Thursday, February 11, 2021

THE IMPORTANCE OF BACKGROUND IN PHOTOGRAPHY COMPOSITION


Today I will discuss the importance of background in photography composition illustrated with some examples of mine.

Part of a larger series covering elements of composition in photography for which you’ll find links at the end of this article.

I taught myself photography in quite a specific order, I navigated / progressed through various urban photography genres:

Graffiti Photography > Urban Landscape Photography > Street Photography

It’s the reason I realised early how important an image’s background really is, allow me to explain:

I took-up photography as I used to have an obsession with graffiti, around 2006. I was like a trainspotter but instead of obsessively shooting trains, I’d hunt for new graffiti art around London which would be cleaned or gone just as fast as that elusive locomotive.

I had to find them.

After exclusively shooting graffiti up-close, photography itself became my passion. I realised I loved graffiti because of how it sat within its surroundings and its environment.

I therefore decided to improve my photography by taking a step back in order for the graffiti to only represent a part of the photo. It felt more relevant and logical.

Clouds can make for interesting backgrounds.

I did this for a while and naturally began searching for other types of effective backgrounds, not just graffiti (or skies), for my urban photography such as the lines of shop roller shutters, colourful walls and other textures such as concrete omnipresent in urban settings.

My passion had shifted from graffiti to photography.

How many of you can relate to that? You begin by shooting what you love: graffiti, cars, babies, flowers, insects… and before you know it you are a photographer specialising in that very niche.

The third stage of my photographic development was when I eventually realised that I needed life in my shots to reflect the buzz of the city and so in came people, walking through my pre-composed frames.

Using these ingredients I now had an urban / street photography recipe I was happy with.

Talking of ingredients and recipes, and in fact there are many similarities between cooking food and photography. You mix the right ingredients which you arrange within a composition, in photography it’s the frame, in cookery it’s the plate.

But back to photography…

Focus on a strong background whenever possible and add life or wait for it to present itself, but almost in such a way that the background and what appears to be the subject are equally as important, they balance each other.

Let’s look at some more examples showing the importance of background in photography composition, how they should balance other elements of a photo and their impact on the shot:

In the photo below of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the building still visible in the background is balanced with the light trails from a double-decker bus which also act as leading lines guiding the viewer’s eye towards the landmark.

In the next image we have in the background a modern building, The Gherkin, contrasted with a more traditional building in the foreground both in terms of texture and lines. Contrasts between background and foreground are effective composition techniques.

In this photo, taken on the London underground, the background / the character in the middle only represents a minuscule portion of the shot and yet they are key, without it the photo would have absolutely no reason to exist.

I like to call it “Underground Renaissance”.

Whereas in this photo below, the background is the main part of the shot with in the foreground only the unrecognisable ghostly figure of a commuter which clearly has freaked out Pharrell Williams, here in the advert.

It is a form of juxtaposition in street photography, something often sought after by street photographers.

In these two colourful images, I deliberately went for a minimal look, making full use of negative space. I thought these gloriously colourful walls made for a beautifully simple, stripped-down photograph which could be perfect as a framed photo print for an urban interior.

There are many ways to use the right backgrounds your advantage.

Using a wide aperture (low f. number) while focusing on your subject at the front will create a background blur from the shallow depth of field. This blurred background is usually a lot less busy than if it’d been left sharp, it helps the subject you are shooting stand out better. Works great for example with people portraits, animal portraits and botanical photography.

TIP: NEXT TIME YOU HEAD OUT TRY THE FOLLOWING

Select your background first, frame your shot, maybe from a lower angle or straight on and wait for someone to enter the frame you carefully composed… take that shot. You can either freeze their movement like in the colourful pink shot above or decide to deliberately capture motion with a slightly slower shutter speed such as in this example:

Practise this many times and you’ll end up with some strong images.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

UNDERSTANDING CATCHLIGHTS


                                                                                                           Catchlights are the lights reflected in a subject’s eyes. I normally use strobes to capture them. Catchlights add life and sparkle, while their absence can result in dull, lifeless images. There are no hard and fast rules, and sometimes you may want dead and lifeless. It’s all about knowing what you want, why you want it and how to create it. But portraits are almost always better with catchlights.

Single vs. multiple catchlights

Regardless of the light source used, the goal remains the same: replicating what exists in nature. In nature, we have only one light source, the sun, and there’s only one. I’m not a fan a multiple catchlights. There are exceptions to this, notably in the studio with certain fashion, cosmetics and beauty lighting applications, so we’ll look at them both ways. While studio lighting is a bit more forgiving in the catchlight department, my preference is still a single catchlight created by an overhead keylight. A single catchlight is more natural looking. Multiple bright lights reflecting in a subject’s eyes screams artificial lighting.

Positioning your catchlights

Catchlights are best positioned in your subject’s eyes at either 10 or 2 o’clock, just like the ideal hand positions on a steering wheel. Use 10 and 2 as your catchlight position guideline. There’s one more position, the one you never learned in driving school but use every day: the 12 o’clock position. You want your catchlights creating crescent shapes at the tops of the eyes. So 10, 2 or 12 are the ideal positions for catchlight reflections in a subject’s eyes. As long as you stick with those three positions, you’ll be on solid ground.
Rarely do you want a catchlight in the lower portion of the eyes, under the retina. This occurs when a light source is placed below the subject’s eye line. We’re attempting to replicate what happens in nature, with light always coming from above. Lighting a subject from below creates a ghoulish effect
, but there are exceptions to every rule. When you add a second light above that acts as a dominant keylight, you get a pleasing over-and-under effect known as clamshell lighting. I cover other lighting patterns and their catchlights below. In any lighting pattern, any secondary catchlight should be subtle and subordinate to the power and appearance of the keylight.
The position of the catchlight reflected in your subject’s eyes is a direct result of the height, angle and position of the keylight in relationship to the subject. The 10, 2 and 12 catchlight positions are created using these classic lighting patterns: Paramount/clamshell light (12 o’clock) and Rembrandt/loop light (10 and 2 o’clock). If you want a catchlight at the 2 o’clock position in your subject’s eyes, move your light to the same position left or right around the circumference of your subject. The same is true for the 12 o’clock position of the catchlight created with Paramount and clamshell light—simply position your light source above your camera positioned directly in front of your subject. To control where the catchlight falls height-wise, raise and lower your keylight until the catchlight is where you want it. For me, that’s a crescent shape at the top of the eyes.

Filling in the shadows

To fill in the shadows on the side of the face opposite the keylight, you’ll need a reflector, which provides subtle fill without distracting secondary catchlights. Reflectors are incredibly flexible despite the fact that they don’t have their own power source or light modifiers. With reflectors, you use distance to control the amount of light they contribute. The closer a reflector is to the subject and keylight, the brighter the fill light. Conversely, the farther away the reflector is from the subject, the less light it contributes. You also have a range of fabrics to choose from that reflect light with different efficiency, intensity and contrast. The basic rule of thumb is white fabric for a softer, more subtle effect and silver when you need more light and contrast.
The ideal catchlight shape is a matter of personal taste and is dictated by the shape of light modifier on your keylight. There are a few modifiers that are perennial favorites based on the more natural-looking catchlight shape they create. Octabanks were invented for this very reason. Their octagonal shape creates a natural-looking reflection in contrast to that of square or rectangular softboxes. The beauty dish is another modifier favored for the circular catchlight it creates. Umbrellas are another option; they don’t provide a lot of control in the way of light spill, but they are a large round ball of light not unlike the sun. Square and rectangular softboxes can be used, but the reflections in your subject’s eyes will mirror those shapes. It’s all about individual preference.

Ring lights

Ring flash and ring lights are niche lighting tools that are in a category all their own. These lights create a signature doughnut-shaped catchlight dead center in a subject’s eyes. Stylistically, there isn’t much middle ground with ring flash and ring lights; people either love or hate the catchlights they create. I love them.
Catchlights are also useful when you’re trying to decode how an image was lit. They provide telltale clues about the lighting tools and techniques used. You can make educated guesses about what kinds of lights were used, how many were used, how they were modified, what their positions were and how far they were placed from the subject. So when you’re trying to reverse-engineer lighting you see in a magazine or on a movie poster, look to the catchlights.

Friday, February 5, 2021

DEALING WITH ADVERSITY


I have worked my ass off building a successful business. But it hasn’t been easy. The last year has been enough to break the strongest-willed person.
So, what do you do? I am sure as you read this you can relate on some level. You have had things go wrong in your life or business. We all have. I don’t have all the answers. All I can do is share with you my lessons learned and how I have managed turmoil, adversity and negativity in my recent past.

Roll with the punches.

One thing I have come to realize is that you just have to roll with it. I don’t know, maybe it’s just experience that has led me to this conclusion, but what are you going to do? Give up? Whatever you are doing in life or business, it is going to be met with some level of friction. It’s impossible for it not to. I stress this to myself and my team constantly: “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
That’s not just some cliché line. Think about it. The people who are successful are there not because they are the best or the smartest. Many times it’s because of their sheer will to do things that others are unwilling to do.
All too often, I see entrepreneurs struggle when they hit pain or friction. The first “no” they hit, they just sort of panic and give up. You just need to tell yourself, “I got this” and roll with it.
Don’t let the negativity get you off your game. And by the way, that negativity can come from friends and family, not just “haters.” Once you start climbing your success ladder, people will become very negative and very few will truly be happy for your success. I have found that circle in life to be very small.

It’s not me, it’s you.

When adversity strikes, you have a choice to make: cower in the corner with fear and panic or strike back. My philosophy has always been: I didn’t start this, but I sure as hell am going to finish it.
We are all entrepreneurs. The challenges I am speaking of impact you whether you are building a business or a career. The corporate world is cutthroat. I know, I spent 40-plus years in it. Climbing that corporate ladder? Rest assured, there is someone trying to chop your legs out from under you. You have either felt it or experienced it. If not, then I promise you, you are not the rising star in your circle.
I believe in success for all. I don’t believe your success comes at my failure or vice versa. Not everyone feels that way. Is it jealousy? Or is it pure laziness? I believe it’s laziness. You may want success but are too damn lazy to go out there and work your ass off to get it. Many of us make excuses to make ourselves feel better. “Oh well, he got the promotion because he is a kiss-ass. I am more qualified”—I guess that’s one way of looking at it. Or, “He got the promotion because he spent more time selling himself, making sure the people in the office knew how qualified he was, and spent time networking with the key people in the office.” See my point?
Is photography really any different? I had to laugh when I was reading in a local Nottinghamshire photography forum about a photographer who was a guest at an event I was shooting. He was mocking me and my business because we were supposed to be a high-end studio, but I was wearing Chino’s at the event. How unprofessional of me. Really? That’s all you got? You are sitting home broke, your business is failing or struggling, and your thing is I am wearing Chino’s. So you are better than me because of that?
We all know what it is like to deal with the cattiness of our peers. Do not let it break your spirit. Instead, realize that this comes from a place of negativity and a refusal to accept that they are where they are in life and business because of the decisions they make. It’s not you. I promise you. It’s them.
Keep that in the back of your mind. These people are pathetic, they are jealous, they are a cancer in your life. Disconnect from them. Disconnect from these groups. Focus on what you are doing because you are doing something right.

Deal with the hand in front of you.

I have learned in both business and in life that I can’t always control what lands on my doorstep, but I can sure as hell handle how I respond. I believe in fighting fire with fire. You come at me, I am bringing the heat back at you. I will never run from a fight. I am just not wired that way. Now, that might lead you to think I like conflict or adversity.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I would much rather have peace around me. You can’t control what the people around you do. I have learned that over and over again. But you can control your own destiny. You will be dealt a hand and then have a choice to make. Fold and run or stay and play it out.
If you decide to fold and run, you are not meant to run a business and you will struggle your entire life to find success at any level. Harsh? Perhaps. Reality? Most definitely.
Success is not easy. It’s hard. It’s messy. It’s a struggle to get there and even harder to stay there. You need to learn how to fight for what you want when it gets tough. Most importantly, you need to learn when to bring some offense to the fight so you’re not always playing defense. An attack will come fast and furious at times, and you will need to take what you have been dealt and make the most of it.
Fight the fight, and, most importantly, fight to win. Let everyone around you know that you are in this to win and that if they come at you, you will push back on them even harder.

Shit happens—keep pushing forward.

On your journey through your career, you will be faced with adversity on many levels. Do not let these moments break you. It’s hard, I know. But it gets easier with every passing day. You are not alone. Everyone’s dealing with their own demons. It can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders at times, but you can do it. You can push through this. Just stay positive and surround yourself with positive people who want the same things. You will soon realize that your circle should remain tight. Keep the cancer out.
Remember: If it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s true. People are lazy. They want the fruits of success without the incredibly hard work that is required to get there. If you are one of those people who gets this and understands that success is not about luck but about working longer and harder than your peers and doing the things that no one wants to do, I am speaking to you.
Success is there for you. Work hard, and when you feel like quitting, push even harder. Pull an all-nighter. Do what you need to do to achieve your goals. When those around you are laughing at you, mocking you, telling you it can’t be done, use that as fuel. Prove them wrong. Be motivated to show them you will succeed. The ways you handle the pressure will become your defining moments. I believe in you.
And by the way, I am wearing Chino’s as I write this.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

SLASH OF LIGHT: CREATING DRAMA WITH GOBOS


Inspiration
The most exciting kinds of artificial lighting are those that mimic natural light. It’s not easy to recreate nature’s subtle, atmospheric qualities. Beginners make the common mistake of throwing way too much light at what they’re shooting. Whether you’re shooting people or products, less is more. The more focused the lighting, the more interesting and visually compelling it becomes. If there’s light everywhere, there’s no direction for the viewer’s eye to follow. If there’s a scarcity of light, the areas that are illuminated become the focal point. We see this kind of subtle light in nature.
Lighting geeks like me love nothing more than watching the way sunlight behaves as it streams through a narrow opening, moves across the sky or scatters into beams of light as it breaks through clouds or strikes the leaves of a tree overhead. It results in unique shapes and patterns. These magic lighting moments give me pause and remind me how powerful light and shadow can be in creating mood and atmosphere.
In photography, we recreate these effects using tools known as “go-betweens,” aka “gobos.” These are typically a piece of wood or metal with a series of shapes and/or patterns cut into it. A gobo goes between the light and the subject to cast a shape or pattern onto it. There are also constant lights and strobe modifiers with built-in mechanisms that allow shapes to be created with light and also permit the definition of those shapes to be varied as desired.
Concept 
The concept for this “Slash of Light” shoot was the result of a collaboration between local model Laurel Mona and me. We connected via Facebook, where I always post new work, which is a great way to cultivate new relationships with creatives interested in collaborating. Laurel sent over a series of sample images of concepts she was interested in shooting. Several of the images reminded me of a concept I’d been wanting to shoot that was inspired by the striking patterns and shapes created every day on my walls by the afternoon sun streaming through my windows.
This warm, defined, dramatic light changes its shape and angle with each passing hour. We settled on this concept, and over the next few days, Laurel followed up with multiple wardrobe and accessory options. Nailing down many elements before the shoot helps assure everybody is on the same page and working toward the same creative goal.
Styling is a big part of the equation. Ideally, the colours of the background, wardrobe, and hair and makeup should work together to support the overall look and feel of the concept. We chose a warm-toned wardrobe and accessories to help accentuate her auburn hair, a mottled-gold background and the look of afternoon sunlight.
Lighting
One of the best tools for creating shapes with light is Profoto’s Pro Zoom Spot. With this focusable Fresnel and a strobe, you can create a beam of light that you can adjust from zoom to spot and soft to sharp.
Popular Fresnel models are available from Bowens, Elinchrom and several other manufacturers. What differentiates the Pro Zoom Spot from the crowd is its four built-in user-adjustable blades that can create an endless variety of shapes. When you combine this shape-making capability with the Fresnel’s ability to create anything from soft edges all the way to super-crisp shapes, things get really exciting. The Pro Zoom Spot acted as my key-light and is responsible for the slash of light you’re seeing in these images.
The new model, with its built-in 4,800-watt-second strobe, wouldn’t make sense for me at its prohibitive price tag of £8,000. But the legacy model I use, to which you add your own Profoto Pro Head, can be found on eBay for around £300.
I have seen people get close to this effect using a speed-light. In this method, a cardboard tube is attached to the speed-light. At the front of the tube, two strips of gaff tape are used to create a rectangular shape with the light when the flash is fired. Lastolite makes a set of gobos with which you can create shapes and patterns with speed-lights. You won’t achieve the same degree of crispness on the edges of the shape, but they offer a cool, inexpensive way to get close.
The shape created by the Pro Zoom Spot was confined and hard-edged, with no falloff to illuminate Laurel’s body or the background. This resulted in a flat look that lacked separation, layering, and dimension. So I added two fill lights, one at a time, to better judge their contribution.
These additions needed to be extremely low-key or I’d risk destroying the subtle effect created by the key-light. I needed a kiss of light on the backdrop to create separation and bring in its gold tones, and an equally low level of light on Laurel’s body to provide detail and avoid everything falling into black.
To illuminate the background, I used a Profoto B1 500-watt-second strobe with a 20-degree grid spot. This created a subtle circle of light on the background, providing the separation needed to create more depth in the images.
To add detail to Laurel’s body, I added a second Profoto B1 500-watt-second strobe modified with an Elinchrom 14 x 35 strip box. I varied the strip box’s height and horizontal and vertical orientation for ground and standing poses and positioned the fill lights. For the tighter portraits, I used the gridded strobe camera left as a hair light and angled the strip box slightly toward the backdrop to maintain separation.
Retouching 
Word to the wise: This is not a forgiving style of lighting like clamshell, which we might use when shooting beauty and portrait work. This light has much harder qualities that accentuate every line and blemish. Expect retouching to be more laborious and time-consuming, but the payoff is beautiful dramatic images. For retouching, I used my go-to Beauty Retouch Panel by Retouching Academy, an inexpensive Photoshop plugin that takes care of many of the repetitive tasks required in retouching.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

