Moving to Wordpress

I've been meaning to for ages, but a week when 2 jobs got cancelled seemed like the perfect time to get stuck in, so I'm moving this blog over to Wordpress.

Apologies for any inconvenience it may cause, so far it's going smoothly, although I may have to re-link quite a few images and the like.  

For now though, refresh your browser, and wait with baited breath for me to start posting regularly!


Clever video shutter release for Nikon DSLRs

A rig I rented back before Christmas.  I've now bought one from a different brand, but don't have any pics yet.
I've just started using shoulder rigs to mount my DSLR's when shooting video, and have found, predictably, that there are lots of big advantages, and a few bumps that need to be ironed out.  One of the main issues is the importance of making sure the rig is put together properly, so that it actually rests on my shoulder when I bring the camera to my eye.  The first rig I rented was very hard to set up like this, and consequently I had VERY sore shoulders by the end of the shoot, as I was forced to "shrug" the whole time to keep the camera in position.

Another issue I've found is that because of the way my D800 and D4 are configured, once they're mounted onto the rig and I'm ready to shoot, it's very tricky to reach the shutter release or record button.  I'm forced to either wobble the rig around a lot as I reach over, or actually take it off and re-mount it to start recording.  Not being happy with this, I came up with a typically Macgyver-esque solution!

First off, get hold of a remote shutter release.  I own the very basic MC-30, although there are other more sophisticated ones around which might offer more functionality.  Plug it in (I'd recommend screwing it in, as it's less likely to drop out.) and then take a bungee cord, and strap the trigger to one of the handles at the front.

MC-30 release attached via a bungee cord.  I'm sure there's a more solid method than this, but I've not worked it out yet.

Next, go into the menu, and choose Custom Setting, Movie, 4, and the option to "Record Movies" rather than "Take Photos".  From now on, when you're in Live View movie mode and the screen is lit up at the back, all you need to do to start and end recording is touch the remote release.  No wobble, no shake.  Of course, you can use the shutter release on the camera as well, but that kind of defeats the point.  You'll also need to be aware that hitting the shutter release will bring up the rear view screen if your Live View mode is set to "Video", so if you're leaving this setting in place on the menu, you'll probably want to make sure the live view switch is locked on "stills" when you're not shooting those funky new moving picture things.

Setting g4 - choose "Record Movies"

My next trick of course, is to buy a follow focus to attach to the other handle, and get some practice at follow focusing when I'm shoulder mounted.  I've no idea if this shutter method works on other cameras besides Nikon of course (fights urge to make some snide comment about other cameras and just about manages.....)



Location Portrait Courses at the Nikon School

After a bit of an absence, I'm teaching a couple of courses at the Nikon School again.  Both of them are on location portraiture, the first with the emphasis on Sports, including a bit of action photography, and the second with the emphasis more on mood and drama.

Alfie Bowe - professional MMA fighter and model, who'll be the subject for the Sports course.

These courses are a bit of a departure for me, as rather than just stand at the front of a classroom and yammer on all day, I'm going to be conducting both shoots live, and students can then step in and take the shots themselves. 

The aim is to essentially download my head, and in the course of a day take you through as much as possible of what goes into making a professional image.  I'll be covering lots of technical aspects like lighting, exposure, lens selection, camera handling and so on, but also covering creative aspects such as developing ideas, and some "soft" skills like directing a model to get the best out of them.  After shooting all morning on location, we'll then retire to the well-appointed classroom at the Nikon School in the West End, where I'll take everyone right through my workflow, from downloading images all the way to retouching in photoshop, with as much of the process outlined along the way as possible.

Lisa Raynsford, actress, singer, and model, and our talented subject for the vintage course.
Nikon will be providing all the lighting, and all you'll need is your own camera and lens.  If you want to take the most advantage of the afternoon session, your own laptop with Photoshop and Lightroom on would be handy, but not essential, as Nikon do have a couple of workstations at the school.

The Sports/Boxing course is at the Peacock Gym, in Canning town (one of my favourite locations) on April the 1st, and the Vintage course is at Cahoots in Soho on April the 8th.  I've not shot in Cahoots yet, but it looks stunning.

Details and bookings for the courses are here:



Hope to see you there!


