ROB DURSTON PHOTOGRAPHY

Travel

Charles McQuinllan – Big Time Photographer

Today I’m having a coffee with my neighbour Charles McQuinllan. Charles has done many things in photography, starting in the darkroom and working his way through being  Prince’s tour photographer to diving into the icy water of Northern Ireland to photograph cold water surfers. It was a hoot having coffees (very much plural) at his place and chatting about everything from gear to trying to find your way in photography.

You can also find us on iTunes at Agitate

Links from today’s podcast

www.charlesmcquillan.com/

 


Andy Yoong – New Media Entrepreneur

On this episode of Agitate, I’m sharing coffee with Andy Yoong. Andy is a media “jack of all trades” who directs, DOP’s, flies a drone and works his ass off on anything that comes his way. He did a feature length mountain bike film (check it out here). Today we’re talking about his travels, mountain biking and gear

You can also find us on iTunes at Agitate


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.

RDP_20150219_0023

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


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


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


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


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.


Anatomy of an Image – NITB Cushendun

Here’s a short little anatomy of an image for some recent stuff hanging up on billboards around NI. It was a project I worked on for the Northern Ireland Tourism Board through AV Browne. It involved a couple of models, a Fiat 500 and some picturesque coastline of the north. I had scouted the shore along the Tor Head road overlooking Cushendun before and knew a spot where you could see the coastline as well as the village.

Cushendun scouting – NITB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now that we knew the area we got permission from the landowner to do an early morning shoot there. Below are some of the variations that happened in the wee hours of the morning at sunrise. You can see we had to spark up a 2.5 kw HMI early in the morning when we didn’t think we were going to get any direct sun.

Early morning light aided by 2.5 HMI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A wide shot, it still hasn’t warmed up yet at this point.

Wide shot of set including lighting and random gels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun is finally coming out in force.

Warming up, both the light and the models

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luckily the sun did show its face and as it dipped in and out of clouds, we had Davey and his boys from Keylight scrim off any harshness on the models.

Davey and his boy diffusing some direct sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this is what we ended up with in the end. Great thing about NITB is there is no trickery in the images; so what you see is what you get. The final image we choose didn’t have anything between the sun and the models, just a light haze to cut it down a bit so we didn’t need the 6×6 scrim out front. We did manage to keep some direct sun on the village and the rolling hills in the background.

 

Final printed 48 sheet for NITB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sorry I had to pull the last post down . . . .

The client has decided to take the campaign in a different direction. I will be using the images in some form for a self promotion but I won’t be posting them up until the dust settles.

In the mean time, here’s a pretty picture to look at while you’re waiting.

The Giants Causeway - Morning Mist

The Giants Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, under a shroud of morning mist.


Derry and her new Peace Bridge

I like Derry.

Squinty McSquintsalot

id=”attachment_227″ align=”alignleft” width=”600″ caption=”Squinty McSquintsalot”

I’ve been there probably a dozen times in the past 3 years. this time we are here to grab aspects and details of the opening day of their new Peace Bridge. The £14.6 million bridge was funded by the EU’s PEACE III programme and constructed started back in January of 2010. It a pretty sweet looking bridge and I’m mighty impressed with the design that Wilkinson Eyre did on it.

The phone lately has been pretty much consistently ringing; quote/bids, confirmations and cancellations. I’ve been getting them all but there no complaints because it is all working itself out. I’m also in the middle of writing a large art proposal for the government here. It will be a year long project and then tour for another year. I’m hoping to shoot it all on 5×4 black and white film and print it myself on silver based fibre paper. I’ve been getting back into the darkroom, little by little. Taking it slow so all my past memories doesn’t come pouring down on top of me and make me feel overwhelmed. I used to do lot of darkroom work back in the 90’s and enjoyed it for the most part, till I started getting socially deprived by spending all my waking hours there. There is a feeling you get after standing/sitting in the darkroom for 10-14 hours by yourself, then going out in public and mixing in with all the daylight people.

Well must start prepping for a project in Dublin, so I will leave you with this final image of the Peace Bridge.

Wilkinson Eyre Architects' Derry Peace Bridge

id=”attachment_228″ align=”alignleft” width=”600″ caption=”The Derry Peace Bridge”

 


Rental car review (hire car) FORD Focus

Ford Focus 1.6 Zetec Petrol burner
Well its time for another car rental review. Today I have a Ford Focus 1.6, not what I asked for but you can’t really choose when it comes to hire cars.
I ask my local for diesel pretty much every time but for some reason I keep getting petrol burning cars and diesel vans. I don’t mind the zippyness of a petrol car but at “only” 36 mpg for an average for a 800 mile trip, it can be a little costly; getting older, I don’t mind a diesel’s pokeyness over the zippyness.

