Sunday, 16 March 2014

Off-camera flash portrait session


I spent a very enjoyable morning with Jason Dodd in Canterbury on an off-camera flash portrait workshop last weekend. Our models were Helen and Natalie and all photos were taken outdoors, either in woodland or around the Canterbury Innovation Centre.

The weather conditions were great, with blue sky and strong sunshine, but not ideal for photography. The challenge being to photograph your subjects back-lit by the sun and adjust the power of the off-camera flash to balance the exposure of the model's face.


We started in the small wooded area adjacent to the centre and worked with our camera settings and flash power to get the technical aspects under control before proceeding take some shots. There were three of us in the group so we took turns taking pictures and holding the flash gun.

My favourite from this set is of Helen, below. Note how the sun is lifting the highlights in her hair and the flash rendering skin tones and giving a catch light in the eyes.

Helen in woodland area
Helen: Manual mode; 1/250th; f/5; ISO 100; manual flash 1/16th power at ~3 meters
After some time in the woods we returned to the steps of the Innovation Centre and I used some of the architectural features of the building to add to compositions.

Natalie in front of the Innovation Centre #1
Natalie in front of the Innovation Centre #2
My favourite from this set was taken from a low viewpoint, just using the sky as background. We upped the power of the flash to 1/8th and held a diffuser in front to soften the effect. I was very happy with the exposure now: the extra power from the flash kept the hair from burning out and the diffuser softened the shadows and skin tones more effectively.

Natalie on the steps
As we got towards lunchtime, the sun was quite fierce, so we opted to move into the shadow of the Innovation Centre to do a few shots without flash, just using natural light and a reflector to balance the light across the models' faces.

Here's a mono of Natalie outside Unit 8.

Natalie outside Unit 8
As you can see, exposure control here was far simpler, with very even tones across the whole frame from the low contrast light.

By now, Helen had changed outfits and had applied some red lipstick. Using her black scarf to frame her faced and a diffuser positioned very carefully, I was able to get what I thought was my best image of the day.

Helen: The 'Scottish Widows' look


A big thank you to Jason for organising and hosting the day, to Natalie and Helen for their patience and contribution to the photography and to Steve Baker and Paul Spree for the teamwork, flash control and banter!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Wettest Winter

This entry is just to record that we are having the most appallingly weather this winter. Us Brits (especially me) like to spend our winters complaining about how the weather is miserable, but this year really is something else. The people of the south west of England have been the worst affected by floods and storms: villages in the Somerset levels have been completely cut off by floods that cover thousands of acres; many people have been flooded out of their homes. The main rail line to Cornwall has been severed at Dawlish. The floods have spread widely over the whole of southern England.

Here in East Kent, we’ve been less badly affected, but the Elham valley, and in particular the villages of Bridge and Patrixbourne have been dreadfully affected with flood water simply rising up through the ground.

I have a regular walk that passes though some playing fields. We're nowhere near the worst affected areas, but even so, the two pictures above (taken on my phone) illustrate the flooding of a local football pitch. Nothing in comparison to the experience of many (and you can see that the nearby houses are perfectly safe), but I don’t remember this kind of flooding of these pitches before.


One more from this afternoon. This was the view over the vallery of the Great Stour near Chilham. The Great Stour belies its name, and it is litle more than a stream at this point. But the fields are now entirely flooded. Some flooding happens every year, but this really is more than I can remember.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Anthony's Aviation Favourites, 2013

In what has become an annual tradition, here's my aviation favorites from this year. Rather a lot for one post, but then who's counting!

These are very approximately in chronological order, although where it is useful, they're grouped by subject. I'll also put these into a set on Flickr (eventually!)  so that you can see the details of each if you're interested.

Anyhow, in keeping with the spirit of Wonky Horizons, you can probably tell I had a huge amount of fun with aviation photography this year. Here's hoping for as much again in 2014!

Happy New Year!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Rochester Dickens Christmas Festival: Phil's take

This is my belated upload from our visit to Rochester. Anthony's blog has all the details, and, as he mentioned, there were many people in wonderful costumes. I was particularly taken with the steam-punks from Great Kentspectations. They have a great Victorian style with a sci-fi edge.

Here are a few of the shots from the day.
This was the first shot I was happy with.

Everyone was happy to be photographed 

I had a chat with this lovely lady but forgot to ask  her name.

Again I did not get the name of this man, but he did say he made the glove himself.

This lady had yellow eyes and blue hair – I just had to take a picture!

A wonderful steam-punk look.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Rochester Dickens Festival December 2013

A character in the parade for the Dickens Festival
Last Saturday, 7 December, I went with Phil plus our friend Katrina and her son Oliver to the Rochester Dickens Festival. I had not been to one of these before, and it's quite a long time since I've been to Rochester in any case.

