I had an interesting video to shoot last week at a skin & beauty business in Newport, Shropshire. This was a case of doubling up with both stills and video - all the rumours about men not being able to multi task effectively are actually quite true (I read that with a mixture of relief and disappointment in Psychology Today I think), so this needs very careful planning to manage the workflow because still photography, whether it's portraits, commercial, food or events, and video are very different things. For a commercial shoot like this I like to use big softboxes and my trusty Elinchrom Ranger RX (although I'm starting to use my Elinchrom ELB400 setup more now because of portability, I find it a bit of a faff putting it all together to be honest and I happen to like my Ranger setup although it's heavy).
So big softboxes obviously work fine for stills, they smooth the skin and give me a lot of flexibility, but for video the lights have to be swapped out with big LED panels - so the workflow is shoot stills, change lights, shoot video - move on to next shot and reverse the process, so shoot video, change lights, shoot stills. You have to concentrate all the time because there's different styles that come into play and you actually have to be a lot more careful with video because any errors are time consuming to change in post production. The other problem is that lighting for video has to be quite powerful, so the lights are blindingly bright. I always tell people to look away when I switch them on!
For this video I used a Canon 1D Mark IV on a gimbal mount so I could get some nice movement into the footage, with 50mm F1.2 and 100mm macro lenses. One of the problems with using a gimbal is that it's very sensitive and has to be carefully balanced - they're amazing to use when setup properly and the footage is really stable, but of course the downside is that every lens change means that the rig needs to be reconfigured. Because of the range of shots I didn't have enough time to keep changing the setup, so the 50mm stayed on for the majority of the time. Focus pulls to transition the focus is also impossible with a gimbal, so needs some setup on the camera to get the desired effect.
So as usual I found it fascinating because I've never been inside a beauty business before and this one (Elite Skin & Beauty) has incredibly modern equipment operated by highly skilled staff. Over the course of three hours I watched through my viewfinder as needles were carefully inserted into our models for facial treatment and lasers were deployed for hair removal. It's interesting that men are as interested in treatments as women - even young ones so there's a really wide range of customers. I had a great chat with the mother and daughter business partnership ahead of the shoot about how they wanted the content, which is time really well spent because it gives me a good opportunity to have a think about how best to present the final images. Knowing what the end requirement is means that the shots can be produced specifically to meet the need - in this case the images and video are content for their web site.
Do you know I can remember blogging about this last year almost as if it was last week, it's amazing how quickly it comes around! This year will be the fourth time that I've arranged to photograph the annual Pumpkin Festival at Apley Farm Shop. This event has
an increasing success year on year - we get some fantastic photos of excited children picking their pumpkins and have to do that in all kinds of weather of course - last year we had the tail end of a hurricane to cope with, so lots of hair flying around and coats flapping (and gazebos trying to take off) and I still managed to delight everyone with some lovely shots. Nothing wrong with a challenge is there!
This year I'm planning to take some bigger external flash equipment with me - sunny days are actually quite frequent in October (as are windy ones) and getting that balance to remove shadows at midday takes quite a bit of power, so I'll be bringing along my Elinchrom ELB400 equipped with a beauty dish (can't use anything bigger because of the wind). I've started to use the beauty dish more and more with younger subjects, it really does work incredibly well - I used it extensively at a senior prom back in June and apart from the portability the light is very easy to control - I'll blog about how I used it later but suffice to say it's one of the pieces of equipment that I use the most for outdoor photography . The best shots from a lighting perspective always come first thing in the morning at about 9:30, particularly on a slightly overcast day and of course last thing in the afternoon, it's surprising how quickly the light quality changes through the day and how soon it fades away so I'm grateful to have the low light performance of my Canon 1DX which copes with it brilliantly - most of my photos are taken with the big 200mm lens wide open so it's not a big problem with individuals but group shots are quite popular as well and so it needs to be stopped down quite a bit to get the depth of focus, I always arrange the groups carefully to get the balance right, which can create quite a few laughs in itself for everyone!
Someone last year gave some feedback on Apley Farm Shop's facebook page saying "photographer was brilliant" and I can remember her well, we were trying our best to arrange her big group of young children who wouldn't stay still for more than about two seconds - I finally got the shot with a lot of patience and it created so much attention when we got it up on the screen for her!
One of the best things about this event is when whole families turn up in fancy dress, the amount of effort that goes in is great to see, I just love parents who get their kids into the swing of things and lead by example 🙂 following demand I'll be dressing up myself this year, although it's quite difficult to handle a camera while dressed as a wizard or in a full pumpkin suit of course, so I'll need to have a good think about that one. Maybe a skeleton outfit?
Talking of skeletons, l I've just repaired my (somewhat battered!) one who's been patiently sitting in my garage since being put aside after Halloween 2017. He's done some great service and had his fair share of scrapes and I get quite a few odd looks because he rides with me on the front seat of the car (I do put his seatbelt on). He's fallen off the roof of the car before now when I forgot he was up there and drove off. I got quite some way and wondered why I was being flashed by the oncoming traffic. I found most of him on the verge but had to go a into a ditch to recover his leg and then had to walk along the side of the road with his disfigured remains. God knows what people must have thought was going on. His leg fell off (again) last year courtesy of some very enthusiastic children who didn't realise just how fragile he was, so that's all fixed up, I hope he lasts the course, he's quite a feature on our stand. Last year someone asked to have a photo with him!
So I'm really looking forward to it again this year, it's lovely to see people who come back and say how much they loved their photos so if you're reading this and you've bought our photos before - here's a really (really!) big thank you and hope to see you again this year!
Finally - last year at the end of the festival I took some time out to shoot some video footage to help Apley Farm Shop with their marketing - our photos go onto the publicity leaflets and client web site of course but video does help to attract new customers. One of the most overlooked aspects of this is getting everyone's consent - I'm often surprised at how photographers and videographers assume that they can push something out for marketing without getting permission to do so, so I always make sure that everyone is ok (twice) and ask them to sign their consent for marketing use. It's being professional and making sure that my client has the reassurance that I've thought about every detail before the shooting even starts. It can be a challenge when someone doesn't want to give consent but I do understand there are reasons why so I'm always patient and work around it if necessary. Here's the 2018 video below, Mrs Pumpkin the storyteller is a joy to behold so it's as much fun for adults (as you can see) as it is for children, I'll be shooting again for the 2019 video this year and I'll certainly be riding on the Pumpkin Express more than once!
What a great time I had doing this! I've already worked with this fantastic dance and stage school earlier in the year, photographing and videoing their first stage production at Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury in July, so I was delighted to be asked to produce a short promotional marketing video for them to showcase just how much fun everyone has at the weekly classes, which run every Saturday during term time at the Telford Park School. Run by a partnership of Sophie and David Shorter who both have extensive stage experience and credentials, we spent some time working through what was needed before setting out to capture the footage. All of the children were excited to see me which was fantastic, asking questions about what I was going to do and they were all queuing up to have their voices recorded for the voiceovers - it's absolutely great to have that sort of rapport and I couldn't stop myself from laughing when I risked being trampled when we got the footage at the end of the video - particularly given we did it three times!
Shooting video does (occasionally) require much less equipment than still photography - in this case there was no need for additional lighting to be used so it was shot with a Canon C100 Mark II as the main camera and a 5D Mark IV as the B camera on a gimbal so I could get some movement into the shots with a 5D Mark iii on a slider for a little more content - my primary aim was to create enough footage over three hours to capture all aspects of the classes and build two different 2 minute films, giving the client a good choice of options to either create one consolidated version or have a second version to release later in the year to refresh their marketing. The C100 Mark II is a lovely camera to work with, I read a lot about people not being happy with it only producing 1080HD instead of 4k output but the footage is perfect when it's graded and it has a nice cinema feel which really suits promotional material like this.
So overall the shoot was exactly as planned - I covered everything in my storyboard and it worked incredibly well and really came to life when the music was overlaid. There's still some additional footage to be shot in the coming days and final grading to be done in post production but I think this really captures the energy, enjoyment and excitement of the children who are all star performers!
