall with a small amount of graffiti and parked the car. It was an overcast, if bright, late morning by this time so I decided to add to the “street” atmosphere by using a strong side light.

My subject was just about the same height as the wall so I decided that he needed to be crouching or sitting down. I set up a single Lumedyne 200 w/s (joule) pack and head without either an umbrella or soft box on a stand at about sixty degrees from the lens axis and about ten degrees above eyeline. The flash was set to maximum power at a range of seven feet (2.1 metres) which, combined with a 1/250th shutter speed, made the available light unimportant. The aperture was f11 at 200 ISO and I shot a few frames with just the subject and the wall immediately around him. When I consulted my LCD screen I liked the shadow and decided to include it more obviously in the composition.

My subject appeared more relaxed looking out of camera so I asked him to fix his eyes on a point in the distance between me and the flash. I also asked him to rest his head in his hand and this gave the shadow a better defined shape. I shot a few more frames and then changed the composition to include some of the grey sky. The sky at 1/250th at f11 was very dark so I changed the shutter speed to 1/125th and the sky was a better tone.

I shot quite a few variations after this, including some safe images without the obvious flash but this was my favourite frame when I came to do the edit an hour or so later. The mood was about right, it conveys the slightly dark theme of the article and screams “street” at you. I’m very pleased with end result, although this wasn’t the frame chosen for the paper!

Technical Note: Canon EOS1D with Canon EF 16-35 f2.8L lens. 1/250th of a second at f9.5 with Lumedyne Signature Series flash.

The story behind a picture #3

Sitting in the window seat at Subway on Shaftesbury Avenue Photo: Neil Turner Photo: Neil Turner

Sitting in the window seat at Subway on Shaftesbury Avenue
© Neil Turner, November 2014.

This photograph falls into the ‘personal work’ category. I had been to a meeting in central London during the evening and had arrived fashionably on-time having failed to park in my favourite evening parking space near the location of the meeting. That had forced me to park a bit further away. As a result my walk back to my car at around 10.30pm was both longer and much more interesting than usual.

I nearly always have a camera with me and it is nearly always either my Fujifilm X100S or it’s little brother the X20 but on this evening I had a Canon EOS6D with a couple of fast prime lenses and so I shot some photographs of things that interested me as I walked. This shop window – a branch of Subway that stays open until the early hours was the very first thing that caught my eye and I was very interested to see just how good the EOS6D is at higher ISOs. This was shot at 3200 ISO with a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second at f1.8 using a Canon EF 28mm f1.8 lens. For a DSLR this is about as unobtrusive as you can get – the quiet shutter mode is really good and the speed and accuracy of the auto focus on the centre focusing point means that you can ‘snatch’ a frame in really low light with quite a high degree of certainty.

Just around the corner I saw the potential for another nice image with the frontage of a theatre after the last member of the public had left the building. I composed, waited and finally got this frame as a solo pedestrian passed through the frame.

Pedestrian passes under the "Memphis" banner outside a west end theatre at night. © Neil Turner November 2014.

Pedestrian passes under the “Memphis” banner outside a west end theatre at night. © Neil Turner November 2014.

This photograph was also shot at 3200 ISO but was better lit at 1/640th of a second at f1.8. I was actually quite disappointed when I got back to my car and realised that I had a two and a half hour drive home. I knew that I had half a dozen good photographs and I sat in the car and transferred a couple of them to my phone using the camera’s built-in wifi before uploading them to EyeEm and Twitter. Then I drove home…

The story behind a picture #2

© Neil Turner. Joe Rush and the Mutoid Waste Company stage a spectacular demonstration of their vehicles on the beach next to Bournemouth Pier.

© Neil Turner. Joe Rush and the Mutoid Waste Company stage a spectacular demonstration of their vehicles on the beach next to Bournemouth Pier.

Back in 2013 the Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival was getting bigger and better and I was asked to come along and shoot some of the events. The climax of day two was to be a spectacular show on the beach next to Bournemouth Pier by Joe Rush and The Mutoid Waste Company who build and drive fantastic vehicles made from scrap. The organisers had penned off a large area of beach, put up a large public address system and once night had fallen the vehicles and their crews came onto the beach.

I had been there earlier in the festival when some of the vehicles had driven through the town and so I knew roughly what to expect. I got there reasonably early and staked out what I thought would be a good position with the sea and the pier in the background. I had two cameras with me – one with a 70-200 f2.8 and the other with a 24-70 f2.8 zoom lens. I had a couple of Canon speed lights and a high-voltage battery pack, plenty of memory cards and then waited for darkness and the start of the show.

