Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Another life lesson learned .....

A while ago, I went looking for a model with either a bald or shaved head.  I had a picture in mind and the bald head was key to it.  I also had visions of a special headpiece and that the makeup would be done using an airbrush rather than the expected way using brushes and sponges.

I put out the feelers on Facebook but got virtually no response.  I put up a note on Model Mayhem - zilch, nada, nothing.  Then a friend of mine mentioned a friend of hers (I know - a friend of a friend) who was going to shave her (very) long hair to raise money for cancer treatment for a young girl here in Ireland.  I contacted her and met her so that we could size each other up and see if we fitted together,  I explained the shot, explained she would basically painted, the shoot would take about 4 hours, the photos would be used in competitions and might be in salons and could be on public view in exhibitions.
We had our coffees, chatted some more and then went our different ways.

I had a MUA friend of mine who uses a person who makes headpieces that are incredible.  I got in touch and asked her if she could make one especially for me.  We met, discussed the shape and concept, materials that would be used, the cost and when I needed it.  While I was there I also saw some other pieces that I agreed to hire for the day.  All was going well.

Now all I needed was the airbrush artist .....

I was talking to a friend of mine in Dublin Camera Club and he mentioned that "one of his guys" did airbrushing.  Maybe he could provide what I wanted so I described to him what I was looking for.  The colours would be subtle.  If I said gold I meant a gold tint and not gold-gold.  Head and chest would be a gold tint.  The face would have an oval of silver tint as though someone was shining a spotlight on her.  I wanted a soft jagged band of black across her eyes and hard black stripes coming from the forehead converging at the crown of her head.  I also said that money was scarce so it would be a deciding factor in whether I went ahead with the airbrushing or not.  If not then I would modify my approach and probably use the 'normal' methods.  I mentioned €50 as a starting negotiating price.

The following week my friend came back to me, told me he had discussed it and €50 would be okay.  I got the guy's contact details and

26-Feb 14:46
Paul: Hi,
I'm the friend of YYY that's looking for the airbrush job on a woman with a shaved head! Any chance we could meet and have a chat?
Paul Timon.

27-Feb 21:21
Paul: Have you changed your mind about the job?
Paul Timon.

Christian: Sorry man,just been really busy we can meet up in the academy on Friday at 1 if that suits ?

Paul: No problem. Yes, that suits me fine. See you then. Thanks.

1-Mar 12:12
Paul: Might be 5 mins late.

Christian: Sure no worries

We had our meeting.  I described what I wanted to Christian and I could see from his reaction that €50 was not going to be enough and suggested €100 to which he agreed.  He started doing a sketch of my description in Photoshop and said he would finish it another time and send me a copy for discussion in "the next few days".  One of the things I repeated over and over was that all the colours were to blend with each other - no hard lines - except for the lines on her head.
Christian had a problem with the date we had arranged for the shoot - the 22nd so I spoke to Louise and changed it to the 23rd to suit him.

1-Mar 17:27
Paul: 23rd is fine. 12:00 - 16:00
Paul T

Christian: Cool

Nearly two weeks had gone by without any sketch.

13-Mar 17:56
Paul: Anything to show me yet?

Christian: Not yet ill get a look at it this evening

Another week has gone by with no sketch.  I have given up expecting one.  I now decided I would just send him details of the shoot just to confirm them.

21-Mar 13:03
Paul: Saturday, 12:00 at Dublin Camera Club.
10 Lr Camden St.
Text me when you're outside.

I got a phone call from him telling me that he couldn't make it for 12:00 but would be there at 1:00 pm.  I called Louise and changed the time to 1:00.

22 Mar I see an email timestamped 21-Mar 23:55 where he says:find attached sketch for look on saturday in gold and silver there will be alterations depending on the size of the models head etc.. let me know if there you want to make any changes

This is the sketch I received the day before the shoot.

