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There’s no other way to say it, “Training matters”! I’ve been training with some of the best portrait photographers this country has to offer and it changes everything! Some people have a belief that photography is a simple case of getting a camera and pressing a button. I’ve had people criticise me for thinking I could become a photographer. Until you’re in the hot seat making pictures of people, you quickly realize how hard it is. I remember a time when I got somebody to stand in front of the camera, I was so excited that I could finally take a picture of somebody. But then it rapidly dawned on me that I didn’t know how to pose them or communicate with them to create something special. In the early days of my learning, I struggled with thinking and breathing the technical aspects of the camera. At the moment it clicks, it seemed like everything I learnt flew out of the window. You feel the pressure of taking a picture quickly. The people in front of the lens are waiting… with what seems like an eternity. When somebody thinks it’s easy to take a picture, I quickly explain that I think it’s amazing that human beings can take a photograph at all! Within a split second, you think about the right moment to take the shot, composition, lighting, focus, camera angle, focal length, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, how will you leave yourself options during post-production, etc… There’s a million calculations that go on in that split second, a brief moment before it clicks.

I’ve been fortunate to do training with Damien & Julie Lovegrove (link), Chris Hanley (link) and Martin Hill (link). These photographers are the real deal. When you’re photographing a wedding and it starts raining, you absolutely rely on your training! This happened to me not so long ago… Everything I had ever learnt kicked in automatically to make something wonderful.

Graham Law and myself have both been doing Lovegrove workshops over the last 2.5 years and we make a fantastic team. In fact, Graham and I work together with our clients whether it be a street portrait shoot, a pre-wedding shoot or wedding. We get to practice all the skills we learn with our model Hannah and have been doing this for about 18 months. Both of us constantly hear Damien saying, “Let’s make it happen” which spurs us on and we make it happen. My photographs from our practice sessions can be found on this blog; Industrial Portraits (link) and The Lead Mines (link). Both of these examples demonstrate how we take what we learn and apply the skills in a totally different environment.

A while back Graham and I had discussed creating some nice bridal portraits in an in-door location. We decided that we wanted use Mellington Hall in Shropshire (link). Graham arranged to meet the management and discuss the location and what we wanted. This was also an opportunity to scout the location and afterwards Graham and I discussed how we were going to shoot the various scenes. The next trick was getting a wedding dress to shoot with… Graham approached Celtic Brides (a local bridal shop – link) and offered a proposal of what we wanted to do. With all the plans in place, we booked Mellington Hall and worked with Celtic Brides. They lent us 4 dresses for the shoot of which we only had time to photograph 3 of them. We took all our toys, lighting gear, etc… and turned the venue into a full-on photo shoot. It almost felt like we were on a Lovegrove workshop! We accomplished a lot and we got what we set out to achieve. Some nice portfolio images for ourselves and for Celtic Brides.

Hannah our model was fantastic! Every shoot we do with her she is getting more and more professional. On this occasion her mother Sarah helped out with everything which made the shoot go smoothly. My mother helped out with tea and a few other bits and pieces and we all made a great team!

Watching and learning from the masters, Damien Lovegrove, Chris Hanley and Martin Hill, made it possible for us to make it happen and to create our own portfolio of images. Yes… Training matters!

Below is a small selection of the photos from the day…

This is the first dress of 3. I love the symmetry in the frame!

I love the softness of this frame. There was hardly any post-production required for this photograph.

I love how everything works in this frame.

I like Hannah's inquisitive expression.

I deliberately framed this so that the left side could be used for content. I could imagine a fade to white with a message like "thinking about your big day".

Continuing with how these images might be used... I framed this so that content could be placed on the right side. Perhaps a message like "Have you just started thinking about your wedding dress?"

Similar theme with content on the left side.

Then it was the second dress and to make use the stair case.

I love how the frame leads from Hannah all the way to the top of the ceiling.

Time to use another room at the venue and love how Hannah is surrounded by the dress.

You can tell that Hannah loves the dress!

There were so many wonderful compositions to be made here....

At this point the creativity was just flowing!!

I wonder what Hannah was thinking about?

Timeless... Peaceful... Beautiful...

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Back to the stair case...

I love Hannah's energy in this image!

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It was time to change into the 3rd dress...

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I loved the mirror and fire place and decided to take a few wide shots with these wonderful dresses.

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Always exploring for a different camera angle...

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The last frame in this set photographing wedding dresses.

