FINNISH ICE FISHERMEN - PERSONAL PROJECT

When I first started out as a photographer I didn't have the budgets or timescales to take bands or models to exotic locations and photograph them in situ, so I developed the skills to shoot elements separately and bring them together in Photoshop, to create the epic, cinematic images in my head.

This has worked brilliantly for me over the years, and is often the only practical way to achieve what is needed on budget and on deadline, but I do occasionally find myself shooting in yet another studio, dreaming of taking my camera on real adventures, shooting people for real in spectacular landscapes and magical places.

When my Finnish friend Jori first mentioned ice fishing I was struck with the thought that this would be a great photographic subject. Huge frozen landscapes, man aginst the elements, it sounded like a great photo adventure.

In Finland it's only ever a matter of time before someone gets naked. We were shooting Ville and Jori said 'This shot would look great if you were naked apart from your boots'. Ville's reply was 'You know, I was JUST thinking that'. Never one to look a naked gift horse in the mouth I was more than happy to shoot Ville doing a little nude ice fishing.

Planning

Having friends in Finland was invaluable at the planning stage as Jori took on the role of producer, finding fishermen who were willing to be photographed, researching good locations and arranging a date that would work for everybody. Worryingly the winter of 2015/2016 turned out to be one of the warmest on record, with reports of very thin ice on many of the lakes, but luckily a couple of cold snaps ensured that when we arrived at the lake the ice was around 30cm thick, plenty thick enough for me and my lights.

Shooting

 Lorna towed the all important case of beer, a thank you to the fishermen for letting me photograph them, on a sled from the car to the location...

Lorna towed the all important case of beer, a thank you to the fishermen for letting me photograph them, on a sled from the car to the location...

 ...while I carried the flash heads, stands, camera gear and one of the battery packs.

...while I carried the flash heads, stands, camera gear and one of the battery packs.

Once at the lake, and having been shown the thickness of the ice to put our fearful city dweller minds at rest, we started setting up the gear. I had been worried about the battery packs (Bowens Travel Paks) draining really fast in the cold, and brought buckets to sit them on to keep them off the ice (and out of the wet) but they actually held out brilliantly, with plenty of juice to spare by the end of the shoot.

 We were told we could probably have safely driven a car around on the ice it was so thick.

We were told we could probably have safely driven a car around on the ice it was so thick.

The other problem with working in snow on top of ice was that it very quickly turned to wet slush. As a lover of low angles in my photography I inevitably end up lying on the floor at some point and it was very fortunate that we had the sled on the shoot for me to lie on, or I would have been a very cold, wet photographer by the end of the day.

We had only just started shooting when we got an impressive demo of ice fishing in action, when Janne caught a huge pike, so big that it only just fit through the hole in the ice. He was delighted.

My concept for the shoot was to produce final images that were real, but heightened, using lighting and post production to make the scene as impressive and cinematic as possible, but shooting gthe guys for real in the actual environment. I used Bowens Gemini flash heads and Travel Pak batteries, and lit my shots with a basic setup of softbox on the front and to the side, and a hard backlight/edgelight. I modified this for each shot, however, as the sun also played a part in the lighting, coming from diffferent angles depending on where I was shooting, and sometimes being hidden by cloud and sometimes shining brightly, throughout the day. The lights did a great job, allowing me to push the background a little darker than the guys, and to shoot into the sun while still having them lit.

 A nice cold beer

A nice cold beer

After a great day of shooting, capturing all the shots I wanted, we just had time to sit by the fire and eat sausages and karjalanpiirakat before heading back across the ice to the cars.

Post Production

I had a running joke with Jori through the planning of the shoot that I wanted him to make sure we got a nice snowy day for the shoot, with fat snowflakes drifting down that would look beautiful in the shots. Of course weather is the one thing that you can never control, and our shoot day was completely snow free.

So, this was the one element that i added to the shots, to give them extra drama and to embody the FEEL of winter. The rest of the retouching process was just working on colour, tone, and the relative brightness of the foreground, midground and background, to make sure that the eye of the viewer was drawn to the guys. Below you can see the image staright out of the camera, with retouching, and with the snow added.

So i got my icy photo adventure, and I got some great shots. Many thanks to Jori for being a great producer, Lorna for being a great assistant, and Mikko, Ville and Janne for letting me photograph them. Now I have just have to decide where to go next...

BAD HAIR DAY: GREAT ORMOND STREET HOSPITAL

Bad Hair Day is an annual fundraising even for Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity, for which people wear a wig or style a crazy hairstyle to work or school. I was asked to come up with ideas for the campaign based on the types of people it is aimed at, and to produce, shoot and retouch the images.

The concept I discussed with the GOSH team was to have ordinary people in ordinary situations, played quite straight, but with crazy wigs on, providing a counterpoint to their seriousness and the everyday surroundings. We discussed various details and elements that needed to be included, and I worked up some sketches.

The budget and timescale were both very tight, and so we didn;'t have the option of taking a full crew of people, including actors, hair and makeup, stylist etc etc, to four different locations over a number of days. The most cost effective way to produce a series of high quality images was for me and an assistant to shoot all the backgrounds over a couple of days, and then do a single studio day with the whole crew and actors, to shoot all the people.

I shot background plates on an old tube cariage, in a victorian classroom, in a Peckham hair salon and in an office in Canary Wharf, gathering all the background elements we would need to create the final images.

Then it was time to shoot the actors. We shot them against white, careful to match lighting, angles and distances with the background images. For the salon shots we were able to borrow a chair from the salon which resally helped, but for the tubne image we had to build a replica tube seat which matched all the dimensions of the actual one, so the actors could sit on it and be in just the right position to drop into the background image.

Then it was simply a case of compositiing the elements together to create the final images. Images were deisgned to be able to be cropped into different formats, as the campaign was used across a wide range of media.

STAR WARS: THE LAST SUPPER - PERSONAL PROJECT

click the image to view full size

Animated 'motion poster' version of the image.

Sometimes, photography is about being brilliant at lighting, or capturing a decisive moment, but often it's as much about collaborating with other talented people to reallise a vision as it is about your own skills.

The idea of recreating Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper using characters from Star Wars had been in my head for over a year before I was finally able to make it real. The painting is such an iconic and brilliantly composed imaged, and such a great way of showing a large group of people, that it has been used and parodied by many films, TV shows and other groups. But I had never seen it done in the way I wanted to present it, and the key for me was the relationship between Darth Vader and the Emperor.

In The Last Supper, one of the apostles shown is Judas, who went on to betray Jesus. In Return of the Jedi Darth Vader finally betrays the Emperor, killing him. Recreating the painting with the Emperor in the role of Jesus and Vader as Judas meant that the photo worked not only visually, but conceptually as well, with some emotional drama as well as just a nice composition.

I sketched out the image, using stormtroopers in the roles of the other apostles, and then developed it further with colour and lighting. I felt that the scene needed a central element, something that everyone could be focusing on, and so had the idea of adding in the hologram of the second Death Star, which not only gives a focal point to the image but also dramatically lights the characters. I also decided that the perfect setting for the scene would be the Emperor's throne room on the Death Star, with that amazing, iconic round window behind him as he sits in his throne.

So now all I needed was an Emperor, Darth Vader, eleven stormtroopers, a full size throne, a 20ft wide table and a huge set with gigantic round window looking out into space. Simple right?

Luckily for me I have some amazing friends. I had already done a shoot a year or so before with a group of Star Wars enthusiasts, and through my friends there I managed to pull together an Emperor, a Darth Vader and four stormtroopers (top tip, stormtroopers all look the same, so you can reuse them in the image!). Next was the set. There was no way I could even begin to attempt to build a physical set, so much as I would have liked to go A New Hope and do everything physically I sadly had to go down the Phantom Menace route and design a completely digital set. My good friend Steve Newman is a dab hand at 3D modelling, and agreed to build a replica of the throne room in 3D, into which we could place a virtual camera and virtual lights to match the real people I would photograph.

Getting everyone together in one place proved a challenge, but my producer Chris managed to find us a spot at very short notice, on a Sunday evening, at the awesome Shoreditch Studios, and we were off.

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Because I only had four stormtroopers, and limited space in the studio, I decided not to attempt to create the full scene in one go. The painting is composed in groups of three, and then Jesus in the centre, and so I split my shooting into the same groups. Lighting wise I shot using Bowens Gemini heads as always, with a blue/green backlight to simulate the starlight coming in through the window, kept everything else quite cool and moody, and used a red gelled light to simulate the light from the holographic Death Star. This had to be progressively moved away as i shot groups further down the table.

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In order to recreate the feel of the original painting I paid close attention to poses, including hand positions. Because Vader and the stormtroopers have no facial expressions we had to convey everything with body language. Doing this made me reallise just how good Da Vinci was at arranging and reallising the poses of his characters!

With everybody photographed it was time to render out the completed throne room model. Working with Steve, I lit it in various different ways to recreate different lights in the set, and then combined these to create a master set with light coming in from outside the window, top light from in the ceiling, and uplighters around the window frame.

This looked great as a CGI image, but with real photographic characters in place it would feel way too smooth and fake, so I had to add a load of texture to the surfaces in Photoshop to really make it work as a real world environment.

Then it was time to add the furniture. I used the actual zinc tabletop from the studio, and created a flat front using the same metal texture and some panel shapes. Steve built me a little 3D holoprojector in Z Brush, and my friend Kristin made me a brilliant Death Star wireframe hologram, based on a model from animium.com

The chair was also built in Z Brush, and built up of multiple lighting passes before being coloured and textured in Photoshop.

Then it was just a case of dropping the people in and doing a little grading work, and it was complete!

Thanks so much to Steve Newman for the amazing Z Brush work, Chris Battye for producing the shoot, Sharon Leese for assisting and taking the excellent behind the scenes photos, Kristin Bøyesen for the Death Star wireframe, Shoreditch Studios for letting us in on a Sunday night and Kat, Graham, Pete, Miriam, David and Craig for posing. When you can't achieve your vision on your own, it's humbling to see a bunch of other talented people coming together to help make it happen.

LONDON ROLLERGIRLS - PERSONAL PROJECT

My wife played rollerderby at a high level for several years, and I always wanted to capture it photographically, but it is a very hard sport to shoot, as it is polayed in poorly lit, dingy sports halls, everybody is skating fast around an oval track, and you can't get lights near to anything as there are refs skating both inside and outside the track. I knew that if I wanted to capture it to the qualitry that I could see in my head I would need to a) do a dedicated shoot, hiring the hall, rather than work around a game or practice session, and b) use very fast flashes to freeze the action.

So i spoke to my friends at Bowens and they agreed to lend me some Creo flashes, which are extremely fast, and we set up a shoot, shooting some of the male rollerderby players on the same day in return for use of the hall. The first challenge was to work out how to light it, to get a good angle on the skaters but also position the lights, and power leads, where they wouldn't be crashed into.

Then i just had to capture the skaters as they passed throught the very small space that was lit and in focus, and coach them on their pooses and facial expressions so they looked good at that exact moment.

I got some great shots, especially once the sports hall background was darkened down and made less distracting, but I felt trhat something was still missing. I wanted something that looked really epic and cinematic, almost sci fi. I wasn't worried about it being totally accurate to the game, I just wanted a background that supported the image of the skater and the feeling of speed and power.

So i went out and shot a variety of backgrounds, and found one that worked really well, with nice strong perspective lines and great tones.

I picked one of my favouriote skater poses;

and combined the two to make that final, cinematic image that was in my head.

REEBOK NANOS - PERSONAL PROJECT

95% of my work involves people, and so I wanted to try something different. I love the design of the Reebook Nanos, designed for Crossfit, and so came up with the idea of showcasing them in an environment that referenced the sport, using the chains, tyres, weights and battle ropes that are used for exercise.

I kept the shoot itself super simple, using small LED panel lights and constructing little sets from the various props, to best support and showcase the shoes.