The day before the shoot at 6:22 pm I get the following text.  No phone call,just a text.
22-Mar 18:22
Christian: Hy Paul I won't be able to do tomorrow for you but I've given all the materials and equipment to an excellent make up artist called XXX  she is more than capable of creating the look your after and will be at the camera club at 12 her number is XXX

The replacement was not the same standard as Christian.  However I went with what she was doing and did my shoot.  I checked if she had been paid and she told me she hadn't so I gave her the €100 - the full amount.  But I had already paid Christian €50 so asked for it back.

26-Mar 17:52
Paul: I gave XXX the full €100 since you didn't give her the €50 deposit.
Please give YYY the €50 to return to me.

Christian: The deposit was 50 for materials which I gave to XXX the price for the job was 100 total price was 150

Paul: The number €150 was never mentioned at our meeting. It went from €50 to €100. Are you refusing to return the €50?

Christian: At the meeting I said 50 for materials and 100 for the day no make up artist would work for less than 100 for a make over especially with the airbrush

Paul: Considering all that has happened since I started this project, this is the last straw.

Christian: My going rate for a day is 350 I reduced the rate since you were a friend if YYY , you can check with him at the end of the day you got the job done for practically half the price

Paul: This is not over.

  • So.... I was told by his 'boss' (?) €50 would be okay.  But the discussion quoted €100.  No mention of an addition of €100.
  • I was promised a sketch of what we discussed in the following days after our discussion on 1-Mar.
  • After no sketch and no communication I had to ask about the sketch again on the 13-Mar and was told "Not yet ill get a look at it this evening"
  • On Thursday 21-Mar (shoot on Saturday) I send him confirmation details of the shoot only to be told he can't make it for 12:00.  What if I hadn't contacted him?
  • On Thursday night at 11:55pm he sends me the sketch I had expected weeks before and it is NOT what we discussed.  I don't see it until Friday 22nd.  I decide I'll try and steer the work on the Saturday.
  • 6:22 pm on Friday 22-Mar I get a text telling me he isn't going to be there but has assigned a replacement.
  • He also estimated it was two hours work.  His rate (now I find out) is €350 for the day.  Assuming an 8 hour day then 2 hours would be < €90?
I didn't get the person I had a contract with.
I didn't get a sketch in time despite asking for it twice and it was wrong.
I was overcharged.
I was given virtually no notice of replacement or asked if it was okay.

Would you use Christian Kotey?

Monday, May 6, 2013

3 into 1 can go

A friend of mine, Glynis Casson, calls on me from time to time to help out with stage performances that she puts on in various places.  She has a bit of a pedigree!  Her grandmother was Dame Sybil Thorndike who won't mean too much to most of you but she would have been the Judy Dench of her day.  Her father was Christopher Casson who came to Ireland in 1946 and worked on stage initially but was probably more well known for his part as Canon Browne in an Irish soap called "The Riordans".
Down through the years she has played various parts in various musicals and other performances and now has put together a number of productions in which she plays the solo part or as part of a collaboration with other singers or musicians.

A recent creation was with a friend of hers (and mine), Irene Gaffney, who is no stranger to the stage herself and whose father was well known around the country for his lead roles in musicals as well as performances on radio and television.

Glynis and Irene, with some critical direction from another involved in stage - Tom Singleton - put together a collection of words and songs designed to entertain and illicit a laugh or two.  Think Victoria Wood but twice.

I went to see a preliminary performance (a sort of dress rehearsal) and enjoyed it immensely.  I felt it needed to be advertised a little better than by word of mouth and suggested that maybe a poster with the right design could do this.  That initial suggestion became a goal and I volunteered to come up with an idea.