Half a dozen vehicles sped onto the sand and I started shooting away without flash. It was pretty dark, despite the arc lights that had been positioned at various points around the perimeter. These vehicles weigh several tons and one or two of them got caught in the soft sand but that made for great pictures because the people who ‘crew’ them are artists and showmen and they gave the most amazing static display whilst waiting to be hauled free.

© Neil Turner. Audiences watching Joe Rush and the Mutoid Waste Company  on the beach next to Bournemouth Pier to close day two of the third annual festival.  Photo: © Neil Turner

© Neil Turner. Audiences watching Joe Rush and the Mutoid Waste Company on the beach next to Bournemouth Pier to close day two of the third annual festival.

The edit of the pictures was done in rapid time and sent to the client ready for the next day’s papers and any number of websites and social media platforms and accounts.

The 2015 festival takes place in October and I’m looking forward to seeing some of it up close.

Technical stuff: Canon EOS5D MkII cameras with Canon EF 70-200 f2.8L IS and 24-70 f2.8L lenses. Top picture 1/100th of a second at f2.8 on 2000 ISO with white balance corrected in Adobe Camera RAW. Bottom picture 1/25th of a second at f3.2 on 2000 ISO.

The story behind a picture #1

Young England cross-country runners posing for a photograph in Winchester. © Neil Turner/TSL

Young England cross-country runners posing for a photograph in Winchester. © Neil Turner/TSL

Even after nearly thirty years shooting photographs I can almost always remember something about ‘being there’ on the job when I look back at the pictures. There’s also a story to be told about why a particular picture was shot, lit or composed in a certain way.

A while ago I was posting a “photography word of the day” on Twitter and one of the first was compromise. This photograph of two rising stars of cross country running is a classic example of compromising to get a decent shot.

When I arrived at the college where they were both studying neither of them had their kit with them to do an action shot. Luckily their England team tracksuits had arrived and so I had to manufacture an action portrait of them that left one important part out of the frame – their feet. Neither of them had suitable footwear to be photographed in action and so I had to find a way to shoot them without drawing attention to their lack of running shoes.

In front of the college was a large banked area of grass and playing fields. I realised quite quickly that I could get the best of the light (dusk was fast approaching), lose most of the buildings and hide their feet by getting down low and using one of the banked grass areas to fill the foreground as they ran towards the low angled sun whilst shooting on a long (ish) lens.

So that’s what I did. The two runners were amused by the lengths to which I was determined to go to get a decent shot. They had been photographed two days before but just wearing their street clothes and standing by the college sign and they had assumed that I’d do the same. They did about ten lots of the ten yard run that had them in the right place and I shot some of them horizontally and the others vertically to cover the possible shapes that the newspaper might use. I also shot it using a range of aperture and shutter speed combinations to get the depth of field right.

I did some static upper-body photographs as well as having them pose with their trophies (feet hidden) on the grass.

Technical stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII with a 70-200 f2.8L IS lens. ISO 320, 1/1000th of a second at f6.7

Another anniversary

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008 The Petchey Academy in Hackney, London, E8 opened to pupils in September 2007.

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008. The Petchey Academy in Hackney, London.

The eleventh of September will always be remembered for the tragic events in New York in 2001 but it also has another, altogether more positive, place in my calendar. Today is the seventh anniversary of my first commissioned job as a freelance photographer having spent fourteen and a half years in a staff job. In those fourteen and a half years I had shot assignments in thousands of schools and it was somewhat ironic that my first freelance outing came from a Picture Editor with whom I had previously worked and was back in a London school. So much was exactly the same – only the end user of the pictures was different. It wasn’t even an educational publication, it was a specialist magazine for facilities managers.

It should have felt like the kind of job that I’d been doing for so many years. I was using the same cameras that I had been using for four years and the same lights that I’d had for at least eight years. I even arrived in the same car that I’d been driving for the previous couple of years but I was nervous in a way that I hadn’t been for a very long time. It didn’t help that I had been on ‘gardening leave’ for a month by then and so I had actually just gone through the longest period without shooting a job since I had left college twenty-two years previously.

The brief was to get pictures of the school, it’s facilities manager and his team. I like to think that I always go beyond the brief where I can and on this job that involved lugging my lighting kit onto the school roof to shoot a portrait as well as waiting for ages for people to walk through my carefully set up building shots.

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008 The Petchey Academy Facilities Manager Alan Gilbert MBIFM.

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008. The Petchey Academy Facilities Manager Alan Gilbert MBIFM.