The Focus drives like a much bigger car than it really is. It has great space for a 6 footer and a decent little back seat for some wee leprechauns but the seller for me is almost always “da booty”. This trunk managed to swallow up a Profoto 600B kit, stands, reflectors, camera bags and my 4×5. It would have taken our luggage as well but I didn’t want to cram it tight since we would be working out of the car for most of the shoot.

The suspension is good, tight and handles very well; you can see why this car makes a great little track day ride. It cruises along the motor way at 70, no problem. the only glitch is 3rd.
Come on Ford, what’s with that transmission? As I’m running up the gears with any sort of vigor, third jams itself out. You need to back off and ease it in, then back on the gas and up to 4th. It does not make for quick getaways let alone outrunning rampant stone throwing children.

My overall on this tight rig is a 6/10.

Decent for mom and dad alike.


Rental car review (hire car) KIA Venga

I rent quite a few cars/vans/trucks in my work. Whenever I need a vehicle that needs to do what my daily driver can’t, I rent. Most of the vehicles I rent are vans; to carry my gear, props, rental equipment etc. Since moving to Northern Ireland I’ve taken on a new view towards renting. Whereas in North America i would almost always just rent a Dodge/Chrysler/Plymouth (RIP) minivan, here I hire Sprinters, Transits, Trafics, Kangoos, Vivaros to do the job. I kind of miss the old Dodge Voyagers. They really were a little workhorse and didn’t look after bad doing the work of almost a full size.

Today however I’m just renting a car, something small, that will be fuel efficient and a comfortable drive for the day. Gavin, my Enterprise car hire guy, has hooked me up with a petrol KIA Venga (even though I really wanted a diesel). I was very impressed after starting it, on how ridiculously quiet it is when running. I have never been in a car that was ever this smooth, not even close. Pulling away however didn’t give me much confidence in the rest of the day; it has a jerky clutch and a touchy throttle. Acceleration is adequate, same day service on the 0-60. This car will win no drag races, except maybe against a bicycle, a bicycle in the snow, a bicycle in the snow with no wheels.

The interior is roomy and I have no problem with my 6 foot frame fitting in the luxuriously upholstered cloth seats. All the controls were where they should be and nothing out of the ordinary struck me as odd or confusing. The sound system is decent and has an iPod mini cam plug outlet as well as a usb plugin.

Okay, now for the not so good things.
The A pillar is almost impossible to see around; I found myself constantly stretching my neck around to look into right hand corners. It was a total pain in the ass. The back seat has an industry standard 60/40 split but you have to be a freakin’ octopus to pull the lever and push the seat down at the same time. It would not be easy if I had a large camera bag or stand bag, reaching in over three feet just to have my initial attempts of putting the seats down foiled by not having an extra set of hands to push and push hard down on the back seats, not cool. The final nit pick on of one day test living day with the Venga is the hidden front corners. I’m 6 foot, like I said, and I can’t see over the front fenders/bumpers to know where the car ends. I could only imagine a wee local trying to cram themselves out the window, straining to see where the wheel is in relation to curb.

All in all it isn’t the worst car I’ve ever rented, any GM front wheel drive takes that honour, but I wouldn’t buy a Venga or recommend it.
Close but no cigar.
4/10


Northern Ireland Tourism Board Spring/Summer campaign

I’ve been working with the NITB for the past year or so. They and the agency have been great to work with; problem solving, location scouting and hunting, casting and oh ya, creating images that we feel are unique and cool. Here are some of the latest ones for the spring/summer campaign in different formats for different media.


The Argory

Nothing like a beautiful day of scouting. This is an image from the Argory in Armagh. I spend a few days every month scouting locations for different clients. Its a great way to discover new places and people in Northern Ireland.

Argory


Looking Way Back

This is an image from one of my many road trips across the south west. This was the landing gear of one of the warbirds at the Pima museum outside Tuscon. if you are ever anywhere near it, its worth a check out.

Baring the weather for art


The Merchant Hotel

I did a small project back in the fall for NITB for 48 sheet billboards and Adshell bus shelter ads, showing a sort of weekend getaway in Belfast. The subject was the rooftop at the Merchant hotel with a young couple enjoy their weekend. The weather co operated although it was a little cold for them.

The Merchant rooftop spa

The Merchant rooftop spa