Saturday, October 4, 2014

A tale of two piccies

...... with sincerest apologies to Charles Dickens!

On the 7th of September 2008 I took a photograph that was to become my 'BĂȘte Noire'.
I was delighted at the time with the photo and all the others I had taken on that day.  The model was a girl called Michelle and I had a professional makeup artist as well.
Michelle had done a stint singing Cole Porter songs in The Cobalt Cafe & Gallery and had looked every bit the part (to me) of a 1920s beauty.  This was in total contrast to her normal bubbly blonde self.

The 'normal' Michelle is on the left.  The 1920s photo I took is on the right

That photo got me noticed.  It was a studio shot and not too many people were doing studio shots especially in Dublin Camera Club.  So it was a littloe different to what was seen normally in club competitions.
Not too many people were using studios mainly (I think) because it was a scary place.  Flash has always been one of those areas where a lot of photographers fail to get to get to grips with the workings of it and basically point and fire it and cross their fingers.  The studio had larger units with switches and dials and things called 'light modifiers' - even scarier!
The photo did well in competitions and I used it in studio workshops to illustrate what could be done.  What I didn't point out was that I had used 6 studio flash units in the making of it.

Most photos I took after that in the studio or in a pseudo-studio setup were often compared to that photo.  "That photo of Michelle was what prompted me to find you (and pick your brain)" was a common sentence I heard.  So .... after a while the photo became a challenge!  I have tried to better it and I'm still trying.  For a long time I said that I must see if I could recreate the photo again.  I always seemed to find a reason not to!

From about July last year I ran into a few difficulties with my health and a severe bout of depression.  I withdrew from a lot of activities and one of them was my photography.  It wasn't that I didn't take photographs but more that my creative streak had disappeared and was replaced with apathy.

Luckily my friend Lily who often collaborates with me on shoot ideas stuck with me during this period and then in July this year we met for a cup coffee and decided a shoot was in order but that we would try something different.  I was more than up for this and probably tempting fate a little I made one request and that was we try to recreate the "Michelle" shot.  Lily very often will tell me in the middle of a shoot to "try starting with ONE light!"  She is right of course.  It's just I have already worked out in my mind why *one* won't do and how many I will need to acjieve what I want.  This time I wanted to see if I could achieve the same look with less lights.

So the original had 6.  The key light was a large softbox camera right above her head height to give the classic butterfly shadow beneath her nose.  A second unit with a beauty dish was place in front of that about two stops lower in power just to make her shoulders and collar bones pop. A third unit with a softbox was placed low down of front of the camera to reduce shadow under the chin. A fourth unit with a softbox was placed camera left to fill in the body.  A fifth was placed behind her and to camera left to rim light her shoulder.  A sixth with a snoot was used to light the background.

This time I produced these shots .....

 A little more low key and I used 4 lights and a reflector. My lighting setup (rough shot) is below.

So .....
On the right you can see the large softbox which is the key light.  Behind it lighting the background is another softbox.  To the left is is a strip softbox to give rim lighting.  What you can't see in the picture is another softbox almost at floor level to fill in shadows under her chin and a reflector camera left that redirected light from the key light softbox to lift the light level on her chest.and face.

I'm quite pleased with the result and curious to see if judges feel the same.  But my mild OCD won't let me rest and I'll probably have another go to see if I can do even better.

Other shots from the shoot:

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Copyright? Copyright me arse!

A profanity?  Yes.  I'm a little sensitive about the topic of people abusing copyright.

To set the scene and put it into perspective, I don't have dozens of copyright infringements on my pictures at any time.  In fact I can't remember one.  Then again my memory banks are full and I suspect there is an overworked little being in my skull busily dumping seldom-accessed bits of information into a bin in a somewhat similar fashion that Microsoft does when it identifies 'unused icons' on my desktop etc.

My infringements fall into the "thoughtless, rude, insensitive or arrogant" people category who I have made an agreement with to supply finished images without watermarks 'free, gratis and for nothing' in return for a credit usually on Facebook.  This in some cases is after they have asked to pay for the pictures and I have, for logical reasons, declined and just asked for a credit where they are used.