Everything went well and I shot some nice pictures. The magazine used them very well as a cover and across five pages inside and, best of all, the publisher started to give me a sizeable amount of work over the next couple of years. Most importantly – I was off and running.

I find it remarkable that all of that was seven years ago. A lot of water has passed under a lot of bridges in the meantime and I have experienced those same nerves on more than a few occasions as I try new things, work for new people and take very different sorts of pictures.

Thank you to those friends and colleagues who helped kick-start my second freelance career. I’m still here and I’m still loving taking pictures.

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008. Facilities Manager Alan Gilbert MBIFM whose deputy is his brother Les Gilbert.

© Neil Turner 11/09/2008. Facilities Manager Alan Gilbert MBIFM whose deputy is his brother Les Gilbert.

Technical stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII cameras with Canon EF 16-35 f2.8L, 24-70 f2.8L and 70-200 f2.8L lenses. Lighting Lumedyne Signature Series 200 w/s pack and head.

Twenty-five years ago today

©Neil Turner, 13th February 1990. Whitecross Street Market, London EC1.

©Neil Turner, 13th February 1990. Whitecross Street Market, London EC1.

Over the last few years I’ve posted a few pictures from my own filing cabinet when they have had some relevance or when there is a specific anniversary. This picture was taken twenty-five years ago today as I went for one of my regular wanders around bits of London that were near Metro – the 24 hour laboratory where we all got our E6 transparency film processed. It was about a mile and a half from our Hoxton office (before it was trendy) and it took about twenty minutes to walk there or five minutes to drive. Sometimes there would be other photographers around and we would adjourn to a local cafe for a cup of something and a sandwich and at other times I’d take myself off for a walk around one of the many fascinating side roads and markets that made up the Clerkenwell/Farringdon/Smithfield area and take a few personal and/or stock pictures whilst the film made its hour and three quarter journey through the system and the ‘soup’ at Metro.

On this particular day I went to Whitecross Street with a couple of cameras and a couple of rolls of Kodak Tri-X film. It is amazing what you remember when you start to think about a day and a place and my memory of this day is that I was half an hour into the walk when I bumped into another photographer (there were three or four agencies close by) and we had a coffee anyway!

The man in the photograph (who said his name was Frank but I’m not sure he was being 100% honest judging by the cheeky look in his eye) had been a stall holder at the market selling books and a few magazines for many years. Trade was brisk as the workers from the many offices on the edge of the City of London were having their lunch hours and I didn’t really finish my conversation with him.

Anyway, another ‘archive’ picture that brings back happy memories and brings a smile to my face. This was, quite literally, half of my lifetime ago and I still love the photograph.

Techie stuff: Nikon FM2 camera with a 135mm f2 Nikkor, Kodak Tri-x film.

Another photo worthy of an obituary

©Neil Turner/TSL. Carl Djerassi, June 1999, London.

©Neil Turner/TSL. Carl Djerassi, June 1999, London.

Carl Djerassi, the chemist widely considered the father of the birth control pill, has died aged 91. I photographed him back in 1999 sitting in what I thought was a very ‘egg-shaped’ chair in his London apartment. If you want to know more about him, The Guardian’s obituary is worth reading but my very clear memory of being there was that he was one of the calmest people that I had ever met. He was confident without being arrogant and his understanding of my job and the job of the reporter who went with me was absolute. He had, obviously, been interviewed and photographed hundreds of times before but I still believe it to be true that most people who have had that kind of media exposure still don’t ‘get it’ in the same way that he did.

It seems that almost every week now I see an obituary in the press of someone that I photographed earlier in my career and it has two distinct effects on me. The first is quite predictable – I feel that bit older each time it happens. The second effect is to make me realise how amazingly lucky I have been in meeting the people that I have met and having been able to make what I hope are portrait and feature images that will stand the test of time.

This particular photograph lived in my folio for many years. It was unusual for me to have shot quite such a reflective portrait at that time. I was busy trying to make a reputation for myself as ‘the guy’ who used strong lighting and strong compositions to compliment that lighting. Like most phases of a career, it passed. I can still shoot the strong pictures when the situation calls for it but this portrait is far closer to my current favoured style than almost anything that I shot in those early days of digital. When I look back at the more memorable images that I shot through the late 1990s – the period of transition from scanned negative film to 1.9 megapixel digital cameras – a lot of them have this kind of feel and that surprises me because my memory is of lighting everything in slightly over-the-top ways.

Technical stuff: Kodak DCS520 camera with a Canon 28-70 f2.8L lens. Ambient light, 1/160th of a second at f4 on 400 ISO.