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…!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Ayrton Senna drove my Mum’s Car…

Bit of nostalgia this…but back in the early 80’s…the 1980’s before you suggest otherwise…my mates and I had just learnt to drive, passed our driving tests and were relying on our Mum’s to let us practice our skills. After all Mum’s car was just there, parked outside…

Unfortunately my Mum’s car was a maroon metallic Austin Rover METRO…not cool!

We’ll gloss over the fact this replaced her Volvo, which I crashed…though in truth the sight of the Police car passing the crash site…backwards…followed by the appearance of the two officers…walking…clearly “upset”…carrying the “Road Closed” sign...along with the expleatives with which they described the road…suggests it wasn’t all my fault…honest Mum!

With new found opportunity and interest in all things smelling of petrol we quickly developed an interest in all motorsport, particularly rallying, as around us…well a short drive away…in Mum’s car…you’re seeing a theme here…were the great forest stages of North Yorkshire.

I still vividly remember the blaze of lights and blarring howl which heralded the sudden appearance of the first AUDI Quattro we’d ever seen…”seen” being a slight exaggeration, in the freezing cold and driving rain of a night stage in Cropton Forest! Too quick even for the whistled warning of the marshals…the shockingly efficient appearance of four wheel drive was a revelation…the future in rallying was clearly 4x4!

So when Rover unveiled the “visually challenged” Rover Metro 6R4 I didn’t feel quite so bad…because it was my Mum’s car…well the roof was, but apparently not much else! When Aytron Senna got behind the wheel of one… well that was it, Mum’s car was clearly a bit cool…ish!

I’ve always had a soft spot for the “ugly duckling”…I think it’s got charm, character and looks great…purposeful. I did back when I first tried to capture them with a Pentax ME Super, Fuji 400D E6 and with “on camera flash” (moving on now…nothing to see here…quite literally, most times!!) Better above…Canon 5DMk2, EF 400 F4 DO IS…a few years of practice helps...and whilst shooting a stills package on a video shoot last month I met a kindred soul…who actually now owns one…but that’s another story…

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Education, Education, Education...

Any conversation with a client which starts…” how on earth did you manage to do that?”… whilst they're grinning ear to ear, is always a good start to a meeting!

Having heard this recently from a long standing client it got me thinking about just exactly what it is we do, and why we manage to have this effect on clients whilst just doing our job…

It’s not that clients are totally unaware of what we do as photographers…after all there are some who take great interest in exactly what happens when the photographer turns up…those that take “thoughtful contemplation” as clear signs of incompetence and a need to offer constructive advice from their extensive photographic knowledge…after all just how difficult can it be to take photographs if you’re doing it?

Then again others will look around the studio as though entering a magical kingdom… a land of smoke and mirrors…where pretty much anything you do will result in an “ohh” or a “whowww!” You are clearly a magician who will work your own special magic on the obscure widget they have brought lovingly to this temple of creativity.

However when it comes to the image above, of The Creative Arts Building at Huddersfield University, my client has many years of experience of what I do and how I do it… usually when we discuss budgets it’s all about trying to avoid their photog’s irrational desire to request 100ft aerial platforms, movement of entire site offices, relocation of a visually offencive parked car…or indeed entire car parks…or "borrow" an aircraft to achieve a suitable aerial viewpoint which will definitely look fantastic, but needs to be overhead around dawn to get the best light…and yes we have done all that and more…and they’ve loved the results! To say nothing of the fact the best light will definitely not be until next spring when the sun is in the best location…

That I “chase the light” …a phrase I believe truly describes photography, but must confess I’ve pinched from a photog friend…just hope he’s not looking…is really the key to a project like this.

Light… its direction, strength and quality which help create great images…whether the source is several million miles away or within reach. Put another way if you can stand there and see no shadow cast by yourself it’s either not a good architectural photography day…or you’re related to the “living dead”…just best not to explain this to the client quite like that!

When I recce’d this location, along with several others for this client, I was really conscious of the reflective nature of the building cladding and glass curtain walls…key features of the design and materials employed…despite the fact I was there during a typical “Yorkshire Summer”…that it was “raining” does not adequately describe the generosity of the weather!

What did we do without Google Maps, weather forecasts and sun charts…that’s right I have a little knowledge of where to look to find the time of year when the sun “should” shine in just the right direction for this or any other building…not magic really! So that’s why this client trusted me to wait through several months of apparently lovely sunshine for the time of year when the sun would give us the effect I had in mind…

So on the weekend of the shoot we were on-site just after sunrise…about 6.00am…after around a 2 hour drive…sitting in a supermarket car park with a clear view of the building…waiting for the local cloud to clear…and waiting…and waiting…because the forecast was for sunshine before “mid morning”…

Here I’ll gloss over the wonderful cooked breakfast…always sets you up for a day “cloud watching”… the issue of car parking for hours sat staring out the car windows…always guaranteed to attract attention from the “fluorescent jacket brigade!” Yes…I am “stalking”…that great big building over there…not your customers!!

And it’s all that questioning, planning, preparation and experience which we as photographers need to educate clients about. If we’re lucky…just like I’ve been…our clients realise that we have skills and experience which they must respect, just as they would any other professional…and in turn we must produce the result which make them ask “how did you do that?”

It’s just that moment which gives the opportunity to educate them about what makes us professional photographers…over a coffee and chocolate biscuit please!