I’ve been lucky enough to team up with the MAKUP Academy in Birmingham recently, photographing some portfolio shots for their graduating students and the experience gave me a real opportunity to experiment with available light and some techniques that I hadn’t fully explored before.
Portrait photography with available light isn’t particularly hard. It does place the burden of getting a standout shot squaThe location was perfect. Regenerating Digbeth, an area of Birmingham familiar to those that have watched the Peaky Blinders. Victorian factories in a state of distress. Very photogenic. I liked the idea of the squared off bricks in the background setting off the curve of the head. You may not guess, but this is in fact a make up effect known as a ‘bald cap’. The model here, Juliana Ratcliff has thick waist length black hair!
For the this shot I used an 85mm prime lens on the Canon 5D body. Wide aperture to throw the bricks out of focus and a focal point on the eyes. The weather was pretty grey, a nice soft, diffused light that reflected well off the dirty white brickwork. I asked the model to stare past me, into the distance and fired off a couple of frames.
I added the high key effect in Lightroom, the original is exposed more or less evenly across the spectrum. When people talk about ‘getting it right in camera’ I usually agree, but to get this shot right in camera would have meant over exposing slightly and I didn’t want to risk losing any detail that I couldn’t get back from the original file.
My take on ‘getting it right’ with available light covers depth of field and composition, everything else can be done later in software.
A couple of other tips – you can massage the available light by using reflectors. I bought mine form Calumet in New York, a sprung circular frame with a reversible sleeve giving me three colours, gold for warmth, silver for cool, white for plain reflected light. If you want to highlight a particular area, remember that a large reflector will cast a wide circle of light. A small reflector enables you to get a much more clearly defined area lit.
I hope this is useful – the takeaway here is that you can get great portraits with available light, in some ways it’s easier because there are fewer variables to play with – but it casts the burden firmly on the imagination of the photographer and their knowledge of their equipment and the rules of light.
I was commissioned last week by Stoke on Trent Council to cover the UK Corporate Games . During the course of four days I photographed at least twenty events covering Soccer, Squash, Netball, Rugby, Cricket, Karting and many many more. There is a world of difference between photographing for a client and simply rocking up to take pictures for yourself and I thought it might be useful to reflect on some of the things the sports photographer needs to think about.
Firstly, know your camera well. I found an excuse to use just about every setting available, sometimes within the course of a few minutes.
These are the factors that will push your camera to the limit.
The art of catching the decisive moment in sport is really helped by the modern DSLR. Burst mode is invaluable here, the Canon 5D that I use has two settings, fast and slow – using this mode along with old fashioned anticipation, I was able to capture the moment before the cricket ball is struck with considerably more precision than if I had only relied on anticipation.
The other piece of technology that really helps is the autofocus mode. The Canon 5D that I use has three modes –
AI Servo does a great job of keeping the focus fixed on a moving object as long as that object is reasonably close. 8 metres, according to the manual. For more distant shots, you’ll need to rely on the Depth of field delivered by the aperture setting. Remember that the further away you are from the subject, the deeper this will be, relative to the setting. So even a wide aperture which may deliver DoF of millimetres in macro photography will give you a couple of feet at the far end of a sports field. On the subject of AF Points, opinion is divided. I prefer to use a single AF point in the centre when photographing sports as that allows me to focus on a plane within the depth of the photograph. I can refocus if I think play has moved out of that plane.
Different sports have very different requirements – Soccer and Rugby are not as fast as Tennis, Squash or Badminton. What controls the range of sharpness from razor sharp to indecipherably blurred is the shutter speed. Aesthetics play a part, Sometimes it’s a good thing to portray a sense of motion. The best policy is to shoot with a range of shutter speeds so that you get a variety of results, until you can confidently predict the range you need for any given effect. Aperture and ISO will affect this decision.
If I want to separate my subject from the background, I’ll open the aperture as wide as I can without making it impossible to keep anything in focus. This means I’m letting more light into the sensor and so I can use very fast shutter speeds (which let less light into the sensor). ISO will increase the sensitivity of the sensor to light, at the cost of introducing noise into the picture. You will learn how much noise by experimentation. Know your camera. On a day with poor light, or indoors using available light you will need to push the ISO to achieve a fast shutter speed. A badminton player will not thank you for using Flash!