There’s something about us photographers and bags. To put this quite bluntly, we seem to love them. All shapes and sizes are temptingly displayed, with promises of being a bottomless pit despite being about as big as a handbag, to hold more gear than you’d fit in a wheelbarrow.
for the past few years I’ve resisted the temptation to change and have used a Billingham 445. It holds two 1dx bodies, a 70-200 2.8, 24-70 2.8, two ex 600 flashes, filters, charger and the usual spare batteries. The problem is, it weighs a ton fully loaded. And it’s not exactly ergonomic to lob that lot over one shoulder, let alone carry it with one hand. I’m probably sounding like a nine stone weakling here but honestly the last thing you want to do is get a back injury, and I’ve already gone through the pain of having tennis elbow some years back that I really don’t fancy experiencing again. So the bag still continues to hold my gear, but I only use it when I’m photographing events, when I can just lift it out of the car, or when I'm outside photographing something like game shooting.
Last year I decided to invest in s Peli 1510 case, mainly for on site commercial work. It’s got wheels and it does add a bit of weight, but honestly it’s the best thing I ever bought. I usually keep the commercial kit in it so I know exactly where everything is - so my Canon 5d Mk iv and mkiii, a pair of speedlites, wireless trigger, a 24-70mm 2.8, a 100mm 2.8, a 90mm TS-E, two soft boxes, my MacBook and the usual spare batteries and charger for camera and flash and the things that a photographer (event or commercial) can’t do without - like a bit of velcro, some gaffa tape, a clamp to hold a reflector and a handful of mini clamps to hold backdrops etc. What I can’t get into it is portable light stands but that would be asking a bit too much.
For video work I have a larger Peli 1560. That holds led lights, iPad with a rather clever stand which fits onto a flexible arm so I can set up an autocue at a pinch if needed, Canon C100 mkii, 17-40mm f4, 18-300 stm, 10-18 stm, 70-200mm f4, Zoom h4n for sound, Atomos ninja blade external recorder, spare hard drive, a 7" field monitor, headphones, a couple of mini ball heads, a ball head with an arca swiss mount, cables, batteries and the usual video bits and pieces like clamps and charger cables. You can get a lot into this one if you pack it carefully. As you can imagine this one weighs quite a bit but because it's on wheels it makes light work of dragging it around.
All I can say if you're thinking of investing in one of these is stop thinking about it and buy one. I bought mine with the flexible inserts which are better (I think) than pick and pluck foam because you can easily adapt the case - both of mine are the "studio case" variant and they even double up as overnight cases where you need to take a bit of gear but some clothes as well! One of the best features of both of them is that they're lockable - I've heard too many stories of photographers having their bags stolen and the ability to lock it shut with a little TSA lock and then loop a bike lock around that will certainly discourage an opportunist thief. I modified my Peli 1510 and put smoother wheels on it (about £7 from Amazon, 10 minutes to replace the stock ones) and it certainly rolls a lot more quietly now. Another useful thing if you're like me and you hate rummaging in a bag is that when it's opened all of your gear is to hand, and you can just drop things like body caps etc back into the case when you take a lens out to change it - no more hunting for the caps in the overstuffed bag and no more getting home from a job and finding that something has been left behind!
Both of mine are quite battle scarred but honestly for day to day work they're absolutely brilliant and I wouldn't be without them 🙂
Now this was a fascinating assignment to photograph for a number of reasons. First - I do have to admit that I love a maze. There are some spectacular ones I've come across in England and in France so the prospect of watching one being created was quite exciting. Second - I learned something while I was shooting it, having spent quite some time talking to Adrian, the farm manager about modern farming techniques. So read on!
This maze was created as a public attraction at Apley Farm Shop in Shifnal, Shropshire. It covers an area of six acres, making it significantly bigger than the traditional hedge mazes. The planting took place in May - planning was very detailed during the early spring with designs and marketing approaches but the weather got in the way.
Due to the unseasonably wet spring in the UK and the very late end of winter (we'd experienced heavy snowfall courtesy of "the beast from the east" just a few weeks before) earlier planting would have meant the maize seeds would be waterlogged and wouldn't germinate. With a relatively short summer season to attract customers there's not an option to plant it again so waiting for the right time was absolutely key.
