When I was putting a massive “long-list” of photographs that I was considering putting into one of the galleries on my portfolio website I looked at this picture and couldn’t make my mind up one way or the other. I was aware that I already had a lot of images from schools – which isn’t surprising when you consider that I have worked in over 3,500 of them in 15 different countries – and that it didn’t add anything to the mix.
I like this picture a lot because it is simple, demonstrates the use of good composition and shallow depth of field as well as reminding me of the kind of work that still makes me want to get out of bed in the morning and go and shoot pictures. These days most of my school based work is shooting for their prospectuses and websites with the odd news story thrown in from time to time but this remains the kind of picture that has a lot of uses and draws the most comment from those who are commissioning the work.
The truth is that almost anyone could take an acceptable picture of primary school children on a scavenger hunt in an enclosed copse. I hope that it also proves that it takes a lot more to produce as good as this on a miserable and rainy day early in the morning when the light is awful and the gear is getting wet. I have kept a few photographs that didn’t make it to one side and I intend to publish a few of them here on the blog with a bit of the background to why I like them along with a bit of the story.
Techie Stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII with a 16-35mm f2.8L lens at 16mm. Canon CR2 RAW file 640 ISO, 1/90th of a second at f2.8 on daylight white balance and converted using Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop. At the time it would have been ACR in Photoshop CS3 but the file was re-worked using ACR in Photoshop CC.
The funny thing about updating the features section on my portfolio website is that I have a section called “portraits” and another section that should be called “not portraits”. That isn’t a particularly elegant way to categorise the thirty plus images featured in that particular gallery but I have yet to find a work that sums it up. Features is as close as I seem to be able to get.
Anyway, it’s a big relief to have finished the refresh and the last of the design updates for now. When I was looking through the huge folder of images that were under consideration I was struck by the picture above of a teenaged Ugandan boy who was part of a group helped to think about issues that were affecting their lives by an art teacher who had visited the United Kingdom where he had picked up this technique. They were an interesting set of images of a fascinating project and I’m really glad to have been able to include this picture in the new folio – even if the picture was shot nearly nine years ago.
I have just finished uploading a major update to my website with a refreshed selection of new and old images in the portfolio section and an updated look to the templates pages with links to all of my social media.
I still do most of the work on my site myself and so it takes a lot longer to do but I am very happy with the way that photographs look on my site and I guess that is a major selling point. There will be lots more changes over the next couple of weeks but I’d like to invite you come to the site and have a look at the new portraits selection as well as two new galleries of personal work which will definitely be updated as they are both about continuing passions of mine.
My website is www.dg28.com and if you have any feedback, I’d love to hear it.
I don’t know if it happens to you when you are looking for something specific but I often search for images and, quite by accident, find something I wasn’t looking for and then that sends me off on a trip down memory lane. I’ve certainly blogged quite a few times in the past about images that meant something to me – either personally or professionally. This portrait of former General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, John Monks (now Baron Monks of Blackley) was taken in his office at the TUC during an interview with the Times Educational Supplement about his appointment to the Government’s Learning and Skills Council in October 2000.
The reason that I like this picture is that when I shot it I was delighted to have turned a complete disaster of a shoot into a really nice image. The interview wasn’t going well and the room had a huge picture window which Mr Monks insisted was behind him. The room had dark walls, very dark furniture and no matter how hard I tried the pictures weren’t coming together. I had moved the light (I was working with a single Lumedyne battery powered pack and head with a 70cm shoot through umbrella) to the left of the interviewer and the picture was still boring. There was a decent reflection of the subject in the highly polished table but balancing the lift between the ambient coming through the window and the flash in the room was proving tricky. You need to remember that in those days we were shooting on 1.9 megapixel Kodak DCS520 cameras with tiny LCD screens and you could only get a basic idea of lighting balance.
I was limited where I could place the flash because at that time I was still using Wein optical triggers and the lights in the room had a fault which made them flicker – enough to trigger the flash every second or so. That meant reverting to the emergency back-up synch lead and all of the range restrictions that it placed on where the cable could reach and how it ran around the room.
Gradually I kept changing the shutter speed to allow more and more ambient light into the exposure. I had started at 1/125th of a second at f5.6 on 200 ISO and by the time I got to 1/15th of a second the ambient light really started to kick in and the light reflecting off of the blue tiles and glass in the courtyard outside his window magically took over and eliminated virtually all traces of the gloom and dark wood in the room. I managed to turn the main light off in the room without causing too much trouble – I had to do it because the ambient light inside the room was starting to have an effect on the exposure.
