Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Dangerous Dragons (and Dungeons) Postcards

I was hiking up the trail from Purcell’s Cove towards Tea Lake for a Dungeons and Dragons themed shoot when a cold fog quickly descended upon me. The forecast didn’t call for fog and it was bright and sunny in the parking lot only 5 minutes earlier. I crested a hill and descended down out of the fog into a small clearing by a stream.

I spied a woman dressed up as an elf. “Ah,” I said, “you must be here for the D&D shoot?”

“I know not of what you speak, Dungeon Master.” she replied. “I am Jade The Elf Mage. We have been waiting for you to show up for some time! We are trapped by a warlock’s binding spell and have need to move forward.”

“I love models who really get into character!" I exclaimed. "And who are we?"

“There is Lara The Bow Elf standing on the path. Ingrid The Warrior Elf is practicing with her sword over there. Yon human warrior is called Sara, and Alex, a human mage, is out scouting the perimeter of the binding spell.” replied Jade.

“Too cool,” says I, “may I take your picture?”

“If capturing our souls will help us move forward then do so, but hurry up about it!' Jade said, and then paused to consider. "Pray tell, what will you do with our souls when you have successfully captured them?”

“Well, I’ll put them in a slide show on Flickr or maybe on my website. It depends upon how they turn out. Here, help me set up my flashes.”

“What is this strange magik? Is this some sort of portable sun? This could be just what I need to break the binding spell!”

“You mean you haven’t tried to use a sa’ angreal? I may be mixing up my fantasy stories here, but that would amplify your powers greatly and would easily break this clumsy spell. Of course you might get a bit motion sick from using it”.

“ A sa’ angreal? You mean like how I used my uncle's skull to draw lighting from the sky at the Battle of the Well? He was indeed a very powerful elf mage and the residual magik in his skull added to my powers enormously. I shall summon his skull immediately”.

Jade stretched her arms skyward and began chanting a spell, although she sounded more like a teenager asking her dad for the car keys.

Suddenly a skull appeared in her hand! “Step closer, oh Dungeon Master”, she said. “I have need of the power locked in your portable suns”.

I set up my Nikon SB900, SB800, and SB26 in a classic rim and key formation, with a gridded snoot on the key. The key was on a voice-activated light stand and feathered just so to hit her face and the skull. The real sun peaked through the trees for a bit of top lighting.

Jade glared at the skull and began chanting again. I guess the cars keys didn't come with the skull or maybe elf mages have graduated licenses. I don't know how much my portable suns helped, but suddenly, everything began to swirl and rotate.

“It’s working!” she cried “Everyone, prepare yourselves for battle! The binding spell is weakening and we know not what is on the other side!”

I glanced around me and sure enough, these guys were getting ready to rumble, vortex or no vortex.

“Thank-you, Dungeon Master!” exclaimed Jade “For you have allowed us to break this terrible spell and move forward, gaining significant experience points in the process!”

“Sure thing.” I said, as the cold fog descended upon us once again. “Just make sure you sign these model releases before you go.”

Lighting notes: 3 flashes all on 1/4 power (varied distance to hit the exposures). Usually two behind for rim light and one in the front for key. ISO 200, f5.6 to f10, and varied shutter speed from 1/15 to 1/200 to darken ambient to suit, or, drag the shutter to create the whirl effect (hence the variation in f-stop). VALS and creative input courtesy of Stefano (thanks!), to feather up a grid snooted flash to hit the face in some of the shots. Jade's and Lara's headshots done with a diffuser placed very close to the face, no flash.

Thanks go to Jade, Alex, Lara, Sara, and Ingird for patient modeling. Thanks also to Traverse and Angela for the creative shoot idea. Special thanks to Morrigan LeFay's Mystical Gifts for supplying some of the costumes and props!

In case the embedded reference to the Flickr slide show was too vague, the link is here to all of my shots from this shoot.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Past Postcards

We had a show and tell at the local camera club the other night and I showed a couple of shots from some of my shoots, and I made comment about how photographic technology has changed so much from 30 years ago (for the better). However, I think that many shooters a spoiled by the "automatic" everything on today's cameras.

Back then, film ruled. Everything was chemically processed in a lab called a "darkroom". Here is a shot of me outside the darkroom at the Sun.