Based on the crest on the coat of arms of the Hamilton family who own the estate, the design was mapped as GPS coordinates and the field was precisely ploughed ready for sowing. To drop the seeds according to the GPS coordinates the tractor is fitted with a computer which controls the seed hoppers (twelve of them) - effectively sucking a seed from the hopper and ejecting it in a precise location, working across the X axis of the field first and then the Y axis. As you can imagine precision is absolutely vital (as is a good GPS signal). I didn't realise just how much of a part technology now plays in agriculture - GPS is very common nowadays though for precision farming. While we were waiting for the tractor to arrive, Adrian and I talked about how the future might look for farming with automation - we already have trials of driverless cars and there's a logical progression to driverless tractors, potentially reducing the need for manual intervention, increasing the ability to have smaller tractors and ultimately reducing the cost overhead in what is a very tight margin business. We have the Harper Adams agricultural university nearby and apparently they're already researching and running trials in this area.
As you probably realise by now, I’m a Canon user. A personal choice of course ( I’m not bashing their competitors here) - but once you’ve made a decision and invested in the kit then it’s not exactly an easy change. Anyway, I read a lot online where people give their views of Canon vs Sony vs Nikon etc etc and one area that seems to comes up often in the forums is people having mixed results with teleconverters/extenders - so I really wanted to give my own view here because this is an area which can of course be quite fraught with high expectation and poor results, often not the fault of the magical extender itself. Can a modest investment of a couple of hundred pounds really enable you to extend the focal range of your lens without a loss of quality? I picked up both of my extenders second hand with virtually no sign of use at all so clearly some people either buy them and don't use them, or they're unhappy with the result. The truth is, matched to good glass the results can be perfectly usable. Interestingly enough years ago Canon would package a matched 1.4x extender with their legendary 300mm 2.8fd mount lens (shame they don’t do it now) so that’s a good indication in itself as to how acceptable extenders actually are when matched with high quality glass - and in professional or capable hands extenders can and do help to get great images. So a few tips and myths busted as follows. These are just my views of course and just so you know my experience I use Canon’s 1.4x and 2x extenders quite regularly on 200 f2, 300 2.8, 400 2.8 and 24 TS-E (tilt shift) lenses and occasionally on others. Just because I'm hanging them on L series lens doesn't mean that they can't get good results on other ones though, it's really about your expectation of the results.
- A lot of the time it’s going to be better than digitally cropping your image (within reason). Don’t think that pulling a section from an image will ever be better, you’ll probably get more degradation by doing that. Compared side by side a slightly stopped down lens with an extender will produce a better result, but bear in mind the quality of your lens.
- Remember when you extend the focal length you need to increase your shutter speed because the longer reach will increase camera shake. I look at images where a photographer is unhappy with the result from an extender and I can see that camera shake is perhaps to blame.
- Remember to stop down at least a little bit. Even the best prime lenses aren’t as sharp wide open as when they’re stopped down. My 400 2.8l with a 1.4x extender has a minimum aperture of f4 so if sharpness is important I shoot it at f5.6. Experiment to find what works best.
- A 1.4x extender will have marginally less degradation than a 2x and only lose one stop. Remember if you’re photographing action that you’ll also find that the autofocus performance slows down a little.
- Some extenders need to be attached to the lens first, then the whole assembly goes onto the camera. Check the manufacturers instructions because it can make a difference to how the camera body autofocus and metering functions work.
- If you’re using good quality, fast lenses you’ll get some interference with the bokeh which I must admit I don’t always like. I try not to have a complex out of focus area behind my subject to avoid this.
The main point I’ll make is that if you’re a pixel peeper then you probably won’t be very happy. But if it’s about getting the shot and sharpness isn’t the number one priority then they’re good to have in the bag (or rattling around somewhere in the boot of the car). Don’t expect miracles if you’re using an extender with a consumer grade lens though (like the kit lens for example), even if it fits. You’re perhaps better off putting the money towards another, better lens in my opinion. Invest in good quality, fast glass and add the extenders later if you think you still need them. I'll post sometime about my favourite mid range lenses.
