Posts Tagged ‘photography 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?












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.












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.











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.

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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)