Another year, another visit to the Royal International Air Tattoo, this time in the company of friends. Much the same aircraft and displays as last year so we didn't stay for the full show and perhaps the limited variety of this set reflects my indifference. Still, the incredible pilots put on a good show despite the oppressive heat under the searing sunshine. Blinding rays pierced through the rings of undulating vapour trails as the deafening afterburners roared through the sky. These machines could undoubtedly find a missile lock far more easily than our cameras could a focus lock, our rattling shutters presumably no match for the cannons on the underbellies of these aerial knights. As they careened past in all directions it proved a trifle difficult to keep up but the show was efficiently organised and we enjoyed what we saw. A worthy distraction.
Not the greatest images in the world but great to see the planes over the Mall as they celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Royal Air Force. Forget Top Gun, these guys know how to do it and make it look good. Some were on display at Horseguard's Parade. Happy 100th Birthday RAF.
Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, is a pleasant if unspectacular city, whose friendly and laid-back atmosphere belie the fact that the country was at war a mere quarter century ago. The city is modern and developed, with a plethora of beautiful churches, the most dominant being the Saint Sava Temple with an as yet unfinished interior. The outwardly unassuming Alexander Nevsky Cathedral probably has the most beautiful and colourful interior, while the Ruziça Church on Kalemegdan has chandeliers made from bullets and swords. The city's history is exemplified at Kalemegdan, a large ascending park at the top of the old city whose summit hosts the Belgrade Fortress. The open military museum here allows one to walk amongst divisions of tanks and rocket launchers while marvelling at the huge dinosaurs in the Jurassic kids park nearby. The Victor Monument overlooking the confluence of the Sava and Danube Rivers provides a classic sunset venue. The long city streets are replete with bountiful shops and eateries, Skadarska being a popular evening destination with its cobbled streets and live music. Lots of museums too, we only had time to enjoy the impressive art collection, including many by Yugoslavian artists, at the National Museum. We thank the friendly and helpful inhabitants of Belgrade and their tasty food; it made our short visit enjoyable despite the oppressive heat.
Some real cars this time rather than the models. Another year, another display of pretty much the same old wheels and another challenge to shoot them from interesting angles. Thus, a lot of low shots with a wide-angle lens looking up to capture their imposition and scale, and processed with a slightly vintage look in keeping with their ages. The Corvette Stingray is a personal favourite of mine, hence the cover photo; they simply don't design them like that any more. Logos, wheels and even the exhausts underneath the vehicles were all fair game. And then it got a little too hot for comfort so I packed up and left.I used a variety of lenses, all of which had a polariser to cut out reflections, except the 45mm.
Always a safe bet for a good day out, Waddesdon Manor once again impressed us with its opulence and scale. Despite the heaving masses that clearly had the same bright idea as us, I managed to eke out a few shots absent of people. Possibly similar to ones I had taken before but this time all accomplished with one lens. Beautiful and ornate exteriors, well tended gardens and luxurious interiors are all characteristics of Waddeson Manor, built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to display his art and to entertain his guests (a rather exquisite weekend retreat).Excellent guides, gardeners and volunteers made this visit as enjoyable as previous ones.
Serene silence in the desert is suddenly and brutally assaulted by the sound of speed, a relentless roar of powerful engines becoming louder with frightening intensity. Diesel chokes the air with plumes of thick pungent smoke. Dust and sand swirl upwards in a chaotic fog as burning rubber spits it everywhere. They are here. Red and blue chase each other like metallic warriors in a chariot race to the death, airborne over the ridges and slamming into the dirt below. Chassis reinforced with steel roll cages defy the impact as they stubbornly race forward through a tornado of debris. There can be only one winner...Ok, I'm starting to get requests for these kinds of projects, this being one such example. The client wanted to have custom posters for his young son's bedroom, his son being a car and racing fanatic. I took a few more photos than he needed so that I could make a project out of it. Two rally models, both 1/36 scale, were hung over a bed of breadcrumbs and showered in it through a straw while smoke was blown over them with a vaping device. Some debris was added in post, as was some of the smoke, the sky and of course, the headlights. I think this particular project demonstrates the importance of finding the right angles and using the right kind of toning to make the cars look more convincing. The client and his son loved the images they selected so job done. Of course, he paid my fee but I guess you can't put a price on a child's happiness.Some people have also asked that I make images using scale model versions of their actual cars in scenarios that they wouldn't dare place their expensive or prized vehicles. Not a bad idea. Once again, another project that helped me revise and practice composition, lighting and framing, as well as demand some creativity and craft. All shot with mirrorless gear. The video of this project can be seen here.
The idea, which wasn't mine but suggested to me by my frequent collaborator, was just a car bursting through a stack of barrels at night. So, clearly it wasn't just me that grew up on a diet of 1980s action TV and Fast and Furious movies. But once the idea was nascent it wouldn't let go until I nurtured it to fruition. For this project I used two scale model (1/36) cars, one to burst through the barrels and one to act as a parked obstacle. Everything was handmade, from the barrels to the traffic cones, the making of the former, at least, can be seen below. I realise a stack of wooden barrels aren't likely to be seen on a highway but they offered the camera more texture and I had some brown paint left over from my previous project. The smoke was a practical effect from a vaping device, as was the small torch giving off the blue LED light. Photoshop was used to remove wires, blend layers and spin wheels. And add a little debris and some headlights. And add colour and contrast. I added a skyline backdrop to two of the images (from my Toronto archives) to fill in some dead space. I left the other shots (facing away from the skyline) blank as I didn't want it to be a distraction. The main image was the red car bursting through the barrels but as with previous projects I was encouraged to tell a story (before and after the stunt) so I arranged the other 'pick-up' shots. And like a stunt scene in a movie I wanted to show it from several angles. But whereas a movie will typically use multiple cameras to cover a single stunt I, alas, had only one camera and thus rearranged the scene in different positions in front of the camera. Anyway, I think the result is satisfying to me and it's on to the next project. The video of this project can be seen here.
Enjoyed a great day in the sun with friends this weekend past at Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII's second wife. King Henry came into possession of the property after the death of Anne's father and then bestowed it upon Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, upon the annulment of their marriage. In the early part of the last century, the castle was restored and used as a family residence by the American William Astor.The castle and grounds were grand and sumptuous, beautifully neat gardens and walks decorated the vast landscape within the castle's view. Particular highlights were the Yeomanry Museum and the Miniature House exhibition. The castle rooms were typically ornate and well furnished, including a bedroom for King Henry himself.Had too much fun to take many photos so here are just a few. Mostly shot with the Panasonic 8-18mm F/2.8-4.
My latest scale model project is a tribute to a classic vehicle stunt.The highlight in perhaps one of the weaker Bond movies, and the first stunt to be modelled by a computer, the Astro Spiral jump was a bona fide act of daring long before the modern era of CGI.Rather than copy the scene (or sequence) exactly, and it is possible to buy a model of the AMC Hornet used in the film, this was merely an homage, chosen because I love vehicular acrobatics (guilty of some myself!). And also because it was entirely possible to construct the two bridge halves and create a simple diorama around them. I used what I felt would be a slightly more exotic car for the period, the Lamborghini Miura. The bridge was constructed from strips of cardboard and mounted on a frame made from food skewer sticks. Everything was painted from a small tester tub of brown paint from a DIY store. Luckily, because it was meant to look dilapidated and collapsed, nothing had to be perfect, neither the construction of the bridge nor the paint job.The ground was a doormat made of artificial grass, cut in two to make way for a river of foil. The embankments in the background were made of folded flowerpot liners (!). There shouldn't have been any river banks but the cut doormat edges had to be covered so I lined them with breadcrumbs. My friend and frequent collaborator Brubaker helped me hang the car in various positions. The only things added to the scene in post were the sky, headlights and debris trails. I possibly could have added more to the background as it's a little empty but I imagined this bridge to be abandoned in a remote place and I didn't want too much clutter around the car within the frame.I wasn't originally going for a continuous sequence (you can see the lack of continuity in the colouring), hoping each image would work as a standalone pic. Anyway, maybe I should stick to 80s TV shows. Had a ton of fun doing it, though :)The video for this project can be seen here.
Spoiler alert: BMW loses.So another trip back to the 80s, this time with Airwolf, a mach one attack helicopter with the most advanced weapon systems in the air today.... Ah, you had to have seen it. Well, I wanted to make just a few random shots with the die cast helicopter model but my friend Brubaker suggested we make a series.Oh boy. It seemed like more work than I was intending to give this project but hey ho, more opportunities to eat and drink. So these were made with a £2 1/43 scale die cast BMW that I found in a supermarket and that happened to be a similar relative scale to the helicopter. I would have preferred a model of Street Hawk but nobody seems to have one.Once again, and on two separate occasions, we set up the shots on our makeshift studio table, arranging the car and helicopter at the positions we wanted. Airwolf was either hung from above with string on mounted on its accompanying stand (later edited out in post). As before, we tried to have as many practical effects and elements as possible to achieve as much as we could in camera. For instance we used smoke for mist in the lair and breadcrumbs for gravel/desert. For the black road we spray painted a sheet of cardboard and stuck two thin strips of yellow electrical tape down the centre. For water we used a pre-crumpled piece of aluminium foil with a blue sheet in the background so that it would catch the colour. We tried to create chain gun bullet impacts in the breadcrumb gravel but our attempts were unsuccessful so I had to try it with brushes in post. The explosion around the BMW was once again from a section of the exploding galaxy I had used previously. The die cast helicopter actually has a button-activated spinning rotor but I decided to create the rotor effects in post too.More often than not we photographed the background first as a master shot before placing the car and the helicopter in the scene. These were then cut, copied and pasted into the master shot along with any of the desired effects. As before, backgrounds were added from my archives (mainly from Colorado for this set) and headlights were added in post too. Everything was edited with layers. My friend Natalia provided valuable feedback on each edit. Despite the potential for ridicule I can honestly say that photographing scale models can teach you a tremendous amount about lighting, composition, framing and processing, all of which are essential to any genre of digital photography. It's certainly not as easy as you might think and does require a modicum of thought, imagination, invention and planning. In that respect it has been just as stimulating as taking images on my travels. Anyway, I'm reasonably happy with our results. There are a few people out there shooting scale models and dioramas (and being paid handsomely for it) but I have yet to find anyone else creating these kind of action scenes. Arguably no one else is that sad! Once again a fun time was had by all and we more or less got the results we set out to achieve. That in itself made completion of this project satisfying.
