Speedo #swimfit for Men's Health, Runner's World, and Women's Health

OK, here I go again with another shoot post, this may become a habit!

Last month I finished a project for Hearst Creative Solutions (that's Men's Health, Runner's World and Women's Health to the layman) for Speedo.  It took the shape of the now fairly familiar format of giving a select bunch of people top level coaching, testing and kit so as to improve their swimming and fitness.   I've done similar shoots for Asics, New Balance, and Optimum Nutrition amongst others, as it proves to be quite a good way of getting people involved, as well as showcasing just what people can achieve when they're given access to elite level coaching, facilities and equipment.

Alex about to start his VO2 max test.
From my side the shoot(s) were set across 5 days - 1 day at Bath University for preliminary fitness testing, 3 separate days at Speedo HQ in North London for coaching with Dan Bullock in their pool, then a final day back at Bath to see if there had been improvements.

Swim coaching, with a surplus of floats.

The list of shots I was required to get was predictably large, and also pretty varied.  We needed reportage shots of all 4 swimmers being put through their paces in the lab in Bath, reportage shots of them swimming, reportage shots of them being coached, "Hero" shots of them swimming which can be used as holding shots and web banners, as well as simple before and after shots to show how much they've all improved and got "swimfit"

There was also the added complication of having to shoot video on the middle of the 3 pool days.  Nothing too complicated, just some pieces to camera, some action shots, and some underwater footage.  For the other 4 days I was just doing stills, and those nice folk at Fight Gravity Films were handling the video side of things.  Having worked with them before I knew there would be no problems with us stepping on each other's toes, or eating up each other's time allocation, but it should be said that there is a LOT of potential for conflict here if you don't liaise with the video crew before and during the shoot to make sure you both get what you need.

Working around the video crew - note the 2 camera setup, one on a Ronin mount, and the tungsten light top right.
Hearst were keen to make the reportage look as good as possible, rather than just snap shots of people running on treadmills or splashing through the water.  To this end I shot into the light quite a bit - either one of my own flashguns tucked away in a corner, or one of the video crew's tungsten lights.  I also made every effort to try and catch "peak action" - not too difficult with some of the fitness tests in Bath which pushed people to their limits and produced some genuinely strained expressions.

Best Stan Laurel impression ever.
There was also a small element of "engineering" situations, particularly in the pool.  What usually happens on shoots like these is that I'm concentrating on something else - or even shooting something else, then I spot something interesting happening elsewhere, and have to race over there and ask people to repeat what they were just doing.

Not staged (honest)
On the subject of "racing over there" Speedo are quite tight about Health and Safety around the pool area, and to be honest, by the time I've plonked 4 flash heads down, and the video crew have added 3 1.2kw HMI's to the mix as well, plus all the cables, you don't "race" anywhere - you walk carefully around the edge of the pool, particularly when carrying camera kit.  I am a notoriously clumsy sod when I'm shooting, but I'm happy to say everything survived

Water and electricity - nature's great enemies.

Shooting swimmers has always been a bit of a challenge in my experience, as the action above the surface is a bit mundane and repetitive.  The views around the swimmers don't change much, focus tracking can be all sorts of fun, and lighting them can also present a bit of a challenge if they're half way across the pool.  So, although I shot a fair few shots of "live" swimming action, as much as possible we would take each swimmer away to a corner and stage the action so we could control and light things better.

How everyone always gets out of a pool.
This one's actually totally real - a case of good timing as Amy swam beneath the skylight.
Thinking deep, meaningful swimming thoughts.
More deep meaningful swimming thoughts.
Those of you who've been stalking (following) me recently will know that for several of the last "hero" shots, I bought an underwater housing and shot the swimmers from under the surface.  There's an in depth video here if you've got a few minutes to spare, but to sum up:

  • You need a lot of light to penetrate into the water
  • Unless you want direct flash (I don't) you can't use flashes in the water, so you'll have to position them outside the pool, and find a way to trigger them.
  • Radio signals don't work well through water, you'll need to rig your trigger as near the surface as possible.
  • Lots of flash power means slower recycling, which means you'll almost certainly only get one shot for each pass they make.  You'll need to explain to people that they'll have to do the same action over, and over, and over again.
  • People, and plastic camera housings, float.  Get some sort of ballast belt to hold you down once you're in the water.
  • With a housing like this, it's very hard indeed to adjust the controls once you've loaded the camera in.

D800 plus Air TTL trigger inside Ewamarine housing.
Lying in wait for a swimmer
Reviewing pics with Ben the Art Director, and hoping Amy likes them too.

Not bad for a £300 housing, and some gaffer tape stuck to the top to keep the radio trigger in place!

I love the wide angle distortion on this shot - I made precisely no effort to remove it.
Overall, a great project to work on, and despite the wide ranging demands of shots, there was enough time, and enough chances to get some memorable and impressive stuff, rather than being always painted into a corner by time constraints!


Suspended by light with Cat Meffan

I don't normally post whole shoots on here, but I'm starting to think it's something I should do - kind of an online version of my Logbook!

Cat Meffan, hanging from the Flo Tubes.
For my (the) last ever shoot in the Lemonade Factory studio's current premises (see here for my heartfelt farewell to the place) I shot some personal work that I'd been chewing over for ages.  The concept emerged out of wanting to shoot someone fit and flexible - all contorted and balanced between things like scaffold poles - something that looked a bit impossible and gravity defying.  I also wanted to play around with trails of light, and originally was thinking of something like torches or LED's being wafted around in front of the lens, or having the model wave them around as she moved.  From this I shifted to thinking about having her actually balancing on/hanging from the light itself.

Of course, it's not generally a good idea from a health and safety point of view to have models hang off flo tubes, and I got a bit stuck.  Until a very simple solution occurred to me - shoot everything from 90 degrees and have the model lying on her side with the tubes very carefully positioned to give the impression she's suspended from them.

The setup - blue perspex on the floor, myself and the camera up in the gantry above, looking directly down on Cat
 That was the last piece of the puzzle that made the idea viable.  Now to bring together the various elements. First, the model - I'd worked with Cat Meffan a couple of times before, and I knew she'd have the physical skills required to carry this off, plus I knew she'd understand the concept and work hard to make it look convincing.  Next, I rented the same flo tubes from Unique lighting that I'd used on last year's Men's Fitness shoot.  Then, a pure stroke of luck - the studio had a massive sheet of blue perspex available.  This turned out to be more useful than I could have imagined.

The perspex helps the illusion of depth enormously, without it I'm not sure the shoot would have worked.
I tried to keep the lighting as natural as possible - to give the impression that there was a soft light from "above" i.e. top right in the photo, and then using 2 other lights very carefully gridded to lift the shadows on the top left and bottom left.  The exposure was then based around the output of the flo-tubes, so all the flash powers were pretty low.  There'd be no point doing all this and then not letting the flo-tubes actually come to life! 

Although the perspex was perfect, as it swallowed light up and gave the impression that Cat was floating much more than she actually was, the big catch is that it reflects light something rotten.  So not only did I need to be careful about how I lit it, but even more careful about what reflections showed up in it.  To this end I placed black polyboards around the set, and wrapped some of the gantry in black fabric.  It would have saved me a lot of time in photoshop to have wrapped the whole gantry in black fabric, as there were still lots of reflections to be seen, and consequently painted out.

My very cosy working environment - with skylight windows just above my head in mid-July!
As with any shoot like this (and arguably ANY shoot) the initial concept and setup is all very well, but what happens in practice is that you bring all the elements together, and then play around to see what actually works.  In this case I'd sketched out various poses I thought would look good, but in the event it was a case of getting Cat to arrange herself in ways that looked convincing, then getting Max, my assistant for the day, to position the tubes around her so that they gave the right impression of support.  

One other change on the day was that I'd originally planned to use a roll of colorama on top of a polyboard as the backdrop.  After using the perspex we gave this a try, and even from this low-res behind the scenes shot you can see why the shots didn't make the final cut - the paper sinks into the polyboard too easily, and creases too much (it wouldn't be much better just on the floor) and as such the illusion of Cat being suspended doesn't work anywhere near as well.

Note the wrinkles and bumps in the colorama below Cat's feet.
Overall, a very successful shoot - one of those great ones where all the elements come together, and although there are some unpredictable bits, they don't throw the whole thing off-course, just add a few challenges.

Let me know if you'd like me to delve more into shoots on the blog - I've always avoided it, trying to keep things educational, but I'm happy to do it if people want it.


Shooting underwater with the Ewamarine U-BXP 100 for Speedo and Men's He...

A bit longer than some of my recent ones, and probably only of interest to people who want to shoot underwater, but here's my latest video about shooting swimmers using a Ewamarine U-BXP 100 housing on a recent Men's Health, Runner's World and Women's Health shoot for Speedo.


Shooting events from a bike (and not getting your innards squashed by swinging cameras...)

I shoot lots of events and races, and a lot of the time I jump on a bike to get around so that I can cover more ground than I would on foot.  I've been using a pair of Black Rapid straps for years to support my 2 bodies, but when I'm on a bike they have a massive tendency to swing around, smash into each other, as well as smashing into me all the time.  After a few uncomfortable shoots, I settled on the solution below:

This system is also really handy when I'm shooting events like Survival of the Fittest, as it means I can attach the cameras to my body as I clamber up and over obstacles and have both my hands free.

I'm getting the hang of these quick videos - helped slightly by the fact that I finally own a decent phone - so expect more of them going forward!


Bidding Farewell to a beloved hire studio

Being based in Central London, and not being born into the aristocracy means I don't own a studio, I rent them when I need to.  I've rented many over the years, but the one I've used most often is the Lemonade Factory in Battersea.  I first worked there in 1998 when I was still an assistant, and was renting it myself by 1999, and since then I've usually shot there about once a month.

In about 6 weeks the whole block they're based in is being demolished to make way for a 17 storey block of flats, and they're relocating further into South London.  Before the wrecking balls start, I recorded this little video after my shoot there on Wednesday:

The new place will be kitted out to order, so I'm quite looking forward to shooting there, but I'll definitely miss the old, slightly rough round the edges place in Battersea!


Shooting Sailing with a rented 400mm f2.8

Very enjoyable day on Tuesday, spent mostly out on a RIB in Cardiff Bay following an extreme sailing Catamaran, and getting a serious T-shirt tan!

Having shot sailing a handful of times I've learnt that if you're tasked with getting shots of someone on the yacht in action, even if you're in a RIB that can be piloted around the place, you'll still need much more lens than you might think - hence hiring a Nikon 400mm f2.8 from Calumet in Bristol.

It's not all straightforward though, as this little film will show:


Shooting 12 models in one day for Multipower

About 10 days ago I had a fairly taxing day shooting 12 social influencers (that's guys who have a large following on social media, in case you're not down with the kids like what I am) for Multipower.  I still managed to shoot a quick behind the scenes video of the day though, to try and get across how organised you need to be to get through this sort of workload:

The key thing from the day was pre-planning.  Right from knowing when people were arriving, through to how long I'd got with each person, to designing 2 different lighting setups that I could switch between without causing too many headaches.  To get posed shots, hero shots, and at least one exercise circuit with 12 people is quite a tall order, and it amounted to something like 1600+ shots even after an edit.  It's not the sort of shoot where I can afford to muck about or experiment much!

In future, as I switch to a full Profoto Air system, this sort of thing will be even simpler, as I'll just switch channels on the remote and have to move maybe one head, rather than turning some heads on or off.  I'll also be more careful about people coming and going whilst I'm filming a piece to camera!