For the last few minutes of the day, Hannah changed into a cocktail dress.

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And this was pretty much the last frame of the day.

A man and his dog

Last week I did a quick photo shoot with my very good friend Ken and his lovely dog Lancelot. I scouted the location the day before and managed to get the whole shoot done in around 30 minutes. My buddy Joe helped and assisted on the shoot which made things move on much quicker than normal. Here are a few frames from the shoot:

I captured this frame half way through the shoot. I love this photograph!!

I went to the top of the sand bank to get a glimpse of the sea and the beach in the background.

You always need a frame like this on a beach shoot...

We all had fun filming on this shoot!

With a sky formation like this you just have to get more of it in the frame 🙂

I love how this frame almost appears monochrome...

A close up of Lancelot.

Finally back at base...

Searching

I’m continually amazed at how photography can reveal so much about ourselves. In my last post I mentioned that my father had passed away and the importance of photography (link). Since that sad day a couple of months later, I went for a walk with my mother. As we’re heading out the door I decided to pick up my camera… During the walk we stopped every-now-again to take a photograph and then continued walking into town. It wasn’t till later when editing the pictures did I realize how there was a sense of searching.

A thoughtful moment...

This is a very powerful image to me...

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A lifetime of memories

There are few things in life that measure up to the power of the “photograph”. I find it amazing how memories can be captured in a split second. A moment in time frozen forever. Photographs often tell a story or convey an emotion like virtually no other media format can. I love how a series of photographs take you through a journey and you get to relive happy and sad moments on life’s long road (although the road seems to be getting shorter as I get older).

Photographs are hugely important! At least to me anyway… I am fortunate that my mother took so many pictures of the family when we were kids. We have literally thousands of negatives of our entire history in Africa. About 13 years ago I purchased a professional negative scanner (Nikon Cool Scan III) to digitally capture our life’s journey. This was way before I took photography seriously, but in a sense, it was the beginning of the road I am now on. As I scanned the photographs, it was like watching a replay of our lives in slow motion. I can remember how home sick I felt when I scanned images of the farm that I grew up on as a kid. I could remember the happy days that we spent at Lake McIlwaine in Zimbabwe where I used to go sailing. I remembered what our lives were like during the Rhodesian war. I remembered the happy times spent with the family on our holidays. And I remembered the sadness at the loss of my brother Bradley.

Photographs like these are extremely precious and will never be relived again. Organizing a vast collection of photographs into date order quickly reveals huge gaps of time where there are no photographs at all! There were years where I didn’t have a single photograph of myself. I’ve learnt that you just need to keep taking photographs (all the time). For a lot of people we all know how it goes… you buy a camera, you take lots of pictures until you get bored of it; and then don’t take any more pictures until it’s someone’s birthday. Simply put, you just need to keep taking photos. Every time I take a photograph of a family member, I find myself saying how precious that image will probably become in time.

Since I’ve started on my photography journey, I’ve often come across folk who have little or no regard for the value of a photograph. There’s nothing wrong with this… each to their own… but a part of me does wonder if it will come back to bite them as time goes by.

Very sadly my father passed away in May of this year. As I reflect on the impact he’s had in my life, I’m glad I have so many photographs of the times we shared as I grew up. I’m glad that I became a photographer. I’m glad I have precious photographs which I will remember him by. Few people have achieved as much in their lifetime as my father did. He became a pilot, revolutionized commercial fishing in Southern Africa; and started a business on 60 Rhodesian Dollars and grew the business to the point that every milk bottle sold in Zimbabwe was milked with his milking machines. My father’s achievements in life are many — he did everything in life he wanted to. An achievement in its own right. But most of all, he was a loving father.

As I write this blog post, it reminds of a post that Joe McNally posted some time ago. Taking a picture of a feeling (link) and his feedback response (link).

I’m so glad that I became a photographer… I get the privilege to capture memories of loved ones…

Below are a few photographs of our family’s history.

This is a picture of my Grand Father at their home in 1931. My Grand Father and his two brothers were early pioneers in Southern Rhodesia. They arrived in 1901 from the Boer War, originally from London. They were part of the team to build the infrastructure of Rhodesia. The home shown in the picture was my mothers first home.

This is my Grand Father's car travelling with the family.

This is my mother when she was 18 years old when she was staying with her Grand Mother.

My Father at 23 years old when he immegrated to Rhodesia.

