Category Archives: Personal Projects

Zodiac series – Saggitarius

Of all of the shoots in my Zodiac series Sagittarius was the one that I had the clearest idea of what I wanted to shoot right from the start. Sagittarius is known as the archer but it is also a fire symbol. Therefore the colour red was going to play a strong part in the image and I wanted to extend it not only to the subject but to the background. I actually discuss this with model Brie two years before the actual shit took place.

In an ideal world I would’ve been able to arrange the model and the location at the same time, and create the image in camera. However, in this case we were dealing with trying to find an ideal sunset, with right tide time as well as the models availability. The location was fairly easy to choose as there are glorious sunsets on the Kapiti coast however this is 40 km from my home in Upper Hutt and a similar distance to the models home in Wellington. Therefore I decided that the easiest way to do this was to shoot the model in the studio and composite the background in.

A member of my camera club lives on the coast, so on a Sunday afternoon, when I suspected that the conditions would be right I got them to check. She confirmed that the skies were clear with a slight amount of cloud therefore we headed over to the beach.

The key to getting the composite right was to ensure that the camera was in the same position for both shots. On the beach I place the urn in the line that I wanted Bree to be in, using the grid in my viewfinder. I then recorded how many paces where to the camera. I also took note of how high the camera way.

Over the course of 30 minutes I took a whole string of images as the light changed. Once I got home I took them into Lightroom, chose the one I wanted and then tweaked it to the look I was going for.

Having got the background it was now time to bring in Brie. I had rented a bow from a film prop company and brought out the red ball dress. I had to set up in the garage to give me enough room to replicate the beach.

The lighting looks a little complicated but it is not really. I had my two Elinchroms positioned on either side of the backdrop aimed at it and feathered so that there would be not light spin on the model. The main light was my AD600 in a 85cm softbox positioned camera right.

Finally to mimic the warm tones coming from the sun I had a gold reflector angled towards Brie which was being lit with a speedlight inside a gridded 7inch round reflector.

I had the camera set to the same settings as at the beach, which inside eliminated all light, then I metered each light individually

I didn’t had Brie step into the shot, we moved in the final lights and tested what it look like. Once I was happy with the settings we started shooting.

One of the trickiest elements to blend in a composite is the ground, so to make it slightly easier I had gone to a local beach and grabbed a whole lot of sand. I then wet this and spread it out on the floor under Brie’s feet. That way she was already grounded and it would be much easier to blend into the final scene.

I wanted to ensure that we had several options so I zoomed the camera in to make Brie larger in the frame. In the image you can see the position of the pot that was used to line up her with the background.

In Photoshop, I removed Brie from her background and placed her in the scene. Then there was several adjustment layers to match her both in terms of brightness and colour.

I then added some shots of fire from my collection to make it appear that the pot was burning. Finally I used Nik software to get the final image.

It is really great when an image that envisaged over two years before finally comes to life.

Zodiac series – Virgo

My next shoot in the Zodiac series was for Virgo which the star sign that I share with my daughter. She often complains that I never include her in shoots so this was a perfect opportunity.

I wanted this to be a complete image so I spent some time building a set in the studio. I even made a bracket that let me hang a light from the back wall. The irony of this is that very little of the set ended up being seen in the final square cropped image.

The lighting for a set came from my 7 foot umbrella positioned behind me to fill up the set. I positioned a number of gelled lume cubes behind props to make them look like they were generating the light. The main light was my Godox AD600 in a 85cm softbox which was actually positioned outside the window essentially creating a Rembrandt light.

Samantha’s outfit was made from an old wedding dress that I had taken apart. The bodice was still in one piece but the shirt consisted of a long length of fabric pinned at the back.

As Samantha ended up being faced away from the main light, I added a speed light in gridded 7 inch reflector aimed at Samantha to provide some additional lighting.

I had borrowed a vintage typewriter to add as a prop and so I wanted to incorporate that. It was looking very dark so I ended up pointing a lube cube on a low power at it.

If you are wondering about why the various images have a different color toning this is quite deliberate. I had planned to make it look like a night screen so the camera was set to tungsten white balance and the key lights were gelled with a full CTO gell. While I liked this in some requests I did end up playing with the colour balance in Lightroom and warmed some of the images up.

Foil shoots with Sian

This is the final post about the shoot with Sian and a bag full of foil. sorry that you have had wait some time for it, but life and Covid got in the way. You can read the setup to the shoot in this part.

After shooting the Cancer images I had Sian stand up and drop the tape over her. There was plenty of this to go around and if was quite easy to cover her.  

While this had been easy using the cassette tape, this foil proved more cumbersome to manipulate as the length of it were longer. A pair of scissors was needed to essentially cut the end of the foil from that lying on the ground. 

For the final shot I had Sian lying on the top of the foil and I can reposition the camera out on a boom arm to shoot straight down using the Lumix app on my iPad. I have use this app number of times and it is great as you don’t longer need to be behind the camera.

I repositioned the lights as Sian was now in a completely different location to before and I brought in some additional colour gels using my Lime cubes. I had learned from an earlier shot that the cubes got very hot and that you could not put the gel directly against the light so I made a holder out of a gel holder and a the head of a selfie stick which worked well.

The final image was exactly what I wanted and I was pleased with the results. My wife was also pleased with the shoot because the next day I bagged up all the foil and gave it away to another photographer that I know so it is no longer taking up space in our garage.

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.

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.

Zodiac series – taurus

My shot for Taurus was one of the first in the zodiac sequence. The model is Te Manava Syme Buchanan and was shot at the 2018 Great Trentham Collaboration. The headdress was designed by me, but the rest of the costume came from CKFilmDesign.

Te Manava is over six foot six in height so I ended up shooting from a stool the get the angle right.

Zodiac Series – Leo

Leo was the second staged shoot in my Zodiac sequence. I had a couple of concerts in mind with Luke was be my main model. In the first part of the shoot I used a mask I had bought online and with a strobe in a small reflector used it to cast a shadow on the wall. I then had Luke remove the mask and a second shot was taken. The two images were merged in Photoshop.

For the second shoot, I had also recruited two additional models Martina and David who were to play the parts of the unlucky staff being bailed out because of poor performance.

David forgot about the shoot which left me one person short. Fortunately the G9 has a phone app and so I was able to position myself in the shot and still fire the camera.

Lighting for this shot was a main fill light in a seven foot umbrella and a smaller gridded light focused on Luke.

Zodiac Series – Gemini

I am currently working through a zodiac series with the ultimate aim of it being made into a set for submission for honours with the Photographic Society of New Zealand. It has been on the drawing board for a long time. To make the series more particular I am trying to recruit models that are actually the star signs that I am shooting. I was therefore really pleased when I discovered that twins Evie and Emily happened to be Geminis.

They are both fashion designers who have designed a lingerie range so it was an easy pick to ask them to wear black and white outfits.

The costuming allowed me to play with the notion of a split personality (good vs evil), and we made use of the mirrors in the studio. Then it was an easy photoshop masking to bring the images together.

I also wanted to look at the notion of Yin-Yang and the costume colours fitted well with that. I had them lay on the floor and boomed the camera overhead, under a large umbrella.

I has originally planned for them to be on a fake grass and I was going to surround them with bushed to make it look like they were in the womb. Unfortunately the grass could not be found, and my efforts to cut them out and place them on a real grass background did not look convincing so I ended up scrubbing the idea and giving the image a lot of texture in post processing.

The final image has done very well. It received honours in a club competition, was selected in the North Shore Salon and appeared in the 2019 issue of New Zealand Camera.

The Tattoo Project – Sharon

When I arrived at Pixie’s place she had her friend Sharon there for support and assistance. Now I have always said that I have absolutely no objections to models have friends with them on shoots, provided that they don’t interfere in the shoot. In fact I have called on them to assist on more than one occasion or even to model.

In this case it was the latter, because when I say Sharon’s tats and the fifties style of outfit she was wearing I just had to include her. It took a little convincing but with Pixie’s help she because part of the project.

Lighting for these was from the single 7 foot umbrella.