I can't be certain where the attitude originates but I hold a theory that it is because of the proliferation of digital cameras.  I mentioned in a previous post how even photographers who have been taking photographs for years will question why *I* need to bring additional equipment with me into a studio.  Yet some of these will be the ones who don't understand how I can get pictures they can't.  Hmmmmm.

So ...... recently I was asked by another photographer to assist him taking photos at an event which was essentially a non-profit organisation to promote women.  I agreed to help on the understanding that we would get credit for our pictures.  There was to be a fashion show.  I knew three of the girls so - bonus!
I drove down to the venue, a round trip of 120km, to see the layout of the place to see any pitfalls and plan what needed to be done to provide successful pictures.  The following week I drove down again and set up two speedlites  to light the fashion show in combination with a third speedlite on my camera.  This was in addition to taking photographs of speakers, MUAs at work and stall holders.  I brought two cameras and three lenses.  The other photographer brought almost as much equipment and took as many photographs around the venue as I did.

So, between us we had reasonably quality photographs because of our equipment and experience.  We were asked by a number of the people there if they could buy photos from us.  We said that since we were donating our services free to the organisation we couldn't in all faith charge others so we asked that any photographs they used would be credited.  Exuberant affirmations that they would do that combined with equally exuberant "Thank you so much.  You're very kind." were the responses.  Cool?  Yes?  No?

We followed up on a few of the people and we had to remind them about they agreement they had made. We were almost made to feel as though we were being unreasonable.  I suppose if your friends pop along with a digital camera, take a shot and post it on Facebook without any fuss then it is probably expected of us too.

I used to do quite a bit of theatre photography.  Mostly opera and musicals.  At the time I was a newbie to Facebook and used to get a huge influx of friend requests from the casts after I posted some of the photos on Facebook.  I was flattered.  I thought it was because my photographs had merit.  It was more like the cast saw the opportunity for free photographs that couldn't be sourced anywhere else.  Some saw the work that I had put into producing those photographs but they were few.  After a while I became selective about whose friend requests I accepted.  Later I created my Facebook photography page  and kept my private Facebook private and for people that I have some sort of relationship with be it social or otherwise.  I even put a big warning notice on the front page that read:

"If you know me, you know me.
If you don't then chances are you
Otherwise send me a message"

Do they read it?  Do they heck!  I still get lots of friend requests with no explanation as to why.

I've also had requests from 'friends' for photos from old performances to use as promotional material.  I supply them.  The photographs appear on Facebook.  I see them and the comments about how wonderful the dress is, the lighting, the words "stunning" and "awesome" may be used and who gets the credit?  The MUA.

Moving on ....
Since this is more about copyright and less about my unfortunate encounters with unappreciative people...
A photographer I met recently told me a story of copyright abuse.  Now I may not have the facts absolutely correct but the gist of the story was that he had taken photos years ago of a certain girl who had subsequently come more into the public eye.  One of the newspapers had written up an article and used his photographs of her to accompany it.  The article was the first he knew of it so he wrote to them advising a breach of copyright since they had neither asked him for permission nor paid him.
"We'll give you €20."
"How about €20,000?" he asked.
"Sue us!"
End of conversation.

Next story involves a friend of mine who is herself a photographer.  She attended a commercial event for kids.  Like all the proud parents who were there she took photos of her kids along with other kids and later posted them in a private - note that word "private" - folder on Facebook.  She was surprised, therefore, to find out that one of photographs was being used on the company's website to promote future events.  She wrote to them and explained that since she had not given permission for the photos to be used and that the photo being used on their website had not been linked to but had been downloaded and stolen; she wanted the photograph removed.

That's not an unreasonable request I would have thought.  Obviously, someone, who was probably a Facebook 'friend',  had either tagged someone in the photo that might have given them access or downloaded it themselves and re-posted it.  It might have been then that an over-enthusiastic employee had used the photo on the website without considering the copyright implications.  But no.  They responded very aggressively.  They told her all the photographs taken on the day by anyone were copyrighted by them.  I won't go into details of the rest of the very aggressive correspondence between them but it was not pleasant.

