Category Archives: indoor photography


Yesterday I was shooting in difficult conditions. I had been asked to take action shots of a soccer team. Indoors! They wanted shots of the players in action, i.e. kicking the ball. That demands a fast shutter speed, a fast lens and lots of light. The shutter speed I could do – but the shoot was at 8 am! So bad lighting. I had no other option but to crank up the ISO. Grain City! But with my fast shutter speed I still had to shoot at f4 – far too low an f-stop when you are trying to focus on a moving subject. Hmph.

So it is so surprise that my favourite shots were the group images I took (where the players were standing still), and something entirely unwanted…

Greetings from Piet Mondrian. I didn’t compose this image *at all*. It just happened. But strangely it turned out to be interesting how the lines criss-cross the image and create a pleasing overall composition. Well, at least in my opinion.

The power of coincidence. This happening to me quite often. It happened when I was shooting blindly into the crowd at the red carpet in Berlin and ended up with a couple of great shots that turned out to be more evocative of the whole scenario than the actual celebrity shots. Is there a lesson to be drawn from this? To stop composing and to just blindly aim nowhere and wait what comes out? Maybe only as enhancing bonus shots, but not as the general strategy, I suppose. Still, I’m glad I got this one…

The Bowels of the Bourgeoisie

There is a neat little “game” going around FB at the moment. Under the header of “Filling Facebook with Art!”, people are encouraged to post an image from the oeuvre of a given artist:


If you *like* this image I’ll give you the name of an artist for you to google and post a work that grabs you. You post a similar status with the picture and get to recommend artists to your friends. It just keeps going like that..

It is a commendable idea – getting away from the shite trivia and instead focussing on something worth-while. I could not resist taking part, and my partner in crime sent me the name of German photographer Andreas Gursky.

Instant response. I know Gursky. Well, I know his *work*. Famed LF photographer, one of Hilla and Bernd Becher’s pupils, he is particularly well-known for having the dubitable reputation of having sold the most expensive photograph. His colour photograph “Rhein II” was sold for 3.1 million Euro in 2011. Instead of publishing that particular image (which I am not so enamoured with) for my FB art game, I settled on another image,  “Shanghai 2000“. It’s a typical Gursky creation – all lines and symmetry and repetition. Abstract and still realistic. The reason I chose it, however, was that I actually know the place he photographed. Yes, this time I *know* – I have been there myself and I have photographed it myself.

Hyatt Shanghai crop

Hyatt Shanghai by me

This is a slightly different perspective – but unmistakably the same hotel. It is the Hyatt Hotel in Shanghai, situated in the top 38 storeys of the Hyatt JinMao. While Gursky set up his LF camera somewhere between floor 53 and 87 of the Hyatt, mere plebs like myself was obviously not given access to the plush interior of the luxury hotel… My image was taken from the observation deck of the JinMao tower which includes a handy window down into the bowels of the bourgeoisie interior of the hotel. Nauseating. One way or another *sour socialist grin*. Well, it makes for an interesting photographic vista, I’ll give it that.

But hey, I revel in the great feeling of thinking that I took a similar picture as Gursky. Well, sort of. Mind you, noone is gonna pay 3 million Euro for *that*. The memory is priceless, though!

Boutique Photography

Fresh back from a little shoot. Thank Cod for my friends who keep me busy with “jobs” – and who help me when I encounter problems. The job came courtesy of my friend M___ of Locks and Lashes who needed some of her make-up work documented for her portfolio. I jumped at the chance and offered my services. After all, I need the practice and the fun of photography. Or should I say “challenge”? Because shooting on location is never straight-forward. Especially when you know you will be shooting in a petite shop – or is the correct term for that actually “boutique”? Never has a job sounded so fancy and yet so adequate…

So location work. In a shop full of colourful items, choc-a-bloc with distracting and space absorbing articles. Now imagine not only a fat-arsed photographer in that, holding a massive camera, but also a set of lights avec soft box, not to mention the model. Yeah. Tricky. But this is where my friend K___ comes in, who is my saviour when it comes to equipment and who jumped into the breach, presenting me with what basically amounts to a portable studio. K___ lent me a collapsible soft box that folded down to a black bag the size of a yummy layer cake which came with a contraption that you could mount on an equally collapsible stand and which was operated with a speedlite. Thank the gods of photography for my Yamaguchi no-name flash! At least I had that on my own. But add to that two triggers from K___’s stash, and I was good to go.

