Posts Tagged ‘photography’


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

 

 


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


_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.


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.


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.