An Odd Labour of Love

Like a lot of my colleagues I have spent time during the COVID-19 lockdowns going through and doing those little jobs from our digital lives that we had been meaning to do. Inevitably, sorting one thing out raises a new problem and so on, and so on until you have come around in what feels like a full circle.

In between the jobs that I meant to do I received an email from a good client of mine suggesting that I should make my original website secure. I will explain more about this very soon because there’s a lesson in this for a lot of us. It turns out that getting the right kind of digital certification to make an old-fashioned site written in HTML code is somewhere between really tricky and impossible and so I chose to move it over to WordPress and change my hosting package. The knock-on effect was that my original technique posts from May 2000 to July 2008 became invisible and had to be moved too. (more…)

Archive surfing

The photo that became the first technique example on my first website in April 2000. ©Neil Turner/TSL

Like so many of my colleagues the Covid 19 Pandemic has robbed me of almost all of my work. 2020 was looking to be a great year with lots of interesting projects but from the moment that the first lockdowns started to swing into action across the world my assignments and projects started to get postponed and cancelled at a very rapid rate. As I sit here I have nothing booked for the rest of the year.

The other thing that I have in common with a huge percentage of those colleagues is that I have been giving some more attention to my archives. I had several months off in 2017 and so my digital images are already well protected and catalogued so I have been looking at transparencies, negatives and back ups of my old digital life. (more…)

Zooming with your…

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015. A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

©Neil Turner/Bupa 10,000. May 2015.
A Police rider accompanies a detachments of Guards as they march back their barracks.

I was on a job the other day, standing next to a very young photographer in a ‘press pen’. He glanced over at the gear I was using and mentioned how much he would love to own the 135mm f2L lens that I had on one of my cameras. He said that he had never really got the hang of “zooming with his feet” in the way that so many of the photographers he admired had advised. He had also had it drummed into him by one of his tutors at college and it had left him wondering if he was doing something wrong.

Zooming with your feet is a great concept and it is one of the catchphrases in contemporary photography that appears to be beyond question. But is it? Is it actually as much a cliche as a universal truth?

There we were on a job where we couldn’t have zoomed with our feet even if either of us had the skills to do so. We couldn’t go forward – there was a metal barrier in the way. We couldn’t go backwards because there were other photographers and a couple of TV crews behind us – and behind them was another barrier. We had a tiny amount of sideways movement if we could change places with each other but, apart from that, we were in a very fixed position. (more…)

Pools of light technique from 2008.

Every time I post one of my old technique examples I get a massive spike in the visitor figures for this blog. Despite some of them being fifteen or more years old they still seem to attract quite a bit of attention. This one is being re-posted after a specific request from a reader and I’ve added a second photograph at the bottom for a little ‘added value’.

©Neil Turner/TSL, May 2008

©Neil Turner/TSL, May 2008. 1/180th of a second at f4, 200 ISO

I was inspired to share the “how” for this picture because of a comment from a colleague who said that I had been “lucky to find such a nice pool of light”. I was amused, annoyed and complimented all at the the same time because I created this light and he obviously thought that it looked as if it was a natural effect. Much of the best lighting looks as if it were not lit… so how was this one achieved?

I had been asked by the picture editor to get a good range of portraits of this man who is the Vice President of a company that handles examination papers. The logo was needed in some frames and this plate screwed to a wall in a corridor was the only one on offer. The layout was like this..

Single flash the other side of the door

Single flash the other side of the door

The brown lines that you can see on the layout are fire doors – big heavy wooden doors with three small square glass panels in each one. The Lumedyne flash unit with a Pocket Wizard receiver on was placed outside the door and the door was closed. The subject was lit entirely by the hard, un-modified flash coming through those three glass panels. Lining up exactly where the light will fall is very easy – if the subject can see the flash head, then it can see them. After that it is just a question of shooting a couple of frames and judging on the camera’s LCD screen where the light is falling and then raising, lowering or moving the flash accordingly.

In this case the flash is about ten degrees above the subject’s eye line and he is looking almost directly at it. This allowed me to get the nice hard shadow behind his head and still have a reasnably flattering light on his face. I also tried to do a few rames where the ambient light in the corridor (see below ) was making the shadows softer but I much preffered the hard treatment.

©Neil Turner/TSL, May 2008

©Neil Turner/TSL, May 2008. 1/10th of a second at f4, 200 ISO.

Technical Stuff: Canon EOS1D MkII with a Canon EF16-35 f2.8L lens.

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.

Every picture teaches a lesson

©Neil Turner. Poole, Dorset. September 2008

We all know that “every picture tells a story” but how many people think that, as photographers, every picture teaches us a lesson. Grab a picture – any picture – and really look at it. What’s good about it? What could you improve if you went back and re-shot it? If it’s perfect, why is it perfect?

I spent a lot of time yesterday shooting on mixed light with no real option of lighting the scene (a busy retail mall with dozens of shops and lots of people). Looking back at the best of the shoot this morning I could see that every frame had one major feature: one thing that was the single most important part of the composition and it was obvious that I should always get the white balance right there and let the rest of the scene do what it will. I already knew this but it doesn’t hurt to look and re-affirm what you already know.

Every time you shoot pictures and every time you look at other people’s work you can learn lessons. If you don’t know how something was shot – see if the photographer will tell you.

Look for the big four factors: subject matter, composition, light and technical quality. Work out how those factors come together to create the whole. Work out if the picture still works if one or more of those factors is deficient. It’s amazing how often the most eye-catching images are not perfect in every way and it is equally interesting that some pictures that score full marks in all categories just seem boring and “too good to be true”.

Analysing your own work on a regular basis is a great way to get better. Getting together with others and discussing each others work is great too but, for my money, going over your own work on your own is a fabulous way to find your style and motivate yourself to do better and better.