Well the annual tractor rally at Apley Farm Shop came around again last weekend. Organised by the Bridgnorth Vintage Machinery Club, it's our favourite early photography event! It usually has upwards of 100 tractors entering, which is a really great thing to witness - all the engine noise and old machines are fascinating and you could have imagined them working the Shropshire fields - in fact some still do. Last year we had sunshine, blue skies and it was almost tee shirt weather. This year we had an unexpected snow day and the temperature when I finally arrived at Apley Farm Shop (at 8am) was down to -1c. I forgot my wellies as well, so the first thing I did after getting out the car was to step in a snow covered muddy puddle 🙂
This year apart from stills, I shot video as well. Now this isn't quite as easy as it sounds. Having to jump from camera to camcorder and back is actually a bit of a challenge - video is very different to still photography. You have to reframe everything, shutter speeds work differently and the focusing is back to good old manual mode! And my hands were really bloody cold as well which didn't help. Still, as a non multitasking capable man I did actually manage ok. There were less tractors this year (something I'm partly grateful for because my hands got in front of the car heater quicker) but this is for a good cause with all donations going to help the Shropshire Air Ambulance, a vital service considering how rural a lot of Shropshire is - and inaccessible when weather like this closes in.
Andrea, who's accompanied me on this shoot for the past two years, very wisely stayed in bed this time.
Well this is an unusual one! I was invited to photograph a venison evening, sponsored by the Wildlife Trust. Very interesting and attended by about 60 very keen and knowledgeable people, two butchers and a deer expert. The butchers were fascinating, taking two venison legs and in the space of around 30 minutes converting them skilfully into rolled joints ready for the oven! The photos are destined for an upcoming edition of the Shropshire Magazine.
Now - a lot of people may think that photographing Santa in his grotto is pretty run of the mill stuff - but not for us! We're fortunate enough to shoot at a really exclusive venue in Shropshire - Apley Farm Shop (www.apleyfarmshop.co.uk). So we go all out to make this a really special event for customers! Over the course of thirteen days we take around 20,000 photos with a huge footfall and understanding what customers want is really key to getting successful shots. We can of course do the standard shots but we always try to go the extra mile to get something special for everyone who makes a visit, and we get some delightful shots by doing that. I shoot this event almost exclusively with a Canon 50mm f1.2 lens - I can get a wonderful effect with the lights twinkling in the background and every photo is really unique. A lot of the fun is watching children show their anticipation and character, and patience is really key to making great shots, you can't just rush in and start clicking 🙂 a shy smile is never far away and I love seeing the photos after the event so I can see what everyone was so excited about!
We have two flashes positioned inside the Grotto to provide some careful graduated fill, and a third one shot through a translucent umbrella for soft main lighting just to keep everything looking natural. The trick is to keep everything well balanced and working in unison and not overpowering the ability to shoot with a very wide aperture, which can be surprisingly challenging when ambient light plays into the equation. It's hard work with lots of changes on the transmitter to adapt to a variety of scenarios - I do sometimes envy people with iPhones who can enjoy having everything from their toes to the background being in focus and they really do keep me on my feet when they want a shot which has huge depth of focus - but the shots that really work are those where the lights have a lovely blur and that's something that takes a lot of careful planning and execution. We also don't want it to look like a studio shoot, people are there to see Santa after all, so the approach is to be really low key and still get wonderful photos that customers treasure for years to come.
Every year I shoot a Pumpkin Festival deep in the Shropshire Countryside. It's an event that I look forward to well in advance - I'm a total kid when it comes to Halloween and the opportunity to carve pumpkins certainly isn't lost on me at all. There's a huge field of pumpkins and the children (and adults!) get to pick their own - which of course leads to some wonderful photos. Most of the time I'm shooting with my Canon 200mm F2, it's absolutely perfect for an event like this, the wafer thin depth of field makes everything stand out perfectly and the colours are amazing - and as the light gets low towards the end of the day it really does come into its own. There's something about Autumn light, during the day it can stay perfectly soft, no harsh shadows and even a bit of drizzle can help. I have a second body with a 24-70 for group shots, but the 200 F2 gets the majority of the action, and rightly so.
Even though this is one of my favourite events, I can't post a lot of my favourite photos (although these ones are some of my favourites - the Purple Witch has been used extensively for advertising and a version of the Pumpkin Hunter was shortlisted for World Photo). Looking through the shots at the end of the day is incredibly enjoyable though even if I can't share them! At this event I have a huge number of photos in total and I'm certainly not always a machine gun shooter either, but it's staggering really when you think of how digital has removed the limitations, in the days of film it would have cost a small fortune (not to mention the time to run the negatives) and as a result opportunities would have been missed. I can remember shooting with film and being careful with every click - the reason we used two cameras then was often to make sure one of them was loaded with enough film to capture something should it happen!
I've got my skeleton out today, he had a bad time last year, both his legs fell off because I laid him on the roof of the 4x4 when I was packing up and forgot he was there - I got 2 miles down the road before someone behind frantically flashed their lights at me. I found him in a ditch and I found his left leg about 50 yards further on. After a long hunt (while holding a skeleton in one hand and a leg in the other) I returned to my car to find the right leg next to the car 🙂 goodness knows what it looked like but it must have given a few people a good laugh! Anyway he's all fixed up, amazing what you can do with a few cable ties!
Sometimes we come across very exclusive products to photograph - and have to have a bit of a head scratch as to how to make it look just right! This week it was smoked pheasant - I've got a (very good) book on smoking and given I stopped enjoying a cigarette myself about 20 years ago I guess I've put my efforts into smoking food instead, although I've only tried hot smoking - you can't beat a freshly caught mackerel smoked on the beach! Cold smoking is a different approach altogether and I'm very keen to give it a go this year.
Apley Farm Shop have an exciting new range of smoked pheasant breast, it takes a lot of work to get it to the point of sale - not only the smoking part but of course the rigorous food hygiene standards that have to be observed and passed to enable it to be sold. I can honestly say that it's absolutely delicious, one of the hardest things sometimes about a food shoot is not eating the product and that's made even harder because when everything comes together and the shot looks just right, it shouts out "eat me"....and I just want to get a few more shots to make sure! Anyway, we dressed it up with a lot of other tasty items and some interesting carved wood bowls, server and scoop from a local wood turner. I wanted to get the "country kitchen" feel to it, a warm, comforting Autumn meal. It's a product that needs to be carefully accessorised to keep it as the centrepiece. These photos will go down two routes, a big marketing banner for the dressed shots and via the online shop for the knock out shot.
We had a great time today photographing the annual classic car show at Stafford Castle. This is our second year covering the show and thanks to all the staff for making us feel so welcome again. It's a dream event for us to be honest as we both love a classic car. We have an MG Midget that we enjoy taking for a spin on a summer's evening (invariably ending up at the pub for some reason!) and then sit and watch the admiring glances it receives in the car park. There's nothing like a classic car or bike for drawing attention and there were plenty of admiring glances today with so many beautiful vehicles on display. It was lovely to chat to lots of car and bike enthusiasts many of whom had a great story or anecdote to share about their pride and joy! We had some great banter with the scooter boys again and really enjoyed chatting to the Jaguar Club Members who we hope to meet again at future shows.
We had to laugh at the "British Summer" today - three hefty rain showers didn't discourage anyone (although we did spot someone huddled in a blanket). Of course the result of the rain was a very wet gazebo - it didn't help being under a tree! Our new one doesn't move in the wind (thankfully) but it does happily store a fair bit of water when packing it down wet which finds its way down sleeves, on feet etc 🙂
As usual Steve took some fantastic photos which you can view by clicking on our galleries page. Look forward to returning next year!
I was lucky enough to do some photography for Delicatessen UK magazine, shooting Shropshire based food expert Sabrina Zeif for their cover. Sabrina is a colourful character and her company Cooking Thyme is a real success, focusing on Caribbean and Cajun based recipes. She'd just finished the Shrewsbury Food Fair (one of the biggest events on the Shropshire calendar) which was really busy, no doubt a lot of interest came from people looking at something refreshingly different - her style of cooking is internationally cultured and involves a huge range of exciting ingredients and spices, including her own range.
We had a great time setting up and moving everything around until we had a shot that were both happy with, these things usually take a little bit of time to get right, it has to be if you're going to look at your face on a magazine cover! We settled for a fun shot in the end ( with a coconut!) which really captures Sabrina's sense of fun!
