Zodiac series – Cancer

My previous post went into the setting up of the foil shoot so in this one I will only concentrate on the image itself. For the shoot I had decided that I want to incorporate an actual crab. Buying one was out of the question cost wise, however my wife mentioned that she thought her Aunt had a brass one. Turns out she was right and we picked up a very ornate brass crab that actually was a long unused ash tray.

For the set I needed to have several shot options available. While I had envisaged that it would be a landscape oriented image, I also shot several images portrait oriented with Sian both standing and kneeling. For these we didn’t need to modify the lighting in any way.

We then moved into the main shoot where I had envisaged Sian being covered by the crabs. The first step was to get her in position and then adjust the main light as she was now much lower than before. I also had to change my shooting angle to be much lower as well. As the final shot was to be composited together the camera was locked onto my tripod.

We stared with a shot with Sian with no crab on her, and then I took a number of images moving the crab around her.

Having all of the shots I now selected the ones that I wanted and loaded them as layers in Photoshop and then masked each layer so only the crab came through.

The star sign Cancer is governed by the moon so I went into the Lightroom catelogue and found some images I had taken of it. I then pulled some astro shots and put them all together. Because I had used a dark background and not lit it the masking between the foil and the stars was made somewhat easier. It was then a matter of changing the colours in the image to look like they were lit by the moon.

Overall I am really pleased with now the image came out as it was essentially how I have envisaged it. When I posted the image, I was expecting one my astro photographer friends to point out that you would not that level of stars on a moonlight night. Fortunately no one did.

Foil shoots with Sian (Setting up).

This will be a post in three parts. The first will go over the setup for the shoot ans the other two will cover the actual shoots. As such you will not see any finished images in this post. Rather the images will show the progress of the setup.

If you keep an eye out it is quite possible to acquire interesting props from the most unusual materials. What I was working for Whittaker’s Chocolate I visited Lamprint which in one of the companies that print the chocolate wrappers. 

Labels are printed on a large roll several across and then in the final part process they cut into secret rolls. At either side of the main roll there is an amount of silver left over. This was being cut off and put in a bag for dumping.

When I saw it I instantly thought it would be great to repeat my tape shoot but this time with reflective metal and coloured lights. So I asked if I could have some foil. 

The next day Shaun delivered a small bag to me. I said thanks, but told him that I was thinking of a much larger quantity. The next day he came back with the larger amount.  Now ideally I would have had a shoot sorted out straight away, but in reality the bag sat in the garage for quite a few months, until my wife got sick of it and told me I needed to use it and then get rid of it.

The full bag of foil spread across the floor.

So I when Sian came round for the Dressmaker shoot I asked if she would like to do a shoot using the foil and she agreed.  I also found out that her star sign was cancer, which is one of the water signs so I knew that I could make the foil look like water with the right lighting. 

When my daughter left home, I claimed the family room back as my studio. The great advantage of this was that I could set it up over a number of days rather than trying to do everything in one go. It also means that I can take my time setting lights and trying different combinations before the model actually comes. In this respect my dress dummy is quite useful, although I have to be careful as it is shorter than a regular person.

As I knew we were going to be shooting two different concepts in the same session, I want to minimise changeover so I hung the backdrop for the second session and then placed a blue fabric over it for the first. I needed three pieces of fabric to do this and while they did not match that didn’t matter as the background would be fairly dark anyone.

I also placed blue fabric on the floor before covering it with the foil. This is because I had planned to shoot from above at some stage and I wanted the flexibility. Having the blue meant that if it did show through it would fit with the theme rather than work against it.

It was now time to set the lighting. I had planned a three light setup and when I use such a combination I always add them one light at a time. I start with a setting and shutter speed that will eliminate all of the ambient light in the room. That ended up being 1/100 at f6.3.

The setting that removed all ambient light.

I has positioned two lights near the floor to light the foil and these were both covered with blue gels. There was no real metering to these lights. rather they were adjusted until I got a look I was going for.

Light left
Right light

The main light was my Godox AD600 in the 24″ softbox on a boom arm. During the testing it was positioned camera right. It was providing quite a nice light and was also picking up some of the background. This was not an issue as I was going to replace the background anyway.

All lights in play

The advantage of taking the time ahead of time was that when Sian arrived we were pretty much ready to shoot. In fact the only change was to reposition the main light from camera right to camera left.

In my next post I will cover the first shoot with Sian, which was for the Zodiac series.

In print again

2020 – The Dressmaker

Each year the Photographic Society of New Zealand (PSNZ) produce a 160 page coffee table book that includes images submitted from their members. You are allowed to enter two images for consideration but only one can be selected.

Each year around 350 photographers submit images so I was chuffed to have my image of the Dressmaker selected for the 2020 edition. This is currently being printed in Hong Kong and will be distributed in October.

This will be the fourth year in a row that I have had an image appear in the issue, and the fifth image published overall. I consider that a good result considering how tight competition is for space in the book.

I can’t wait until October to see the image on the pages.

2019 – Gemini
2018 – “Buzz at the Hive”
2017 – Reflections
2014 The role of the model

che in the woolshed

On the weekend away to the Glenburn Station, the organisers has arranged for Che to join again to model. After looking around the wool shed in the morning I knew that it would be a great location, so I arranged for Che to meet me before the others arrived. That way I was not competing with the other photographers, and I could help them if they needed it.

Despite the fact that I had brought lighting gear with me, I had worked out that there were pools of natural light in the building that could be used and we made the most of them.

Che bought a couple of outfits but I have chosen to only feature one here.

In the woolshed

This post is going to be very different from what the majority of posts in this blog are about and that there are no people in it.

Back in March I travelled to a farm named Glenburn Station, which is located on the coast in the Wairarapa, for a weekend trip organised by the Hutt Camera Club. The farm is located at the end of some 20km of gravel road, which I had not realised when we decided to go in the brand new car picked up the day before. My wife was not impressed with that fact.

This was the second year that the club organised a weekend, and while I did not go in 2019, I did have some idea of what was on offer from the photos I had seen.

While others on the trip were interested in the landscapes, I was more interested in the buildings particularly a large shearing shed that we ha been given access to.

So while the others went exploring the landscape, I took my time looking around the shed. I was particularly interested in where the light was falling, as I was planning to shoot a model in the afternoon. To be prepared I had taken my strobes ,light stands and tripod.

In some areas the light was low and the shots were taken with the camera on the tripod. For others, such as the machinery, I mounted the camera on top of the light stand and triggered it via the image app on my phone. This gave me the ability to go for different angles.

The farm had been shearing the week before and there was still plenty of materials around showing this.

It was a great location to shoot in and I used both my Lumix 25mm F1.7 and Olympus 7-14mm F2.8 lenses.

I will cover the shoot with Che is a latter post.

the saucy sue

Sometimes bringing all of the elements for an image together can take some time. This was certainly the case with my image of “The Saucy Sue”.

Back in October 2018 my wife and I called into Hamilton Gardens on our way up to Auckland. The gardens are amazing with sections all done out into different themes. In one of these we found “the Saucy Sue”.

The minute I saw it I knew that I wanted to incorporate it into an image and pretty much had the concept in my at point.

So when we got home I cut the boat out of the background and I went looking for a suitable landscape to use with. I settled on an area shot just outside Hasting in April 2014.

I blended the two images together and was reasonably happy with the result. This was relatively simple as the light on the day that the boat was shot was very flat.

I know needed someone to pilot it. I had the idea that Kimberley would be perfect, however sorting out a shoot time proved difficult.It was not until earlier this year, when she was coming out for The Dressmaker shoot, I decided we could add this one as well.

Kimberley’s costume was made out of a corset, a dress hoop and some lengths of materials. We didn’t have to worry about the feet as I knew these would not be visible.

As the boat was elevated I had Kimberley stand on a small stool and I shot from a low angle. This made getting the perspective easier.

