ROB DURSTON PHOTOGRAPHY

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Abigail’s Party – Behind the Scenes

We recently did a shoot for the MAC. I always love shoot theatre projects. They tend to be a little more loose with the brief, leaving you as a photographer to put your own stamp on it. This project was for the Mike Leigh penned play, “Abigail’s Party”.

As quoted from the MAC’s description of the play,
“We cordially invite you to the party of the year. (The year is 1977).

Abigail’s Party is one of the most iconic stage plays of the 20th century, thanks partly to its legendary 1977 ‘Play for Today’ production on BBC1. From a time when the height of urban sophistication was cheese and pineapple on a stick, served nonchalantly on a Lazy Susan comes a tragi-comedy about social climbing, prejudice and fear of not doing ‘the done thing’.

The writer and director Mike Leigh called his play “both a celebration and a lamentation of how we are”, because this isn’t just a play about 1970s Britain, it’s a peek into the frustrations and struggles endured by everyone who has ever floundered and grasped their way through life, attempting to ensure everything about them and around them is ‘the done thing’.”

 

Coooooool, a period piece, that takes place in the 70’s. Andi Mac (no relation to the above MAC), called me up late in 2017 to start the ball rolling; getting a set devised and built, on budget, that would represent 1970’s British suburbia. Andi found some wall paper that suited the bill; one of those older, ugly brown repeating pattern types that your smoking aunt used to have hanging in her living room. I really wanted to give the image some scale, some depth, so Andi ordered several rolls of the garish paper. Now all we had to do was build some walls to hang it on.
We tried to get some movable flats made that we could stick the paper on but we were running out of time. Instead we got four 4×8 sheets of 3/8 plywood for a smooth finish. My assistant Radek and I screwed the wood to the wall to give us a finished are of 8×16 feet; should be enough to pull off a living room set. My other assistant Chad and I arrived early on shoot day to prep the studio, pre light and hang the paper.

The lighting would consist of 4 Profoto heads running off two 1200 Acute packs, bouncing into two 4×8 white foams on c stands bouncing into set at a 45 degree or so angle.

Ringlight centred between two 4×8 white fills.

I played around with the ringlight on camera for a few frames to try to get a nice even blend between the fill and the ring but I abandoned it for a 1m Octalight.

Ya, just wasn’t happy with the look from the ringlight in this situation, maybe then again it might have been that moustache.

We got all our “fabulous” props from Shane over at Stags Head Props, and once into position we were ready to really dive in and get the lighting real. I dumped the ringlight for a 1m Octalight with no diffusion but a grid on the front. It would be coming in from camera right. Along with the Octa I put up a silver Softlight reflector with a grid to focus a bean of light onto the sideboard and 70’s stereo against the back wall; I wanted to pull the grain out of the side board and show off the sculpted handles.

The set is loaded and ready.

I took the fill down to one light per 4×8 foam o give it a little more punch, subtle but there. At this point we brought “Beverly” on set. She is the principle actor who’s daughter, “Abigail” is having her first teenage party next door.
The last addition to the lighting set up was a 650w Bambino fresnel with barndoors(and some cinefoil) on a boom, to create a gash of light on the back wall.

I shot the project on the Pentax 645z for the added dynamic range and medium format depth of field control wit the 45-85mm zoom. The brief included photography for outdoor signage, specifically 96, 48 billboards and Adshel. I used the 1m Octa as my main and moved it around the set depending on where the model was positioned and what format we were working on. So the wide landscape 96/48 images had the Octa off on camera right, roughly 45 off camera and at a 45 degree angle, giving us a loose Rembrandt styled light.

Above is an un retouched DNG of the final lighting set up for the landscape images.
Below is the retouched image, un cropped ready to be dropped in the layout.

There wasn’t a whole lot needed to be re touched, just a lightening of the skin and upper body and a slight toning of the colurs but for the most part it was bang on to what Andi and I were looking for.

The portrait version for the Adshel and printed pieces needed the Octa light shifted around to more on camera and with the fill from the floor gave a nice detailed beauty light. We moved some of the props around in the background just to fill the space a bit.

Soft gorgeous light from the 1m Octa light and grid.

I love the images and once again thoroughly enjoyed colaborating with Andi and PaleBlueDot.

A big round of clap for Radek and Chad for helping do everything we needed to get the shoot done on time.

Be sure and head out some evening to catch Abigail’s Party in person at the MAC from April 15th to May 5th, 2018.

 

 

 

 


Chris Chapman – Commercial Photographer

Today I am at SilverLine Studios in Toronto, talking with an old friend Chris Chapman. I used to assist and do production work for Chris back in the olden days. We chat about those days as well as the Toronto Film Festival, photographing entertainers, studios and films.

http://www.chrischapmanphoto.com/


Abbey Insurance BTS

Short and sweet, a detailed brief came my way for an insurance company’s new campaign for outdoor and print. two images of subjects in cars and one of a father/daughter in a home. The more interesting of the three were the car images.
Location photography is always more tricky than studio. Studio you have control over your lighting (ultimately) and your weather. On location, you’re subjected to whatever Mother Nature wants to throw your way and sometimes she can be damn brutal. The saving grace for our two car based images was that they were a very tight crop; we just had to have a “sense” of the environment without actually showing everything around them. Another factor to think about with the shoot is the trickiness of shooting through glass (especially the coated and sometimes tinted automotive glass).
Our first shot was on location in the parking lot of the agency. This allowed us to stay tight to the building for shade (lighting control) and any auxiliary power if we needed it. Since we were using the Profoto 600B’s, we didn’t need power for the lighting, just the laptop to keep it topped up throughout the shoot so we knew we’d have enough juice in it come the afternoon.

parking lot studio

parking lot studio

Now that we have the car in relatively the right spot (we will end up moving it slightly as the sun comes around a bit), we set up our lighting. For this image we are just using the one light, a single head off a Profoto B600AIR with a Magnum reflector and a single full CTO gel covering it.
The CTO will give us a full 2000 degree kelvin shift to the warmer end of the spectrum, that along with the fact we will be shooting in shade will give us a wide spread of colour shifting from the highlights to the shadows without doing it in post.

Camera & light positioning

Camera & light positioning

All we need now is a model. . . . . without facial hair . . . that’s blonde and looks happy (sorry Steve), enter Niamh.

Here is a raw image right out of the camera, with our model in position and looking her part.
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As you can see, when you backlight translucent materials they show off any and all dust, smudges and smears on the surface. So after some retouching and colour treatments in Photoshop the final looked something like this. RDP_20160509_01351-Edit

And the final artwork with the copy
Photo by Rob Durston ( www.durstonphoto.com )


Deloitte and the messy paint shoot

“Never work with babies or animals”
That’s what they always tell you.
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Seems that’s all I ever photograph. I love animals and kids I can relate to, but when you get a liquid flying through the air at speed, it might not always be the most persuasive subject.
Such was the case with this Deliotte campaign I photographed. Liquids demand a respect and a fast flash duration to freeze them in position. We luckily weren’t shooting in my studio but instead had rented a large room in a local football club house. Myself, my assistant and a video crew set up our own individual lighting set ups; mine being Profoto strobes and theirs were HMI’s for video.
I had the pole position for this day, the stills were going to run as a major campaign while the video was secondary. I brought along two different camera systems, a Canon 35mm and a Pentax 645z. The two mayor differences between the two were double the resolution with the Pentax at 50mp and a slower frame rate of 3 FPS opposed to 5 with the Canon. The Canon would give me a better chance to catch the moment but the Pentax would offer a greater depth of resolution.
We opted for the Pentax. I just had to release the shutter at the moment I needed.

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After a few tests we were ready to test it on some unsuspecting Deloitte employees. We had Sean on one side and Mal on the other, ready with small plastic cups of thinned out latex paint. On my mark they would throw the paint towards the subject and I would catch the emotion as well as the paint as it hit the subject, sounds easy enough. We shot between roughly 20 images with each subject on the premise that we would probably comp together images to give us some more dramatic splashes. In the end it wasn’t really needed as most of the final images went un retouched, just simple colour adjustments and tonal curves.
It was a great shoot and I’m sort of glad I wasn’t around for the clean up afterwards (I was back at the office editing).
Scroll through to the end to see a slo motion iPhone video of one of the throws.


Remus Uomo & Ulster Rugby

As some of you readers might already know, we do a fair amount of compositing these days. There are many different reasons out there for “piecing together” an image; lighting control, special effects, or subject availability. The latter was the main factor for utilizing it on on recent project for Remus Oumo and Ulster Rugby.
I was asked to come up with a solution to photographing several rugby players wearing some the latest Remus Oumo designs, on location at the Ulster Rugby headquarters. In the previous season one of the player’s locker rooms was used so in the tradition of keeping it fresh, the creative director and myself scouting the location to come up with a fresh viewpoint and some interesting angles. After perusing the building we decided on the gym area, specifically the weight room. It has an interesting ceiling and when shot at an angle has nice depth to the room. The overheads light would play nicely in breaking up the patterns of the ceiling with some repeating highlights.
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I photographed Rory the creative director as a stand in for the sample shot.

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With a little colour temperature tweaking and some simple comping together . . . .
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And then a slight tonal treatment . . . . . .
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And a grad across the bottom . . . . .
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Ideas were starting to come together. . . . .

The whole shoot was lit with just one light, it was a Profoto white Softlight with a grid. I wanted a soft, directional light from over head, so the Softlight and grid were boomed over each subject. Power wasn’t really a concern since the light would be so close to the subject but we still cracked open the Profoto Acute 1200 packs, just to have the flexibility in case we did need the power.