My Father next to his aeroplane getting ready for a trip to Mozambique to spend a weekend on Paradise Island.

The family travelling to Durban, South Africa for a holiday next to the sea. In the picture is my brother standing next to the car and there's me sitting in the back peering out the window.

Visiting my sister near the Zambian border at the Umfolozi river near Mushimbi Pools.

Me with my brother and sister. It was common during the war to carry a gun wherever you went.

My brother often travelled on company business to various farms. He attached the gun to the truck as a means to protect himself from terroist attack during the war.

The family was invited to visit the local chief and he gave us a chicken to take home for dinner. That's me sitting next to the chief...

A fly over the Lake Kariba dam wall. My father was in charge of the fishing fleet for what was the largest man made lake at that time.

My father inspecting a new milking machine installation that was manufactured by his business..

This is a photograph of me at 9 years old soon after my brother Bradley had died.

Me with my father at Lake Kariba.

Me a few years later aged 17 years old. Visiting Worlds View at Inyanga with a betamax video camera.

My father helping me test out a new lighting technique early during my photography study.

My father again helping me out by posing for a photograph.

This was one of my father's favourite photographs of himself which I took one Sunday lunch time.

Both my parents helping me out by posing for a photograph.

My favourite photograph of my father. This shows what he was like. He liked cooking in the kitchen and always wore his apron. The books behind him are also very fitting as he was always very studious.

Back in mid February Will and Julie contacted me to photograph their wedding. We met up at the pre-wedding shoot to take some lovely images before their Big Day. Graham Law and I did a location scout the day before and picked our locations carefully. The pre-wedding shoot lasted nearly 3 hours.

If you’d like us (Graham Law and myself) to photograph your wedding, get in touch…

Enjoy the photos below…

The shoot started with Julie in the local town park.

Julie and Will in the same location.

Moved over about 30 meters to another location for this frame.

I directed Will and Julie to create this wonderful image.

Same location but a figure in the landscape type image.

A moment of closeness.

Same location...

Time for some drama! Yeah!!

A quick visit into town for a few frames. This was the first location.

Used a wall that was right next to the previous location.

Love is in the air...

Across the road was a lovely telephone box for us to use.

A private moment...

A change of location...

I love making these kinds of shots...

A simple but effective portrait.

A wider frame of where we were shooting in the previous frames.

I absolutely love this image!

A change of location again... out in the fields...

It started to rain... but we weren't phased at all 🙂

Finally arrived at our last location.

The last frame of the day...

The Lead Mines

A while back Graham and I did a photo shoot with Hannah down at the Lead Mines at Clywedog Dam in Powys, Wales. My goals for the shoot was to create something special with a bit of class about it. An evening gown in the middle of an ancient ruin seemed a good contrast to me…

This frame from the first location needed no post-production treatment and is straight off the camera.

I always take close-up and wide angle frames when on a photo shoot. I particularly like this frame in Black & White.

This shot could have been taken anywhere that has trees or a small woods.

I used a bit of flare from the sun to soften the look of this frame in the woods.

A change of location to the river...

Using the sun again to add a bit of interest into the frame.

I took several frames like this one and it works in colour, Black & White and a warmed up desaturated look (above).

A change of location to another part of the river with this frame from a high vantage point.

Blue's and green's... beautiful complementary colours.

Time for something different and dramatic.

This kind of frame can also work in Black & White.

Perhaps something more fairytale...

Change of location to the old Lead Mine buildings.

Exploring different angles...

I love Hannah's expression in this image.

Colour or Black & White... whatever take your fancy...

The sun was starting to set at this point in the shoot.

This establishing shot shows the Lead Mines and the dam wall in the background.

Time for a few close-up portraits.

I love this frame!

Add a bit of light for this simple photograph.

I then went for a much cooler look...

This image makes you wonder what Hannah is thinking about?

My last frame of the day...

5 Minute Portrait

Here are some images of Steven taken in just a few minutes for his facebook profile.

Taken with a single flash about 10 feet away.

Same location but using natural light.

Again, single flash rigged onto a stand.

Even an empty car park is a great place to take a portrait!

Over the last three and half years I’ve been on a wonderful journey learning and perfecting my photography skills. I’ve provided and insight to my journey in Part 1 (link) and Part 2 (link). I love photographing people and so portraiture is obviously where I’ll be for years to come. Developing one’s skills isn’t cheap. For me I’ve always focused on the principle that if you buy cheap, you buy twice. So from a camera gear perspective, I’ve bought the right stuff at the right time when I needed it. Acquiring photographic skills isn’t about having a nice camera. It’s about having the skills to drive the camera. The training aspect is really important! If you want professional results, you need professional training. Simples… Virtually all my training has been with Damien Lovegrove as well as Chris Hanley. These are two very important people in the industry when it comes to photographing people.

About a year ago I purchased a Canon 5D mk II camera. When this camera came onto the market, it caused a flurry of excitement. As a stills camera, it has a Full Frame sensor (35mm x 24mm) and is a whopping 21 Mega Pixels. It works well in low light and it looks like a normal sized DSLR camera. As well as being a great still camera, Canon introduced HD Video recording too! The camera’s small form factor (compared to industry standard video cameras) and it’s large sensor size excited film makers throughout the entire industry. The cinematic look created by such a small device was a new affordable way to get great results. Film makers all over the world grappled to work around the limitations and make this new breed of hybrid camera work. The most prominent of these film makers was Vincent Laforet and he made a short film that rocked the entire industry titled Reverie (link). Shortly after… a new breed of film makers jumped on to the wave. The take up of the 5D mk II camera within the film industry surprised Canon. Apparently, Canon hadn’t expected the video feature to take a life of its own in the way that it did. Some even comment that Canon made the video functionality too good! One of the new breed of film makers that jumped on the wave very early was Philip Bloom. He left the broadcasting industry and started afresh using the new Canon hybrid camera. He is now one of the most prominent names in the industry, has a huge following and has companies like Kessler Crane make products to his specifications. Canon has done something amazing! It’s almost single handily created a new industry in the film making world with the 5D mk II camera. The camera is now regularly used in filming the popular TV show ‘House’ and it was also used on a few scenes in Iron Man 2.

So… as well as having a superb stills camera, in my hands I also have an amazing video camera too!! The temptation to introduce myself to the film making world is too great! In many ways I see it as an option to extend my creativity and offer potential clients a new kind of post-event experience. I love seeing the excitement of people’s faces when they see a wonderful image of themselves and loved ones. The prospect of seeing a bride and groom seeing a cinematic film of their wedding will be something to treasure forever. Another film maker that shows hows its done on DSLR cameras and is one of the new breed of film makers is ‘stillmotion’ from Canada. Here’s a recent wedding film they put together (link). And then you have film makers like Kevin Shahinian who make a wedding film that goes way beyond your typical experience (link)!

Over the last several months I’ve been doing a lot of research into the film world and started doing a lot of self-study to get myself onto the film ladder. In many ways, in a similar fashion to how I got to grips with photography. My first task was to try and get an overview of the industry, especially the DSLR film industry. This meant following film makers on twitter and generally chasing search terms in Google. Having appreciated the importance of photography training, I searched for a ‘Damien Lovegrove’ type person in the DSLR film world. I wanted that person to be based in the UK (because of access) and this turned out to be Philip Bloom. I got his training DVD specifically aimed at the Canon 5D mk II camera (link). This was a fantastic introduction. You get to hear about the essential gear and some of the technicalities of filming with a DSLR camera. Next up is the book, ‘From Still to Motion’ (link). This is simply brilliant! It is written by many authors and contains a DVD with 6 hours of additional footage. It also contains the RAW footage discussed in the book and even includes the Final Cut Pro project files. Then I purchased Drew Gardner’s 2-disk DVD set (link) which contains more detail on actually filming a short film. These 3 items have been essential for me and getting to grips with using a DLSR camera.

Working with DSLRs like the Canon 5D mk II require some essential gear to really get started. It is unrealistic to just use the camera ‘as is’ for video or film making. The camera’s form factor makes it difficult to hold steady and it does not have autofocus. The steady aspect can be easily achieved using a tripod which most photographers will already own. However, they are unlikely to own a video head which is a minimum requirement. Anyway, let’s take an overview of what’s required (as far as I can ascertain):

Tripod and Video Head
I’m using my current tripod which is probably not ideal for video use. However, it appears to be okay for the time being. I have purchased the Manfrotto 501HDV video head (link).

Hand holding the camera
As mentioned already, you cannot easily hand hold the camera because of its form factor. At a minimum you need something like a Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 3x (link). This is an eye piece that fits onto the back of the camera’s LCD display. It allows you to assess focus more easily and adds an additional point of contact to your body. At this point there are 3 points of contact with the camera. Your left & right hand and your eye. Ideally you need 4 points of contact, so something like a Zacuto Target Shooter (link) is required. With this setup, you can hand hold the camera steady enough. An optional component is a monopod which will help keep the camera still when you’ve stopped to take some film.

Audio
This is a whole new ball game for photographers. The built-in microphone is useless. You need something like a Rode Video Mic (link) which is a directional microphone. Then you might consider an external audio recorder such as the Zoom H4N (link). And additionally you might want body packs so you can get omni and uni-directional microphones close your subject. Something like the Sennheiser EW G3  radio microphone (link). This stillmotion video covers the ins and outs of audio (link).

Advanced gear
There’s a bunch of advanced gear that you can use for different types of shots. You can use a GlideCam (link, example 1, example 2) for smooth filming whilst moving with a subject. There are cranes which allow dramatic movements of the camera. Companies such as Kessler Crane make a variety of cranes and jibs (link). You can use a dolly track to add a subtle moving quality to the film piece (link). And the list goes on…

Software
The video editing software used by professionals is mostly Apple’s Final Cut Pro (link) or Adobe’s Premier Pro (link).

Making films goes way beyond simply being able to film the scenes with a video capable camera. You also need story telling skills and a creative mind. To help me on my film making journey, I’ve just booked a place for an intense 3-day masterclass with 3 film makers in Majorca later this summer. I’ll be training with Philip Bloom (link), Nino Leitner (link) and Sebastian Wiegärtner (link). I’m very excited about this opportunity to walk amongst giants!

And to finish this post off, here’s an amazing short piece by Tom Lowe which will blow your mind (link)!

A Model Wedding

My photography journey brings me to photographing weddings. Last year I attended another Damien Lovegrove workshop (3 days) covering all aspects of weddings and here are a few frames from the day.

First up was photographing the wedding rings.

Then the flowers...

Our model getting ready for the big day.

Sarah getting ready...

Then it was bridal portraits...

We got to explore many portrait opportunities.

I love how Sarah is framed within the window.

Then we moved onto a different area of the hotel shooting under very challenging lighting conditions.

Again... exploring different shots within the same lcoation.

Yip... its all fun! 🙂

It was time to get back to shooting portraits of the groom.

Exploring more angles for the various shots.

We had a lot of fun shooting in this spiral stairwell.

Then we moved to another location for this simple portrait.

... and swiftly moving on to the last groom portrait before a much need break.

Heading towards the final sessions of the day, we headed into the Church.

The lovely couple walking down the isle together...

Photographing the couple together using ambient light.

A tigher shot compared with the previous image.

A closeup of the lovely couple...

One final bridal portrait in the Church before finishing off the session.

On our way back to the main building... we had the opportunity to shoot outside.

It was very cold at this time...

Once back indoors, the final session was to try out the various continuous lighting gear!

I love the warm colours in this frame.

My last frame of the day...

This shoot was a joint effort between Graham Law and myself photographing Ken and Hannah. This was aimed to be more than a straight forward portrait session. I created moodboards and discussed what types of images we all wanted from the shoot. I’m very pleased with the results and hope you like the photographs…

I loved shooting at this location!

It's all about the angle... same lighting setup as the previous image.

Let's get to work! Yeah!!

A simple portrait... with colour bars to add interest.

I've always wanted to take a more out-of-context type images. When I saw this blank frame I knew instantly what to do with it! 😉

A few natural light images...

There was literally nothing to see at this location... but when armed with a photographers eye it all changes...

The lighting for this image used a flash triggered with a Pocket Wizard and a Lowel-ID light.

Same location as the previous image and without the flash firing...

My friend Graham made a great light modifier and I used it in this frame.

I got the inspiration for this image from a photo of a band I had seen.

It was pre-arranged for Hannah to join in the shoot later in the afternoon. This was the first shot taken in a small street with a softbox and Pocket Wizards.

Same location as Ken's image, but using the Lowel-ID light to light the wall.

The next few shots used the Lowel-ID only...

Black and White seemed to work better than colour for my taste.

Experimented with more outrageous compositions.

I love the next series of images because of the prom dress in an industrial location. Again going with the out-of-context type theme.

Ken is dressed up too!

A bit of fun adding in a "007" theme...

We're all having a great time...

Simple but effective composition.

I love this out-of-context idea... I must explore this more...

A wider shot of the previous image.