Sports such as soccer and rugby lend themselves to freezing the motion using a fast shutter speed. The shapes are often graceful and a fast shutter speed brings out the qualities of balance and agility that the sports demand. There is another side of sport – the competition, the will to win. Sweat, Blood and Tears. This was the quality I was trying for in this shot, taken in the last few yards of a boat race. Fast shutter, freezing the motion, but not so fast as to diminish the impact of the water droplets. I wanted the water to be obvious in the shot as it helps emphasise the physical effort – as does the agonised expressions of the rowers. I used a 70-300mm lens with IS, handheld to get in really close to the rowers.
So plenty to think about. Good luck with the sports and remember, key to success at first, is taking a lot of shots using different settings. Experience will gradually allow you to know what settings are best for any given situation, building you aesthetic requirements on top of the lighting conditions. It’s demanding but its a lot of fun!
Its been exactly one year since I started curating photography related links into a weekly newspaper hosted on Paper.li
For a couple of reasons, I’ve decided to move platform, to Flipboard. I thought it might be useful to compare.
Paper.li is geared towards a regular release model. It allows the editor to compile a draft paper in parallel with the live one and to release that paper and promote it to social media at the click of a button.
Flipboard is a completely different animal. It started life as an app, and when I considered it a year ago for the magazine the lack of a convincing web version and the fact the app was initially iOS only dissuaded me from using it. On the other hand I loved the interface and kept going back to it time after time.
Today, Flipboard boasts a web version that is considerably more polished and have acquired a technology called Zite that specialise in aggregating news from all over the web in step with your preferences. I’ve been using a combination of apps to find my news and Zite was about the best of them. An honourable mention goes out to Pulse and Prismatic.
So tomorrow, the magazine will only be available on Flipboard. Check it out…
The weather so far this trip has been changeable to say the least! We headed off in the morning to Trevelez, the (second) highest village in Spain at 1486 metres above sea level. The village is famous for its air cured hams and the marketplace is amply furnished with shops selling hams at eye watering expense. It is however, absolutely delicious and they’ll offer you a sample.
Leaving Trevelez we descended to La Taha, a collection of small villages in the neighbouring valley including Piters, Mecina, Ferreirola and Capilerilla and it was here that the trip really came to life. we took the road down to Ferreirola, a twisting, tiny, vertiginous trip that I would not recommend to the faint of heart – there is another much less problematic route in, from the South. It was on this road that we discovered La Cueva de Mora Luna, a cafe, piano bar of immense character between Mecina and Ferreirola. The menu comes with a story – a shaggy dog tale of epic nonsense spanning five centuries and involving invading forces too drunk to fight, lost treasure, disappearing priests, broken hearts and suicide. The food is fabulous, and the atmosphere marvellous.
We explored Ferreirola, one of the prettiest villages I’ve seen in Spain. It’s where Chris Stewart of “Driving over Lemons” fame holds his writing workshops, well worth visiting and it was on the (better) road out of town that I shot the landscape featured at the top of this post.
We ended the day in Pamaneira where I took this shot – the clouds were so close we could reach out and touch them, quite an eerie experience. Pamapaneira is worth a visit, it’s the lowest of the three white villages in the Poqueira valley and off the main street there are some wonderful shops, galleries and cafes that are not immediately obvious when you’re driving through.
Technical note – the monochrome image was taken with an iPhone and processed in Silver Efex Pro, with noise removed in Lightroom. The Panorama at the top of the post was shot with a 17-40mm lens and processed in Lightroom 6.
Taking a break from the apparently endless procession of jobs getting the house ready for rental this summer I decided to take a break from the hard work, take my camera and get to know some of the local villages. The white villages of the southern Alpujarras have an interesting story to tell. There are three villages in a cluster, north of Orgiva on the Rio Poqueira gorge almost a mile above sea level. The lowest village is Pampaneira and the highest, Capileira. The middle village which is where I spent most of Saturday afternoon is Bubion, which has a population of about 700 people.
Bubion dates from Roman times, but there is not much visible evidence of this. It was occupied by the Moors in the seventh century and held until 1568 when it fell to the Catholic Spanish. The Moors were partially banished at this stage, forcibly replaced by Christian settlers from elsewhere in Spain, but two Morisco families were allowed to stay in each village in order to pass on the knowledge of the sophisticated irrigation systems (acequias) which they had extended from the original Roman system to make the mountainsides easier to cultivate. These acequias are still in use today over most of the Alpujarras and in particular in our garden. We’re totally dependant on the water to maintain the lush green look that characterises this valley.
