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Gallery  —  Posted: January 14, 2016 in Portfolio, Shoots in short


Sometimes you just get it right. Everything works. On this shoot, I guess I should have seen it coming when the company helicopter pilot invited me to fly his helicopter to the Rustenburg factory. I mean really, how lucky can one get?

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The company, a ferrochrome beneficiation facility, melts and smelts crushed ferrochrome ore and exports the raw material. It is based in Rustenburg, where most of the world’s ferrochrome deposits are to be found. Not to mention some of the worst traffic. Hence the dedicated helicopter to ferry us from Lanseria. Just to put the records straight, I have never flown a helicopter, but with the collective set and the pilot’s feet firmly on the rudder, all I had to do was steer with the cyclical, miss the clouds and stay under 5500ft. Very cool. And very unlike the heat that met us at the factory.

Ferrochrome melts at over 1000 degrees C. It is exceptionally hot close to the kilns, and you have to wear the long sleeve protective jackets and other PTE gear. It is also very dusty inside the huge sheds – teams of sweepers work constantly to gather the dust and shovel it back into heaps. My poor Nikon D4. Damn good thing it is weather-sealed!

My job was to shoot images of the operations for the company web site, brochures and corporate publications. Initially, despite the boost from the chopper flight, I had serious misgivings about the job. I had two days only, and a vast area to cover. IMG_7413JWBSThe problem was, these people worked hectically fast, moving around and never standing still. Lots of blurry shots. The light levels inside were very low, forcing an average ISO of around 2200 in order to get any depth in the shots. On top of that, as soon as they poured the molten ore, the light levels would scream up from a 30th of a second to sometimes over 4000th of a second! I normally shoot manual but here reverted to aperture priority, yet still could not keep up without blowing out detail, even with a -1 EV dialled in.

After a few hours of shunting around trying to capture the action, I realised I needed a change of tack. I stopped, walked around and started marking nice locations, and planned a few “hero” shots. I knew I would have to “ambush” shots – set up for the expected exposure during a pouring, position an extra flash on wireless remote to fill it shadows on the deep shade side away from the furnace, and wait for the light levels to reach the preset level.

On top of this, I briefed the workers, got them to stand at the ready in places where they would work in my composition, and then let them get on with it. And this was when things started working in my favour. Literally just clicking into place. It was like you just could not go wrong. _ND40745s

I was even lucky enough to be in a particular spot when the sweeper team raised a cloud of dust that gave me a perfectly streaked white background for some silhouette shots. I had the workers all lined up already, and got the shots sorted in no time, then raced up to an observation desk to use the dusty backdrop with some pouring drama in the foreground.

_ND40570sStill, it was one of the most extreme locations I’ve had to shoot in. The dirt sifted down on everything, got into everything. I have rarely been this dirty and sweaty, and nor has my Nikon. The dust however did give beautiful texture to everything.

_ND40780For some of the portraits, I used a Speedlight on a pole close in to the subject and snooted to 105mm for a narrow beam of light that nicely picked up this grittiness, and gives a sense of what kind of conditions these guys work in.

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It’s an extremely dangerous place – the kilns full of molten ore are craned overhead, often still dripping bits of lava, and there is a very strict protocol to be observed when you work here. A couple of times I had to be shouted at to get out of the way of the hot stuff while I was concentrating on finding new locations rather than my immediate surroundings.

In hindsight, everything worked in my favour to leave me with probably my highest hit-rate of useable shots from a shoot. Ever.

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I had the most awesome backdrops to work with, the most naturally gritty, dirty, Black Label-type locations, an array of huge, steampunk-looking machinery to add a sense of scale, and workers falling over themselves to be be part of the shoot. At some stage, my client wanted me to sit in on briefing for the web site copy, but I declined. It’s not often that you get onto a roll like this, and I was not going to spoil it with a meeting! Hell no!

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Thanks to Johan Winterbach for the additional images and the loan of some clean socks and shirts after I forgot mine!

Another behind-the-scenes post from Wordsource Productions.

Find images such as these on iStockphoto.com

 

 

Shakin’ with Shakatak

Posted: April 2, 2014 in Shoots in short

Angola border, 1982. Me bordering on insane, if it wasn’t for Shakatak’s jazz. Little did I know I would one day meet my idols.SH_ND41420

It was one of those tapes that got played incessantly, two Shakatak albums recorded on both sides. I could air-guitar every riff, play the electronic piano solos like I’d written them. Even years later, I could still remember every chorus line, and drum the solos on my steering while while driving. Shakatak was part of my upbringing, a mystical band from far away that kept churning out the hits.

Fast-forward to the 2014 Cape Town Jazz Festival, and by the time I surface from whatever job was occupying my being, all tickets were sold out. And Shakatak was headlining. Drat.

A chance mention of an extra concert on a radio program had me scampering to buy a ticket. Once I had my ticket, I was thinking – you want to sit at the back and watch this show? Then I had a brainwave. I contacted the event company, the very friendly people at Barooch and PR firm Networx Pr and offered to shoot the event for free. It came with an all-access pass, to my great delight.

Sunday afternoons are made for jazz. Capetonians came in their droves to the concert, and patiently sat through the opening acts, building up a pretty good head of steam for the moment that the band would step on stage.

Roger Odell, drummer for Shakatak

Drummer Roger Odell sharing some history. Pic by Jacques Bartie

Backstage, I met drummer Roger Odell and was astounded to learn that the band still toured extensively, played around 100 concerts a year and was about to launch a new album. WTF? These guys are not young anymore, where do they get the energy?SH_ND41433

And energy there was aplenty when lead singer Jill Saward, keyboardist Bill Sharpe, bassist George Anderson and vocalist Jackie Rawe stepped on stage. It was more or less here where my dilemma made itself felt – do I shoot the crap out of this event, or chill and enjoy the show? Both won – I worked the Nikon D4 to its limits in the difficult light, as the band members were half in and half out of direct sunshine.

Not ideal, nor were the shooting positions available to myself and photographers Jacques Bartie and Simon Shiffmann. Being a daylight event, it was difficult to isolate the band members against a very cluttered background, even shooting wide open on my 70-200m f2.8 lens. It was really tight, and being on stage didn’t really help either, due to the huge contrast range we had to deal with. SH_ND41412

Outside, the crowd was insatiable and showed their appreciation. It was amazing to watch, close up, how the Shakatak band members enjoyed the crowd’s pure enjoyment. They were grinning from ear to ear. Clearly, the thrill of this kind of crowd participation never wears off!

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Another behind the scenes look from Wordsource Productions.

 

 

 

 


Getting onto an aircraft without being in possession of a visa for your destination country is not a good idea. Not in a first world country, and most certainly not in a third world one. Now if that country is war-torn Sudan, you gotta ask yourself some serious questions about your sanity.

Which is how we found ourselves “stranded” in Dubai on a recent transfer to Sudan, waiting for our visas before boarding the plane to Khartoum. Myself and business associate Johan Winterbach had been drafted in to accompany a client to the country for a fact-finding mission to a new oil field in the south of the country, and to collect video and stills material for a production aimed at shareholders.

In Dubai, we had to lay over as we had missed our first booked flight to Khartoum due to the non-appearance of our visas.  To compound matters, we had no real idea of what we would encounter. And I’m not talking political upheaval. We had no idea what we would be shooting, and could not plan accordingly. Due to space issues, I could only pack one stills camera and a few lenses, or one video camera and tripod. Lugging a heavy Manfrotto video tripod over desert terrain however clinched it, so the Nikon D4 and a lightweight Manfrotto tripod went into the bag.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai,

The Burj Khalifa, Dubai: the world’s tallest building.

But back to Dubai, where we were stationed in hotel close to the famous Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall. We took full advantage of this opportunity to see as much of the city as we could, and I even found a rare Nikkor 105mm DC lens in a shop, which miraculously found space in my crowded camera bag.

Twenty four hours later, however, we were at the airport, anxiously watching an email inbox for the long-awaited visas, and literally five minutes before the gates closed, we showed the laptop screen to the airport officials to verify our visas had been issued, and we were allowed through the gates!

Khartoum, Sudan

Khartoum, Sudan

We arrived at Khartoum, a flat, sprawling city on the confluence of the White and Blue Nile Rivers, shortly before sunset. Around it, flat Sahara landscape, nothing else, with the low sun casting long shadows from the flat-roofed buildings across dusty streets. It was exactly as I had imagined it would be, and I could feel my trigger finger starting to itch. The trouble was, I had read that taking pictures without official permission was strictly forbidden. Due to the short notice period before our departure from South Africa, though, there was no time to organise anything.

Sudan, Khartoum, Muslim clerics

Members of a Khartoum mosque welcoming a returning imam at the city airport

On landing, however, my perception of this desert city and country changed completely. To start with, it was VIP treatment the whole way. I was just getting used to flying flying business class. But to be picked up ON the runway by a black van with flashing blue lights was a new experience. Whisked off to a VIP lounge, our passports were taken away and all immigration admin taken care of while we sipped water and coffee. At some point I meandered out of the airport lounge to see what was causing a bit of a commotion outside. It was a large gathering of Muslim clerics forming a welcoming party for an imam returning from Mecca. Lots of singing and dancing in a big circle. Great photo opp, but damn, I was not going to haul out the Nikon. Until one of our receiving party encourage me to take pictures. You sure? Yes of course! It is a great occasion, please do, he said.

I pulled out the D4 and tentatively started shooting some images, and was abruptly pushed in the centre of the circle by the dancing masses to get a better viewpoint. Well, OK then! I blasted away happily after that, receiving only big smiles in return. Somebody’s got to speak to Sudan’s PR people about its image …

The next morning work started and were back at the airport, boarding a chartered twin prop aircraft to Abeela, an old airport in the south of Sudan, some 400km north of the border with South Sudan. From this dusty airfield, we were taken to the airfield by very dubious means – an old Russian MI8 flown by two pilots and a flight engineer squeezing into a small cockpit. The inside panelling of the fuselage was cracked and I had to hold the door to the pilots’ cabin closed with my foot. On top of which, the MI8 had to be jumpstarted. Kid you not.

Russian helicopter, MI8

How many pilots does it take to fly a MI8?

An altimeter just above the door showed that we never went above 200 foot, and being ex-Air Force, I was probably the only one other than the flight crew who knew that from that altitude an engine-out would give us half a chance of landing in auto-rotation mode before things spiralled out of control. Grim thought. Fortunately it was a short flight to the new oil field, situated on the Muglad Basin.

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Johan Winterbach inspects the local hardware.

We landed in a cloud of dust, surrounded by four Toyota Land Cruisers with 20mm cannons mounted on the backs. Soldiers with AK47s were everywhere. I did not know whether to feel very safe or very scared. All this doubt however disappeared as I realised what the job was going to be – it became apparent that the client needed both video and stills, but mostly video. Now this is a problem. Unless you pimp a DSLR camera to death with follow focus and LED viewfinders, all mounted on heavy rails, it is all but impossible to shoot a decent video shot with the camera on its own. You can’t see properly on the LCD screen, which makes focus exceptionally difficult. The short depth of field of the full frame sensor worsens this – any focusing error is magnified. I knew I was just about toast. However, the old saying that the best camera for the job is the one you have with you held true. So I set about to make the most of it, mounting the D4 on the flimsy Manfrotto to at least get steady shots.

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A “Christmas Tree” – a capped oil well point

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The oil field in the Muglad Basin

Fear of the hardware around us dissipated quickly. The locals are quite friendly – the Miseriya tribe members in the area are not in favour of the succession from
South Sudan, so they support the government’s policies. Everything is quite peaceful and everyone gets on with the business of establishing the oil field, building the compound for oil workers and pumping the black stuff via a central pipeline north to Port Sudan.

It was a hard day. Our delayed start in Khartoum meant a rushed tour of the facilities, shooting off the hip, both stills and video, and trying to keep track (with a view to writing a video script later) of the oil extraction and processing sequence.

We had to finish the tour and get back to the Abeela airport in order to make the flight back to Khartoum before sunset.

Oil field, Sudan

Framing another video shot

Everything was done at a mad gallop, something that did my nerves no favours – I had no chance to review the footage, to check that everything was good, that the recordings were fine and properly exposed (all shot on manual). Fortunately, despite my best efforts to screw up the material, it all turned out fine. By 4pm, we were back at the airfield and boarding the twin prop again, relieved that all went well, and just about passing out with fatigue. I must mention at this point that a beer would have been great. But being a Muslim country, that would have to wait. A long time.

Traditional coffee served on a sweltering hotel stoep

Traditional coffee served on a sweltering hotel stoep

That evening, we got to sample the local fare, something I had been looking forward to. Goat meat, Arab dishes, even Coke in Arabic script, all fully accounted for at our hotel. But my eyes were on the sticky stuff – the dessert table, where a mountain of sweets were being displayed. Of course, everything had to be sampled.

Dessert in Khartoum

Sweet, sticky temptation

Over breakfast the next morning, I learnt that we had to shoot two interviews with the general manager and president of the local oil company. OK, I said, I won’t panic, seeing that I had no audio equipment with me, and that the D4’s onboard sound is shitty, to say the least. I also had no lights. Not a problem – I took over the client’s hotel suite, drew the heavy drapes to reduce the amount of light coming into the room, and placed a standard lamp on the other side of where the person interviewed would sit to act as key light, with the sliver of light coming in through the curtain would give a bit of 3D depth to my lighting setup.

I then borrowed a dictaphone from the client, and hid it just out of shot on a pillow next to the sitter. And so the interviews started. With the air conditioning turned off to reduce background noise, it was hot work, but an hour later, we had the interviews in the bag. I would not know until two weeks later what the sound quality was like, as I only received the audio tracks shortly before we started editing the production. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

On our last day in Khartoum, I still had not shot establishing shots of the city skyline for the production, and could not get permission from the hotel to access the roof for that. There are very strict rules in
the country regarding shooting on the streets, I was told, and the hotel wanted to get me a permit first from the Government before allowing me on the roof. Well, Arab efficiency being what it is, this permit never arrived.

However, we were invited for a lunch at a restaurant at the highest building in town, and during lunch I snuck off and made my way through various stairways to the airconditioning ducting room right at the top of the building, which fortunately was unlocked due to window washers accessing the outside of the glass-enclosed building. They were happy for me to take footage of the city and the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers, as long as I took pictures of them. Done.

Rooftop view, Khartoum

On top of the roof, Khartoum

An absolutely unforgettable experience. Sudan was fantastic, friendly and helpful. The place works and seems to be fast coming out of the middle ages. Everyone has cell phones and uses them all the time. There’s hardly a beggar to be seen, and the city of Khartoum is relatively clean. Being a majority Muslim country, things are stricter than what we’re used to, but not overtly repressive.

There is no alcohol to be had in the country, but they make up for this indiscretion with food. Lots of it. I ate so much, trying to sample every exotic taste, that I developed a very serious stomach condition which had me in bed an entire day on our return via Dubai. Let me put it this way – I came back much lighter.

Back in South Africa, we edited the program in record time, with a voice over recorded by ex-KFM presenter Allan Barnard. The audio turned out to be fine, although we initially struggled to synchronise the audio to the pictures. In the end, we reduced the playback speed of the footage on the timeline to match the audio as it turned out to be easier than to match the audio to the video. The D4 came through for me. Although not perfect, it does a reasonable job in video. Enough to complete a run-and-gun production in an emergency.

Another behind-the-scenes post from Wordsource Productions. Find images such as these on iStockphoto.com

20-year old MI8. The pilot spoke broken English. Two words you don't want to mention in the same sentence as flying.

20-year old MI8. The pilot spoke broken English. Two words you don’t want to mention in the same sentence as flying.


One can most often get footage on most any subject from stock footage sites. I dare anyone, however, to get footage of the origins of the Marathon – the 42km originally run by a Greek messenger from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC.

You see the problem?    Phidippides

Legend has it that the messenger, Pheidippides, ran the 25 miles on which the modern marathon is based to bring news of the Greek victory over the Persian army. He ran himself to death, apparently collapsing after delivering the good news, and dying.

I was tasked with producing a launch video for the new, revamped Cape Town Marathon, and the client wanted me to include a bit of the ancient history. But how to illustrate this? Many paintings exist of this event, but none were suitable for use in the video. Nor could I use something for which I had no rights.

My only option was to recreate part of this run. And the star attraction, it quickly dawned on me, was going to be me.

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Me striking a Greek hero pose in Saldanha.
Picture: Gavin Hurling

First, I had to find a costume that vaguely resembled that of a Greek soldier. Which is not quite historically correct – Pheidippides was a runner, not a soldier. But creative licence ruled, and besides, instant association with Greek and military was required more than historic accuracy. So sue me.

I managed to find a rental costume, and with assistant Gavin Hurling in tow, we set off to Saldanha harbour. As you’ll see in the video below, the area looks remarkably Greek-ish. I should know, having never been there. But I’ve seen pictures. The boats in the background look like ancient sail boats, and being sufficiently far away, it was not going to be an issue. We found a pathway on a hill overlooking the harbour, and set up the camera at a height that blocked out a tell-tale modern shed on the opposite shore. Then I donned my uniform, and started running. Barefoot. In February. I have new respect for the ancient runners, who, incidentally, were used instead of horses because horses didn’t know when to stop, and ran themselves to death. Come to think of it, our own hero wasn’t much different …

After finishing a couple of runs on the mountain path, we went down to the beach and set up a Gopro Hero Black Edition low level between two rocks, and set it to shoot at an overcranked 100 frames per second to get nice, smooth slow motion. It also showed in quite clear detail my modern underwear as I ran past. But it was fun anyway, and it cooled down my by now quite raw feet.mararun2

With this portion of the production done, we now cut to the modern part of the marathon. The client requested we get real runners running the new course in such a way that it would highlight the beauty of the Mother City. I scouted the course by car, picked my locations and angles, and with the help of Olympic medallist Elana Meyer, who along with Francois Pienaar, were the brand ambassadors and driving forces behind the event. Francois now runs Advent Sports and Events Marketing from the Waterfront, of which Elana is a shareholder.

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Shooting off the scooter near the Castle

We sourced five runners, and with star video editor Ruan Neethling driving our “steadybike”, a Vuka scooter with me sitting backwards and filming with the Sony EX1, we spent a hot Sunday morning filming the run. All the athletes were bundled into my truck, deposited at the various pre-selected locations, and on my cue would run the section between bouts of traffic. The light was beautiful, a perfect day, which meant that everyone and his dog was out on the streets enjoying a perfect Cape Town day. This seriously impeded our shooting – we had to keep it safe, and with more and more vehicles on the road, parking at each location became increasingly difficult, and running safely got dicey.

But we got it all in the can. I then shot a real marathon for some covering footage of runners looking tired, being supported and cheered on, and with a few days left before launch in March, all I had to get was a shot with Elana and Francois running together. Trouble was, Francois was almost always away, abroad, or in Johannesburg, attending to business. I had to dig up a couple of “body doubles” for the two of them, local runners from the Edgemead club, to do silhouette shots of the two famous sportspeople, and leave the shot of the two of them on camera until the last possible moment.

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Francois Pienaar acting like he’s tired.

This moment came early one Monday morning. I had arranged to meet with the two at 8 am at Signal Hill, as I wanted to use the long winding road from Lion’s Head as backdrop of the two running. All fine, except that the wind was blasting up the slope at 80km/h and clouds were billowing over Table Mountain, going from fully lit sunshine to murky overcast in a matter of seconds. I knew this would be hell to shoot, but that was the only chance I had. I arrived early, and while waiting, shot time lapses of the clouds to help the continuity of the shots that were to follow.

The two arrived right on time, I quickly explained what I wanted, and like the two professionals they were, the shots were done in 10 minutes flat. I could hardly believe my luck. The two are still top fit, in excellent shape and super good in front of the camera. After the running shots, I needed to record a quick interview with the two of them at Francois’ office. I had all the other interviews in the bag already – an earlier one with Elana and with the Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille.

Francois Pienaar TV interview

Perfectionist at work. Our ’95 rugby captain is a professional through and through, and re-recorded his interview until HE was happy.

Francois Pienaar, Patricia de Lille, Elana Meyer

Francois Pienaar, Patricia de Lille, Elana Meyer

All that remained was to knock the program into shape in the edit suite, which we did in two days, diving into my stock footage of the Cape Minstrels and some extra Cape Town footage shot on the Nikon D4. Some minor change requests from the client, and we were ready to roll. The new marathon, scheduled for September, was launched to the media this week.

Another behind-the-scenes post from Wordsource Productions.

 

 

 


On paper it sounded straightforward. Photograph the various fruits that you taste in the three Quay 5 wines made by Distell. Shoot the fruits on a series of water splashes to make them look fresh, glistening and delicious. Job accepted.

But then reality struck. Some of these fruits were not available, out of season in the Cape Town winter. No amount of digging, hunting down of importers or experimenting with frozen foods helped. I was going to have to make a plan.

But first, I thought, let’s do the easy stuff. Like the splashes. I sourced a fish tank to catch the spills. One Nikon Speedlight for high speed sync behind a white translucent sheet, tons of plastic sheeting on the studio floor. Then enlist the help of my wife Nicky to throw the water at a piece of glass suspended by clamp to help create multiple droplets. That should do it. But just in case, let me add some red food colouring to the water, make the splashes more visible.

Big mistake.

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First, the splashes looked like blood. Or like a crime scene after a particularly nasty axe murder. Secondly, my wife  got exceptionally grumpy. The red stuff was all over her clothes. And the studio floor, the innocently-bystanding softboxes and other studio equipment. But hell, I was committed, so I pushed on. Cleaning up was a problem for much later.
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Two hours of splashing later, we had sufficient shots to build the background. Two hours after that, the studio was more or less back to normal. Less like a horror movie scene.

And then the hunt began for the fruits.  I spoke to importers, I sorted through fresh fruit vendors’ bins, I selected perfect “hero” fruits, bought several “stunt doubles” to be sacrificed under the knife, and got to work.

Again, not as easy as it looked. A simple softbox three quarter back of the subject did the trick in most cases, with white card filling in some of the shadow in front but leaving just enough to allow some gradation back to front on the items. The items were placed on white plastic. But that lowered the contrast and caused the items to generally look flat. So to make the fruit really pop, I needed to boost the colour. A simple trick is to surround fruit with matt black fabric, allowing just enough white visible for deep etching.

Once the in-season fruits had been shot, I searched far and wide for the summer berries, and even shot some frozen ones, but this was a disaster. I finally conceded defeat and bought some cherry and berry images from a Russian iStockphoto colleague of mine, Anna Kucherova. Then the editing begun.

In Photoshop, I first put down the splashes, and built up a rough “5” on which to overlay the fruit. Then, one by one, I inserted the items, scaling each to be in proportion to the whole. Each item had to be either deep-etched or masked off and the background painted out. This literally took weeks. But I had to be sure every detail was perfect, as the images were intended for point-of-sale displays at huge size. Any error would be glaring.

The result was exceptionally pleasing. The colours seem to go together well, the composition works and most of all, it looked fresh, as per the client brief. This image depicts the red wine flavours, and below are the entire range.

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To show the various layers in Photoshop, I put this little video together:

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.

Find images such as these on iStockphoto.com


Photography, videography, time lapse by Jaco Wolmarans

Scouting for locations
Copyright Jaco Wolmarans

One of the absolute best things about being a freelancer is being able to decide on what constitutes work. Trips to Pella in the Northern Cape, in most people’s books, would not qualify. But I had a plan: time lapse shooting. Of course it warranted (note, not justified) the purchase of a Timelapse SA  motion-controlled dolly. Justified is a bit of a stretch, and my wife saw right through all my arguments.

In the end, I think she relented and just let me get on with buying it. And the extra length of track. And the special charger. And long life battery. Then the bag I had made to fit it all into. Ah well, …

Time lapse videography, Pella, South Africa by Jaco Wolmarans

My brother Wollie and his trusty Pajero, helping me scout new locations.

But back to time lapse shooting. I have spent more money on kit than time analyzing why I am so fascinated by it. I suspect it has something to do with controlling time, fast-forward through time. In much the same way as we are fascinated by macro shots of objects. It’s just a new way of looking at something familiar. And it’s just way cool.

In my case, the official version was that I was shooting time lapses to sell as stock. Or to build up a bank of footage to be used in possible productions later on. I had to admit though, one year later, that the sales have been minimal. The subject has a niche appeal. To me, though, that was not the main reason. And I think my wife spotted this – and allowed me to justify away.

So there we were, our RAV4 packed to the hilt with kit, headed off to Pella one chilly July. My brother is a manager on a grape farm on the banks of the Orange River, in what must be one of the most incredible bits of scenery I have ever visited. On par with the Richtersveld, I’d say. And that’s not only me saying so. Nicholas Cage (who happens to share a birth date in 1964 with me) also thought so. That’s why they shot parts of Lords of War right here. Cage stayed on the farm itself. The farm is dotted with the most spectacular rock formations, gnarled tree shapes and to top it all, a proper quiver tree forest. Like thousands of trees in a clump. It’s eerie and totally engrossing to the landscape photographer.

Time lapse videography, Pella, South Africa by Jaco Wolmarans

All set to go as the first rays of sun light up the peaks and quiver tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The real addiction, I realised, was being up before dawn, the dolly creeping up or across, camera filming one frame every second, me with a flask of coffee behind, watching another spectacular natural scene materialise out of darkness.

There is something completely engrossing about this process – trying to pre-empt where the first rays of sun would come through, judging which objects it would light up first, what exposure to set to capture that magic golden light at the right moment, not blowing out highlights by setting too wide an aperture. It teaches patience – once you’ve made your calculations, set up and started rolling, you have to see it through.

Time lapse videography, Pella, South Africa by Jaco Wolmarans

Working in Africa is hard. Real hard.

You’ll know whether your calculations were right the minute the sun peeks out behind the hills, and starts to colour your world. Sometimes you get it spot on, other times you misjudge it horribly, and have to abort halfway through, the morning wasted.

Did I say wasted? Not quite. I always remind myself that I could have been in rush hour morning traffic, driving to an office. Being out here is reward in itself. Whether the shot pans out or not. There is just something about the crispness of pre-dawn air. The quiet, the shapes unfolding in front of you as the light crawls over the horizon and giving shape to rock and tree. Being out there is pure privilege.

Time lapse planning process

Setting up a time lapse sequence is 80 percent visualisation, 20 percent maths. Which is a good thing, as I’m not so good at numbers. It also requires a lot of scouting, camera in hand, trying to visualise where the light would be by sunrise or sunset. Then looking through the viewfinder, framing the shot, and noting the field of view, the elevation, the zoom position on my camera. On the Sony PMW-EX1 video camera, the onscreen text makes it easier – the zoom width is indicated with a Z-value, and exposure too, so I would go to a potential scene, frame my final shot, note the exposure for a fully-lit shot, the zoom position, and memorise those.

Time lapse videography, Pella, South Africa

A typical end position for a shot – background revealed, pleasing light around the trunk of the tree, and enough sky detail thanks to good end shot exposure calculation.
Copyright Jaco Wolmarans.

Next, I would move the camera along an imaginary track, trying to emulate the camera movement on the dolly once set up. This helps me determine at what angle to place the dolly, what the start position should be, as you always want to move from a nicely-framed start through some “dead” middle ground on to a nicely-framed final final shot.

Moving the camera through my emulation stage also helps me decide whether to let the track run up, sideways or down. Setting it up to move upwards helps reveal middle ground, keeps the viewer enticed. I would start with the middle or background blocked by some rock or bush in the foreground. As the camera lifts, it starts revealing that background. Similarly, moving sideways past a tree trunk, a rock or bush reveals background on a horizontal plane.

Once I’ve worked out where I want the shot to start and end, I have to calculate the start time. Knowing when the sun comes up or sets is crucial. That basically determines the end of the shot, as well as the final position of the camera. So you work backwards, and calculate how far the camera needs to travel over the track, and at what speed. With the Timelapse SA dolly, you can vary the speed to make the camera arrive at the fully-revealed, fully-lit position at exactly the right moment. Well, almost exactly, with my number skills.

_DSC1046

Using a tree in the foreground to increase the sense of three-dimensionality as the shadows lengthen on the hill in the background.

Finally, I choose an exposure, and here, you have to choose the end exposure that will be required. Which means you have to be on location at more or less that time of day to check what the exposure will be for when you do the shot. Some shooters use an auto exposure system, which means the camera tries to expose for the amount of light available each time it takes an image. But what’s the point? Surely you want to show progressing from dark to light, or light to dark?

Slow down and use the best light

I mentioned patience above. This is where yours will get tested. Because you basically do only two lapses in a day if you want to utilise the best light at dawn and dusk.

Shoots like these always entail scouting for a whole day, then finding two locations – one for that evening, and one for the next morning. I would run my sunset lapse, finish off and move the rig to where my morning lapse will be filmed, set it up in the almost darkness, and leave the rig (except the camera, of course) out in the veld. This helps you fumble less in the pitch dark pre-dawn sessions, when you’re half asleep still, and not thinking straight. It also helps if you don’t have to handle Manfrotto tripods and aluminium tracks in the chill of the morning. Metal tends to get painfully stuck on flesh.

So what determines a good lapse? Some of the most spectacular, I found, always included a strong sense of three-dimensionality. Foreground moving relative to background, clouds moving relative to shifting foreground. Static is fine for a cloudscape, yes, but a scene really pops if there is some extra movement in the shot – a tree moving across the view, a rock disappearing from view in the foreground, the camera moving past a dead branch. Dead is better. You you don’t want foliage moving in the foreground. Or anywhere in the shot, if you can avoid it. I found it is distracting to the viewer.

Time lapse videography, Pella, South Africa

Using foreground objects to aid three-dimensionality during the timelapse.
Copyright Jaco Wolmarans. All rights reserved.

In the end, a lot of it is trial and error. And more error. But sometimes you get it just right, getting a lapse with a sense of epic scale, showing off nature fast-forward mode that somehow, strangely, makes it feel like time is standing still. I know, it sounds contradictory, but there it is – a privileged glimpse into space and time, two or three hours condensed into seconds of pure wonder.

A short video from my last Pella trip.

Another behind-the-scenes post from Wordsource Productions.

Video  —  Posted: August 13, 2013 in Shoots in short
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_DSC4529_000_MThis was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a pro bono job that one just could not turn down. Regardless of the risk. Matt Silver-Vallance was going to attempt a helium balloon flight (read party balloons, a suspended seat underneath and a pop gun wielded by an idiot with a death wish) from Robben Island to the mainland, Cape Town to raise funds for the Johannesburg Nelson Mandela Children’s Home. And when I say idiot, I actually quote Matt himself!

Now there are several things wrong with this picture. One is that it had never been done. It’s simply not allowed because of the busy heavy metal airspace from 2000 feet above sea level. On top of that, Matt had never flown anything before. He is a medical rep and paramedic. Thirdly, I was going to shoot this from a motorised paraglider, crossing the 10km of cold water with pilot Keith Pickersgill. This too had never been done. And for good reason – it’s lethally stupid to do without support. And with that, I mean a really big boat to land on should one have an engine out. Which, it turned out, was a very real possibility.

All this should have discouraged even the most dimwitted of photographers. To begin with, my images were to be handed over after the event, to be distributed worldwide, free of charge. That would be my contribution to the charity. Yet even the prospect of just being allowed to SLEEP on the world heritage site that is Robben Island was enough to convince me when Keith, a local paramotor instructor, called me to check my availability at short notice.

Keith is one of the most experienced pilots in the country and has an incident-free record which only comes from prudence and wide safety margins. Being a former paramotor pilot myself, I understood the risks and limitations. My background in imagery made this a natural fit. Which is how we found ourselves on a ferry to Robben Island one late Friday afternoon. The forecast was good, a light NW going West.

Flight nr. 13

The world media interest in this was intense. Not only because of the association with the hallowed names of Mandela and Robben Island. There was a darker reason. Only 12 such balloon flights had been attempted before, two pilots had died doing so and others had gone missing. This would be flight nr. 13. Get the picture?

So I was understandably upset when I discovered, on the ferry, that the one and only lens I could take on the flight, my 24-70mm f2.8 fitted to a Nikon D4, had somehow got bent and as a result, I could only zoom from 24-50mm. There was no turning back – we were committed, tents, food and sleeping bags packed for the night, since the balloon inflation was due to start the next morning at 4am. There would have been no time to dash back and get another lens, as we would have to launch as soon as conditions allowed. I had packed a little compact as a backup, a small Canon IX30S, but did not relish the idea of shooting with that on such a job. But at least I had another option. No pressure, noooo!

On arrival, we were bussed to the Robben Island runway – a largely overgrown, unused airstrip – which would be our camping spot for the night. Yes, tarmac. No mattress, hard ground, mist setting in, wet equipment … It sounded like it was going to be a fun evening. _DSC4533_001_M

While the inflation crew set about putting out the 25m lines at each of the four helium inflation stations, making knots in the lines every few metres where the balloons would be attached, Keith, myself and our support guy and fellow pilot John Lazarus set up tent and tried getting as comfortable as possible. A flask of whiskey provided some creature comfort.

We woke the next morning at sparrows’ to an unworldly scene – trucks idling away on the runway, their headlights illuminating four groups of people inflating multi-coloured balloons in a thick cloud of mist. I grabbed my D4 and starting shooting away at 6400ISO, trying to capture the backlit scenes literally fuelled by truck exhaust fumes, making for some spectacular shooting opportunities. Matt, stressed to his limit, was dashing between the four stations, prodding, cajoling and encouraging the teams to work faster. Miraculously, the zoom had sorted itself out and I had full but scratchy travel on the lens.

4am portrait. Matt looking worried.

4am portrait. Matt looking worried.

At once stage I managed to corner Matt for long enough to shoot a picture of him against the backdrop of some fumes and balloons, with John Lazarus giving me an edge light with his headlamp to fill in the side of Matt’s face. The shot is not sharp, unfortunately, due to camera shake or Matt moving, but considering that it was pitch dark, it had to do as Matt had to go – yet it somehow perfectly captures that eerie feel of the scene, its unworldliness.  _DSC4541_002_M

The volunteer teams working gave ample opportunities for behind-the-scenes shots, and since the fog was extremely thick and we were increasingly worried of not having a flight window, I shot what I could, not knowing if the opportunity would present itself again.

At dawn the fog was still thick, but the NW had come up and was gradually creating light spots and eventually, some blue sky patches. Around 11am, Keith suggested we launch the paramotor and recce the intended flight path from above the clouds. We radio’d Matt, who by now was strapped in and equalising the helium/weight ratio so that he was just slightly positively buoyant, to warn us before he cut away. It took a determined run in the light wind to get the tandem wing up and flying, but since we both knew what we were in for, Keith and I sprinted like mad. A steady climb up to 100m and we could see the mainland. Keith informed Matt, and before long, he cut away to the delight of the volunteers and hordes of international and national media.

_DSC4602_007_MUp and up he went – much faster than intended, and soon his voice came over the radio saying that he was climbing at 10 meters per second. Which would put him into controlled airspace in a matter of minutes! Keith suggested he start popping balloons fast, which he did, with a poke stick, taking out the control balloons at the bottom of the pile. But still he was going up like a cork, us chasing at full power and not getting anywhere near his climb rate. Out came Matt’s BB gun, but it was underpowered, the pellets just bouncing off the higher balloons. Eventually he resorted to pulling down the individual lines and popping the bottom balloons by stick.

Then the descent rate started – in earnest. Matt lost his positive buoyancy and plummeted down. Bailing out his ballast to stop the dreaded oscillation that occurs due to the delayed effect of adding or dumping helium, Matt sank to right on the water line, enough for us to warn the follow boats that we had a splashdown. Fortunately, as soon as Matt’s water ballast bags hit the surface, their combined weight was neutralised and they thereafter acted like sea anchors, keeping the pilot about 2m above the water line.

In the mean time, Keith and I descended as we were flying in cloud with very little visibility and lots of moisture. My D4 was soaked, my flight suit and shoes were soaked, and behind me, Keith had water running down the toggle lines into his flight suit, causing wet ballast underneath his elbows which he had to let out at times. I got concerned – a wet wing means flying closer and closer to deep stall, and any collapse would mean very little chance of recovery as the glider material was too wet to separate in a re-inflation. On top of which we were forced to fly lower and lower due to the cloud base dropping. Which meant our glide to safety decreased at the same time.

We estimated that we would have 90 seconds from 600ft to release harness buckles and get ready for a wet landing, but we were flying far below that height. The boat we were supposed to land in during an emergency was a rescue rubber duck, and would be easy to miss. _DSC4661_018_MOur only chance would have been to land on the Navy minesweeper that accompanied the flotilla of boats, but we had no authorisation for this. “F*** authorisation!” I said to Keith. “If we go down, head for the big grey boat!”.

_DSC4649_015_MMatt was drifting at a slower than expected speed, which meant our fuel reserves (just under 2 hrs) were getting low. We’d been in the air for over an hour, and still had 3.5km to go, and the mist was closing in again. Then we spotted a huge anchored fuel tanker directly in Matt’s flight path, too high for him to go over. We quickly radio’d the follow crew, who could not see the boat in the mist.

At this point, I suggested to Keith that with a wet wing, very little visibility to shoot in or to fly by, and very little fuel left, it might be a good idea to look for somewhere more dry. He did not argue the point.

Below us, the follow crew grabbed Matt’s throwrope and tried tugging him away to the side so that he would miss the tanker, but the force from the balloons was too big and eventually, a few hundred meters from the shore, Matt cut away, dropped into a boat and was brought ashore in the rubber duck to a massive worldwide contingent of media. Keith and I requested a boat to follow us to dry land through the mist, and landed on the beach with 200ml of fuel left! We got picked up and taken to the media centre, where I had to quickly process some images and footage, and hand over to the media.

I was amazed at the D4 – it was soaked and had to be wiped all the time to clear the front lens element, yet it did not malfunction or act up at all. The picture below shows just how wet the lens got – and stayed.

In the week that followed, the images and footage went viral. It made BBC, ABC, SABC, Top Billing and was featured in hordes of international magazines and papers. We’ve even had a request from Ripley’s Believe it or Not for images. I was disappointed in the conditions, hoping for a clear shot to Table Mountain and being able to show the whole of Robben Island, but we had no chance with all the cloud around. Nor could we fly close to Matt while he was at sea level for closer aerial footage without serious consequences to us in case of an engine failure. But that’s the nature of the beast – you do what you can. As Matt said in the post-op debriefing: Nelson Mandela took much bigger risks. This was nothing in comparison. If you’d like to donate to this cause, SMS “balloon” to 40301 (R20 per sms).

Safe at last. Note the wet camera.

Safe at last. Note the wet camera.

A short video clip on the flight:

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.


In March this year we started work on shooting a corporate for Reutech Mining, a Stellenbosch-based international firm supplying some of the world’s most sophisticated movement detection radar systems for open pit mines across the globe. We had to imitate the use of these machines in mines, but since access to actual mines was extremely difficult and fraught with all kinds of safety issues, we opted for shooting in a deserted quarry outside Cape Town.

This moon landscape was perfect, except for one thing – the timing for getting the right light effect was critical. Too early and the sun was too low and contrasty, too late and the same happened. Because of the monotone nature of the quarry rock, the Reutech units had to stand out from the background properly. This separation was only possible with an ND2 filter coupled with timing of day – shooting backlit towards the shaded parts of the quarry. This meant the script had to be exactly and precisely planned for the right time of day for particular shots.

Now put into this mix a few unexpected rainy days, fog in the morning, problems with unlicensed vehicles not permitted to leave the factory to come to the location, and the remoteness of the area, and you have a recipe for some stress.

We approached the project by doing several site visits to check on the average lighting situation, shadows and direction of light before committing to shoot days. This meant earmarking particular shots for a particular part of the day at a particular part of the quarry, and then shooting reverse and additional shots of the same scene out of sequence on a different part of the day to make sure the lighting and backlighting feel remained consistent. It called for very careful scripting and strict adherence to our time limits.

We shot on a Sony EX1 at mostly f2.8 or as wide open as the situation allowed to get the separation from our backgrounds. Being at the beginning of spring, the light was really nice and soft and in our favour, with the result that we got most of the shots in the bag as planned.

But that was not the only part of the story. For the intro to the movie, we had to create a rockfall. And show a crack appearing to indicate the start of a slope failure. This meant scouting the area’s very unfriendly slopes for a perfect location – one that would allow continuity of lighting through a series of shots, all shot in different places, but made to look as if they were all in the same location. We found the perfect spot, and set to it with spades and pick-axe to first dig a camera platform into the slope for the close-ups, shot at the top of the hill in the image right. Once we had a platform dug into the clay, I could set up the tripod while we started excavating into the same hill to create a weak spot, crack and eventually a small rockfall.

This was a bit dicey, as the rockfall would start uphill of the camera position. But there was nothing else we could do – we had to chance it. The digging and filming ensued and pretty soon the wall of earth caved in and collapsed, fortunately rolling harmlessly past the camera position, and we had our crack and crumble shot.

The rest of the landslide sequence was shot at an adjacent active quarry, courtesy of Lafarge, who kindly tipped a crapload of rocks over an edge for me to film! This we shot on overcranked 720p at 60fps for beautifully clean slow motion. Thanks to the amazing editing skills of Ruan Neethling, the sequence cut beautifully, aided by no less than 26 layers of sound effects to enhance the danger mood!

Michal Wozniak (left) and I jibbing the jib.

Rusty metal in foreground makes for great shots!

The jib got a lot of use, and really helped give a smooth and professional feel to the production. While on set, it however keeled over and crashed onto the head, fortunately without the camera on board, but stripping out the main tripod connector bolt. I needed to rebuild the head completely, and it was a good thing I did, as the J-Jib version 3.3 is now sturdier than ever.

Making dust to indicate weather resistance. Sadly we got very little dust but a shredded tyre on the MTX bike.

Thanks to Michal Wozniak and Johan Winterbach for invaluable support during the shoot days. Here’s the final product:

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.


Last year, on a whim, I bought a GoPro “wearable” camera for a job done in conjunction with fellow Safrean Michal Wozniak in Johannesburg. We needed to get some in-cab shots of a truck driver, and the GoPro’s 170-degree view was just the thing. But that was it – how do you justify buying such a unit for just one job?

Well, the real story was that it would be a great toy too – for shooting windsurfing and paragliding. And it is.

However the urge returned to put this amazing piece of equipment back into some serious action. And an opportunity presented itself last year in the shape of a corporate video made for a Cape Town printing company, USS Graphics. The job was tight – we had to come up with a concept, shoot and edit in rapid succession due to a presentation that was scheduled for two weeks later, where this production was to be used.

In addition, we had to do stills that were to be used in the video, and were going to double up as display prints in the company’s office during the big presentation. There was very little time for any of this. So, armed with my little GoPro during a recce, I realised that it was small enough to insert into the massive 1000-prints-per-second litho printers on the floor, and that the moving parts inside made for spectacular footage. And so our concept was born – we’d be shooting the same old stuff. But this time, we’re going in deep, and changing the point of view to make arresting visuals.

Two days later, we started shooting, using jib, tracks – and the GoPro. It was everywhere, stuck onto moving printers, behind screens, inside machines and off the top of a forklift platform, its footage eventually making up virtually half that shot over the two days we shot. Although the quality is not great, given the small size of the sensor, the material is good enough to cut into a full HD production provided you don’t overcook it – no sudden light intensity changes to cause blooming as the auto ISO adapts, and slow enough panning to stop the jello-effect.

In the capable hands of FCP editor Ruan Neethling, the GoPro more than brought its side – the clients were extremely happy with the production, and have used it successfully to pitch to major clients.

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.


The stock photography industry depends on new content, created and added to stock libraries all the time. Which is part of the reason Istockphoto hosts content creation events worldwide called Istockalypses, and allows contributors to host smaller-scale events along the same format called minilypses.

The latter are run as private events but with full Istockphoto participation in infrastructure, release forms management and editorial direction. That, in short, is the situation world-wide. A nice system, except for one thing – it had never been run in South Africa. Or Africa, for that matter.

So, feeling particularly energetic in May 2011, I took it upon myself to organise such an event for Cape Town – the iKapaLypse. What followed was months of high stress, but capped this February by a fantastic event that stretched every one of the 25 photographers attending from the US, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Wales, England and Germany. The three-day event was part sponsored by transport partner Springbok Atlas, who supplied large buses to cart the photographers and a group of 25 models to Langebaan, Muizenberg, Camps Bay and Franschhoek.

Henk Badenhorst (SA) helping Monique Heydenrich (SA) to nail the shot

Groups of 7 photographers were grouped with 3 or 4 models at a time in a particular setting, shooting a creative idea of their own choosing. You have 15 minutes to complete lighting and shoot your images, thereafter you are lighting assistant to the next.

After each shoot, the photographers would rotate to the next station for another cycle of 15-minute sessions, using different models and different props. It’s a high-stress but addictive environment bringing out the best in the best.

Working alongside the likes of Steve Cole (US), AJ Rich (US), Ferran Trait (Sweden) and Henk Badenhorst (RSA) was an enlightening experience.

Stellenbosch designer Saskia Wicomb models her own creations in 44 degrees heat. Jim O’Neill (Ireland) is the cameraman, Monique Heydenrich (SA) the human light stand.

Their creativity is astounding, their ideas flowing so rapidly it’s hard to keep up. Even in the 40+ degree heat we were working in during the three days. It was not unusual to find yourself in the pool, with model and photographer, holding a reflector board to help soften the lighting. And yes, it was an excellent excuse to get wet!

Purely by chance, three of Istockphoto’s top officials (amongst others the worldwide Lypse event organisor Elissa Cook), live in Cape Town and were a tremendous help in getting the event logistics sorted. Istock further added value in the form of two top inspectors attending from the US and Netherlands, acting as group leaders and helping attendees fine-tune lighting, giving composition advice and encouraging members to be bold.

The event generated an enormous amount of excellent content, and attendees retired exchausted but happy each day.

Our models, a mix of actors, pro and amateur models, were equally astounding, facing each new photographer’s demand for energy, smiles and projection with ease, all day long. I have never seen people work this long and hard and still remain as pumped as they were.

My own energy levels were stretched between trying to shoot and organising props for everyone, making sure people were looked after and that the location owners were happy with the hordes descending on them.

Still, no regrets – I got great images, not as many as I would have wanted, but it’s my first ever. Live and learn.

Saskia in an outfit that stretched our creativity. This was not part of the main shoot, but one organised after the event for photographers wanting to do a bit more avant garde work.

The shooting and admin crew after the event. Smelly, but happy!


One of the most rare privileges of this world is meeting living legends. In January, I had such a pleasure, working with !Khomani San tribal leader Dawid Kruiper. But it was an experience I came away from elated and at the same time saddened at what is probably soon to be a lost treasure.

Yster Fester

Living on tribal land near Askham in the Kalahari, oom Dawid and his small band precariously balance their ancient Bushman lifestyle with the inevitable push of Western culture. The pressure has ravaged their band. Alcoholism is rife and the people of the tribe have resorted to peddling artefacts next to the road, doing San dances for tourists wearing the traditional !gai loincloth in what !Khwa ttu anthropologist Michael Diaber describes as the “worst form of prostitution” ever.

Over the years, the bushmen have retained much of their ancient and extensive knowledge of the veld. It’s an instinctive sensibility that seems hardly dimmed by time.  But it’s under pressure as years of living away from their ancestral land is now taking its toll. The young bushmen are mostly not interested in retaining the old ways, the older bushmen. They  grow up in towns, not in the veld, and only on rare occasions are taught field craft and hunting. Most of them seem to prefer wearing mirrored shades and hanging around the many bottle stores in the area, music blaring from cell phones.

I have worked with the !Khomani tribe before, photographing oom Dawid in the 90s while they were living at Kagga Kamma in the Ceres Karoo during a resettlement attempt. I also visited them here with the late dream interpreter Rozelle Mazetti, and following Michael’s career from resident Kagga Kamma anthropologist to starting !Kwa ttu a few years ago. It’s a subject close to my heart. With this dwindling treasure in mind, I visited the !Khomani tribe in the heat of January to shoot footage of them in their traditional clothing, recording their tribal tongue and searching for the elusive hoodia gordonii plant with them – the latter discovered by the bushmen centuries ago and used for its appetite suppressant qualities.

After obtaining advice from Michael on how to approach the tribe with suitable sensitivity after so many years of not seeing the Kruipers, I travelled to Askham and met first with Elias “Yster” Fester. I shot some footage of him pretending to be hunting, feeling a bit silly until I heard Yster mumbling away and pointing at the ground. “The steenbok stood around here in the shade, and ate from this bush. And a muskeljaatkat (genet) was chasing a dune rat over here.” At first I assumed he was doing this for my benefit, to add authenticity to the footage (a true professional, he is!), but then discovered he was actually reading spoor. To my eyes, there were slight indentations in the ground, and faint marks on the bush. To his, the signs told of what time of day it happened, and what the animal’s state of mind was, unhurried or pursued. Suddenly my “canned bushman” experience became very real.

We sat down in the hot veld, and my lesson in field craft started. Yster pointed out the tracks to me, explaining signs I could barely follow, indicating a dragging of a hoof indicating the slow, hot progress of a buck at midday, the crisp and finely defined spoor of the dune rat indicating early morning movement over slightly damp soil. He shot with his bow and arrow, showing the effective distance of the arrow (not much more than 20 metres), which meant having to stalk a buck to well within that distance. He indicated, where we sat, how he would have stalked this steenbok, one of the most renowned of alert animals, showing his path from bush to final clump of grass. How long would this take? Several hours, he says, not even blinking.

Because of the lack of effective range, the prey would inevitably only be wounded, necessitating in many cases many hours of running after it. And this is where the hoodia plant became indispensible – rich in moisture, the semi-bitter juice would quench their thirst while suppressing their appetites, allowing them to physically run down the wounded animal without expiring themselves.

My next stop was the 67-year-old Buks Kruiper, brother of the tribal leader. Oom Buks is no more than 5 foot tall, wiry, wily and extremely witty. His tales are tall, in the tradition of bushman storytelling, but nevertheless entertaining. He is experienced in the film industry, having played in several movies and rubbing noses with an Eskimo in a TV commercial. As a tracker, he is renowned and used extensively by Sanparks in tracking cheetahs for research. His popularity however is not shared by the neighbours, coloured subsistence farmers whose land had been largely expropriated and given to the bushmen. It was on one such farm that Oom Buks and I were accosted by the irate female farm owner, accusing him and his tribe of taking away their land. Oom Buks just shook his head, tears in his eyes and speechless in the face of such aggression. I got him away from there as quickly as I could, moving our shoot elsewhere.

Buks Kruiper’s family. He is second from left.

On my final day on shoot, Yster took me back to Askham to meet with Oom Dawid Kruiper. Strangely enough, he remembered me from the shoot we did in the 90s. Sitting with him under a lone camel thorn on a blanket, the heat now a humid 41 degrees, it was like stepping back into African history. The only difference was that we were meeting as fellow human beings, not as the hunter and hunted, the appalling memory of these people being licenced as game that may legally be killed by farmers not far away from my mind. Did we actually do this?

We were now hunting hoodia. And the only place where we would be able to find it, was back in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, 80km away. The !Khomani have access to a section of the western park where they train youngsters field craft, tracking and hunting. Oom Dawid offered to take us there – he was convinced he saw some hoodia between some dunes. I jumped at the opportunity – I would see part of the Park that is closed to the public, a once-off opportunity sweetened by the fact that I was being guided by the original inhabitants of this land. It does not come any more real, any more authentic.

Yster with the hoodia plant

But it would not be that easy. Did I mention hoodia was elusive? Over the dunes we went, in lion country, with literally one arrow and a bow as protection. I was banking on the fact that I was the youngest and probably the fastest, in case of being chased by lion, but ten minutes into our search for the plants, I was panting badly and dragging my feet and tripod. Lion food, no doubt.

Yster found a plant. It’s spiky, like a cactus, and in springtime carries oddly pink or lilac flowers. Using his arrow head, he cut a section, skinned it and ate the flesh. Inside, it looks like a cucumber – juicy and green. And bitter, apparently. Stupidly, I did not taste it – in hindsight, that would have perfectly rounded this privileged experience. During our shoot, Oom Dawid wandered off into the veld and returned with a carrot-like root, apparently also extremely rare. He was very pleased at finding one, which he uses to prepare medicines. He talks about his preparations, and I quickly realise he is famed for most notably those that, shall we say, rival the effects of Viagra.

Walking the veld with the 76-year-old tribal chief was as intense an experience as I could ever have hoped for. Thankfully, I could record this in sound and motion, as most likely, it would be one of the last such opportunities, as time and reality catch up with their ancient ways.

Full Kalahari footage lightbox here.

Oom Dawid, Yster and I at the hoodia shoot

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.


The brief was simple – the client wanted a Christmas tree look for a magazine cover shot, the Christmas edition. Lots of lights from the city, the containers visible in the foreground, the cranes silhouetted. The only problem was that the overhead lights in the container yard were not all operational, causing a massive dark hole centre to my shot. And the southeaster was blowing the crap out of everything. And I only had this evening to do it. There weren’t really any other angles I could shoot, and the light above the mountains was fading fast into exactly the right intensity to allow for that magic moment when foreground and background light were balanced. The dark hole, however, was spoiling everything – I was hoping for the container yard lights lifting the exposure level in the foreground at least two stops to retain some detail, which would allow me to shoot slightly earlier and retain some more sky detail as well. But with the lights dead, it meant I had to wait until the background light was two stops less before I could balance foreground and background. And that meant that I would lose some of the beautiful sky detail. The only option left to me was an HDR shot (high dynamic range), a combination of a series of images shot locked-off on tripod keeping the focus and aperture the same, but altering the shutter speeds of the shots to expose for the sky, then the middle of the exposure range, then the dark areas, and combining the three or more images using specialist software. HDR images require a rock-solid tripod with absolutely no movement whatsoever, even using a wireless remote to trigger the camera without touching the tripod.

Hanging on to the tripod and shielding it as much as I could with my body, I got the shots, and got the hell outta there. Back home, I put the images through Capture NX2, rendered the raw files to 16 bit tiffs, and combined the images using NIK’s HDR EFEX Pro. The HDR shot was OK, but it lacked the really punchy feel that the client wanted. In her words, “Gaan bos met die filters.” That I did, selecting the dead spot in the centre of the frame and punching that up with a bit of bleach bypass and localised contrast enhancement, and I cooked up the sky to get rid of the inevitable banding, then added a bit of grain to even out the colour transitions and banding in the sky. I even cloned in an extra light on top of the nearest post (the dead one) to “decorate” the Christmas tree a little bit more. All the post-processing absolutely ruins the quality of the shot, making it noisy as hell, but that was inevitable, given the requirement. And it was done on time, which was probably more important.

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.


Powered paragliding is one of the most convenient photography platforms. And when someone else can do the driving, it’s even better. Such was the case this week when I hooked up, quite literally, with PPG instructor Keith Pickersgill, one of the doyens of the sport in SA. He needed a passenger, I needed some footage, and the weather was perfect for an afternoon tandem flight.

I had long ago sold my own paramotor, but kept in touch with the current batch of pilots, with the result that I get to fly quite regularly still. As always, it’s a thrill to take off on level ground and change your perspective on the earth. But clutching a very expensive video camera makes one a tad nervous. Hence I had a very thick bungy cord attached to the camera, and tied off onto a carabiner, ready to roll.

Armed with a brand new bluetooth headset, the comms between Keith and myself was wireless and wonderful. Launch went fine, even with my precious cargo held at arm’s length and out of the way of the bar in front of the cage. We set off from Dolphin Beach and followed another pilot at close quarters for some air-to-air footage, then flew out to the stranded Seli 1 to shoot some overhead material of the ship. The air was slightly bumpy, and the footage not entirely smooth, but I got a good idea of what angles work for this platform.

See a standard definition video from the flight:

See a high definition video from the flight:

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.


Jaco Wolmarans interviewing Distell director Duimpie Bayly at the Nederburg Auction

Interviewing Distell director Duimpie Bayly

Two days, non-stop shooting, not a moment off our feet. That’s the Nederburg Auction for you. The icon of SA wine auctions, held at Nederburg in Paarl, is an unmissable event – if you can get an invite. It is that tight. But then again, you rub shoulders with the who’s who of the wine industry and the higher strata of Cape Town social life.

Fellow Safrea member Michal Wozniak and I shot the event for the Nederburg Auction over the two days, using an EX1 and EX3, with the auctioneer Anthony Barne wirelessly mic’d.

Between the two of us, we could cover events in the main auction hall and chase after people we wanted to interview on the fly, although running with tripod, microphones and camera proved tricky! Low light in the auction hall also made life a little harder than what was needed, and necessitated shooting at gain+3 at times. Still, the cameras performed really well with the unavoidable noise well within control.

The production was edited at two stations – the rough edit on my machines, and then fine-tuned by maestro Ruan Neethling.

View the final production here, and visit the Auction website to watch the pre-auction clips we produced for the event. Pictures on this page by Matt Stow.

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.


Story of my life. You get the call the night before – can you please do an editorial shoot tomorrow at nine, here are the contact details, this is what we want – loads of power, energy, make the people the heroes, and by the way, did we mention this is for a cover shot?

Yeah right.

There’s nothing quite like panic and unpreparedness to galvanise you into action. I hate it, of course, and bitch about every moment while struggling with adverse weather, non-perfect light, stands blowing over, people unceremoniously commandeered from work stations and supervisors not happy about the work delays …  But in the end, somehow you pull it off. Against all odds. And herein lies the problem – because the commissioning editor thinks you can do this all the time and keep calling at the very last minute.

Maybe you can. Maybe you do. It’s just dicey and it certainly does not add years to your life. My fear is that some day, it just won’t all come together. But then again, I suppose if it is impossible to get the shot, you’d still pull off the impossible. I try not to think about it, and will cross that bridge when I get to it.

This shoot involved Transnet workers on a railway. The brief was to make it gritty, dirty, tough. I chose a 200mm Nikon f2.8 lens for the job to compress the perspective and separate the person in the foreground from the back. The sun was camera right. I exposed for the highlights, then added a Quantum flash camera left to fill in the shadows, and added a Nikon Speedlight camera left and behind the subject to give a bit of wrap and edge to the right side of his face (camera left). That added a 3D feel, and again helped separate the background out. I added a bit of bleaching and tonal contrast to the image to accentuate the gritty details on the gloves and stones between the tracks. Shot at f6.3, 320th/sec on focal plane shutter.

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.


Talk about being photogenic. Some faces are just easier to photograph, and then, some pieces of furniture just turn out more gorgeous than the next. Such a case was these items from Bloc Outdoor in Cape Town – chunky, solid balau wood furniture that just look great on camera and were so sweet to shoot.

We shot this in the Bloc showroom in Woodstock. For once, I had some space to work with. A white vinyl backdrop suspended from the cable trays served to isolate the items, and four Bowens Esprit heads lit the items. We used softboxes for accent lights to pick up the flat surfaces, and a bounced bare bulb reflector at the back lit up the backdrop. Finally, a white umbrella in front set at low output just filled in the shadows to minimise electronic noise in the darker areas.

This behind the scenes post is courtesy of Wordsource Productions.


What a talent – he’s a schoolboy, almost dwarfed by his models, but Hugo Amos, a Worcester grade 10 pupil, is running his own business designing and making Matric dance dresses.

This last weekend, we did a shoot to showcase some of his designs. The models were classmates, the make-up done by one of his teachers.

Hugo is absolutely in charge – he knows, he feels colours, he mixes textures, he even positioned models in front of this and that to match colours and textures, helped them pose, suggested head and leg positions that made the body lines better … I learnt a lot, and in the end had my work halved through his brilliant directing.

He does not even have a driver’s licence, and had his school teacher drive him and his classmates out to Philadelphia. The teacher was also hairdresser and MUA – and did so brilliantly, claiming it’s the first time she’s done this. The models were first-timers too –  except one – and with a little bit of direction from us very quickly got into the spirit of things, going over the top with facial expressions and body posture to match the sometimes outrageous outfits they were wearing.

Next move – he wants to oursource the actual stitching of the dresses while he focuses on design work. Big thinker! I’m blown away by so much natural, unshaped talent. Where do the kids get it? (I call them kids in revenge of them calling me “oom” (uncle) all day. Serves them right) Imagine where they’ll be in a few years if this raw talent is pushed in the right direction.

We chose Philadelphia as the area is quaint, quirky and offered loads of off-beat spots – a perfect backdrop for the wardrobe. It also has narrow streets and white, north-facing walls (huge reflectors) that made lighting a dawdle. I used a Quantum flash to add a light line down the side of the body on the opposite side to the sun, slightly from behind for a bit of light wrap to the front, just to help give a hint of 3D and depth to the bodies. Coupled with a short depth of field on the Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 fitted with a polariser to cut the light down to 250th f4, I managed to sync the flash to the D700’s flash sync speed.

Hugo Amos in centre with models and teacher (right)

The fear of landscapes

Posted: June 9, 2011 in Shoots in short

Until recently, I had this thing about landscapes. Yes, I could see a nice picture, yes, I could set it up, but damn if I could capture the clarity, the nuances of light that made the scene so special. It was just too frustrating. To be honest, I was a little afraid of shooting these commercially. For that reason, I rarely took on landscape commissions.

Shooting with a Nikon D300 and D200 didn’t help either – the clarity, in my opinion, was just not enough. I turned instead to trying HDR photography, and tried retaining some of the highlight detail and opening up shadow detail that way, but this was equally frustrating. The software was just not good enough for a subtle result.

Early morning at Langebaan Country Estate. These are special moments, usually windless and quiet, yet you hardly notice since that magic light’s effect only lasts literally a few minutes during which you scramble frantically to get into your “ambush” shooting position.

Then three things happened that changed the game. First, I realised how much potential was locked up in my existing cameras’ raw files if I used specialised local contrast enhancers. Secondly, I invested in a wireless remote trigger to ensure absolutely no camera shake during the typically long exposures, and finally, I bought the D700 – a total game-changer.

The D700 purchase came about after testing the Nikon D3X, which should have been yards better than the D700 but was not, in my opinion. It certainly was not R50k better. The D700 sensor is special. It retains clarity, it has a huge dynamic range, allowing detail in shady areas without becoming too noisy, which allows one to expose for the highlights, and in Capture NX2, pull back the shadows seamlessly using the U-point technology to define and limit areas of change without affecting the rest of the image.

The result: confidence that I could get the shot, and with it, a new-found sense of creativity and rediscovered joy in shooting landscapes.

A moment before, a catabatic wind was ruffling the lake’s surface. Seconds after the shot, the wind changed direction and killed the mirror-like surface.

So there I was this week, dodging Cape winter storms, scanning forecasts and looking for the perfect opportunity to shoot a series of landscapes at De Zalze estate outside Stellenbosch. I had a very short window of opportunity – the weather clearing after a spitting cold front one morning, which left me with a relatively clear afternoon and dusk period, and a clear day the next morning before the next front hit by midday.

As soon as my contacts on site reported sunshine, I rushed through and got set up. The biggest issue was where to position myself. The site is huge, and the opportunities for great shots endless. But it’s all about positioning – where to place yourself at what time of day. And this, I realise more and more, is what landscape photography seems to be about – ambushing the light.

Late afternoon at De Zalze. The golfers walking into the shot were unplanned but lent a very necessary element to the shot.

In the afternoons, it’s easier, since you can see the lowering sun starting to shape the landscape as deepening shadows define the undulations of the scene. Mostly, I shoot backlit scenes for their depth of contrasts and shape-defining shadows created towards the camera side of obstacles. And mostly, this is relatively easy to shoot, since you can see things shaping up as the source of light sinks lower in the sky. All you do is find an element in the foreground to lead your eye into the shot, expose for the highlights (a spot meter in the camera is handy here), and make sure you don’t bump the camera.

Straight after sunrise at De Zalze. These are the kinds of moments you cannot plan for unless you know the area extremely well. It’s dark, then it gets light, then you see the shot, then you scramble to get it.

At dawn, however, things are a lot harder. I start before sunrise, and in the dark, try to guess where the sun will hit first, where it will create shadows, and where I should position myself to make the most of it. Literally, you ambush the light. And every morning, I fail miserably.

Where I guestimate the shot will shape nicely is usually nowhere correct, leading to a mad scramble as you see a shot developing 30 degrees left or right of your position. But that’s par for the course. I have come to realise that any given scene will offer a number of treatments at various times of the year as the sun moves through its winter-to-summer arc, lighting the same scene from infinitely variable directions.

That’s why one of the best bits of advice for shooting landscapes is to set up a few days for a particular shoot – to go out at least one morning and one evening, and getting a feel for the way the landscape responds to the morning and evening light. Shoot what you can, but don’t stress. Learn about the particular landscape, note where the sun comes up and goes down, and start planning around that, so that the next time you’re on site, you can position yourself in a perfect ambush position. Well, as perfect as any ambush can be.

My Ansel Adams moment. I was taking a breakfast break from shooting, saw this spot and as a joke set up a wireless transmitter on my D300 to take the shot from a distance.

One of the things I struggle with still is to relax while on site, and allowing the landscape to change, to go to full colour as the light sinks down, without panicking about not getting the shot. Invariably, the best shots come a minute before the sun sinks down or seconds after it appears, and are often hastily-adjusted, framed and exposed shots, not carefully planned and executed.  That’s the nature of the beast.

Using a 300mm lens rather than a wide angle changes the way you look at landscapes and allows isolation of interesting elements in the scenery.

Another trick I learnt was to leave my extreme wide angle in the bag. It makes you lazy, and it hides detail. My 14-24 rarely gets used. Instead, I shoot most everything on a 24-70mm, and increasingly, the 70-200mm. Used on the D300 with its crop sensor, the 200 becomes a 300mm, with even greater compression of the perspective, a factor that I have come to love in landscapes. It helps me combine elements in a shot that otherwise would have been too distant from each other to be significant. Like the lone tree on the blind rise, the detail of the mountain behind, and the vineyards in the foreground.

Seen through a wide angle lens, you are acutely aware that the three elements are literally 10km apart. Yet on this photo, they seem to be on a single focal distance. Great for landscapes! The longer lens also allows me to isolate certain elements, or rather to eliminate other, unwanted clutter, and so doing to reduce the image to only the elements you need to help tell your story.

Traditionally, landscapes are shot at f16 or thereabouts for maximum field depth, but I find myself increasingly shooting shallow focus shots these days, aided by the already short depth of field on the D300 with the 200mm lens. I’d focus on an element, like a leaf off a tree in front of a house, for instance and by defocusing the home behind, just hint at habitation instead of cluttering my image. I guess this is a result of years of shooting stock, where isolation of the relevant element is crucial.  Limiting depth of field is therefore a huge help in isolating the elements that tell the story.

Pano of 6 images, taken hand-held, in a rush.

Oh, drama, drama!

Posted: May 28, 2011 in Shoots in short

What do you do if you have to re-enact a potentially dangerous traffic situation for a video production in which a pedestrian is (almost) run over by a delivery truck? Well, first of all you make sure that you don’t play the role of the pedestrian. You ask a family member. Or someone else.

Secondly, you make sure the whole scene is damn well planned. Every camera angle, duration of each shot, and matched precisely to the voice-over. Then you shoot, and hope to hell your driver stops when he’s supposed to – and that the “stuntman” pays attention!

The stunt actor in this case is my long-suffering nephew, Wian, a student who gets called in for the hard stuff at every opportunity. On location in the Roeland Street area in Cape Town, we set up and rehearsed the scene a few times, interrupted by vehicles wanting to pass in the narrow street every two minutes, and finally got to shoot the sequences – from the front, low angle on the feet, from inside the van, a GoPro shot on a pole attached to the van … I swear that by the end of the day, Wian’s right arm was about three inches longer thanks to the heavy metal he was carrying.

Fortunately, everything turned out fine. We managed to stop closer and closer to him as confidence grew, and got the shot in the can before Wian turned into roadkill. Shot on a Sony EX1 and GoPro POV camera. Watch the whole production here:

Lighting the nude 2

Posted: May 28, 2011 in Shoots in short

A brush-up course with a previous student, two models in one day, and this time we really cooked. The student had the benefit of our previous shoot and lighting setups, so we picked up where we left.

The only difference this time was that we simplified our lighting setup, using two 50cm softboxes on either side, plus a bare bulb fill light to just open up the shadows in the middle of the models’ figures caused by the two side lights. We used my new Bowens Esprit 250W kits next to the older Bowens Esprit 500s.

The fill light potentially can kill the atmosphere, but we controlled it by pushing the ligh stand all the way to the white ceiling, and limiting its spread to just the immediate area of the model’s front. We trusted that the rapid fall-off of light would contain the rest of the spread. And it did – even when shooting on a white background, we managed to contain the spread enough to turn the white to a non-distracting grey. I am now starting to appreciate what is possible in even a small studio.




Smoke and mirrors – sometimes literally. In the modern era of Photoshop, a lot of the old-school photo techniques have been replaced by plain digital art. Or what masquerades for art, sometimes.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the world of high-reflectives. In this case, a number of very heavy chrome taps that arrived at the studio. Make ’em look good. OK. But how do you get them to stand up while we do it?

This shoot called for some nifty tricks. Usually I would suspend the items with very thin fishing line, and remove any signs of this later. But these babies were heavy, lopsided and decidely unfriendly to work with. They kept falling over, no amount of sticking down with Prestik. It called for drastic measures – Photoshop.

… and after

This mixer, for instance, had a mind of its own. So out came various props, boxes and more Prestik, and it became a bit of a balancing act. As soon as it looked like my contraption was going to stay upright, I fired the trigger – and seconds later it would all come crashing down. Deep breath, go make coffee, stay calm …

Before …

And so it went, all day. No wonder no photographer wants to shoot these!

Still, chrome is the most beautiful surface to shoot. Love it. I used big polystyrene boards to light the faces of the mixers, and in Photoshop removed all props and signs of my cheating.

It makes one wonder – how did they do it in the old days, when they produced brilliant pictures and had to do so with film, Polaroids and no Photoshop? A lost art?

… and after

Before …

Lighting the nude

Posted: March 13, 2011 in Shoots in short

Don’t let anyone tell you this is fun. Well, it is, kinda. But it’s a load of hard work too, if you’re really serious about getting the lighting right and not just perving the babe.

The student getting on top of things

So there we were, my student and I, and in front of us, Violet from Vladivostok. No really, she’s Russian. Even speaks with that James Bond movie accent. And as you can probably tell, she’s not shy.

Neville joined me for a two-day workshop in nude lighting, a one-on-one course I occasionally present. Occasionaly because it is a heap of hard work, hot and cramped in my small studio. But totally satisfying if you get the lighting right, as in the case of the student”s results below.

We used two Bowens softboxes, mostly in a backlighting position, to allow the fall-off of light to the front of Violet’s body define shape. Since we used loads of black velvet cloth to absorb stray light, the fall-off was quite severe, and we had to judiciously add light to open up the shadows just a bit. Reflectors and a bare bulb light fired into the opposite wall did the trick. The trick was to keep the studio dark and use the modelling lights to define her body shape. It was critical getting the elevation of the lights just right. Too high, and the shadow camera side of her body receded too much, killing the effect, and too low and behind her, the softbox would start creeping into shot. A boom arm with the light on top helped though.

We also extensively used screens to stop light from the softboxes fall onto the backdrop and cause unwanted and distracting light blotches on the black background. The schematic to the right shows one such setup – the softbox partially masked off to darken that side of the studio, and another black screen on the right side of the model to deepen the shadow on that side of her body.


Glen Dell. Cool, calm and collected

So there we were, 5000 ft above the Atlantic Seaboard, the door of the aircraft open, a fresh breeze cooling us down. And right next to us, a mere 10 ft away, was another aircraft. Upside down. Something’s wrong with this picture.

To make matters worse, the photographer and pilot, Anthony Allen, is not steering our aircraft. Guess who’s gone white knuckle around the yoke!

The shoot was an air-to-air job for Red Bull and BP, photographing their new Extra 330 acrobatic planes against the backdrop of Table Mountain and the Atlantic Seaboard. Anthony, an aerial photographer and long-time fellow paraglider, invited me along “to just help him look out for other aircraft” while he was shooting.

Aerial photographer Anthony Allen

I was happy to oblige, because I could drag my video equipment along for hopefully some rare air-to-air footage as well.

Taking off from Cape Town International, the air was really bumpy thanks to a brisk southeaster causing all kinds of mischief downwind of the Table Mountain massif, but fortunately, I was not flying the aircraft through the turbulence. Yet.

Above 5000 ft the air went silky-smooth, though, and allowed us to cosy up to Red Bull race pilot Glen Dell, a master at the helm, who at one stage flew no more than 5 ft away from us! My job was to keep one eye on the skies for other aircraft, and the other on Glen, in case he touched our Cessna 172. I’m still squinty-eyed as a result.

The next afternoon we were back, operating in the same area to shoot the BP aircraft. Again, thanks to some really professional piloting (not mine), the shoot again went off like clockwork with Glen pulling some spectacular aerial moves right next to us, a priviliged grandstand seat.

With 330 HP in a 650kg aircraft, he could literally stall and almost hover the aircraft at full power right next to our much slower plane. I managed to shoot some video with my EX1 running all the time, pointing out the open door behind our seats.

For the record, Anthony shot these images on a Canon EOS1MKIIIs, using an 80-300 IS f3.5 lens, shooting on shutter priority at around 200/f5.6-11 to help freeze the action.


An empty chutney bottle at my home just begged to be put to a new use. And since I had been experimenting with high speed flash all week, it wasn’t long before the bottle got washed, the studio set up and ready for a stock shoot featuring myself as the unfortunate idiot.

I say idiot, because, in my infinite wisdom, I thought I’d mix some dishwashing liquid into the bottle with the food colouring – just to soften the blow on the shirt that no doubt was going to get splashed. Now that may have half saved the shirt, but the soap did what soaps do to your eyes. In case you were wondering, that grimace was not an act. It’s the real thing. It stung like hell.

Splashed - the series

The fun part of this shoot though was experimenting with the lighting – and more specifically, the trigger. I set up everything, checked levels, then switched off all the modelling lights on the Bowens heads, closed the blinds, darkened the room completely, and set a 3 second exposure on my D700. The camera was set to timer release to allow me to get into a pre-focused position. With a Pocket Wizard remote trigger held out of shot, I then waited for the timer release to open the shutter, squirted the bottle, then hit the Pocket Wizard trigger half a second later to pop the lights. This recorded a brief second of exposure, catching the fluid in the air, and in me in the eye.

I had only one shot at it, since I knew the first squirt would cover my shirt. A very gentle first attempt however missed my shirt and face, but made a huge mess of the floor. But because I now had my timing and positioning right, I went for it, and hit a bullseye on the next attempt. Mine.

The aftermath - from Photoshop to mop expert

This was the studio setup – a beauty dish on a boom as key light (f18), flanked by a softbox far right and grid spot corner left. The back lights were one stop hotter than the key light to put some cheekbone definition into the shot, and the black doors in the front were an attempt to keep some of the keylight output falling onto the backdrop, which I wanted to keep a shade of gray.

And the shirt? It made it, thankfully. Dishwasher helps.

Langebaan lifestyle

Posted: November 9, 2010 in Older posts, Shoots in short

This must rank as one of my toughest shoots ever. Small budget, no assistant, no time. And the shotlist was huge – golf landscapes early morning, lifestyle shots with models thereafter, interior design shots by midday, more lifestyle in the afternoon, then golf atmospherics at dusk, closing the day with indoor lifestyle shots with the models at sunset. It’s a tall order. Now throw in inclement weather, a near-drowing and a boomslang on the loose, and you have the makings of an interesting two days.

Johan "Bakkie Man" Winterbach aka the Human Light Pole with models Hanri and Staff

Bakkie Man playing silly buggers. Note the eyewear.

Fortunately the agency’s Johan Winterbach was at hand to help with the equipment and art directing. Always ready with a joke, he’s a mood enhancer on any shoot. Not to mention handy with holding the odd Speedlight and bounce board. Catch him as the Bakkie Man on Supersport’s “Oor die Kole”.

What made this even tougher was the range of work we had to do – interiors, tripod work, to exteriors with flash. I could not use the studio head outdoors as there was no AC power to work from, but had packed my Quantum battery system and softbox. Sadly, because of a huge cold front rolling in, we had to condense a day of outdoor shooting into two hours. Which meant no time for the fiddly Quantum setup. I used the single SB800 speedlight to brighten up colours on the models where needed, and for the larger group shots, used a daylight reflector from the down-sun side. Fortunately the day was not too contrasty, and the ambient lighting quite pleasing.

Staff doing his Captain Morgan impersonation.

For the outdoor shots, I used the Nikon D700 and Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 almost exclusively, and almost always on f5.6. There is something magic about this f-stop on the lens, sharp as a tack, and the background pleasingly out of focus with beautiful bokeh in the highlights. For the rest of indoor work, I used the 24-70 f2.8 on around f11, and mixed the outdoor lighting with my Bowens strobes to fill in the darker spots and add accent on furniture. This could be tricky, as the outdoor light frequently gave me readings above the 250th top synching shutter speed on the D700, which forced me to compromise by overexposing the window lights a bit. But remarkably, the D700 retained detail. This was my first big shoot with the D700, in which I used it in a variety of lighting situations and could check how it handles noise in dark areas, detail in highlights and colour shifts in mixed lighting situations. I come back simply astounded – post-processing required, compared with images from my D300, is cut by at least 70%. It is simply too good to be true.

One of the beautiful bunkers at Langebaan golf courseAnd nowhere was this more visible than when shooting golf landscapes. These are typically shot within ten minutes after sunrise and ten minutes before sunset. You want loads of contrast, very low light and very bright highlights all in the same frame in order to shape the undulations of the course. If you’re going to have problems with noise and artefacting in the low light areas of the image, this is it. But there was very little to discern. In fact, retaining highlights remain the biggest problem (in the sky), so I used a Lee neutral density filter to bring the sky detail back into range where possible. Of course, shooting straight into the sun left no chance of that. Hence the post colouring of the sky, to give some detail at least.

All in all, the D700 handled it all very well, even where it had no help from external light sources such as in the golf shot to the right.

If you want detail in the course lawn, you have to shoot low angle, straight to the sun. That’s a recipe for disaster normally, but in this case, the camera pulled it off.

After having put it through its paces outside, I was wondering what the D700 would do indoors, with mixed lighting from outdoor sources and strobes and a firelight. We shot a sequence in the golf club loungeIn the lounge, the four-light setup that required extensive use of mixed lighting, from the standard lamps in the corner of the rooms to matching the exposure of the exterior light filtering through the window at the back, and exposing for the flames. I started by measuring the exposure for the flames, and set a combination of f11 and a shutter speed of around a 20th/sec.

Then I matched the output of the Bowens strobes to f11. I had two accent lights around the corners of the hearth to the right back and left back, respectively, to add a tiny highlight on the models’ cheeks, an umbrella keylight from left to add detail to the front and to the furniture, and fired all with a set of Pocket Wizards. Of course, the models had to keep reasonably still at 20th to avoid movement, but the slow shutter speed is in your favour when shooting flames, as it slightly blurs the movement and makes it look a bit more atmospheric. White balance was set to auto – I did not bother custom white balancing because I liked the slight warm tinge from the background lamps. And shooting at a 20th allowed just enough of the ambient tungsten to creep in and warm up the light balance.

Little Mia shortly before the incident

I did mention a near-drowning and some snake action. One of the models, 2-year old Mia, fell into the pool after the shoot, and sank like a stone. When she hit the bottom, she managed to kick and come up to the surface, but by now the frantic mum threw herself into the water, clothes and all, and fell straight on top of the youngster, pushing her down before she could get air. Quick as a flash, she was out with the child – no harm done, and hardly a whimper from Mia, who was running around the pool lawn five minutes later – and then nearly cut off her toe, presumably on a sharp piece of paving. Mild panic as we tried to stop the profuse bleeding, and once we got that under control, I left the pool enclosure – to walk straight into a huge boomslang in a tree. These are common occurences at Langebaan.

Although hectically poisonous, they are back-fanged and extremely timid. The poor thing tried its best to escape the estate snake catcher and his long tongs. It hid in the garden, and after some broomstick prodding, came blitzing out – straight through my legs and into the garden behind me. It took a two full seconds after he had disappeared before I yelped and jumped several feet into the air. So much for good reflexes!

End of a perfect day

Let there be light

Posted: October 8, 2010 in Older posts, Shoots in short

Sometimes an idea for an image creeps into your subconscious and won’t let go. I dreamt about this one for ages. There is no such lighthouse, and there is no such coastline. Well, not both in the same place, anyway.

With that in mind, I went scouting. Planned. Dreamt some more. Finally found the spots, and then this week, the weather presented itself. Storms, low cloud, strong wind whipping up the foam and splashing my tripod legs. Then my own legs. Ag sis man, not nice.

Finally, the shot’s in the bag. Pushed the speed right down as far as it would go to get some blur in the water (30th), which meant hovering at f22 and far out of the best sharpness range of the 14-24mm f2.8.

Then off to a lighthouse, shot with the 24-70mm f2.8 at f11, and then a full day of Photoshopping to get the two images aligned. It’s not perfect, but it’s there. I can sleep now. Or dream up the next conceptual image.

Good enough to eat!

Posted: October 6, 2010 in Older posts, Shoots in short

I suppose life could be worse – having a delicious rack of lamb to photograph … I mean, compared to shooting industrial machinery or construction sites, this is positively stomach-rumbling.

I had these chops prepared at Excellent Meat Market in Milnerton. The butcher very kindly trimmed and spiced the meat for my shoot, and they spent a day in the studio getting tanned by strobes, maturing nicely.

Being such a gorgeous evening, with no wind (unusual for Milnerton), they then ended up on my braai grid. And if you think they look good enough to eat, they were! Simply outstanding meat from my regular butcher.

The studio setup consisted of a small softbox on a boom, overhead, an unsoftened light against the white backdrop to bleach out the background and force attention to the product, and a grid spot from camera left to pick out the textures of the spices on the edge of the meat. A bit of parsley and a sliced tomato added interest and offset the meat colour nicely.



The tree’s my tripod

Posted: September 22, 2010 in Older posts, Shoots in short

A recce weekend at the newly-revamped Gary Player course. Misty morning. Me bored. Took my camera and wandered off onto the damp course. The light was flat and uninteresting, but at some point, literally for a few seconds at a time, the sun broke through gaps between the low-lying mist and the higher clouds, creating beautiful backlighting on the blades of grass surrounding the greens.

The only problem was that I had no tripod, and needed to shoot at around f11 and higher for front-to-back sharpness, which pushed the shutter speed down. Further, the sun was shining into the lens, causing flare. I had to raise my camera position to use the mild cloud cover and diffusing effect of the leaves at the top of my frame to bring the contrast range back into usable territory.

The only vantage point from where I could exclude the sun from shining directly into the lens was halfway up a milkwood tree. There were no lower branches, but the trunk was angled enough for a “friction fit” – I jumped up, threw my legs and arms around the trunk, and clung to the tree with my legs clamped solidly (read desperately) around the trunk, leaving my hands free to shoot.

This worked fine – although it looked rather odd. At least, that’s what I read from the face of the security guard on his quad bike patrolling the area.

I had about 5 seconds to get this shot, as the sun briefly illuminated the area well enough to cause hard enough shadows to define the undulations of the course. If I had left it for ten minutes later, the sun would have been too high, causing the frontal shadows to shrink, and the definition and shaping of the course gone.

Fortunately, the sun and clouds played ball and gave me the five seconds to compose, expose and shoot. I got literally one shot. All the others taken before and after lacked the direct, hard light that helps define the shapes in this one so well.


Aiming low to please. The rimflow pool was the hero in our shoot

Tight schedule, loads of furniture, and even a tighter space to work in. So what’s new? Yup, the MBM new summer range had arrived by ship and had to be photographed pronto in time for spring, when people start living outdoors again. The brief was to create a summer look, breezy, fresh, blue and warm. Well, let me tell you the pool was freezing and the day only just short sleeve weather.

Wian and stylist Jean at work

I had my assistant Wian wear a wet suit to set up the supports for the lounger chair, which extended to just under the surface, and helped us make the chair “walk the waters” – almost floating in space.

A Hoya polarising filter helped colour the sky as blue as it can be, and a low angle got us the beautiful reflection off the water.

I used a big Bowens softbox to the left to light the facing side of the chair, and a naked hard light from just to the left of that, straight onto Cariss-Ann, the model, to light up the side of her body and help it it (more) shape.

The trick here was to shoot at the maximum shutter speed that allows full sync (250th at f11), and increasing or decreasing the flash output to match the ambient reading. The polariser helps to bring the exposure back into reasonable territory by cutting the ambient by1.5 stops, so we had a bit of leeway with the flash output, which could quite easily have been inadequate to match that of the sun.

Hayley working on her tan


My wife NIcky and I braved -5 degrees weather to do some winter landscapes around Clarens, Fouriesburg and in Golden Gate national park in July, during the World Cup. It was not only freezing in the mornings and evenings, but the wind chill made it worse. Fortunately we had invested in suitable clothing.

The days were fantastically blue and the footage we got was marvellous. I shot on the Sony EX-1 and was again just blown away by the clarity and dynamic range of the camera. Its ability to retain highlights and shadow detail is mindblowing. I edited a quick 3 minute visual essay on the park which can be viewed here:

A clip from the Highlands movie


This being my first visit here, I was hard pressed to leave. The place is so awesomely photogenic, we spent literally hours driving a few kilometers at a time, stopping, shooting, having a picnic out in the wild, and only returning to camp after the best light had gone. Here, we were in the good hands of park manager John Martiens, a long-standing friend of one of my clients in Cape Town. John showed us around and gave us excellent tips for out-of-the-way shooting locations.

Dawn patrol for the best light

Out in the sticks like a facawe bird

At the entrance to Golden Gate

Farm lake near Wepener

Our view from camp

Nondela, Drakensberg

Posted: August 4, 2010 in Older posts, Shoots in short

Nondela TV commercial. We used a helicopter mount to film the scenery in HD, and spent a glorious week on site shooting video and stills, the latter for the brochure.

Getting on top of things during the making of the TV commercial.

Filming Ernie Els and golf course designer Greg Letsche on site at Nondela. Jacques Groenewald is handling the moving pictures.


At dawn, shooting panos

My wife Nicky and I spent the weekend on the soon-to-be private game reserve Oudekloof, outside Ladysmith. We had the use of the farm’s awesome 4×4, a Toyota Landcruiser, as the area is very rough and low range driving was called for in places.

On my shooting platform - the Cruiser roof came in very handy

Since the area is mountainous but with large flat sections in between the hills, the foreground tended to disappear into the Karoo scrubland, and careful framing and composition was called for to make the most of it. The best shots were taken, predictably, at just after sunrise and just before and after sunset. We were particularly plagued by a mean inversion layer and resultant haziness in the distance, which knocked out most of the detail in the distant mountains. I really struggled to make these visible, using a circular polariser and sometimes graduated neutral density filter.

Model shoot Natasja Williams

Posted: July 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

It’s been a while since I’ve done modelling shoots, and I felt like trying a new lighting setup.

Natasja Williams, a salsa dancer from Cape Town, was the willing model.

I chose an old building in Paarden Island with some strong lines and shapes, with black and white conversions in mind. These shapes and repetitive lines just seem to make a black and white shot so much more interesting.

The lighting setup was the trusty Quantum flash, this time fired through an old softbox, and some fill provided by a Nikon SB800 clamped to the light stand. The trick was to soften the very direct light of the Nikon flash, and old bit of parachute silk stretched over a plastic frame came in handy for that purpose.

Natasja’s dance partner, Nathan, fortunately was at hand to help move and hold the various bits of equipment, which kept wanting to blow over in a breeze wrapping around the building.

I also experimented with decreasing the ambient light setting on the Nikon D300, so that the background would darken slightly relative to the foreground, which was lit by the softbox.

The lighting stand is visible in the picture left, with both flashes clamped to one stand.  It is quite a neat setup, one I will definitely use again, as it leaves one free to concentrate on the model rather than direct assistants. Next time, I will also remember to take clamps with to tie the screens down!

The exposure reading was 80th at f8 for most of the shots, and dropping down to a 100th to darken the background slightly when more effect was needed. I tried the darkening effect partially to introduce more cheekbone shadow, and moved the softbox overhead and very frontal for the same purpose, until I found the sweet spot between losing the catchlights in her eyes and darkening the eye sockets too much.

Post-production was through Nikon Capture NX2, with a touch of brilliance filter to warm up the skin tone.


Our model in the unfinished jacuzzi

Aidan rehearsing lines

We produced a video for MBM Africa company detailing the qualities of the material used in the construction of decking and outdoor furniture, called Resysta. For this production, we used Top Billing’s Aidan Bennetts as presenter. It was shot at the home of international fashion model Caprice, in the middle of winter of 2009, and we had to make it look like summer. Which meant short sleeves, dodging rain squalls and trying to finish the decking in time for our shoot.

In the end, it was not possible to finish construction in time, so we had to make a plan – shoot around it. A few strategically-placed towels, flowers and trays hid the unfinished planking, and as the light faded outside, we got the very last shot of the production in the can with Aidan and the model in the pond, having champagne. Then it started pelting down again outside, and we had to scramble to get all our lighting kit out of the rain.

Aidan precariously balanced

It only LOOKs like summer ...

The dolly at work

A preview of the video is available here:

Jaco Wolmarans, June 2009, http://www.wordsource.co.za

2uCafe shoot

Posted: June 28, 2010 in Shoots in short

The image to be printed on the back of 2uCafe vans

The image to be printed on the back of 2uCafe vans

His name is Star and he’s been the friendly face behind 2uCafe counters for three years. That made him the model designate for this mobile coffee dispensing company’s back-of-van 3D-look photograph.

The vans have high-powered coffee dispensing machine in the back and are used at big shows and concerts to feed patron’s caffeine addictions.

The owner wanted the back of van printed with a picture of the inside, so that it would look like the vehicles were actually dispensing coffee on the go.

At work with Star

The vehicles at Table View beach

Star was great during the shoot, considering the temperature and the way he was dressed.

It was very chilly, a completely misted-in morning in my garden, and so damp that I was worried at some stage that my lighting equipment was going to get wet and short-circuit.

But it all held together and we completed the shoot in two hours. I shot the van, Star and the shadow separately, since there were potentially harsh reflections on the brushed chrome fridge doors, and combined the shots in Photoshop afterwards.

Jaco Wolmarans, 28 June 2010, http://www.wordsource.co.za


Cover for One Magazine

A blistering 55km/h southeaster was blowing dust into everything I owned, filling my cameras with the dreaded red ore dust.

Management getting dirty

I was in Saldanha ore quay again, shooting a cover for Transnet’s ONR magazine. It was late, half the day gone by already before the subjects were available. So I was not in a happy mood.

The wind was so strong, two people had to hold up my portable flash pack and bounce board, and we were being drenched by a massive water cannon keeping the ore dust from blowing away too much. Fortunately we could get the water shut down in time.

This has been an exacting shoot due to severe time constraints and the very specific lighting the client wanted – drama, atmosphere and vitality, as Transnet had just reached 1 million tonnes of ore exports per week. The images had to show that.

Fortunately the staff at Transnet were absolute stars and happy to do whatever we asked them to do – getting dirty, climbing in under trains, mixing it up in greasy workshops.

Jaco Wolmarans, November 2009, http://www.wordsource.co.za


Nathalie lounging

Istockphoto inspector Henk Badenhorst was the guru on this shoot, an experimental one to test some outdoor lighting options.

Henk supplied three SB800 Speedlights, which we fired with the Quantum flash and battery pack. We lit from the back, on both sides, with one flash fired downwards in front to light the chair, and another through a white scrim to soften the key light.

Congolese model Nathalie supplied the rest of the magic.

The sensuous shape of the chair was the inspiration for the pose and the shot. The image on the right was also my first Istock Vetta collection shot accepted – this means a higher price class for images with an out-of-the-ordinary feel and treatment.

I borrowed the lounger from MBM Africa, kindly supplied by Barry Garner, a client on a previous shoot.

Jaco Wolmarans, January 2010, http://www.wordsource.co.za


Wet tar everywhere. It’s great for your camera, shoes and clothes.

And it sticks like crazy, I found out while lying on the road getting a low-angle shot.

We photographed the process of cold-tarring a road onto an existing surface using the mixing machine and a few good men smoothing and cleaning up afterwards.

I had an awesome help in Gary, my agency client, who ran around with the Quantum flash, pointing it at whatever I was shooting.

Love this kind of lighting – the sun crossed from the left, with the Quantum filling in the shadows on the right, while a SB600 on the camera fills the foreground and opens up the shadows.

This was no easy task as the ambient light reading was in the region of 250th f11-16 already, and the contrast huge.

The sky drama is courtesy of NIK filters.

Jaco Wolmarans, November 2009, http://www.wordsource.co.za


What a lekka bunch of people! This young team is the defending 20/20 cricket champions, very professional and a delight to work with. Posing for their individual portraits posed no problem – they came in, sat down and got on with the job – much like their batting and fielding. Very professional.

I used two Bowens Gemini 500s and one Bowens Bronze fitted with a 1 meter softbox as key light, one small softbox right behind to give texture to the cheek bones, and the other Gemini fired through a translucent white reflector on the right to soften the shadow made by the nose.

While waiting for some of the team members to finish practice, I snuck into Newlands for a panoramic picture of the stadium, stitched together from 5 photographs.

Jaco Wolmarans, November 2009, http://www.wordsource.co.za


Taken for Transnet’s ONE magazine out at Saldanha port’s admin building. I set up a Quantum flash on the left, balanced its output with the sky intensity, and took a test shot of myself just before the client arrived to be photographed.

The client shot was done in about 3 minutes due to a tight schedule, at the end of a long day in which I got completely splashed by high-pressure hoses used to dampen down the iron ore exported from Saldanha port. I also got VERY filthy from the red iron ore dust, trying to get pictures of the huge earthmoving machines, water tankers and trucks operating in the port area.

Pictured in the final photograph is André Pieters, the environmental officer for the port authority. Because of the difficult terrain and dust, and the lack of power points to drive studio heads, I left my Bowens set at home and packed the Nikon Speedlight, which I really don’t like, and a very complex Quantum Flash pack.

This I triggered via a long cord, and positioned it either far left or right of my subjects, shot up at the sky mostly to isolate the subjects, and underexposed the sky slightly to make the images pop. In addition to the Quantum, I filled in the dark side of the subjects’ faces with the speedlight.

Jaco Wolmarans, Septmeber 2009, http://www.wordsource.co.za



We were shooting a lifestyle session for the Lodge near the Botswana border, using two models, two lights (all we could pack) and a pair of Nikons, using ambient light mixed with the flashes. This made life quite difficult, since the backlight from outside was stronger than those of my strobes.

Me taking a rest during setup, waiting for the make-up to be  completed.
Me taking a rest during setup, waiting for the make-up to be completed.

What further complicated matters was that once I had the setup sorted, the sun went down rapidly, which meant some nimble footwork to keep the background and foreground light intensity balanced.

It necessitated, in the end, shooting “naked light” or bare bulb – no difussion, as my studio lights were not strong enough to balance the outside light when bounced off umbrellas.

Martie, our model, at one of the last shots as the sun sank behind  the horizon.
Martie, our model, at one of the last shots as the sun sank behind the horizon.

I used a Nikon D300 with 28-70 f2.8 and a D200 with 14-28 f2.8 on the shoot, and lit the scene with two Bowens 250J strobes, using only the reflectors, and placing the lights just out of shot. In the picture above, I managed to go in closer and thus could bring my lights in too, which meant that I could start using a white umbrella to soften the light on model Martie’s features.

The couple "arriving"
The couple “arriving”

One of the exterior shots we did, depicting a couple of guests arriving at the lodge. Shooting outside wasn’t great – I don’t like the lack of lighting control when shooting such large objects. Fortunately the helipad gave some reflection to light up the models’ features during the midday sun. The web site will be loaded with the new pictures soon. Check it out at http://www.paperbarklodge.co.za, and view a trailer of the video at

Jaco Wolmarans, March 2009, http://www.wordsource.co.za


Hectic. Two days available, lots of rain forecast, and no confirmed models even while we were driving up to the site from Johannesburg airport! We arranged a model by phone while driving (thanks Debbie Joubert!), and when we arrived, we found that HEAPS of unconfirmed models HAD arrived, but without tellings us!

So there we were, doing crowd control rather than taking photographs. The job was to depict the lifestyle on the residential estate to be built around the lake outside Witbank. I did a video shoot here a few months back, so I knew the place intimately, but still, keeping an eye on those clouds building in the background, I realised that we had very little time to get it in the can.

Debbie on the docks

Fortunately, when panic sets in, I get calm and properly adrenalised so the shoot went off fine, obstacles notwithstanding.

Video shoot

The stills shoot came after an even more stressful video shoot of the same, using three sets of models over four days. We had to have the jetty built specially for the shoot, and on the morning of our arrival it had not even departed Pretoria for Witbank!

In the helicopter over the lake minutes before the close call

With the help of assistant Richard Nieft, who helped direct arriving models from the gate 4km away to wherever we were shooting on the vast estate, we raced the clouds every day to get sunny footage. After a long week this was in the can, but we still had no aerial footage, so we returned two months later and flew over the lake.

This almost turned into complete disaster – not only because my video camera stonked out as I got aboard the Bell helicopter (we initially thought the avionics had fried the TV circuit board), we nearly dropped the chopper in the water when the pilot flew his tail rotor backwards into his own main rotor wash, and the tail rotor got to literally within inches of touching the lake surface. I just heard “Oops” in my intercom cans – not the kind of thing you want to hear from a pilot!

The footage was nigh unusable, as the broken circuit board had altered the colours in a crazy fashion, almost psychedelic. But because it looked so surreal, we thought what the hell, let’s use it – so it went into the video as is. We edited the video a week later and showed it at the three-day launch event of Lahleni Lakes. Alan Barnard did the voice-over. View a trailer of it here:

Jaco Wolmarans, March 2008, http://www.wordsource.co.za


There I was, sparrow’s one morning, off to Riversdale to shoot images for an Eskom concept magazine highlighting high-performance staff. This team works 24/7 to repair outages, in some of the most remote areas of the Cape.

They’re proud, competent and on the ball. I wanted to show a bit of that ruggedness, their toughness and ability to get the job done against all odds.

As always, shooting upwards helps isolate the subject and make them look taller, prouder. I used a Nikon SB800 flash from the right, exposed for the sun from the left, and triggered the flash with my SB600 on the Nikon D300.

What made this shoot special was the lack of time we had – the shots were rendered from RAW and emailed to the designer within an hour, the design finalised before I even got back to Cape Town, and it went to print the very next morning.

Jaco Wolmarans, March 2010, http://www.wordsource.co.za