As can be seen in the photo the lighting for the image was a large softbox placed camera right and a reflector to bounce some light back. The lighting was positioned to match the direction of the light in the landscape image.

The Dressmaker

This is the full series of the dressmaker and the story. If you want to read the background to the shoot you will find it on this post.

The dressmaker lived in poverty but she was extremely talented. All she had to wear was clothes made from sacks the kind people at a nearby chocolate factory had given her.

All of the rich of the own came to here to make their gowns, but they barely paid her any attention.

The dressmaker dreamed of what it would be like if she could be like them.

As the night of the ball approached she had made quite a number of dresses, and she wondered what it would be like to wear them.

Then a client told her that she no longer wanted the dress she had made, and she was not going to pay for it. The dressmaker thought what would happen if she did put it on.

The night of masked ball came and the dressmaker decided to put on the unused dress and attend the event. In the new clothes the rich of the town did not recognise her and happily treated as one of their own.

The dressmaker was very happy for one night.

setting up “the dressmaker”

The built set.

This post will be quite different to others in that it will not contain any finished images. Rather it will go into the process that went into a set of images that tell a story. The actual images will be in the next post.

A number of years ago I saw a brilliant image of a girl using a sewing machine in a moonlit attic. It set a seed that took several years to come to fruition (over three in fact). I knew that I wanted to do an image of a girl and a sewing machine. As it developed it turned into a sort of Cinderella story and eventually became a series I have called “The Dressmaker”.

The first prop, the sewing machine was bought three years ago at the Petone Fair. A second hand shop was selling them off for $20.00. They were leftover when the tables they were originally sitting on were turned into furniture. I bought the machine and it sat in our storage for years.

The machine

Then this year a number of events came together that made me decide to do the shoot.

The first was my daughter leaving home which meant our family room could be used as a studio to shoot in, and the set could be left up. I knew that to make the image look realistic then staging was important.

The second was a chance visit to my works printers where I saw a pile of wooden crates that had packed some new machines they were installing. I thought that it would be create to use to create movable walls, (as well as providing materials to reline our garage), so I asked if I could have them. They said yes and I was shocked when I got home to find a large pile. It took four nights to denail it so that we could get the ply under cover.

What was a pleasant surprise was the state of the timber that had been used to make the frames. There were lengths that looked just like flooring.

There was other timber that I was able to use to build a table for the sewing machine on. The top proved tricky as the bottom of the sewing machine was not a consistent shape. The machine was quite heavy so the table had to be engineered to carry the weight.

The completed table

I had worked out that two ply sheets were sufficient to build a workable wall but how to safely stand them up took some thinking. Initially I was going to build a floor bracket for them to slot into. I had seen other floor standing walls work in similar form. The problem was that such brackets need to be suitable size to handle the weight.

I then realised that if I took one of the left over lengths of timber I could drill some holes through it, and mount it on top of my existing background supports. Then the ply could be safely clamped to it. This worked perfectly. Once upright I used a roll of wallpaper bought from an Op shop to cover the ply and particular the join between the two panels.

The cross support

The final piece to fall into place was when I went to the Hutt Camera Club shoot at Fort Balance. The model Che wore a red dress that had a really long train. When I saw it I knew it was perfect for my shoot, so at the end of the shoot it ended up in my car.

Che and the red dress

I had already obtained cocoa bean shacks from my work as I had intended to use them in a model shoot. I therefore felt I had all of ingredients for the shoot.

From previous work I knew that Kimberley would be perfect for my dressmaker, so I posted a casting call on Facebook and ended up selecting a model for her client.

Sian, who I have shot on a number of occasions also said she was interested. She proved to a lifesaver when the model I had cast pulled out two hours before the shoot was to happen.

The shoot was scheduled and I started to build the set. I had worked out the camera angle and the lighting so as each piece was put into place I could see how it looked in the viewfinder.

To hide the walls in our family room I attached a second backdrop rail at a 90 degree to the ply and hung some old curtain material. To hide the edge of the flooring I used old suitcases and then on shoot day added some more sacks.