I offered to help resolve this situation.  I thought I could be of use.  I was pretty sure that a copyright infringement had taken place and that the photographer was in the right.  I also knew another photographer who had contacted a solicitor regarding the unlawful use of his photographs so I thought I would ask him who he had dealt with.  And also, I contacted a solicitor who had visited Dublin Camera Club and given a presentation on photography and our rights.

Feeling buoyed up with my plan of action I gave hope to my friend but it was short-lived. I wrote to the solicitor who had given the presentation outlining what had happened and supplied her with copies of the email correspondence.  I also contacted the photographer who had sorted out his own copyright issues.  After an initial agreement to provide me with the name and details of his solicitor he did not follow up despite a 'gentle reminder'.  So one down.

The solicitor I had written to came back with a resounding reply that was very comprehensive.  She quoted chapter and verse about copyright.  She included links so I could check for myself.  She also provided a solicitor's name and email address who she said specialises in copyright infringements.  Buoyed up once more I wrote to the company who had contested my friend's claim of copyright infringement, explaining who I was and I outlined the law as it was related to me and asked for the photo to be removed, an apology be given to my friend and a goodwill gesture of €150 remuneration.  I gave them two weeks to respond and they didn't.

So I contacted the 'copyright solicitor' who came back to me with a disturbing reply.  Firstly he showed concern and doubt about the case because it involved Facebook and he suggested we look at the implications of their copyright agreement with users.  I thought that was very strange since the issue wasn't with Facebook but with a company that had stolen and used a photograph to promote their commercial events. But I was annoyed that a so-called copyright expert was suggesting I would need to check out how Facebook's copyright policy related to this situation.  Then he gave his charges which were €300 an hour.  It took me a while to get over the shock.  Then the realism of the situation started to make itself apparent to me.

  • This was a trivial case for them so they didn't really want it.
  • I was being diverted away from the real case with the red herring of Facebook's copyright policy
  • The upfront mention of hourly rates for both him (an associate) and others was probably to scare me.
  • He didn't once mention that he thought we had a case.
So what did I come away with after all this?  You can be correct in the eyes of the law but unless you have the money to hire a legal team who will fight your corner you have nothing.  I think most people faced with the prospect of €300 an hour legal fees without any idea of how many hours will be involved to win a case over a pithy amount like €100 would never take the risk.  So there can be no justice - only law and money.
That means the people who infringe copyright are laughing at us.  That gets my back up!!!  I can be very stubborn.  :-)

By the way....... As far as the free photos are concerned, I have issued notice that there will be no more freebies.  Most times I do a shoot, the value of the equipment I have in the car is worth several times the value of the car.  So next time they want a freebie I'll ask for a loan of their BMW or Land Rover or whatever for the weekend. That's not unreasonable is it?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

June is bustin' out all over!

Around about March/April each year since 2008 I get a phone call from June Rodgers.

"Hi June"
"How's it cuttin' Fanny?" (Her nickname for me).
There follows a bit of banter and a chat.  It doesn't matter whether we spoke last week or last year, we just pick up where we left off.  Then we get down to business.  It means her preparations for her Christmas show in the Red Cow Moran (or "Moron" as one of her characters refers to it) Hotel is under way.
The process is a three-way between June, me and the management in the hotel.  That process is best left unveiled as it is way too complicated but the first stage for me is the photo shoot.  Sometimes we have a definite theme.  Other times we don't.  Usually we have a chat and also involve her creative director and choreographer Ciaran Connolly.

Typically the shoot is in the conference room in the Red Cow Moran Hotel.  I mark out an area on the floor, set up studio flash units while June and the cast get ready - makeup and costumes.  It's a big deal to organise everybody to be there at the same time.  Most of the cast have either their own dance schools or jobs or sometimes are on cruise ships.  So I'm always appreciative that the shoot is regarded with the same importance as rehearsals etc.

This is how a typical finished shot looks for posters, newspaper ads, Internet, etc.  However, it is very seldom that a shot like is taken in one go.

