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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Beautiful Wedding of Nav Sandhu and Georgia Main

The wedding of Nav Sandhu and Georgia Main.
The piano at Bram Leigh is a favourite with
photographers. This is my take on it....
A few years ago I was traveling home from an interstate shoot and sitting next to me was a very friendly young woman. Her name was Georgia and she was very friendly, intelligent and conversational. As 'we spoke of many things, fools and kings'...we naturally we talked about our work. I may have happened to mention that I was a photographer....

Well, on Saturday, Tash and I, aka Living in Pictures,  photographed her wedding.  Yes, on Saturday, the lovely Grace Kelly-esque Georgia Ellen Main married the very debonair and incredibly handsome Navjeet Sandhu, known affectionately to us as 'Nav'.

Hmmm... I wonder if his friends call him "NavMan" or "The Nav-Igator"?....

Ok. I'll quit while I'm ahead.

Our assistant for the day was Frankston-based photographer, Richard Ingram. Richard is an old (as in 'long time', not aged) Creative Photo Workshops friend/customer who had asked if he could come along on a wedding with us one day. Well, this was the day, and we were glad to have him along. Richard was an invaluable assistant and we were truly glad he was there for us. Choosing an assistant for a wedding day is not something you take lightly as they can very easily ruin your reputation. Their behaviour, work ethic and general demeanour can make or break the day. The last thing you want to worry about is your assistant. But were awesome, mate! Thank you!

Hey, even my mother-in-law came to help out at the reception....and she was awesome too....Thanks Monika!

Georgia at home, pre-ceremony.
We started our wedding as usual with pre-ceremony sessions with both parties. Richard and I started with Nav and the boys, while Tash went on ahead to start the pre-ceremony preparation shoot with Georgia. Then, Richard and I met up with her at Georgia's home, continued the shoot and followed the bride and her entourage of bridesmaids to the ceremony. 

The wedding was held from ceremony to reception at Bram Leigh Receptions, a beautiful wedding venue that has seen some wonderful refurbishments and improvements in the last few years. I hadn't photographed a wedding there in some time, and it was a noticeable improvement under the new management. The ceremony was lovely, filled with laughter and emotion. The shoot itself was a little brief for our liking, and I would always advise couples to allow more time than they usually do for photography. After all, we don't come cheap, so you may as well work us hard!

But what time we did have we used to create some of the images you see here. 

The 'NavMan'...
The responsibility of wedding photography is not something you take lightly. A wedding day holds such promise, hope and joy within it that a photographer needs truly know his or her craft. They need to be always ready, always a step or two ahead, always thinking, creating, preparing and enjoying. 

And yet, at the same time I am not sure that any photographer is always 100% happy with the results from any wedding. There is always that shot you missed, that pose that is slightly wrong or the opportunities that time would simply not allow to come to fruition. 

That said, wedding photographers need to work as hard as possible, past exhaustion if necessary, to honour the role that they have been asked to fulfill and the craft they purport to know and offer. Wedding photographers are problem solvers, diplomats, acrobats, comedians, therapists, flower arrangers, tailors and yes...even image makers. Their role on a wedding day is to be what they have to be to get the work done and to provide the bride and groom with the best experience possible on the day, followed with the best images they can create and supply. It is an honourable profession, but one which, in my opinion, too many quixotic neophytes are seeing as a chance for an easy buck, much to the detriment of the profession and the eternal chagrin of their clients.

Thank you Nav and Georgia for the honour to be a part of such a beautiful day, and for the privilege of being your photographers. We look forward to our Trash the Dress shoot when you return from your honeymoon!

One of my favourites from the day...
Georgia and her entourage at the reception...

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Success as a Photographer - How?

When the client demands an image and it presents a myriad of problems, can you still create it?
This cover of Australian Traveller required sunshine on a rainy Melbourne day.
The client doesn't care how you get it...just get it.
The client wants a sunrise, but there isn't one. The photographer
needs to impress. Can he create a sunrise when there isn't one?
I would imagine that the world holds 7 billion creative souls - or thereabouts. In saying this, I mean that all of us are creative in one way or another. It is designed in us. Its part of being human. We each express that creativity in different ways. Music, architecture, the visual arts, sculpture - and the many other means of personal expression that we are given in this life. Some are creative in a variety of ways, able to express our inner person through separate and distinct forms of art. Me? Well, I chose to channel my creative expression through the medium of photography. While I have devoted my creative time to that form of expression to enhance its success as a career, I have also spent much time expressing myself musically, although with much less success in terms of its creative outcome and none whatsoever as a career. This was my choice, and the time I am given in this life to be creative has been spent in photography. It had to be the case, as it became the form of employment that would feed my family.

We are all creative, but to succeed in creation we need to understand the science of each type of art. Musicians study the differences in sound between types of materials used for their instruments, the combinations of them, the size and build of their instruments. They study the mathematics of music and the relationships between keys and chords, melodies and harmonies. Sculptors study the grain and colour of wood and stone and the instruments they use to carve their imaginings into them. The list goes on. But this academic study of their art enables each of them to create in art form what ebbs and flows within them as a desire of expression.

In the many years I have spent teaching photography, I have often said that photography is about 5% creativity and 95% problem solving. The creativity flows naturally and uniquely within each of us. But the ability to make an image happen is only borne in the ability to see what is needed in terms of tools and techniques and the employment of them in the creative process.

