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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When There's No Space, No One Can Hear You Scream....

Before embarking upon any shoot, the photographer’s mind goes into a creative prep mode. Lighting, know the deal. There is a part of you that says “I am doing to rock this shoot. I am going to make this something I am really proud of”. You salivate over the potential results and make your way to the location.

Legal firms are not necessarily known for their large open studio spaces. So doing location corporate portraits in such a place suddenly presents a reality that needs to be dealt with. All of your lighting techniques and aspirations suddenly become smaller, simpler and very real indeed. No excuses can be made. No complaints. You just have to do what you have to do.

You cannot expect your client to know what you need, or even to be able to provide it if he did know. The essential reality is that you have to create the images, doing so to the best of your ability in the given circumstances. This was recently the case with a shoot I was asked to do.

Work is work. For most of us, this is the simple truth.  Relationships need to be maintained. Images need to be created. Invoices need to be drawn up. So you do what you need to do. So, when offered a room smaller than most suburban bedrooms for your ‘studio’ you have to simply smile, assure your client and do the work.

There are few options for creative lighting in a space like this. But you do what you do, keeping it simple and
creating the images your client needs. 

For this particular assignment, I had room for one light, and one light is fine. Add a reflector and you’re ok. Yes, there were more grandiose lighting plans among my hopes for this shoot, but in the end creativity must bow to necessity.

So the Photek Softlighter was placed on a stand and quite near the subject, simply because there was no room for any other option. There was one place to stand, and the subject had one place to sit. In the end, what more do you need?

One light is the light of masters. You know - Rembrandt, and all of those dudes. So one light can work and work well. In this case, it was necessary, but keeping it simple is rarely a bad thing.

-Shelton Muller

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

What is the 'Reality' of the Situation?

Images are created first in the mind, with the camera and the computer the tools that simple enable their final creation
When the light leaves you with little opportunity, its always good to
have a Steve holding a flash on a stand. Thanks Steve!
What is asked of the wedding photographer? In this age, that answer is not an easy one to define. Each image created has ten thousand options that can be applied to it; both within the moment of capture and then also during its post capture processes.

For many photographers, the idea of altering an image drastically removes the fundamental truth of the image and the wedding day itself. Their job, as they see it, is to record the event as it truly was, with minimal in-camera technique and very little post process alteration. For other photographers, it is quite the opposite.

Many of us will probably fall somewhere between these two options, and decide image-by-image as to the final outcome of each. The newcomer will be tempted to go a little overboard with the processing, often because of their inexperience at in-camera creativity. Lens perspective, depth of field, metering and composition will often be overlooked in the moment of capture with the hope of ‘saving’ the image, or at least creating it, in post. Those with more experience will breathe a little more, and think on their feet just a few moments longer. They are not about quantity, but quality. So their cameras work perhaps don't work as hard as those of their less experienced counterparts who may try to create a quality through quantity process.

Images are created first in the mind. They are foggy, mysteriously swirling blobs of inspiration that come to fruition either in a moment of epiphany and genius or through a long process of capture and post process.

The difference between the reality and the end result was the reason for the work that went into this series of images from Reuben andRachael’s wedding. The light was flat, shapeless and uninteresting, but the clouds were beautiful. The homestead backdrop was potentially overwhelming. The couple was nervous, but willing. Applying flash, deliberate underexposure of the ambient light and some work in Lightroom was the process that changed the foggy, mysteriously swirling blobs of inspiration into the images that came from these few minutes of shooting.  

-Shelton Muller

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Reuben and Rachael's Wedding

Reuben and Rachael lit with flash, shoot through umbrella.
Reuben and Rachael lit with flash,
shoot through umbrella. CTO Gel.
Weddings in May in Melbourne are always fraught with the potential for a mix of weather, unless of course you are given an entire day of gorgeous light, or endless drizzle. Thankfully, Rachael and Reuben’s wedding was a mixed day, with little in the way of drizzle to worry about.

Tash and I love to work with flash, and we love to work independently of each other while simultaneously uniting to collaborate on the images and the ideas. One of us will usually shoot close with a wide angle, and the other with the 70-200 – usually at 2.8. For many of these images, I was connected to the flash via PocketWizards. The flash was fired through a white umbrella, often with a CTO gel to warm the image, contrasting it with the rather cool daylight that was given us that day.

For their wedding formals, Rachael and Reuben managed to obtain permission to use a heritage listed homestead used for the movie, NedKelly, and it was a wonderful location. I would have loved to have had more time – indeed, an entire day – to fully utilize this secret part time movie set.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Holy Cheap Lighting Batman! Its the Batlight!