And now for something a little different.This will either invite complete ridicule or slightly less than complete ridicule but it sure was fun to do. My friends and I decided to have a go at making scale models look realistic, albeit with meagre and makeshift resources. And arguably this is as much about processing as photography but there don't seem to be many people doing this kind of work with scale or die cast models. Thus one evening recently we set up a makeshift studio with some lamps, blue canvas background and tin foil wrapped around cardboard for reflectors. To soften the light and dampen shadows the lamps were covered in material from that sheath your laptop comes wrapped in (told you it was makeshift). We used flour for snow or breadcrumbs for gravel.We started off with fairly easy shots, cars in the snow or in the blizzard. completely unoriginal but I figure I have to walk before I fly. Sieved flour in front of a small fan created the blizzard effect. Icelandic scenes in the background were taken from my own archives and added in post, as were headlights. Then we decided to get little sillier.Alas, we can't go back to the 1980s, the greatest decade in the history of world, so we tried to bring the 80s to us. We decided to ask the Knight Industries Two Thousand to turbo boost over the A-Team van, both scale models. We hung KITT over the van and used several practical effects: an e-cigarette provided smoke, exhaust trails and dust, a birthday cake sparkler gave us bullet impacts on KITT's body while oats. We shot the scene from two different angles. Each effect was shot separately and then blended together as desired using layers in Photoshop. A sky background was added from my archives. For solitary shots of KITT the e-cigarette wasn't giving us the right smoky texture so I inhaled an entire Cuban cigar and placed an LED light near the driver's cabin to create some beams.Then we decided to be little more ambitious, using smaller models to create Hollywood style action scenes. I initially used a firestorm action in Photoshop that I found online but it was buggy so I pillaged sections of an exploding galaxy and used that instead. Finally, we decided to blow up the world's most indestructible car. We hung KITT upside down with the detached sunroof sections hanging with thin black wires that could be easily removed in post. We used the birthday cake sparkler again on the body, and to get flames coming out of the bonnet and the boot we used lighter fluid and an aerosol spray (don't try that at home kids). We placed thin skewer sticks to mark the positions of the bonnet, cabin and boot and then removed the car so we could spray the flames at those locations. Alas, the results just weren't what we were looking for when merged with the car so the exploding galaxy was rehired. I'lll be the first to admit my post-processing skills aren't that great and I don't enjoy spending a long time in front of a computer screen (my sympathies for those with desk jobs). But life is short and rather than be tethered to just one genre I'm willing to try new things and gave this one a shot, so to speak. Feel free to point the finger of ridicule but you'll have to take a. number and get in line. Worst case scenario a bunch of friends had a fun nostalgia trip playing with toys; best case we created something a little different. Perhaps we'll try again sometime. I'm sure Airwolf is hovering over Street Hawk around here somewhere...
Last weekend I drove down to Devon to spend a few days around Dartmoor National Park. At the invitation of and in the company of others there wasn't much time to stop and set up shots, and the inclement weather seems to be following me around lately. But I managed to eke out a few shots.Once again, and increasingly so nowadays, it was more about enjoying the experience than taking photos, and to that end we all had a great time, particularly so hiking around Lydford Gorge, a few hours of which culminated in the impressive White Lady waterfall. We stayed at the same hotel that Charles Dickens had been snowed under at in the 19th Century, a nearly thousand year old building where he passed the time writing the first half of The Pickwick Papers. Dartmoor is know for the views from its many tors and we ascended perhaps the most famous, Brent Tor, where the small church at the summit was still open. Despite the cloudy end to the day there really were some stunning views. En route we had stopped in at Buckfast Abbey, a small but no less ornate example of medieval architecture. We popped down to Plymouth to visit the National Marine Aquarium. The charity does exemplary work in conservation and education, but I was somewhat disappointed with the aquarium itself, having only tow large tanks and scattered smaller exhibits. I realise its focus is on education, especially important given Mankind's impact on the oceans, but having visited the aquarium in Toronto last year that became a point of reference for me.Finally, we spent a sunny day in Torquay, a slightly more upmarket seaside town and marina, of which I took some unoriginal shots at sunset and dusk. Good views were had overlooking Thatcher's Rock.A good break with plenty to enjoy.
By some miracle Alpha Whiskey is still alive. When they told me to get lost I decided to go for another drive in Iceland. Life is short and it's important to do the things you enjoy before it expires and I happen to enjoy driving around Iceland. It was definitely more about the experience than the photos as the incessantly inclement weather on the planet's third windiest environment literally dampened the scenery. One particularly memorable experience was getting my 4x4 stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere on top of a mountain for hours; a ridiculous problem to have given that I had just driven through a lake to get there. Adding to my predicament my phone decided to stop working too. But Lady Luck must have been watching over me. A couple from Germany turned up an hour later hoping the see the same waterfall, only to find me in their way. But they stayed with me for nearly five hours, trying every possible solution to free my vehicle. Eventually we got traction, jacking the wheels up and shoving under them planks of wood that we had 'borrowed' from a nearby empty barn. Everyone said their good byes and left and then came the scary part. The lake had become deeper after several hours of melting ice and driving through it completely alone with no point of reference and no feeling of any surface under the vehicle was an exercise in terror. I was basically steering a boat along what I hoped was the road below. If I became stuck here I was done. But the road finally crept up to meet me through the water as it joined the main highway and my vehicle clambered out. I made it. On this trip I stayed mainly in the south of the island, taking in sights I had seen before but capturing images that I hadn't managed to on my previous trip such as the mountain at Vestrahorn and tide trails around the ice on Diamond Beach. I had started at Geysir and finished at Kirkjufell in the north-west. A particular highlight was a glacier hike and the ice caves, with shimmering light undulating along their glassy walls. Anyway, here is a small sample. The overcast skies, rain fog and wind meant that I have processed these to have a deliberately moody look.
A typically dry first few weeks of the year, photographically speaking, but I did manage to squeeze in a brief trip to Sweden. Still didn't do much photography as the weather wasn't great and I was busy enjoying the company of my friend. But I did manage to eke out a few shots from time killed at The Universeum and The Volvo Museum.Photography isn't something I need and can easily live without it for long stretches of time. I have plenty of other distractions to occupy myself with. Nevertheless, as an opportunist snapper I usually take my camera with me on the off chance that I see a potential shot somewhere. But life is to be experienced and enjoyed first and photographed a distant second.
If you'll pardon the pun it seemed like a good way to kick-start the New Year. When a friend invited me to her kickboxing class to indulge in some photography while she trained I accepted. Frankly I'm surprised it took me so long to get around to this subject; having reached 1st Dan in taekwondo in my youth I was always enamoured with the flexibility and physical expression these types of sport had to offer, enjoying less the pugilism and more the forms, aerial movement and speed. The various moves were always visually interesting and demonstrative of how capable human anatomy could be.Purists would argue that kickboxing is more of a martial sport than a martial art and perhaps they are right. But these guys certainly made it look artistic and to me these kinds of physical movement are an art form regardless of where the blow lands. And when captured in a photograph it summons Yates' assertion that the dancer is the dance.While taking these photos I cast my memory back to graphic novels and old martial arts movies, when camera positions and framing where just as essential to the visual experience of the audience as the exponent themselves. Indeed today camera angles and editing are what give the likes of Liam Neeson their particular set of skills, enhancing the visceral impact through clever choreography and positioning. Not that the exponents in this class needed any help on that score. I would shoot from ground level to lend more height to the kicks, sometimes tilting the camera to bring greater dynamism to the movements (a typical technique used in graphic novels). Combined with wide-angles lenses, shooting from low enhanced the scope and impact of some of the movements. I even used the good ol' fish-eye to deliberately exaggerate some of the kicks. And akin to graphic novel art the best way to convey a sense of motion from a still image seems to be to depict the very beginning or end of an action, i.e. the intention or the impact. So while I reeled off a few clicks with high speed continuous shooting I tended to select the images at the extremes to edit.When I had finished picking my teeth up off the floor I switched to longer focal lengths to capture more intimate portraits (at the punching bag). The lighting in the gym wasn't ideal; alas no rays of soft sunlight lancing through an overhead skylight and penetrating a fine mist as backlit silhouettes performed reverse roundhouse kicks on a wooden crate. And the background had plenty of distractions and objects that cluttered the scene, despite using fast lenses. Thus, in processing these images I opted to apply a slight gritty, urban look, which I felt was appropriate to the subject. May or may not have succeeded. And despite shooting these at fairly high ISOs I opted to reduce the noise (and grit).Anyway, maybe in future I'll have the opportunity to shoot some competitive contests but for now I hope these encourage you to go out and shoot some images of your own (or take up some kickboxing classes). I wish to thank Chloe and her trainer George, a world champion kickboxer, at the GTC Studio for their hospitality and the opportunity to take these images.