Another ‘classic’ technique posting from the old site

The idea here is to have two separate lighting set-ups for one interview portrait without having to constantly move around the room adjusting lights. This interview was with a senior businessman who chairs a body that decides how much teachers’ pay rises will be each year. The reporter wasn’t all that comfortable with me shooting through the interview but it was what the picture editor wanted, so that’s what I did. This job required a bit of quick thinking so that I could get two different set-ups in place.

©Neil Turner/TSL, April 2008.

©Neil Turner/TSL, April 2008.

The picture on the left was lit using a single Lumedyne head at 50 joules bounced off of a wall almost in front of the subject. The image on the right was lit by a single Canon 550ex flash gun with a Honl Photo snoot attached aimed directly at the subjects face and set further away from the camera.

Both flash units were fitted with Pocket Wizard receivers set on different channels from each other. The idea here is that by simply switching between channels on the transmitters I could switch between two very different lighting styles without moving.

The left hand image is far more evenly lit. The large expanse of off-white wall made a very good and large light source. The exposure here was 1/60th of a second at f5.6 on ISO200. There was some available light play – without flash the scene would have been two stops under exposed with that amount of flash. You can see from the diagram below how the room was laid out and the flash head was positioned at about 10 degrees above the subjects eyeline.

The right hand image is far more starkly lit. The exposure was 1/250th of a second at f13 on ISO 200. There is almost no available light in this picture and the lighting effect is dramatically different. The very narrow angle of the light offered by the Honl snoot makes it difficult to always get the subject right in the centre of the small pool of light and so you need to be careful when aiming it to centre it on where the subject is most likely to be.

The layout of small conference room where the interview took place.

The layout of small conference room where the interview took place.

The point of this technique is that you can arrange more than one style of lighting and then switch between them at will simply by selecting a different channel on the trigger. I find that I use the Honl snoot a lot more than I had imagined that I would. It fits into a bag very easily and it is simple to use. When you are in complete control of the lighting, it’s very easy to achieve dramatic results. This style of light might not be to every picture editor’s taste and so the evenly lit alternative is a very good idea.

A fourteen year old technique post

Between May 1999 and June 2008 I posted a large number of technique examples on the original http://www.dg28.com taken from my daily work to show how I used light in an era where digital cameras were pretty poor at ISOs over 800 or even 400 in the case of the venerable Kodak DCS520. These days flash is a creative choice rather than a technical necessity but the techniques still stand up. From time to time I re-post one of these old examples just to remind myself how life used to be. This one was first posted fourteen years ago and for a very long time it was amongst my favourite pictures that I had posted.

©Neil Turner/ TSL, November 2000.

©Neil Turner/ TSL, November 2000.

At the time it felt as if I spent every evening answering follow-up questions about the pictures and techniques that I’d described. These days there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people publishing ‘how-to-do-it’ photography blogs but back then there were only a small number of us. It was such an exciting time in our profession. Anyway, here’s the post as it appeared back in November 2000:

Arriving at the job is usually the best times to start having ideas about locations for a portrait. Buildings often have features that lend themselves to use in a photograph, and the grounds can be just as inspirational.

When I arrived at the Suffolk farmhouse of journalist and author Simon Barnes, he and his wife were busy chasing one of their horses around the yard. By the time the mare was back in one of the stables it was all but dark, but I had seen just how wonderful the other stable looked lit by the 60 watt bulb inside it. 

This image called for the mixing of available light and fifty joules of Lumedyne flash. The flash head had it’s diffuser cap over the standard reflector at an angle of 60° from the lens axis and at a height of about six inches above Simon’s eye level. I had to use the flash a lot lower than I would have done because I wanted him to keep his hat on and the if the flash had been higher his face would have been in shadow from it’s wide rim.

Cut down to it’s minumum 50 joules at a distance of seven feet the flash reading on 200 ISO was still f6.7, which was a lot more than I would have liked. At f6.7 the inside of the stable needed an exposure of about 1/3rd of a second, and the sky needed 1/2 of a second to get some detail in the lighter areas. The discrepency between the two exposure requirements was only half a stop, so I went with the longer exposure because a little over exposure inside the stable would be fine. 

