Category Archives: photography

Summer, Impromptu

Impromptu is often the best. A beautiful summer evening. 23 degrees at 8pm. No kids obligations. We get a bag of chips and have dinner at the beach.

A walk across the ripples. The sun is beginning to set. We pass through the shadow of the big chimneys. All I have is my camera phone. What I get is this.

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Impromptu is good.

Composition Gimmicks

What do you think about radical crops?

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That picture obviously didn’t start out like this. But I think it is visually much more interesting like this. (Would I say the same if it contained my favourite movie boyfriend in it? Um. Hm.)

Is less more? Or is extreme cropping bad?

Any opinions?

Back to Sepia

More portraiture, again from the 1920s shoot with Locks and Lashes.

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I tried a different antique-ing approach here – sepia. Certainly works better for portfolio purposes – at least we get an idea of what the make-up looks like.

And you live and learn, on every single shoot. The set-up here was determined by the space that I had available for shooting, i.e. the backroom of Locks and Lashes’ premises. The space there is about 2 x 3.5 metres. No natural light, some tungsten bulbs. And more or less bare walls. We covered those up with some net curtain – which leaves a nice textured background here to the image. However, not that ideal for the purposes of the portfolio – the frilly curtain design kind of meshes up with the hair. Where do the curls end and the background drapes start? I guess we’ll be back to neutral backdrops next time ’round.

Location, Location, Location

Another weekend, another shoot for Locks and Lashes. Sonja is all set, grabs her remote release, her speedlite, the portable soft-box, a tripod and off she goes through the rain. She is enthusiastically greeted at the door of the shooting venue. “Can we shoot outside, you think? Has the rain stopped?” It has. And Sonja is delighted because shooting outside, under clouded available light is muuuuuch easier than in the confined impromptu studio with flash. Five models, one era. We were doing the 1940s on Sunday, and a variety of looks including the 1940s  bride, the Marilyn, the relaxed (house) wife, the society lady – and some “casual-sophisticated a la 1940s”. Those are my monikers, no guarantee that that is what those different looks really meant to convey. Here is the latter:

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The fabulous Kat Moiselle

The last in a quick series of shots outside. The freshly painted exterior of a house in the neighbourhood provided a lovely background, with the doorway framing model Kat Moiselle nicely. The demure pose in the authentic garb fits the vintage look very well, I think. Where is Mademoiselle Moiselle off to, one wonders?

Within a range of 100 steps we shot on three different locations, all outside, all with available light, much to my *de*light. Dublin is brilliant that way – just go outside, and you have photo locations galore. That is when the weather plays ball.

Luckily it did – for all of the three-hour session. Upon return to the base, I discovered that I had forgotten an essential part for the studio set-up. Duh. Thank goodness for my clients’ suggestion we shoot this outdoors. Otherwise I’d have been f…

 

 

Shooting Music

Let’s take a break in the whole portraiture series. I’ve experimented with music photography on and off. Music *was* my first love, so all the better when I can combine that with my current first love, photography. While I have altogether given up taking marky Mark to concerts and festivals any more – I’d rather see the event through my eyes rather than through the lens – I did not hesitate to go out and shoot at a concert that a good friend of mine was playing last month. The Choir Invisible are a Dublin-based band and I was at their gig in The Workmen’s Club to try and capture some impression.

Now, shooting in clubs is ridiculously hard (I think). You are dealing with a dimly lit which requires either strong flash or high ISO. Strong flash irritates musicians and audience. High ISO inevitably results in grainy, fuzzy imagery. Hmph. But what else can you do? Open up the aperture, shoot slow at 1/30 s and pray that the band doesn’t move around too much. As per usual, I was unenamoured with my band shots. Maybe I am too hard on myself, I’ll show them another time. My favourite instead is a technically faulty shot that I personally find quite nice.

Choir Invisible

Yup, shot so slow that the movement of the guitarist results in multiple exposure on the sensor.

Well, it’s all deliberate, I will claim. The rest is silence.

PS: The Choir boys are playing Whelan’s this weekend, May 30th, 2014, supporting Carriages. Check them out!

More Antique Portraiture

Bear with me. There’s a number of portraiture shots coming up over the next weeks. There was just too much going on with Locks and Lashes recently *ggg*. They keep me shooting – which is great, btw.

I have always been fascinated by the Hollywood Glamour style of photography. The use of light – or rather shade! – is just so dramatic, and makes the sitters look good in any case. I came across the “inventor” of Hollywood Glamour photography when I was researching for one of my college projects. George Hurrell actually had pretensions of becoming a painter. He initially started photographing as an aide for his painting. Or rather, to document his paintings. Gradually, however, he got into photography, takeing pictures of other artists’ paintings and eventually discovering that he could actually earn money with photography. Hurrell revolutionised portrait photography and famously declared that it was not about where the light was, but where the shadows are.

He also invented possible the boom light. An obvious idea for a photographer to have – easily movable lights that can illuminate the sitter from above, drowning out lines and wrinkles, creating what we nowadays call beauty light. Not only did Hurrell perfect the lighting techniques he pioneered, according to a website I found, he was also a master of retouching. I could go on and on here with more examples of his fascinating work. The photographs are just stunning. And while I am neither a fan of Hollywood nor of beauty as such, this footnote in photographic history utterly transfixes me.

Not that I come close to his work, but it’s certainly an inspiration, and it is fun to play with light and shadow. Here is my take on it:

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Light is too soft for Hurrell – and it’s a colour image, too, but I like the shadows drowning the image to the right. It pays to look at the old masters, in any case.

Roaring Twenties

The recent post on Locks and Lashes’ Facebook page has finally shocked me into action again. So much for all my good intentions and New Year’s resolutions of posting more regularly. It’s not that I haven’t been photographing. I have. And I like the stuff that I produce. I am actually more annoyed with some technical blogging snags that keep me from posting more regularly. But well.

Last month, in any case, I was called out to shoot for Locks and Lashes. They were doing 1920s themed make-overs for their own portfolio, and I was thrilled to be shooting for them. Again. I previously had done a first trial shoot which I wrote about here. And in March they booked me for a shoot of a make-over which I haven’t even written about yet.

Doing a 1920s themed shoot gave me a bit of scope to play in Photoshop. Everyone who knows me knows that I am not particularly keen on postproduction work. With this, it was actually fun, because model Chloe in 1920s garb, make-up and hair really looked straight out of a Man Ray shot. You know which one I am thinking about. So add a bit of overexposure, and out comes this:

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Maybe I should have added a few scratches and stains to the image to make it look even older? But that would not help my clients, who want this in their portfolio. In any case, for once an instance where I enjoyed playing around with effects.

Hahahahave Made It

If you remember my post on falling into work mode rather than fangirling at the red carpet, you’ll recall how unhappy I was with my resulting photographs due to bad decision making. Turns out the fans were not as critical as I was. Well, I weaved some post-production magic over the ten two images that were miiiiiildly acceptable and threw them out there. The old b/w trick worked particularly well, and it also helped that in the following image the subject was incidentally lit by the flash of someone else’s camera.

IMG_4896Still fuzzy and I am not talking about Mister’s stubble there. But a razor-sharp picture of the hair. Maybe Pantene will come calling?

I was laughing out loud today, though, and not entirely ironically when I saw that a fan had actually used my pic above to have an iPhone case printed. I have made it as a photographer! iPhone cases are only the start. I expect tote bags, coasters and t-shirts next.

Red Carpet

Serendipity is when two areas of interest overlap. I have a soft spot for a particular actor – and I love all kinds of photography. Ooops, that sounds as if I am open to paparrazzi photography – that’s about the only genre I am most definitely not interested in. But these two passions collided nicely a couple of days ago when I went to Berlin to attend the European Premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: an chance to see my movie boyfriend favourite actor up close and  an opportunity to try my hand at red carpet photography.

I had made a half-hearted first attempt at this last year, when the first instalment of The Hobbit trilogy was launched in London. I had left it too late to get accredited for the event, and then found myself locked out of the fan area despite hanging out around Leicester Square for most of the day… I decided to give it another try this year as the European premiere was scheduled for Berlin – and I still have a suitcase in Berlin, as Marlene Dietrich famously sang , i.e. I have good friends who will put me up for the night if I so wish.

A number of my fandom pals were going to be at the premiere – therefore it was clear from the beginning that I would most likely be shooting from the fan area, not the press pit. Moreso, as I again had left it too late to get accreditation for the press pit. (I did try to get late accreditation on the day, but I must say that Warner Bros did not even open their press box until very late. I kept hanging around their press tent all through the morning and over lunch, but their booth was unattended so I eventually decided to stay where I was and observe the proceedings from the fan perspective rather than the press perspective.)

