ROB DURSTON PHOTOGRAPHY

People

Joe Mcgivern – Photographer

Today I’m talking with Joe Mcgivern who splits his professional duties between hairstylist and photographer. Joe has been doing professional hair for over 20 years and knew his way around a set long before he picked up a camera. These days you can find him mixing it up, doing some of both. We are going to talk about his crossover into photography and how he finds coming from the hair styling end of things has helped him.

 

http://www.josephjude-photography.com/

 

You can also find us on iTunes at Agitate


Face Aware Liquify in Photoshop CC

It used to be in the past, when retouching beauty or portrait, you would go into Photoshop and give the subject’s face a little “push”. In Photoshop you would open up your image, go to the subject’s face and enlarge or decrease the size of some of their features to be more pleasing.
Step by step these are roughly the moves you would have done.
1. Duplicate the background layer
2. Select an area on the duplicate layer to enlarge/reduce either simply with the marquee tool or the lasso.
3. With the area selected, hit Command J on the keyboard or go to “Layer>New>Layer via Copy”
4. Now with a duplicate layer of the facial feature selected hit Command T on the keyboard or go to “Edit>Free Transform”
5. At the top of the screen you now have the dimensions of your selection, their scale and their orientation. In the horizontal and vertical scale boxes either increase or decrease your feature’s scale. For eyes you might want to type anywhere from 103% in both dimensions up to maybe 110%. After hitting “Enter” you should see an immediate change in the feature’s size.
6. Apply a layer mask to your newly created layer and gently blend using the brush tool(varying flow & opacity) on the layer mask until you are satisfied.
7. At this point if you really need the space, you can flatten down the image but otherwise just save it with all the layers intact.

Well there you go, that didn’t take long and once you get proficient in it you can knock out one of these bad boys in ten minutes or so
OR
You can use the new “Face Aware Liquify” feature in Photoshop CC (2015.5 release), found under the Filters menu.
If you have Photoshop CC give it a try, very interesting how far it has come along.

Face Aware Liquify feature within the Liquify Filter in Photoshop CC 2015.5 from rob durston productions on Vimeo.


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/


Carrie Davenport – Commercial Photographer

Today I speak with Carrie Davenport in a very boomy sounding room. It was a riot. She talks to me about everything from kittens, favourite music, racism, photography and the business of photography
http://carriedavenport.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


Shooting Polaroid/Fuji instant for the negative

Olivia in the Top Field

Olivia in the Top Field

So as most of my regular readers know I love and still shoot a fair bit of film. Most of my personal work would be on 4×5 or 120 roll film in the Holga. Being born in the sixties, I grew up on film, learned on it, processed it, printed it and manipulated it. I’ve seen many of my favourite films disappear into the ether as digital became more and more prominent in photographer’s lives.
One film or the idea of it, has always captured my imagination and spurred my creativity; instant negatives.
Back in the 80’s when I first became aware of Polaroid t55 in school, the idea of a magical instant negative, that I didn’t have to process was a godsend for rushed class projects in school. Think about all the time saved by not cleaning film holders, loading film, unloading film and then the long journey of processing. Even running the film through the quickest process you could, you’d still be looking at around 10 minutes in the dark, then another 5-10 attempting to dry it as fast as you can (obviously not even thinking you’d have an archival negative after this).
I’ll never forget seeing a fellow student, pull the Polaroid apart, showing the print on one side then telling me there was a perfectly usable negative on the other side.
Wha wha whaaaat?
From that point on I fell in love with the look of black and whites, printed from Polaroid negatives. They were contrasty and more often than not had some sort of imperfection in the emulsion, roller marks or some other characteristic that just gave the image more life and a more crafted feeling. Not long after that I bought my first full frame Polaroid camera, the Polaroid 195. The 195 was the last of the line of folding Polaroid instant cameras that had adjustable shutter speeds and apertures. I ended up traveling a fair bit and only ever bringing the 195 with me, of course just shooting the t55 equivalent for 3 1/4 x 4 1/4 pack film, t665.

Lonely stop sign somewhere in rural California

Lonely stop sign somewhere in rural California

Amarilylsis lit with window light in my home in California.

Amarilylsis lit with window light in my home in California.

