Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Wherever I hang my bike... that's my home!

You can't fail to have seen the growing interest in cycling in recent years... indeed the Tour De Yorkshire has only just finished for another year... and that grew out of the amazing support the Tour De France gathered when it came to Yorkshire in 2014. However where you park your bike has become a little more challenging... if you want to find it there when you return from your coffee!

A recent phone call from Greg Villalobos reminded me that with imagination and some talent solutions to problems present themselves. A video producer, designer and BAFTA winner Greg was interested in a friend's problem of where to store her bike in a house without a garage... typical of many city dwellers. That his friend was a talented sportswoman and therefore rode a highly valuable bike made the problem a little more challenging then simply leaving the bike outside against the fence!

I'd first met Greg a couple of years ago.. it was easy to identify him as the rider of the Triumph motorbike which everybody was admiring from the windows... he was the only one in the room with a crash helmet!

Later he asked if I could help him create images for a website Gregory North, as his bike rack designs were gathering interest and sales enquiries from those who had seen his friend's example.

A clean, simple design, hand crafted in plywood we discussed the type of client this would appeal to.... and decided the white block walls of the studio would work well... so out came the drill and in a couple of minutes we had beautifully engineered bikes hanging from the studio walls... simple!

And the recent call from Greg... well that was about a technical issue he was having with a new project... unfortunately he's not just a nice guy but also one of those infuriatingly creative individuals who sees something that interests and inspires him and he jumps straight in... as was shown by the  recent award from The Motorcycle Film Festival for his short documentary film on The Coast to Coast Trail.

Monday, 11 January 2016

It's Bucket List time...

Happy New Year! 

Well  2016 has definitely arrived... and as I'm climbing the "email mountain" I'm reminded of all those holiday conversations about what we are all going to do next year... which is now this year!

I'm sure many people have a Bucket List... a list of those things they would like to do before...

High on many people's list would be a wish to travel, to see different cultures, and explore new worlds ( sorry I think that's Startrek! ) Certainly travel can definitely broaden the mind and provide a chance to explore and learn about many things... and all we have to endure is the misery of the airport departure lounge and possible joys of "queasy jet"!

But what if travel and exploration required just a little more effort... would we do it?

What if to travel required you to organise your own travel... not just the destination but to actually build your own boat... or at least pay for the boat to be built!

Katherine Maria Routledge was born in 1866, into a wealthy Quaker family in Darlington, northern England, the town where Claire and I have our studio. She graduated from Somerville Hall (now Somerville College, Oxford), with Honours in Modern History in 1895, and apparently for a while taught at Darlington Training College.
In 1910 attracted by the international mystery of giant stone statues and gripped by tales of the people and culture of Easter Island/Rapa Nui Katherine Routledge and her husband decided to organize their own expedition.
They had a state-of-the-art 90-foot (27 m) long Schooner built, named Mana. They recruited a suitable crew, apparently even managed to borrowed an officer from the Royal Navyand set sail from Southampton in 1914.  
Fast forward to 2014 and I was contacted by Susie Stephen, born and brought up in Darlington and fascinated by Katherine Routledge's expedition since her time at university. Susie was keen to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the original expedition... by running from Darlington to Southampton... cycling across South America... and then running around Rapa Nui! Apparently "extreme travel" must be in the local water round here!

Susie was looking for some pictures for local, national and international media as she hoped to draw attention to Katherine Routledge's original expedition and to raise money through sponsorship to help the people of the island.

We agreed to meet at her former school, Hummersknott Academy, from where she would be starting her run... a marathon a day until she reached Southampton! Whilst we talked I had a real sense of the dedication and commitment she had for the adventure ahead. Susie also mentioned that there was a picture in Katherine Routledge's book of her home... Walworth Castle... now a local hotel... so we jumped in the car and drove there to recreate the picture. Easier said than done after one hundred years of tree planting and the building of a Ha Ha, just waiting to swallow a photographer... in case you wonder that's a deep ditch dug as a moat to prevent grazing animals getting to the castle's garden... edging backwards for the right composition had it's potential perils!

The next I heard from Susie she had completed her trip to Rapa Nui, the result of which was sponsorship of a local student in their university studies.

If you are interested in Katherine Routledge, or indeed the amazing efforts of Susie Stephen and her "Retracing Routledge" it's not too late to catch an exhibition about both their amazing journey's currently on in Darlington Crown Street Library.

And if you've got the travel bug and some far flung destination on your Bucket List there may be other ways to get there which don't involve running, cycling and running again... 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Times they are a changing...

I'm glad I'm a photographer and this blog is where I can talk about ideas, lighting, lenses and things like that... political this is not! 

But working as a photographer is punctuated with meetings and conversations... large and small... and they can be interesting and thought provoking discussions.

This image hangs on the office wall of an engineering company Managing Director. It was originally shot as part of a series exploring the Tees Cottage Pumping Station... one of the last remaining operational beam pumping engines and used to draw water from the local River Tees. It secured a reliable water supply for the town of Darlington and local area.

It's the case that the town in which we have a studio has been at the forefront of several ingenious engineering advances in the past... and indeed several social and financial ones as well. We are even now seeing a nearby return of the railway industry it so famously pioneered. But it will not have gone unnoticed that elsewhere in the Tees Valley industry on which the region has built it's history has been making the news for entirely other and more terrible reasons.

So what does an image of another time have to offer today's engineering new world... apparently it reminds my client "that nothing lasts forever... and just exactly how far we have come..."

Thursday, 7 March 2013

You’re a pea brained, prat headed, talentless pillock headed….

Before you ask… no that’s not one of my more “educational comments” to an assistant or student…  

And no I’ve never, ever been tempted… because a friend and colleague told me of the day he was shooting a car on 10”x8” film (long time ago now!) from up a very tall ladder…at the end of which he realised the assistant had miss loaded all the film…time for a “Gordon Ramsey?” No... for as he said who’s was the bigger fault…the assistant for miss loading or him for not checking…and standing up a ladder swearing at yourself only convinces those watching that you really have lost it!

However before Gordon Ramsay made such outbursts "famous" the comedian Lenny Henry was doing it… just better and funnier! Indeed re-watching episodes from his “kitchen comedy” CHEF!, recently released on YouTube, still leave me doubled up… nearly ten years before Gordon made such outbursts on television "bollocking" Gareth Blackstock was doing it!

And what does this have to do with photography… you may well ask?

Some time ago now we were working in a new hotel and during a long day arrived in the Restaurant to see a selection of the chef’s signature dishes laid out ready for photography.

These included a bowl of Crayfish, looking fantastic on a bed of crushed ice. Needless to say we were under a little pressure to get the shots required before the re-opening of the Restaurant for evening service.

Things were going really well until I noticed that the Crayfish had moved between frames.., though I couldn’t remember moving the bowl and was sure I hadn’t asked my assistant, or so I thought… anyway... eye to camera I simply asked for the bowl to be moved and a hand appeared in frame to make the adjustment…

When the hand of my assistant touched the bowl the Crayfish reached out and oh so gently grasped a finger with it’s claw… my assistant froze! I had trouble seeing... as I was crying…with laughter…and the talented chef calmly and quietly commented that they actually weren’t cooked, simply kept “on-ice” until required... and clearly the photographer's lights were perhaps a little warm!

And how would Chef Blackstock have dealt with such an “escape attempt”… well just watch… when at 4.10 into the shortened video below he has first to deal with "runny mayonnaise" and is then told that all the Crayfish have escaped… "You’re a pea brained, prat headed, talentless, pillock headed... What are you…??"

Thursday, 17 January 2013

...Can I be first to wish you Happy Easter!...

So we have landed in 2013...typically we didn't ease gently into it...indeed we are now over half way through January and fast approaching February...Eeek!

Thankfully we survived "the End of 2012" in all it's forms with little actual damage, except a few sore heads and a leak in the studio roof so it just leaves us to VERY belatedly thank everybody who contributed to 2012... and now lets see what 2013 has to show us... hope it's started well for you too!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

"National Chocolate Week"... Yeah right... as if I need any excuse!

It had been whilst recently working with Claire and a crew of young talent in Northumberland... but I'm sworn to secrecy...that I discovered we had been in the middle of "National Chocolate Week".

What fun was had...for as long as I could convince all the crew that actually it was a week for abstinence...National Chocolate Week meant no chocolate for a whole week!