While on a recent shoot for Stile220, a boutique fashion outlet in Melbourne's upmarket district of South Yarra, problem solving was 100% of the shoot, as the almost 'conveyor belt' nature of the photography required little, if any, creativity. We needed to shoot as many clothes on a mannequin as we could in the time my client's budget could afford. (Yes, building a website and adding hundreds of images to it can be a costly thing and photography is up there in the costs.) The shoot required that we set up a portable studio in the back of the shop itself and shoot clothing against a pure white backdrop. The last thing that either Tash or myself wanted to do was shoot first and fix later. It had to be as right as it could be in the camera. This also meant that we could confidently reveal to the customer the professionalism he expected to see on the backs of our cameras. There is little use in telling a customer "Look, it doesn't look so good here, but imagine it when I have fixed it!" 

A quick capture of the setup as taken with the iPhone,
and before the flashheads were elevated.
Any photographer knows that producing a pure white background in camera is not easy, and getting that established on the first night of the shoot required some real problem solving skills, considering that we were working in a very confined space. We tried two softboxes, evenly spaced across the narrow white backdrop, and it was relatively successful but inverse square laws  made the clothing very bright on the edge and a little muddy in the middle. So I thought to remove the softboxes altogether and simply bounce the light off the white ceiling. Now, the light was too bright on the top of the mannequins and too dark in the middle and closer towards the floor. So my wife came up with the 'reflector protector' idea. Essentially, we attached a large Lastolite reflector on top of two light stands and placed the flash heads higher than them so that the reflector would not actually catch any direct flash. There was about a 40cm gap between the white roll backdrop and the reflector. So, when the flash fired, the light hit the ceiling, came through the gap and bounced around merrily within the area of the white paper floor and the white reflector ceiling above the mannequin. The backdrop? A perfect, even white from top to bottom.

Voila! That done, the rest of the shoot was 'f11 and be there'.

The resulting evenness of the lighting, and about ten seconds of Lighroom
On the second night of the shoot,we simply set up the same system and shot away, taking dozens of images for our clients - each one consistently illuminated with an even white backdrop from top to bottom. The 'blinkies' on the back of the camera made sure of this. The items of clothing had texture and colour and even the white shirts stood out against the white backdrop - something which many photographers struggle to achieve in camera. 

Yes, successful photography is found in your ability to solve problems, not create pretty pictures in your head and then hope they turn out. If you are a photographer and you are reading this, ask yourself  "How much about my craft do I study academically? Do I devote time to understanding the process as much as I do in getting inspiration? If I was asked to do this shoot in this time frame under these conditions, could I have done so in camera?" Do I dream of creating images I am constantly unable to create? 

These are important questions to consider as I am always going to believe that successful photography is 5% creativity and 95% problem solving. The creative part will get your images churning in your heart and in your mind. But the skills to create them are often purely academic.

Its the coldest wedding day ever.....Can you solve the problems?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

When a KFC Family Meal is Worth More than a Photograph...apparently.

Is this what our images have been relegated to?
Yes, its an interesting title. But I have to be honest - its an interesting story, one which, as photographer, I am saddened to relate. Here is how it goes.

While we were on a shoot a couple of weeks ago, I took an incidental but rather beautiful portrait of someone who was there at the location. It was beautifully lit with studio lighting, captured in a wonderful moment and taken with 30 years of experience. Yes, it was quite lovely, even if I say so myself. Little were we to know then that it would be the last photograph taken of this person. Yes, within a couple of weeks, this person unexpectedly passed away. When this happened, we naturally got a call from the grieving family. "It is a beautiful photograph", we were told. "Its how we want to remember (this person)".  A moment like this can make a photographer feel like they have done something that has lasting and positive results. 

My wife and I have gifted our photography many times. We have often done this as an act of gratitude, or perhaps as an act of compassion. However, in this case there were reasons why this was not possible.  But there was the opportunity to reduce our price, which we did. When the woman with whom I was speaking asked me the price of a print, I reduced it significantly from our usual price and explained to her that I had done such, with compassion and sympathy. The woman then paused with apprehension, told me that she would consult with her sister about the purchase, and get back to me. Now, her reduced price for the print was being halved due to the fact that her sister was being asked to contribute. This brought the print price for each to below that of a family meal at KFC!

Knowing that the funeral was being held in the next few days, I contacted the family again, asking if she wanted to me to rush the print over so that it would be there for the actual service. I was kindly told that the portrait was not wanted. Suddenly, a photograph that allegedly meant so much became something that meant nothing at all. Why? Because it would cost her about the same as a meal at KFC. The last photograph taken of the person she loved so much, an image that honoured, dignified and beautified this person, suddenly became completely unwanted....unless it was either free, or perhaps significantly less than the price of a family meal at KFC. 

This being the case, I have to admit to feeling glad that I did not offer the print as a gift of sympathy. Gifts are hopefully appreciated. While I certainly can empathise with their loss, I find it difficult to comprehend their perspective on the worth of this beautiful and final portrait of someone they apparently loved so dearly, especially when it had become so affordable. I am left wondering what she thought the price would be? Would I just hand it over as if it required nothing to achieve, no costs and no time on my part to arrange? What would you pay for the final photograph taken - particularly one as beautiful as this - of someone you loved so much? Where will your family meal at KFC be in a year? Ten? Twenty? The portrait of your loved one would still have shone from its frame during all those years.

In a way I feel sorry for this family, whose complete lack of appreciation has cost them this memory of their lost loved one. And then, on the other hand, I am saddened and insulted on  behalf of the person who has died. 
While my heart goes out to the family as a result of their loss, all I can say to them with regard to this precious photograph, I suppose, is....'Enjoy your chicken'.

-Shelton Muller

The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller