Monday, December 27, 2010

Faces in the light....faces in the life...


The human face has been and will undoubtedly continue to be the most common subject for artists. No-one could ever guess how many paintings, drawings, sculptures or other forms of artistic expression have been been made with the human as subject.

Likewise with photography - in the past one hundred and fifty odd years who knows how many billions of images have been made of the human form?

Here are just a very few of the faces I had the privilege of photographing this year with a comment or two on technique.

Nynah resting on the shoulder of her mother, Marcella. With Marcella slightly shaded and out of focus, all attention is drawn to Nynah's remarkable eyes. Overcast skies and shade give the soft light.

This was made during the 'Buddha day' celebrations in Melbourne. The sun was lighting the young woman's back, while light reflecting from a building to camera left lit her face.

Sometimes you may have to 'help' the sun. Paul and Sophie were photographed on a fairly changeable overcast Melbourne day. A high FP flash was used to light them, allowing use of a very large aperture for limited depth of field.

Another example of off camera flash. This may look to be a sunlit image, but in fact Peter was standing in heavy shade. A flash positioned to camera left lit the image. Often an image lit by off camera flash outdoors has a distinct 'flash' look about it. I prefer to try to keep it as natural looking as possible. As Joe McNally often says " ..there has to be a logic to the light that you add.."
I think this shot succeeds.

Black and white images can look good on a dull day. This is my friend, Mariya, a fitness instructor, model and photographer. Spot metering is almost a must on days such as this. I often find myself using this or centre-weighted metering. Rarely do I use the matrix metering when photographing people.

Indoor shots can throw up different lighting situations. This is Bridget, the chef at a local cafe. Lit by the lights in the display glass while being separated from the background by the light coming through the cafe doors.

Ashlea. Seated just inside a barn on her farm. The soft light is coming through a large door immediately behind the camera position. Being in the shade but lit this way can produce a beautiful soft light. Careful metering is required.

Tia is here lit by the light streaming in through large opaque windows. As in the image of Ashlea, the light is not striking her directly. The natural fall-off produces a lovely vignette. I placed her on the stairs to show her how to make a quick portrait. Tia is a quick learner with a great passion for photography. I'm not sure if the handrail highlights detract or add to the image.

When photographing indoors, ironically you sometimes have virtually no control over the lights. This is Sophie from the earlier image dancing like a banshee at her wedding reception. I personally never use flash at a wedding. I believe it totally detracts from the atmosphere and prevents the photographer from being unobtrusive. In that case one just has to accept whatever light is given. In this instance I used spot metering and auto WB as the light was changing rapidly.

Sometimes you just put away all the expesive stuff, relax on the couch and just use a polaroid to make the image. One of my favourites.

Stay safe.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It's a tool

It's been a while, but what the heck?

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance on one of the popular social media sites.
He asked me what I thought the next year may hold in store when it comes to the release of new cameras from a certain manufacturer.

I gave him my thoughts. The conversation then went back and forth for some time regarding the merits of this current camera versus that current camera versus another current camera.

It was in fact quite a pointless discussion as he tended to disregard the initial question he himself had asked. Later he mentioned that he enjoyed a good debate on the matter. I did say to him that he has enough experience in this game - indeed he is quite an accomplished and successful photographer - to make up his own mind on what kind of gear he wants to buy.

One thing that kept cropping up was his view that the Nikon D3x was massively overpriced and not good value for the money. Now it seems to me that his reference to the cost was because it is a camera that he would like to use for the new line of work he intends to get into. Indeed, I reckon it is the perfect camera for what he wants to do. My own view on the cost is totally the opposite of his. I reckon it is worth every cent and so does every photographer that I know who actually owns one.

Does that mean that his view is wrong and mine is right? Or vice-versa? Nope. Not at all. It just means we look at the same item with a different set of values. If I could actually afford one I would get it tomorrow. No hesitation.

This same sort of thinking also arose recently when I was shooting for a magazine. The brief was to get shots of tradesmen using tools on building sites as well as studio cover shot (at top of post). The major shots were of power tools supplied by the magazine for the article.

This guy was about 15 feet up the ladder. An SB-900 flash on a very tall light stand into his face and an SB-800 held by another tradesman was used to light the wall. Using remote wireless flash systems on modern digital gear makes this sort of work a lot easier than in days gone by.

However we also did some grab shots of one of the men using a hammer. Here's the point - the hammer he was using costs around $300! Yep, $300.

Would you pay $300.00 for this hammer? To the tradesman it is worth it. To others, maybe not.

Now, no-one who knows me well could ever honestly describe me as anything like a handyman or even remotely dextrous and capable with tools. So if I needed a hammer I would go down to a local store and spend maybe $30 or $40 dollars on one. Hey I don't even know the prices - I'm just picking that figure out of my head.

However - for that tradie a hammer that costs $300 makes a lot of sense. For us lay folk it seems awfully expensive.