The spot was strategically chosen: It was towards the beginning of the long stretch of red carpet, but not too close to the start. A row of spotlights illuminated the red carpet right where I was. Initially there were fans only on one side of the red carpet – my side – and later there were few people opposite me which meant that the stars were working their way up the railings on my side and neglecting the other side. Best of all: The railings were lined two, sometimes three rows deep but I was able to stand on a handy bench, behind the throng, close enough to shoot with my regular 28-70mm lens, but higher than the fans, and therefore got an unrestricted view of the stars. And I was able to see in advance who was making their way towards us.

I had lugged all my kit to the event – the battery grip was on, the speedlite in my bag, and the 70-300mm zoom at the ready. The latter was not even needed, I was only a metre away from the railings, with unrestriced view of the celebs. But I ultimately made the wrong call when it came to shooting. I opted to shoot without flash, cranking up the ISO instead, assuming the spotlights would give me enough light. However, in the heat of the moment (or in the excitement of seeing those actors, whose journey I had been following for the last year or so), I did not factor in that I would shoot at a very large aperture and slow shutter speed which would blur my pictures. And thus I am not particularly happy with the images I got. At the biggest size they are fuzzy – I can just about get away with crops, but that is it. Also, the higher vantage point meant that I was shooting down on the celebs – who had their heads down, anyway, for signing the autograph books that were held out to them.

Thus, my favourite picture of the day is one that is not really a red carpet image of a famous actor, but one that captures the magic moment of the situation:

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Capturing the magical moment

Mr Movie Heartthrob is blurred out in the background, but you get an impression of the buzz and the excitement and the fan activity on the red carpet – the fans (mainly fanGIRLS) waiting for their star, all heads turned toward the star, holding out their autograph sheets and their presents… Ultimately, and in hindsight, those impressions were visually much more interesting than the view of the stars signing the autographs. The elation of the fans when their admired star was in front of them, happy smiles, excited screams, waving arms, outstretched hands, the surge of the fans towards the railings. If I am ever doing this again, I would actually be more interested to observe that from the other side, catching their faces as they interact with the actors. There are enough images of the stars, anyway, and technically brilliant ones at that.

On a personal note: As I confessed mentioned at the beginning, I was there for a particular actor myself. My own fan recollection of the moment when he was in front of me, is actually really blurry. As blurry as my pictures of him (camera shake from being over-excited???). That is something I had actually feared anticipated beforehand, based on my experiences with music photography at concerts. Essentially, the buzz and the excitement of seeing him completely passed me by as I was in work mode, rather than fan mode.  My attention was taken up by framing the shot, by keeping him in my view, by capturing him at the best possible moment, by taking as many shots as I could. In a way, I was removed from the action as it unfolded in front of me – a screen between me and him. When he had moved on, I could not even tell what clothes he wore. And I did not have time to “squee” and “thud” when he actually looked up to smile directly into my lens… The so-called “feelz” only came with a time-lag.

But you live and you learn. Red carpet photography? Great if you have no personal interest in the attending stars. If you *are* there for your movie boyfriend, however, it is better to rely on the camera in your head. Those images will be there forever – and sharper, clearer, more colourful than anything you could ever capture on sensor.

The State of Portrait Photography, 1987

Recently, I posted a gem horror of a photograph of myself on my private FB. As was expected, the echo was deafening – remainders of a long gone past are always extremely entertaining to look at and invite much comment. And photography does it so well, transporting us back to the place and time where a picture was taken. No other medium can match that – film, although similar, has too much information between moving image and accompanying sound; painting or sculpture obscures the past by layering a veil of art over the documented subject; sound is not as potent as voices do not change that much over time. A photograph, however, puts us right there, back in October 1987, in a small town photo studio.

Sonja 1987

Moi and my twin, 1987

This was not my first visit to a photo studio in order to have a picture made of myself. As a baby and toddler my mum regularly took me to the then ubiquitous “Pixi Foto” studios that were the go-to places for having pictures of your children taken. On this occasion, the photos were intended as a Christmas present for my grandparents, and the local photographer was the professional of choice for the shoot.