Type 665 or t665 was very similar to t55, its bigger brother though it came in pack form only, not sheets. That meant that you have to process the film before you take another exposure. With t55 shot in a 4×5 large format camera, you can flip the processing lever back to “L” for load and pull the exposed film sleeve/envelope out of the holder without processing it. This feature is handy if you want to process the film in a more controllable situation; closer to a proper fixing(for the positive) and clearing(for the negative) areas. While out on locations I used to shoot off a few frames of t665 and just leave the negs to bake in the sun in the production vans. When I would get back to the hotel, I’d clear the negs under normal tap water and usually hang it to dry on the trouser hangers in the hotel room closet.

Two surfers waiting on the beach in Carpinteria, CA.

Two surfers waiting on the beach in Carpinteria, CA.

Each negative would be unique; some might be in the sun while drying, some were in shade, some would be solarized and others would look normal. I just always left it to chance.

Pétanque balls lying in the garden in the south of France

Pétanque balls lying in the garden in the south of France

Okay, back to the present now.
I ordered a couple of packs of FP100c from Calumet a couple of months ago and finally got around to shooting some of it. Olivia and I went off to the back fields of the farm and with a wide open vista I took some photos of her with just available light.

Gorgeous Olivia in the Top Field

Gorgeous Olivia in the Top Field (excuse the collapsing bellows)

The important part of it all are the negatives though. Below I show step by step how to preserve them from the original “throw away” portion of the film.

I will post up the scans from the negs, once I make some neg carriers for the scanner.

Red dress, blue sky

Red dress, blue sky


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


International Business Machines or just IBM for short.

The phone rang one Friday summer afternoon. Brrrring, brrrrring “Hello Studio”.
“Hello Rob, we were wondering if you would be interested in doing some photography for IBM”
Um geee, let me think about that. . . uh ya, of course.

I was to photograph a couple of tech guys in Dublin who use one of IBM’s IT systems. It would also provide a good shakedown shoot for a new camera I had just bought back in the summer but hadn’t really used on a larger shoot. The camera is the Pentax 645z and for anyone who follows things in the imaging world, its sort of a break through medium format camera in the sense of price, tech and quality; it comes in at a fraction of the competition, Hasselblad and Phase. It uses a 50mp CMOS sensor, which in layman’s terms, means it is about double the resolution of most 35mm cameras and can give excellent results in very low light. As a couple of added bonuses, the camera uses a legacy mount so you can use almost all the medium format lenses Pentax has ever released and because of the size of the medium format sensor it gives you a relative shallower depth of field (less things in focus), giving you greater control over your image.
I was very curious to see how it stacked up against my faithful Canon 5D mk3, which is no slouch and has served me very well since I got it back in 2012. I love the Canon for ease of use, the excellent, tunable AF system and low light CMOS sensor.

The Pentax 645z
I had been following the progress of medium format cameras over the years, teasing myself that I would sometime test the waters and dive into a Phase system and mortgage my right and left kidneys. A camera like the Phase in 2013 would have set you back $30-40k depending on the options, bells and whistles. Add on a couple of lenses and you’d be up around 50k. In the fall of 2013, Phase announced they would be releasing a new camera back using the new Sony CMOS sensor; it would be a real break though for medium format low light capabilities. The down side was the price, $35,000 just for the back.
Then Sony did something cool, they sold the sensor to Hasselblad and Pentax. The Hasselblad came in at just under $30k with a body and the Pentax is a third of that.
When I first heard about the imminent release of the Pentax, I started scouring for lenses. I knew it was going to be a legacy mount so I could mount the older 645 and 6×7 lenses on the new body but I didn’t want to go too far back in lineage, just to keep any unwanted aberrations to a minimum. I found an older manual focus 35mm, a 45-85 AF and a 150mm f2.8 AF. Those lenses along with a brand new 55mm f2.8 are what I’m using for most of my work these days. It seems the only time I’m going back to my Canon is for the extreme wide angle view from the 17mm, the superior auto focus system or the lighter weight. Other than that, the Pentax has the Canon “pinned to the ropes”.
That being said, this is not a pixel to pixel comparison but more of a user’s conclusion after his first shoot, using them side by side.
Overall I would say that the Pentax files have a very similar feel to the Canon’s. They have good sharpness out of the camera. The Canon seems to be a little more sensitive, exposure wise, by maybe a stop and a third to a stop and a half. On the Pentax side of things though, at equivalent exposures, you’ll see a stop more in the highlights and at least a stop more in the shadows, a huge improvement. The Pentax is totally usable up to 6400 and 12,800 ISO and beyond. I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at the upper reaches of the ISO range (without going into the 6 digits), especially if it meant gaining a stop or two of depth of field.

