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.

The man who wrote “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”

Everyone who has ever read books to very young children should have seen “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. It’s an absolute classic and, back in 1999 I had five minutes to shoot a portrait of Eric Carle, the American writer and illustrator who created it at a London Hotel. I should have had longer but I was badly late because I’d been given the wrong address but he was charming, patient and his PR people were relaxed as well. At the time, he was 70 years old and the book was coming out as a 30th anniversary edition.

©Neil Turner/TSL. May 1999, London.

As soon as I got there, I set up my Lumedyne battery powered light with a simple shoot-through umbrella and started to work.  The author was sat in a high backed chair and I decided to work around where he was already sitting – he looked relaxed and I was still in “full apology mode”.

Although this was nearly 13 years ago I can still remember a random throughout that came into my head “if I were casting someone to be Santa Claus, it would be this guy”. From then onwards all I could see was a really nice bloke with a twinkle in his eye that children would adore. The fact that he must have illuminated millions of childhoods was certainly in my mind and we shot some very nice pictures very quickly.

©Neil Turner/TSL. May 1999, London.

This set of eight pictures is all that remains from the shoot. Back in 1999 storage was still expensive and the company policy was to use Zip discs (remember them?). My laptop had a zip drive and I put the wider edit onto the “official” zip disc and kept the tight edit on another disc for my own records. The official disc with the Kodak RAW files was lost somewhere in the mists of time and we didn’t discover that it was gone until we started to upload the entire back catalogue into a managed and backed-up library a couple of years later. You learn from your mistakes.

I like the simple and innocent tight composition of frame 004 and I love the expression of frame 007. I have read his books to young members of the family ever since and I try really hard to do so with the same twinkle in my eye that the author had.

This was still the early days of digital and I was using a Kodak DCS520 (Canon D2000) with Canon 17-35, 28-70 and 70-200 f2.8 lenses. At 200 ISO, with good light and if you didn’t need to use the pictures too large the quality of the files was actually very good indeed.