For a start off the 'studio' is not exactly set up for photography so everybody has to be 'cut' from the background which is a long a tedious process.  If you look closely at the photo above you may notice that the girl - third from the left - doesn't appear in the final photo and isn't even dressed for the shot!  She's a stand-in for the 'real' girl who is working in another country.  I use stand-ins so that the other members of the cast get used to someone being there and allow space for her when they are posing.  What we did was shoot the 'real' girl a couple of weeks later mimicking the poses we wanted and I used those in the final picture.
Closer look again and you might see that the guy 4th from the right is not the same guy in the finished shot.  Again he's a stand-in but this time I had the 'real' guy who was on a cruise ship get his on-board photographer to duplicate the shots we had chosen and send me the files.  Then I took his head and transposed it onto the stand-in.

These are another set of examples of the finished shot:

And here's the original (for the most part) with notes ....

But there's more!

Very seldom do you get all the cast perfectly posed.  Nor June for that matter.  There's an unfortunate costume shape, somebody making an less-than- flattering facial expression, or blinking, awkward pose, out of synch step or a myriad of other reasons.  So that means choosing the poses of each individual or pair and cutting them out of their original picture and making a collage.  This sometimes involves reconstruction surgery.  Yes, at times I fell like a plastic surgeon.

In 2012 I took on an extra project.  We had the shoot done with all the cast and I was shooting various characters that June does in her show.  It's quite amazing how her face and voice change with the characters she portrays.  The only other person I can think of that did the same was Ronnie Barker.  Just look at him presenting the 'Two Ronnies' and then look at him in 'Porridge'.  June wanted to have some shots done as a hurling and rugby player.  I suggested we do the straight shots but then try for a shot showing interaction between the two.
This was one of the finished shots:

In order to get the hurley in more or less the right spot I used one of the cast to stand in for the 'alternate' June.

This is a rough collage I put together to help make our final choice:

So ..... this year I got a call from June a little earlier than expected and she told me that she was going on tour!  She had her cast, all the usual gang were on board and she'd like to discuss the ideas for photographs for the poster they were going to get designed.  June said she wanted to portray a few of her characters in the poster so I suggested a shot where three of them could interact with each other.  The setup for these requires the subject to understand the concept and the difficulties in getting it right.  It's a bit like the green screen they use in CGI sections of movies where the actors have no idea what they are supposed to interacting with or what kind of scenery is around them.

June picked her characters and here is the finished picture:

The shot was made up from three individual shots (obviously) but the only one I was concerned about was Elvis and SwineAir (hostess) because I wanted Elvis to have his arm around the hostess and the hostess to react accordingly so we got a victim volunteer to stand in.
Yes, he was a little tall so we had to get him to stoop a little.  Not sure why his hands are in the defensive position .....
Then I cut Elvis out of the shot ....
.... and blended ho with the others.
At the moment I only have a camera phone shot of the finished poster.  June has one kept safe for me.  It's kind of cool seeing it on walls around Dublin city.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Are you moving house?"

A while ago, I did a shoot with the absolutely lovely Valentina with Lily doing makeup for me.  It was a Tuesday.  Tuesday night is club night for the Dublin Camera Club. I finished the shoot, left the studio as it was and dropped the two girls off where they needed to be and then went back for the club business.  When that finished I went back to the studio, tidied everything up and started bringing them down from the 3rd floor to the hallway on the ground floor.
That's when the remarks started.  "Are you moving house?"  "I only need a camera.  I'm glad I don't use the studio."  "Do you need all that?"  Etc., etc.

Well I do bring a lot of stuff into the studio.  But it depends on the shoot.  The situation with the people who make these remarks is that it is very similar to those who say "These are great photos.  You must have a really expensive camera!"  Some people have admired my studio photos but they don't look beyond the image and see the work that went on behind it.  So what did I bring?  Did I need it all?  Probably not.

I brought my camera - the one I used was the Canon 5D MkII.  I usually bring two lenses - Canon 24-70mm L f2.8 and Canon 100-400 L f3.5 but sometimes I also want to bring my Sigma
These will go in my camera bag which is quite big.  Why?  Because I photograph outside of the studio and I need to bring a range of equipment to cope with what I might be asked to do.  That will be an extra camera body (Canon 6D), two speedlights, flash meter, extra batteries, an intervalometer, etc., etc.  So when I go to the studio, there is an anxiety creeps in that if I remove gear, that I will remove something I might need.  Worse, if I'm doing a gig somewhere else I might grab the camera bag forgetting that I took some of the gear out.  So ..... I just take the camera bag as it is.

I also bring triggers for the Bowens units.  I find I can't depend on the sensors to detect a flash and trigger.  I don't like using the cable to trigger one Bowens unit either - I had a nasty (and expensive) experience involving cables so I use triggers.  I have a nice aluminium case that stores the triggers and their cables.  But this case also contains 4 speedlites and holders to attach them to stands.  I use these outside the studio.  There's no point in removing what I won't use so I bring the box 'as is'.

Next up are softboxes.  Yes, the studio has four Bowens units and two of them have softboxes - one large and one small.  The main softboxes I bring in are two 'Strip lights'.  These are narrow and long softboxes that also have a grid you can place on the front that gives a narrow soft light.  Because they are so long they will also light a standing person from head to foot.  I usually use them to rim light people from behind.  Sometimes I bring an Octobox but not this time.

Since I was going to do some relatively high key shots I brought my own Bowens 750 unit because it has a bit more power than the club's Bowens 500s.  I use it in a particular way to achieve nice white background and floor.  I wrote up how I did it a while ago and it can't be done with regular stands.  I have to use a boom and the boom needs to counterweighted so ...... I bring in my own stand.  So that's a Bowens unit, power cable, stand and weight.

What else?  I like to use fill in reflectors.  I try to avoid using fill flash and prefer to bounce the main light off a white surface.  The only white surface in the club's studio is a couple of sheets of polystyrene and they have to be either held or propped up against ..... something.  So I bought one of my own.  It's not the fanciest piece of equipment or is the best made but it works AND the reverse side is black so I can use it to blank off other lights/flash that would otherwise cause lens flare.

Occasionally I like to play with slow, or even long, shutter speeds or try some shots that are the equivalent of double or triple exposures.  These require a tripod so I bring that just in case.  The list is growing.

That more or less takes care of the photo gear.  What else?  Props - that's what!  In the studio I have left a swivel chair, a 4' x 6' mirror and dock for iPhones and MP3 players.  I also had a fan there but somebody broke it.  No point in bringing that stuff home.  It's just too big.
I also dress my models.  Yep, I have a collection of dresses, tops, shoes, coats, capes, corsets, body stockings and a range of materials that I buy to drape the models with.  I bring some of these in bags and large plastic boxes.  And then I have accessories.  Spectacles, sun glasses, bracelets, rings, necklaces, wigs, blah, blah, blah.  The majority of these go in a large makeup kit I bought.

So that was everything.  Sometimes I don't get to use much of it because the shoot takes an unexpected turn.  Other times I'm wishing I brought something that I left at home.

So I guess the guys who make the remarks would probably have built the pyramids with a shovel and a bucket.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Impressed - oh yeah!

For various reasons which I'm not going to go into, it's been a year since I posted here so this is as good a reason to start back on a positive note.  God knows most people regard me as a cynic.  Maybe I am or maybe it's a mixture of cynicism and "saying it like it is".  Either way there's something postive to be said for being a cynic - your day can only get better.  :-)

When you've been doing the same thing for a long time like your job, you can get to a point where all you can see are the negative aspects.  As an American friend of mine used to say: "One 'gotcha' is worth 40 'attaboys'" - please forgive the spellings.  And it's true.  News media wait for the bad stuff to happen and report it in a big way and gloss over all the good stuff.  Politicians and high profile executives are forced to resign over single faults while we ignore the years of good.

Anyway ..... I think my view of the camera club I'm in is tainted with that very cynicism and I thought maybe it was time to look around and see what else was available that might freshen up my tired brain and at the same time put my negative thoughts about my club in perspective.
I noticed the name Tiara Rad popping up quite frequently on my Facebook newsfeed.  The photographs looked amazing.  There are styles of photography that I will (probably) never duplicate but that I can admire.  This was one.  Then I started to notice the name "The Photography Mill" appearing on a frequent basis.  The name at first stuck in my mind because it didn't quite make sense. Pepper mill - yes.  Photography mill -???  Then one day it hit me - Paper mill / Photography mill.  Hmmmm.
Then I noticed a post from them that proposed to start a camera club.  This definitely intrigued me!  A commercial venture starting a camera club?  The cynic inside of me was banging on the door.

However cautious I may be and I also like to analyse and plan ahead I don't like to be considered a 'stick-in-the-mud' so I thought I'd poke my nose in the door and see what it was all about.  Nothing to lose - right?
So ..... Thursday 15th May 2014 I headed up to Harold's Cross and walked in the door of The Photography Mill (on the 3rd floor) and was met by Melissa Hayward who shrieked and hugged me within an inch of my life.  Melissa and I have had a 'relationship' for a few years but always online and never in person.  That's a good start eh?

Then I met Tiara Rad otherwise known as Shellly.  A very personable lady.  She showed me around the 3rd floor and it is impressive.  Two large studios with bags of space, lights and accessories.  There was even a little set in one corner, a place to have coffee and chat, a makeup room, etc., etc.  She sat me down at her computer and went through some of the shoots that have been done there and outlined the camera club's ethos.  Meanwhile, in the background there were three models getting ready for the club's introduction to low key photography by Gavin Monaghan.  No lightweights either - Scarlet Fro, Maggie Paige and Black Swan Persona all having their makeup done by Louise McMahon Kaiser who is also the manager.

So I asked the inevitable questions.  "How much is it going to cost me to join "The Next Generation Camera Club"?  €150 for the year.  Okay ..... And in addition I get a quite large discount if I hire either of the two studios.  I started my photographic life eons ago.  For those of you less knowledgeable an "eon" is even further in the past than a "yonk".  It was in the days of film and colour photography was mostly done on slide film (or transparencies as the posh folk called them) and most photographers did their own processing in black and white.  One advantage I had over others was that I joined the ESB Photographic Society and their meeting room doubled as a studio.  Very basic lighting but it worked.  One of my first serious shoots there produced this:

By today's standards it wouldn't rate very well but the use of the studio allowed me to learn by mistakes and read, and read and read ...
Following that I found a studio for hire at the bottom of Grafton Street that became a very regular place to be with people queueing up to have their picture 'done'.
Since then I have been looking for the (almost) ideal studio in Dublin.  I need a bit of space to get the lighting just right - inverse square law and all that - as well as to give some of my models a bit of space to leap around a bit.  Oh yes they are out there but they cost a bleedin' fortune!!!  So it came as a pleasant surprise to find that being a member of The Next Generation Camera Club comes with favourable rates on The Photography Milll's studios.

So back to my introduction to the club's agenda for the night.
Let me say at the outset that I am not a great fan of group photographer shoots.  Having given rein to my cynical side and got that out in the open I don't want to give the impression that they are a bad thing.  They're just not my thing.  Gavin Monaghan was our guide and mentor and worked tirelessly throughout the evening making sure we had all we needed in the way of equipment and advice.  The models were patient and friendly and also worked hard.  The rule is that you tip on the night.  You put your contribution for the models in a 'tip jar'.

I didn't get the low key shot I wanted - no matter.  I made mistakes - but I learned from them.  I made contacts - am I networking now?  There were 8 photographers, 3 models and 3 sets so not overcrowded.
Next week is high key with Melissa Hayward as the model.  Hmmmm (smacks lips).
My three shots from the night were:

Maggie Paige

Maggie Paige again in a lovely little set with Gavin giving a helping hand.

Another from that set with Scarlet Fro

Nope, they won't win medals but that wasn't the purpose.  I learned from the experience and met new people.

Worth a shot -
Photography Mill