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Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Glamourous Life of the Professional Photographer...?

Yesterday saw me in my own backyard with a clothesline, 4 wooden clothes pegs, 4 Sticky notes and a 70-year old woman. What was I doing? I was producing a magazine cover for a long time client of mine. The clothes line, the four pegs and the sticky notes are all apparent in this image. The 70-year old woman? That's my indomitable mother who willingly acted as my assistant, holding the clothes line straight in the wind and checking that the pegs and the sticky notes were all as they should be. Thanks Mum! The cheque is in the mail!
Yes, the glamourous life of the professional photographer! No, I wasn't on a tropical island or in a large studio bustling with busy boondogglers. There were no large lighting setups, pony-tailed assistants, curvaceous swimsuit models or European sports cars to be seen anywhere. No art directors, clients or other superfluous hangers on. Just me, my Mum, a blue bed sheet and the aforementioned items. Naturally, I used my Nikon D700 and its incredible CLS off camera flash technology to provide a simple but effective lighting setup. Setting the camera on manual, I underexposed the ambient light by about two stops allowing the flash, camera left, to become the primary light source. A little bit of levels and curves with the RAW file in PhotoShop, and Voila! A cover is shot! Just don't tell the client, ok? He thinks I slaved for hours over this shot when in fact the hardest part of it was simply finding wooden clothes pegs in a plastic world!
My clients appreciate that I am able to create interesting images from simple things, using quick, reliable and simple setups that enable me to move quickly through a shoot and produce twice the amount of quality images in half the time of other photographers. That philosophy keeps me in work and maintains my place with my clients even when other young mavericks come along with their portfolios. I am happy to be known for that as it also implies a compliment to me and my skills. I suppose the years behind me have taught me how to produce images in situations that are less than favourable. Taking those lessons even into planned and less difficult shoots has gained me a reputation as a photographer who gets in and gets it done. In these economically recessive times, I think my clients will appreciate my approach.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Bride in Ruins

A long time friend in the industry, Glynn Lavender and I spent a good part of yesterday discussing plans we are making for certain business ventures for 2009. Once that was done, we grabbed our cameras and did some photography. Glynn has found some incredible old ruins in the western suburbs of Melbourne and so we decided to organise a model and do some photographs. Samantha Bennett was first to put up her hand and so she became our Bride in Ruins. 
Glynn has posted so many images of these ruins at my photographic tutorials website that it was impossible to ignore their potential for great locations. Together we used available light and even did some Strobist work, using the textures and frames of the ruins to produce some interesting images. Surprisingly, Samantha fit fairly well into the wedding dress I use for my wedding photography workshops and so it all went quite smoothly. Considering that Glynn and I have known each other for 25 years or so, it is interesting that this was the first time we had ever photographed together. Lets do it again Glynn! Now, where are all the other secret ruins you know about...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Me Doing My Thing, with a Sony A900...

As anyone who knows me will understand, I am a little one-eyed on the subject of Nikon. I love 'em!
However, that does not mean that I believe that they are the only ones who make great cameras. Its just that they work in the same way that I think.
When Camera Action in Melbourne approached me to do the Sony A900 launch a few months ago, I was happy to have a look at their latest offering and speak about it at a Melbourne Launch. I am impressed with the camera in many ways, and while it does not have the ability to produce the same 'noise free' images that my Nikon D700 will at higher ISO's, it nonetheless has a resolution to die for. Sony would argue that higher ISO's are not needed as much due to its incredible Steady Shot technology, which I was (in all honesty!) quite amazed by. Along with their Zeiss Lenses, the Sony A900's ability to produce incredibly high quality images is quite astounding. Below is an excerpt from the video of the evening.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another Creative People Photography Workshop

This past Saturday had me back at Montsalvat for yet another Creative People Photography workshop. I love Montsalvat as a location. I love photographing people and I love running workshops. So all in all you could say it was a fabulous day.
The light was interesting on Saturday. The recent fires in this state have changed the sky into a large hazy brown softbox. The light of early morning and late afternoon was particularly warm and soft.
Croydon Camera House were my agents for this workshop and it was great to have my son along as well. Nathan has a great eye for photography and our Father/Son roadtrip through Canada in October 2006 revealed his talents to me. But he hasn't had much experience photographing people.
After today's workshop I think he has found the very thing he enjoys photographing the most. Mind you, Charmaine was an attractive girl, so that helps! More than that, she was a lot of fun to work with and that makes the day more enjoyable for everyone.
Once again, I endeavoured to bring home to the attendees the simple principles that enable great portraits and people pictures. I taught them my three simple mantras for people photographs and showed them why and how they work. The group enjoyed their day very much and each of them went home with some great portraits. The most important thing is that they are now able to take these kinds of images themselves. For me, that is perhaps the greatest reward.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Face Retouching Techniques

One of the great challenges for portrait, glamour and and wedding photographers ( among others ) is facial retouching. Where do you start, and at what point do you stop? 
Some of the magazine covers we see show images of faces that are beautifully retouched. Some are ridiculous, impossible. 
The art of retouching has been around since the inception of photography. Before that, painters made sure to blur the lines between reality and complimentary. In these portraits of Belinda, a rather beautiful bridesmaid who hated having her photo taken, I have used a few techniques that I believe were complimentary without taking away or distracting from the reality of her near perfect features. 
The first image is from the camera, untouched, uncropped. I shot this image with my Nikon D700 and my Nikkor 85mm lens. 

The second image has been retouched in PhotoShop. 

First of all, I cropped the image slightly. 
Then, I removed some small blemishes using the heal tool. 
Then, using a soft paintbrush with an opacity and flow of about 15 each, I softly painted over the hot spots on her forehead and nose with a sample of colour taken from her skin. 
Then, using the burn tool, I whitened her eyes a little. 
Then, back to the paintbrush. Using white, I softly painted over the catchlights in her eyes to highlight them a little more. 
Finally, I made a duplicate layer and applied Surface Blur to her face. Surface Blur retains sharpness in the edges. It does not create the haloed effect of Gaussian Blur. I set my Surface Blur settings to about 15 for radius and 15 for Threshold. Then I changed the opacity settings between the top layer which had the Surface Blur effect and the sharp layer beneath to about 66 percent. 
Flatten and Save. 
What are your thoughts? Too much, or too little?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Victorian Bushfires

Still Standing

The world has no doubt been made aware of the bushfires that have ravaged this beautiful state of Victoria, leaving over 750 homes destroyed, hundreds of thousands of hectares of land burnt and charred and nearly 200 precious lives lost. It is without doubt one of Australia's saddest times. My heart goes out to all those who have lost much this past weekend, especially to those who have lost friends and family in this disaster. May you be granted peace and consolation.
My sister and her family live in the Yarra Valley and had their property ravaged by fire. Thankfully their house was saved and they suffered no damage to their health in any way. They lost a watertank and fencing and their pastures are blackened from the fire that raced mercilessly across their property.Their two beautiful Friesian horses, their sheds and their home were not damaged in any real way. But it came very close.
This image (above) gives you some idea just how close they came to losing their home...

My son, Nathan and I went up there as soon as we could. I live about an hour and a quarter away from my sister so we were already at a disadvantage. Arriving in the district, we had to sweet talk our way through roadblocks that would let us pass so we could access the area to help in whatever way we could. Naturally by the time we were able to get through the worst of the fires had passed, leaving its black scar on the landscape and its contents. The photojournalist in me also could not help but photograph what time allowed me to capture.
By the side of the road we saw homes, completely destroyed, others spared by only metres from imminent destruction. Near roadside fences we saw bloated and burnt livestock so heated in the passing cataclysm that their contents literally exploded from inside them. There were calves still in their amniotic sacs that had literally burst through the skins of their dying mothers. I had never seen the like of it before. The image posted above is among the least offensive I could have placed. There are others I felt would have been to much for some to see. They must have suffered so terribly.
The title image to this post is of my sister's family home, still standing. The smoky sunset over it was a perfect context of light to take the image above that begins this post. I felt was a testament to their hard work and bravery of my sister, her husband, her two sons and one of their girlfriends as they fought together to save the house, my niece and her baby who huddled inside and themselves. I wish I could have been there to see it and to fight alongside. I believe it would have been a moment I would have been very proud of and remind me of the honour it is to be a member of my amazing family.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

In Front of the Camera for a Change

I have not long returned from a few days in Sydney. It was lovely to wake up and hear the waves roll in on Manly beach. But more importantly, I was there to do some work for long time clients. As a photographer, I am usually found behind the camera, with one eye in the viewfinder. However, the last few days has seen me in front of the camera for a change. How is this possible you ask? How can someone who is clearly designed for radio actually be in front of the camera? Well, its like this you see...
I have been invited to be the host of some upcoming E-Learning tutorials on the web. This is indeed an honour and I am so pleased to be involved. I highly esteem any opportunity to impart knowledge about photography, knowing from what humble beginnings my own photography career sprang. I also love the rewards of teaching and the joy that enabling others to enjoy their photography and succeed in their images brings to my own heart. These tutorials will soon be on the web and I will give you more information as it comes to hand and becomes more public. For the moment, though, I am so pleased to tell you that it is happening and that I am honoured to be a part. Watch this space for more information.For more online photography tutorials, click here

A Simple Affair

Jordan and Oleysia's wedding was a relatively simple affair. There were only around 20 guests, a groomsman, a bridesmaid and of course - the couple. I had been recommended to them by a friend and so I received the call. Jordan told me I was only needed for about three hours to cover the ceremony, a few quick family group photographs and then a few photographs of them as a couple. They sounded like a lovely couple and I wanted to help. I am glad I did. I had a ball!
We wound up at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens for a few quick traditional images, and then on to the St Kilda pier for a few more photographic opportunities. Jordan told me that they were a conservative couple, although once we got into the photography Oleysia really got into the fun of it all. Jordan did too, which surprised me as he is a soft spoken and conservative young man. Because it is always a priority of mine to ensure the couple are having fun, Jordan was able to relax and simply enjoy the photo session. 
When we finished at the pier, it was on to Riva, a restaurant at the St Kilda Marina where the reception was being held. Oleysia wanted to use the area where there was a fountain and some tall palms as a setting for some photographs. By this time she was really enjoying the photo session, spurred on no doubt by having seen some images I had already taken that impressed both of them.  So, using off camera flash and the palms, as a backdrop, I dropped to the ground and took some unexpected images of Oleysia dancing to her own music. It was too much fun! Thanks to both of you for a fun morning's work!

Philip and Dianne's wedding

Last Saturday I had the distinct pleasure of photographing Philip and Dianne's wedding. Once again I was accompanied by friend and fellow photographer, Richard Annable. For some inexplicable reason, Richard loves to come to my weddings and assist for me. And the wonderful thing is, he is at doing so and acts as a fabulous second shooter.

Philip and Dianne both got ready at the same place, a beautiful property in Kangaroo Ground. We had plenty of time before the actual wedding to photograph the couple together. From a photography standpoint, I think this is a great idea. While many couples would prefer the traditional approach in which the groom does not get to see his bride before she stands at the end of a long aisle, the pre-ceremony photography session has serious advantages to the couple in terms of their photography. The photographer is fresher and more energetic and the couple still looks fabulous. The makeup is still fresh, the couple have not been through the sometimes arduous process of a ceremony and there are no other people around to distract them. It is a process I would recommend to all couples for whom photographs are more important than tradition.
Well done Phillip and Dianne.
Congratulations to you both and thank you for the honour of granting me your wedding photography.

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller