Sunday, May 8, 2016

From a while ago .....

A long time ago a post here sounded like I was having a gripe at a judge giving me bad scores for my photos but I think I made my point badly.  I was hoping to show that a judge's scoring and remarks can significantly affect the persons he or she is judging.  I have sat through numerous judgings and have been a judge myself.  Most times I am not a mile away from the scores handed out and the comments made.  We are all biased one way or the other.  Most judges will be known for the type of photography they specialise in like portraits, landscapes, art nude or architecture, etc.  Some club members will even check out a judge's web pages to see what type of photography they do and will submit photos in that genre to enhance their chances of success.  My reaction to that?  Fair play to them!

Where I had some difficulty was I had submitted two photos that I thought might do well - I was taking a bit of a chance with them - and one photo that I put in more for a laugh than anything else.  The two 'serious' photos didn't do so well but the humorous photo did better than the other two!  Maybe I should go into a new photographic niche - humour?

The following week was the judging of the colour prints.  I had submitted two photos from the same shoot and was not sure how they would fare.  The judge was a guy I had seen judging before and, in my opinion,  was not only good, but sensible and entertaining as well as constructive in his remarks.  He did not disappoint.

The picture above scored me 45 marks (out of 50) and a 4th place.  He liked the matching colours of the corset and the background.  He liked the pose but was a little uncomfortable about her left arm hanging straight down.  He described the insulating tape as a useless waste until it was pointed out to him that they made the photo Facebook friendly.

He liked the shot above because it was different.  I have to say that if there hadn't been a plethora of landscapes then this mightn't have done as well but I'm not going to object to a 2nd place with 47 marks.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why Cosplay? 'Cos!

Recently I had my second cosplay photoshoot with a girl called Ellie Jayden.  For those of you who haven't heard about cosplay here's a brief introduction: Cosplay 101
In short it's people dressing up as superheroes (or villains) from comics.  Like The Joker from Batman or Harley Quinn who, up to now, has been confined to comic books but is now a film character as well.

Our first shoot was over two years ago where Ellie wanted to submit photographs of her alter ego to an online competition.  Ellie traveled to Dublin and I photographed her in Dublin Camera Club.  The intention was to put her in a background similar to that of the comics so I also photographed the IFSC at night and used those.

So .....
A shot of Ellie from the studio is cut out and then added to the background.  A little bit of cloning and tweaking and the final image:

 And a few variations ...

And just to prove she's legitimate ....

 And what did she think of my efforts?

So this time we were spurred on by the new movie Suicide Squad and the new look Harley Quinn.
The trailer looks really good and very, very dark.  It's got so much hype that there now some (great) parodies to be seen as well.  If you need a little background information it's also available.
Since I don't belong to Dublin Camera Club (or any club) anymore, I hired a studio for the shoot.  We had had quite a few discussions online about what we were going to do and what we needed to prepare for it.  My contribution on the props department was two (almost) identical hand guns that would make an impression even if they're probably not strictly accurate.  We also talked about making a behind-the-scenes video of the shoot so Ellie brought a camcorder and I brought a GoPro that I set up to make a timelapse video later.  Since Ellie has uploaded to her YouTube channel ahead of me I might as well link to her video rather than upload it here.

Ellie had, by far, the greatest contribution.  Apart for the costume, she also had to 'create' the wig, make an arrest card (prisoner's name and number) and do her own makeup.  She also did a great job on a baseball bat that she lugged all the way to Dublin and then we never used it!

We had decided that there would be two sections to the shoot.  First would be a light and comical Harley and then the darker side.
For the lighter side I used a white background and two Bowens units - a 750 with a very large softbox and a 500 ( I think) with a beauty dish with a white diffuser over the front.  I placed the 750 pretty much in front and above Ellie which gives, more or less, butterfly lighting and then placed the 500 to the left, about the same height, to give a little shadow to her face. With all that soft light and the ceiling being white, I had enough spill to light up the background as much as I wanted without blasting out her hair from behind.
Since she was/is a comic character I decided to shoot several similar poses together letting Ellie freeform and giving her minor direction.  I think it worked very well.
There were more shots but I'm just going to show two.

And then we went to the dark side ....
I have to say that Ellie was very quick with her new makeup look.  She had practised it the week before and sent me some photos to review.
The major change I made to the shoot setup was to change the background from white to black.  We had talked about creating composite shots like before but after a few shots of her in her new persona I left that thought behind and concentrated on getting poses and lighting right.  I may still have a shot at doing some composite pics but for the moment I'm happy with what I've produced.  And it appears others are happy too.

Here are some of the shots

And this one I used for my Facebook profile pic below with a little crop.

.All in all it was a fun shoot just like it should be with the bonus of having a few pics.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Annual Exhibition Time Again

As some of you know, I am a member of the Dublin Camera Club.  Tradition has it that they have an Annual Exhibition to show off the members' skills.  It also doubles as a competition and quite a serious one from a logistical point of view.  Each member is entitled to enter 8 (different) images in colour and mono prints and digital images.  Multiply that by the hardcore of regulars who enter competitions and it adds up to a weighty (literally) number.

The fact that it comes after the Winter League competition that runs from October to February with the finals taking place in March, means that the entries that have done well for them will be an automatic pool to select from for the Annual Exhibition.  The logistics are a nightmare! The sheer weight of prints probably mean the organisers have to go into training for the event.  Then there is the judging.  Usually three people from outside the club are the ones who judge the entries.  In the past it has been a day long event.  Personally, I think I would go into a meltdown after staring at images and scoring them for that length of time!

This year the studio will be closed on 4 separate occasions to accommodate the competition and exhibition.  One will be for sorting (5 hours).  Another for photo recording (5 hours).  The judging will take place on a Saturday (8 hours) and a final session to select prints for the exhibition (5 hours).  So, you can see it is not trivial.

There are always more prints than there are spaces to hang them in the exhibition.  Because of this, the club promises that each entrant will have at least one print selected for the exhibition regardless.  All of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners along with 'highly commended' prints will also be selected.  After that, a group of selected members will select the balance of prints for the exhibition taking regard that there is a balance between the advanced, intermediate and novices sections.  Not an easy job.

This year, for personal reasons, I am entering only digital images.  They are a selection from shots taken recently.  Enjoy?



Seeing Red

Time and Tide



Christ Church


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Send in the clowns

Yes, it's been a while.  Again!
I'm not going to bore you with the minutiae of life that causes a pause in my activities.  Now I get up in the morning, check the obituaries and if I'm not in the listings I keep going.

I've been trying a few new things lately.  I've been trying my hand at sescapes after a great workshop with Draoicht na Mara (The magic of the sea) - run by Brian Hopper and Eimhear Collins - but more of that another day.  I've been playing around with speedlite trickery.  But more of that another day too!

I've not been photographed too many times in my 67 years.  I prefer to be behind the camera rather than in front of it.  I did make an exception a while ago for a friend who is a photographer (and an artist) and it was an interesting experience for a photographer (me) to watch a photogapher (her) watch me watching her ..... you know what I mean.
So, I made friends with another photographer a while ago called Inge Borga who has her own photography Facebook page - Inge Borga Photoart.  We met through the Smena Photographic Society.  Recently she asked me if I would be a subject for a photoshoot.  I am more inclined now to say yes and give something a shot than play safe so I said "yes".  I wasn't quite sure what I was letting myself in for especially as the words "white makeup" were used.  I don't know about most guys but the word "makeup" on its own would normally be enough to scare me off.  But Inge is a nice person so I thought I would trust her.

So, today I had a new experience.  Makeup.  I didn't really want to know too much in case I started to have second thought so I was facing away from the mirror.  I have to say the process is very pleasant and relaxing. Not something I would have expected.  When the process was finished I looked in the mirror and was surprised at my surprise!  I was completely different and almost started to assume a new character.  I was behind a mask.

Inge, although she is a very competent and creative photographer, had little experience using studio flash units.  So after a brief introduction and a question and answer session we had a setup that she wanted consisitng of two units with snoots.  All shot against a black background.  Very simple.  Concentrating all the attention on my face and expressions.

Inge gave good direction and before long I had stopped analysing what was going on and just got into the spirit of the shoot.  Time goes quickly when you're having fun and we spent close to 5 hours in the studio all told.  If the squeals of delight that came from Inge are anything to go ny there should be a few satisfactory shots.  Since it was her shoot I don't have any photos to show (yet) but I do have 2 'snaps' that were taken.  One from my phone and one from hers.  I'll let you judge if fun was had.

I might give this a go again sometime in the near future ....

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.