“Get your hair cut’

Well, we are into whatever day of this self isolation and are starting to look for new things to do. For me, I decided to update my profile picture on my Linkedin page, it was somewhat out of date.

The light coming into my studio was lovely and bright. Afternoon spring sunshine light. I decided I would use this light source as start. Setting my studio up I began with a  black cloth background clamped tautly to my Manfrotto Autopoles and expanding background support pole.

I then clamped my Lastolite reflector opposite the light source, gold side outwards. Set my camera up on a tripod and set an exposure of 125th at f5.6 @ISO 400. Focused on the point where I was going to stand, set the self timer and off we went.

The first exposure was satisfactory (No.1) but not quite what I was looking for. So I moved the reflector to about 45˚ from me and tried again.

A slight improvement but still lacking the image I was after (No. 6). So I added a single  flag unit to the scenario. I attached a Nikon SB5000 Speedlight on a stand and angled it towards the reflector so the light would bounce back towards me. The power output was eventually set to 1/16th, it started at 1/256th. This flash would group ‘A’. With Nikon SB-5000 and the WR-10 and WR-A10 adaptor you can create a wireless system that enables you to group flashes into 6 groups of 18 flashes per group (but only if your Joe McNally)!

However, the light coming in via the window was a little to strong and causing the right hand side of my face to burn out a bit. The light needed to be diffused, so I stuck pages from a newspaper over the relevant parts of the window with gaffer tape. This bought the highlight back into control. (No.9)

I introduced a second Speedlight on the right of the camera, group ‘B’. This unit was mounted on my Avenger ‘C’ stand in the Manfrotto Hotrod strip softbox. The power output was set to 1/128th. Both flash units were about 3ft away from me. I then flipped the reflector to use its white side. The ISO was reduced to ISO 200 and after a brief use of a comb and tidy up, I assumed a pose and got my portrait (No.21)

The images were downloaded into Adobe Lightroom and a series of adjustments were made to my chosen RAW file image. I always shoot RAW as it offers the greatest flexibility to the image file and Lightroom is a none destructive programme, meaning you can return to the original settings no matter what you have done to the file. However, when you download images into Lightroom it removes the settings set by your camera, in this case an underexposed original file, even though you had everything correct in the camera. The image you see on the view screen is a jpeg, so I knew the image was still viable.

My first adjustment is nearly always sharpening and lens profile corrections. The main adjustment was to the curves, sliding it to the left to bring  up the brightness and the adding a small ’S”’ curve. I then made some adjustments in the basic panel to the highlights, whites and contrast. As well as the clarity and texture sliders. With most images, I’m feeling my way around them and I will just make wild adjustment’s just to see what happens and then slowly bring it back to zero. The image was then converted to black and white and I added a bit of a split tone added. 

However, my main bugbear with the image was the highlight on my hand. This needed a little more retouching than Lightroom could offer. I exported the image to Photoshop and created a duplicate layer which I set to screen mode. I then worked on the highlight area using the spot healing brush. The opacity of the layer was reduced to lessen the effect, flattened and saved. This process returns a Tiff file which I then gave a few tweak’s, a bit of spotting and a voilá.

Prior to photoshop

Final Image

I wondered lonely as a….

As with everybody, we find ourselves with a great deal of spare time as we try to self isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. As someone in a creative industry, I was looking for someway to keep me in touch with my creativity. Inspired by the work of John Blakemore and Clive Nichols, I rescued some daffodils I had been given that had began to wilt and dry out from the bin and began to photograph them.

Having already set up a small table top set up in my office come studio. In this case, the background, a white bed sheet was supported using two Manfrotto Autopoles and an extending background pole. The sheet was held in place by various clamps bought from B&Q. The lighting was provided by three Nikon SB5000 Speedlight’s linked and triggered by the Nikon transmitter, WR-10 and WR-A10. I positioned one overhead in a Manfrotto Hotrod strip soft box mounted an an Avenger ‘C’ stand. Another to the left, in a Manfrotto ‘Ezybox’ softbox on a compact stand. The final flash was placed behind the background to provide background illumination and make sure the background burnt out in the images. For good measure a Lastolite reflector was placed on the left. 

The set up.

I used my 105mm Nikon macro lens to explore the colour and texture of the flowers in extreme close up. Using a shallow depth of field I was able to create soft almost watercolour effects by placing some of the flowers up against the lens or shooting through the flowers to create the images. It is quite remarkable what you see as you move closer and closer to a flower. Once you have everything set up, the exposure and speed light settings don’t change so you can change you angle of view, background or add filters to the Speedlight’s easily.

You can see some of the results here on this website or on my social media pages (the links are next to this blog, on the left). Alternately, you can purchase some of the images via my shop here on this website.

For me, flower photography, especially in the studio allows me to slow down and relax. It is almost therapeutic, allowing you just to follow your instincts as you discover differing angle’s, textures or patterns. It is a catharsis from my usual photograph, editorial and sport.

A short walk in Emsworth

It has been sometime since I’ve been out to specifically take photo’s for myself. Recently it has been either for the Portsmouth News or the Royal Navy Rugby Union.  And then there’s been the weather. Today the sun put in an appearance so I decided to drive a short distance from my home to Emsworth.  A lovely little town on the A27, the south side predominantly older buildings the main road leading down to, confusingly, Chichester harbour.

I decided to travel light so today I chose to use my first digital DSLR, a 2006 Nikon D200 with a 17-55mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 lens. Mounted with the battery grip, it is an excellent camera that produces a large quality file. Some of the images taken with it over the years have been enlarged to wall size and are now part of the decor at the Abar Bistro, Old Portsmouth.

With the strong sunlight and a good sky the location offered the chance to take some images featuring  graphical shapes and silhouettes.  With the tide also out I was able to walk along the foreshore  where there would be the potential for some texture, detail and debris images that only a low tide exposes. Sure enough the walk did not disappoint and numerous images presented themselves and were taken. Exposure is always a tricky thing in conditions such as this, strong sunlight and reflective surfaces; the sea and the dark shapes are not the easiest to expose for. For me, I meter off the back of my hand. I hold my hand up so the light source reflects off it and and take meter reading without casting a shadow with camera on my hand. My skin tone represents 18% grey which is what most camera meters are set to. Grass is another great 18% grey source. This will at the least get you in the exposure zone. 

However, as I was photographing a rainbow over Emsworth the mirror on the camera jammed in the up position and no matter what I tried it would not return home. I thought all was lost as the camera would not be worth repairing. I retreated to a pub for a pint and contemplated a replacement, probably the Nikon D850 and winder totalling some £2750. I finished my drink and returned home. I looked at the camera again and went through the menu and came across the ‘mirror up’ setting. Used for long exposures or when photographing skittish creatures. I operated the setting and the mirror returned to its correct position. Hopefully this was just a one off event.

I downloaded the images and imported them into Adobe Lightroom. My main piece of software that all my images go through for processing. Lightroom is extremely versatile and very useful for batch processing large numbers of images. If an image requires significant retouching or manipulation then in it is exported to Photoshop. The only other piece of software I use is Photo Mechanics. More on that in future blogs. I star rated the ones I wanted to work on, selected those and applied one of my presets to the images. This gave me a basis to work on each image. Using the dodge and burn tools to achieve the desired finish to image as well as some adjustments to colour and contrast were made. The images were then exported applying a watermark to them so I could share them across my social media platforms (links can be found to left at the bottom of the menu). Some the images can also be found in my shop on this website for sale.

I hope you found this all interesting. Feedback is appreciated. I will be publishing further articles about my work, process’s and opinions in the coming weeks.

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