With a 28-70 f2.8L series lens on a DCS520 I started shooting pictures of the upper half of his body and a little of the stable roof and sky. Without changing the exposure I changed lenses to the 17-35 f2.8 and moved back. As I moved back the sensor floodlight came on and the light shining into the lens gave some strange pink flare (bottom right) and the floodlight made an excellent element in the composition. By this time I was hand holding the camera at 1/2 second, which meant that there would be some camera shake so I shot about twenty frames at the same exposure in the hope that a few of them would be still enough to work. 

I shot some safer images as well with the inside of the stable lit by another Lumedyne head complete with a warm up filter to simulate the tungsten glow. The image worked really well, and I am more than happy with it. It shows that light and location are the most important factors when planning a location portrait.

Footnote: Immediately after this job I started to carry a sheet of -2 stop neutral density gel in my bag. I have learned lots of lessons the hard way since the beginning of my career in 1986 and, whilst they are fewer and farther between, I still learn plenty of things that way.

Performing the ritual of “The Selfie”

For as long as I can remember I have shot pictures of my wife and I on holiday with a compact camera at arm’s length. I have examples in the family album dating back to 1984 and, whilst I’m not claiming to have invented “The Selfie”, it really isn’t anything new in our house. We started doing those pictures just because there was never anyone else around to take the picture for us and so it was very much a second best picture. Slowly and over the many holidays that we have enjoyed together it became something of a tradition to do at least one of those arm’s length couple pictures but we always liked to get a passer-by to do the picture if we could. It is a phenomenon that I am fascinated by and I often shoot pictures of people as they perform the Ritual of the Selfie.

Olympic and Commonwealth Gold medallist Laura Trott posing with riders on The Mall in a break between media interviews during the Freecycle event - part of Prudential RideLondon. 9th August 2014.

Olympic and Commonwealth Gold medallist Laura Trott posing with riders on The Mall in a break between media interviews during the Prudential RideLondon Freecycle event. ©Neil Turner, 9th August 2014.

I was prompted to compose this blog post because I suddenly realised why it works so well. One of the media team working with Prudential RideLondon had offered to take the picture and the three young women dutifully posed but their faces didn’t come alive until they rescued the phone and performed the ritual of the selfie. There seems to be a confidence and a joy in taking your own picture of yourself and your friends or, in this case, you, your friend and an Olympic and Commonwealth champion. Is it because these days that can see themselves in the screen and only shoot when they are happy with what they see? I believe that there’s an element of that in it but the sense of self-reliance is just as important as far as I can see. There is a joy in The Selfie that is missing from a perfectly well taken group photo. Time after time we all saw people enjoying taking self portraits during the event and that’s the case almost everywhere almost every day.

Where I depart from the celebration of The Selfie is where media outlets and PR companies encourage people to do it and post them as part of marketing campaigns. For me the innocence and joy of the ritual gets lost when it is prompted like that. Where I also have an worries about it is when people do it dozens or even hundreds of times a day. I had a link request on EyeEm the other day from a guy who have over 6,000 images on his account and, from what I could see, they were all of himself.

I don’t object to The Selfie at all. In fact I indulge in the ritual myself from time to time. All I’d ask is that marketing people without another great idea stop trying to make something from them that isn’t really there. Photography is about a lot of things and fun is right up there as one of the most important.

The one "selfie" that I do like of mine - under water at the beach in Bournemouth in the summer of 2013. ©Neil Turner.

The one “selfie” that I do like of mine – under water at the beach in Bournemouth in the summer of 2013. ©Neil Turner.

Portfolio features now updated

©Neil Turner/TSL. April 2005. Kabalega, Uganda.

©Neil Turner/TSL. April 2005. Kabalega, Uganda.

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.

