Thursday, 2 December 2010

Bag Lady - Part 2

I'm currently curled up with my laptop, listening to Arcade Fire and writing this after a hard day's work. Today, while not entirely planned to pan out this way, was the first day of my Bag Lady shoot. I had to bring it forwards since the studio was pretty much all booked up for next week, and I'd already booked the large studio for today in case I needed it. Thankfully I found out about this a few days before today, so was able to alert people to when it'd be and when I'd like them to be there.

The model I chose was Lenka, and I'm ever so glad I did. She's such a lovely person and a wonderful model! Finding a model was a bit of a nightmare in itself - my first point of call was within the college. I made posters and put them up everywhere in my college and the university next door. Then came the casting call. Four people turned up, which wasn't bad. One of them was Lenka, and upon seeing her I had the feeling I'd found my model.

For curiosity's sake, and for the benefit of my assignment (I have to do as many things as possible) I decided I'd search on Model Mayhem. I contacted 4 models about an urban winter fashion test shoot in Swansea a week from that date. Two of them got back to me. One said she worked full time during the week but would otherwise be interested which was unfortunate, another said that she was fully booked that day but might be able to turn up later on in the day. Uh oh. Not looking good. The other two never got back to me for whatever reason. I asked when the second could turn up but by the time I found out I'd already abandoned all hope of doing a test shoot in Swansea and had decided Lenka was the right woman for the job! I definitely made the right choice, judging by the images :)

Moving on from the model situation I came to assistants, a makeup artist and a hairstylist. I found some assistants, but only two were able to turn up towards the end of the day since they were busy with college work unfortunately. It's ok though, we managed quite well without them :) I'm quite hands-on in my approach so if something needs doing I'll tend to do a lot of it myself even if assistants are there - it's nothing against them, it's just a force of habit. I couldn't find a MUA or a hairstylist in time, so I did the makeup while the lovely Lauren turned up quite by chance and in a matter of minutes had Lenka's hair up in a fantastic beehive-nest-like construction. To quote Lenka, "Is it really that big?!" It was amazing :D

For this brief I have to get around 6 different looks since I need 6 different images. So the dress is being altered as we go along. Today it went from being knee-length to floor length at the back, dragging on the floor. It's absolutely amazing! Matt is a genius when it comes to these things, and that's exactly why I chose him. Katie made some fabulous jewellery - a bracelet made from betamax tape and a necklace also made out of the tape plus some black and white plastic things. She also made a great hairpiece made from a petri dish, what looked like tissue paper and I'm assuming glue of some sort to harden it. Very simple, but stunning. Lenka looked incredible.

Unfortunately, I don't have any final images to show for this just yet! They were still converting from one file type to another when I left the studio to go and catch my bus home. I'm going in to college tomorrow though so I'll be able to pick them up then. I can't wait! We're also doing another shoot on Monday to (hopefully) finish this off. I'm aiming to shorten the time we take this time, so maybe we'll finish earlier that day. Everybody involved has been absolutely incredible and ever so creative. It's so satisfying and almost magic seeing something that was just a mere thought bouncing around inside my head become a reality before my very own eyes. This is one of the reasons I keep doing what I do - that, and it's a lot of fun!

Bag Lady gets a thumbs up from Lenka!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Bag Lady

My latest projects are the AoP competition and a cinematic brief for college. The AoP is the one I'm pretty excited about, since it's a live project with a chance of winning. I didn't have a clue what I'd do for a while, and was busy with 365 Days jotting down ideas in my sketchbook. I did have one idea come to me however one night after looking through a friend's halloween dressing up photos on Facebook. They'd dressed up in black bin bags, only they'd made them look like clothes. Some of them looked rather nice, too. The cogs in my mind started grinding and before long I ended up inspired for what was originally going to be a self portrait - I called it "Bag Lady". As you may have guessed, it stems from people telling each other usually on a night out and to somebody whining about their outfit "You'd look good in anything - even a black bag."

I thought about this for a little while, sketched things in my ideas book, and figured it'd be really cool and edgy if the bin bag actually looked like a stunning couture dress. My original idea for AoP was nothing like this however. To put it in the words of my tutor, it sounded like a Timotei ad. It also started out as an idea for a different self portrait that I may still do for a laugh, but for practicality's sake and how much more interesting my second idea was, I decided to follow plan B's route and take on Bag Lady.

Not only is it cheap and fairly easy to make, it's one heck of a lot of fun. I looked for a stylist and a jewellery designer, and I found them pretty quickly. They're just as enthusiastic as me about this and I can't wait to see their designs. We went to this shop in Carmarthen called "Trysordy" which in English means "Treasury". It's a shop that sells a load of recycled things from plastic bottle tops to (unused!) tampon applicators (which I found hilarious). You think of it, they probably have it, and dead cheap too. So I bought the jewellery materials there, and then later on bought the heavy duty plastic bags for the stylist. They should be ready sometime this week! I can't wait!

Next on my list was to find some assistants, a hairstylist and a make-up artist. I went for the easiest one first since we're all in college today: assistants. I got a much greater and enthusiastic response than I imagined I would! I said I was looking for one or two people who'd like to help, as it really would be a great opportunity for them to see what a fashion shoot is like, what second year is like, and to learn lighting techniques and the like. It's generally a lot of fun for them and an excuse to bunk off a bit (in an educational way! Win!) :P I got one person interested straight away, then another, and then two other people. So I now have at least 4 people from first year who would like to help and join in. Awesome! I hope they have a great time and learn plenty of new things.

The casting call is this afternoon, and last night I got a little nervous. I'm not as nervous anymore, mostly because I know Rick is in and he said he'd help guide me through it. It shouldn't be too difficult. I'm wondering how many people will turn up, and if anybody suitable will turn up too. The posters I put up in The Quad (coffee shop in the uni next door) kept getting taken down despite there being no indication of it not being allowed. Thankfully however they've stayed up elsewhere, so I'm happy. I'm just glad I can speak Welsh as part of their policy is that the poster has to be bilingual, even though not many there actually speak Welsh. So after being told by a couple of different people I could probably find a translator, I was able to say quite happily "I can speak Welsh!" I even got all my mutations correct. Awesome.

So, sometime this week, I'm going to have to find a hairstylist and a makeup artist. I might have to do this by phone as the only time I can realistically get to Pibrlwyd's campus on the other side of Carmarthen is on Thursday, and I'd like to start planning things out by then. I don't have much time left - a week or two. I need the model and I need everybody else I've mentioned. Things are getting a little tight. Plus there's my cinematic brief that needs sorting, so I'm even more pressed for time. I'm quietly confident I'll pull it off though, one way or the other. I don't have much choice but to succeed since my grades are depending on this. The question is if I'll do it well! :)

I've kind of put 365 on the back-burner for now too. It's a lot of time and effort and with two major projects on the go (one of which is live) a third is really pushing it. I've thought about this somewhat and have decided that I will make images as and when I'm able to. To do it every day is really taking its toll on me and I can't always manage it, so to preserve my health, enthusiasm and sanity, it's going on a semi-hold. I'd like to make each photo interesting and not just a shot in the mirror with my camera, so expect at least one or two a week, maybe more depending on how busy I am. I'll still be doing 365 images though. It might just take me longer than a year to complete :/

I'll include some of my latest images later on, as they're on my external HDD which is at home, and I'm currently at college. In the meantime however, you can see them over at my Flickr. Enjoy! :)

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A creative use of flowers

Well, it's the second week of 365 and I'm still going strong, I love this project so much. It really tests you and drives you to do better pictures. So yesterday, I was in the studio again, large tea and toast nearby while I got ready to set up. It was a lot of fun, and involved flowers, petals, glue and my face. And a ring flash. I've included images of the setup I had, along with failed photos with reasons as to why I consider them failed, so to give you insight into my thought process as I work.

First of all though, here's some recent photos from the project:

More can be found over at my Flickr photostream.

As you can see, I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Now, on to yesterday!

First of all I acquired the roses, which was no easy task. There's only one florist, and she was a bit reluctant to sell me the sorry-looking roses. In the end however I managed to get them for a very cheap price and made my way back over to college. I bought some artificial flowers too as a backup plan but they weren't needed. I'll use them for something else.

I set up, and figured a beauty dish and a reflector (read: bit of polystyrene) resting on my chest would give me the best lighting.

Vignette due to me trying and failing to remove flare with lens hood

Neat huh? Well, not really. It gave me this:

Incidentally, this type of lighting is called "Butterfly Lighting"
"What's wrong with that?" I hear you asking. "It looks fine to me, nice soft shadows, good tonal detail and even coverage. Am I missing something?"

No, you're not missing anything. But the photo is. Sure, it's fine from the front, and would be great for some portraits with dramatic lighting, but it's not what I'm after. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the rim-light.

It really is a flash. Not a gun.
See that flash with a snoot hanging behind the chair like a spider? That's the rim-light. This is where it gets interesting. Using a rim-light, as above, gives me this effect:

The edge of my head and shoulders have been illuminated in a subtle way, making me stand out from the dark background rather than blend into it. This little pop of light isn't powerful enough for me though, so I tweak with the flashes, get myself ready by curling my hair, putting on makeup and gluing on the petals and leaves. I took a load of photos, but before I show you the final image, here's an unaltered (apart from cropping it down) version with a ring flash. I was curious as to how it looked, and it was clear from the get-go that it wasn't going to work:

So, why doesn't it work? It's too harsh for the atmosphere I'm after. It's great for no-nonsense "I've got attitude" or "I'm really happy" portraits, though not so great for times when you've constructed a flower on your face. So, away the ring flash goes for another day.

I had a bit of help from the technician, John (who is amazing at what he does and very helpful), we altered the light setup a little bit, moving the rim-light off to camera left and bringing it closer. We also moved the beauty dish around a bit but I decided I liked it in its original position.

After tinkering around in Photoshop I came up with this:

Click for larger image!

So that's how I did that!

Oh, and just for laughs, here's a video of me removing the petals and leaves. It was just as much work taking them off as it was putting them on! But it gives you an idea of how I attached them, and it might give you a giggle.

Monday, 11 October 2010

365 Days Challenge

Some of you may have heard of the 365 days challenge, and others might not have done. For those who don't know, there's a group on Flickr called "365 Days" where the sole aim of the group is to show a collection of images from several people all over the world who take one photo of themselves each day of the year (or as many as they can manage) and then upload it to the group. It doesn't have to be of your face, it could be things like your shadow, footprints, an object that's dear to you - though they prefer it to include some part of your body more often than not. I'm currently on day 6 and have managed to take all 5 previous photos and upload them. I have to say, I never expected I'd latch on the way I have. I've become slightly obsessed. I thought I'd try it out for a laugh but I really enjoy it. I love the fact that it forces me to think about new ways to take a photo and to keep it interesting somehow, and I learn something new every day whether it's about myself or the techniques I use. It really is a lot of fun and I've even inspired my friend Andy to take part too! Some days I'm bursting with ideas and have to write them down, other days it's like I don't feel a shred of creativity in me. I carry on regardless though, driven by the determination to upload one photo to the group a day. My first milestone is 7 days - tomorrow! It's gone by so quickly and I'm really loving it. Here's a few of the ones I've done so far. A lot of the time I'm just playing with lighting conditions and seeing how they come across in the photograph. Different angles give different moods, as do different intensities of light.

I'm curious to see how this project holds up when my workload gets heavier, since right now I'm not really doing a lot in the way of college work. I'm finishing off my summer project (I don't have a lot to do) and I'm getting introduced to AOP tomorrow in college, and after that I have the rest of the week off. Anybody would think I'm a part-time's incredible the amount of days we have off sometimes. This could be seen as a good thing or a bad thing - the good thing being you have more time to yourself to be creative, you can come in and use the studios if they're free, you can book out equipment to take with you anywhere, and you can also get direction and feedback from the tutors. The bad thing is that if you're in the wrong frame of mind you could end up doing the bare minimum and scrape by, and I also sometimes wonder where all the money's a very good course though with excellent facilities, and the tutors are great and don't mince their words when it comes to helping you improve. I love the fact that I have access to a PhaseOne camera, RB67s, Bowens lighting equipment, a huge studio with infinity curves in several different colours, iMacs, printers the size of a small car, a dark room, black and white and colour processing, toning, and many more things it all adds up in the end. I'll also go from being in 1-2 days a week to three before long, with the introduction of critical and contextual studies on a Monday before long.

So, everything is settling down and I'm keeping myself busy :) The Margam Park shoot should happen in about 2 weeks, since that's the only time we're all free. I'll probably do a few things inbetween then though. It's gonna be a blast :D

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Monsters! Grrr...arrrrg!

Yesterday I figured I'd try a new self portrait, and I toyed around for a while with ideas, wondering what I'd do. I somehow came to the conclusion that a monsters theme would be a good idea. Maybe it has to do with various film trailers I've seen recently, or certain adverts on the internet, or the sudden influx of halloween merchandise in the shops, but I sat there smiling to myself as I decided to wait patiently until nightfall. Then the camera would come out.

So first of all, here's the final image:

The product of an overactive imagination

Scary enough? :P

Ok, how did I do it? How did I get those shadows on the wall when the light source is behind me, and how did I get that ominous green hand trying to wrench my blanket away while I was still on the bed?

Well, I live in a really old house, so I asked the monsters nicely if they'd help me out and they agreed they'd do a bit of modelling if I ordered them a pizza. Deal!

Oh alright, not really. All you need is to know how to use layers, layer masks, and the brush tool in Photoshop, and have a few photographs to hand. A tripod or other solid surface helps, and a way of taking the photos while you're in front of the camera (I used my tripod, worked tethered to my computer which is out of the shot, and my wireless remote trigger). It's pretty important that the camera doesn't move while you take all your images, or you're going to make things very difficult for yourself when it comes to stitching it all together. First of all, here's some of the images I used for the final image (I used 8 images in total).

There's a few other shadow images but you get the idea. After that it was just a matter of overlaying the shadow images on top of the image of me curled up in a corner, adding "hide all" masks to the shadow images and using a large soft brush to reveal the shadows on the wall and the hand on the blanket. The green skin colour was just adding a black and white adjustment layer, inverting it with cmd+i, and again revealing the black and white tones with a brush, though this time with a smaller and harder one. Then it was just a matter of choosing the shade of green as a tint. Finally, I altered the tones and colours of the overall image and voilà, one scary monster picture :D

I got into a bit of a funny mood by the end of it though, and started to get silly...

On a more serious note, as you can see in all of these photos, my only light source was the desk lamp on my bedside table. That's it. No flash was used. I did experiment with the flash a little however:

Go into the light my children!

Too red


For the first image, I decided it was too bright. The light bounced around too much and there just wasn't any point in me using the flash down there like that. But what about a coloured flash? I grabbed a red t-shirt and wrapped it around the flash a few times (very high tech as you can see). It fired (after fighting with it for a little while, it's a little temperamental so I'm getting a new one soon) and it clearly didn't work. So I gave up on that idea. I turned the trigger on the flash off and put it out of the frame. Weirdly though, while I was doing one of the hand-under-the-bed shots, the flash decided to go off on its own volition. Me being under the bed at the time, and in a bit of a strange mood, felt slightly weirded out by this and in the end decided to ignore it. Like I said, the flash is a bit strange (and senile I'm guessing. It tries though.) I took a few more photos just to see if it would do it again, but it didn't. Creepy!

So there we have it. That's how I made my composite monster image. And if you're wondering what those white things on my fingers are in some shots, they're paper claws. Click here and watch the same video I did to learn how to make them. They are truly awesome.

Have fun!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Self Portrait #1

Remember in my last post how I mentioned I'd be doing a self portrait?

Well, I've got a self portrait, but this isn't the one I had in mind back then. That one is still on the way.

False eyelashes are evil

Here it is:

Winter Faey

As usual, click for a larger image.

I'm not too sure where the idea came from, I just woke up and decided I'd do a self portrait that day. I think part of it was because I have a big window with a large enough windowsill to sit on too, and knew the light coming from it would be pretty nice in certain conditions.