I was editing everything on the fly because of the deadline for submissions, well done to editorial teams who work over the weekend! A quick call to the magazine editor and an upload of some sample shots let me tailor the balance of the photo to suit his layout, what would we do without the internet!
heres what Sabrina says about her product:
“Fabulous Creole food is part of Cajun culture, and Trinidad has an exceptionally diverse international cuisine due to the mixed population. Both cultures are rooted in sharing good food and socialising. The aim of Kitchen Thyme is to bring the best of Cajun and Caribbean traditions to create a culinary experience different to any other cookery course.”
Absolutely spot on going by the spices that Sabrina gave me to experiment with!
We had an interesting shoot yesterday - advertising hampers for a classic car show! Now we're fortunate enough to own two classic cars (fortunate to the extent that they break down in beautiful places and I love them both despite that) - an MG Midget and a VW Camper. I'm always on the lookout for props to help my photos really stand out so this shoot fell naturally to a) pulling the MG out of the garage and b) getting a nice hamper to fit the scene. What could go wrong with that?
Well...mainly the weather! It's been lovely for the past week, with sunshine and puffy clouds, but yesterday it was drab and grey and my top down drive saw a bit of rain as well. Undeterred I set the shot up, with Andrea modelling alongside our picnic hamper. I have a clear view of what it should look like beforehand and I had a blue sky in my mind's eye. It's not a particularly difficult shot to lay out and light but come on, a bit of sunshine in June would help! Thankfully some post production skills helped here. Lighting the subject to give high contrast meant that I could work on the overcast sky later. As a rule I believe that the photo should be 90% "in camera" - I don't agree with the photographers who forsake time behind the camera and spend hours in front of a computer making something that at the end of the day doesn't look like what was shot on the day - I guess that's because I've always believed that you're capturing reality and need to reproduce that, not an artificial substitute. But there's a reality here, I can't abort shoots because of the weather - and the skill is in making the "in camera" element fit with the post production work. So, loaded hamper in hand(s), I set about lighting everything (in the wind) and got some great shots, which will be used for staged marketing in the run up to the event, with weekly and daily posts to increase interest.
I love a horse show. I've said it before but I'm happily saying it again. The competitors are great fun to talk to, and it's good to see kids involved in something that involves skill and dexterity and care - a far cry from a PS4 or an xBox. So we're delighted to be covering the shows at Penkridge again this year, it's an event that I look forward to - apart from being a challenge covering three rings and show jumping I always manage to get great shots across ridden, in hand and jumping, and we're managing to fit in some really nice equine portraits as well.
Over the winter I had a good think about how best to present the 700+ photos that we publish after the event, so now I'm organising them into separate galleries on our web site to make it easier for people to sort through and see their photos.We spend a long day at a horse show, here's how it pans out.
The day before: Load the car with all the equipment for on site printing and check everything. I come from an IT background and making sure everything works is key. We run a Mac network with 3 mac minis, monitors, secure wireless network and generator to run it all. Photos are transmitted wirelessly and it all has to work, so the event equipment gets tested the night before to make sure that there are no problems.
08:00: Set off. We do like to arrive early ?
09:00 Arrive at the show. On occasions I've had to turn back because I've left something behind, like lunch! We set up and run test prints and shots to test the network. Sometimes it works fine, other times there are teething problems, e.g a camera refuses to transmit, despite being Canon's flagship kit. We have a backup process but I do like to get everything ticking along, it's a distraction otherwise. There's a lot more here than taking photos, getting the network up and running is fundamental. Today I'm shooting my usual lens, a 200mm f2 which blurs the background beautifully, it's been my main lens for three years. I'm also shooting a 400mm f2.8 for the jumping, which means I can stay out of the ring, so there's no risk of distracting anyone. I don't mind going in of course but once there I don't like to move - and if there's something going on elsewhere I want to get there quickly.
09:20: Restart the generator and glare at it. That normally fixes things and it behaves. Have a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea, I probably won't have time to eat anything else during the day!