The other legacy of the Moors which remains highly visible in Andalusia is the architecture. The distinctive flat roofs and white plaster coating that protects the buildings have lasted for centuries and in these three villages almost all of the houses retain at least the external shell.
The next major upheaval in the area was the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 when the white villages remained under General Franco’s nationalist control despite republican success in the surrounding areas. It’s difficult these days to find out more detail about this period, but I’ll be following it up as it seems essential in achieving an understanding of the unique culture of this region. One legacy of this period is the practice of “Menu del dia”, where a proper meal is served in restaurants between certain hours of the afternoon at a fixed, bargain price. This was brought in by General Franco in order to ensure that the ordinary working people were able to afford one decent meal a day. A practice our own supposedly conservative government might learn from!
These days, the white villages boast a thriving tourist trade, the region is a designated Conjunto Histórico Artístico – a protected region of artistic and historical significance and it is possible to find people crafting the distinctive Alpujarran textiles used for rugs, wall hangings etc using the traditional methods – wooden looms that create a much superior product to the mass produced fakes that can be bought cheaply elsewhere.
The 28th February marks the end of winter in the Alpujarras and there is a festival which I suspect does not date back to Roman times involving the consumption of the traditional Alpujarran breakfast – the closest thing to a full English that I’ve encountered in all of my travels – Egg, Sausage, Bacon, Meat and Black pudding. Absolutely artery thickeningly delicious!
The mountain roads this weekend have been taken over by a procession of Mercedes, Audi, BMW vehicles largely owned by a class that appears to be completely oblivious to the recession, pouring into the villages to eat, drink and be merry. How much of this wealth trickles down to the occupants of the villages is not clear, certainly the restauranteurs were thriving, but the vertiginous alleys and backstreets behind the main road are all but deserted. Weirdly, this reminded me of nothing more than Hampstead village on a Sunday afternoon, but unlike Hampstead the atmosphere was friendly and inclusive. Even the watching police seemed disinclined to investigate the fitness of the post dining drivers to navigate safely home!
The white villages are easily accessible from our house just outside Orgiva and the quality of the restaurants easily exceeds the somewhat basic fare on offer in town. For food with a view, the white village experience is unbeatable.
The first day, in the desert sun…We’ve just driven from Ironbridge to Orgiva, Southern Spain. 1500 miles in three days, including a detour on day two to see our friends Alice and Jo, who run an excellent gite in the Dordogne.
On the third day, we woke up in Toledo and set off across the plains of La Mancha described in Cervantes’ epic Don Quixote. Obviously I was searching hard for windmills, and came across these by some weird serendipity. The trip through northern Spain had been notable for two things – the snow and the frequency of Repsol gas stations. Having confidently left Toledo with about quarter of a tank, after about an hour’s drive I started to fret. Not a gas station in sight. Eventually I decided to leave the highway and search for petrol instead of windmills. I found both within five minutes. These windmills were the only traditional ones I saw on the whole journey and they were on a hilltop about half a mile from the forecourt of the garage.
We arrived in the Alpujarras on Thursday afternoon. It’s been nearly six months since the last visit and we were relieved to find the Cortijo exactly the way we’d left it. A little dusty and bitterly cold, but once the wood burner was fired up and a bottle of brandy opened, the warmth spread quickly through both house and mood.
We’re staying for three weeks; not tilting at windmills, but finishing off the house ready for rentals from Easter. Only furniture to buy now and a bit of pruning in the garden. Should even be some time for photography!
So this is the year when I get to do a lot of the stuff I love doing, and let go of a lot of the stuff I don’t like doing. I’m not talking about avoiding the washing up or the ironing (though my partner will argue the toss on that), I’m talking about moving the stuff I’ve been working on in the background for the last couple of years, into the foreground.
Thirteen years as an architect with IBM has bought me a lot of lenses! As well as a property in Spain and one in the Midlands. I wish the company well, it was a great decade, but now is the time to move on to what will be for me a more interesting challenge. I’m joining forces with my partner, documentary maker Vivianne Howard, in a new venture, Helter Skelter Media. We will be moving into a studio in the Custard Factory, Birmingham on March 1st. We will be offering a range of services from Photography to Digital Media and Documentaries.