The new “features gallery” is now on show at www.dg28.com/folio/features/ and I hope that you have some time to have a look.

An interesting portrait

©Neil Turner/TSL. Sanjit Bunker Roy - founder of The Barefoot College in his native Rajasthan in 1984 is also heavily involved in the Global Rainwater Harvesting Organisation. Photographed at the Said Business Centre at Oxford University .

©Neil Turner/TSL. Sanjit Bunker Roy – founder of The Barefoot College in his native Rajasthan in 1984 is also heavily involved in the Global Rainwater Harvesting Organisation. Photographed at the Said Business Centre at Oxford University .

Whilst looking for an image to demonstrate a specific point to a group of NCTJ Photojournalism students I re-discovered this portrait of a charming businessman and philanthropist that I shot back in March 2006 for The Times Higher Education Supplement. The point that I was making was actually about histograms but I wanted to say a little more here about why I liked this picture so much at the time I shot it.

Firstly, he was a really nice man who gave me the time to shoot a small range of images. He was happy to chat, happy to be directed and trusted me to do my job. You would think that the majority of people would react the same way when being photographed by a professional but that is sadly not how it is. I was delighted that, despite being a businessman, he was wearing something a lot more interesting than a grey or navy suit. I got the distinct impression that he had cultivated an image and that he was very happy with it.

My second point is the degree to which I had to mix ambient light, the sky and my own flash. I couldn’t do too much to balance the sky and the lighting around the quadrangle but I had to get the balance between the subject and the ambient just right and I ended up allowing the walkway to the left of the frame go a lot darker than I’d originally intended so that the depth of the blue in the sky was exactly as I’d wanted it. Looking back, I was always keen to see the lighting balance on the screen on the camera and I often shot two versions of a picture with differing balances so that I could choose when looking at it on a decent sized screen in the edit. These days, the screens on cameras are so much better and you get a far better impression of how the photograph will look on the LCD.

My third and final point about this portrait is the way that it applies the old “rule of thirds” in an unusual way. Yes he is almost exactly one third of the way into the frame from the left (classic composition) but his body is facing out of the frame (not classic composition) and everything on the right hand side of the frame isn’t much more than decorative.

I think that the light, the tones and the colours all add up to an interesting and very usable portrait – one that I remember enjoying taking. I also remember the speed with which I had to offload the images over a slightly dodgy GPRS mobile connection. But what about the histogram? The students who were at the lecture would tell you that I spent a lot of time comparing good, bad and ugly histograms and explaining what they all meant before admitting that I rarely, if ever, look at them myself! I know that in certain circles that would be a heretical thing to admit but all photographers have to have some sort of rebellion in them.

Techie stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII, Canon 16-35 f2.8L lens at 16mm, ½ second at f8 on ISO 200 with a Lumedyne Signature series flash with no light modifier. Canon CR2 RAW file converted using Adobe Photoshop.

Updating my folio and painting the Forth Bridge


In the UK we have a saying that describes a never-ending task “painting the Forth Bridge”. The idea is simple; once the painters have finished painting the bridge, it’s time to start back at the other end which has been weathering for a number of years by then. Keeping your own portfolio up-to-date is a similar task. There are so many ways to present your work and none of them are perfect and so I keep tinkering with content, layout and even the technology. Five years ago it was Flash and then basic HTML code and then a bit of Javascript and now it is a combination of everything except Flash. My idea is that I want to be able to update easily and regularly without having to format and code stuff. Preparing the images is done using a couple of Photoshop Actions and then the images themselves are inserted into a “slider” which is set to play automatically but which can be stopped and images can be picked out for a closer inspection.

I would be very interested in any views and opinions that anyone has about the site and the way it works. It isn’t an exact science but I think that I’m getting closer to understanding how it all works. Of course photographers are their own worst editors and I suspect that the content will annoy many of you. Whatever you think, let me have it.

The bridge is freshly painted, I’m having a day or two off and then I’m going to start again. One of these days I might even change the colour…

Anyone remember the “old dg28”?

