Sunday, 28 November 2010

Tap Attack - Studio Lighting on Location

Over the last few months I have been lucky enough to work with the talented and dedicated group of young people that make up the Tap Attack tap dance team who are representing England at the IDO World Dance Championships in Germany from 30 November to 4 December 2010.

Earlier in November I travelled to Reading to photograph the team at their annual fund-raiser. The brief was simple; full length and head shots of all 27 + team members and coaches, and you've got about an hour to do it, excluding set-up time!!!

What follows are some of the images and how I designed on lighting set for two totally different shots, all on a white background that could be used without resorting to too much post-production.

  1. 9 foot white background paper roll.
  2. 200J Multiblitz monobloc flash head - 1/2 power, 100J plus Rosco Cinegel #3008: Tough Frost. Giving an effective output of 50J. Both equidistant from background roll and centre line. 
  3. 200J Multiblitz monobloc flash head - 1/2 power, 40inch silver brolly. 
  4. Rosco Cinegel #3830: Spun Silver, 4 feet wide by 6 feet high.
  5. 200J Multiblitz monobloc flash head - 1/3 power, 66.66J reflected into bright silver side of this double sided material.
  6. Dancer.

I chose to use a paper background rather than one made from a more durable material due the damage inflicted by the hard metal taps of the heals and toes of the dancers shoes. Had I used a plastic or cloth background the material would have been damaged beyond repair. Here all I had to do was remove and recycle the damaged part of the paper roll.

The use of Rosco Cinegel #3830: Spun Silver  to camera left enabled me to create a broad  and tall light with some specular edge to it (one of the dancers is 6' 4" + ), rather than the softer light from a white reflector or diffuser. Silver is also a more efficient reflector than white. Reflecting an undiffused monobloc flash with standard reflector enabled me to maintain a relatively short recycle time and give me the vertical and horizontal coverage required when shooting moving dancers. The silver brolly to camera right gives a strong fill light reducing the harsh edge of the key light to camera left.

I could have set this lighting the other way around, but for the head shots I needed to show the logo on the new team track suits. As you can see from the above shots, with some thought and planning you can create a lighting scheme that will allow you to shoot both full and head shots on the same set.

The flash to camera left was triggered with a radio trigger and the remaining lights triggered using the Multiblitz inbuilt photo electric/optical triggers. There are two reasons for not using a cable to trigger the lights 1. I do not know the trigger voltage of the lights as they are over 10 years old and 2. Trailing cables make a great trip hazard when you've a load of dancers sculling around a set.

The two lights on the background are in the region of 25 years old and have two power settings full and half power, so if you want a lower power setting you need to use either an ND gel to reduce the output with altering the quality of the light, or some other modification, control or diffusion. Even the 25J 1/8th power setting on my more modern Profilites can be too powerful, which is why when I'm not shooting so many frames in a short space of time I will use Speedlites. Mains power will always be more reliable when shooting a heap of shots quickly.

Camera settings: f11, 1/125th sec, 200 ISO, manual exposure. Auto focus all focus points.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Shoreham Air Show 2011

The organisers of Shoreham Air Show have today announced the first flights for the 2011 display. More information may be found at:

Monday, 22 November 2010

Take a View – Landscape Photographer of the Year 2010 Exhibition

Today sees the opening of Take a view – Landscape Photographer of the Year 2010 Exhibition in London, England at the National Theatre.

If you're a keen landscape photographer or just like looking at wonderful landscape images, then this exhibition is well worth a visit - and what's more, it's FREE!

Exhibition details:

Take a view – Landscape Photographer of the Year 2010 Exhibition

In association with Network Rail and Natural England

With over 100 Digigraphie™ prints of stunning landscape images produced on the
Epson Stylus Pro 9900, using the latest Epson inkjet technology.

Admission free

Dates: 22nd November 2010 – 16th January 2011 (Closed 15th December)

Times: Open Monday to Saturday, 9.30am to 11pm, all year round (except for
Bank Holidays) and on a number of Sundays from noon to 6pm (check NT website
for dates).

Venue: Lyttelton Foyer, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX
020 7452 3000

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Lighting The Gadget Scientist

Today I had the pleasure of working with Mark Burton, photographer and author of The Gadget Scientist. Paul Noble & I are making a series of short videos for Mark to promote his excellent book. Keep an eye on this blog for more on this soon.

In the meantime I thought you may be interested to see how I developed the lighting for Mark's PTC (Piece To Camera) shot in Paul's studio. I chose to use Rosco Lightpads exclusively because they are quick to set up, energy efficient, daylight colour balanced and cool running so consequently do not cook the talent!

Here's the shot showing the overall set up in the studio against a white cyc paper background.

