Author Archives: aclunie

Pic of the week – Friday 17 May 2019

Strawberry splash
Strawberry drops

Making a splash

This is one from the archive, albeit recently.

It’s a shot from a test set-up for a product shoot in which I was aiming for a low key look with lots of contrast to separate the subject from the background. I also wanted to get a lighting set up which would freeze the action but also be fairly even.

I achieved this by using flash positioned to the right of the subject as we look and, instead of using a reflector as fill, I used a mirror to throw back an almost equal intensity of light. I used a black backdrop and set the subject far enough in front of it to get the most benefit of the inverse squared rule to make sure I kept the background black.

Rather than put my signature watermark on the image itself, I’ve chosen to put it on a border which I think looks less intrusive in this case, I created the border by adjusting the canvass size in Photoshop then adding a white layer.


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Pic of the week – Thursday 9 May 2019

Healing Hands
Healing Hands

Adding value

It’s a fine balance set against delivering on a brief, but I believe that one of the added values a professional photographer should bring to work for a client is creative input. So, let me share the story of this one of a set, which I really like.

This is Sharon who asked me if I could do some head shots of herself and the staff at Healing Hands Wellness Centre in Glenrothes. Sharon was looking for photos that would be an improvement on the ones already in place and was thinking of the standard head shot approach. There’s nothing wrong with that but I wondered if she might be open to someting a little more creative which said something about the centre.

I felt that “Healing Hands” was significant in the centre name and ought to be reflected somehow in the head shots. I also have a personal preference to show people in context as much as possible. I had the idea of creating a background shot which illustrated healing hands and put together a mock up of the concept to see what Sharon thought of it. I was pleased when the idea met with her approval and so we agreed on details for doing the shoot.

Each of the head shot images is constructed as this example, with the same background and here’s how they were shot and constructed.

First of all, we shot the background. This involved Sharon and one of her team. The room we shot this in was quite compact and I needed lighting in there along with a camera, tripod and myself. There was only one configration possible for this, which meant me being on the left of the subject with the lighting on the right. I knew this was the wrong way round for the final composition, but it was an easy enough job to flip the image in processing.

I wanted the background image to be muted so that it was very evident but not dominant in the overall composition, This was achieved in Photoshop where I placed a pure white layer under the background image then dropped the opacity of the background image. This was then used for the whole set of head shots.

The portraits were shot in another treatment room which has a pleasing forest image on one wall. I set up a temporary studio there using the feature wall as a backdrop. The lighting for the head shots consisted of two studio lights – one above and behind the subject to add some highlighting to the hair, and one at about 45 degrees from the front as a fill light. The main light was flash bounced into an umbrella reflector.

The final image was completed in Photoshop by blending the portrait shot with the “healing hands” background.

I’m pleased with the final composition and that we have managed to give a fresh expression to corporate head shots. The moral of the story is that we should always be prepared to offer creative suggestions to clients in the interest of adding value to them. Of course, suggestions might not always be accepted – I have experience of that too – but when they are and come off like this, it’s really pleasing.


Pic of the week – Friday 3 May 2019

National Trust Conservator
Conservator

Honouring skill

It’s a good thing to honour skill and craft and this is the first in what I hope to be a series of portraits of skilled craft people doing their thing.

For a while I have been afraid that the educational system, in highly valuing academic ability, might end up devaluing the development of more traditional crafts and skills so I am keen to photograph skilled craft people and give at least some acknowledgement to the abilities which enrich our lives.

This was rather an opportunistic photograph from a visit to Oxburgh Hall, a National Trust property in Norfolk. Fortunately photography was permitted though with the usual restrictions on flash and tripods. There was some significant restoration work underway on the Hall and as I went round I spotted this conservator at work seated in the light of a window.

Fortunately she said she was happy to be photogrpahed when I asked permission. I suppose I could have just taken a shot but I felt, in the circiumstances, it would be polite to ask. A willing subject is so much better.

I was immediately attracted to the general composition, and epecially to the way the lighting from the window was working and the fact that her notepad was acting as a very useful reflector to cast light back up to her face.

This was shot handheld (no tripods allowed) on ISO 250, 1/125 sec at f5.


Pic of the week – Friday 26 April 2019

Afghan Shop Keeper

Doing what’s necessary

One from the archive this week, taken on a filming trip to Afghanistan in December 2003 and a personal favourite.

This is in the capital city, Kabul. At the time of my visit it was strugling to find peace after years of conflict and was still in the early days of the UN forces presence. I remember the bombed-out buildings, bullet-holed walls everywhere and the total lack of any street lights.

I was impressed by the reslience of the Afghan people and this man typified it. I was told that he was a former wrestler and was famous in Afghanistan but had now lost his sight. In a country with no social security or welfare benefits you have to do what you can to simply survive. What this man had done was to create a room in his house and knock out an opening to the street. This was his shop and here he traded daily selling a variety of produce.

What I like about this image is the story it tells. Unless I had been told, I would have had no idea this man was blind. Here he was sitting in his home shop, enganing happily with a customer. There is an expression of welcome and engagement on his face and he appears relaxed and at peace with his lot. I like the scales sitting between him and his customers, speaking of balance, fairness and justice. It’s a symbol of hope for a nation plagued throughout its history by bloody conflict.

This was originally shot on film, Fuji 800 Pro if I remember correctly, and the resultant grain gives the image a certain mild grittiness which I think is appropriate.

It occurs to me now that this was almost 15 and a quarter years ago and I find myself wondering how this man’s story developed.


Pic of the week – Friday 19 April 2019

Cross sculpture - Ely Cathedral
Cross sculpture – Ely Cathedral

A promise

I admit it, I’ve not been all that diligent in recent times in posting on social media or writing a blog post. Life has been, and remains, busy.

What I’ve decided to do in order to rectify this omission is to post a “pic of the week” across all the social media I use and, on this blog, to make some comment on it. This is my promise to myself. The pictures might be something I’ve shot recently (even in that week) or something older from the archive. I feel this is probably something I can sustain as a minimum and maybe on occasion I will be inspired to post more. I’ve set myself a recurring ask reminder, so all being well…

And so we begin with this one, a sculpture on the wall at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. I shot this a few weeks back and this one’s for Easter.

The sculpture simply hangs there in the cathedral with no comment, allowing people to interact with it as they will. And that’s how I’ll leave it here. Just engage in the conversation by looking at the photo and allowing it to communicate.

Giving it a go – supermoon

supermoon
supermoon

A short story of opportunism


This is the final supermoon of 2019 hovering over the neighbourhood and coinciding with the spring equinox. It’s the last of this year’s three back-to-back supermoons, the first occurring on Jan.21, and the second, which was the biggest and brightest, on Feb 19.

Fortunately we had clear skies so I simply had to grab the moment to get out and take the shot – barely an hour before writing this! I must admit it was opportunistic as I hadn’t been aware this supermoon was due. I had simply gone out to take some rubbish to the bin and was met by this glorious sight.

So, I headed straight back inside to get the camera, change the lens and do my best to get a decent shot. There was no time to faff around setting up a tripod, which is fine (and best) when you are planned and ready but this was sheer opportunism so how do you go about trying to ensure you get the shot? Well, here’s what I did.

The lens I had on the camera was a 55 – 200mm with no image stabilisation. I needed to work hand held but minimise blur from camera shake. I opted for manual mode, and selected an exposure time of 1/500 sec. The rough rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed at least twice the value of the focal length of the lens. I was doubling it which more than compensated for the multiplier effect of my crop sensor of 1.6. I chose an aperture of f8 which is around the sweet spot of the lens and then put my ISO on auto. This would at least guarantee a decent exposure and I spot metered on the moon. The pay-off, of course, was going to be grain (or noise if you prefer, but I grew up with film so it’s grain for me!)

After taking a few shots to bracket exposures around my settings and to spread the shake risk a little I took the images into Lightroom. All of the processing of this shot was done in Lightroom. What I did was allow for lens correction and also chromatic abberation. Then I made some global (though slight) adjustments to the exposure and tweaked the white and black scales just a little. I also introduced a little contrast, then made local brush adjustments to the moon to bring out the detail and to the rooftops to prevent the blacks from clipping. I then set about sharpening using the mask to pick out only the edges and bringing the radius down to 0.5. I had to give it a fair bit of noise reduction on luminance with a heavy hand (nearly 100%) on the colour noise reduction.

In the end, I’m quite pleased with this shot which goes to show that you should never pass up an opportunity even if you’ve not planned and therefore think it won’t be the perfect shot. It’s always worth giving it a go.

Alastair Clunie Photography

Why use a professional photographer?

I’ve got a perfectly good camera on my phone, why would I need to hire a photographer? This is a rhetorical question someone expressed at a meeting recently when I didn’t really have the opportunity to respond. My short and perhaps cheeky answer is:

  • I have a perfectly good pen but that doesn’t make me a novelist
  • I have a perfectly good calculator but that doesn’t make me an accountant
  • etc..

It seems to be that just because (almost) everyone takes photographs these days photography is seen as something anyone can do. Well, to an extent that’s true. Anyone with a camera can take a picture but having a camera doesn’t make you a photographer. Why? Because a photograph is the end result of the photographer’s vision and their knowledge and skill in knowing how to achieve it.

Good photography comes from the knowledge and skill of the photographer more than it does from the equipment the photographer uses.

One of my favourite analogies is that an F1 driver would get the very best performance out of a road car but, if you take an ordinary road driver and put them in an F1 car then I suspect the result would be best left to the imagination! Likewise in photography, a top photographer will get the best results out of even the most basic cameras. The reason is that it’s all about a vision for what the final image should look like, what story it should tell and how you then go about the composition and lighting to achieve the result.

So let’s consider an example. Let’s say someone, like me, has a Linked-In page and they want a head shot image to appear on their profile. Well one option is to get the iPhone out and take a selfie. That might look something like this and could be quite acceptable:

Alastair Clunie Photography
Alastair Clunie

However, whilst it certainly looks like me, it doesn’t actually tell a story or say anything much about me. I’m a photographer and I want a head shot which is going to reflect that. So a photographer is going to come up with something more like this:

Alastair Clunie Photography
Alastair Clunie

This requires rather more set-up and knowledge than simply using a phone camera for a selfie and it actually tells a story and says something about me that is consistent with how I describe myself on my Linked-In profile.

That’s just one small example, but I think it helps illustrate the value in hiring a professional photographer.