So those are my thoughts - they’re a handy thing to have in the bag and I’ve been glad I had at least one to hand on a few occasions (Amusingly and annoyingly Canon's 400 2.8 hard case has a couple of recesses for 1.4 and 2x extenders, which makes it stupidly long. I use one as a cup holder).
My usage is in a couple of areas - with the 400 2.8 I don’t always know where I’m going to be positioned for an equestrian event and if I can’t get close enough I’ll use it. With the 300 2.8 I’ll leave the 400 at home and just use the 300 with a 1.4x and the results are absolutely fine (same with the 200 f2 which does actually become a very respectable 280mm f2.8 with the 1.4x and is even sharp enough wide open). The 24mm TS-E is an interesting one, I don’t own a 45mm tilt shift so on the occasions where I need something to fill the gap then it works but it’s not brilliant and to be honest the mark 1 24mm TS-E isn’t exactly a stellar lens for sharpness anyway so it's a gap filler at best.
In summary - think of them as something that will get you closer to your subject once in a while with a trade off (depending on your main lens) of a tiny bit of sharpness. rather than relying on them all the time and expecting the same performance as your prime or main lens.
- Now - horses have four legs. But time and again I see front on photos where they only have three (sometimes less!). So position yourself carefully to get a slight angle and time the shot so the horse is extending, that way the legs should be more visible. Take a look at your photos and check that you’re getting all four legs because once you notice that one isn’t visible you’ll keep on noticing it! Side on this isn’t so much of a problem of course.
- Cars & horse boxes. I even see these in professionally taken photos in the background and they’re very distracting to say the least, so be aware of what’s behind your subject and in the frame. Brightly coloured cars really do detract from an otherwise good photo so again position yourself to either remove them completely or keep them to a minimum. These can be even more distracting if attention hasn't been paid to setting the right aperture for the shot (see 5).
- Ears & hats. This is a difficult one - ideally you want ears pricked up alongside a nice big smile on the rider or handlers face. It’s not always possible but be aware of it. You can get the horse’s attention - just be quick and keep your eye on the viewfinder because the time between creating something to prick the ears up and taking the shot can be very short (horses do actually play games!).
- Understand your shutter speed. If the horse is moving you need a shutter speed of at least 1/250 or faster. Any slower and it will be blurred. If you’re photographing jumping and the horse is side on, increase it to 1/1000. If it’s head on or at a slight angle, start with 1/500 but you can go a bit slower if the horse is approaching.
- Understand your aperture. Those photos with a nicely blurred background where the subject really”pops” are shot with a wide aperture where the area which is in focus is very narrow. So if you have a kit lens, set it for the smallest number f stop (often f4 or f5.6). Using an auto mode on the camera will mean the camera will select the aperture for you and it will often mean that your photos have a lot in focus which is distracting to the viewer. One word of caution here, you need to use a higher f stop (say f5.6) if you’re shooting head on with a longer lens because you want the area of focus to cover from the horses nose to the rider’s face (at least) and the depth of field becomes shallower the longer the lens.
- Use a longer focal length. A horse is a big, well defined subject - anything below 100mm will distort it to the extent that it will begin to look unnatural the shorter your focal length so get your longest lens out. If you’re getting serious about equestrian photography then consider a prime lens - 200mm or 300mm are a good length.
- Finally - if you’re fortunate enough to go in the ring, respect the riders, judges and horses. Don’t distract them and make sure you don’t endanger them or yourself trying to get a particular angle for a shot.
Someone commented the other week as to why I still use a Canon 1DS mark iii in 2018, given the model was released in 2008 and effectively retired by Canon in 2012 (when the 1dx was released). So apparently I’m six years out of date. Even in 2008 these bodies cost a staggering £5000 which was a lot to pay for something that was effectively rendered old technology within just four years. It just shows how fast research and development moves. I bought mine second hand.
Anyway the answer is quite simple - I happen to like the quality of the photos it produces! I think Canon have refined a lot of features on their cameras, but this generation had something very “film like” about the sensor, so to me it’s very suited to studio use when fast frame rate isn’t necessary and neither is high iso. To be fair this body has seen a lot of clicks and the shutter is starting to show signs of age (if I shoot at anything over 1/1000 sec I can see a faint tell tale band on the top of the image) but it certainly doesn’t affect it at studio flash speeds. At 100 iso these images are still comfortably on a par with my 5d Mark IV - if not better. Bear in mind of course that I come from a background of shooting a lot of film, so I almost have a recognition of a silver print ingrained in my DNA (I’ve probably got a lot of developer and fixer floating about in my bloodstream as well for that matter but I didn’t drink it, just stuck my hands in it a lot).