Yours truly doing my best rugby stare

Yours truly doing my best rugby stare

I was shooting tethered from the Pentax 645z to my MacBook Pro using the new DNA Lightroom plugin.
I have extensively tested the DNA plugin vs. Pentax IT2 vs. Adobe’s own plugin for LR and I have found pros and cons for all of them. In the end I always seem to be coming back to the Pentax IT2 software, which is the only option to have remote camera control, as well as options for saving files to the SD cards. Many users complain about speed but they aren’t grasping that this is still probably the fastest MFD system for transferring 50mp files; I can transfer 12 image files in 40 seconds (3.3 seconds per).
Most of those features weren’t needed in this shoot, mostly just the file transferring. The size and dynamic range of the image files really opened up the door for some heavy flexing when it came time for post production. I had shot a heavily bracketed background plate for the subject to be comped into but for the most part it wasn’t used since the dynamic range is so huge, I can just manipulate it from the specific subject files. I will say though, the new HDR and panoramic merge options in Lightroom are miles better than they ever were and along with the file image being a DNG, manipulation of the image after the merge sequence is totally feasible, flexible and amazing compared to the old tiff outputs.

Like I said earlier one of the main reasons for doing a composite image is when you can’t get all your subjects at one time for the photograph. This was the case for this shoot. All the rugby players had different commitments through out the day so each would be photographed individually and then pieced together in post. My good friend John at needpost.com would be helping me with some of the delicate image surgery stuff, while I executed the tone and colour treatments.

So here you can see the Superboom with the Acute head and white Softlight reflector with grid, pooling slightly in front of the model. You can see the other positioning marks for the other subjects on the floor.
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This is the first version with them all in situ. From this point it becomes a whole lot easier with just some retouching and toning.

V2.0

V2.0

This is version 4.0 with words and some wrinkles retouched.

V4.0

V4.0

This is version 6 with our number 4 guy enlarged in the frame, the light behind him more intense, more wrinkles fixed and the floor brought down a bit.

V6.0

V6.0

And here is the final version, V7.0 with some slight dodging and burning and a bit more colour tweaking.

V7.0

V7.0

Here are a couple of behind the scenes videos shot by Andy Yoong at Honcho Media.
The first one shows a little more of the behind the scenes and
the second one is the finished edit

Remus Cut Grade 1 from rob durston productions on Vimeo.

Final Edit

Remus Cut Grade 4 from rob durston productions on Vimeo.

Creative Director – Rory Jeffers
Assistant – Malachy McCrudden
Make Up Artist – Ashley Morhej
Retoucher – John Flynn
Video Dooode – Andy Yoong


Ulster Rugby/Remus Uomo

Remus Uomo and Ulster Rugby

Remus Uomo and Ulster Rugby


Pentax 645z- Mr ZED – One Year Evaluation

One Year Review – Pentax 645z – Love it, or Leave it

It’s been just over a year now since I took the plunge and dove into the deep end.

Sensor – Bigger is better

I love medium format, almost as much as I love large format, so when someone announced they were releasing a CMOS (finally) sensor based medium format, they had my full attention. The problem was that the manufacturer was Phase and just the back, (let alone the body and a lens) was $35k(€25k). That was out of my reach but it had definitely sparked my interest. The difference between the Phase IQ250 and everything else before it was that it now uses a CMOS sensor. Now if you are into photography you know that generally speaking CMOS is better in low light and power consumption and older styled CCD sensors had a “feeling” to them. Many MFD (medium format digital) users loved the skin tones and the general silkiness to the CCD cameras; remembering back to some of the first Canon and Nikon CCD cameras and the followings that some of them still have. If I was making my dream camera, it would be a full frame; either as a 6×7 or 645. It just seems that a 645 camera should have a sensor that is relatively close to being 6cm x 4.5cm and not 32.8mm x 43.8mm.
For me however it was about the ability to shoot in low light. I do a lot of work with available light, shooting out on location without lights or on film sets using the available lights there. While shooting with my existing cameras, there would be many a time, I’d be up at 640-2500 ISO, fighting with noise shadow detail and cursing with tripods. What I needed was a super high ISO CMOS based camera that had great DR (dynamic range) and a higher resolution wouldn’t hurt either. My dream camera was in my mind, something like a Contax 645 or even Mamiya RZ, full frame (hate to have crop factors) with modern electronics and a reworking of either line’s already amazing lenses. I already own a RZ with a few sweet lenses so if someone came out with a reasonable full frame CMOS back in the 36mp range I was ready for it; just not at $35k and not at a smaller than hoped for sensor size.
Then back in early 2014, Pentax of all camera brands, released the news that they were going to be updating/upgrading their 645 body to the new Sony CMOS sensor, basically the same as the one used in the Phase IQ250 but, get this, at about a quarter of the price, for the fixed body/back combo, crazy right? The difference being mainly the way the information coming off the sensor is interpreted and the fact that the back cannot be separated from the body (so no tech styled camera as an option). I thought it over in my mind; I had been a Pentax user in the early 90’s playing around mostly with the 67, shooting wind surfing with it and a 400mm f4 and a 2x tele converter. Then later I assisted a few photographers who used both the 67 and 645 together with lens adapters for fashion work. While I admired the robustness of the 67, I was never impressed with the 645, with its film inserts, plastic feeling body and constantly rotating spot on the Pentax repairman’s bench. That thing would fall apart in your hands literally. Now granted these bodies were well used but nothing any farther along than any of the workhorse RZ’s or Hasselblads in studios around the world. I felt they were always meant to be glued on a tripod, in some portrait studio, taking baby photos or some other non taxing job for them.
Then the Pentax 645D came out in 2010 and from all reports it was a worthy location camera; focused it seemed mostly on the portrait and landscape photographers. I did read up on it a bit when it came out and I might have even downloaded a few sample files but it really didn’t grab me, it wasn’t enough to make me sit up and beg.

Glass – Old and New

So, following the press release of the 645z, I decided to start stockpiling lenses. I kept my eyes peeled for some comparable focal lengths to my existing 35mm camera equipment; 17-40mm, 50mm, 85mm and 70-200mm. Pentax not being a large camera maker, didn’t always keep its lens line up to date so the lenses that were current for the 645z were few, I think at the time it was just the 55mm and 90mm. What they did keep though was a common lens mount so pretty much any lens from the past 30 years can mount on the “ZED”. Great and not so great at the same time; you’ll be able to find some real bargains of a wide variety BUT you’ll have to test the hell out of them to make sure they can live up to the resolution of the ZED’s 51mp sensor and not show off any unwanted chromatic aberrations of the older, less multi coated lenses.
So I immediately started scouring eBay and used camera joints for cherry Pentax glass, avoiding much fungus, dents and general abuse. I wanted/needed a really wide and the widest they made was a 35mm, which translated on the ZED is around a 24mm in 35mm format terms. I found the manual focus one on online for $200, which was a steal. I was slightly wary though, of it arriving and being a dog. It wasn’t, it was a fine example considering it was probably well over 20 years old. There was some slight discolouration on the edges of the front element but nothing that affected image quality.
After that there was the FA 45-85 for $286 from KEH, then a sweet FA 150mm f2.8 and finally the “kit” FA AW 55mm f2.8. The AW I should mention belonging to the 55mm, means All Weather, that’s right, this camera along with any AW lens, makes for wether proof system. I’ll talk more about that later.
After much initial testing all the lenses proved to be well worthy of the high resolution that the Zed can deliver.
So now armed with the body, 35mm, 45-85mm, 55mm and 150mm and a whole whack of batteries purchased on eBay for a fraction of the normal price I was set.
Here is a run down of my lenses and their characteristics.
The 35mm is a manual focus “A” lense, very sharp and contrasty but can be hard to focus on mid ground subjects.
The 45-85 is an auto focus “FA” lense, sharp around f8-f11 (the sweet spot). It is passable at f4.5 but much crisper at f8. Hard to get used to the AF/manual focus ring lock. You switch back and forth between the two by sliding the collar towards or away from you.
The 55mm is an auto focus “D FA” lense that is also weatherproof, completing the lense/body combination for a complete weatherproof system. It again is fine wide open at f2.8 but really shines around f8.
The 150mm is a “FA” lense with a very wide and fast f2.8 opening. There is slight chromatic aberrations but can be quickly cleared up in post.
I also just recently picked up a 135mm “A” LS (leaf shutter) lense. This lense allows you to sync with flash up to 1/500. So far it seems like a nice sharp, contrasty piece of glass, quite happy with it.

Trial By Fire – The First Big Project

So, the first images I set off to create after my testing was a fairly large project for Failte Ireland(Tourism). It would consist of location shooting for 28 days in all sorts of conditions. I set the camera up to shoot DNG’s to the first of its two SD slots, with a EyeFi X2 SD card in the second slot. On the X2 card the camera was writing small 1920×1080 jpgs, that would be wirelessly transferred over to an iPad Retina for the client to observe from. For the most part this method worked well and occasionally would need to be awoken or reconnected with the EyeFi network. The project was actually based on a different camera using a slightly smaller sensor (7360 x 4912px) to the Pentax’s larger sensor (8256 x 6192px); that plus the extended dynamic range and low light/high ISO qualities of the ZED made for some really stunning results.

Couple at the Martello Tower at sunset in Sutton, Dublin

Couple at the Martello Tower at sunset in Sutton, Dublin

Couple visiting the Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin

Couple visiting the Long Room at Trinity College, Dublin

Couple having Champagne looking out on the view of the Dublin coast

Couple having Champagne looking out on the view of the Dublin coast

Couple talking to a local fisherman at Colliemore Habour, Dublin

Couple talking to a local fisherman at Colliemore Habour, Dublin

Couple at the National Concert Hall, Dublin

Couple at the National Concert Hall, Dublin

Three surfers at the Dollymount Beach in Dublin

Three surfers at the Dollymount Beach in Dublin

The final presentation of the images was to be displayed on a giant video (5m x 2m) wall in Dublin. As a bonus to using the ZED’s larger pixel dimensions, the client was able to add movement to the images, by panning, zooming and generally moving throughout the image.

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What did I take away from this first “dive into the deep end” project with the Pentax 645z?

Well the negatives, the little things and larger things that bugged me while trying to work on a tight schedule with a crew looking over my shoulder, started something like this. . . .

1. The AF zone is based on Pentax’s smaller cameras, not even a full frame 35mm camera but their cropped sensor cameras. This is just too small and confining for a medium format camera, to have a small zone covering about 1/3 of the frame vertically and a 1/5 of the frame horizontally. So whenever you have the subject outside that zone, you really need to be using LiveView to properly get an accurate focus.

2. I was having some very difficult times getting an accurate focus lock. This seemed to be a more serious problem with the kit lens, the 55mm, that came with the body. Since then the camera and lens were sent away to Pentax service in France for an obvious n/c servicing. Upon its return I haven’t had any more issues.

3. The lag between firing off a frame to the time you can change the SS or aperture. I’ll take this one as a user error issue. Me + new camera + heavy schedule = anxious. Since then I have adapted a much better cadence to my shooting as opposed to the ol’ blast ‘em off 35mm style.

4. This one is a definite design flaw, the grip is way to small and after 8 hours of shooting, even with down time, my hand was cramping. I love the idea of the second tripod mount for verticals but I think a second grip could be 3D printed or something to utilise this mount and allow the weight of the camera to be shared between both hands. I’m 6 foot and I would say I have normal sized mitts, but this was designed with a smaller, much smaller person in mind.

5. The camera has two SD card slots, thats great. However they are hidden underneath the mounting point for the camera strap. So every time you go to change cards, you’re fighting with the strap like a bad Laurel & Hardy skit.

6. On this all weather camera, there isn’t a cap for the PC sync connection, what gives there?

7. This is probably related to #3 as well, the wait time to view on the display after firing off a few frames. This might be cured with an update in firmware but I suspect it is more about the actual PRIME III processor speed.

8. Bracketing feature seems to change both SS and aperture. Since this I have found out online that there is a menu option where you can change the green button’s purpose to only change the SS during bracketing. It wasn’t very clear in the manual but I thank the online forums for this cure.

9. At present there are a handful of “new” lenses available for the ZED, a year ago that wasn’t the case and I had to purchase a few of the older styled FA lenses. The AF/MF collar on the FA glass is a real PITA when you just want to snap something in focus then turn it over to MF. The obvious cure for this is . . . . buy new lenses.

10. My last nick picky comment about the system is the tunnel like viewfinder. You really need to keep your eye centered to be able to see all four corners.

Now to be only fair, the positives I love about this camera system are . . .

1. Dynamic range, the Sony sensor is truly amazing and as much as the Canon 5D mk2 was a game changer, this sensor is the heart and soul of this one. Expose for the highlights and open the shadows up in post.

2. 51mp of resolution, gives the client lots of room to crop, down rez or just even hide some unwanted dust, shmedges etc

3. A nice, big, rear, flip up LCD monitor perfect for viewing on the fly or shooting waist level style.

4. Dual SD card slots; they let you set it up to record sequentially, mirrored or separate formats like RAW and JPG.

5. The vertical tripod mount is a super nice touch; I have a small ArcaSwiss styled plate mounted that I use to grab onto for extra support while shooting (see Con #4 above).

6. A fully comprehensive menu and button customisation let you totally tailor the camera to you. Saying that, it would be nice to have Nikon’s “Save/Load settings” feature on a camera like this that has such an in depth menu system.

7. On the huge rear LCD you have a 16x magnification LiveView that lets you zoom right into your subject and confirm a tight focus, indispensable.

8. Matrix style metering is pretty accurate

9. Long battery life, one battery lasts almost all day for me, around 1000-1300 images plus transmitting from the WiFi card

10. and the main reason I love shooting MF, the gorgeous DOF

Support – Everyone needs a shoulder to lean on

This a bulky camera, no doubt about it. I found my right hand would cramp up at the end of a shooting day. Saying that, a monopod or tripod would never be far away and take the weight off my hands. Even hand holding at lower shutter speeds I never found any shake in my images from mirror slap, something that one came to expect with some of the digital backs adapted on still cameras a few years ago. The mirror is well cushioned and the whole shutter mechanism has a good solid sound. On some occasions when a tripod/monopod wasn’t available I could also brace myself, line up the shot, and use mirror lock up for slower shutter speeds. Pentax even has two lenses, the 28-45 zoom and the 90 Macro with “Shake Reduction” (SR). I have used it on the wide zoom and have found it good for a couple of stops of lower than normal shutter speeds; however you need to be well prepared for the sheer hulk of it, as it weighs more than the camera itself.

Media – Pick a card

When I first received the camera, I was prepared with some shiny new media. I’ve been using Transcend in my Canons for a few years now without any issues. They have been fast enough for video with the Canon and its never displayed an error. So I had some middle of the road Transcend SD cards ready to go into both slots of the Pentax. When not using the WiFi card, I would write DNG’s to both slots (mirrored). I soon found though that the cards were dragging down my write speed, each frame was taking way to long to process, preview and for the controls to be released so I could adjust them. I then got a set of Transcend 400x class 10 SD cards. They performed better and lasted about 9 months before I started getting prompted by the ZED to “Format Card”. Strange, this was happening to begin with any time I took the media out of the camera, then progressively it got worse and would happen sometimes if the camera was just shut off, then turned back on. Major problem.
I’ve now had a set of premium Lexar Professional 64GB Class 10 UHS-II 1000x Speed (150MB/s) cards and haven’t had any issues.

Shooting Modes – Auto, Manual and all the rest

For the most part I always shoot in manual on the Pentax. The controls for both aperture and shutter speed are at your right index finger and thumb. That said you can also use the standard aperture ring on the lens as Pentax have kept that part of the design from older film cameras. Either way its quick and to the point. I follow along with the excellent meter in the viewfinder.
The ZED also gives you Program, Sensitivity Priority, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Aperture/Shutter Priority (TAV), Manual, Bulb and X Sync. There are 3 user modes as well that you can preset for yourself and different shooting environments. Now the TAV is kind of cool. What it does is allow you to set your aperture and shutter speed and then the camera will set the ISO correspondingly. Since the sensor is just so amazing when it comes to low light etc, this seems like the perfect shooting mode when you are in ever changing lighting. I have tested it a few times but I haven’t used it in work yet.

Operations – Basic Training

It took me a while to get used to the Pentax way of things. It seemed to me to be a whole lot more difficult to work your way through menus, finding frequently used operations and remembering “what did what and which thing needed to be lit so the other thing works when you do that”. The on/off button is easy enough as well as some of the simple functions like ISO, apertures/SS and shooting modes but pretty much after that for me, I was reading the manual. After about ten minutes of bumbling around through the manual and the ZED on the table in front of me, I was able to do about 90% of what I need to use in my everyday work. Personally I find the AF system too complicated for a MFD. I don’t mind having all the options on my 35mm; zones, multi points etc etc. I can set all that up before time on my 35 but on my MFD I’d rather see a dead accurate single point AF, that can be placed all around the frame including the outer corners (especially for WA lenses). The fact that I have to use LiveView most of the time to focus accurately on subjects of the edges of the frame isn’t the quickest way to work. Hasselblad has their True Focus system that compensates for after focusing adjustments to your framing. Its a great idea and seems to work well but even 4 or 8 strategic AF points on the corners and on the edge of each side would be wonderful.
As well as the over complicated AF, it could do with fewer features. I don’t see the need for the RAW button on the top left of the body; it allows you to switch your file formats from RAW to RAW with jpgs, something that you can do in the menu. It does have an extra handy mirror up knob on the top right of the body, very handy when switching back and forth between long exposures and short.
There is a right index finger SS wheel in front of the shutter release and an aperture wheel, right where your right thumb would rest on the back of the body. Below that is a handy programable AF button and the magic green multi function to the left of that (it controls the reset values and auto ISO, but can also be programmed for other functions).
For most of my uses the ZED stays on manual with the focus going back and forth between manual and AF. The newer D FA lenses focus very quickly and even the older FA’s are no slouches. I haven’t run into any speed issues when it comes to focusing. I have the drive set up for single frame and very occasionally will shift it to continuous high. I have the picture style set to muted, my white balance is usually shifted to warmer than normal for most subjects and have the highlight warning on (which only appears in playback). The sync for flash only works below a 1/125. I personally don’t have a problem with this, using 35mm gear that has pretty much always been in or around that speed but I do know it bothers quite a few photographers seeing as how some of the competition are up to 1/1600th of a second. I use ND filters when needed and I also recently (since writing this post) acquired a 135mm LS (leaf shutter) lens that will sync up to 1/500th of a second.

Accessories

Other than the ND filters, a polarizer now and then, the previously mentioned Mobi Card (WiFi) I keep things pretty simple. I do shoot tethered quite often and use the Pentax Image Transmitter 2 software, importing to a hot folder to Lightroom. I rarely have a problem with this set up and when I do, its just a matter of closing the programme and re starting it.

Room for Improvement?

Of course, there is always something that can be improved on and nothing is perfect, not even the mighty ZED.
For my style of shooting, I’d really like to have an improved AF system. While the current one is great when the subject is hovering around the center of the frame, most of my subjects in advertising are usually on the edges. Let’s have AF points out on the corners and on each edge at least.
Another point I think could be improved with some firmware twerking/tweaking, would be the buffer. In ten seconds, using two Lexar Professional 64gb 150mb/s SD cards, writing DNG’s to both, I can fire off 8 frames, 8 frames in 10 seconds. Now comes the kicker, it takes another 38 seconds for the buffer to clear. During that time you can change the shutter speed or aperture but you can’t view any of the images.
This is a definite improvement, that I’m guessing has just come from the most recent firmware update. Previously you couldn’t adjust your exposure at all while the buffer was working.
So we are half way there on that point.
The last thing would be the facility to create smaller, full frame DNG’s. The new Canon 5DS allows you medium and small RAW file sizes, Pentax should do the same.

Conclusion

With 24,876 frames on this camera, I’d say I’m quite happy with it. No camera will ever be able to do everything you want. As an evolving photographer, your needs are ever changing. That said, this camera is one of the best tools for my work I have ever used; huge dynamic range, low light sensitivity/high ISO usability, and sharp, high MP files.

un corrected image straight from camera

un corrected image straight from camera

altered in LR to give definition in the sky and open up the shadows

altered in LR to give definition in the sky and open up the shadows

55mm f8@ 1/800 640iso

55mm f8@ 1/800 640iso

100 % crop - 640 iso, no noise reduction, default sharpening

100 % crop – 640 iso, no noise reduction, default sharpening

150mm f2.8 @ 1/4000 iso 800

150mm f2.8 @ 1/4000 iso 800

55mm f2.8 @ 1/8 iso 100

55mm f2.8 @ 1/8 iso 100

28-45mm at 45mm f4.5 @ 1/1000 iso 1250

28-45mm at 45mm f4.5 @ 1/1000 iso 1250, tack sharp, at 1:1 you can see the rain drops on his glasses

150mm f2.8 @ 1/200 iso 3200

150mm f2.8 @ 1/200 iso 3200

85mm f16 @ 1/125 iso 320 - Profoto Silver Softlight

85mm f16 @ 1/125 iso 320 – Profoto Silver Softlight

150mm f4 & 5.6 @ 1/15 iso 100 - Windowlight

150mm f4 & 5.6 @ 1/15 iso 100 – Windowlight


Lally the Scut – Behind the Scenes

Lally the Scut was written by Abbie Spallen and is the latest production to be featured at the wonderful MAC in Belfast. She is an award winning playwright and screenwriter, who is currently the writer in residence at the Lyric in Belfast.
I was fortunate to be asked to photograph the cast for their advertising media. The art director from the agency contacted me with his brief. He had attached a mood board of imagery he based the ideas on, my work showing the feeling and tone of the images as well as a few showing the composition. He had also hand drawn the overall character layout for the hero image as well as a couple of the individual actors’ direction.

Mood board for Lally the Scut

Mood board for Lally the Scut

Lally the Scut character composition drawing

Lally the Scut character composition drawing

Actor's direction drawings

Actor’s direction drawings

The next step is for me to sit down and think about the most cost effective and efficient way to shoot a dozen cast members in scenario, to make the files the easiest to work on. The image would obviously have to be “comped” or pieced together as the set would be impossibly large to accommodate everyone around an imaginary hole in the ground. I imagined the sun to be shining almost dead center, behind the type. This would make the individual images easier to stitch together as all the lighting would be similar for each actor. The actors would also have to be animated, leaning into the hole and possibly using their props. I would need to have something solid, for the players to be able to place their weigh against and lean down into. A couple of very sturdy ladders, clamped together with a plank of wood between the two of them that I had painted black.
For lighting I bounced two Profoto Magnum reflectors into the white ceiling above the performers heads, with enough light to bleed slightly over the edges of them but not too much that we lose the edges of them for the clipping paths later. Over their heads, hanging on a superboom would be a Profoto Silver Softlight with a full CTO filter on it, to resemble the over head sun shining down on them. From the camera side, just for a little fill on their faces, I used a Profoto Softlight White, without filtration to give it a slight bluish hue in the shadows. Two black negative fill boards then lined the set and black blackout cloth on the floor to keep any bounce down.

BTS lighting set up

BTS lighting set up

Here is a short time lapse iPhone video of the set up and quick test.
https://vimeo.com/123541923

So now that the lighting and set are all up, we’re ready to shoot some actors.

Untreated selected images

Untreated selected images

These are some of the selected images before they were gone through by the art director and his picks chosen. After that I applied my treatments and retouched the images to the point that I liked them. I sent those off for final approval.

Fork the Cat - A difficult recent history of cross community workshops

Fork the Cat – A difficult recent history of cross community workshops

Ellen - She calls a blade a blade

Ellen – She calls a blade a blade

Lally - No one is saying she's whiter than white

Lally – No one is saying she’s whiter than white

Owen - Bringing people the stories that matter

Owen – Bringing people the stories that matter

Bun McTasney - Everyone's eating his cakes

Bun McTasney – Everyone’s eating his cakes

Paths and final assembly complete the image looks like this.

Lally the Scut final

Lally the Scut final

Not too shabby
And with copy and graphics, it looks like this.

Lally the Scut with copy & graphics

Lally the Scut with copy & graphics


Absolut Vodka – Anatomy of an Image

Sometimes, a few times a year, a really nice project comes along that you can sink your teeth into; a project that has no real deadline, a loose brief, a laid back art director and the option to pick your own post production.

All I had to do was take the art director’s comps and transpose them to real life. As any advertising photographer knows, whats on paper in front of you at an agency project briefing might not be exactly what is out there in real life, beyond those agency windows. In fact, I can remember a quick little story where an art director sketched out a double page spread with a hammock stretching from edge to edge. It was shaped like a banana and felt like the invisible man was actually laying in it. It took us a whole day to prop the hammock with wire and hang it with fishing line to get a reasonable looking form from it for the spread.
Okay, let me get back to this project. So the idea was to convey the landmark Harland & Wolff yellow cranes, Samson and Goliath, against an industrial Belfast skyline and the classic Absolut bottle outline, nestled between the cranes. I’m going to build up a fictional Belfast landscape with different elements from the waterfront and surrounding areas. Once I compile all of those along with a clear and unobstructed sky to lay behind it, I’ll send all this off to John over at Needpost.com who takes it all and makes some sense of it. He works with myself and the art director to make sure we have all the landscape filled in and representative of the original idea the art director pitched to the client.
So without looking through all the boring original images, lets go straight to post and with the help of a little bouncy music, let’s watch John “build” Belfast for Absolut Vodka.

It was produced specifically for outdoor advertising but hopefully it will get picked up for other media as well

 

Absolut Vodka 96 sheet billboard

Absolut Vodka 96 sheet billboard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absolut Vodka adshell outdoor

Absolut Vodka adshell outdoor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun huh?
I thought it was.
Come back and visit us again for more adventures.


ASDA – Favourites

Hi all, we were called back in the spring to shoot a series for ASDA (major UK supermarket owned by Walmart).
They were looking for a light and airy view of the farming behind sausage making. I know its not exactly a light subject these days but we needed to try to keep it light, bright and not too serious, showing a little more of the farmer and the family business behind it. A local producer for ASDA was chosen and without any scouting we just dropped by for the day.
All of the images from the day were either shot on the Canon 85mm f1.8 or the Canon 24mm f1.4 using available light and a California Sunbouncer.
Interior factory images were made using Profoto ProAcute 600B battery units mounted with Magnum and Softlight Silver reflectors


A quick little shoot for Hewlett-Packard

I received a call a few months ago from an agency back in the US. They were looking to produce some photography for an upcoming “book” for Hewlett-Packard.
I’ve always liked HP; I thought their ads and marketing was bang on for most of the past 20 years and can still remember some of the campaigns. I always wanted to have the chance to do something with them. Granted it wasn’t showgirls, explosions and car chases but I think we produced some really nice images for the cover of the “book”. I keep saying the “book” because the agency called it that. I’m guessing it is a corporate piece meant for HP IT Systems dealers or something along those lines.
The idea was to photograph a local “hero” who will be singled out in the publication as well as being on the cover.
Seeing as how with 99% of these jobs I don’t get to scout the location, this one was no different. I was to go to the location/office and set up a clean white background (meaning easy for close cutting) and get some interactive portraits of our hero. Hmmmmmmm, just a small challenge.
Not really knowing how large of a room you will be given, we usually pack a 9′ white seamless paper that we can cut down to whatever size will fit in the room. Along with that we have a couple of lights for the background and a couple for the foreground/subject.
This is what all that looks like, less cameras.

Lighting and grip

Lighting and grip

In amongst those bags are two Profoto Acute 1200’s, four Acute heads, Magnum and softlight reflectors as well as a variety of stands and booms and clips and clamps.

Here is the set up roughed in.

Lighting set up

Lighting set up

And with Richard, my assistant, holding a colour checker, its just the wee one.

Richard and the colour checker

Richard and the colour checker

After this I do a little flagging and a little of some of this and that and this is what we end up with.

Great shoot and great guy, had a blast,
Thanks HP


2013 Balmoral Show

I’ve had a few emails in the past couple of weeks regarding the new playful 2013 Balmoral Show imagery. They are popping up all over the place; on billboards, brochures, posters, etc.
It was a great shoot with Paul from Whitenoise on the grounds of the King’s Hall, the old site for past years Balmoral Shows. The studio for the day was an empty hall at the site, which had to be at least 8000 sq.ft., more space than even I know what to do with. We also had an adjoining hall as a holding area for the livestock in the project.

Over two dozen individual items/subjects were photographed for the concept. The idea was to represent a large cross section of all the activities and attractions that the Balmoral offers. That and the fact the show has moved for 2013 to the Maze site just outside of Lisburn needed to come across in the final image. So everyone and everything would be comped together onto a farm trailer and pulled by a little farmer down the motorway to its new location.
The final image represents hours and hours of comping and post production work. Its meant to feel compiled/created and have a little bit of a humourous feel to it.

thats a lot of clipping paths


Stay Farm Safe – Health & Safety

We just finished a small campaign for Health & Safety, with Darren from Genesis, which included some of my favourite things: farms, cows, farmers and moody imagery.
The brief was to shoot 4 scenarios, following roughly the lay outs provided.
Here are the lay outs.

Roof & PTO

Roof & PTO

Slurry & Cows

Slurry & Cows

I was to shoot the images with and without actors and a few prop variations. As you can see by the image below, the photos without the actors turned out very moody.

Moody Cows

Moody Cows

The weather played havoc with us during the couple of days we shot this over. We had wind, rain, sun and general drizzle almost everyday and had to shoot around it as best we could since our talent were limited with their time. Its also difficult to make the images play well together when you have all this changing weather; it would be nice to have some congruency between the images. Luckily, we had a strong composition and colour theme running through all the images so the weather played less of a factor than I had originally worried about.
Here’s one of my favourites, shot in the drizzle, around a full tv commercial crew who shooting the tv spot while we were doing the stills. Of course all our lights were weather proofed for the shoot and it all came off without a hitch.

The roof, the roof . . . .

The roof, the roof . . . .

Here are the finished ads.

And here is the finished TV spot directed by Phil Crothers, if it doesn’t load for you, click on the link below.

HSENI Moment of Truth from phil crothers on Vimeo.


San Disk EyeFi SD Card and Derry Ballerinas

I was intrigued into getting an EyeFi card to see if it could change my workflow to become smoother when we are on location.

Here is what I found.

If you don’t know what an EyeFi card is, its a small SD memory card with a built in WiFi transmitter thingy. It creates and can manage a small network for the uploading of files to a local device either through its own network or an existing one.
I picked up an EyeFi 8gb SD card class 4 (North America is using class 6) at Calumet for about £45. I took it home and proceeded to bash my head against the wall for the next two hours. It was not easy or intuitive for me at all. You need their EyeFi Center software for your your iPhone/iPad which is simple to download and install. It was really more the setting up of the software that got me stumped at times. After fooling around for a couple of hours and changing the settings back and forth so many times I can’t remember, it just began to work.

I set up the Canon 5D Mk3 so RAWs were being written to the CF card and the camera was writing to the SD card in the S2 mode(1920×1280). At this size it allowed the first generation iPad to download each image every 2-4 seconds at about 5-10 feet from the camera. I should say that the EyeFi card can run off an existing WiFi network or create its own small one. Obviously in most locations we won’t get a chance to piggyback onto someone else’ network so I have just left it to its own. We also found that the further the iPad was from the camera, the slower the download became (I didn’t take down any times or did any comparisons since most of that shit bores me, suffice to say it worked).

I happened to have a shoot coming up that I thought would be perfect; running around the city of Derry shooting jumping ballerinas and musicians. We wouldn’t really have much time (as usual) so things needed to be spot on when we shot it all. The art director wanted to be able to have a back up to our original images shot in camera so we also shot the background plates without the subjects, in the event the we needed to drop either subjects into the other’s background or vice versa.

So what we have here is a Colin jumping up in our lighting set up doing his best ballerina pose (we didn’t hire him as model in the end). We used two Profoto Acute 600B‘s, one as a backlight with a magnum reflector and a half CTO and the front light with a silver softlight and no filtration. The background light was probably a stop over the main and set slightly into the frame to emulate the sun (of which we didn’t have as yet).

Colin jumping for his life

Colin jumping for his life

Colin tried his hardest but he couldn’t really get the height we were looking for (he also forgot his tutu). We brought in the mini trampoline and it was a little better, good job Colin (we also knew the ballerinas should get another two or three feet on Colin’s height, whew)

Colin jumping off a tramp

They wanted to try the ballerinas first without the tramp, I wasn’t that hopeful though as I knew how high I had to get them in the frame for it all to work with the Guild Hall in the background and the copy that was to go in afterwards. I won’t bother with those images, lets move on.
We put the trampoline in and let the girls jump on their own, at their own pace and countdown themselves to the big height jump. It worked nearly flawlessly. Almost every jump was a keeper. This is the first jump, no strobes at 1/250th of a second.

No strobes, 1/250th of a second

The overcast light was just too flat, the feet were slightly blurred and it was all a little lifeless at this point. However the EyeFi card and the iPad were working awesomely. Ya, it might not be the fastest to keep up with a fashion shoot or such but for a commercial or advertising shoot where you have the time between takes to work things out, this set up works “good”. Of course it would be nice for it to be faster and it does speed up if you use the smaller size settings for the SD slot in the Canon but then you can’t zoom in to check focus or blur. I’m happy enough.

I should also mention that we were using the Canon’s HSS (High Speed Sync or High Speed Shutter). We hooked up the Canon’s 580 EXII flash on a cheap sync cord and had it pointed at the main Profoto’s optical slave, then set the 580 to HSS mode. This sets up the Canon to go beyond the 1/200th of a second sync speed that normal strobe units sync at with the camera, to well beyond 1/1000th of a second, if need be. Today I was hoping to get away with something under 1/1000th but obviously quicker than 1/250, since our ballerina’s feet were burred at that speed.

unretouched raw DNG

All this technology and a £50 trampoline.
Ultimately the EyeFi and iPad proved indispensable and I have now added some new gear to my camera bag. The ability to see the image, remotely, larger than on the back of the camera, on location, almost immediately is great. The art director I worked with was extremely pleased and loved it as well. In the end we retouched out the lights and trampoline.

Retouched ballerina over Derry

I’ve gone through a few retouchers over the years; I’ve done a lot of stuff myself but when it comes to sending out work I usually let NeedPost bang their head against the wall ;). I met John over at NeedPost.com back when I was shooting cosmetics in California. His home base is out of Florida so for someone working in Europe he’s perfect for those crazy deadlines (you get an extra 4 hours). John has helped me set the mood and tones for a few different clients. Its usually not any heavy comping work but more polishing and adding treatments. I usually make or direct the treatment and John does the transcribing into Photoshopesque. He’s great.

3 phases of retouching

As you can see by the next two, there isn’t a lot of heavy handed retouching involved; we like to get as much as possible in the camera, and keep it as true to life as we can.

James McLaughlin rocking out over Derry


A quick one for TargetDry

We did a quick shoot for TargetDry earlier in the summer. It was a fun day and had a great time wandering through the Mournes with good company.
Here are a few outtakes from behind the scenes.


Cow Parade – Day Two & Three

The second day for Cow Parade wasn’t any better when it came to the weather. A constant stream of precipitation from the sky greeted me in the early morning while packing up the van. In the end, it was only the time we spent trying to get into the Ulster American Folk Park that it didn’t rain.
Our first location was the Folk Park. They didn’t give us a whole lot of time to scout and shoot, so we arrived early hoping to get in a get ahead of ourselves a bit. We didn’t succeed but made our way in with our trusty cart and our full sized Clarice on board. The first set up was the old street scene. I positioned her at camera left, back lit and side lit her with the Profoto Magnum reflector and the 600B pack. I love using the 600B, its great to know you have power and light when you need it, where you need it without worrying about gennies or extension cords and its reliable when used properly (more on that later). We did a few different set ups in a couple of locations at the park but the one below is my favourite from there. A nice hard light to pop the colours on Clarice and bring out all the texture of the cobble stone street. Its just a simple file with only 4 layers in total.

Clarice taking in the UAFP

Clarice taking in the UAFP

Next up was yesterday’s location at Castlewellan Maze, where we were rained out from. Today was still raining but not the crazy downpour from yesterday. We bagged the Profoto, both the head and the pack to keep them dry. Steve loves the weight and heftiness of the Arri C-stands so he mounted the Profoto on it and dragged it around mounted on a 40″ grip arm and head. This set up gives us lots of flexibility to boom the light up and over subjects and obstacles and is heavy enough in most situations so we don’t need to sand bag it.
We started with a set up looking back towards the park itself; the clouds were a dramatically amazing deep blue and contrasted nicely against the green hedges of the maze. We positioned Clarice and Eunice in what I can only imagine is a common situation at the maze, both trying to look over the hedges at each other. I like the image a lot, it has strong leading lines and great contrast and mood.

"Clarice is that you", Eunice said.

“Clarice is that you”, Eunice said.

I like almost as much as I like the shot below, taken 180 degrees in the opposite direction. The feeling is a little bit more disjointed, separated from each other they are walking in different directions feeling the real thrill of isolation in the maze. We back lit Clarice and gave Eunice a kicker in the behind with the 600B. It was however around this time that we started having sync problems with the strobes. The Pocket Wizard receiver was inside the bag with the 600B unit and the heat of the unit building up must have created condensation which led to the pack not firing every time. After attempting to remedy this and continue on we have to give into the elements and call it a day.
I knew we had it all in the bag but like any photographer with a great scene I just wanted to keep on going. This particular frame has the mountain tops hidden by the clouds but the fields on the hillside are lit by sunlight, a break in the constant clouds that plagued us. This is probably one of my favourite frames from the whole shoot and I love the angry, frustrated expression on Clarice’s face. She’s wants out of there now.

Clarice yelled to Eunice, "get me outa here"

Clarice yelled to Eunice, “get me outa here”

That was it for day two and it was now a damp drive home with three soaked souls and one dry Larry dog.

Day three was to be just a short one. We needed to cover off the Marble Arch Caves in Fermanagh but Sunday was the only day we could do it and 9am was the only time we would get the chance to shoot without the tourists. We took Eunice with us since it would be impossible to get Clarice even through the door leading down to the caves. If you have never been to the caves its pretty interesting and has an extensive history. Eunice found it so interesting that she wanted to go for a boat ride, which is where we took our first photo. We back lit her, had a light on the wall and one on camera left in the water to pull a little definition out of the underground lake bed.

"Its dark and scarey down here, mooooooo."

“Its dark and scarey down here, mooooooo.”

The second shot for the caves was further down into the caves beside a swift moving underground stream. In this photo we had a couple of lights on Eunice but I also dragged the shutter for 30 seconds to burn in some of the available light into the background and the pitch black walls. The long exposure gave a dreamy quality to the water.

"Is this the way out?"

“Is this the way out?”

 


We’re back

We’re back to a new post, its been a few months and we’ve been super busy with both life and work. The new website and promo have both been paying off.
Enough of the business chat, let’s talk about some imaging.

We were called to photograph a project for the NITB, covering off the new launch of the Cow Parade in Northern Ireland. The Cow Parade is ” the largest and most successful public art event in the world since 1999, has been staged in 75 cities around the world and more than 32 million people have seen at least one exhibit.”

Now as most people know, Northern Ireland is never an easy location to shoot in; weather and terrain are always up against you in the battle of the “deadline” and this deadline was very much looming over our heads. With only 4 days to shoot in nine locations across Northern Ireland we needed to have a strong game plan and scheduling. Between NITB and the agency, they handled most of the scheduling and my assistants Steve, his brother Phil and I just needed to make it to each of them on time and be able to find an interesting angle and scenario to photograph the two cows we had. I should mention that yes, we did have two cows. It is not just one big full sized one, we also had a half sized “mini moo”. We nicknamed the large 98 lb full sized cow, Clarice and the mini was Eunice.

There were a few production issues with the cows at first, so we didn’t actually get them delivered until the end of the first shooting day. So that laid to rest any hope of getting it all done on time. However after a few phone calls we managed to get a couple of extra days thrown in here and there over the next week in case we really ran into weather problems.

The Kung Fo Komitee - Steve & Phil aka Fill

The boys are ready to light up a cow.

The next morning, early 5:30 am, I loaded up the few remaining items into the van which the boys and I loaded the cows into the night before, and we all headed to our first location, the Mourne Mountains and Silent Valley Reservoir. Weather is the Mournes is never predictable and we were supposed to be in store for heavy rains for a week in Northern Ireland. We drove south towards the mountains and the weather was “okay”. The closer we got however, the more solid the sky became with cloud cover; nothing too dark and ominous, just solid cover with no definition, a photographers worst case.

Let me explain, photographers know only three types of sky.
1. Blue with no clouds which is okay to portray a summer day in the desert but never feels right anywhere else.
2. Blue sky with clouds which feels more realistic and gives the viewer something to look through besides the subject matter below (unless of course the subject is clouds, which in this case is perfect then).
3. Overcast with no definition, a barren whiteness of nothing, nothing for the viewer to latch on to, nothing for your eye to rest upon while it takes a break from looking at the subject material.
Today was a number three day.

All we could do was set up and hope that the sky would break for a moment. We climbed almost 300 stairs to the top of the dam at Silent Valley, an amazing view, when there is a sky. When there isn’t a sky and its just overcast and raining its hard to place where you are. There were times we couldn’t see the bottom of the valley and it felt like we were all sitting on the edge of a rock wall over looking a field or something.

Eunice at the top of Silent Valley

Eunice at the top of Silent Valley

Day one is completed, stay tuned for the rest of the NITB Cow Parade “Behind the Scenes”.

Seeing as this was our first day and I wasn’t too keen on falling behind schedule here, I announced that we needed to be out of there by 11am. We had the first shot set up and lit for 8:30, then came the waiting. We shot on and off between bursts of rain and cloud, hoping to get something. Then at around 10 am we headed back down towards the lower reservoir. We stopped off at the side of the road, near the most northerly point of the lower reservoir and I walked through the bog by myself to scout a site along the edge of the water. It was perfect and the clouds were starting to break a little. We might have a chance. The boys slugged it out with the gear and Eunice across the bog and we set up the shot. The only thing was that the wind was picking up and blowing poor Eunice over.

Eunice at the water's edge - Silent Valley

Eunice at the water’s edge – Silent Valley

I only managed to get 3 frames before it just became impossible to shoot anymore.
We packed up and drove down to the main area of the reservoir, set up for a few more images but nothing really became of them. The wind, rain and cloud cover just got worse and worse; 11:30 am, time to move along.

Larry the Lurcher helping to navigate

Larry the Lurcher helping to navigate

And worse, and worse, we arrived at our next location at Castlewellan Park and the rain was just pouring down. The three of us were camped out in the back of the van, Larry the Lurcher had the whole cab to himself, while we watched our first day’s second shoot stream out of the parking lot. After about 20 minutes I got on the phone and we organized a wild card location, Jonesboro and Slieve Gullion.
I was not familiar with the area and had never shot before here. We had a contact from the local council touring us around. We made it to 3 locations in the area luckily and two of them turned out really nice. One was of Moyry Castle and the other was of a burial tomb or cairn but I can’t remember the name. I’ll try to contact the council and get it.
We trundled up the side of the hill towards Moyry Castle. It was starting to dry out a bit as the rain had stopped and that deep, damp humidity was beginning to set in. Larry was loving it, running around the hilltop and bounding through the tall grasses. We set up some lighting and lit the front of the castle, inside and a couple of on Eunice herself, making her stand out a bit off the grass.

Eunice climbing towards Moyry Castle

Eunice climbing towards Moyry Castle

The last location of the day, and everyone is totally bushed. We arrive down this old lane in the back woods of Armagh; drive down a farmer’s lane and the gravel ends and then brand new pavement (you know the kind, “brand new government pavement”, meaning there is something of interest down here) where it opens up into a small car park. On the other side of the car park can be described as little more than a big pile of rocks. Our guide Darren explains to us that this is a 5000 year old burial chamber and bones and artifacts have been found within it. Okay, now my interest is really peaked. Its amazing to think that this was constructed by locals 5000 years ago, astonishing.
Below is a photo showing Clarice in the front chamber which is comprised of a circular room with a smooth stone wall leading into the first chamber, then out of frame, a second chamber. I know about the pyramids in Egypt, Mexico, Peru and Cambodia but this is really amazing that the locals had the tools, manpower and engineering to craft such a delicate and finished structure.

Clarice in the outer chamber of the burial mound

Clarice in the outer chamber of the burial mound

We all walked around and over the mound for what seemed like forever, trying to find an angle or a good view of it. The problem was all the stones were covered with lichen and moss and were in effect camouflaged against each other. If was difficult to figure out the depth of the place. I finally decided to try a different view; down low from the front with Clarice walking past the camera. I’d light the outer and first chambers and try to give it some depth that way, by creating some contrast between rooms. I lit Clarice from overhead and back lit her to stand off the background and we pooled the light in front of her on the ground for effect. A graduated blue filter was used on the bleached out sky to give it some life. All in all I think it is one of my favourites.

Clarice visiting a 5000 year old burial chamber in Armagh

Clarice visiting a 5000 year old burial chamber in Armagh


I love the feel of real paper

I love the feel of real paper like I love the sight of real film. Watch this.


Anatomy of a Campaign – Sangers

Its coming up to a year since I shot this little campaign for Sangers Pharmaceutical. It was definitely a fun one. Chris from Fire IMC (RIP) approached me with an idea of different locations around Northern Ireland, showing the diverse landscape with one of their vans driving through it. He had a pretty good idea of which regions he wanted to use but that was pretty much it. He left it up to me to find exact locations and scenarios for the vans. Normally for a automotive shoot you would have lighting set up; HMI’s or in the least some big strobes but because of the budget and size of this production it was decided all of that would be staying at the studio and it would be just man and camera scenario, well with an assistant or two to spot for me so I didn’t get run over by any random traffic.

Derry/Londonderry – Of course we had to have the wall in the shot, to place it as being in Derry. We could have just had it running parallel to the wall but it would have been just too two dimensional. I would have liked a real “in yo face” image of the van driving straight for the camera, through one of the wall arches but we wouldn’t have been able to see the branding on the van and more so, I’m sure the PSNI wouldn’t have approved of me lying on the road, directing a 2 tonne van towards me with traffic and pedestrians everywhere. We ended up after scouting around on a reccy day, deciding on the Ferryquay Gate for the van to be coming through. On the day of the shoot everything worked out as planned; the van was backlit, we had a blue sky and traffic was low, making for a great contrasty image, really showing off the van and the branding on the side.

Sangers Pharmaceutical in Derry

Sangers Pharmaceutical in Derry

Glenshaine Pass – This proved to be one of the more difficult locations just for the sheer madness of the wind howling up and down the pass on any given day. It is also not any easy location to make the landscape shine as well as have your product in the foreground, attempting to be the hero. The beautiful rolling hills and valleys in the Glenshaine are all just a little too far from the road itself but we found a few locations that lent to a tidy compromise. As well as the two or three stationary set ups we also ventured to try some moving shots, car to van. I can’t say they were really that successful with all the traffic flowing through the pass, as it made it difficult to get a clear shot at any one time. It did prove humourous though when I spied off in the far right of the viewfinder a PSNI police car zooming up the pass towards our Audi A6 chase car; I’m guessing he didn’t spot me, hanging out the window with my upper body contorting out and over the white lines of the road and into the other lane. The image they ended up using was one of our static 15 foot ladder shots with the van passing in front of the rolling hills.

Sangers Pharmaceutical in the Glenshaine Pass

Sangers Pharmaceutical in the Glenshaine Pass

Fermanagh – The brief for this one was simple, show some elevation, the van and some water. All said and good but its near impossible, at least I never found a location on a road where you could place a van and still see the lakes in the background. Oops, I take that back, I did find one location like that, on a bend in front a farm, unfortunately though the client didn’t like it. I spent two days scouting around the area when I finally came up with a suitable option. Looking up and over a small dock area, towards a bridge where we could have the van drive over. At this point though we were starting to run out of time and acceptable days to shoot on. Taking what we could get weather wise, after the long drive out to the location we set up the camera, moved a few boats around and radioed over to the driver to make a dozen passes over the bridge, changing his lane positions slightly to give us a better view of the side of the truck.

Sangers Pharmaceutical in Fermanagh

Sangers Pharmaceutical in Fermanagh

Belleek – Here we are in beautiful Belleek. We end up with a beautiful sunny day for this one. Good too, since I didn’t get a chance to scout this location because we were picking it up as an option to one we had shot in the Mournes that didn’t really scream “Sangers” for the client. Since we’re in Belleek what do we have for landscapes or recognizable landmarks? Why the huge Belleek Pottery building of course. I tried a few different angles on the building, placing the van around its outer perimeter. The most picturesque was the van coming over the bridge. Again we waited for the sun to backlight the van slightly and had the driver make a couple of dozen runs due to the heavy spring traffic coming through.
I wonder if anyone can tell me geographically what’s wrong with this picture?

Sangers Pharmaceutical in Belleek

Sangers Pharmaceutical in Belleek

Belfast – Belfast proved to be the quickest and one of the most fun locations to shoot. Hanging out of the window of the A6, zipping around Belfast City Hall, first thing on a Sunday morning, swapping lanes and dodging early morning pedestrians we finished before the major church going traffic appeared. We didn’t really have a whole lot of options here. A static shot, even from the 15 foot ladder didn’t do anything for the van or the building. It needed some movement. Chris manned the driver’s seat and we sliced through those empty Belfast downtown streets, chasing down our van driver in a unrehearsed game of cat and mouse. No options when it came to lighting, sun position etc, so we just went for it, knowing that any changes or extras we wanted would have to be added in post. We were lucky that for the most part, the several selects were all spot on and the final pick just needed the sky brought down slightly.

Sangers Pharmaceutical in Belfast

Sangers Pharmaceutical in Belfast

So there you have it, another short and sweet campaign brought to you by Rob Durston Photography, thanks for reading.


Weather, Invest NI and Northern Ireland

I was contacted by Genesis Advertising a while back in regards to doing a couple of simple ads for Invest NI. As most people can probable understand however, shooting on location in Northern Ireland in January is never simple.
The first task was to photograph a golfer teeing up. It was blowing gales and raining for the weeks over the December holidays but one day the rain let up, the wind however didn’t. Darren the creative on the shoot told me of a tight and tidy greens over at a lawn bowling pitch near his place. I had been searching through all the golf courses and even football pitches for some short, well keep grass, no luck what so ever. Everything was soaked and muddy and soaked.
We arrived on the edge of Belfast Lough at our destination. My trusty Kato (aka Bubbles aka Cef) unloaded the lighting and cameras from the car while I did a quick scout around. We found a nice sheltered area from the wind with a decent non-descript background. Darren and his model arrived and we light the poor guy up. It was still quite windy and cold for the most part but the sun was on our side, giving us a tiny amount of warmth behind the hedges of the bowling pitch.
The idea was to back light him from up high with a Profoto ProAcute 600B and a silver softlight reflector, on camera left with we used a touch of warm fill from a California Sunbounce Pro, low on camera right. A super shallow depth of field was used to really focus your eye down on the ball itself. I think it worked out well and with a little tweaking in Photoshop, it fit the bill perfectly.

Golfer teeing up

Golfer teeing up

Our next subject matter was a lot less glamourous; a double decker London bus and unfortunately it was not located in London. We drove up to the manufacturer in Ballymena and were given ten minutes with the “special” bus in the parking lot, just where it was. Not too much we can do to make it “sing” so we lit it from camera left with a normal reflector on the ProAcute 600B, just giving the paint a little pop as well as the chrome on the wheel. I warmed it up a little in post and retouched out a few loose items on the ground and it matched up pretty well with the golf image.

Big Red London Double Decker Bus

Big Red London Double Decker Bus

This is the final ad

Invest NI "Driver & Driven"

Invest NI “Driver & Driven”

The final assignment was to photograph the Carrick a Rede bridge on the north coast. Again, this is January so its not exactly tanning weather. I don about seven layers and my parka, knowing full well its going to be a long walk in and a long potential wait for the right clouds and weather. It was cold and windy on the very edge of the bridge; there is really nothing stopping me from falling 50 feet down into the chilly water below except for me wrapping my arm around the ropes of the bridge and hanging on in the wind.We waited and shot intermittently for a couple of hours before I moved over to the near side of the bridge. Here I literally hung my lower body off the cliff to get the best angle on it; trying to make it as extreme as possible for Darren’s layout.
It ended up, that the choice pick was a layered merge of four frames with a nice blue sky and a slight wisp of clouds leading into the background of more dense mass. Some light retouching in Photoshop to clean up the foreground and that was that.

Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge

Here is the final for this one.

Invest NI "Beauty & Brains"

Invest NI “Beauty & Brains”

p.s. I did not take the image of the graph.

"Legs a dangling"

“Legs a dangling”

Hanging on the edge of the bridge

Hanging on the edge of the bridge

Balaclavas are a photographer's best friend

Balaclavas are a photographer’s best friend


The new website is up

The Farriers

The Farriers

Well, the new website is finally up. It has many nice little features but most importantly it works; its smooth, easy to navigate and you can understand what you are actually looking.
That’s a little beef of mine. While perusing other people sites, either photographers or creatives in general you never really know what they have actually worked on, what it was for or where it was used. Just because that photographer has an image of Gucci perfume on his site might not always mean it was for Gucci. He might have just received a bottle for his birthday and thought it would make a nice image. So the unsuspecting viewer comes along and says “wow”, Ralph has been shooting for Gucci when in fact it was nothing more than a test. I’m not saying its a bad thing, just be up front and say its a “test” or “personal”. You’ll find that all my images are captioned with all the necessary info.
If you have any comments or questions please feel free to ask away.
Oh ya, check out the cool little PDF creator on the left of the site to make you own PDF of your favourite images.

thanks


In Addition . . . . Model Releases Update

I just wanted to give everyone a little update to the model release post I wrote last month.
It has been several weeks and a dozen or so projects since I purchased and reviewed a couple of iPhone/iPad apps for creating model releases on the fly and paperless. I can honestly say that while the better of the two, East Release, is still on my phone, I haven’t used it for anything except the odd time I was left without my metal release folio. As commercial/advertising photographers we tend to work with a wide range of models and talent; young and old, tech savvy and not. We try to organize releases before they actually step in front of the camera but it all comes down to time. If we get those few extra seconds they seem to fleet away with chit chat or hair and make up. So when the shot is down and they are trying to get the hell off set, it’s like pulling hen’s teeth to get them to do a paper release let alone try to fumble through an electronic one. We were finding ourselves having to explain every step and point out the obvious, even to the tech savvy twenty somethings. Unfortunately we don’t have the time while on location. So paper is going to be staying with us for the foreseeable future.
On the other hand, in studio it is a nice little gimmick to keep people intrigued. So often people feel like they are just the “meat” in some corporate ad lunch; add a little mustard and a few slices of bread and we’re done. To give them a wee something to play with, to see their name and the client’s name on the same screen is a good connection to help them feel that they are apart of the whole sandwich, an important ingredient.
I see an iPad in my future, at the studio, tethered to the desk 😉


Anatomy of an Image – British Telecom Infinity Christmas

I worked with Matt from AV Browne recently on some billboards that are out right now. They were for BT and their Infinity Broadband service. The image was to be comprised of two little sisters staring up at the marvel of BT’s swirling broadband lightstream as it enters through a window and engulfs their Christmas tree and presents.
There is an unwritten rule in photography; don’t photograph kids or puppies and you’ll keep your sanity. Well we luckily missed out on the puppy but keeping two little under 10 girls attentive is a magic feat on its own. You can get one to do what you want, then the other is crying off looking for their mother. Keys, dolls, air horns, nothing really works consistently, you just have to hope one of the kids is good and then get a decent frame of the other to strip them into the final.
We were very lucky with this one. We got some decent frames of each of them, actually quite a few. So, those images along with some empty plate shots of the scene with a few variations would make it easy to comp the files. Dermott from Streetmonkey was there to advise on the compilation direction for the image and between Matt and myself we made short work of it all.
As far as lighting goes, to simulate the glow from the lightstream I tested a few different options. I tried softboxes at first but they were a little too soft and umbrellas were just too much all over the place. In the end I decided on a Chinese lantern with skirts on top and a small strip bank with a recessed front and barndoors on the bottom.
Below are a few of the images used in the comp.

Left stocking and background plate

Older sister

Younger sister

Final image with copy


Anatomy of an Image – Ulster Bank Farming

It’s time for another “Anatomy of an Image” series. This time I’ve chosen 9 images from a series I shot for Ulster Bank here in Northern Ireland loosely called “24 hours of Farming in Northern Ireland”. I’ve been asked by a reader to explain some of the techniques I used to achieve the look of the series. Its a good time that someone threw me a suggestion for a new post; I’m in between projects and my mind is slightly sapped at the moment.
The project came to me from Peter Higgins at Walker Communications. I met with him and art director Pete Hanlon at their offices in Holywood. Their brief was reasonably loose, creatively, except for one stipulation, the twenty or so portraits needed to be done in the next 2 weeks; no extensions. Well, to say the least, weather in Northern Ireland changes by the minute. The saying around here is that you get a 4 seasons in a day in Northern Ireland. I was hoping this wouldn’t be true for this projects. My hopes mean nothing to the weather gods.
I wanted to make the portraits to be iconic; to resonate that the subject is larger than life and is the master of their environment. I don’t think a lot of people appreciate farmers, they seem to be understated in most cultures, and even looked down upon in others. I have the greatest respect for them and at times I’m in awe of what they can accomplish. When it came to the style I need it to be big, I mean BIG. These images were to be printed 3 metres square. I delved into my past and I really liked the style of Dan Cremin, Russell Monk and Evan Dion; wide angle portraits showing the subject as the primary point of interest in the frame and all else is secondary. It is no surprise that each of these photographers did a stint with the master, Nigel Dickson in Toronto.
Okay, to start from the beginning, all these images are shot with available light; no strobes or artificial lighting what so ever. In a few of them I have used a silver/white reflector but outside of that, nothing else. All images were shot on 35mm digital, specifically a Canon 5D Mark 2 with a 17-40mm lens, used exclusively at 17mm.

Feed Man alt pick

The first image is that of a feed supply owner with his arms crossed. This shot is the alt to the pick image which is him with a shovel in front of one of the feed slots area thingy place. For the arms crossed image, my assistant turn the 42″ silver/white reflector to silver to grab anything he could of the sodium vapour lights in the ceiling; to can see the light touching him gently under his chin.

Feed Man – final pick

This location was by shear chance just feet away from what would be the pick image. Here on this one my assistant again turn the s/w to silver and came in hard and hot from camera left to reflect in the daylight pouring in from a south facing large garage door. For some reason his striped sweater plays off so well in both scenarios; it like a pattern that is not repeated at all in either environment.

Edgar the Farmer

The second subject was Edgar. While out at his place, Pete the art director, and I tried a few scenarios but nothing was really working. I really wanted to get across the feeling of a true farmer, someone who has spent everyday in the thick of it, rain of shine. He was wearing his waterproofs (trousers) when we arrived and an old blue sweater. I wanted him to stand off whatever background I situated him on, so in the end a slurry spreader was chosen. The orange of the spreader, half cropped into Edgar with the blue of the sweater playing off the sky and tin of the cow shed just all worked. Take a look at the size of the guy’s hands. You know he works with them for a living.

Stephen from Crumlin

Next up was Stephen, a neighbour from the next town over from us. He was set to pose with his bank manager in one of his fields; simple and straight forward. This shot is where shooting in the raw file format pays off. I back lit the two of them with the cows sort of meandering around them. I positioned myself low, maybe a foot or two off the ground. With the lens set at 17mm I had the two subjects position themselves with their feet slightly apart, with one pointing back to camera, leading the viewer back into the frame. A random piece of wood on the left just adds to the dimension and width of the shot. With the sun being at their backs, I needed as much from the front as I could muster so I had my assistant turn the large 42″x78″ reflector to silver and aim it at the tops of their heads so the light would fall off their lower body.

Damien and his row boat

Most of these images were taken in the rain; some torrential, some just spitting. The next image of Damien in the row boot was a torrential one. This particular scenario was for farm diversification and Damien had a couple of small weekend fishing cottages on his land. Feeling that there was nothing that really stood out on shore for this I hopped in a boot with him and Pete (AD) hung off the dock, holding us with one hand and the boat with the other. Pete did eventually take the plunge and found himself up to his knees in the lake but nothing more than that. Again, I wanted the viewer to be led into the image, so his body position, feet and boat oars all draw you into the main focus of the image, him. As far as lighting, there was none. Just the available super diffused light filtering through the rain clouds. If you look closely at the water, you can see the rain splashing down.

The Milk Collector

The fifth scenario was “milk collection”. Again we tried a few different set ups in the short time we had (all the subjects gave us between five minutes to an hour) and ended up placing him at the tank door of the milking parlour. He was a character all on his own; with his shaven head, Dickies styled jeans and massive belt buckle. Once again it was a drizzling day and heavily overcast; nice light for photographs, we just needed a little fill and we’d be set. For this one the assistant backed out a ways on camera right with the large silver fill. The subject was very at ease and easy to direct, so I had him position himself in the doorway, leading with his left leg at the threshold. It melds with the collection hose and leads into the subject. The camera was mounted to the tripod, down low and centered on the doorway.

The Farmer, his cows and the banker

The sixth image was from a farm up near Derry on the north coast. The brief stated it was to include the farmer and his bank manager, I’ll let you try to guess who is who. This was one of the toughest ones. We were to show both guys in with the cows. We first tried to incorporate the farmer’s jeep but it was all feeling a bit awkward. We finalised on just having the two of them in the midst of a large herd. It wouldn’t be difficult since his herd was very tame and calm. I had no problems moving around and getting close to any of them. Although even with their tameness I wasn’t going to chance trying to bring a large enough reflector in to light the two, so we would just have to hope for the best. I locked myself off on a tripod and hoped for the best. As you can see it all worked out well. I was never happy with the original sky, being blown out but between then and CS5/ACR now, I got it almost all back. The power of a raw file. I love it.

Farmer and his new combine

The next image was shot close to the last one. It wasn’t the same day because I don’t think we ever got that lucky. We wandered around this farmer’s barn with his dad and him but never found anything that fit for the scenario. So I decided, for this one time, that I would do a comp on this final image. I did a few images of him in the combine and standing around it but I always came back to the symmetry; the balance of a centre weighted image. I shot him, proudly standing in front of his latest, his new combine. i locked off the tripod and had the assistant hit him as has as possible with the large silver, with whatever dappled light was seeping through the thick clouds. I then screwed on a thick ND ( I can’t remember what factor it was) and proceeded to expose for a few 30 second frames. I’ll explain the rest in the post production section.

Darren the fisherman

The final image is probably my favourite and it seems to be the favourite of most. Darren, the fisherman was very busy on the day we showed up. I think we had around five minutes so Catherine (from the agency) and I ran around the boat, playing out different scenarios but the one I always came back to was the one with the spools of fish nets. Darren was very busy that day, so when he showed up wearing his bright yellow overalls and his maroon shirt, it all just fell into place. His clothes along with the green netting and blue net motor, all complimented each other. To see the image large, blown up to 3 metres square is pretty magical. All the little tactile details; the chain in the box at his feet, the curling blue paint on the deck, the dirt on his face and under his fingernails, just add the immediate sense of reality. This image was light with available light, no reflector, facing south in the open shade of the second deck of the boat.

Post Production
I download the raw Canon files into my Mac using Lightroom. I try to cover off as many steps as possible with the download by key wording, converting to dng, backing up and renaming files. I bring them all in using a developing preset; usually one with a clarity of 30, vibrance of 30-60 and a saturation of negative 10-20. From here I run through my usual workflow in LR. Starting at the top and working down on the develop menu, I set each white balance, then tonal values and then presence values. I will often go into the tone curve and give it a slight tweak if I feel that one end of the spectrum is lacking. After that its pretty minimal as far as LR goes; a little messing with lens corrections but that’s about all. From here I will export it to PS CS5 where I take my flatter than usual image and crank in some contrast and depth. I use a multitude of layers and paint back in areas on the layer masks; save them back out as tifs and back into LR for a final wringing out of the last bit. I know this last step negates all the layers I would have created in PS but the UI in LR just makes for a quick and simple solution to some minor issues that might come up. As I stated earlier, only one image was extensively comped, the farmer with the combine. For that image I simply just merged the two images together and painted him into the shot with the clouds in motion. Nothing had moved, it was just him and the combine so it was simple.

Conclusion
It was an amazing job to cover off the 20 odd scenarios in 14 days, rain or shine. I have to thank Peter Higgins, Pete Hanlon and Catherine McKeown for all their guidance and help and my assistants Helen French and Cathal McGeown for sticking through it all. You are only as good as the people around you.