Constraining creativity and the lessons of Blackadder

Working in the field of commercial creativity, it can sometimes be very frustrating having to meet a client’s demands.  There’s often a huge temptation to think that if only you could be set free to express yourself truly as an artist, you’d produce amazing work.  The constraints of not enough time, not the right equipment, not enough or the right personnel, can feel like a huge weight pressing down upon you, preventing you from doing your best work.  There’s also a natural inclination amongst us arty creative types to feel that we should be unencumbered by the mundane aspects of the staid, commercial, real world, and that total freedom is inherently better.  On rare occasions, I’ve certainly found this to be the case, but on the whole, I find that the opposite is true:

Too much freedom is no good for creativity.

Ouch,  that’s not a nice thought for those struggling against all the demands of clients, budgets, art directors, and deadlines.

So where does Blackadder fit into this?  Well, personally I think it’s one of the best demonstrations of how much more creative it’s possible to be when you apply constraints rather than simply work away with no limits.

For the 2 people in the world out there who don’t know, Blackadder was a historical comedy broadcast on the BBC in the 1980’s, across 4 series, and 4 periods in history.  It starred Rowan Atkinson as the titular hero, and Tony Robinson as his side-kick Baldrick, with a regular supporting cast that included Tim McInnerny, Hugh Laurie, Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall, and countless other guest stars.  It’s frequently rated as one of the best sitcoms of all time, and as you may guess, I’m a bit of a fan.

Now, all that aside, anyone who’s watched all 4 series will tell you the the first series is rather different from the other 3.  For one thing, the characters are very different - Blackadder is often a fool, with Baldrick being the voice of wisdom, and these roles were completely reversed in series 2-4.  It’s also produced on a totally different scale - with quite lavish locations, lots of exterior shots, and hordes of extras.  This meant it was quite expensive to produce, and since the ratings weren’t great, the BBC were not about to commission a second series.

Richard Curtis (writer) and John Lloyd (producer) pleaded with the powers that be at the Beeb, and managed to secure a 2nd season, but on the understanding that they cut costs way back.  To this end, they shot almost everything in the studio, used a very limited number of sets, and kept the cast of characters much smaller.  

These restrictions forced everyone involved to concentrate much more on the script, dialogue and characters, which in turn of course, created the legendary comic icons we all came to love so much.  The focus on sharp wit, and very rapid back and forth between the characters was a natural consequence of shooting within quite a confined set-up, almost like working in a theatre.

If you’re struggling to be more creative, an approach like this is something that’s worked very well for me.  Just place some sort of frame or restriction on what you intend to shoot, and then work away within those boundaries.  There are classic examples of going out on a photowalk and just snapping one particular object - say graffiti, or old signs; limiting yourself to just one lens, or just one light; or setting specific time limits to the period you work in.  Personally I’ve had to learn the hard way that sometimes having too many options and tonnes of equipment can actually be a limiting factor, rather than a spur to creativity, and that I may produce better work by narrowing down my range of options.

I won’t go so far as to say these suggestions count as a cunning plan, as I wouldn’t deign to include myself amongst such auspicious company.


2015 Black Box

2015 Blackbox.  Opens to a much larger version.
It's that time of year again, when I gather up my "BlackBox" and total everything up.  As I've mentioned in my recent series of posts (here, here, here and here), it's been a funny year.  My highest earning month ever in March, and one of the quietest months in a decade in October.  The total number of shots is much lower than recent years, yet I'm happy to say I have been charging more generally, so this is no bad thing, and has definitely given me more time to work on ideas and development.

I've still got lots I want to work on, as is always the case, but one big plus from this year has been the higher percentage of my work that's made it into the portfolio.  Part of the reason for this is the new workflow I've been developing since I worked with Ebonie Allard in the summer.  Although this workflow is mainly concerned with pushing more stuff through to social media, the simple act of examining each shoot more closely in order to do this encourages me to polish more stuff for the portfolio.

It being the end of the year, I shall now make the usual promises about lots more to come in 2016, bid farewell to 2015, and wish anyone reading a Happy New Year!


Lessons from 2015 - 4 - The Awesome power of Checklists

Geek time!

This is perhaps a very y-chromosome thing to get excited about, but this year I’ve really benefitted from using checklists in several areas.  At least in my work life - I don’t have one for getting dressed in the morning or going to the bar to order a round of drinks.