Key to lighting diagram:
1. 9 ft white cyc paper
2. 24 inch Rosco Litepad HO
3. 12 x 6 inch Rosco Litepad HO
4. 12 x 12 inch Rosco Litepad HO
5. Mark Burton aka The Gadget Scientist
6. Paul Noble on camera. I'm out of shot directing and audio recording.

As we were in the studio I ran the lights from the mains transformers rather than the optional battery packs as they give a consistent light that does not dim as the batteries run low on energy. The 24 inch Litepad was run from its' own 120/240 VAC to 12 VDC transformer, whilst the 12 x 6 and 12 x 12 inch Litepads were run from one transformer with a two-way splitter lead and extension with no noticeable loss to output.

The images below show the effect of each light individually on Mark.

My first and key light was the 24 inch Litepad to camera left. Notice how the light spills onto the background. I chose not to flag, mask or diffuse any of these lights so you can judge the individual effect of each light in relation to what it illuminates.

The second and fill/effect light was a 12 x 6 inch Litepad.

The background was lit with a 12 x 12 inch Litepad warmed up with 162 Bastard Amber.

This is the final frame, composed very much as it will appear in the final video, showing the effect of all three lights on Mark and the background.

These stills were shot with a Canon Powershot G12 - manual exposure, white balance daylight, ISO 400, f4, 1/60th second for all frames.

Interestingly, Paul filmed with a new Canon XF300 HD video camera. His settings were almost identical to those on the G12 - f4, 1/50th second +3db gain with the camera on a tripod to get a nice steady shot; we're not fans of wobbly cam technique!

For you stills photographers the Rosco Litepads are perfectly useable as I have previously demonstrated. Providing you are are prepared to work at 400 ISO and use a tripod you will get some steady shots. That being said, there will be some of you who will happily hand hold shots at slower shutter speeds and still get a decent sharp shot.

That's all folks!


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

London Photo Walk 2010

The Palace of Westminster at sunset, just one of the many photo-opportunities
on Ian & Ben's London Photo Walk, 26th November 2010

Ben & I must be mad - we've decided once again to run a London Photo Walk and sunset/low-light mini workshop on Friday 26th November 2010.

This year the walk will start with the Landscape Photographer of the Year exhibition at the National Theatre and then walk along South Bank  of the Thames with its many photo-opportunities; a sunset low-light mini workshop photographing the Palace of Westminster at dusk and finishing with a chimping competition of images created during the day. There will a prize or prizes for the best photograph in the chimping competition - more details to follow.

More information may be found by visiting the web page at:

Anyone wanting to reserve a place should email me directly - with the subject line "See You On 26th November". They will then be contacted with joining instructions etc.

It is recommended that interested photographers contact me quickly as the 2009 walk filled up within 3 days of publication.

Park Cameras have kindly provided a £10 gift voucher for all walkers who turn up on the day.

We look forward to seeing you on the 26th November, whatever the weather;-)



African Photo Safari February 2011

© Copyright 2010 Bob Johnson

Photographers Bob Johnson and Mike Wilkes are running a photo safari in Tanzania from 5th - 20th February 2011. There are limited places available so contact me in the first instance and I'll forward your details to Bob who will contact you.

Introduction & Outline
Together with my old friend Mike Wilkes FRPS I will be running a 15 night photography trip to Tanzania leaving on February 5th 2011 and returning back to the UK on February 20th.

This will be a full on photography trip with 13 action packed days of photography in some of the best game parks in Africa. We will be visiting the Serengeti, Lake Manyara & Tarangire National Parks together with the Ngorongoro Crater and the Ndutu Plains.

Our visit is timed to see the Great Migration which is usually in Ndutu & The Serengeti at this time of the year. We will stay in good quality lodges with some great food and we will also have the services of some of the top driver guides in Tanzania.

The trip will suit all skill levels and Mike and I will be there to help and advise the less experienced. If the numbers allow we will have a seperate teaching truck together with trucks for the more experienced. We will have three or four trucks with radios which allow’s each truck to be independent when on safari. This is very important as each truck can pick and choose where to go and how much time to spend with each subject. It also means that between the trucks we will be able to cover more ground giving us a better chance to find the more exciting subjects.

I am waiting for confirmation of the Lodge prices for 2011 but a current guide price based on sharing a twin room with four people per truck is £3,600. Single rooms may be available for an extra £500.

The trucks are a good size and experience tells us that we usually have two or three photographers in the back and another photographer in the front seat. This gives the photographers plenty of room in the back as we have six or seven rear seats, so each person has a spare seat for kit and plenty of room to move about. We can accomodate less people per truck for a premium so if you wish to get together with one or two of your pals or you would simply like to have a little more space then please ask me about this.

All food and drinking water is included in the price from day 2 to 14 plus breakfast and lunch on day 15. The flights are extra and were £750 in 2010. Bar drinks, tips and laundry is not included.