It was a memorable experience and I thank the heavens that I was then not yet interested in photography as a career, cos by Cod – if I had decided to become an apprentice photographer then, my aesthetic sensibilities might have been traumatised by that time-warp of vignetted, artificial-pose cheesiness. Even though it doesn’t look it, I had dressed up for the occasion – freshly ironed green-and-white stripy blouse and my dark blue blazer. Invisible in this shot, the photographer actually matched the colour of the background – a translucent sheet of paper with some white latticing in front of it (the illusion of a lattice window, presumably) – by sticking a green gel in front of the light that illuminated the backdrop from behind.

We tried a number of poses – this is arguably the cheesiest one. I am casually lying on the ground, leaning on my left elbow. My blazer is artfully slung over my right shoulder just as you would do if you were lounging on the ground, all debonair. *coughs* Associations of posh Oxford students come to mind, enjoying a summer’s day out, punting on the Thames, picnic basket with a ice-cold bottle of champers at their feet and a few watercress sandwiches – no crust! – just out of sight. “I say, old boy! What a jolly day!”

Is this the ultimate cubist photography that has so far eluded me in my search for artistic expression? Because here we have not only my regal profile but also a near-frontal mirror image of my grin. All made possible by the clever inclusion of a *gasps* mirror. This has been cunningly disguised by some iridescent, clear plastic foil – the height of 1980s gift-wrapping fashion – which snakes its way over the mirror frame, all but disguising the brown wood. *fail*

Are you wondering about my elusive Mona Lisa-smile, full of hidden promise and infinite mystery? Well, there is a reason for that. You see, even at 17, I was already blind as a bat. Minus 4.5 dioptries, roughly. For the purpose of this shoot, the photographer actually sent me to the  local optician’s. Not to have a quick laser surgery of my failing eyes, but to borrow an identical set of my classic 1980s glasses – sans lenses! The clever photographer wanted to make sure there were no reflections from the flash on my specs. For clever read “lazy”! And thus, I lay there, practically blind, trying to react to the photographer’s direction. “Move your chin up a bit. Look towards you left. And now look at my camera through the mirror!” Her camera? Where the fuck was her camera? I could see feck-all in my imposed state of batty blindness. I could literally only grin and bear it. I mustered all the fake confidence a 17-year-old teenager has, applied what I thought was a fitting facial expression on my baby-fatted cheeks and showed some teeth, praying that this ordeal was going to be over, soon. Or at least before my hips and elbow were killing me from the awkward pose on the hard floor.

As was usual in those days, it took a good while for the photos to be developed and printed. No retouching, of course – just check that weird tan line on the edge of my jaw and cheek. I swear, it was the sun – spray tans did not exist in pre-history! When they finally came back, they were presented in a fancy, glossy pocket with embossed shiny gold lines and cut-out oval passepartouts. The apex of photographic presentation of the day. Practically ready to display on the mahogany integrated wall unit in the parental drawing room. This screamed “classy” from the sophisticated pose of the model to the exquisite display pocket. Boy, was this worth the 80 Deutschmarks or so we coughed up for it…

Luckily, this particular image was never deemed the highlight of the shoot by my parents, and thus never saw the light of the drawing room. It languished, forgotten and pardoned, in its pocket sleeve in the bureau-section of said mahogany wall unit. Until last weekend. With 25 years down the drain, I now love the involuntary humour of this shot. A case for AwkwardFamilyPhotos, if ever there was one. Maybe I should submit – I might go viral.

PS: Here is a little bonus story for all lovers of my fancy 1980s glasses, unconnected with photography, but too good to ignore. Big glasses with colourful plastic frames were the dernier cri back then. I always liked to make a statement with my specs, and so the funky blue frames really appealed to me when I chose them in the shop. Only I hadn’t realised quite *how* spectacular these specs were going to prove. – I had had them for a couple of months when I took them on their first outing to the local disco, “Infinity”, a bland, generic country-bumpkin hang-out generally known under its nickname “The Bunkerwhich is a pretty accurate description of its in- and exterior. (Yes, kids, the term “club” in those days was reserved for regular meet-ups of grey-haired ladies playing Bridge, a gaggle of stick-wielding hockey players, or dubious establishments where ladies of the night plied their trade. We knew our dance halls as “discotheques”, preferably in the ritzily sophisticated Francophone notation.) Anyhow, as we entered the disco, I could see a look of surprised horror crossing my companions’ countenances. They tried to conceal their sniggers, but the suspicion was raised. Turned out that my harmlessly blue plastic frames turned luminously bright-neon blue under the customary black-light in German provincial discos. AWKWARD! Suffice to say, my disco-dancing days were over until the fashion in specs changed…