Scouting for Photo Locations

A busy week ahead of us.  We are spending the week travelling around North Yorkshire, trying to find photo opportunities and locations for the future.  Today was both exciting and slightly disappointing.

The excitement, well its always fun spending time in North Yorkshire.

The disappointing part was poor light.  I never expected to get any great shots, just find a few possibilities for later in the year, but it is always a shame to be at a great scenic view you have managed to find, but to have no good light in which to capture it.

I took a few reference shots anyway and fully intend coming back.

We finished up at Castle Howard where we enjoyed one of their great soups for an early tea before heading to our holiday lodge where we were stopping for the week.  The day ended with a relaxing dip in the hot tub.

a Saturday Photo Shoot

Well instead of work or a commercial shoot, today was a shoot for personal pleasure.

I had a new location to test, and a few ideas, and lighting experiments to try.

Ashleigh was my nominated victim. A local model who was willing to put up with my tests, these involved various shoots indoors and some outdoor shots. She put up with everything wonderfully, including getting soaking wet and having to pose outdoors in a cold January morning.

Tip to other photographers, if your using a light weight light-stand, even if there is no wind, use a sand bag. It does not take much to whip a brolly away!  Also size matters, use the biggest brolly or soft-box you can, it really makes a big difference.

I certainly learned a lot, and am glad I pushed my lighting limits a little further.  Pushing myself meant I got some bad images too, but I also got some great images, thanks Ashleigh, hope to shoot with you again, but this time when its a little warmer.

Preparation

Tomorrow I have a half day’s shoot, a mix of location and studio.

The Studio is booked and so is the model, I now have less then 24 hours left.  What should I be doing, what should you do to prepare for your shoots.

Well, for a paid shoot, my preparation starts at least a month in hand, for weddings sometimes over a year in advanced.

Tomorrow is just a simple test shoot but still preparation is key.  Obviously at this point the studio is all booked, location checked out and the model booked, what else should you consider.

Well, communication with the studio and model, all should continue.  I generally drop the studio and the model(s) an email a week before and the day before.  Just to ensure everything is clear.  Times, addresses, shot list, themes, clothes list.  Also contact details.  My email and phone number, the studio’s / location’s address, meeting points etc.

Equipment is important, and should start at least week in advance.  Check and clean everything, decide on what lens, what format’s.  For this shoot I will be shooting APS-C cropped DSLR and medium format.  The Digital SLR’s will be a pair of Nikon D200, perfectly adequate for this.  A wide angle zoom, a fast f/1.4 standard lens, a 105mm portrait lens and a standard fast f/2.8 zoom and telephoto zoom.  The medium format will be a Hassleblad, with standard lens and two backs.

The lens I have chosen with the shot list in mind.  I will also be taking two light meters, a heavy tripod, light stand and brolly with infrared trigger.

A week before the equipment was all checked, batteries all charged.  It was at this point I realised one of the batteries for Nikon D200 was starting to not hold its charge, so a trip to the local camera shop was planned, and I purchased a replacement.

The shot list was all written down as was the clothes list, and provided to the model, there is also a few items I will be providing, so tonight as well as packing the camera bags, and lighting bag, a prop bag was also packed.  Things like fans, glasses, hats, etc.

For the IT geeks like me there are computer applications to assist.  I use the simple PhotoAssist.  This is a useful little app for the iPhone and iPad that enables you to create equipment lists, prop lists etc.  I have custom lists for things like Nature, Portrait, Weddings and Travel.  This list the common things I need for things like these.

If there is any advice I can offer it is just this.  Communicate, ensure all parties know exactly what is required of them and when.  Have your equipment ready; cleaned, checked and know how to use it.

If you do not know your equipment, then you cannot focus on the picture.  Remember your equipment and how to use it, should all be second nature to you.  All your attention should be focused on getting the image and keeping your model engaged, and happy to work hard with you to get the image.

Studio Flash with a Hotshoe Flashgun

Using your hotshoe flash in your camera hotshoe is about the worst way of using it.  Getting off camera is the best way, but how to do that.  Well if you happen to have a light-stand you can use the method I use.

I recently purchased a Lastolite Tilthead with hotshoe.  Its a way of getting studio quality light thats easy and portable.

This on top of a light-stand enables you to attach a normal camera flash gun.  It also allows you to attach a standard brolly.  With this simple setup you can get studio quality light with very little cost.  It certainly does not have the power of studio flash but can produce great results.

Camera Batteries

Batteries die or stop holding as much charge, its a fact of life.

While checking my batteries the other week to get ready for a shoot, I noticed that one of my batteries is no longer charging fully, so it was time to buy a new one.

In my lunch break I popped into the local camera shop, London Camera Exchange.  I got an excellent deal from London Camera Exchange, sometimes it pays to have a good relationship with your local camera shop.

Its always a good idea to check your batteries regularly, for example one of my batteries for my Nikon D200 developed a weird fault last year.

The symptoms were odd.  The battery showed full charge but when you used it, it would work fine for two to five frames and then the camera would hang.

On removing the batteries and then putting them back, the camera would again work for a few frames before again hanging.

A similarly odd battery problem occurred to a friend of mine.

He recently purchased a new battery for his Sony NX5, but it would not work, but when the battery was tested in thecamera shop it worked fine in there Sony NX5.  It turned out that he had to update his camera firmware to use the latest batteries.  On updating his firmware the battery worked fine.

Odd things batteries.  So, if you are having strange problems, try a different battery and if your a Sony NX5 user, check your firmware!

Sony NX-5
©Andrew Jordan

A weekend Photo shoot – final planning

I was hoping to get out for a landscape and wildlife shoot this weekend but the weather was not really up to it.

Next Saturday I have a location shoot planned.  The goal is to test a new location and try a few lighting ideas I have that involve in-door and out-door lighting.

I have emailed the model with details and a list of clothes required, the few outfits she does not have she is going to try and get this week, which is very nice of her.  Now I am just completing the prop list and finalising the shot list.

Heres hoping for good weather, as it is intended to be a mix of indoor and outdoor work.  The indoor work will be using full studio flash.  For the outdoor work I will be using fill-in flash.

Later in the week i’ll clean and check over my equipment, ensure the batteries are charged and ensure the location and model are still ready to go.

I am really looking forward to it.  If all goes well with the test, I have a number of plans for the location this summer, but I need a good summers day and may need also to practise my high speed fill in flash techniques.

Immersion in your local landscape

This evening I was catching up on a few blogs, when I came across some wonderful large format Landscapes by William Neill.  Spectacular photographs.  He made quite a interesting point:

“One of the keys to develop depth in your work is to observe, and photograph, a chosen landscape for an extended period. The best opportunity is to explore a local nature preserve that you can return to often, during different seasons and times of day.  Your sense of the place will grow.  The choices you make when photographing will be educated by your knowledge of the local weather, light and topography”

Very true but I have to admit, at least in my area, the local nature reserve while nice is not conductive to great landscape photography.

What made me really laugh out loud (LOL); I later read, he lives in Yellowstone Park!

Some local landscape!

Photographic Goals

Setting photographic goals are a useful exercise.  They encourage you, make you shoot more, and drive you forward, make you a better photographer.

A goal should be challenging, and even if you fail, hopefully you will learn something to make you a better photographer.

Over the last few years my goals have generally been relatively simple.

  • Shoot More Weddings
  • Shoot More Commercial Portraits
  • Shoot More Studio Work.
  • Shoot a Roll of 35mm film
  • Take one good picture a month
  • Take one good picture a day for one month
  • Photograph some wildlife

All very generic, and I think I accomplished all of these well; except for the last.  Have you ever tried to get one good shot a day for a month!  It was hard to get one good picture a month.  In fact 2010 I think was the only year I came close to this.  I got 11 out of 12.

Moose Peterson wrote an interesting piece recently for the BT Journal (The Biological and Technical journal for Wildlife Photographers) and also in his New Year post on his Blog.

This was more about planning for goals, and it made me think about my goals for this year.

Many are going to be the same.

  • Shoot More Studio Work.
  • Shoot a Roll of 35mm film
  • Take one good picture a month
  • Photograph some wildlife
  • Shoot more Medium Format

But again these are all very generic, I feel a bigger challenge coming on.  With that thought I considered some of the great shots I had admired by other photographers.

One in particular by Joe McNally is one I have particularly admired.  Its a Dancer  leaping on the beach.  So one of my main goals this year is to try and produce my own version of this shot.

Joe is a great inspiration, and I greatly admire his portrait photography.  He taught a seminar over here recently in London which unfortunately I was unable to make.  Please Joe, visit again, and not just London.

Star Gazing Live – BBC

This was a good week for astronomy.  The BBC had three nightly programs called Stargazing Live.

The second program was of course the highlight, covering the partial solar eclipse that occurred that morning.

I had the opportunity back in 1999 to witness the a total solar eclipse.  It meant getting up early and jumping on the motorcycle for a 300 plus mile ride to catch the eclipse.

They gave some good tips on capturing photographs of the night sky, well worth watching and showing the BBC at its best, entertaining and educational.

Luna Eclipse

I have done some astronomical photography in the past and will post some pictures and techniques in future blog entries.

Synchro Daylight or Fill in Flash

No work today, but I did want to do some experimentation with Synchro Daylight.  An old term but basically its when you mix flash and daylight together.  Most people have heard it described as fill in flash, it can also be used with great affect when the flash is the primary source and the sun as the fill-in.

Its something I have used in the past to great affect, and modern hot-shoe electronic flashguns to make it very easy.  But I wanted to have a play around with manual, and trying out the balance flash functionality in my light meter.

Sekonic L 758 Light Meter

I bought the L-758 for its spot meter feature when shooting medium and large format.  But it also has some advance flash features and can show the balance of daylight to flash.

So equipped with a Nikon D200, a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 and a SB-800 flashgun I ventured outdoors with my flash meter and volunteer model for the day, my very patient wife Caroline.

First a simple portrait with daylight, manual mode.  Easy.  Then the flash set to manual at relatively low power.  The light-meter held by my wife under her chin with the de-fusion dome pointing at the flash gun.

After several attempts and varying the flash power, the meter was only reading the flash component.

I had to commit the ultimate male sin, find the manual and give it a quick read.  Unlike previous meter’s I had set it to the Flash-C, but this actually meant Flash with a cord, not Flash and Continuous light.  The mode that had just the Flash symbol turned out to measure both flash and continuous light.

With the light meter now in the correct mode we tried again, varying the exposure and flash output and reading the balance of daylight to flash from the meter and comparing that to the results seeing what we liked.

It certainly makes judging your exposure when mixing flash and daylight easier and I hope to put it into good practice with a summer beach photo shoot I intend planning.  I just need to find a location, a suitable model and a bit of good weather.

Heres looking forward to summer.

Daylight and Fill in Flash – Model in the summer house