So ......
Their production is called "Ladies who Lunch".  Some of the witticisms and humorous songs portray "Ladies who Lunch" all too well.  I saw wealthy women of indeterminate marital status who would regularly meet to 'do lunch' and wear clothes and jewellery to show off their status and vie with each other to be the most stylish and well-to-do.  All this and just missing the mark.  I envisioned them with cocktails and also wanted to suggest that they were in a posh restaurant - probably a hotel.  I described the idea to Glynis and Irene and they were very enthusiastic.  We enlisted Tom as the waiter advising him that his face wasn't really needed - just the body as a prop!  Before I go into any more detail, this is the finished photograph that will be used by the graphics designer to create the final poster.

I wanted to photo to have a mono feel to it without actually being mono.The only real colour I saw in it was their lipstick and the waiter's waistcoat. Their outfits are black and white.  Glynis (on the right) is wearing a hat that has blue in it but that's almost mono.The jewellery is a little over the top as are their outfits.  The waiter suggests posh with the white gloves and the silver tray.  I deliberately chose the back view so that his face didn't distract the viewer's attention from the two ladies. I did a series of poses with mobile phones, having 'gossip' conversations and 'pointing' out the not-so-stylish people who might also be in the restaurant.

My original intention was to shoot all three together and then we'd review them and pick the best one and maybe tweak it by shooting slight variations of it.  As is usual with the best laid plans of mice and men, things didn't go quite to plan.  First of all, Tom had to leave early for a rehearsal so while the MUA was working on the two ladies I shot Tom on his own.

The lighting setup was fairly basic.  I was lighting everybody the same way - two long strip boxes, one on either side of the background to light it.  A large and smaller softbox to the front to give butterfly lighting.  So Tom's shots were ....

I did a few different shots just in case.  I had told Tom that he was just a prop and not a person in the photo so he wouldn't be too put out.  I finally chose a shot of To that was close to what I wanted but it needed a bit of fixing.

The shot on the left is the original.  The one on the right is the one I used.  Besides the creases that needed a bit of 'ironing' (not too much) the two biggest problems were the apparent curve in Tom's back created more by the lighting than Tom, and the gaping sleeve on the right.  I fixed those and now had my starter picture.

Then it was the ladies' turn.  I was hoping that I could use a single shot of the two of them since they were acting off each other.  I gave them a couple of ideas like talking on their phones, people watching and judging, etc.  The collection is below.  I'm not sure whose idea it was to pinch Tom's bottom (probably Irene) but it seemed like a good idea and it was the one we all agreed to go for.  That is the shot bottom left in the group of photos below.  However, they agreed that a different shot of Glynis should be used and that was the picture top left.

Pic of Irene cut from original and pasted into the composite.  I felt her hair was a little unbalanced so ...

I copied her hair from the right side, flipped it, placed it on the left side, made a few edits.

Then added some burning and dodging to her eyes and eyebrows.

Added Glynis .....

A little dodging and burning and a finished picture.


Geek Time .....

A long time ago I invested in the development of a gadget called Triggertrap.  At the time I was using an intervalometer to do some time-lapse photography and I also had bought a remote trigger to operate the camera from a distance such as in a theatre.  With these thoughts buzzing in my head I read this investment opportunity where the device could trigger my camera or flash.  The trigger source could be sound, light change or laser.  It would also boast time-lapse capability, trigger a camera that had infra red remote control capability and the triggering thresholds could be adjusted as could the delay in triggering and retriggering.
Well, time passed.  So did the deadlines for delivery.  But it did arrive.  I had a brief look at it and, being busy, put it away for another time.

A couple of weeks ago I was passing by a shop and saw that it had air soft pistols for sale.  I remember wanting a simpler version of these when I was a boy.  The used lead pellets, were a one-shot deal and not very accurate.  I know because one or two friends of mine had one.  Today, it's a whole new scene.  The BB guns are replicas of the real thing.  So much so that the Gardai will not concede there is a difference as far as they are concerned.  The words "gun", "triggertrap" and "balloons" went through my mind so I bought a gun - a Taurus PT 92.  Why that one?  'Cos it had my initials in the name.  Yes I am that spontaneous and reasoning at times.  The gun will hold 26 BB projectiles that are 6mm in diameter.

