Original dg28

After Dark 1

It’s been well over a year since I last posted a new technique page. Life just got in the way! Anyway, they’re back and this photograph was taken as a portrait of a woman who had made a huge career change from a high flying public service to becoming a secondary school teacher. When it was taken she was still studying and hadn’t got a job in a settled school yet and so the situation and the deadline meant that we had to shoot at a certain time of day (an hour after dark) outside the school.

My middle name ought to be “get the safe shot first” and after meeting her and realising that the rapidly falling temperature meant a quick shoot outdoors I did just that. With the flash lit image “in the can” I decided that I wanted to use the unusual sky with clouds and the eerie orange colours of London street lights.

I had a Lumedyne kit with me and there was only a slight breeze which enabled me to use a 24″ x 36″ soft box. The Lumedyne Signature series packs can be turned right down to only 6 joules (6 w/s) and so balancing the flash with the almost non-existent daylight wasn’t going to be a problem. My biggest problem was getting my subject into the “shade” away from any of the street lights so that she could be lit by flash alone. (more…)

Why We Use Lights

When I was searching for an opening image for a recent “dg28 live” seminar I only had to look back a few days to find this example of exactly WHY WE USE LIGHTS.

Early Autumn on a Friday evening in the UK isn’t often a time when the best opportunities to shoot great pictures present themselves. This one, was a real exception. The subject of the portrait runs an educational organisation that serves a coastal area near where I was born. I should know the area like the back of my hand but I don’t and when my subject suggested that we went up on top of the Isle of Portland (not an island at all, just a peninsula!) I thought that it would make a decent enough backdrop but that the view might be obscured by mist. The two pictures below were taken with different lenses but they were taken within a few seconds of each other and show just how much of a difference a bit of flash can make.

We drove up to the highest point and sure enough, the view was spoiled by some low cloud and mist but the sky through the slight mist had real potential. To get any decent contrast into the scene I knew that I’d have to use quite a bit of light and so I carried my Lumedyne kit from the car to the vantage point that we were going to use. I’m very glad that I did. (more…)

Flash In A Box

I used to get requests for “technique” pages based on images that I had posted when I did monthly updates. This one received a record number of requests!

Jacqueline Wilson is one of the world’s best selling childrens’ authors. I had to take pictures of her twice in ten days and the first set of pictures (including the left had one below) were taken at a press launch for the UK’s National Fostering Fortnight – a charity of which she is a supporter. A few days later I went to her home in Surrey to take some different pictures and amongst them was this one of her looking through one of the many boxes of childrens’ letters that she gets every month.

I did some evenly lit pictures of the author looking through the letters, some close ups of her hands wearing her trade mark rings sorting through papers and then I had the idea of getting her to look into the box and to make it “magical” in the same way that her books grab the imagination of children. After a few frames of evenly lit pictures I decided to place a second flash unit inside the box, mainly to give her face better highlights. Balancing the Lumedyne flash that I had been using on it’s own with the Canon 550ex speedlight placed inside the box was a relatively simple task and with both flash units attached to Pocket Wizard receivers everything went pretty easily. (more…)

Kick Lights

One of the classic lines that you’ll read in most lighting manuals is that “there’s only one sun in the sky”. You cannot argue with that but there are often times when a second light source used with subtlety can really boost an otherwise OK image. This technique example is a bit of a recap on a couple of earlier ones, but I thought that it would make the point about adding a bit of a “kick light” very well. It was a simple and straight forward enough job – ten minute portrait of somebody not very well known outside her own field of expertise and not used to having her picture taken. The room was less than inspiring but had a couple of plants and some windows and so was a more than adequate venue to make a decent portrait.

The top picture was taken first without any lighting other than that on the subject. She was lit with a Lumedyne 200 w/s kit using a shoot through umbrella, triggered by a pair of Pocket Wizard Plus units. There was very little light in the room – the ambient reading was 1/20th of a second at f2.8 on 100 ISO and the light was flat and slightly green.

With the Lumedyne positioned at about sixty degrees from the axis of the lens and two metres (80 inches) on it’s 50 w/s setting the subject needed f5.6 on 100 ISO to expose her accurately. With almost no ambient light figuring on the subject I was able to shoot with the shutter speed at 1/15th of a second just to get some light into the window behind the plant on a dull London winter’s day. (more…)

Two Minute Still Life

As a working news photographer, the one job that I dread is the “quick product shot” that I am often asked to do without access to a properly equipped studio. For most of the year it only happens once a month or so, but very occasionally I’ll get a run of requests. It helps to have a few standard tactics up your sleeve.

These two shots ere booth for a special “e-supplement” that we did. A special edition about the use of technology in higher education and the feel of the supplement was magazine orientated rather than the usual newspaper style that we are all used to working with.

The two pictures were taken a few days apart and that made having a reasonably consistent approach more important. The first to come up was the iPod picture and the brief was blazingly simple – a nice upright picture of an iPod that wasn’t a catalogue product shot and that didn’t scream APPLE at you. I was handed the iPod in the office and told that I couldn’t take it away, which was unfortunate because I often do these small still life pictures at home where there is a lot more room to play around. (more…)

Unusual Surroundings

Sometimes you have too persuade people to have their photograph taken in places that they would never have chosen for themselves. This can sometimes be because you, as the photographer, are being awkward or it can be because you are trying to say something about the subject in tricky surroundings.

The subject of these portraits is a conservation scientist and university lecturer who does his field work thousands of miles away from the concrete buildings in which he has his teaching rooms. The pictures needed an element of the natural, but his environment was pretty much devoid of nature. I get bore of laboratory shots and the paper avoids them (and computer shots) whenever possible.

My subject me in reception and we started to walk to his office when we passed under a concrete walkway with foliage growing nearby. I suggested that we try to shoot the portrait here and he eventually agreed. It did mean that his colleagues would be continually passing by and passing comment, but that’s all part of the compromise that makes being a newspaper photographer interesting. My first thought was to make use of the brilliant green colour of the foliage to somehow frame him, but this didn’t work for me with the concrete block work of the walkway. It was a sunny day and I wanted to avoid having my subject in direct sunlight and so I had decided to stay in the shade of the walkway. (more…)

A Morning In The Park

The newspapers and magazines that I work for have a number of regular “slots” – sections with a strict formula to the photographs. The “My Best Teacher” slot is probably the longest running, most strictly controlled and, oddly, the best to work for. The formula is very simple; it’s a large image, always landscape format, running across a double page with the gutter about 1/3 of the way from the left.

This set of portraits were made of a journalist, broadcaster and author who is hero to children throughout the United Kingdom and scar’s the world. I had photographed him before and so I was determined to shoot a fun portrait. He was determined not be photographed in his home and I was delighted when it was suggested that we went to a local park. (more…)

Rapid Set Up and Shoot

Having failed to post any new technique pages for a few months now I hope to catch up with a series of new ones. This picture was taken at a delegate conference, on a wild and wet day when my lights were busy in the main auditorium. The subject of the portrait was only available for a few minutes.

The journalist that I was working with came to me and said that we needed a portrait of a woman who had been physically bullied in her job and who had managed to obtain a financial settlement with her trades union’s help. There were three photographers waiting to shoot her picture and I was the last to arrive and so had to go third.

The sky was calling out to be used as a background in the same way that I have outlined many times before. The difficulty this time was that I only had a Canon Speedlight to hand and not my usual Lumedyne heads and packs. My bag always contains a Canon ST-E2 transmitter so I used that to trigger my slightly off camera 550ex. (more…)