Despite being a bit (!) of a perfectionist, and quite technically minded, I’ve always shied away from being quite as organised as this when it comes to work and technical issues, preferring  to muddle through.  This has, predictably, lead to a few headaches in recent years.  The days when I could pick up or rent a new piece of kit, take it straight out of the box, figure out how to use it in 30 seconds, and then just get shooting, are now few and far between.  So much kit is now so complex that not only do I actually need to read the manual (no, really) but having used something successfully once, there’s a massive benefit to making a checklist of what I did right, so I can repeat it the next time.  

I've rented this video rig from Calumet once, and it took ages to get set-up right.  I made sure to take notes for future use, and save them as a checklist.  Because I'm exciting like that.
This sounds super-geeky, I realise, but let’s be honest, if it’s a bit of equipment I don’t rent or use very often, or a procedure I don’t do on every shoot, am I really likely to remember every intricate detail?  I know from experience that the answer is a resounding “no”, and all too often I’ve made this discovery far from base, in inclement weather, under a time-pressured situation.  Not fun.  Since I regularly work with other personnel like assistants, being able to hand off information like this and leave them to get to work with minimal guidance is quite handy!
Here are just a few techy checklists I’ve created over the past 12 months:

- Correct rigging for tethering the D4/D800 to lightroom
- Correct mounting of cameras to shoulder video rigs
- Shooting to an external monitor/getting RAW video footage
- Packing lists for various equipment cases.
- The right way to wire up my Tascam sound mixer.

The best solution for creating and using checklists is Evernote, which I’ve become a massive fan of in the past 12 months.  Checklists can be shared and synced across all my devices - not least my phone - and can be printed out if it’s easier.  The basic version is free, although after a few months I shelled out for the premium one as I tend to upload a lot of images and the extra space is handy.

Besides cold, technical matters, a checklist can be very handy in more esoteric areas.  I’ve always had a pretty efficient workflow, created by necessity due to shooting so much.  However, one area where I’ve always fallen a bit short is in making the most use of my work.  In previous years I’ve been so busy that all I care about is simply getting each job out of the door as soon as possible.  Commendable from my client’s point of view, but from my end it can mean that not much happens to work once it’s been delivered.  I’m very slack about updating my portfolio, website, and posting things on social media - and I’m missing out.  I now have checklists for each job, which not only cover the basic stages of downloading, processing, archiving, and delivery, but also the next steps of pushing the work out via social media channels, creating versions for my printed portfolio and website and so on.  The observant stalkers amongst you might have noticed how much more active I’ve been on all these channels in the 2nd half of 2015!  It’s yet another thing I worked on with Ebonie Allard over the summer, and very worthwhile it’s been too.

A completed job - it gets quite satisfying to tick the boxes.
So swallow your fear of geekiness, and embrace the power of a simple checklist.  Start simple, with something like “how I pack my camera bag”, and then progress to more complex matters.  Before you know it you’ll be unable to work without a tick-box sheet in front of you.  Yay for anally retentive perfectionism!

And have a very pleasant few days off.  I thoroughly intend to!


Lessons from 2015 - 3 - Always keep your copyright

I’ve talked briefly about copyright and licensing in the past, and have even promised a more in depth post about it (and where exactly is that post Tom?)  I’m not going to deliver that in-depth post here, as I simply want to emphasise how important copyright has been to me this year.

Exciting pic eh?  I was tempted to buy a stock image of people in suits in a boardroom, but thought it might be too much for you all.
This year I’ve made the equivalent of a decent month’s money just from re-licensing images.  That’s essentially money for nothing - I send a client a high res image if they’ve not already got it, and then invoice them accordingly.  Generally, since most of this usage is editorial, it’s in the region of a couple of hundred of quid or so.  Not enough to live on, but a very nice supplement.  From time to time though, it’s a meatier advertising usage, and my word, those days are satisfying.
Don’t forget that as a freelancer I have:
  • No guaranteed regular income
  • No holiday pay
  • No sick pay
  • No company pension
My copyright and the ability to re-licence my work goes some way to compensate for this.  Of course, if I’d not had the sense to actually READ the contracts that I’m asked to sign, I’d have given away almost all my rights many times over.  This year I’ve even got one magazine company to amend their contracts because they contained an inherent and slightly illegal contradiction that would have made signing it somewhat pointless.

I promise (cross my heart and hope my cameras break) that I’ll cover Copyright and licensing in more depth in the new year, but in the meantime, if you haven’t already, go and buy, then read from cover to cover Beyond the Lens.  You’d also do well to read through this FAQ on the Aop website - it’s a pretty good intro to this area.