RDP_20140731_1989-300x300

For IBM though I wouldn’t be needing any of those higher numbers since we were shooting in a modern office building with good available light as well as our own Profoto 600B’s. I did shoot up at 1250 ISO just for the convenience of being able to hand hold the Pentax while I wandered the space capturing still life images.
The 45-85mm Pentax zoom was great in this location; very flexible focal lengths. When I first heard about the Phase Schneider 40-80mm zoom I laughed. I thought was a ridiculous focal range, how could that be usable. It’s the equivalent of a 26-50mm on a 35mm camera. Although the Pentax is 5mm longer on both ends of the range, effectively its the same range and it totally works. I don’t know why but with this project and pretty much every one after it, this has been the lens of choice. It is quite hefty and it uses an older AF drive system that is much louder than the newer 55mm in the camera bag. It also has on of the worst designs for turning the AF on the lens on and off. You do this by sliding the focusing ring either away or towards you; therefore engaging or disengaging the locking mechanism on the AF drive. The reason it is silly to me, is that there are often times I want to grab focus using the AF system, then turn it off and then either leave it or do some focus bracketing while the subject moves. With this focus ring system, when you disengage it by sliding it, you inevitably turn the ring ever so slightly, therefore making that next image out of focus; painfully ill designed.
Its been a long time since we shot a serious work project on medium format. Outside of a couple of small simple shoots in the past couple of years, previously it would have been 2000 or 2001 when we really put on our thinking caps and used the size and benefits of the format to their fullest. Aspects like a diminished depth of field, razor thin focus and effective manual focusing on mid ground subjects, all started to come back to me again. Where you would have been shooting a portrait at f4 or f5.6 for a nice shallow focus but still holding it from the nose to the back of the head, now you’re dialling it up a stop on the power and giving yourself f8 or even f11 on the lens in medium format. It might not seem like much but it is the difference between all things being sharp and only some.
On this shoot we were dealing with a couple of computer guys, Niall and Krzysztof. They were really nice and gave us all the time we needed, all in all just over an hour. My assistant Richard and I scouted the location, an modern office building, amongst many other modern office buildings. They was nothing special nor anything ugly about it, the building was just vanilla plain. Some of the offices were vacant and there were random pieces of furniture in some of them. The brief called for 4 scenarios of portraits and a selection of still life and office images around the building. Sure it doesn’t sound hard but trying to make a banana split out of vanilla ice cream and only a bowl takes some creativity.
We tried a shot in the above room with the two lonely chairs, it was okay but we could do better. A couple of other scenarios we shot right in their work environments, behind the monitors, clicking away on the keyboards.

RDP_20140731_2065-600x600

Here is the set up for that image, along with my chatty assistant keeping the subject in stitches with his bad jokes, you can see the Pentax peeking in the bottom of the frame. We used one Profoto 600B with a silver Softlight.

RDP_20140731_0338-600x600

The Pentax lenses are nice, they are sharp (when focused correctly), decently contrasty but back lit, they remind me of a Hasselblad CF lens; just ever so softly flaring out at the edges against white. Still the king for backlit even after ceasing continuing to develop them, has to be the Mamiya RZ glass. It was near impossible to get edges to flare in the studio, when shooting on a white background, blown out a stop or two over the main. All in all though the Pentax optics are a solid 8/10, Only Hasselblad, Mamiya and Leica would have anything over them.
From the office scenario we needed a larger space, something to really let your eye wander around in and then pull it back to our main subjects. Remembering that this was a relatively new build office building, with no real “cool” aspects to the architecture, we searched the few floors we had access to. The kitchen area was large. It had an interesting countertop running mid height along one wall of windows. I thought maybe we could do something with it and the outside world.
As seen by the accompanying image, the location needed a little extra fill and a slight overexposure to clean things up a bit (nothing really could clean up these two ugly mugs)

RDP_20140731_0358-600x600

Moving on to our two subjects, I opted to go fairly wide, a little wider than the Pentax could do at 35mm. I shot with the Canon 5D mk3 and a 17-40mm set at 28mm. I’d love to get the Pentax 28-45mm F4.5 but it will need to wait a while until a few other necessities are purchased.
I love the cool, work environment tone of the portrait; cool green without muddying the skin tones.