Two BBs (or not 2 bb)

Last week I did some homework to see if I could possibly photograph a BB projectile bursting a balloon.  There were several variables.  Some I hadn't even considered.
The first was the speed of the BB.  The box had the figure of "407 fps" written on it.  That's very exact so I naturally immediately mistrusted it!  Preferring to work in metric I converted it and it came out at 124053 mm/sec.
I figured the only way to freeze that kind of motion was with flash.

Most people think that flash will freeze any motion but it won't simply because of the way it works.  A lot people think that reducing a speedlite's power is the equivalent of reducing its light output but it's not.  It's reducing the length of time the speedlite is putting out light.  Full power is the same level of light for a longer time.  Minimum power is the same light level for a shorter time.  So to get the BB to be frozen I needed a real short time.

Off to the Internet and I found this guy (Andy Gock) who had measured the flash duration of a number of models at different settings.  If I accept his findings as true then there was a surprise to find that the more expensive and well-known brands turned out NOT to be the ones with the shortest duration at minimum power.  In fact, the Yongnuo units I bought from China had the shortest times at 1/23041 sec.


Now that I had (probably) the fastest (shortest) flash times, the payoff for that was low light.  But I had another gizmo - a bracket that holds three speedlites so that would help.

So variables ........
I would pull the trigger.  There would be a bang and the BB would theoretically be travelling at 124053 mm/sec.  The sound from the bang would be travelling at (roughly) 340 m/sec or 340000 mm/sec so the sound would reach my triggertrap much quicker than the BB.
Working on the basis that a ballon and the triggertrap would be about 3 metres from the gun I worked out (roughly) that the sound would reach the balloon/triggertrap in about 0.0088 sec or 9 ms.  The BB would reach the same area in 0.024 sec or 24 ms.

                              Sound =====================>
        Gun bang =>                                                              Balloon / Triggertrap
                                   BB ======>
So theoretically I would need to build in a flash trigger delay of 15 ms to allow the BB to reach the balloon when the flash went off.

Well that was the theory.  Practical tests blew that out of the water!
I set up a board with some targets to see if it was close.  I used a series of small rectangles made of foam core and hinged to a board so that if the BB lost power going through the first or second target it could still knock over the next target.  It became clear that the foam core was too strong because the BBs were embedded in some of them and bounced off others so didn't necessarily travel in a straight line.  At one stage I just put up a  group of 3 targets together and shot them.  You can see from the photograph that the flash has gone off after the BB has hit 'cos they're in the air!

This particular BB has me puzzled.  It looks like it has bounced off the first target on the right but there is a 'comet tail' behind it that suggests it is travelling down from left to right.

 The BB is nowhere to be seen but the timing and placement are about right.

I spent 3 1/2 hours setting up my test case and the only thing I had to show for it at the end was that the gun at about 3 metres was about right, I had a collection of used BBs and bits of foam core all over the floor.  I called it a day.

Next day I was joined by Javier Leite who was interested in what I was doing and offered to help.
We set up a series of targets made from photo paper at roughly where the balloon and triggertrap would be and set about trying to find where the BB would be at a specific delay set on the triggertrap.  Once we had established where the BB would be when the flash went off we replaced the targets with the balloon on a stool.

After a few shots we found out some more.  Some balloons were fighting back!  I had asked Javier to bring safety glasses for himself and I was wearing glasses with plastic lenses.  We needed them.  The power of the gun is limited to less than a Joule so it won't break skin but it will hurt and probably could injure one's eyesight.  You can see from the picture below that the BB is rebounding from the balloon and heading back towards me!  I shot myself a few times and the BBs went in several different directions quite a few times.

They fight back you know.  You can see the depression on the right hand side where the BB has pushed into the balloon and will soon be heading back in my direction.

