Friday, 9 October 2009

Portable Lightning

The significance of equipment is impossible to overstate. It is of course possible to take as good a photograph with a bad 35mm film camera as it is with a top-of-the-range DSLR, but ultimately what good equipment does it raise your strike-rate dramatically, even if often quality drops with new equipment as the photographer is required to learn how to best use them. I began this week with a single Canon 580EX ii flash unit, with a 5m off-camera sync lead. Nowhere were the limitations of this system more apparent than on Saturday night, trying to wind my way between trees to take pictures of horses, avoiding branches and hoping the unit powered up quickly enough from its batteries while the horse stayed still long enough to get the photo I wanted.

The shots came out well enough, but for a while, maybe years, I've been formulating a technique for shooting that requires faster directional lighting with more control. The background to my photography training runs like this: about five years ago, I was offered the chance to assist a photographer called Takashi Kamei, as a means to learning about how to take pictures, having never studied. We worked well together, and I am proud of the work we have done and continue to do, and that I have been able to help him somewhat in the progression of his career - I operate more as a lighting and shoot director now, with a team of other assistants also helping me out. Takashi is both a very patient man and a masterful photographer, who knows exactly what he wants from a shoot before he starts, and I have learnt many things, especially about shooting with a combination of strobe and continuous lighting. For a year, on his recommendation, I also assisted another Japanese photographer, Mari Sarai. As well as fashion, Mari shoots a lot of celebrity and music portraits for fashion magazines, and has a very different approach to shooting, full of energy, shooting very quickly. Working with her was hard, but I learnt a lot about how to handle models and subjects, and it was also the first time I came across Quantum flash batteries.

As I thought more recently about how to shoot set-up shots, I decided that the best possible way I could honour the pedigree of my training and develop my own individual style would be to try to combine their two styles into one of my own. To this end - shooting on location with rapid flash units and utilising as much natural light in the shots as possible. The first step to this is to get more equipment, so I ordered a second flash unit (as they can operate and be controlled from the back of the camera completely wirelessly) and a Quantum Turbo 2X2, which is capable of powering two flashes at once.

Perhaps it was just that I was particularly relaxed after a night in the woods, but I hit Sunday's assignment, taking pictures at alternative performance night Kinky Salon, like a dervish.

Tuesday and I was still waiting for them, but deadlines are deadline, and so I shot this portrait of Paul A. Young for lecool:

Talk about dream jobs; he makes chocolate for a living, and has a chain of shops across London. He also has an interesting-looking book out.

In the evening, I had been invited to the opening of The Queens' Elm, once a pub and now a four-floor art gallery. A friend from The Lady Greys was dancing there, and I got some shots of the performances, art and bits of bobs I saw there.

The rest of the week was mostly filled with meetings and the like; on Friday though, Dead Kids had asked me if I could come down to their show to take some pictures for them. It was at St. Moritz, a small venue in Soho that I don't particularly enjoy, but there were some fun japes beforehand.

Yup, inside-out eyelids and screaming girls. On to the show..

The band are all friendly to me and are one of the most energetic bands I've seen play recently, and I always leave their shows feeling a little bruised and tired.

Tonight: Resistance Gallery punkstep? Or maybe a less hectic night - I'm under the weather. Tomorrow: my gran's 90th birthday party. Then a week of busy - two portraits, including with one of my musical heroes, fashion shoot casting, surrealness with a freaky performer, and a voodoo go go dancer. Then the Bizarre Ball on Saturday. And I get to play with my new lights some more.. oh yes.

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