ROB DURSTON PHOTOGRAPHY

Behind The Scenes

Liz Potter

The day we set aside for traveling to Donegall turned out to be a stinker of a day; a real Northern Irish winter day complete with strong winds and intermittent heavy rain. As we usually just travel light for most of these shoots, this one was much the same. A Profoto 600B along with a softlight reflector some stands and our trusty California Sunbounce were all that we needed to photograph Liz Potter for the Guardian.
Liz’s story began last year when she was riding along the shore by her house with her boyfriend. Her horse Clyde and Liz were terrifyingly sucked up by quicksand. You can read the story here.
We wanted to show the relationship of Clyde and Liz and portray it in a nice and simple, straightforward portrait. The daylight was very inconsistent because of the weather and it just wasn’t co operating with us. Steve, my assistant, “bagged” the Profoto unit into clear plastic garbage bags at the car and we set off across Liz’s fields to find a location. We took some photos of her and Clyde riding in the big field but the light was just too flat. I did a quick tight portrait of the two of them stationary that turned out nice but it didn’t have much zing.
Steve and I set up for larger shot, we were going to light Liz on Clyde, set against mountains and ocean. The clouds were rolling by very fast and we were getting hit by heavy rain, on and off, every few minutes. Liz’s face as well as our own were starting to get very rosy and raw looking. We would have to take what we could get and move out of the field soon. Steve cranked the light as high as it would go on the stand and dialed the power to halfway. I was getting f8 @ 100iso, not too bad. We took this photo and then a few more quick ones of Liz and her dogs, Red and Scooby. Here is a before and after with the final crop used for the magazine.

Liz Potter & Clyde

Liz Potter & Clyde

"Liz

This one of Liz, Red and Scooby is in the same field, using the silver softlight as well but this dialed down and brought to just outside the frame and close to Liz’s face so as not to light the dogs as much. You can see how Steve has feathered it off Liz almost entirely and it is lighting up the grass in the background, good job Steve.

Liz with Red & Scooby

The final image implements a technique I’ve been using for decades but didn’t really come into its own until digital made all the elements consistent. You take a longer fast lens than what you would normally use and basically create a panoramic or photo merge of the scene. You keep your exposure settings and focus consistent for all the portions of the image and later “stitch” it all together in Photoshop. What you end up with is a very high pixel dimensioned image (high res) that has an extremely shallow depth of field, that kind of emulates a larger format, shot wide open (shallow depth of field).

Liz with Red at the stable door

All in all it was a great shoot and it was very nice to meet a fellow animal lover in Liz and her partner Ryan.


White Horse

Some of you might follow me on Facebook and might have seen some recent images I posted of a few of our horses, Molly and Apache.

Before & After

Before & After

I’ve been asked by a few followers to show my workflow on achieving the look and feel of them, so I’m going to dissect one of them.
Here we have the untouched image.

Unretouched colour image

Unretouched colour image

Just sort of a foggy, dreary overcast sort of feeling; flat light and low contrast.

Then with a few global corrections and b&w conversion in Lightroom.

basic global corrections and b&w conversion in Lightroom

basic global corrections and b&w conversion in Lightroom

The boost in contrast along with the black and white conversion and some heavy vignetting, really begin to draw your eye in towards Molly. Her muscles and facial features start to stand out dramatically.

Now when I take it into Photoshop,

2nd stage retouching Photoshop adjustment layers and masks

2nd stage retouching
Photoshop adjustment layers and masks

I can selectively darken and lighten area using adjustment layers and layer masks. I boost the contrast some more while still keeping the highlights from totally losing it. I’m not too worried about the shadows blocking up because this was a very low contrast predominantly light image to begin with. At this point I’m quite happy with the image and it stands on its own fine.
Although if I wanted to play with it some more I could.

If I wanted to give this the feeling of an old Polaroid T55 negative that I might have taken on location then solarized it during processing, it might look something like this.

3rd stage retouchingCropping and Photoshop T55 solarizing effect[

3rd stage retouching
Cropping and Photoshop T55 solarizing effect[


Now in Photoshop I crop it down roughly to a 4×5 negative size. I then layer it with another image from a set of images I use specifically for this purpose. Then by using different layer blending modes I choose the desired effect. At this point I add a layer mask and continue to paint in or out with a Wacom, different sections of the layered image to further the effect.

I hope you enjoy the images and keeping shooting.

Please feel free to comment.


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


A short little test with Fuji film and Canon digital

I haven’t been in the studio for a while so I thought I would do a little half day test with Sophia Taylor, Ashley Morhej and Lee Stinton. Lee couldn’t make it to the studio so Sophia went to his place to have her hair done and Ashley touched up on set as needed. Sophia had an idea of what she wanted from the day and so did I.
Sophia had an image that she liked the style of, that she wanted to try for herself. It was a simple lighting with a little back light and a small amount of flare in one of the corners. Not too difficult but her image had hours if not days of retouching on it and for our purposes we weren’t going to be putting in that amount of time for such a simple shot.

What I felt were the more exciting images were the beauty images we did on white as well as a couple of impromptu grabs while meandering around the studio. I should state here that I was flipping back and forth between digital and film. The digital was pretty straight forward; a Canon 5D Mk2 with a 70-200. The film on the other hand was Fuji 400H colour neg and Fuji RMS (which was to be cross processed). I had my faithful Mamiya RZ with a 90mm F3.5; I like to handhold the Mamiya as much as possible, cradling it like the monster it is in my hands. Youcef was there to help me, passing cameras and lenses back and forth as I swapped as the need arose. I like the images that we got out of the couple of hours in the studio. Below you can compare for yourself which you like better. They are retouched in Photoshop but they are not direct copies of each others style and feeling. Each medium I feel has its own style and I try to let that show through in the final result.
All the lighting was with Profoto ProAcutes

Sophia 1

Simple lighting with a Profoto Silver Softlight and Canon 5D Mk2. Small amount of retouching in Photoshop.

Sophia 2

Simple Lighting with a Profoto Silver Softlight and Canon 5D Mk2, retouched in Photoshop.

Sophia 3

Simple Lighting with a Profoto Silver Softlight and Mamiya RZ on Fuji 400H, retouched in Photoshop

Sophia 4

Simple lighting with a Profoto Silver Softlight on a Mamiya RZ with Fuji RMS cross processed and retouched in Photoshop

Sophia 5

Simple lighting with a Profoto Silver Softlight on a Mamiya RZ with Fuji RMS cross processed and retouched in Photoshop


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.


BTS – Behind the Scenes Fall 2011

I’ve been busy. Life is good.
Been working with some great people over the past several months. Shooting at every corner of the country.
Here are some images from some of the projects. Feel free to comment.


Losing the Paper – saying goodbye to the paper model release and embracing your iPhone, again.

I shoot quite a bit of photography that requires model releases; probably somewhere in the range of 90-95%. I’ve been using paper model releases for as long as I can remember. They are a constant bane on a shoot, always tracking down each talent for their signature, explaining every bit of phrasing and finally filing them away in some sense of order.

I’ve luckily never been asked for a release from the past. I know photographers who don’t bother just for that reason; big gamble. They better hope that their images never hit a larger, global market, especially with that new thing, the internet, out there. I know others who have everything covered in paper with filing cabinets full of the past ten or twenty years of redundant paper, forms and signatures.

I probably fall somewhere in the middle. I totally believe in the power of the model release and I’m scared shedless of someone coming back on one. It tends to be such a grey/gray area for many in the field who look after paperwork themselves. I imagine reps/agents/producers play it safe for larger public shoots and cover it off with a few different options. I’ve seen nightclubs in Hollywood hang posters outside stating entry onto the premisses equals signing of a release, then have a bulk pad of A4 releases on a podium. A real dark area I think for most photographers is the whole public area with models mixed with locals. They have releases for all the models but don’t bother with public since there are more than 20 people in a public place. Then there is the argument of art versus commerce and did it actually affect the individual’s standing. There are so many factors, its best to have photoattorney.com or your own lawyer figure out for you. I’m definitely no expert.

What I’m writing about here today are electronic model releases, specifically Easy Release and Release Me. Both of these work on iPhones, iPads and Easy Release also works on Android. Both were developed in conjunction with working photographers. Easy Release was devised by Washington D.C. photographer Robert Giroux while Release Me was written in conjunction with Joey Lawrence an advertising/commercial photographer from Canada. They cost just under $10 USD and offer much more than just free or $.99 apps out there.
I purchased them both through iTunes and were easy enough to install. Both prompt you after first opening the app to fill in some basic information that will become mostly default info for your releases; name, address and other contact info are inserted into standard app format. Release Me doesn’t always orient the keyboard when the device is rotated which can be a bit of a pain since I’m currently working off an iPhone and the text is small enough. No such problems with Easy Release. Easy Release it must be said also also includes translations for 13 languages in total.

After setting up your basic info, both apps ask for a project/shoot name to begin the model release creation. Easy Release allows you to sort your releases by project, model names, date or release status; I could see this being a handy option down the line after a couple of hundred releases, knowing the name of the person but not which project you worked together on. Release Me on the other hand only sorts by projects. Both work very much the same in all the steps leading to a signed release. Easy Release is a little more comprehensive with it a few more descriptive boxes like ethnicity and DOB. I found them both easy to work through which is good since neither has any instructions; Release Me have a Vimeo video that Joey L hosts, walking you through.
There are a few small things that bug me about each and there are a few more that I like.

Release Me
Pros
outputs to PDF
simple format
scale and crop model’s image
change model release on the fly (just make sure your model doesn’t do it themselves)
auto location with iPhone/iPad

Cons
hard to read some of the copy
flip orientation is not consistent
can only sort by project
very little info on website

Easy Release
Pros
outputs to PDF and JPG and print
13 languages
property and model releases
all releases show current status
sort by name, date, project or status
photographer AND model have to sign release

Cons
can’t change verbiage on the fly
can’t view large model image without going into edit mode

Easy Release model release

Easy Release model release

Release Me model release

Release Me model release

Both apps require you to get a signature if you want to go back into the release for whatever purpose, makes sense but neither of them really give you a large enough preview image of the model without outputting to pdf and viewing it there. It is best to make sure, just like on a paper release, that you fill in as much info as possible at the time; editing after the fact for any purpose requires new signatures so get it right the first time.

In conclusion, I like them both but if I had to invest in only one I would choose Easy Release($9.99 USD). It is far more robust and expandable over Release Me ($8.99 USD)and feels like a professional piece of software. Easy Release also have an extra Pro Pack module for an additional $3.99 USD to customize and add more fields ( I don’t feel its necessary for myself at the moment but I do like the “link to blank release template feature”. It feels like Release Me is a little too simple for a working photographer and has a few minor bugs (orientation) to iron out.
If you want to try one out for free to see if it fits into your workflow, try ID Release, be warned you get what you pay for.

A quick update is


The Kernvale Eight

The Family

The Family

Olivia and I with our permanent eight dogs. I’m holding Richard, then from left to right it’s Bonzo, Ernie, Polo, Sophie, Betty (eating Olivia’s right hand), Flo, and Suuki. We’re sitting on the old field roller under a blossoming apple tree in our front yard/field/orchard. It doesn’t get to be a finer afternoon than this.