So I figured out the best angle to capture from, grabbed a tripod (a rare occasion!) and set the camera up to work tethered to my computer. I put the computer where I could see it so this meant minimum shifting of positions. Finally, I had my wireless remote trigger. That little bit of kit is one of my best investments to date. It was also fun trying to conceal it in my hands in the images.

Here's a peek at the (simple yet effective) setup:


I did try using a flash but it didn't look right at all. I resorted to using the natural light (which changed...often...) and long(ish) exposure times. And sitting very still. It wasn't very comfy sometimes to say the least. The neighbours probably thought I'd finally lost it.

And don't worry, it's not snowing here either. I know Wales is known for bad weather, but snow in September is....actually, probably possible. But I ended up taking a photo from my library of images that I took the last time it snowed. I figured a snow scene would work pretty well due to the type of lighting I had going on.

Finally, I always knew the image was going to look slightly cross processed. That wasn't going to change. I think it really works, and I'm really pleased with how this image turned out. I have some others I'm going to edit too, though this is one of my favourites.

In other news, I have a shoot in Margam Park coming up within the next few weeks! I'll be working with a model from Model Mayhem who lives near there, and we're gonna have a great time. I can't wait! I'm so excited. It's going to be a gothic fantasy/fairytale theme. She looks and sounds like she'll be a great person to work with and the experience will be new for both of us, since shooting is planned to take place from sunset until sometime into the night. And probably in spooky places, like graveyards. Yay!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

A view of what's to come...

Recently I had an idea for a new shoot. This shoot will be different to my usual sort though...this time the model will be yours truly. It'll be a portrait kind of image, though my emphasis will remain strongly on fashion themes. So it's a lot less about me, and more about the final image. I'll just be sitting there looking dolled up to the nines.

I'm hoping the images turn out the way I want them to and the way I envision them in my mind's eye. It'll be fun and an exercise though so I'll get at least something out of it.

The website is coming along. I've not worked on it for a few days to give myself a break and to come up with new content for the gallery section. I'm also working on my summer project. Here's a preview of my site to date:

I was so happy when I got lightbox working! It took a bit of faffing around but I got there in the end. Still a WIP, obviously, so some of the images in the gallery section are just placeholders.


P.S. Watch this space for updates on my new shoot idea.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

All's well that ends well

Today has made me pretty happy! First of all, I got a brand new external HDD for a very reasonable price, and it's now blinking red and blue lights at me to tell me it's busy backing up all my work. It's very quiet too. And fast!

I was rather desperate to get an external HDD since recently my internal HDD had announced it had problems and needed to be repaired. Alas, I couldn't do anything with peace of mind until I had all 250GB backed up somewhere. So, this was the final push that got me looking for a new HDD. After everything was backed up, I safely managed to get the internal drive repaired, and then could re-partition my shiny new 1TB drive. It even matches my silver macbook and silver speakers with a blue light. Perfect :D

Something else that's making me happy is the progress on my website. I've been threatening to make it for ages and today I finally got around to it. It's something I've put off since I've never really been one for coding - as much as I might want to be - so I found it rather daunting. Thankfully I found a really easy to follow website with stuff to copy and paste. It told me what everything did and where to put it in relation to everything else. After creating their example, I figured out my own more modern design. My method was slightly trial and error and a bit of logic and common sense, since I'm learning as I go along. All in all though it's not as hard as I thought it would be, and the site is coming along very nicely. I'm pretty chuffed with it since it's my first ever website. At the rate I'm currently working at, I should have it finished by tomorrow. Then I just have to find somewhere to host it. Excitement!

Here's a sneak preview of the current state. It's still a WIP, so things may change:

That's all for now, folks!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

My mini adventure in Cardiff

If you've been following my blog, you'll know I went to Cardiff yesterday. The only thing I had planned was roughly how to get there and back, what I was taking with me and that I'd be meeting with a friend. I didn't know when I was coming back, but I figured it was going to be sometime before dinner or until I was tired of walking around.