Good thing I practiced at home first. (One of the lessons of photography that I have learnt through bitter experience – never use unknown equipment without trying before. Let’s draw the veil of silence over the fact that I nearly crashed at the first hurdle – inserting the batteries the wrong way ’round… *duh* Took me aaaaages to work that one out. I was already on the phone to Yamaguchi, complaining about their “500 ways of wonderful”…) But after that it was a cinch. Even in the confined space of the shop, I was able to set up my make-shift studio in a corner of the premises. With a few test shots under my belt with a massive stuffed cheetah as stand-in, the lighting was sussed and the scene was set. The challenge – as anticipated – proved to be the background. With clothes horses full of vintage costumes and a wild array of furniture and bric-a-brac lining every surface and wall space of the shop, I had to commandeer a portable screen from the furniture corner as a backdrop. With my models sat in front of that, I was finally able to shoot the ladies and their 1940s style. Mind you, I had to hunch down underneath the soft box-beauty light – my thighs were killing me with the strain and it is a miracle that the shots did not suffer from camera shake, so wobbly did I crouch and slouch.

Locks and Lashes (107 of 124)

Styling/Make-up: Locks and Lashes

Amazing what a little portable studio can do. I will put it to the test again tomorrow on a sweet little shoot. Meanwhile, I’d be obliged if anyone could recommend me some thigh-strengthening exercises. Ouch.

Consolation photography

What do you do when you feel down? When you are bored or when you are largely uninspired? Do you have a go-to topic that you explore when you need consoling? Or is photography the furthest from your mind when you are not in top form?

With me it really depends. Well, obviously – if I am frustrated because of my photography, I would probably not turn to it for consolation. Or maybe I would – and photograph the things that I love photographing. My go-to consolation photography is interior photography. Yup, my guilty pleasure. It just rocks my boat. For starters, it is always available. Well – I live in a house so there’s the ready-made interior location at my disposal. I love that I don’t have to leave my house in order to be creative – I just grab my tripod and off we go in search of an interesting corner.

Interior photography is easy – the object of the shots are stationary and that is half of the shot in the bag. No lengthy explanations to a human model, either, about where to look and how to pose and what to do. No complaints from the photographed subject, either – walls may have ears but they certainly have no mouths…

I can take my time as long as I need, I can photograph the same bloody thing 50 times in a row, bracketing to my hearts’ content without anyone getting impatient. Oh, and I can work on my own, something that I occasionally enjoy, just prancing around alone, most probably with the iPod on, humming along and generally regaining my zzzzzing.

The weird thing is that I am never that pushed to actually look at the images I have produced in my consolation sessions. Sometimes it takes me weeks to have a look at them, edit them and post-produce them. Most of them don’t even get uploaded to a blog, or even Flickr. They have only been used for quick satisfaction of my needs. Consolation photography.

Playing Around

I love colour. And I love playing. Great, when you can marry both interests together and produce something funny and colourful.

Recognise the scene? This image was shot as a still life exercise. The lighting consists of one lightsource, a softbox, that illuminates the scene from above. With the softbox from above I attempted to recreate the lighting as depicted by da Vinci – the scene in the original is illuminated from above. There are hardly any shadows on the table and the diners. This of course was necessary so that the facial expressions of the subjects are clearly depicted. I experimented with sidelighting as well. However, the figurines have only painted on facial features (eyes, mouth, beard). I found that the sidelight obscured the faces too much, as the figures were placed very close to each other. Lighting them from above instead illuminates their faces and gives a better overall result.

While setting up I already realised that my picture was going to be very wide but not very high. There is a rather limited scope to arranging arms and heads of the figurines. The bodies of the toys cannot be bent. This meant I had to place the figurines next to each other and avoid placing them in front of each other. Unfortunately that spread the scene even further. But then again, da Vinci’s original is about twice as long as wide, too.

The camera settings were f 6.3 and a shutter speed of 1/60. (I could have used a much faster speed here, but since I was using a tripod, it didn’t really matter that much, anyway.) The scene is arranged on black, shiny perspex. 

Amazing what you can create from your kids’ toybox…

Impro Rules

Something that occasionally holds me back from shooting slightly more “concepted” ideas, is the amount of organising it can involve. And by that I don’t mean agreeing on a time and day for the shoot but getting the necessary props and finding a suitable location. That was until a while ago, when I realised that improvisation is king. And that it helps when you are actually NOT control-freaking but willing to work with a bunch of people. Cos: The more the merrier. Never was this truer than at that shoot below.

I was shooting for friends of mine who needed promo pictures for their upcoming venture. The shoot had a James Joyce theme, and while I was not responsible for the art direction of the shoot, it was nonetheless the collaboration of us altogether, that produced some really good, funny, memorable shots. There are so many of them, I don’t even know which ones to show.

Which reminds me – must ask for that suitcase back. I think it went from prop to show stopper. In any case, the guys in the shoot were just so easy-going and relaxed, it made everything really fun. It obviously helped that the resulting images were not intended to be serious and highly aestheticized (anaesthesized???) fashion pictures, but more like a static re-enactment of a scene in a particular book (English Lit buffs pipe up now and impress me with your knowledge of seminal novels. Participants and relatives of participants of the shoot are excluded from entry. Your statutory rights are nor affected.)

Loocation Shoot

“A picture says more than a thousand words.” Really? Well, I suppose there’s always more to see than just shapes and colours. There are various levels of meaning and interpretation. (Don’t stop reading. I promise I am not going to launch into some semiotic analysis of connotations, denotations and signifiers!) And some pretty strong clues in this one. Quizzy Quiz. I wonder whether my readers could identify what exactly this image represents and or refers to:

Too high-brow? Or too much along the lines of toilet humour? Did I once say that I do not appreciate pictures of ghost estates and empty car parks? In what way is this different? I suppose it is the humour that allows the taboo to be shown. A man sitting on a loo. Not quite what you want to look at (even though all “bits” are covered). Great fun to shoot, though. We were all in stitches, laughing. It was hard for me to keep the camera steady – and for my model to keep his face straight. 

I think that particular location should really be used more often. Fashion shoot in my loo, anyone? A loocation shoot, so to speak…

Another Blog Post in Which Sonja Contemplates the Theory of Portraiture in Photography

Have I shocked you with my long post title? I am in historical mood today, for various reasons, some of which I cannot disclose here yet, some too embarrassing. I will admit, however, that I have been reading too much fanfiction recently, and that is seriously impeding my communication skills – at least when it comes to 21st century communication. What better way to overcome that but to attempt a little Barthesian picture analysis?
There, there, have you recovered from the shock? I know, I did not expect it myself – given that I am not a fan of post-structuralist narrative exploration in the vein of Foucault and Derrida. Somehow, however, my brain seems to crave a bit of intellectual stimulation. You would think that I have had enough of that after nearly three years of college. But no, it actually could have been a bit more academic for my taste, I have to say, and that is why I am volunteering today to death-defyingly plunge myself into a semiotic analysis of a photographic portrait. (Also, I want to stimulate the old grey matter a little bit, so there…) I will have to cut my post into two halves, however, because I have too much to say, as usual. So let’s get the theory out of the way.
The images that we are confronted with on a daily basis, are everything but coincidental – they are carefully composed. That is particularly blatant when it comes to advertising images – which try to appeal to the viewers’/buyers’ basest instincts in order to sell a product.  Portraits are also carefully composed – the location, lighting, props and composition of portraits are used by the photographer to convey elements of the sitter’s person(ality). At first sight they may not come across as a commercial product, but in the case of celebrity imagery an element of advertising can not be denied: Celebrities depend on their name being well known. They are, after all, selling their image and thus a celebrity portrait becomes and ad for their product, be it acting, music or any other “talent” they possess. A semiotic analysis of an image – as dry and boring as it sounds – is actually a great eyeopener. When you look at all the picture elements closely, you will be shocked to realise how much we get manipulated visually by the images that are fed to us – and thus “sold” the person/product in the image.
I must prefix this with a short explanation of the Barthesian idea of myth – as this has a lot to do how we view and interpret an image. Barthes separates his analysis of (advertising) images into two distinct (interpretative) levels of meaning. The denotative level of meaning is the actual meaning of a sign. Example: The presence of a painting as an accessory in an image denotes “piece of art”. However, on a second level, the piece of art has also connotative meaning: Artwork in our culture is usually interpreted as a sign of cultured-ness, education, intellectualism as well as a visual expression of wealth and (good) taste. When you look at the connotation of the example, you find that there is a ideological quality to this. Barthes called this the myth – a culturally pre-defined set of ideas, rules and conventions. And as such they represent and support the ideology of the ruling class.