Electrical Image has always been associated with photography and that’s how it will stay. Travel, Landscape, Documentary and Fine Art photography will continue to be represented by this web site. As will my own musings on various photography related topics and the workshops I’ve been threatening to run in Andalusia.
The business of setting up a new company is simultaneously terrifying and invigorating. Helter-Skelter is defined by my Thesaurus as “chaotic and disorganised”! There are leases to negotiate, furniture to buy, thankfully not very much equipment, but accountants and lawyers are easily as expensive as cameras. The reality is I’ll probably be taking fewer photographs and spending a lot more time on Marketing and Sales. I’ll make less money this year, but my quality of life will be better.
The Custard Factory in Digbeth is an exciting place to have an office. It reminds me a lot of Camden Town in the 1970’s where I spent so much time at the Roundhouse watching the likes of Patti Smith, Television and the Ramones, Dingwalls where I spent most of the 80’s between classes at London College of Printing, promoting the likes of Johnny Thunders, John Cale and the dance night JUJU. There is an energy to the place that I really like and please Fox News pay attention here – Digbeth is in the Irish Quarter of Birmingham! It doesn’t have the music scene, but it has a thriving digital media scene and that’s just the job for us.
This new venture is a bringing together of many different things I’ve done in my life, it feels good and it feels right, like coming home. It will be bloody hard work, but as somebody once said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”! In the meantime, check back here for details of the Landscape Workshop in Andalusia.
My favourite, of all the books I have bought this year turned out to be an outsider. “Landmark – The Fields of Landscape Photography” is a compendium of the best of contemporary landscape photography, gathering 240 photographs by contemporary photographers, some famous, one not.
The form has suffered by comparison with the more fashionable and equally demanding street photography to a point where it has become unfashionable and sadly cliched.
Landscape demanding street photography to a point where it has become unfashionable and sadly cliched.
William A Ewing has curated a collection of photography by over 100 contemporary photographers that seizes this lazy perception of landscape photography and turns it on its head, giving it a good shake in the process. There are some extraordinary, arresting images here that demand second and third looks, even a re-evaluation of the form. Most interesting are the photographs showing the impact man has made on the landscape; if there is a contemporary relevance to landscape photography it is surely to be found in the pictures of Edward Burtynsky to cite one example, where the scale of human impact on the planet is explored on a grand scale.
The reason this book has become a favourite of mine is because it has caused me to re-assess my own photography. The book has been a catalyst in the crystallisation of many random thoughts into what I hope will prove to be a coherent collection of images for 2015. I couldn’t ask for any more!
Today was the last day that the Ironbridge Gorge Museums would be open until March. I thought it would be a good opportunity to get up early and investigate the Tar Tunnels, a man made construction running 1000 yards into the hill at Coalport in the Ironbridge Gorge.
I’d seen a few photographs of this place and have been meaning to take a look since I moved here. The tunnel was built in 1787 as part of a coal mine, it’s about 5 ft high, widening to 6ft after the first 50 yards and lined entirely in brick. A railway track runs the length of the tunnel, but it is closed to the public after about 150 metres.
The story is that as the miners drilled into the hill, they noticed tar (bitumen) oozing from the walls. In fact you can see to the sides of the tunnel, quite large pools of liquid tar, gathering in natural caverns. The Victorians used this to waterproof boats that carried coal to Ironbridge where it fired furnaces used in constructing metalwork. Later, once the automobile had begun to make its presence felt, this stuff was used by John McAdam to provide a binding agent for his revolutionary road covering.
It is said that the people who made their living mining this area were permanently stained by constant exposure to this treacly substance. They were known locally as the “Black Imps”. I wondered how many cancers went unobserved or whether this naturally occurring substance is carcinogenic?
To the technical stuff: This place is pretty dark so I used a tripod and made a series of long exposures at f8 at various points along the tunnel, the aim was to get as much in focus as possible, front to back, along with maximum sharpness. Conscious of the likelihood of other people arriving to explore the site, I exposed for about 20 seconds adjusting the ISO between 100 and 400 to make those exposures possible. I underexposed a couple of stops less than the meter suggested, in order to minimise the effect of the lights. A little processing in Lightroom to get some more contrast and a tiny bit more saturation to emphasise the yellowness of the brickwork and invoke the atmosphere of the 1780’s.