RDP_20140731_2095-Edit-600x600

For the last image of the brief, I really wanted to get outside. It was a bright overcast day and I wanted something away from the office scenes. We had originally tried to go off site to the main server station but unfortunately we ran out of time to get the proper clearance (Clarence). So the next best thing, a street shot with one of the branded vehicles.
This is tough, creatively, trying to get an interesting image of two guys in button down shirts, posing with a heavily branded company car, in what can only be called an office building jungle. Whatever hope we had, holding out for some rays of direct or bounced sunlight would probably never happen. The thin, narrow corridor between the glass towers was facing the wrong direction to the shrouded sun. We would have to make do with the cool overcast light we had and I would supplement it with the Profoto 600B and the RFi 3′ Octalight. In tight with the grid installed its a really nice little light. In this case we were using it just as a little rim light, skimming across Niall’s right shoulder. I shot this on the Pentax with the 45-85mm at 45mm. It is set to f11 to make sure we have both Niall and Krzysztof sharp. The shutter speed was at 1/15th of a second to get a good blur out of the slow moving local traffic and ISO was set to 640.
I feel the subjects’ white shirts bring a focus point to the image; the strong repeating vertical lines of the background windows and the motion blur of the passing car are just eye candy.

RDP_20140731_0478-Edit-600x600

Here is the finished story using the last two images.

IBM_pg_16-21_Case_Study-1-600x600IBM_pg_16-21_Case_Study-2-600x600


Having a Laugh with Pat Ruddy #onlocation

As all professional photographers and most of the readers of this “blog” (damn I can’t stand saying that word) know, assignment portrait photographers get very little time with their subjects. Last year I shot one of the biggest personalities in Ireland and even though I was promised 15 minutes . . . I got five. No amount of preparation, research or moxie will persuade some subjects from deviating from their path of stubbornness.

. . . and then it opens up to expose a beautiful seascape

So when a subject comes along and after a few minutes changes their mind from giving you an hour to “whatever you need”, you don’t waste it.
That’s what happened when Condé Nast’s GolfWorld asked me to photograph Pat Ruddy, world renowned golf course designer. I am not a huge fan of golf, I admit it. I always took the Bill Cosby approach to golf; “you have the ball, you put the ball down, you hit the ball then you chase the ball, why?” I just never understand the passion some people have for it. Yes, I’m in the wrong country to be questioning “golf” but as far as I was ever concerned it was never a sport, more like a leisure event.

My personal edit of choice for story opener

Pat was a true sport; I’m sure he could see I had no idea what he was talking about at times, my eyes’ glazing over while he talked. However as he talked more and more about the history of the game I became more interested. He explained his methodology towards designing and constructing the courses based on terrain, water, trees, landscapes and enumerable other factors; I found it extremely interesting, much more so than current world standings or chit chat about shafts and balls.

Pat explaining the finer points of bulldozing earth

Our location was his own course, located about 35 miles south of Dublin, called The European Club. The course is a beautiful piece of land, personally designed and constructed by Ruddy with the help of his family. No detail was ever too small and the course exudes forethought; each hole has a view but you only ever get to see the view Pat wants you to see. He built berms and hills to make you keep your eye on the game and then in positions between shots, he’d open up the view to expose an awesome seascape or landscape. We spent hours in between photographs talking about the mysticism of golf and whats good and bad with the game today. It was a real eye opener to me. I will never look at the game the same as I had in the past.