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The Sun's darkroom served so many lensmen that it would get crowded inside. To help alleviate congestion, it was designed so that you washed your prints outside the darkroom (prints dropped through the hood vent in the wall after you were done with the fixer). The doorway was a light-sealed revolving door, so you could enter/exit at any time.

I said at the last HPS meeting how much technology has changed for the better. It sure has. However, there is something to be said for simplicity.

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The shot above (like all of these) was shot with a manual focus, manual meter Asahi Pentax Spotmatic with a 50 mm lens. No autofocus. No automatic exposure. No zoom lens. No high speed capture.You really had to know how to expose properly and it was all about pre-visualization. If you wanted a silhouette, like below, you had to know how many stops to underexpose your shot. No histogram on the back of the camera to clue you in.

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There were no "off camera" flashes, either. In some cases you got lucky, such as going into a theatre to do some head shots. A few kind words to the lighting director got you additional light for your work form their hot lights and the client got better shots too.

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When shooting inside, you had to pick your ISO (called ASA back then) and stick to it. Sometime you got luck with the noise (called grain).

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And sometimes you didn't get lucky with the grain, but if you got the moment timed properly you kept the shot no matter what the grain was like. Without a motorwind (whcih were used mostly by sports shooters), you had to pick your time very carefully.

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In the shot above, Shah (with the knife) was demonstrating a martial art move and cut open Zuma's chest. I knew the move was coming and waited for it. Still, I was lucky to get the "decisive moment". BTW, Shah cut open Zuma's chest, but Zuma's shirt was not cut at all. How he did that, I still do not know.

One thing that doesn't change is that you still have to work with the subjects to get a photo of interest that can be used by the photo editor.

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Of course 30 years later, these photos are now out of context.

I give Mike, a shooter at the club a (jokingly) hard time about his Pentax, but Pentax was long a leader in the field. Asahi established much of the form for the 35mm SLR (and hence todays DSLR) with the Pentax when they introduced it.

Besides, it's not what you have that counts, its what you do with it that really matters.


Wednesday, 8 September 2010


Grindhouse is an American film genre that is a little on the graphic side and not something I would normally photograph. It is always good to stretch yourself every now and then so I signed up for the shoot anyway. I can now reaffirm that this is really not my genre and I have no idea how guys like Quentin Tarantino can be as creative as they are with this as a subject matter.

As a subtle play on words from the "graphic" nature of the genre, I had the idea to be very visually "graphic", (think line art or even cartoon) as my concept for this shoot. I wanted to shoot high, contrasty shots that I could process into "graphic" images, so I shot an SB900 straight on a light stand using CLS, and usually put the stand to the left or from behind, and used an SB800 on CLS Master 1 stop below the SB900 for fill. I was looking for shadows and wanted to pop the texture of the cement walls. I then took them into CS5 and processed for high contrast and low saturation.

Our models were Stefano, Melanie, Angela, and Stephen. They did an awesome job of keeping up with a gaggle of photographers and contributing ideas on the fly. Anyone want to mess with this lady?

A Flickr slide show of a selection of images from the shoot is here.


Saturday, 4 September 2010

Pearson Postcards (7): Odd's N' Sods

This is my last Pearson Postcards post. It has taken longer to post all of my shots because I manually process my photos. Also, no-one sends "postcards" without writing a little something on the back, so I wanted to make sure I had some of the back story for the shots for those who were not able to make the reunion. I have a small “odd’s and sod’s" collection of postcards from the reunion, such as this shot of the whalebones in the chemistry classroom.

There were a lot of activities for us to participate it, from just hanging around outside playing,

to paddling on the water.

When I was at the College, the Director's house was unofficially off limits, so I don't have any photos from the area around there. David, the current Director, has a different style and he and Leisa are very welcoming. This was a great opportunity to set up for a self-portrait behind their house looking out Pedder Bay.

Taking your own photo is a bit like being at the scene of an accident; people stop and look.

And soon, more people show up.

And before you know it, everyone is there and you end up with a group shot!

A small slide show of these and some of the other odd shots is below.

The large slide show on Flickr is here.

That wraps up my “Pearson Postcards” . You can visit the others here:

Pearson Postcards (6) is here
Pearson Postcards (5) is here.
Pearson Postcards (4) is here.
Pearson Postcards (3) is here.
Pearson Postcards (2) is here.
Pearson Postcards (1) is here.


Pearson Postcards (6): 1,000 Acres

Thirty years ago, the Pearson College forestry service was involved in a project that we called “1,000 Acres”. The “thousand acres” reference was to the amount of land (more or less) that the YMCA had at Camp Thunderbird, a kid’s summer camp. Under the guidance of a volunteer forester, Mark Atherton, we spent many a Saturday out cutting down trees on the YMCA land. The plan was to thin out the trees so that the ones left would be able to grow faster and healthier. Trees do not grow over night, so it would take years to see any benefit from our work. As soon as I signed up for the 30th reunion, I started working on a 30th “1,000 Acres” reunion!

I dropped a note to Brian Haddon and John Pineau at the Forestry Chronicle to see if they could track down the article that Mark co-wrote in 1981 on the project. Within 24 hours, they had found it and e-mailed it out to me! The two-page article is below and will give you a good idea about what the project was all about. If you have trouble reading them, go here and here (also here and here) to see larger versions.

Scanned Document

the forestry chronicle index copy

Deanna Cuthbert tracked down Mark and Mark went back to Camp Thunderbird to see if he could locate the areas where we had worked. He found them, and we arranged to meet him and Brian Domney at Pearson. Brian is writing about the project in the Metchosin local news. “We” were Karin, Janice, and Carolyn, shown here with Mark in the parking lot of Camp Thunderbird.

We hiked a short ways up the trail to where we used to work. The trees are noticeably further apart than when we worked, and I would never have found the area on my own.

Mark pointed out one of the stumps from a tree we had felled 30 years ago.

He also took a core sample from one of the remaining trees so we could see if there has been any positive affect due to our work.

You cannot see from this photo, but the growth rings in this tree are more widely spaced starting about 30 rings (or years) back. This would seem to indicate that the work done did indeed have a positive affect.

The remaining trees grew faster because fewer trees means less competition for the resources necessary for life, starting with the available light up in the forest canopy. Mark’s opinion on the current state of the forest is that there could be even more work done to thin things out a bit more.

After a pause to celebrate our work with a “rock group” pose, we were off further up the trail.

We reached the look out, where we did take advantage of the view before returning down the trail and to a nice cold beer at the 17 Mile House Pub.

Pearson Postcards (7) is here.
Pearson Postcards (6) is here
Pearson Postcards (5) is here.
Pearson Postcards (4) is here.
Pearson Postcards (3) is here.
Pearson Postcards (2) is here.
Pearson Postcards (1) is here.


Pearson Postcards (5): No Talent

Max Bell Hall
We held a "non-talent" show in the Max Bell Hall one night. The Max Bell Hall is a cavern and it can be a real black hole for a photographer. I really struggled with shooting there when I was a student, but with 30 years of experience under my belt, I was looking forward to grabbing a few “snaps”.

Thanks to Al Sande, we were able to “broadcast” the show to others who were not able to make the reunion. David set up a small projector and screen off to the side of the stage, which allowed the “in-person” audience to see the “on-line” audience chatting. As you can see from this shot, not everything was working quite to specification. Still, I think the concept is great and with a little careful planning and the right technology, it could work quite well. If you cannot read the text on the shot below, click here for a larger photo.

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The “in –person” audience was in a much better position to appreciate the exceptional non-talent at the show.

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Beatriz did a magic act where she demonstrated her psychotic psychic ability.

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However, she is much better at dancing, and after much pleading with Andrew, she finally got him up on stage.

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They really “cut up the rug”, as we say in Newfoundland.

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Allison talked about the current situation at the college.

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Continuing with the “financial" theme, we had the Esperanto High Fliers Business Consulting Unit present their findings for David.

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David listened intently. He was either (a) very intent on gleaning as much as he could from the presentation, or (b) wondering how he was going to justify those high priced EHFBCU consultants to the Board of Trustees.

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I mentioned that the Max Bell Hall can be a black hole for a photographer. This shot of Lene and Carolyn singing on stage is an example of what I mean.

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To grab shots of the performers, you typically have to shoot at a very high ISO and get and right in their face, as in this shot of the Patry family magic act.

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I could go on and on, but instead, here is a small slide show:

A larger version of the slide show is here on Flickr.

Pearson Postcards (7) is here.
Pearson Postcards (6) is here
Pearson Postcards (5) is here.
Pearson Postcards (4) is here.
Pearson Postcards (3) is here.
Pearson Postcards (2) is here.
Pearson Postcards (1) is here.