Same with the tools a photographer uses. There are obviously a lot of pros around the globe who can justify the cost of a D3x. There are still others who can't do so. Horses for courses.

(wait until late next year when the next model comes out - some folk are gonna faint at the cost)

Like any field of endeavor you can get something that will do the job and will do it pretty well. Or you can get the tool that is undoubtedly the best for the job. Of course it depends on finances too. Either way, only the end user can decide what is worth it for her or him.

I've always believed that in photography you get the best that you can - at least the best gear you can possibly afford. The first SLR I bought was when I was a teenager. It was an old Ricoh Singlex TLS. Even when I got it new in late 1976 it was outdated. Still, I learned a lot with that machine. Still got it too although it does need a service.

My first SLR - Ricoh Singlex TLS. Outdated even when I got it new in December 1976

In June 1981 I got my first Nikon - an FE. Still got that too. Still use it. Recently I have been shooting Ilford black and white in it. Feels great. There's something about getting back to where it began and enjoying the image making process in the way I did it for so many years.

My first Nikon. The FE with its original E series 50mm f1.8. It's been bashed around over the years but works perfectly.

Will I go back to using that one or any of the other film cameras I have when I do commercial work? I can't see it happening. While I love using film for personal or fine art work, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to use anything other than digital for commercial work.
And if I can make that distinction, then it also makes perfect sense to make the distinction that the digital equipment I use should be the best possible equipment that I can get.

Yes, they are only tools. Yes, some seem to be outrageously priced (just as a $300 hammer seems outrageous to me). However, and this is the point that I think may have eluded my earlier mentioned acquaintance, no-one forces anyone to buy anything. If you want it or need it and you can afford it, get it. If you don't, don't.

Simple really.

Stay safe.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

"....I've been smiling lately...."


After nearly three and a half decades, one of the great figures of popular music played in Melbourne last night.

Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens played a brilliant two hour set which had the audience in mixed feelings of joy and love. Warm and sincere is a good way to describe the evening.

A couple of new tracks sprinkled among a marvelous playlist of great memories gave the crowd much to appreciate.

As described in a previous post, one had to be alert to get the camera past the metal-detecting folk at the gate. Success (if you know how).

Here are a couple of shots from the night.

Should he return to your town - get a ticket. Go see him. Revel in a rare, delightful experience. You will not be disappointed to board this Peace Train.

Welcome back Yusuf/Cat.

Stay safe.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

From a Budgie to a Vulture, and some things in between


One of my big loves other than photography is music. Always have, always will love it.

Whether it is belting out in the car or going around in my head, I always seem to have it going on somewhere.

Lindsey Buckingham and John McVie of Fleetwood Mac

Lately it seems a lot of 'older' acts have decided the time is ripe to tour and let a new generation of fans see them in concert. Naturally if it is someone I have always liked I will grab a ticket and see the show. This is usually done in company of my daughter Cat.

In 2009 we saw Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkle, Budgie and Fleetwood Mac. I have enjoyed their music since my youth and have waited many years to see them in concert.

Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac with John McVie on bass and an obscured Mick Fleetwood on drums

I guess the only downside to seeing these concerts is that unless you are an accredited photographer, you have a heck of a time trying to get decent shots. Security are all over anyone with what they perceive to be a 'pro' outfit.

At the Fleetwood Mac concert they were even going into the crowd to hassle people with point and shoot cameras. Security claimed that it was at the band's request, but the band didn't seem to mind when those at front of stage were shooting.

Budgie didn't care - you could go for it as long as you respected the request not to use flash. A great attitude. Here is founder and bass player Burke Shelly getting close with crowd.

Still, the feeble minded folk who run the venues have to do something to make themselves feel superior I guess. Give us all a break folks. It does no-one any harm. No one is going to make a killing selling any shots of a group from the back of an auditorium! For what it is worth, many P&S cameras have longer effective lenses than the ones serious photographers have to sneak in to the venue.

Anyway - enough of that gripe.

This week I flew to Perth with Cat and Jess, her friend. The concert this time was "Them Crooked Vultures" a new 'supergroup' consisting of Josh Homme from "Queens of the Stone Age", Dave Grohl from "Foo Fighters" and "Nirvana" and John Paul Jones from "Led Zeppelin".

The concert was LOUD, HEAVY and most enjoyable. Fairly QOTSA with a deal of LZ influence combined with industrial strength steroids!

John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl and Josh Homme. JPJ is playing a custom 'slide bass'

Having waited since about 1972 to see John Paul Jones in concert there was no way I was going to miss the first Australian date of this band. It was not disappointing. Amazing things can happen when very talented people get together in a creative sense and if they park their egos at the door.

John Paul Jones on keyboards

Let's hope that their first album is not their last and this tour not the last either.

Whatever your taste in music - enjoy it to the fullest, and as always,

Stay safe.