Another favourite

So all this was for one of Condé Nast’s great magazine titles, GolfWorld, which publishes weekly, well did publish weekly. I was published in the second to last printed version of the magazine, ending a tradition that started in 1947. The magazine now is only published online.
I had made five or six portrait scenarios over the span of the day with Pat, far more than needed but it is always nice to have a few extras in case of a shift in the story or if a photo editor really doesn’t like something. I had one scenario, the setting below, all mapped out in my head days before we shot. I knew Pat had a large library of golfing books and memorabilia and I had pictured in my mind a small scope of daylight, streaming into the otherwise dark cavern. When we arrived and scouted the property, there it was, just like I had imagined it; a dark library with a small doorway leading out to a windowed in balcony area. The source of daylight was perfect for what I had in mind, seating him close to the doorway, lit with a bit of contrast from the overcast sky, with the rest of the library just hinting of the vast array of books and magazines.
Now I only remembered to do this, honestly, after we said our good byes, following a 7 hour shoot day. My assistant Richard and I were literally walking out the door, mind still spinning from all the mystical talk of land and sea, when I turned sharply and asked Pat for five more minutes of his time. We dropped all the gear at the door and I just took the Canon with the 17-40 zoom and tripod back upstairs. A few little art directing cues; some books on the floor covering unwanted floor plugs and a desk lamp adding a warm glow and the stage was set. All Pat had to do, after a long day of entertaining us with his stories and jokes was give me a few strong facial expressions and he had no problems delivering.

My second choice for for opener

Most people might think its easy to after the shoot, a quick edit, send the files off and then invoice the client, well not always.
I set my selects up in a gallery for the photo editor to download and the library shot was left behind. Hmmmmm, I thought it was strong and deserved a chance in front of the story. The photo editor challenged me on it, cool I thought, someone who actually is looking at the images as a cohesive story to tie in the writer’s copy. She wanted me to layout the image as I saw it in my mind, with copy for the opener. Cue Facebook and an available designer friend in California and a few minutes later we had a couple of roughs to send back to the photo editor to show her what I meant. Below is one of those roughs.

My second choice for for opener with copy.

Even with the added lengths, the image didn’t make the cut but it was still nice to see someone on staff really thinking and grinding the images to make sure they work with a story.
In the end it was a great day, one of those shoots you will always remember. Whether it was the jokes rolling out of Pat or the paparazzi scenario as he came over a berm, yelling and screaming at us to get off the course (so damn funny), it was all fun. I’d really like to thank Pat and his son for looking after us and giving us their time to make it all happen, thanks.

Doing my best Happy Gilmore


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


What does little Stevie see when he closes his eyes?

Steve the Amazing

Steve the Amazing, on location in Northern Ireland

Steve the Amazing, on location in Northern Ireland


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


Anatomy of a Shoot – Royal Bank of Scotland

We were recently commissioned to photograph a subject in the south of Ireland for RBS, by one of its London agencies. It was to be a cool environmental portrait of the subject and her fishing boat that she and her husband own. Of course time was of the essence since she also has a day job at the Guinness brewery.
We set up a time, between her dropping her children off to school and her work, as well as a location in and around the dock area where her fishing boat is moored. Since it was such a short notice, from the time I got the call from the agency to the shoot date, I didn’t have time to do a location scout. We would normally visit the location and take some wide overall images as well as some photos of how the subject and environment might interact and what simple props might be there. Today we would be winging it.
So with a shoot like this where we have very little prep or little time to shoot, I start by literally running around the location to get a sense of scale, angles, perspectives and any unique attributes. Here we have a normal looking fishing harbour, with boats docked; no one was heading out to sea yet but there were some nets piled up further down from the boat. I normally get my assistant to sit in for the subject to get an idea for body position and expression but today I got Richard to stand behind the camera and take a few of me instead.
I knew what I was looking for (that pre-visualization class in college always pays off) and how I wanted the subject to “come off being natural”. Here is the shot of me in the pose.

Rob as subject, slightly too bright and too much DOF

We have lit it with a Profoto 600B and a Magnum reflector. To over power the ambient we needed to crank the power up but obviously by doing that we are stuck with all this depth of field from using a small aperture to compensate. If we were shooting with a leaf shutter lens we would be able to play with the shutter speeds more and decrease the amount of ambient in the scene but since we are on a focal plane shuttered Canon we are locked in at 1/125-1/160th of a second, not really ideal for syncro sun or over powering the sun. So to take down the background a bit more, I put a 3 stop ND filter on the lens to take the light down and really focus your eye in on the subject; this is 9:30am and the sun is pretty high in the sky already.

Sharon as subject with better “mood”

I like this one of Sharon better than mine, the ambient is down those few stops and really makes the subject pop. If I was to use this as a final edit I would either take out the front light on the boat or crop it out and remove the distracting name on the side of the hull too.

