Posts Tagged ‘behind the scenes’


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

 

 

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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


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!


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.


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.