ROB DURSTON PHOTOGRAPHY

Posts Tagged ‘portrait’

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.


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


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


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


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


In Addition . . . . Model Releases Update

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


Anatomy of an Image – Ulster Bank Farming

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

Feed Man alt pick

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

Feed Man – final pick

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

Edgar the Farmer

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

Stephen from Crumlin

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

Damien and his row boat

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

The Milk Collector

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

The Farmer, his cows and the banker

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

Farmer and his new combine

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

Darren the fisherman

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

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

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


Gone and pretty much forgotten – Tegna Golf

I was trolling though some of my archives looking for a couple of random beauty shots I did back in the film days and I came across these.
They are from a clothing company called Tegna Golf. It was a female specific brand for golf and leisure. If I remember right there was some pretty funky stuff.

Polaroid of a Tegna blue vest

Polaroid of a Tegna blue vest

It was an early morning start. My assistants Micheal Holmes and James Dewhirst loaded up the Cherokee with the gear, a background and prop/styling kits. We were a full load, so we actually had to bring the creative director, Joelle Hanna’s Jeep as well. So the crew from Carpinteria was myself, Micheal, James, Joelle and Lynda Martin. We were to meet up with the LA portion down on Abbot Kinney at some coffee shop. Well, people got lost, models got turned around in traffic and we all got to the studio a little late. I even remember the address 1332 Main Street
I took this photograph of one of the models, I can’t recall her name, outside between shots. I brought along my old Polaroid 195 camera. I used to use it all the time when I was shooting film to capture behind the scenes images on and around set. Today I had it loaded with Fuji FP100c.

1332 Main

Outside 1332 Main Street Santa Monica, between shots

Here is one shot on the Mamiya RZ with James the assistant standing in for one of the models.

James Dewhirst - stunt double

James Dewhirst – stunt double

It was a great day. I’m pretty sure we all had a great time and ate well since we were working in Santa Monica, right down with all the good cafes and restaurants.
We brought the film home to Santa Barbara and had it processed at Color Services. I remember the client asking for all the film as they didn’t know how each garment was going to be laid out on the pages. I reluctantly agreed but told them I would need the film back as I was the copyright owner of it and they could have it back as they needed it. I would have never done this before; they would have received a set of scanned contact sheets and chosen from them but with the timing and them being on the east coast, it just wasn’t possible.

You can imagine the rest of the story. They scanned the film, used what they wanted, stalled me for a year or so, then went bankrupt. In the end I was left with a pay cheque and around a dozen or so Fujiroids. It pissed me off to no end back then. I remember getting crazy poses out of the girls, whom two of had never modeled before. They were all very unique and not the normal looking California model types for catalogues. Here are the rest of the images I still have. Thanks again to everyone who worked on the shoot if I missed you name.

Green & White top

Green & White top – 7×7 Fuji FP100c

Holding the whites

White Top – 7×7 Fuji FP100c

Purple Outfit

Purple Outfit – 7×7 Fuji FP100c

Green & White outfit

Green & White outfit – 7×7 Fuji FP100c

Pink Top 2

Pink Top 2 – 7×7 Fuji FP100c

Pink Top

Pink Top – 7×7 Fuji FP100c

Check Jacket

Check Jacket – 7×7 Fuji FP100c


WonderfulMachine strikes again

I have some more images over at WonderfulMachine. They are featuring me in the latest installment of their tearsheet section (you’ll have to scroll into it a bit). The images are some nice portraits I did for the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children with AV Browne and Darcie Graham.

Darcie is gone from AV Browne now; she’s off doing a year at Hyper Island in Interactive Art Direction. I know some people might think that’s an oxymoron like the old military intelligence or Microsoft Works but Darcie will do great there.

Here’s a little more info on Hyper Island. It was started in 1996 with 32 students and was housed in an old prison. They now have almost a dozen long term courses in a variety of multimedia fields for around 260 students. They have two campus’; one in Stockholm and the other in Karlskrona. It is very much a real hands on school where students work on proper briefs and use real life experiences, both good and bad to come to the best results. The course run down looks like this:
Digital Media – 90 weeks, including a 30-week internship
Mobile Applications – 60 weeks, including a 16-week internship
Interactive Art Director – 45 weeks, including a 15-week internship
eCommerce Manager – 40 weeks, including a 14-week internship
Motion Graphics – 40 weeks, including a 13-week internship
Interactive Media Design & Management – 32 weeks, including a 12-week internship

They don’t have any photography classes so I probably won’t be seen in Stockholm anytime soon but the motion graphics class sounds interesting.
All the best to Darcie at school.
And thanks again to WondefulMachine for spreading the word

NICFC - Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children

NICFC – Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children

NICFC - Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children

NICFC – Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children


Polaroid I miss you.

For a few years now I’ve been playing with composite portraits; taking several photographs of one face and them combining them seamlessly in post. Here is one of my latest experiments. I’ve taken 4 images with a long lense, wide open, with a Canon 5D mk2 and combined them to make one complete face. I’ve also given it a treatment to give the overall image a feeling of old Polaroid t55; it doesn’t have the rebates of a 55 but I feel it has a certain coolness to it. this image was shot in the studio using natural light.


Draining the Batteries

I had to drain the batteries on some of my portable flash gear so that I could give them a proper charge. So instead of just hooking them up and firing them off into space I figured I would shoot some quick images around the homestead.