We always need to do options for clients, unless otherwise instructed and this was no different. Since I was art directing myself, I wanted to really make the viewer feel like they knew Sharon and could relate; I needed a more intimate scenario. I did four more set ups but here are two of my favourites.

If you have seen some of my other work, you’ll know that I’m a fan of the square crop. A good square crop, some key colours and if you’re lucky a little bit of “graphicness” and you’ll make your job easier when it comes time to editing your picks. Further down the docks I found a steel cage container full of fishing nets, I had my graphic element. Sharon is wearing her bright yellow and blue Van Halen bib overalls and boots, so this all made it easy build the next photo. I attempted a few different focal lengths, angles and poses.

Different angles and poses

In the end I really liked the square on, square crop with a relaxed inviting pose.

RAW photo

And after a little post processing and some finessing, this is what we achieved.

After post

The last scenario I’ll show you involved having Sharon sitting, surrounded by nets. This one again is lit with just a Magnum reflector on a Profoto 600B. For this set up we just went syncro sun or just slightly over bringing the background down maybe half a stop. The Magnum reflector is great on location, helping to push the “little” Profoto 600B’s output into territory that its bigger brother the ProB 1200’s output would get you
I like the leading lines, the texture, the colours and her warm smile and natural pose. I think the orange life preserver compliments the cool colours and helps draw your eye into the frame.

Sharon amongst the nets


Model test – Stuart

Been keeping busy with things around Lucy’s Trust and work these past few months. Before I post something from the advertising world, I figured I’d post a quick test we shot with Stuart. We are in the middle of vying for a pretty big catalogue shoot coming up and we’re looking for a late 30’s, or 40 mature guy.
Stuart came forward a few weeks ago so we quickly did a test in between shoots. We went up to Black Mountain overlooking Belfast and couldn’t have shot on a more drizzling day (you can actually see the rain in some of the shots). The fog was very heavy when we first turned up but we proceeded on, and sure enough it started to lift and give us some beautiful soft light.


It was a good quick shoot and the walk back to the cars was right on time as the skies started to open even more and pour down.


RyanAir CEO – Micheal O’Leary – Anatomy of a Shoot

Things have been ticking along quite nicely lately. We’ve been working pretty steadily and just completed a nice large project with NITB here in Northern Ireland. That mixed in with a few commercial clients and the odd editorial gig, has been keeping us on our toes.
So when I got a message from Barron’s in NYC, I got back to them as soon as I could, pronto like. Barron’s is a weekly out of the Dow Jones empire and its kind of the grinder when it comes to financials on a weekly basis instead of the super in depthness of the WSJ. Its much more hard hitting and cutting than Forbes and has the respect of many in the industry. It might not always be the most creative for photography but then those images aren’t there to represent that; they are there to tell a story albeit a quick one, usually just one image.
So I get the call, and who do you think they’d be looking for an image from in Ireland? Hmmmm, a CEO, someone who probably stands out etc etc….. Oh you know who . . .
Micheal O’Leary of RyanAir fame.
Well I think to myself, if there was ever a challenge, this would be it. You hear the rumours, the rumblings. . . short, sharp and sweet. I would have to go in with my game face on and never let it drop an inch.

The photo editor told me about the difficulties in booking the time with Micheal (he’s a very busy man) and that after three weeks of going back and forth they pinned down a date, a date I was available with so all good. I’ll have 45 minutes to set up and 15 minutes to spend shooting him. I knew a bit about him before but I did some more research and looked further into his career and life and came away impressed; smart man, makes money, no bullshit, no frills. . . . . . sounds familiar 😉 We arrive early hoping to get in and start setting up and working out a few ideas but to no luck, the executive board room we are booked in still has a meeting going on. Sure, no problem, we’ll wait and wait . . . . and wait. The meeting goes 15 minutes late and now we only have 30 minutes to haul all our gear in and truck it up to the second floor; its going to be a simple shadowless white seamless set up so we have a 9 foot and a square of plexi for under his feet. Steve, my assistant and I don’t even have the chance to pull out the light meter. We get it all roughed into this tiny 12×12 foot boardroom when the liaison tells us we can now open the dividing wall to get double the length out of the rooms, sweet. Now I don’t have to use the 17-40 on this poor guy.

The carpet in the middle is covering up all the A/V cables normally routed through the table. Plexi is there for a clean shadowless background.

RyanAir boardroom – a 12×12 foot room, see the 9 foot seamless. The carpet in the middle is covering up all the A/V cables normally routed through the table. Plexi is there for a clean shadowless background.

I throw the 70-200 on the body and with two lights on the white back ground and two lights on the subject, I pop off a couple of frames to see if we are in the ballpark. As I fire the third frame, in he walks. DAMN.

RyanAir boardroom – table top on the left and table legs on the right. Profoto Magnum on the right and silver softlight on the left, both running off Profoto 600B’s. Background is 2 Chimera strips, each powered by Acute 1200’s.

The first thing he says is, “this will not do”.
Uh oh, I better run for an interception here.
“Hi Mr O’Leary, I’m Rob Durston, and I understand I have 15 minutes of your time today”.
“Nope, you have five”.
Well that’s a nice introduction. From there it got even more complicated, in that our subject would “only” be photographed with a large model of one of his Boeing aircrafts.
5 minutes, silly model plane, unchecked lighting and the wild card himself, Micheal O’Leary.
Right from the first frame though he doesn’t lose a beat; every time the Profotos go off he changes his pose. Bang, bang, bang like a little pro model he just rhymes off various expressions and body positions. At around the 2 and a half minute mark I begin to plead with him for a few frames without the plane and a little more serious look; till this point, every frame he has put on a goofy face or silly smirk.
“Nope, nope, I won’t do it, this is what you’re getting. if I do a serious face that is the one that you and your editors will pick. No I will do what I want for this”.
Then through a couple of quick topic changes he asks me where I came from to do this shoot.
Without thinking (or maybe I was just a little subconsciously), I blurted out, “Toronto”. Its kinda true.
“Well in that case, I’ll let you use your stool as well”. I brought along a nice nondescript white stool to get him to sit on and sure enough he held onto that plane also. After a few more minutes he tells me, “okay you must have enough now”.
My first thought is to say no and push a little further but then I thought how much more is he going to give me and how much different will it be than what I already have? I keep talking, and scan through the images, exposures look okay and for the most part everything looks great. “Yup, you’re right Mr. O’Leary, we’re done here. I get him to sign a model release and bang. he’s gone.
Steve, my assistant, and I then sat down for a glass of water and a breather (the heat has been on the whole morning in the room and its close to 30 outside). I peered through the metadata; I was curious as to how many images we took and in how long.
We shot one hundred and twenty unique images in just under 4 minutes.
And here they are.

Here are three of my favourites.

Unretouched, this is my favourite image, serious and contemplating.

 

Micheal proudly holding a model of one of his 737s.

 

Micheal seated with his model 737, the RyanAir staple aircraft.

 

Many thanks to WonderfulMachine for consistently representing and marketing me.
Thanks guys


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


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.


Colin Davidson for Artists & Illustrators Magazine

We shot a small gig for Artists & Illustrators magazine from London. Our subject was none other than the extremely talented Colin Davidson. It was a simple shoot; just capture the man in his space with his tools of the trade.
If you get the chance check out his work, do it. He is speaking in Dublin, January 16th, 2013 at the RHA lecture series, here.

Colin Davidson in his loft studio

Colin Davidson in his loft studio


Mark Pollock

I photographed Mark Pollock for the Guardian recently. If you’re not familiar with him, he’s worth looking up. I read up on him and couldn’t believe his story of bravery and courage. I’m not going to try and sugar coat his life, go to his website and you can read it for yourself.
I keep my lighting ideas simple; simple for each subject and the intended audience. I don’t like to over light things especially for editorial subjects so to photograph this image of Mark its just a Profoto silver Softlight over camera and pointed more down for a dramatic vignetting on the background.

Mark Pollock about to stand and do his walking exercises with his trainer at Trinity College in Dublin.

Mark Pollock about to stand and do his walking exercises with his trainer at Trinity College in Dublin.

My assistant Steve and I were awestruck to see Mark walking across the floor; I can honestly say this is one of the few times I have ever got teary eyed photographing a subject.

Mark Pollock walking from rob durston photography on Vimeo.

I’m going to try to keep the posts shorter and more frequent instead of my long winded banter every few weeks, so hopefully another one is coming your way in a few days.
thanks
Rob