With trial and error we built in a delay into the Triggertrap to set off the flash 3 ms after the bang was detected - a long way from the 15 ms I had thought would be needed.  We also figured the gun needed to be at full pressure before each shot so charging it became a ritual each time.  Even so, even keeping as much as we could as constant as we could we still found some shots were taken after the balloon was burst and others we could see the BB at least a metre away.  That could be down to tiny variations in the BB, the firing mechanism, the Triggertrap's reaction time, we have no idea.
But we did get some shots and, on the plus side, it kept me off the streets where I'd only be stealing cars or mugging little old ladies.  ;-)

 This was our first success.  Sad the things you get excited about ....

 This is where I had the ambient light (used to allow me aim the gun) a little too bright and you can see the balloon before and after shooting.

 One of those shots that we couldn't predict.  The balloon is burst and the BB is on its way out.

 Another BB exit shot.

 This was interesting.  The BB was trapped inside the balloon.
The BB has burst the balloon and is on its way through.

 The setup.
A - shooting position.
B - 3 speedlites set at 1/128 power
C - Triggertrap
D - Camera position
E - Board to absorb BBs.


Next time ....
I'm hoping to set up something more spectacular so it's a picture rather than a record of a balloon bursting no matter how fascinating that is to see.  And then the Triggertrap has other triggering methods such as the laser sensor which will trigger when sensed or broken.  That could need a rig .....

Andy Gock's flash duration measurements tables.
Speed of sound: Wikipedia  and Google

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What?! A photo blog post with no photos!

Yep, a photo blog and no photos.  Bear with me ....

I went to see movie 'Lincoln'.  I have to admit it was on my list of movies to see but not my first (or even second) choice.  However the others would have involved me waiting around too long and Abe started in half an hour so ......

For the impatient among you, the movie is great.  In between taking photographs and editing I occasionally like to see a movie and enjoy a little escapism.  I know what's involved in making a movie.  A screenwriter has to rewrite the story to make it compatible with a movie format and also make it flow.  A storyboard has to be created that shows the vision the director has for each second which generates the sets, lighting requirements, costumes, actors, extras, etc., etc.  All movies need special effects to some degree or another.  Some require Computer Generated Imagery to a huge extent like Avatar or some of the SciFi movies.  Others require subtlety like Castaway - did you think Tom Hanks stood on top of his island and surveyed all around him?  It was done on a small set in a car park!  The point is that the great movies need all the elements to work and the sum of them to be greater than the whole which is probably why there aren't that many memorable ones.

If a movie can absorb me to the point that I forget all that and just immerse myself in the story then it's great in my book.  This movie had that magic.  The feel of the movie was 1865.  The clothes looked like those you see in museums where they seem to lack that finesse of modern clothing.  Their clothes look heavy and slightly badly fitting - a kind of clumsiness.  The attention to detail was amazing.  The dialogue also felt of the time.  Daniel Day Lewis is a method actor and immersed himself in the role three months beforehand and, it may come across as being a prima donna (for a man?), but insisted that the crew refer to him at all times as 'Mr President'.  Could be one of the reasons he's nominated for his third oscar.

But, to me, this was a masterclass in lighting, composition and photography.  Right from the outset I was looking at how much the scenes were reminiscent of of the photographs of the era and even more remarkably they moved!  Every photographer who has done studio or location work knows that the lighting is usually right for one viewpoint and the subjects as well.  Here were scenes where actors walked across what appeared to be dark areas but yet were lit by 'invisible' lighting.  The other thing I noticed was that if you looked around the scene there was just enough light to allow you to see details of objects in the shadows.  There must have been huge discussions, planning and probably arguments about designing and dressing the sets.  Composition was amazing.  I kept noticing that the lighting and the framing made me look where the director wanted me to look.

