For pretty much everybody, the general consensus of opinion regarding 2020 has not been favourable. It has affected us all in one way or another. For me, I saw all of my freelance work disappear along with my sports photography. I tried to replace this with other work, as well as trying out different styles and approaches to my photography. The idea was to stay motivated, keep my skills honed and ideas fresh but it was not that easy. At times you wondered why you bothered or wether to continue with your chosen path. With all this time on your hands, it was little wonder that doubt grew and negative thoughts affected your confidence.
But when you are at your lowest and you realise the only way is up. I know it is obvious and cliched but it is also true. So, you begin to drag yourself out of the mire and smell the rose’s, so to speak. On this journey, not only do you discover things about yourself and what is important but you realise that you are far from alone, you are only a conversation or a sentence away from finding a great weight being lifted.
As I searched for a handle on things, a way forward. I began to discover photographers I had never heard off and others I had forgotten or only knew by their images, such as Yoshi Shimizu, Derek Hudson, Clive Booth, Ami Vitale and Victoria Jones, to name just a few. Music that touched your soul and gave you hope, Bill Evans, Hania Rani, Yann Tiersen, Agnes Obel, etc. Art, film, poetry and literature that let you escape the day to day realities. All these influences and pointers gave you the confidence to stop and think. To think about nothing and imagine. It allowed your emotions to roam free, to listen to the silence within. You were allowing yourself to be moved and in that creative space, thoughts formed and ideas began to be nurtured. Decisions are made.
As 2021 approaches, we find ourselves locked down again, isolated from our families and friends. Our plans put on hold or cancelled as we try to evade an invisible enemy. For me, I am not going to let this disrupt my future plans. The borders of our tiers may limit as too how far we can travel or the restrictions of distance, masks and cleanliness may restrict our direction. But, these things will pass, we will overcome and adapt to this so called “new reality”. We will meet again. We will create.
As I have journeyed through 2020, I, like others have realised who and what is important, what matters, what we desire and what we no longer need and want. Over the coming weeks, here on my website and in my social media accounts, my decisions will become apparent with my images and words explaining my journey. I hope you will notice the change, support and advise me. If you are beginning or restarting your journey away from 2020 and into 2021, I wish you ‘Bonne chance’.
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.
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.
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.