These prices are based on the current US dollar rate of 1.50 and are subject to change up or down if the pound falls or rises against the dollar at the time of our sending money to Tanzania.

The planned itinerary is:
5th Feb 2011 Day 1, Fly KLM via Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro staying one night at the Dik Dik Lodge in Arusha

Day 2, Game drive to Tarangire--- Tarangire Tented Lodge

Day 3, Game drive in Tarangire--- Tarangire Tented Lodge

Day 4, Game drive to Ndutu --- Ndutu Safari Lodge

Day 5, Game drive Ndutu --- Ndutu Safari Lodge

Day 6, Game drive Ndutu --- Ndutu Safari Lodge

Day 7, Game drive to Serngeti --- Serenora Wildlife Lodge

Day 8, Game drive in Serengeti --- Serenora Wildlife Lodge

Day 9, Game drive in Serengeti ---- Serenora Wildlife Lodge

Day 10, AM Game drive on way to --- Rhino Lodge

Day 11, Full day in Ngorongoro Crater--- Rhino Lodge

Day 12, Full day in Ngorongoro Crater --- Rhino Lodge

Day 13, Afternoon game drive Lake Manyara--- Bouganvilia Lodge

Day 14, Full day in Lake Manyara--- Bouganvilia Lodge

Day 15, Drive to Dik Dik for a day room to shower & re pack before our evening flight from Kilimajaro.

I'd love to be on this safari, but a prior commitment prevents me:-(

Monday, 8 November 2010

Frio Cold Shoe

Thank you to those wonderful people at Enlight Photo who kindly sent me a pre-release sample of the long awaited Frio™ Coldshoe.

The Frio™ Coldshoe is one of those bits of kit that any photographer who shoots with off camera Speedlites should have in their bag - not just one, but one for every flash and a few spares.

Most of the best ideas are simple and the Frio™ Coldshoe is no exception! This little piece of blue moulded plastic will accept most hot shoe flash units, including the Nikon SB 900 with its wider than normal hot shoe connection.

Remember that the Frio™ Coldshoe is not limited to securing Speedlites or hot shoe flash; you can attach any accessory, microphone, LED light that has a hot shoe type fitting.

Fitting a flash to the Frio™ Coldshoe is simple - the flash hot shoe just slides in and the raised clip stops the flash or accessory sliding out. If your flash has a locking mechanism this will add extra security. Removal is just as easy, just press the raised clip and your flash slides out.

The designers of the Frio™ Coldshoe have even thought about fixing the device to your lighting grip gear - on the under side is a metal standard 1/4 in 20 TPI screw socket.

These little beauties will soon be available worldwide. As I write the first shipments have left the factory on the way to distributors.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Coastal Landscape Photo Walk 23 October 2010

Seven Photographers for Seven Sisters - there's a pun in there somewhere!

On the 23rd October a group of enthusiastic and willing photographers joined me for a photo walk to photograph the coastal land and seascape at Hope Gap & Seven Sisters, located between Brighton and Eastbourne on the south coast of England.

The Seven Sisters chalk cliffs as seen from the beach at Hope Gap

A little thought goes into planning these walks as I try and get the low tide and sunset to coincide by 30 minutes maximum, thus ensuring the best photo opportunities. On this day we were also blessed with some wonderful light throughout the walk.

The image above was shot with a Canon 5d MkII with 24 - 105 mm L Series glass at 24 mm. A circular polarising filter was used to reduce specular reflections from wet rocks and enhance the sky - in this case to define the clouds and darken the top right of frame.

Sea defences make a graphic composition in the post sunset light

Just because the light fades at the end of the day, you should not let it stop you creating images. This shot of the sea defences was observed just as I was packing my bag! In other words, do not pack your bag until you get back to your car - you never know what opportunities will be missed.

This frame was tweaked in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) - a bit or recovery for the clouds, contrast, clarity and vibrance. For me the horizon is level - a minor miracle.

Moon Rise over the Friston

All I had to do was turn through 90 degrees to be met by the rising moon. OK, it wasn't close enough to make a decent size image with a 400 mm lens on full frame, but it did allow me to illustrate how to expose for moon images.

Remember that the moon is illuminated by sunlight, so a good exposure to start with is one similar to daylight on Earth - in this case 1/200th @ f11 ISO 400, daylight white balance. A second exposure was then taken for the whole scene with minus one stop exposure compensation dialled in to darken the scene. Had I used the indicated exposure with the camera set to Av, Aperture priority, it would appear too light. Camera exposure meters are (generally) calibrated to expose for mid-grey. More on this another time.

The two images were then combined in post-production to create this scene.

Neal Ball created this excellent image early in the walk by taking the sky from the south and combining in post-production over the barn in the west.

South Hill Barn by Neal Ball - this is one of those images that would also look good in monochrome

This was one of those shots where I know the group were getting a little on edge waiting for the light, but well worth it when you see a shot like this.