BUILDING MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL VENDOR RELATIONSHIPS

After 12 years working as a professional photographer, I realise now more than ever the value of having working relationships with industry vendors. We all have a job to do, we all want to be successful, we all want to make money. I see a lot of businesses take an isolationist approach, which can be detrimental to the success of your business. Instead, I find ways to foster mutually beneficial relationships with vendors.

Recently I was looking at where my fashion portraiture referrals were coming from when I noticed that a venue I used to shoot at several times a year had completely fallen off my radar. We had not shot a wedding there in almost five years. How could that be? We picked up the phone, scheduled a meeting with their team and did something about it.
Below is how we went from an afterthought to front-runner—and rebuilt a relationship and our portfolio along the way.
Know what you bring to the table. 
We are creatives. All businesses need creative talent. They need graphic design, photography services, video services and also someone with vision and the ability to execute ideas.
There is great value in what we bring to the table, and we have to parlay that into a winning situation for ourselves. That’s why we are doing this. Be transparent. I know I was.
We offered to stylise a commercial fashion shoot and promotional video in exchange for premium placement in this venue’s salesroom. It was a lot of work to commit to, but in the end, it was a great way to position the studio as a premier partner. I was doing something no other photographer was willing to do. I bet correctly that the images we produced would drive new business to our studio and galvanise our relationship with the venue.
Think about what your vendors need. 
Anyone involved in this project needs something. We are all in business to make a profit. Most vendors don’t have time to help you with a stylised shoot if there is nothing in it for them. We all need to be a little selfish here, and that’s ok.
So, what do they all need? Updated images for their marketing. This includes social media, print advertising, and billboards—all of which require images. It’s easy to just photograph for yourself and not think about the other vendors involved. That’s a huge miss.
For this shoot, we delivered new prints for their sales room, a multipage flyer highlighting both the venue and my photography to be handed out, and a video commercial. Of course, I got some incredible images for my portfolio to showcase at the next show.
Own the concept and idea. Every piece of it. 
This is your idea. Own it. If you want to just be a heartbeat with a camera, then let someone else run the show—but all you will have accomplished is to prove you are nothing more than a nerd who knows how to use a tool.
Instead, own the concept from beginning to end and showcase yourself as the director, producer, and vision of the project. You will be bringing incredible value to the team. Who wouldn’t want to work with a rock star? Once the word gets out that you and your team pulled this off without a hitch, you will be received with open arms by any vendor on future projects. Screw this up, and, well, you know what will happen. But hey, no pressure.
We owned the entire concept from beginning to end. There are a lot of moving parts to something like this, and you need to stay organised.
Bring in your tribe. 
We all have vendors we like and who we have a good relationship with. Involve those people. This is the trifecta. You now add and galvanise your relationship with existing partners who want to be part of everything you do: florists, limos, tuxedos, models, hair and makeup.
We expanded the shoot to include a bunch of vendors we have relationships with. This shoot had a little bit of everything, so we needed help from our partners. In return, they got imagery. See how easy this is?
Deliver on your promises. 
Don’t you dare come this far and screw this up? You better deliver on all your promises, and deliver fast, none of this six-month delivery time. We had our images ready in two weeks from this shoot. We were sharing and tagging vendors in less than 24 hours after the shoot. Do not half-ass this. If you do, the resulting negative publicity will not be forgotten anytime soon. These are vendors that you have to see week in and week out.
Invest the time and energy needed to complete the project. Hire someone, outsource if you need to, but do it right.
Stay connected to vendors on social media. Thank them for their involvement. Share behind-the-scenes images and stories. You are doing this to keep the excitement and momentum going post-shoot. This is something everyone invested a lot of time and energy into, and you need to do everything in your power to make it worth their while and ensure no one leaves with a bad taste in their mouth. If they do, they will never do it again.
It doesn’t need to be complicated. Is it a lot of work? Yes, but trust me, the results are well worth it. Once you find your rhythm and formula, repeat it all over again.
Dominate your local market.

TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING IN EMPTY & ABANDONED BUILDINGS


Many photographers dream of working on location in incredible places where one might encounter the occasional giraffe or dolphin. A few years ago I was exposed to the dark side of destination shoots when I was invited by my good friend Brian to shoot inside a vast abandoned country house in West Yorkshire erected before the Civil War. Since then, I’ve had the urge to visit destinations where I am more likely to get tetanus than to see a family of elk.
There is a strange allure to working on location in these abandoned buildings. Part of it is the architecture and history of the building. But to be honest, I’m mostly into it for the spooky factor. At the house, my mind was free to ponder the 100s souls who died there. When I walk through the halls of places like this, I let my mind wander to the history. I also think about the architectural workmanship of those who are long dead and forgotten.
In the nursery room, the name of a nurse was carved into the concrete floor. That gave me an odd, ghastly feeling. Perhaps I was feeling what those gizmos adorned with a lot of blinking lights measure on those ghost hunter shows.
Most of the subjects I enjoy shooting fall into two distinct categories: those that complement the place and those that oppose it. Shooting high-fashion and artistic nudes contrast strangely with the destruction all around the subject, and that dichotomy is interesting to me. The other category embraces the nature of the place, and that is where I get into my arcane mood and work on somewhat disturbing images that evoke an emotion. I am not into gore or blood, but enjoy the more subtle ways of giving those little hairs on the back of the neck a workout. Creating spooky images and seeing the proper response is more natural than some other forms of art where pretentious people come up with all sorts of wild reasons you made an artistic choice. In this case, they just drop their glass of wine and freak out, and you know your mission is accomplished.

I embrace the feeling I get from a specific location. Most of the time, this isn’t going to be a happy one. We might as well call it creepy. As you can probably guess, I love creating images filled with emotion in places like these. Most of mine also include a figure, which might be wearing something that fits the theme, or a beautiful nude. Another common reason for risking entry into these abandoned locations is the sheer wealth of goodies for compositing. I have found unique textures and scenes that just don’t come along frequently, and capturing them adds a unique character to my images.
You’re probably wondering if I believe in ghosts. I don’t, but I have been in many places that should be on any respectable ghost’s list of places to haunt.
Now that you know the reasons I enjoy it, you are probably ready to grab your camera and find some busted house for your next photo session. Before you do that and end up in jail, or worse, let’s talk about some of the things you need to know before you venture forth. Keep in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list, and I am not an expert like some hardcore “urbex” photographers.

Don’t Go Into Basements

There are structural concerns in most of these places, and being on the bottom of the pile doesn’t give you the best odds of survival. Secondly, if there are ne’er-do-wells, wild animals, crazy spiders or exploding fungus, this is where they prefer to live. Bring a sword and a torch or two if you plan to venture down those stairs alone because I am not coming with you.

The Opposite of the Basement Is the Roof

The roof is often the weakest part of the structure for load bearing. Walking on an old roof is a riskier dice roll than the band of stupid adventurers that went into the basement.

Don’t Go Into Houses

Houses are where people are likely to be living (duh). After the last legal residents have moved on, homeless people often take their place, and they don’t much care for visitors. Unless you are an aspiring crack dealer or have a death wish, just stay out of houses. They also have some of the weakest floors and decay much more quickly than their commercial counterparts.
One of the phrases I have heard uttered is “Breaking and entering is a felony, but trespassing is a misdemeanor.” Now, I am not condoning you enter places illegally, but keep in mind that you are probably breaking a law or two in most cases. Be especially careful at federal properties, like abandoned post offices—entering those places is a felony even if the front door is wide open or even missing.

City Permits and Safety

There are plenty of abandoned buildings you can enter for a small fee and enjoy a day of photography without fear of being hauled away in handcuffs or face a hefty fine. Contact a city’s film and television office and ask about an urban explorer pass or permit. They often have lists of locations and descriptions of the safety of those spots.
Just because you have permission doesn’t mean you are safe from those willing to do you harm and take your camera gear. Use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and don’t go alone.

Wear Proper Clothing 

Many of these places are downright dangerous. Wear safety shoes to protect your feet from rusty nails, strategically hidden poo and other scary things you probably should kick before they bite you. Change your shoes after you leave the building. You don’t want to track whatever you stepped in all over anyone’s house or car.

Don’t Do Damage 

Even if you are in a place that is filled with graffiti, you are there to explore and document, not to alter the location. Be a ghost. Don’t disturb anything. Every time you move something, you stir up dust that can contain a lot of things you probably don’t want to breathe into your lungs. Consider wearing a mask. Fungal spores, mold and lung-shredding particles of asbestos are often prevalent. Depending on your research of the location, any or all of these safety precautions are things you should consider. As I have said before, use common sense.
Many of the most exciting places are those off the beaten path. Most cities have buildings that might still have their original furnishings and equipment or be in pristine but an aged condition. These are goldmines that are closely guarded secrets among those who discover them. A little research can open a door (literally) that would not otherwise be available. Having a robust portfolio of work can also talk you into locations where they know you will respect their property. That portfolio can get you out of a situation with the law when they can see your work and know you are not the type of person they would want to arrest. Of course, all of this goes out the window if you happen to be in a place where the owner of the property wants to wreck your life and sue you to set an example.
Keep all of these things in mind. Have a plan, do your research and work quickly. The less gear you take with you, the better. Best of luck if you choose to follow this path, worthy adventurer.

Friday, September 25, 2020

QUICK TIP: USE TENT PEGS TO STOP YOUR LIGHT STANDS FALLING OVER ON LOCATION







QUICK TIP: USE TENT PEGS TO STOP YOUR LIGHT STANDS FALLING OVER ON LOCATION





One of the most common questions I see on social media, especially just after somebody’s posted an image shot on location with flash, is “How do you stop your light stands from falling over?” – which isn’t an unreasonable question to expect. When it’s just you and your subject, how do people stop their light stands from falling over?

Well, you could carry a bunch of heavy sandbags around with you, or make sure to hire an assistant for all of your location shoots, but photographer Wayne Speer has another idea – especially when shooting in locations with soft ground. He uses tent pegs and rope.

It’s a great way to keep your stands pegged down – quite literally – so that they don’t fall over due to being top heavy or during a bit of a breeze. I’ve been using this technique myself for about a decade now, although I strap mine down slightly differently to Wayne.

You can see in the images above that Wayne ties his around the upper locking mechanism where the three legs connect to the centre column and then uses two pegs to hold it down. I’m overkill when I do it – but then I’m usually on location with a 4ft octabox. I use six pegs and tie-down each leg individually using 2 pegs each along with bungee cord – a bit like this terrible diagram I just made in Photoshop.



I use bungee cord rather than rope because I’d rather it have a little bit of give, instead of risking bending and snapping the light stand’s centre column. They’re usually pretty strong, but when you’ve got that much weight on there, that’s a lot of force. I use them in this position because it helps to keep that centre of gravity pulling against the wind much lower to the ground. And I put it on all three because this is Scotland, so the wind can switch direction at a moment’s notice. So I want to make sure all three are well tied down while I’m shooting.

The disadvantage of using six pegs with bungee cord rather than Wayne’s two pegs with rope, however, is that it takes longer to tie it down and then to remove it again without risking the bungee cord snapping back and hitting you in the face. But usually when I’m setting up a light this way on location, I’m not planning to move it for a while anyway.

Make sure you get tent pegs or spikes suitable for the ground you plan to shoot on. Wayne says that he plans to use sand spikes when he does his beach photo shoots. And, of course, if you’re on concrete, you should probably stick to those heavy sandbags.

How do you stop your lights from falling over on location?

Disclaimer: If you do this, you do so at your own risk. Don’t blame us (or Wayne) if you use the wrong pegs, or the rope snaps, or your light comes crashing down to the ground for some other reason. This is the way we do it. If you choose to do it as well, that’s on you.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BACKGROUND IN PHOTOGRAPHY COMPOSITION

Today I will discuss the importance of background in photography composition illustrated with some examples of mine. Part of a larger series...