Starting in 1999 I posted over fifty technique samples on my website. These days, hardly a month goes by without a photographer telling me that they read them over and over again and that they learned to not fear using flash by experimenting with some of the ideas that I talked about. Those technique pages used to get some serious traffic!

I’ve been looking back through them in connection with another project that I’m working on and I picked (almost at random) one of the old pieces to post here. It was originally posted in the summer of 2001 and I find it quite interesting that agree with everything I said. I clearly remember the shoot as well; the subject was the same age as me (37 at the time) and he was retraining as a plasterer. I’m now 49 and my career has also changed. Looking at this set of pictures I wonder whether plastering worked out for him. The words are unchanged and all I’ve done is to upload a new version of the picture.

©TSL/Neil Turner. 37 year old retraining as a plasterer  in July 2001.

©TSL/Neil Turner. 37 year old retraining as a plasterer in July 2001.

When most people tai their first steps using lights they try to make the photographs shadowless. The ability to do this is very useful, but sometimes it’s better to place your own shadows exactly where you want them. Some subjects need to be given a distinct treatment.

This portrait of an award winning student was crying out for an unusual image and it was obvious that he would do pretty much anything I asked. The college where he had been studying plastering was a large space divided up into small rooms that the students then practiced their craft in. It was dark and dull coloured with no reflective surfaces so it was pretty much an ideal location for me to work in (apart from the dust).

I quickly spotted a whole series of arches and windows that would serve as a perfect frame to the photograph and set a Lumedyne light up inside the small room.The beauty of working with battery powered kit is that you don’t have to find power points, which were few and far between in the workshop area.

I first tried to shoot with a softbox on the flash unit, but the dull colours and the subjects plain T-shirt made it a pretty boring shot so I decided to shoot without any form of light modifier and removed the softbox in order to get the hard shadow.

The flash exposure was f5.6 at 200 ISO with the softbox in place, but this leapt to f13 with just the metal reflector in place. There was so little available light that everything not lit by the flash was in total darkness. This effect was perfect for the shot. The subject had turned up with few tools and the shot needed a prop or two so we borrowed some plasterers tools and got him to hold them in a way that seemed to relax him. When you are photographing people that are not used to having their picture taken professionally you often need to work as hard at relaxing them as you do in getting the technical bits right. Having some familiar props (teddy bear substitutes) to hand can make all the difference.

I worked hard with this image at getting the composition right by using the arched frame, I tried a couple of other shaped holes too, but this was the best. Getting the shadow in the right place is nothing more or less than trial and error, but using the LCD on the back of a digital SLR helps to shorten that process. I started the shoot working with a 28-70 lens but graduated to a 17-35 pretty quickly. Getting closer to the arch gave me a larger area inside the room to work with and having a six foot tall man, his shadow and some plasterers tools I needed that space.

I think that this photograph helps to demonstrate just how useful adding extra elements into a portrait can be. The props and the shadow help to tell the story as well as making the whole image that little bit more interesting. In the end the picture ran in the newspaper in black and white and the contrast provided by the shadow really helped.

©TSL/Neil Turner. July 2001

©TSL/Neil Turner. July 2001

2013 update and technical footnote:

The camera used was a Canon/Kodak DCS520 with 1.9 megapixels with a Canon 17-35 f2.8L lens. The lighting was a Lumedyne Classic flash system with a 200 w/s pack and a basic head. The DCS520 was great for certain jobs and this kind of lit work suited it down to the ground. The Kodak software was really good and it made it easy to interpolate (upsize) the images by a substantial amount – sometimes as much as 400%.

I used to shoot between 8 and 10 commissions a week and that involved driving an average of 30,000 miles a year. I had an Apple Powerbook G4 and I filed my pictures either using the ISDN line at my flat or using a PCMCIA card with a mobile phone modem built into it. The files that came out of the camera were a native 5.7Mb and generally compressed down to somewhere between 300K and 600K.

I hope to post a few more of these on the blog soon.