My day started with me getting up at 8, getting ready for the day and making sure I had everything I needed. I caught my train in plenty of time and found a window seat with a table. The sun was shining and there were lots of fluffy white clouds in the air. This was pretty good news for me, since I'd read it was going to be overcast and raining.

An hour and a half later, I got to Cardiff central. Still sunny, a little breezy, and waiting for a friend of mine to turn up. I wandered around a bit and went indoors for a while, only when I came to the doors again I noticed the floor was wet. Strange, I could have sworn it was dry before. Sure enough, as soon as I looked up I saw that the heavens had opened right over Cardiff and soaking anything and anybody unfortunate enough to be outside at the time with big heavy rain drops. Sighing, I removed my heavy kit bag, pulled out the weatherproof cover, covered the bag and put it back on my back. Of course, that then meant it stopped raining. Ah well, what can ya do?

Not long after that my friend arrived and we went to grab a coffee at Starbucks and had a chat and a catchup. We wandered around a bit and then he left to go meet up with some friends at the cinema. I was invited along, but I had work to do. So after a quick lunch at Subway, I started on my hike around Cardiff.

I soon found out it was very hard to get lost in Cardiff. At least, it is in the city centre. It's pretty well sign posted and as long as you can find the castle, everything else is easy. I ended up going around in circles once or twice but I found plenty of things to take photos of. After a few hours of soaking in the happenings on the streets, I decided I'd like to go to the museum. Why not?

So, I wandered over. My entire trip was at a pretty leisurely pace really. I found some stuff in there to photograph too. I didn't find the upper levels too interesting due to them mostly being filled with pottery and ceramics at this point in time, and a few galleries being closed for refurbishment. So, I went to the bit with fossils, rocks, butterfly collections and bones, and learnt a few things.

After that, I wandered around the natural history section. I found it pretty entertaining and interesting, seeing all the elaborate reconstructed environments and relevant fossils. I felt smart as I walked around soaking it all in, since this was all stuff I've read about and watched programs on and generally had an interest in since I was a tyke who's favourite book was an encyclopaedia on dinosaurs. I know exactly how to fortify my house against raptor attacks. [/geekmode]

Anyway. I left after about an hour (since it was closing) and took a few more photos of the building and the fountain. On my way back I found a lovely garden that fit what I was looking for and took a few snaps there too. After this, I decided I was getting tired and wanted to go home.

Unfortunately, I missed the train I was aiming for by a minute or so, so had to wait an hour for the next one. It wasn't so bad, I had one of my Doctor Who books and carried on reading. The worst thing was the chill from the wind. The hour flew by.

I unwound on the journey back by taking photos of a wonderful sunset, reviewing my photos from the day and watching Invader Zim on my laptop with my earphones in and laughing quietly to myself. All in all, it was a pretty awesome day :)

In other news, I got an email from Nikon earlier on today telling me all about their new camera, the D3100. My impressions from the email are fairly good for the price, if you're after a beginner camera. I think I'd want to wait until the price came down a little though. You can get the D5000 for under £499 which is what you pay for the D3100 body only, and the image quality is fantastic.

What I found more intriguing was that this new camera has a 14.2mp sensor. As far as I'm aware, this is the only camera from Nikon that has that amount of pixels. The next one up is 24.5mp, and the next ones down are all around 12.3mp (in the effective range anyway, my D5000 has 12.9mp, but 12.3mp when you count effective. In all honesty though, you don't notice). It's priced at £499 body only, and £579 for the kit (which includes the 18-55mm lens). I expect the price to come down in time. It goes on sale at the end of September 2010.

They've also newly released the 55-300mm DX lens. Full title, AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR. Priced at £369.99, it's around £149 more expensive than my 55-200mm from the same family. I hardly use my zoom as it is really, it has its moments, but the 55-300mm while a nice idea isn't for me personally. Not only that, I'll be upgrading before long too so a DX lens will be redundant unless it's used with my D5000. But the extended zoom does sound pretty nifty if that's what you tend towards. As I've found, VR is a must with all zoom lenses if you're not using a tripod. It's amazing what it can do. It's on sale on the 2nd of September 2010.