Surrounded as we were by excellent catering and an abundance of coco bean products this probably wasn't the best idea...as I would be required to abstain myself! However this lasted for about as long as a chocolate bar can survive when surrounded by "chocolate deprived" females...they quickly decided I was being very cruel...normal consumption resumed and the whole world continued turning!

However it got me thinking... chocolate and photography have often gone together...or at least if I have a chance they do!

We had a client ask about creating images for a new chocolatiere they were opening...a particular speciality being chocolate dipped fresh strawberries...could we create images of the process? Could they bring a large supply of chocolate and strawberries to the studio...all in the interests of getting the shot right you understand!

I'm not sure if we'd got the shots in the bag after the first 12 chocolate dipped strawberries...or if the whole tray of fruit was actually needed...but if it's there we might as well use it! I do remember having absolutely nothing left in the studio to take home after the shoot... Oops!

The local French patisserie chef and his partner had obviously worked with photographers before...the look on my assistants face as she cut into the cake...after we'd finished the shoot...to discover the cake was made up of a polystyrene core with just an icing layer, was priceless! I really should have taken an image for the studio wall...but was laughing too hard!

Which reminds me of the assistant and the crayfish... but I think I'll leave that one for another post! 

Working with great chefs, in fantastic hotels, means we often come across the magic that results from the simple coco bean...but opening the bedside drawer to find a convenient supply of chocolate during a long shoot was a welcome respite...it might have been called "The Chocolate Room" but I'm sure it had been created just for passing photographers... or National Chocolate Week!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Let Johnny Do the Math…or the making of a television commercial

“I used to play the working men’s club round here…” not quite what you expect your childhood hero to say…particularly as I’d spent many afternoons lying on the living room floor after school watching Johnny Ball explain some amazing science… 

I’ve often said that commercial photography is a license to access all areas…particularly those which perhaps without a camera in hand you’d struggle to see…say behind the scenes of a location television commercial shot by Dene Films for HELP LINK and starring Johnny Ball… another one of the thousands (yes, that’s right…0000’s!!) they have produced.

So being asked to shoot a “stills package” for a commercial was an amazing opportunity to see exactly how a large crew works together...and I do mean a large crew, as unlike many photoshoots where “3’s a crowd” with even a small television commercial there’s quite a crowd!

It was only really clear just how many people are involved when they all managed to squeeze into our studio (and here’s a reminder of what the studio could look like) to shoot some “green screen” images for later compositing! As the fleet of vans the crew travelled in "occupied" the carpark behind the studio it was amusing to see the shocked look on our usually unflappable security!

Earlier in the day we had taken over a small quiet cul-de-sac in a housing estate, found by a location scout…with house exteriors dressed and prepared…which effectively “detained” the homeowners inside for the duration…though they could be seen peeking through upstairs windows all day!

My role had no requirement to direct events…unlike a commercial location photoshoot…so it was great to watch and record the whole process…the professionalism of the “talent” Johnny Ball, who was just as funny as I remembered…both on and off camera…and the combined efforts of the Director Mark Lediard and all the crew to make the shoot a creative and technically successful.

This despite the sun deciding to play “hide and seek” which made continuity between set-ups a little too exciting at times…and here it was interesting to see the use of large scrims (diffusion material stretched across frames used to soften the direct harsh light…I know, I know...but yes we had some...several of the crew and myself had the sunburn to prove it later in the day! ) to help balance later scenes shot under harsh cloudless sunshine with the earlier soft, cloudy light.

There was also a cheeky appearance from the Director's Canon 7D, apparently great for scouting shot angles before rigging the expensive Arri pro camera... easier and lighter to carry up ladders to check the viewpoint!

The day ended at our studio, where the crew used our “green screen” to shoot Johnny apparently interacting with the on screen graphics…and I shot some portraits for the web site. It was interesting to see how the Director of Photography, Si Bell and lighting grip Richard Haigh chose to light the shot…using KinoFlow and our own studio bounce boards to achieve “key light” and “fill” all from the same single source…you re-learn something everyday!

So to see what the final result looks like … and no you will not spot me… there are definitely no "close-ups" of me…anywhere…!