I had wanted to borrow a portable clothes stand for the dresses but could locate one so ended up building one from more of the left over timber.

The clothes rack support

It probably took the best part of two hours to get everything into place before I put in the lights. My fill light was my Godox AD600 in a 1.5 metre softbox positioned just to camera left. My main light was one of my Elinchrom set up high camera left and positioned above the end of the clothes rack. This light was gelled orange.

One of my recent purchases was a Godox receiver which should have worked with the transmitter on the camera. It was plugged into the back of the Elinchrom and should have triggered it at the same time as the other Godox lights. For some reason this didn’t work and the Elinchrom was firing after the main light, meaning that it was not having any impact on the shoot. Fortunately the Elinchrom has built in optical slaves which work perfectly.

For the shots of Kimberly on her own I wanted to give the impression of candlelight so I had a third light that was gelled orange, and in a gridded reflector to cast a very targeted light.

Tomorrow I will show you the finished series.

post covid get together

For my readers outside of New Zealand, our country response to the Covid-19 pandemic was to go into lockdown hard and early. While the economy has taken a hit, our health system didn’t, and we ended up with around 1,500 cases and 22 deaths. The vast majority of those deaths occurred in two aged demetia facilities.

Kate

The benefit of these action is that we last had a case over 20 days and last Sunday (June 7) the last active case recovered. That meant that from Tuesday we could enter our new normal.

Kimbre Viviers

While the borders are closed life within New Zealand could return to a sense of normal. So much so, that over the weekend 60,000 people attended two rugby games, something that other countries can only dream about.

Kelly Kim Harrouk

For portrait photographers to lock down was hard as rely on interacting with our subjects. So as soon as the restrictions were fully lifted a Sunday Club for the Fashion Collective was organised. It was great to be able to meet up with people with no need for social distancing.

Nicola removes the hair arrangement from Kimbre

Adding to the afternoon was the fact that Charlotte Kelleher of CKFilmDesign had brought along some period costumes that her team had made. Combining those items with hair by Wei Jiang and makeup by Nicola Robinson and you could not help but take great images.

Jordan L Rivers

While the studio is full of lighting, the triggers that it used did not work on my camera so I could use them. I had taken my own lights but that was a bit of hassle with so many people present. So with the exception of the image of Jordan above, all of the others shots were taken using the ambient light in the room. Fortunately my G9 is pretty good at handling lighting conditions.

Neen

In addition to Charlotte, one of the other regular’s, Neen also brought some costumes so I shot her in one of the outfits.

It was great being able to socialise and shoot without any restrictions or fear. I have joined in with Zoom sessions with photographers in the USA and I know that they are far from being able to do that.

Che at fort balance

Back before the world went crazy with Covid-19, I joined up with members of Hutt Camera Club for a Saturday field trip to Fort Balance on the Miramar Peninsula.

Fort Balance is one of a number of gun emplacements scattered around the entrance to the harbour, and unlike Palmer Head still has a lot of graffiti. I had seem in used in lots of shoots but never got there myself. It was built in 1886 as a result of fears that the Russians would invade.

Figuring that there would be areas inside the complex I packed my Godox speed light and strobe. This meant that I could shoot by myself rather than having others shooting over my shoulder.

The trip organiser also brought along Che who is one of her regular models along with quite a collection of dresses.

When we arrived at the location I dropped the gear and spent a good ten minutes looking around before even picking up the camera. This time let me sort out the types of shots I was looking for. I also spotted two areas that I thought had good possibilities.

This shot totally relied on the strobes as this room was in complete darkness.

One was a stair case that had walls on both sides covered with graffiti. I had my wide angle lens with me and I used the distortion it created to use the walls as wings.

The second was a brightly painted wall that matched the colour of the second dress Che was wearing.

Che is only 14 and therefore does occasional slip into goofy behaviour. I thought that we could capture that with the help of one of the largest pieces of art on the walls. The result is the image below


Overall it was a pleasant outing with good company. I plan on going back to Fort Balance at some stage in the future.

A photographic journey

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