Phew, still with me? If you have read this far, I will reward you with a glimpse of the picture that I am discussing so you can get acquainted with the object of my desire interest. We’ll plunge into him in the next posting… Cliffhanger…

Into Interiors

Phew, I never thought it, but thanks to large format photography and my subsequent decision to make a project about staff canteens I have essentially reaffirmed my interest in interior photography. I have always had an interest in that – except I hadn’t quite copped on. I thought that I bought those interior design magazines every month because I was interested in interior design. No! I bought them, because I like looking at photos that feature interiors. 
There is a major distinction there and I know that that is the case because I have my particular favourites when it comes to the mags that I buy on an irregular basis: My favourite mag is called living etc. And what stands out about the mag is not necessarily the design, but the emphasis on good photography in there – as opposed to some of the cheaper magazines that have the same contents, but print on cheap paper and have shitty images. Not exactly stuff that the editors have shot on their own camera phone, but simply not nicely composed. What I love about the photography in living etc is that quite a few of the photographers seem to work with available light only.  Maybe that is the thing to do in that industry – you probably can’t schlepp the lighting gear around everywhere. Well, actually you could. There are plenty of mobile lighting kits, so… But by using available light, the photography references the design principles that have hopefully been used when designing the spaces – and the light from the windows and fixtures is defining for design.
Anyhow, I had great fun the other day playing with my passion for interior photography and bringing my own (badly developed) sense of graphic design and my expertise as a copy writer into it. While developing my assignment for professional practice, I came up with the idea of presenting my images that have to be shot for that class in the format of a interior design magazine. And I quickly made a mock-up of the cover just for fun:
Would be a dream to actually work in that field. I am wondering how to get into it. Unfortunately it is not the best of times for it. In boom time it would have been a great service to offer home photography for all those people who were selling their properties. Or is that even more important nowadays that people find it hard to sell their houses? Would they be willing to fork out money for that, though? Maybe I should start a survey and find out?Or someone will reply and tell me in the comments what they think about that idea…


Who would have thought it would be like this? There I am. With the luxury of a studio in the house. A recent development that is possible because a) I have the room and the connections and b) my friend has the equipment. On our own I haven’t got the gear and he can’t afford a studio space. Together, however, we can fly shoot. Hence we have pooled the resources and set up his gear in my house. All well all good. 
But what do you do when you want to practice studio photography and you haven’t got any willing victims? Right, you take what is there, plonk it in front of a backdrop and shoot away. 
Square – an unusual format for me. I do not particularly like squaring off my images (although I have done previously for my “Tracing Mainie” project), but somehow this turned out to be the right framing for this tin horse. (His name is Claus, by the way, and I am looking after him for a friend…)

Why are toy horses reminiscent of Christmas time, by the way? Anybody know? Somehow it has just occurred to me that this really looks like a nice ‘n’ neutral “holiday” shot for Christmas cards. Beautifully non-denominational, so as to not offend anyone’s religious sensitivities. *um* I guess one could also call it beautifully bland…

This was shot with a massive octabank softbox. So big, actually, that the light gets diffused so well, so wide, so evenly that it literally looks like daylight. In fact, when I showed my images to my friend, he thought I had not bothered to switch on the lights but shot with daylight, streaming in through our large windows. And even though the toy horse is made of metal and has a shiny surface, there is hardly any reflection on it (apart from that one hoof).
I can’t wait to test what this will look like with humans in it. Hehe, sounds scary, humans. But even if I am writing about “willing victims” – I am not looking to eat my sitters, I just want to photograph them. Volunteers, you know how to get in touch!