It also goes on to prove that good landscape photography is more than having the right gear. You need to be able to read topographical maps, sun tables, tide tables, weather charts, obtain local knowledge and interpret it all once you get to your location.

Then, once you've pressed the shutter release, have the vision and experience to create the image you visualised in you minds eye during post-production.

I am planning more of these walks soon. If you'd like more information or would like to added to my mailing list, do email me.

Happy snapping.


A Good Season for Fungi - Mushrooms and Toadstools

For those of you interested in photographing fungi - mushrooms and toadstools in the wild, 2010 seems to be a particularly good year here in Sussex and other regions of UK.

Sulphur Tuft
Photograph by Anna Allum
Most of you will associate the RSPB with birds, but their reserves are examples of biodiversity in action supporting more species than just birds - put simply, birds need habitats to survive.

People in Sussex will have the chance to wonder at some weird and wonderful fungi this autumn, says the RSPB.

The wildlife charity believes that the wet summer and current mild autumn will mean a bumper year for fungi. And if you get out into the countryside you could be treated to some impressive sights of a huge variety of fungi in its full glory.

Sophie McCallum, RSPB South East media officer, said: “Fungi might not be the first thing you think about looking for on a day out but there are some fascinating colourful specimens.

“And unlike some wildlife, you are guaranteed to see them as they are everywhere at this time of year, especially after the recent conditions.”

Fungi is separate from plant and animal kingdoms, and includes the well-known mushroom and toadstool varieties.

At the RSPB’s Pulborough Brooks reserve in West Sussex you can find a stunning array of fungi around both the wetland and heathland trail ranging from dinner-plate sized parasols to the dinky fairy bonnets.

Perhaps the most distinctive and well known is the red and white fly agaric which belongs to the amanita family – a group which includes some of the very poisonous specimens like the death cap and destroying angel.

Fly Agaric, the classic fungi we see in children's books.
Photograph by Anna Allum
There are also false death caps which are white with a lemony yellow tint and ‘The Blusher’ which gets its name from having flesh that bruises pink.

You will find a whole range of milkcaps which exude a milk-like substance when the gills are damaged.  These include liver and rufous milkcaps, along with the aptly named Ugly milkcap and the fenugreek milkcap, which smells enticingly of curry but is in fact slightly poisonous.

You might also see the spongy looking boletus mushrooms, which include the tasty penny bun (known by many as cep or porcini) and the rather dramatic orange birch bolete.

Other magnificent specimens are the amethyst deceiver which is shockingly purple and the collared earthstar that starts out looking like a plant bulb, but once ripe opens out into a beautiful star shape.

In East Sussex at the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren reserve near Tunbridge Wells you can hunt for one of the most unusual specimens, the Green Elf Cup, which colours pieces of rotten wood a bright blue-green.

It was used to provide the bright green colour for Tunbridge ware. The woodwork, from the 18th and 19th centuries, was decorated using an inlaid mosaic of countless small pieces of different coloured woods.

To find out more about what you can see at this time of year visit:

Photography Notes
When photographing fungi you will have to be prepared to get down on the woodland floor which will invariably will be damp, dirty and dark. Before leaving home to photograph fungi, make sure that you have a good ground sheet or heavyweight rubbish bag, a pad for your knees or even knee pads from a builders merchants!

To ensure that you create sharp images you will need a sturdy tripod with low-level capability or even a bean bag. At present I use a Giottos MTL 358B, see my review for more information. This tripod has a centre column which hinges from vertical to horizontal and beyond, allowing you to get a rodents eye view of the fungi.

As the woodland floor will be darker than normal you will also need some sort of remote trigger or shutter release for your camera in order to prevent blurred images from camera shake. You should also shoot with the reflex mirror locked up or with Live View to prevent further unwanted vibration which will cause blurred images.

Some fungi are quite small so you may want to take a macro lens or even a close up filter with you. The macro lens will allow you to get closer to your subject than the macro setting on your zoom lens. In my experience, the macro setting on a zoom lens is a"get you closer by 4 inches" setting and no where near true macro capability.

A close up filter will screw into the front of your prime or zoom lens and allow to record a bigger image. Close up filters are a cheap alternative to true macro lenses but you will sacrifice image quality. When I use a close up filter I do tend to stop the aperture down to f11. Some close up filters will give you the effect of a Lens Baby on a bad day - but there is nothing wrong with that look. Close up filters or lenses are lighter than macro optics and take up less space on your bag.

When out photographing fungi do not be tempted to do a bit of foraging for some homemade mushroom soup. many species of mushrooms and toadstools are highly toxic. Unless you are experienced in collecting wild food or have an expert with you, don't do it. Why not leave the fungi for some else to admire or photograph?

Happy snapping.