Bianca poses in her livingroom, the Batlight held above her face, just out of frame.
I am not one for hardware stores. To me, they are useless places. I may as well be stethoscope store or an astronaut's outlet. I am not the home handyman type. So large hardware outlets like Bunnings are not my kind of place. However, they do have cheap AA batteries in large quantities. So...I go. A few months back I was wondering through the place with my wife, trying to look all 'home handyman' and be impressive. All of a sudden we encountered a large pile of lights on special. That always takes my attention. Light is my main tool of the trade, and suddenly it seemed like Bunnings might be the place for me after all. 

These lights were on special for $27.95 and they were called Batlights. "Holy Cheap Lighting!" I said to myself as I punched one hand very Robin-like into the other. We bought one, and went on home. 
We were surprised that its colour temperature was close enough to daylight so that it could actually be used without any need for correction in post, or filtering when in use. This was a very pleasant surprise. So....we went back and bought another, eagerly looking forward to the first real opportunity for the Living in Pictures team to use it on a shoot.
Along came Mel and Travis' wedding. Their wedding was held in the height of summer and the Batlight, while quite bright, was not as useful on their wedding as we would have liked it to be. Even the indoor photography was bright. Nick and Bianca's wedding, however, was a different kettle of fish. Their wedding was more recent and with the Australian summer over, the light was softer and nowhere near as bright, especially inside. So out came the batlight.

Tash holds the batlight for Bianca's indoor portrait
The Batlight has the option of opening and closing, which can focus or spread the light as you see fit. It also has a very bright spotlight option. It is rechargeable at home or in the car and the battery allows for hours of lighting. It is light, very manageable and easy to include in your photography kit.

There is much talk among photographers about Jerry Ghionis' Icelight, and so there should be. It is an incredibly practical and creative tool that many photographers around the world are utilising for a host of different photographic assignments. However, in this humble photographer's opinon, it is also too expensive. There are about $1200 good reasons why I haven't invested in a couple of these babies yet. That's not to say they wouldn't be used. They would be. But there are many uses for a photographer's money, and at the moment, the Icelight is not among them. I have long used and taught the benefits and versatility of off-camera flash and we use it at every wedding. However, when the Batlight came into view it whispered in excited tones that we needed to own a couple and use them. I have a feeling that it will be used again...and again.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Asian Executive Cover

A relatively simply cover shot created in a difficult situation...
The image on the cover of The Asian Executive magazine is the result of perhaps the hardest and fastest ten minutes I may have ever spent shooting. It is an interesting situation into which we photographers are often thrust. You are told you have an hour to shoot the cover and you accept, wishing you had some time to get into the zone, get the photo mojo working and really work that thing. However, what happens more often than not is that when the reality actually hits, you have much, much less. This was one of those cases.
The rooftop of the parking lot where we were told to meet was not the most exotic of locations. Neither did it afford us quite the view we were all hoping for. The concept of the image did not in any way meet the realities that were possible. Add to that the reduced time you finally have to create the shot and you can be glad you have been doing this for a very long time.
What does it come down to? For the photographer, it is a matter of getting the image firmly implanted in your mind and working quickly but thinking slowly until it is in the camera. That is easier said than done and it is not the best way to work.
Tash and I work as a well-oiled team, and when it comes down to it we just get into the process, each knowing what to contribute, what to do and what to suggest, leave in or leave out. 
Me? I was on the ground with the Nikon D800 and the Nikkor VR70-200 using the lens at full telephoto to compress the subject with the background. Tash was out of frame with a stand mounted Nikon SB24 connected to a Pocket Wizard. The 36MP resolution of the D800 certainly impresses a client, and the off camera flash gave us a fighting chance with some interesting light on an otherwise dull and lifeless day.
In the end, the client was impressed - not only with the images we produced but also the calm, humorous and engaging way we dealt with his client. So, that being the case, we have just now finished the shoot for the next cover of this magazine and will blog about it soon. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Beauty and the Beasts

David Harris, Patrice Lipoki and Rob (Millsy) Mills will be performing at Melbourne Zoo next week! 

Hello Blog! Its been a while. Nice to be back!

Last week, Living in Pictures (that's Tash and me) were commissioned to capture some publicity photographs ofthe upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast, a performance which will be taking place at Melbourne Zoo on the 26th and 27th of January. Yes..that's this Sunday and Monday. So together, Katherine McPherson, Adam Lowe and our three stars - David Harris, Patrice Lipoki and Rob Mills braved the 40+C heat to create some images for publicity. Working with professional people like this is always gratifying. They let nothing get in the way and they continue despite the conditions. The heat was intense, and it had been for days. Imagine then, how wonderful their performances will be!To book for this performance of Beauty and the Beast, click here.  Its going to be a great show, and the price of the tickets is extremely reasonable. We will see you there!

David Harris being Beastly with the King of Beasts!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Another Photographer Gets Married....

It was our distinct pleasure to photograph the beautiful wedding of Travis and Melissa. Once again, it is the wedding of a fellow photographer, and so the honour is even heightened. When photographers ask you to photograph their weddings, there are fewer compliments they could pay you that would honour your work more. After all, your wedding is a 'day of days and entrusting it to another photographer is a decision based on everything they already know about the process through their own experience. So...thanks Mel!

Melissa and Travis were married at Currabilli, a beautiful mansion overlooking the oceans of Torquay.
Knowing as she does the workings of a wedding day, Melissa chose to have their wedding photography mostly taken care of before the ceremony. That meant a shoot at our leisure with fewer, if any, time constraints. So once the ceremony was done, we had family groups to photograph and a few spontaneous images from their very casual but elegant reception.
Thank you Travis and Melissa! We had fun! 

Monday, April 01, 2013

Breaking our Own Mold - Mark and Jessica's Beautiful Wedding

Backlit with flash and using a Nikkor 70-200 VR at f2.8, this image was also
made possible because of the creative input of this beautiful couple. Props,
combined with their desire to a very important part of the creative process
made images such as these possible on a wedding day that could have
otherwise been very difficult.
Photographing a wedding is always a daunting and wonderful task - no matter who you are or how many weddings you have captured over the years. It is an honour to be given the one and only opportunity to capture a couple’s wedding day, and therefore daunting in its impact of personal responsibility. Tash and I will approach each wedding individually, but admittedly our combined visual style is apparent in each.

Then along came Jessica and Mark. What a wonderful couple! We were looking very much forward to photographing their wedding – for personal and creative reasons. Mark and Jessica are friends of the family and it was an honour for us to capture their dream day and all of the love surrounding them – so much of which was our own.

It is only a natural part of our service to ask a couple what kind of images they prefer. This doesn’t mean that we don’t know what we are doing, but every photographer can adapt for their customers. From a photographer's perspective it also allows for growth. It doesn’t mean a complete departure from their skill set or visual style, but only a more predominant approach within their style that suits their customers. When Mark and Jessica indicated their preferences of images using examples of wedding images they liked, well…we kinda took a double take. Why? Well, how do I put this?…We didn’t like the images they presented. When that happens, what do you do then?

Combining the creative vision of our couple with our own
style, this image was alse made possible with a LensBaby
Edge80, which I personally love to use as often as I can
at a wedding. 
Well....we were honest. You have to be, don’t you? We told them that while we didn’t feel that our style matched what they showed us, we would nonetheless do our best to shoot this way – but to add our unique talent set and visual style to them.  Having seen our wedding images, they agreed to place their trust in our abilities and we agreed to step outside ourselves. It was a challenge for the two of us to remember what we had to do, to deliberately alter our methods and styles and produce images that were out of our genre. But it was a great exercise, and we appreciate the growth it brought to us also. For me? I was able to get out the LensBaby Edge80 I have been dying to work with so much! Thanks Mark! Thanks Jessica! 

Their wedding day was a mixture of weather patterns too. There was heat. Then there were clouds. Then there was downpour. Then there was warmth again. Photographers who are unable to work with these unpredictable conditions will suffer the consequences of this inability – as will their clients. Tash and I took each stage in our stride and instead of working against the weather, worked with each as a creative opportunity. Thank you Mark and Jessica for being our teachers, our friends and a beautiful couple whose creative input and dedication to the acquisition of props made for a creative collaboration!

To see a gallery from this wedding, click here.

A brave bride and groom made this image possible. Thanks Mark and Jessica
braving the weather and bringing an umbrella!
Image: Natasha Muller

Friday, December 28, 2012

Sunset over Pushkar

Camels mirror each other in the setting sun as I run to compose symmetrically. Nikon D700, Tamron 28-75 f2.8.
End of day, Pushkar. Nikon D700, Nikkor 70-200 at
200mm f2.8
Life changes, and each stage of my career is bringing with it new lessons and opportunities. These days, much of the work I am doing is governed by privacy ethics and laws and so my blogging has taken a down turn - as some of you may have noticed. And yet, today, during this usual lull at the end of every year, I find myself sorting through tens of thousands of images, hundreds of directories and a history of photography that I am proud to call mine. So, starting with this post, I think I am going to revisit my images and present their stories to you as often as I can.

So, lets start with India....

These images were taken at the famed Pushkar Camel Festival. At the time I was running a photographic tour for an old friend in the industry, Darran Leal. Darran's company, World Photo Adventures, is one the best in the business if you want an unforgettable and educational photographic experience. India was an experience I will never forget - on almost every possible human level.

Walking through this festival, a festival at which tens of thousands of camels are bought and sold, there are photographs at every turn. The camels, their owners, the buyers, their families, the dusty landscape, the colourful culture - the list is endless. You are in a dusty, hot, overcrowded photography heaven. Documenting an event like this is difficult enough as video at 25 frames per second. One image at a time is even more difficult.The problem is not 'what do you take?' but rather 'when do you stop taking?'. 

This in itself poses a problem - the problem of prioritising. When you are in a situation in which there is just too much to photograph, it becomes a case of 'what to leave in and what to leave out'. Once you have eradicated the 'what to leave out' aspect, the 'what to leave in' is challenge enough, but less so. So what do you leave out?' To me, that answer then becomes about light. If the light is not in any way complimentary to the image, then leave it out - epecially when there are thousands of potential images complimented by great light. 

Returning the festival in the late afternoon, the light becomes more workable and interesting, complimenting each image with warmth along with more manageable highlight and shadow details. In these conditions, everywhere you point your camera suddenly assumes more natural capture potential - especially in a place like Pushkar and an event like the Camel Fair.

Working with two cameras, each armed with a completely different focal length made the decisions and the process easier. So, the first port of call is the lens choices. To maximise the opportunities, I chose a wide angle to medium Tamron 28-75 f2.8 on one body and a 70-200 f2.8 zoom on the other.

Because I prefer to produce images to the degree possible in camera, metering was manual, which is my usual preference. look, watch, point and wait for the moment. Conversely, you see and grab. There is no formula. You just get what you can - cursing when you miss, chimping when you hit. The chimping compensates for the cursing until after a while you realise that you are capturing images you have dreamed of taking since you were a boy who dreamed of traveling afar, camera in hand. When that realisation hits, you stop, take a breath of gratitude and continue your quest. There is no room for cursing or regret over any allegedly 'lost' images or opportunities. Right here, right now...this is the opportunity. Just concentrate, and enjoy. After all, you may never be here again.

Bred for warfare and known for their inward turning ears, a Marwari Stallion becomes too hard
handle at  a Festival designed for a less noble beast of burden...

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tracy and Simon's Beautiful Wedding

Tracy and Simon backlit with flash on the bridge at Lyrebird Falls.

Hello Blog!
Hello Readers!
We recently had the pleaure of photographing Simon and Tracy’s wonderful wedding. The honour it would be  to capture their wedding first became known to us when our friend, Greg Earl asked us if we were available on that upcoming November day. Naturally our answer was “yes”!  Meeting Simon and Tracy at their initial interview just sealed the deal.

Tracy poses for the light on the stairs in her home...

Yeah…frankly..they’re awesome.

Their wedding took place at LyreBird Falls, in the heart of the Dandenongs. Surrounded by lush, verdant rainforests, this beautiful venue offers photographers some creative opportunities. Combine that with a young couple who love photographs – plus the time given to create them  - and you have the makings of a great wedding – photographically speaking. Hey…either way  it was a great wedding! Its just that we photographers view everything from our image-making perspectives….

We had the pleasure of staying on for the reception and enjoying a lovely meal, some great company, a few hearty laughs and the chance to enact ‘The Grease Megamix” with Tracy on the dance floor. What a hoot!

For a gallery of images from Tracy and Simon's wedding, go to our Living in Pictures blog here.

Thank you so much, Simon and Tracy. It was a distinct pleasure to photograph your wedding!

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

An Afternoon with Stephen Sondheim...

Stephen Sondheim relates his anecdotes to an enthusiastic audience...

Geoffrey Rush joined in the fun...
It was our privilege recently to photograph an event that proved interesting in various ways. With "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" currently running at Her Majesty's Theatre here in Melbourne, the event was held to honour the visit of Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music for this comedy. Stephen Sondheim required no introduction to the thousand thespians and fawning fans who gathered to hang with hands clasped on his every word. And words there were. He delivered some very interesing insights and humourous anecdotes about his work - insights on "West Side Story", "Gypsy", "Sunday in the Park with George", "Into the Woods" and many others. It was an interesting afternoon. Even Geoffrey Rush turned up to join in the fun! 