A colourless portrait of a greying man in a dull room sprang into life and I started to relax. This was one of the last frames, shot just as the interview was winding up and it was at 1/8th of a second with the camera resting on the table to try to make sure that there was as little shake as possible. I shot almost all of the interview on a Canon 70-200 f2.8L with a few frames on a Canon 28-70 f2.8L and my old 17-35 f2.8L. Apart from having overcome some difficulties to shoot the portrait, I genuinely loved the colours and I loved the placement of his spectacles. This is a gentle crop that got rid of anything that didn’t add to the overall feel and it quickly became a favourite for a few of the right reasons and many of the wrong ones. That means that it is a good picture and possibly worthy of a place in my portfolio back then but that I was too pleased with my own input to judge that properly!
Sometimes when you shoot pictures through an interview it all goes well and you listen to what’s being said because you are so relaxed. If the pictures are going badly you pick up on the mood of the interview but don’t really hear the conversation. This was definitely a case of the latter. I had no real idea that the interview had been a tough one!
The caption that goes with these photos simply says “Badminton England takes to the streets to celebrate ‘Smash Up!’ a new way to play in schools, featuring music and text message breaks.” The client , Badminton England, asked me to go along and get a range of stills at a video shoot which would be the basis for a campaign to promote “Smash Up!” The idea was simple: take a few of the best young badminton players in the country to a skate park in east London and get them to hang out, play a few rallies and generally have fun.
This presents a couple of challenges that a lot of working photographers would be familiar with:
Fitting shooting stills around a video crew who have limited time and a lot to do
Taking pictures that can be used for promotional materials and not just interesting and creative ones
Experience really helps here but so do people skills and it took me a few minutes to work out who was who and what my best options were. There were a lot of skateboarders and BMX riders at the park and they were dressed much the same as the very young video crew. The folks from Badminton England were a bit easier to spot and my plan quickly evolved into one of keeping out of the way when they were shooting the wider video shots and then to get stuck back into the general image grabbing when the video guys were reviewing their work or setting up their next shots.
Very near the beginning of the morning they were shooting some sequences with two of the young badminton stars and three cameras and so I needed to be out of the way. Next to the skatepark is a railway arch with some decent graffiti and so I went with one of the other players and a BMX rider with my lights to see what we could get.
And this is one of the frames selected by Badmiton England to be released with the video. Reasonably simply lit with a 24″ x32″ soft box on an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra from the right hand side of the picture, the player stands as if she is about to receive a serve whilst the BMX rider who was lit by a second Elinchrom Ranger Quadra with no diffusion messed around in the background. We shot versions of this with both of them in action but this was the better shot for the purposes of publicity. There was almost no ambient light in the tunnel and so the whole shot is lit by the the two flash heads (running from a single pack). The camera was a Canon EOS5D MkII with a 16-35 f2.8L lens at 1/125th of a second f9 on 200 ISO.
Most of the morning was spent shooting action as it happened – either staged by the video crew or as it really happened. It was a case of hanging around with three cameras each with a different lens (16-35, 24-70 and 70-200 f2.8L series Canon lenses) and making pictures. The whole shoot was around two hours and I sent the client just over 90 pictures – 70 of which were these grabbed shots and the other 20+ were staged and lit images.
As fun shoots go, this was right up there. A client happy for me to shoot what I wanted and a video crew who understood that we both had a job to do under interesting conditions and with a very strict time limit. The campaign goes live very soon and I hope that badminton gets the boost in young players that it deserves.
Like most photographers I’m always looking at new ways of showing my portfolio. I’ve saved the presentation version of my editorial portraits folio as a QuickTime movie and posted it here. Please let me know what you think. If you look at it without going for the full-sized version the captions are a bit small but, apart from that, I quite like it!
This portrait of Swedish businessman Anders Hultin was taken during an interview for The Times Educational Supplement. He worked for a Swedish company Kunskapsskolan who were working in the UK and are hoping to take control of two Academies in the London Borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames.
The interview took place in a small office in west London and, although his English was first class, he took time to consider the answer to each question allowing me to get a great range of thoughtful expressions from just about every angle. I chose this profile frame because I liked the blue background and its simplicity. All of the other angles had complex and intrusive backdrops which I used a range of lighting styles to hide. The available light was very good for a short period and so this is one of a dozen pictures taken without flash.
When I chose this picture for my portfolio it was one of three business style portraits that all had strong blue backgrounds. I like to pace the pictures in my folio and by having a small group of images with a theme it seems to give them more strength and help with the pacing of the selection.
Geek stuff: The whole shoot was done with two Canon EOS1D MkII cameras and my trusty set of three L series Canon zooms: 16-35 f2.8, 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8.