Rochester is closely associated with Charles Dickens: his house at Gad's Hill Place is near Rochester, and several buildings in Rochester and its vicinity appear in his books (perhaps most famously, the churchyard of St James, Cooling, is supposed to have inspired the setting for Pip encountering Magwitch at the beginning of Great Expectations).

The heritage business is huge in the UK at the moment – the Medway/Thames estuary area is Dickens country, just as the area around Haworth is Bronte country. So it's inevitable that there should be a Dickens Festival. I don't know what it is, but there seems to be a communicable urge doing the rounds in the UK at the moment that makes people dress up in period costumes as living history re-enactors. I went up to Biggin Hill a couple of weeks ago for an evening photoshoot at the Heritage Hangar, and, naturally, there were re-enactors posing with the Spitfires and Hurricanes. You almost cannot avoid re-enactors at any organized event, but, it really can add to the fun and atmosphere.

A solid crowd packed Rochester High Street to follow the parade
 What I had not expected was the crowds! We got to the bottom of the High Street just before the parade was due to set off, and started taking some pictures of the characters. But it quickly became impossible to move around very freely with the density of both costumed characters and spectators, and once the parade started it was just a question of going with the flow and following along at a very slow walking pace.

Never having been to such an event before, I wasn't quite sure what to take in the way of gear. I was hoping to get some good street shots with quirky characters in interesting framings or juxtapositions. So, I took a 35mm prime lens along with the D700, with the intention that that would be my main lens for the day. I thought I might be able to take the occasional opportunity to get close-up portrait of one or two people, so I also took a 105 mm lens with this in mind. However, the density of people was such that it pretty rapidly became impossible to frame individuals or even groups in a way that fitted with my original idea. The 105 became my lens for the day after about the first 5 minutes, with the aim of just picking out individuals and suppressing the busyness of the background.

Anyhow, the four of us had a very entertaining day, and I got some pictures that I like. I had not expected just what a target-rich environment it turned out to be. The costumed characters were so happy to be photographed, and so cooperative it was a real pleasure. It was great fun that there were some anachronisms as well: I don't think Sherlock Holmes ever appears in a Dickens novel - much less with a camera :-) -  and I can’t quite work out what the Confederate general was doing in Victorian Britain either. The wonderful steam punks from Great Kentspectations  were out in force, although, somehow, I'm still not sure how they fit into the Dickens universe**.

After the parade, we were wondering where to go for lunch, and found a bunch of stalls out by the castle. Because there were so many people in Rochester, the cafes and restaurants were simply overflowing and, although dying for a coffee, we couldn't find anywhere with free space. However, the stalls by the castle were not completely overwhelmed, so we stopped by them for lunch.

The Taste of Thailand stall was there: they set up on our campus several times a week as well, so I am very familiar with their delicious green curries and Pad Thai; Phil, Katrina and myself chose Pad Thai, which had a suitably re-vivifying effect.

During the afternoon, it was a case of pottering around catching the occasional costumed character and generally soaking up the atmosphere. One of the things I loved was a French band of buskers called "Sur les Docks" - very energetic players and excellent musicians.

First time at a such a crowded festival – what did I learn photographically? Taking a fast portrait lens was really helpful – shooting wide open, or nearly-wide open, meant I could isolate characters against the background, even when it was really busy. I think I also need to be much more active at getting in and photographing them: if Phil or Katrina got to a character before I did, I tended to leave them to it. There was a wonderful Miss Havisham, for instance, with spiders in her veil: but because Phil and Katrina spent some time photographing her, I didn't want to bother her myself. Next time I shall! Something that was extremely helpful was shooting the D700 in ISO-unlimited fashion (this is Britain in December, after all, where the light rarely gets better than murky). I set the camera on manual with auto-ISO and a shutter speed of 1/250, and just changed aperture for what the picture needed. The liberating thing about the D700 is that you can simply forget about the ISO for the most part and just choose shutter speed and aperture according to what the picture needs. (Then again, the size of the D700-105 combination, its weight and the loud clunk of its shutter are not so liberating….)

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to going back another time. If you've not been, as long as you do not have a fear of being tightly hemmed in in a vast crowd, it is a great day out.

**UPDATE 13 December 2013. Victoria Sparks from Great Kentspectations got back to me after reading my comment above that I didn't see where the Steampunks fit into the Dickens universe. Here is what she said. "We see steampunk as a branch from the Dickensian/ Victorian culture, most of our characters and looks are based on Victorian Science fiction (H G Wells, Jules Verne) and also alternative Victorian history (who's to say some of Dickens unfinished pieces didn't include characters like us :P ). Our main goal is to have fun and bring something different to big events like this, it is our 4th time at the Dickens festival and our popularity is growing within the public and the re-enactors groups too, some gave us the name "the new Victorians" which we thought was lovely." Thanks so much, Victoria - much appreciated, and I'm looking forward to meeting you again the future.