It does puzzle me why people chase the latest model upgrade as soon as it’s released - it does depend on your choice of photography of course but sometimes that just isn’t necessary. You don’t always need super high iso or 12 frames a second - or fast autofocus for that matter. I think one downside of technical evolution is that people sometimes think that all of the features will equate to better photos (funny enough my dad was like that, bless him). It certainly makes some photos easier to capture, I use a 1DX for equestrian and I can have a choice of shots from a burst, but better? You don’t always need the features. Let’s face it we used to focus manually, even for sports with a Canon 300mm f2.8 🙂 I most certainly wouldn’t deny anyone the pleasure of owning a flagship camera of course - they’re lovely to use, the ergonomics are great, there are endless configuration options to get everything personalised and of course there’s pride of ownership, but the point I’m making is you don’t always need it!
So this one is staying in my bag and I’ll be sad when it decides to give out a final wheeze when the shutter packs in - but to be honest I’ll probably get it repaired to squeeze more great photos out of it. It has a 24-70 f2.8l permanently attached along with a WFT E2 for live view shooting which is reliable, if not a bit laggy. That’s the only bit that could do with a bit more speed (compared to the 1DX) but to be fair the wireless built into the 5d mk IV has the same data rate.
We had a great time at this event! The Severn Vally Country Park is located a few miles outside Bridgnorth in Shropshire. This was an event that I’ve had in my diary for a few months now (reminds me, I must get an event photography diary app!). It made a change to the food and commercial photography that I’ve been doing a lot of lately. As always I went over to see the location and meet the organiser (Ed), who marched me around some nice spots on the hottest day of the year! We found a great spot in a flower meadow and I decided to shoot the 5k race there, and perhaps move somewhere else for the 10k, depending on the weather on the day.
this was our first event out with the gazebo and all the kit, there’s a lot to organise even before the shooting starts but it was all checked the day before so the only surprise was a stubborn gazebo which took a bit of grappling to get up - I can usually do it single handed but I ended up with Andrea holding one leg (gazebo leg) and me pulling like fury and dragging her around still hanging on 😃 anyway we got there in the end!
I was the photographer at a run last year and I have to say that I enjoy a run myself, having got back into it recently, so I watched with a bit of envy when the runners set off for the 5k and then walked down to my spot. The pace was incredible, no sooner had I got there than the front runners were appearing in the distance -the course record was actually broken for the 5k and the 10k. I got some fantastic shots in what turned out to be ideal weather, with some clouds and good sunshine. Looking forward to shooting this one again next year!
Now a few months back I did a lot of photography to help with the launch of a new product. The “hero” in this case is smoked pheasant, only available from the Apley Estate in Shropshire. It makes a change from the event photographer stuff, I do shoot a lot of products for commercial use and this one was interesting because the initial shoot was so early that the product wrapping hadn’t even rolled off the machines at Badgerprint, who produce all of the material for Apley Farm Shop.
Wind on a few months and I decided to do another shot, this time aiming at magazine advertising. Although pheasant is seasonal and there were enough produced by the smoke house to last through the summer, there’s a lot of alignment with the shooting season which kicks off in October, so customers may be more inclined to buy it then. I wanted to get this in the bag (so to speak) in good time.
I had an idea some time back to shoot on a highly reflective surface with a black backdrop to get some depth into the shot and pop the colours more - I thought it would emphasise the colours of the vegetables more and make the product more compelling with the gold packaging. Once again I used a single light but positioned to avoid reflections from the packaging, with a reflector to pull some detail into the shadows. It worked exactly as I wanted and only took about twenty shots to get it refined. The main light is a 44cm Elinchrom beauty dish which I really like for product shots like this, it’s very crisp and even, so not just for portraits and the light can be softened and controlled by adding internal diffusers.
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