09:30: Have a chat with Dave, who's a fellow photographer. I like to arrive early at any event for a chat with everyone, including the nice couple who have the mobile coffee bar 🙂
10:00: Showtime! I'm working whatever ring is active, which is often all of them. I'm not just aiming for the rosette shots, I want to capture the emotion of the day, so a lot of the time when people view photos they're not in sequence because I've shot them at different times during the day. The cameras send photos in sequence and we'd love to be able to sort them but it isn't always possible to do that as the day gets more hectic - and there are a lot of photos taken.
12:00: Andrea arrives if she hasn't come with me. It's a relief because this is the time people start to want to look at their photos and she's wonderful with customers and won't pressure a sale, and she's brilliant at finding the shots from an ever increasing catalogue. We've talked at length about how to make her life easier as the day progresses but the workflow is fine and that's great for me. I continue to work in the rings and try to spend an equal amount of time in each, including the jumping, and I cause chaos with sales when I come back for a cup of tea and help out and then go off to take more photos. To be fair we do keep in touch by radio and I do come back to fix anything that's causing a big problem 🙂
16:00: A cup of tea and start to fold everything down. We keep the core computers running in case anyone wants to look at photos, it's the last thing to pack up, which is quite amusing really because we often turn it off and someone comes up and asks to see their photos - and I'm always happy to turn it on again!
14:00: Someone has taken a heavy fall today and the air ambulance is on its way. I'm not paparazzi so I won't photograph it. We do hope he's ok, it's not something anyone wants to witness and we're relieved later to find there's no broken bones. As an aside I've seen photographers who think that sort of photo is worth taking. Sorry, it isn't.
17:00: We're all packed up. We always find somewhere to have a drink afterwards and talk about the day and relax a bit, it's good fun but still quite intense if there are any problems so it's good to unwind because there's a lot more to do tonight. We talk about what worked well and what could be improved. It's an evolving thing, we've done a lot of shows but there's always something to talk through and ideas to make things work better. Today we had a persistent problem with one of the viewing stations where transmitted photos made everything jump around - I'm keen to hear what the problem was so I can fix it, we keep spares like keyboards and trackpads in the flight case and I suspect it was a bit of faulty kit that caused the problem - I'm keen to reproduce the problem so we don't run into it next time. It must have been frustrating for Andrea to cope with so I want to get this sorted out for the next show.
18:00: Home! Copy all the images onto the backup drive straight away - I don't want to risk losing anything and they then get copied onto network storage. There are usually 1500+ images. When they're backed up they're copied to a cloud drive for security. Then we sit down and start to select the images to put onto the web site. We aim to post around 700 images for the gallery which are the best from the day but we'll always post anything that a customer asks for, e.g if they've seen a shot on the day and want us to post everything.
19:00: Start the gallery upload. We aim to have the online gallery posted by 9pm at the latest and the upload can take over an hour if there are a lot of clicks on the day. I can see a lot from our web logs - downloads and of course people trying to view the gallery so it's important to get it loaded quickly. I want to have everything there for people to look at the same evening. The gallery upload is automated and we also have automation for online sales of low resolution images which is really great, it means customers can get their photos immediately. While that's running we process orders where customers have bought high res images, and send out free Facebook copies, we offer that for show purchases.
21:00: Select images for Facebook, post and release the link to the gallery. Have a shower and a hard earned glass of wine and something to eat and collapse in a heap! Good day!
It was interesting to meet a cheese maker recently - something I've always been curious about (due in no small part to eating a lot of it!). Not far from where I live is Mr Moyden's cheese - where an incredible range of cheeses are produced, with fatastic local names like "Wrekin Blue". Martin Moyden, who runs the business with his wife Beth, have won numerous awards both for their cheeses and for their growing business - their range is on the shelves of discerning shops where high quality is sought after by their customers.
so it was a delight to see inside the workings of a cheese maker - from the point where the raw product (unpasteurised milk) starts the process, through to the maturing and finally the selection of the end product. I even got to take some home with me - in this case an award winning Apley Cheshire which was amazing (I almost pulled over in the car and scoffed it).
The type of photo I wanted was something traditional - outside, cows grazing in the background etc etc. But the field is some way away from the business and it wasn't the best of weather! So we shot a portrait inside - although I always carry a backdrop the cheese making environment is very carefully sanitised so I really didn't want to introduce anything that might have caused any problems - so I used one carefully positioned soft box on low power to just light Martin, letting the background go dark. It worked really well as a dramatic black and white shot.
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