So being a photographer I was a bit distracted by the technical side of the process somewhat like a musician will analyse a concert's performance and that of the conductor.  But, having said that, I think I got more from the movie than most people would have.  Trouble is I'll have to go back and watch it again.  But that won't be a trial.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I ask for your forgiveness in advance as it may take some time before I get to a conclusion in this blog.  My mind is sort of rambling around a few related subjects.

On a regular basis - about once a month - I voice a feeling that maybe I should give up photography and do more administration or tutorial work.  This comes from the notion that "Them that can, do.  Them that can't, teach".  This is usually because my creative mojo has deserted me or I've made fundamental mistakes like misjudging depth of field or one of a plethora of other reasons.

I'm also asked for my 'expert' opinion on various photographs.  I maintain I am not an expert but this is usually dismissed as false modesty.  The problem is that a photograph (or picture) is judged by people subjectively.  Oh yes, there are rules and guidelines that they should conform to and if they don't then they can be seen by viewers as 'off' even though they don't know why.  Judges often use this to mark down photographs in competitions where there are photographs of equal worth and it gives them an 'out' or where they are judging photographs from what should be separate categories like a landscape versus a studio portrait.

A couple of weeks ago I had a long photo session with a friend of mine (Kay Fagan) who also goes under her performance name of PostModern Sleeze.  This was my third time to photograph her and we had decided to divide the shoot between us - my shots and hers.  Kay has a lot of tattoos and piercings.  Her performances and a lot of other photos portray her as 'alternative'.  Her image, aggressive and rebellious,  belies her real character which is generous, soft and full of common sense.  I wanted to show the contrast and so took the following photos of her.

 Kay is not a ballerina but is practising.  The pose is not a ballet pose.  But I had hoped that the pose, piercings and the tattoos would convey the contrast.  The second shot was a straight pose.  I take a few shots of poses like this and will try to tweak the pose until I get what I want.  However that also can make the pose look wooden and when I ask the model to repeat the pose I don't get the original one.  So .... sometimes I have to take the best I can get.  I liked this pose but realised that her left side was a little 'bumpy'.  Sometimes I would take more shots to solve it.  Other times I would use Photoshop to fix it.  However this time I decided to leave it.  I recently had a few conversations about Photoshop and its controversial use to make 'perfect people' in magazines that gives young people (girls in particular) a false impression of what is normal.  I liked the muscular aspect of the pose so I left it as is and wanted to see what reaction it would get.

I entered these in my camera club's competition.  The judge gave the ballerina shot 44 out of 50 marks and the second shot 42 out of 50.

Before I go any further I'd like to state for the record that I always respect judges' criticisms and listen intently to their comments on other's photos as well as my own.  I may not always agree with every single judging but would never challenge a mark.  I've judge a few competitions and it is a hard job.  I've taken the photos home with me a week beforehand so that I can absorb the photos, see if I have missed something in the first viewing and see if my first choices still hold after a few days.  I also like to make notes that I can give the club for the people who have entered the competition.

His remarks on the ballerina shot was the pose was not the best and the photo did not show off her tattoos to the best and the highlight area on her back was blown out.  I was prepared to accept that more or less but was hopeful that the second shot would do better.  But it didn't.  Two marks less.  The main reason for not liking it was the pose that produced the bumpy left side.  So, I should have fixed the body.
What was more intriguing was that another photo that I thought would be dismissed as a 'bit of nonsense' scored the highest with 46 marks.

Yep, a self portrait of sorts.  I usually ask my models to pose for a shot with me at the end of the session.  Recently I have been trying to make these humorous and, more often than not, self-belittling.  We had set up two versions.  This one was the one I went with - me pretending to wipe off a smudge on her latex.

So I'm a bit confused.  No I'm not arguing that I should have come first.  I think the people who did deserved it. What compounds my dilemma is I very recently gave my 'judge's comments' on a selection of photos that a friend of mine is considering for entry into his local camera club competition.  If I am so far off the mark with my own, how can I advise another?

If I was a woman this would be time for chocolate ice cream!!!  :-D