Sad to hear of the passing of Ken Dodd. A few years ago I did a feature on him for the Evening Standard . Did some portraits in his dressing room then watched the show which went on for hours. It was a Comedy Genius at work ,the best stand up I’ve ever seen. After the show he stayed at the Stage Door of the theatre where he chatted to his fans to the early hours. A lovely man who really cared about his work and his fans.
Book Festivals can be quite chaotic with lots going on all at the same time in various locations. No time for studio photography with complicated lighting.
So sometimes its best to keep it simple and find good spaces with great natural light. Being centred around Christchurch College means The Oxford Literary Festival has many great rooms, corners and archways to shoot, especially if the sun shines. And when required you can slip in a white or gold Lastolite Reflector to help lift the shadows.
Also using just one camera and one lens you can operate efficiently without being weighed down by excess equipment or baggage. My camera of choice was the Nikon D800 which has great tonal range and resolution at even high ASA if the light fades. My lens was a Nikon 85mm f1.8 g with which you can get close in for a tight portrait and then move back to a variety of compositions. It really is the perfect focal length for this kind of work. And being a f/1.8 lens its easy to control the depth of field . The only other two pieces of equipment needed are a Sekonic light meter for exposure and a small grey card carried in the back pocket to get the perfect colours with the post production of the Raw images. The Raw processor of choice is as always Phase One Capture One Pro.
To see more or my portraits at the Festival go to my Archival Site
Here is one of my recent portraits of the Writer Larry Siedentop .
To retain the atmosphere of the room and the view out of the window I metered for the ambient light which balanced fairly well for the light outside the window around 1/60th sec f/8 at 800 asa . This gives the warm glow of the table lamp .
Then using an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra with 2 heads each with an umbrella I was able to get the light into Larry Siedentop’s face .
The key is to set the flash light to balance with the ambient light at f/8
Its always great to get an email from someone who understands what I try to achieve in my portraits.
This week I got such a message from a lady in New York
Hello: I was so pleased to have accidentally come across your wonderful portrait portfolio tonight.
I think around 1989 or so I was in England and had bought a copy of The Independent and I saw a portrait of yours, relating to the early death of a parent. It was such a piercing portrait of someone who had experienced a great loss. I tore that picture out and kept it for many years, but I lost it and then I couldn’t remember your name, but tonight I rediscovered you while looking at something else. I was so happy.
I just wanted to tell you what a great portraitist
you are. Somehow you are able to feel with that
other person and their being shines through.
As the Traverse Fifty exhibition is now up on the walls at The Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. A collaboration between 50 writers and 50 photographers of which I am one.
So here is the image of my shoot with Emily Jenkins for the show
I was asked to come along to a summer party and take some photographs. Rather than roaming among the guests with a DSLR, I wanted to do something more formal whilst still keeping with the spirit of the event. The Theme of the party was Festival and dressing-up costumes and props were available for guests to play with and have some fun. I set up a marquee in a corner of the garden next to a wall and put up a sheet for a background. Since I was shooting in both afternoon and evening I needed a powerful but soft pleasing light that covered the whole area evenly as I would be photographing groups of people. The Elinchrom 197mm Octabox would be perfect and I lit it using the Elinchrom Ranger Speed that would give me 1100 watts of power which was ample and would have a fast re-cycling time. The great thing about the octabox is it gives virtually equal exposure across a large area so no other fill lights were needed. It was a fun set up and I was able to grab people, bring them into the marquee and get them to choose some props or not and photograph them for a few minutes. Shooting with a Medium format camera and digital back gives you a great quality to the image.
I finished the shooting with this image of The Village Idiots, a local band with a fast growing reputation, who were playing a couple of sets at the party.
When the shoot was edited a montage of images were presented to the host as a large framed print.
I shot the image on a Phase One IQ140 Digital back on a Contax 645 camera with a Carl Zeiss 55mm/f3.5 lens. Images were processed in Phase One Capture One software.
Here is a recent studio portrait of the writer Mark Billingham, shot against a white background .What I like about this style of shooting is that it really focuses on the person with no distractions, especially when in Black and White. For me the most important thing about a portrait shoot is the subject and not the photographer so I like to keep everything as simple as possible .
To get a clean white background you need to balance the light falling on the background with the light on the subject. If you only light the subject the background will generally become grey not white, so it has to be lit. To get a clean white background you need to overexpose it by one stop, anymore and you will get flare into the lens and the edges of the subject would be lost. This is where my most important piece of equipment is invaluable for an accurate exposure – my Sekonic 358 Flashmeter. You can meter the front and background light accurately to give a perfect result. It even has a built in pocket wizard to fire the flashes for easy use. Meters seem to be going out of favour these days with photographers using the LCD screen on the back of their camera to evaluate the scene. But I feel you can never have complete control of the lighting values without it, and I for one would be lost in its absence.
But the bottom line is this is only a starting point once you know the rules the fun can begin as you break them experiment and go in many interesting directions.
For this shoot the main light was an Elinchrom monoblock with a Deep Octa softbox attached, the monoblocks lighting the background had reflectors with flags attached to push the light on to the background and prevent any light spilling forward and falling on Mark . The camera was a Contax 645 with a Phase One IQ140 Digital Back and a Carl Zeiss 55mm lens. The image was shot Raw , converted to black and white and processed in Phase One Capture One Software.
As Part of the Traverse Fifty Project, a collaboration between The Traverse Theatre and Writer Pictures, I had the pleasure of photographing the Writer Emily Jenkins. Fifty writers and fifty photographers have been teamed up to produce a series of images for an exhibition at The Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.
The Final image has been chosen, printed, sent to Scotland and will be unveiled at the exhibition in October.
But here are a couple of photographs shot during the day that failed to make the cut. I found a beautiful location in nearby woods and then we did a further series of photographs in my studio.
I liked the way some day light broke through the trees but wanted more control on the key light on Emily. Elinchrom make a great portable lighting kit called The Quadra Ranger which you can take anywhere, and allows you via an adapter to attach any of their light accessories. To that I attached the Maxi Spot which is a massive reflector which gives a powerful focused light which mimics sunlight; my assistant was easily able to hold this high via a boom arm.
I always process my raw images in Phase One’s Capture One Pro One software and I using the colour editor I was able to increase the saturation of the bluebells and Emily’s dress.
The second image was taken back at the studio.
We used one light with an Elinchrom 70cm white beauty dish angled just to one side of Emily. I decided not use a fill light and go for a more dramatic look. I got in close using a 120mm makro lens.
After several post shoot discussions with Emily we made the final edit and the exhibition print was chosen.
All images were shot on a Phase One IQ140 Digital Back attached to a Contax 645 Camera with Carl Zeiss lenses