So here we were, Tash and I, once again roaming the darkness of Her Majesty's Theatre for yet another set of performance shots and some obligatory pre and post-performance group photographs. The difficult thing about that was that Mr Sondheim is not one to have his photograph taken - something we were reminded of by everyone who was involved. But, we have all faced that haven't we? 

Mr Sondheim's averseness to photography was further made very apparent after the first song performance. Naturally, we were doing our best to remain discreet and silent during these songs, but the clunk of a shutter and mirror box assembly is not only ampilified by the silence of the audience, but also the acoustics of the building itself. Perhaps we need to buy some Leica M9's? I hear they are pretty quiet! Anyway....within seconds of the first song being sung and completed, Mr Sondheim requested that photographers respect the performers and not take pictures during their performances.


That request was met with the thundering applause of the 1000 or so fawning fans. But these were the same people who laughed when he said that one of his friends had been hit by a bus. So, by my guess their applause seemed to be something we perceived to be more of the usual fawning and knee-jerk reactions than a well considered response. Either way...its not easy standing in a building while 1000 or so people clap at the request that you no longer do your job.

But really? How do you respond in a situation like that?

Tash came over to me during the next minute or so and asked pretty much the same question. I suggested that Mr Sondheim could do a few things with his comment that may or may not have been physically possible - even for a younger man. But I explained that while we will do our best - which we had been doing - we don't answer to Mr Sondheim. Our obligation was to our client, and so that meant that we kept shooting. We would simply adapt our approach a little, perhaps grabbing the shot during the louder parts of the song, or that moment at the end when the song is finishing and the audience begins its applause. There is always more than one way to skin a cat. 

But in the end, with all due respect Mr Sondheim, my client dictates what I do, thank you.

The lovely Kellie Dickerson poses excitedly with an unenthusiastic Stephen Sondheim...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Keeping Up Appearances

Straight from camera, this portrait could be printed without a single stroke of Lightroom
or PhotoShop. But which camera? The latest, greatest, most expensive? 
If you have seen the classic television show of the same name as this blogpost, you will remember the situations that Mrs Bucket often found herself in because she was consumed with the notion of keeping up appearances. The truth mattered little. She needed to be accepted. She needed to be seen. She needed to look like she belonged. But with a name like 'Bucket', was that really going to be possible?

Photographers face this situation within their cultural circles also. Its sad, but its an irrefutable truth.
"What? Your lens doesn't have Vibrations Reduction!"?
"really" You don't have the 1.4? You only have the 1.8?"
"Really? You take pictures with that? Oh...mine is much newer/biggger/more technologically advanced!"

All the Gear, and No Idea
There is a saying that photographers have which I laugh at, but which I have found unfortunately true in far too many cases. "All the Gear, and no idea". I have taught and trained many hundreds of photographers over the years and far too often have I seen them turn up with thirty grand worth of gear and completely devoid of real information and understanding. That, I suppose, is where I came in as a trainer and teacher and that's perfectly fine. But the notion that expensive gear makes the photographer is definitely a myth.

And then there are those who simply will NOT learn.

I know that in years past I have been at weddings where 'Uncle Brian' has turned up with two six thousand dollar cameras, four three thousand dollar lenses, two or three one-thousand dollar flashguns and about three cents worth of ability and talent. Then, he stands in my way all the time or tries to point his lens over my shoulder during the shoot. Sorry, Brian. That's a 'no-go'.

The image above was taken recently at Tracy and Simon's wedding reception....and yes, we will be blogging that wedding soon. This portrait of Don ( I hope I have remembered his name correctly!) is straight out of camera, (except for some resizing for the blog, of course) . What camera? Our old backup Nikon D200. Yes, folks, you heard it here. A camera with 7 or 8-year old digital technology produced a jpeg like this. And yet, this jpeg - straight from camera - could be printed and accepted for quality without a single stroke of PhotoShop.

New, technologically advanced camera equipment is wonderful, but it won't make you a photographer. Its funny how we all know that, but its also funny to see the looks on photographers' faces when you pull out an old workhorse like the D200.

And yet, it can create images that were perfectly beautiful, won awards, travelled the world and shot a mean wedding in 2005. And you know what? It still can. If you are considering photography as a career, think education over gear. Armed with that education and training you will actually save money buying the right equipment first, rather than gathering your weapons only to find that you don't know the battle strategies.

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller