Image of the day

 

A child sleeps peacefully on the floor of a newly constructed house in one of the areas badly damaged by the January 2010 earthquake.

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Child asleep, Port au Prince, Haiti.  Oxfam, 2010.

Haven, an Irish NGO working on building sustainable communities in Haiti is pioneering using rubble from the earthquake to build new houses.  Wire Gabion baskets are filled with rubble to provide new walls which are designed to withstand future quake event.

To learn more about Haven's work go to:

www.havenpartnership.com

To see what Oxfam are doing in Haiti go to:

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/countries-we-work-in/haiti

Image of the day - Old Ma'rib, Yemen.

Yemeni woman - Ruins of Old Ma'rib, Yemen. 2006.

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Lying in the center of Yemen, the once great city of Ma'rib now lies abandoned and in ruins.  The city dates from at least 1000 BC and was once a lush oasis teeming with dates and tropical plants - all made possible by an enormous dam and complex irrigation system, the remains of which are still visible.  Ma'rib's wealth accumulated to such an extent that the city became a byword for riches beyond belief throughout the Arab world.  Today riches are again found in the desert - this time oil.  Ma'rib is now more likely to be heard mentioned in context with Al Qaeda, terrorism and drone strikes.

Image of the Day - 5th November

Shooting stock in New York a couple of years ago I ended up (as does everyone) at the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in the middle of New York Harbour.  One of my favorite images from the trip was the one above - with the visitor in his 'Russia' jacket, hands in pockets, looking up at the statue and all it represents.

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The entire 5 day trip was shot on one single lens - a tilt shift 24mm which gave a slightly different perspective to the images and hopefully makes them stand out at least slightly from the billions of other images shot around the city.

Mirtho. The story behind the image.

Mirtho Bellefleur.  Corail Camp, Port au Prince, Haiti. December 2010.

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Client: Oxfam

During the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on the 12th January 2010 Mirtho was one of the many thousands of people who's life was changed forever.  Trapped beneath the rubble of his house for 48 hours he was eventually rescued but his right leg was so badly damaged it was eventually amputated above the knee.  11 months on from the disaster Mirtho was still waiting for a prosthetic leg and unable to walk to school, his education was on hold.

Corail camp was one of the only official camps set up shortly after the earthquake.  Intended to provide temporary housing for approximately 10,000 people it now houses some 65-100,000 people on the barren rocky ground, the majority in unofficial shanties and most of whom have no intention of leaving.

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To see what Oxfam are doing in Haiti go to:

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/countries-we-work-in/haiti

Accumulated wealth, filthy lucre or the smell of money?

Over the years I've accumulated a pretty good assortment of fairly tatty banknotes from overseas trips. Arriving home there's generally the odd coin or note remaining that was either lurking in a pocket or too small to spend at the airport or perhaps even too torn or disheveled to be accepted.  There are stories in these notes - memories of adventures or encounters, some good and some bad.  Unlike the UK, where currency is taken out of circulation by the banks when it becomes worn, many countries keep notes in circulation until they literally disintegrate.  In remote areas I've been given change for purchases in notes so disgustingly falling apart it's almost impossible to tell what they are.  Passing through so many hands and stored in so many pockets - banknotes frequently become filthy objects, no doubt a vector for disease and infection in impoverished countries.  Despite all this they are fascinating objects frequently portraying something telling of the country they which they originate.

An unorthodox Easter at Lalibela

Lalibela in Ethiopia is one of those places that once you've seen pictures of it you will always want to go there..  For years I've seen articles and images of the amazing monolithic churches carved out of the rock and thought that one day I'd have the chance to get there and see it for myself.  Fortunately that chance came a few years ago on a photo/research trip through northern Ethiopia with a writer/photographer friend of mine.  Not only did we get to spend a few days at Lalibela but we also chose to visit at one of the best times of year - during the Ethiopian Orthodox Easter celebrations when thousands of pilgrims come from all over the country to pray.

Lalibela-1

The 11 rock hewn churches at Lalibela are thought to have been built during the reign of Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century.  Biete Giyorgis (above) is probably the best preserved and most finely executed and iconic of all the churches and is carved out of the top of a sandstone hill.

Over the Orthodox Easter period people flocked into Lalibela in their thousands, coming from all over Ethiopia as well as abroad to pray and attend the numerous services and processions that were taking place around the churches at all times of day and night.  The devotion of the visitors was incredible - sleeping in and around the churches, praying and studying the Holy scriptures seemingly their entire waking hours.

After dark the place took on an altogether different atmosphere.  Wandering around the churches in the near pitch black was an intense experience, at times you would be on your own trying to find your way down rock carved alleys from one church to another and the next moment you'd be surrounded by pilgrims walking in endless circles round one of the churches.  One particular moment I will never forget was hearing the distant drone of many people chanting and the sound of the brass rattles (sistrum) used throughout the churches in Ethiopia - following the resonating sound down the passages it led to a small carved out where I witnessed a scene that can barely have changed since the days when the churches were first chiseled from the sandstone.  A group of Deacons lit only by waxed tapers and clad in simple white robes rocked rhythmically back and forward in unison to the sound of drums and sistrum.  Off the main chamber another priest swung a glowing censer that permeated the air with the intoxicating smell of incense, the roof blackened with the waxy soot of nearly a millenium of prayer.

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Outside in the main areas surrounding the sunken churches, dozens of pilgrims wrapped in simple shawls curled up in whatever space they could find to try and snatch an hour or two of chilly sleep whilst those around carried on their prayers by the dim flickering light of a taper.

I shot everything during this trip on the Canon 5d mkll, my main camera at the time.  The cameras low light performance never fails to amaze - the 5dlll I now use is amazingly even better.  The ability to shoot in seemingly near darkness without having to resort to lighting is fantastic.

These images and many others from this and other assignments are available direct from me or through the various agencies I'm represented by, including: Axiom Photographic, Getty Images and DesignPics

How not to F-Up your next Photo/Video shoot

OK - first things first - this is a total re-post of a blog by Chase Jarvis in conversation with Corey Rich, both these guys are extremely talented US based photographer/film makers.  I take no credit for the content other than to say I agree with every word of it. The subject of the post if extremely relevant though for anyone attempting to shoot both stills and video at the same time and also for anyone embarking on a film making project particularly if using HDSLR cameras such as the Canon 5D mklll.  It's also very poignant for anyone commissioning photographers to shoot video whilst on a stills shoot (or vice versa).  IT'S NOT THAT EASY - SOMETHING WILL BE COMPROMISED, usually quality or content.  Either make sure you allow more time (if available) or do the sensible thing and appreciate that doing both at once is challenging to say the least.

Everything (and I mean everything) mentioned in the following post WILL happen to you if you are embarking on this sort of project for the first time.  I know - It's all happened to me at various times in the past but I hope I've learned to recognize the problems now before they happen.

Anyway - enough of that - I'll hand you over to Chase and Corey..

Motion Sickness – How Not to F- Up Your Next Photo/Video Shoot

By

Chase

on

August 23, 2013

I’m big-time stoked to bring to my blog a heavy hitter in the world of adventure storytelling. Corey Rich has done commercial work for everyone from Apple and Adidas to SI and Outside. He has an eagle eye for the shot, both for still and motion, and I’ve invited him here to give you all a little what-for on the topic of transition from still photography to motion film [hint: it ain't about hitting 'record' and letting the talent do all the work].

Why Corey? Not only is he a bad-ass at what he does, he’s also going to be instructing a three-day course at creativeLIVE next week [deets below].

Class is in session. Take it away, Corey.

Thanks, Chase.

So, you’re a still photographer shooting DSLR video for the first time? No offense, but you’re about to F— It Up.

The future of storytelling, for enthusiasts and professionals alike, is all about combining your still-image and video-capturing skills into a single dynamic narrative. Clients today don’t just want amazing pictures; they want amazing pictures AND amazing videos.

“No problem!” you think. “I’m a stoked-out photographer. I could nail the focus on a moving target at 200mm f/2.8, no tripod, blindfolded! I do exposure calculations in my sleep! What’s so hard about putting my camera on a tripod, sitting back and hitting the record button?”

Well, I’m here to tell you that you’re going to blow it. You will F— It Up (FIU)!

Sorry, but it’s true.

I was one of the most seasoned adventure and outdoor-lifestyle photographers in the business. And when the groundbreaking Nikon D90 (the first video-enabled DSLR camera) came to market, it changed my life. I immediately went out and purchased one, full of doe-eyed hope that becoming a filmmaker and director would be an easy transition.

Boy, was I wrong. Sure enough, capturing stunning motion footage, with great audio, all while making dynamic photographs, was as difficult as trying to hit a Mariano Rivera curve ball with a five iron.

Through a lot trial and error, not to mention working alongside some truly great filmmakers, I’ve learned a few things. Today I have more than a few successful still-and-motion productions under my belt, and I feel comfortable juggling the roles of photographer, filmmaker, and audio tech all at once—truly a three-ring circus act.

Now I’m here today to tell you, photographer gearing up for your first still- and motion production, why you’re going to FIU. And hopefully after reading this … you won’t.

Corey, on location.

1) You’re going to run out of time. You have a good sense for how long something should take. A trail-running shoot through morning mist? Two, three hours, tops, right? But when you add in the complexity of creating still images, capturing video and recording sound, inevitably your estimation of time will be way off. What you think will only take one hour will actually take three. By the time you’ve gotten your microphone levels adjusted, it’ll be noon and the opportunity will have evaporated along with the morning mist.

Solution: Multiply time estimates by three: If you think something will take one hour, plan on it taking three.

2) Audio? More like Audi-NO! Hands down, audio is the single easiest thing to botch. There are a million ways that you will FIU. I know, because I’ve done them all.

/ You will forget to press the record button on the audio recorder. / The distant, seemingly imperceptible noise in the background—the dog barking across the street, the refrigerator’s insipid hum, the airplane passing by overhead—will reveal itself to be a port-production nightmare. / The levels will be completely off and will require a lot of post-production work to boost it up. / You will mistake watching the levels with actually listening to the audio through a set of high-quality headphones, the difference being that levels only tell you how strong a signal is, not its quality.

Though not rocket science, audio is the easiest thing to screw up.

Solution: Budget yourself enough time and pay attention to audio throughout. Otherwise, I recommend hiring an audio expert to help you out. It’ll be one less thing to worry about, allowing you to put your creative energy where you’re most comfortable: looking through the lens.

3) You’ll give assistants jobs way above their skill level. This is probably more of a universal problem than it is necessarily specific to just shooting motion. But as photographers and directors focused on operating our cameras, we will throw our poor, hapless assistants to the wolves by putting them in charge of, say, the audio (see above). You’ll toss your assistant a set of headphones and say, “Check the audio. It’s easy.” But they don’t know what they’re listening for. And inevitably they don’t hear the incessant crinkling of the subject’s shirt through the laval mic.

Solution: Assistants … love ‘em, hate ‘em, whatever. Either way, you still have to live with them. And if they screw up something tricky like the audio (which you’d also screw up anyway), remember that they are still making your life much easier in the long run.

4) You’re not Oprah. When you’re conducting that all-important interview with your subject, what he or she says can make or break your film. However, it’s quite challenging to be a focused, attentive camera operator AND an engaging interviewer who can draw out those important, meaningful, storytelling lines from the interview subject. Most of the time, you’ll be so focused on composition, not botching the focus, and fretting about the audio to even hear the words coming out of your subject’s mouth. Formulating that next smart interview question will be challenging, if not impossible.

Solution: Have a list of questions you want to ask your interview subject in advance. Depending on the nature of the interview, you may want to spend a few moments with your subject going over the questions and conducting a mock interview before filming the real one. Otherwise, consider bringing in a journalist/writer to conduct the interview, leaving you free to focus on operating the camera.

5) You won’t have enough extension cords. You’re doing great so far! You’ve found a sweet location outside for your interview. The backdrop is gorgeous, and you’ve thought ahead about where the sun will be when. Further, you’ve set up two continuous light sources to ensure your subject will be well lit. You’re so smart! One problem: the closest outlet is 100 feet away, and you only have a single 20-foot extension cord.

Solution: Bring more extension cords. However, because extension cords are so heavy and bulky, I never travel with them. When I arrive on location for a shoot, I always hit up the nearest Home Depot and buy 300 feet of industrial, orange power cords. If we can return them after the shoot is over, great. If not, we make our assistant happy by giving him 300 feet of cords, which, in all likelihood, the little bastard will try to rent to us next time we come to town.

6) When it comes to High Def, beauty is NOT in the eye of the beholder. Many guys like chicks who don’t wear make-up and are just “naturally beautiful.” Turns out, that doesn’t work in the world of video. When you’re shooting a close-up of someone’s face with a full High-Def-enabled DSLR camera, most people’s faces reveal themselves to be ruddier and rockier than the surface of Mars. On a wide high-def screen, every imperfection of skin is exacerbated tenfold. Nobody in the audience will be able to concentrate on the lines being spoken if they’re too busy cringing at every inconvenient pimple, blemish and blood vessel popping through your subject’s translucent, pale middle-aged skin.

Solution: Don’t underestimate the importance of having a makeup artist. A basic powder and touch-up kit is mandatory equipment. Learn how to apply make-up, and do your subject a favor. They may not like it at the time, but they’ll thank you later.

7) You’ll cut the clip too short. As still photographers, capturing decisive, singular moments is ingrained in our blood. We’ll press the shutter once, and in a fraction of a second we will have made an all-but final product. Video is very different. The tendency for still photographers is to shoot for a few seconds, recompose, shoot a few more seconds of video, and so on. But, once you get back to your computer, you’ll quickly realize that short clips don’t work and severely compromise what you can do as an editor.

Solution: A good rule of thumb is to never record for less than 10 seconds. Keep that red light flashing, and make sure the camera is rolling well before and well after the action/moment is over.

8)

You’ll forget you’re rolling video and recompose the camera. Again, another tendency we still photographers have is to be constantly recomposing our shots, always thinking of dynamic new ways to capture the same scene. Video is not one decisive moment. It’s a continuous series of seconds, unfolding naturally on the screen. Footage needs continuity to be beautiful and not jarring to the viewer. You can’t move the camera once you start filming to re-adjust the composition! Sometimes you’ll start rolling, you’ll realize the composition isn’t perfect, and you’ll just have to settle for a less-than perfect composition, because that’s better than recomposing and ruining your whole clip.

Solution: Think about your composition before you hit record. Consider if your subject will be moving within the frame; shoot a bit wider so the subject doesn’t actually fall out of frame. Above all, don’t recompose your camera while filming unless you make a conscious, meaningful decision to do so.

9) You’ll shoot vertical video. Does this even need to be addressed? Have you ever seen a vertical television?

Solution: Mount your camera horizontally, and keep it there.

10) You’ll F— up the white balance. As still photographers, we don’t usually pay much attention to the white balance. We shoot in RAW and, thanks to Adobe and our camera manufacturers’ software, we can easily fix the white balance before processing our images.

This is the not true with video. You have to nail the white balance in camera. Also, if you’re shooting with two cameras to get two different angles of the same situation, always do a white-balance check before recording. Each camera must be set to the exact same Kelvin setting.

Solution: Again, double check that the white balance is the same for all cameras. While you’re at it, make sure both cameras are set to the same frame rate: e.g., 24 fps and full HD.

11) Your sensor will be dirty. I know some photographers cook and eat off their camera’s sensor, leaving pizza-grade smudge marks all over their images, which they then merrily clone-stamp into oblivion in Lightroom. However, there ain’t no clone stamp with video.

Solution: Keep your sensor clean and stop eating off the damn thing!

Fin(e) Art Project

I'm currently shooting a series of surfboard fins for a UK distributor.  At this stage its mainly pack shots for brochures but we are looking to possibly produce a series of prints showing the beauty of the surfboard fin in all it's various incarnations.

I've made a large plywood box - painted white on the inside - as a kind of lightbox in order to provide backlighting to the fins.  A couple of Canon Speedlights have been double diffused by layers of white sailcloth kindly donated  by Dave at Dynamic Sails  while the fins themselves rest on a sheet of clear acrylic sheet. Additional variously diffused speedlights have been used to light from above.

These are the first few, shot to check the lighting setup and overall I'm pretty pleased with the results.  With possibly dozens to shoot in many varied colors and shapes I think they will make an interesting set in the same way as the recent Box Set and Boys Toys posts.  Additionally in due course we are looking to produce beautiful intricate designs from the fins as pieces of wall art.

The Box set

POSTBOX-13

One thing I become slightly obsessed with from time to time is the power and impact of sets of images  Mundane objects that if individually photographed and presented as a lone image may have no impact - when shown as a set however the objects may take on a sense of importance and relevance in relation to the others in the group.  The recent post "Boys Toys" is another example of this.

For example: Take a single picture of a teacup or a kettle and it's probably just a dull image of a teacup or a kettle - take a set of pictures of teacups whilst traveling around Kenya though and you might show something more than just a set of cups - it might display poverty or a sense of pride, it might show fashion, it might be a reflection of taste or at worst it will just be an interesting bunch of images.

This set came from the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.  I loved the way there were bright red post boxes located in what seemed like the remotest of locations - all obviously situated carefully to most effectively serve the local community.  But in an area where there are so few houses there is frequently no central village location in which to place the box so they end up in beautiful remote locations seemingly miles from the nearest croft.  Driving around the island we came across many of these and it soon became an obsession to photograph each one that was passed.

Shot on Iphone using the Hipstamatic app.

A Grand Day Out

As a photographer who spends several months of the year shooting on location in remote areas one of the things that always astounds me is the amount of time one can seem to waste in the back of a 4WD vehicle getting around in country.  Almost inevitably the best parts of the day (the morning and evening) are spent bumping along dirt roads while you can frequently be tasked with getting your story or images in the heat and intense light of the midday sun.  There is also the frustration of being on route to a particular location with a time schedule to keep to and passing countless good photo opportunities as you go - all highly annoying.

On some rare days though, when you have a little more time on your hands, you have the chance to stop and take advantage of the the location and the journey and get the images that normally pass you by.

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AGDO-3

On this particular day we had been photographing in the village of Longwa that straddles the border of Nagaland and Myanmar.  The people of the village are of the Konyak tribe and were extremely hospitable despite their not too distant past history of head hunting.  Facial tattoos are pretty common among the older men of the area and this along with the beauty and remoteness of the region is what draws in the few visitors who make it here.

Village headman - Longwa, Nagaland/Myanmar border
Village headman - Longwa, Nagaland/Myanmar border

I shot a few portraits including the one above of the new village Headman (lit with a speedlight and shoot through brolly held at full extension in my left hand - my 'go to' quick and dirty lighting in these sort of situations).

Leaving the village in the early afternoon we were faced with the usual long drive to get back to the only guest house in the area but this time had a few hours to kill and spend on the journey.  The first stop was for this guy who was standing beside the road on the edge of a scruffy little village. Come on......, how could you pass up the opportunity to go and chat to a man with horns?

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AGDO-4

After the usual pleasantries we broached the subject of shooting a few pictures and as typical in this region it was met with a smile and a nod of the head.  We were then ushered into the mans nearby house and invited to sit in the near darkness whilst the fire was re kindled and the tea made.  With a sweet brew in hand it began to dawn that we were in fact sat in a smokey little opium den with a few other quietly staring reclining figures tucked away in the shadows.

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AGDO-5

The man with the horns began to prepare his next pipe, explaining as he did so how he got the opium from the Myanmar side of the border and how he could afford little else other than his habit.  Things then took a peculiar twist.  Our host put both feet behind his head - resting on the dirt floor on just his bottom.  He then stuck his opium pipe in his mouth and took a burning branch from the fire to light it - but then rather than throwing it back on the fire he rubbed the flaming branch up one arm after another explaining as he did that the continued use of opium had completely de-sensitized his skin.  It seemed to have no effect on him at all.  Looking back at the images now I realize I missed capturing the moment concentrating more on shooting portraits rather than documentary images - maybe the smoke had clouded my judgment?

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AGDO-6

Leaving the smoke and drugs behind we soon picked up a character we'd given a lift to earlier in the day.  With his bright red waistcoat and blue beads around his legs this was a local village chief who we'd picked up in the morning.  With nothing more than a live chicken in a basket he was on his way by foot to a funeral in a village some 30km away.  Luckily for him it was a day with time in hand so we'd stopped and offered a lift.  It was now the chiefs opportunity to reciprocate and invited us back to his village for tea.  Having accepted we suspected there might have been an ulterior motive as this then took us miles out of our way down dirt paths to deliver him home - again without the time in hand we would never have gone.

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AGDO-8

Leaving the chief and by this stage late in the afternoon we passed several hunters on their way into the forest - needless to say it was another encounter too good to pass up.  Young guys with guns - hunters or insurgents?  Nagaland has several insurgent factions demanding regional independence but also involved in kidnapping, extortion, smuggling and inter-factional clashes.  Maybe stopping and shooting the breeze with these guys was not a good idea but again encounters like this are for me what make travel interesting.

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AGDO-9

As is so often the case these young guys were flattered to be stopped and have the attention - 2 minutes of chat and then we had the all clear for as many photographs as wanted.  As is so often the case if you just have the time to stop and chat and make time for people you soon realize that there are interesting encounters to be had had even when you are driving along dirt roads in the middle of nowhere.

Hunter, Nagaland, India
Hunter, Nagaland, India

Oxfam America/Rockefeller Foundation commission

Earlier in the year I had a 3 week shoot in a number of East African countries for Oxfam America and the Rockefeller Foundation.  Material from the shoot was ultimately destined for presentation at at the recent summit on "Realizing the Potential of African Agriculture: Catalytic Innovations for Growth" held in Abuja, Nigeria.  The summit was attended by not only numerous African ministers prime ministers but also former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

Some of the material used is shown below.

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Maize-maize
Maize-maize
Maize-Nyamig
Maize-Nyamig
Cassava_ernesto
Cassava_ernesto
Mobile-Cassava
Mobile-Cassava

A short walk before breakfast

Whilst visiting the Suri people in Southwestern Ethiopia one of the things I was particularly keen to document was the traditional practice of taking and drinking cattle blood early in the morning. 

Cattle are of enormous significance to Suri men with a man's worth  judged by the number of cows he has.  In fact it's not uncommon for Suri men to risk their lives in protecting their cattle from raiders.  Typically adult men might own 30 or 40 cows, saving for the day when having amassed 60 head they are considered of marriageable status. 

Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM

Setting off just after dawn and guided by our armed escort Arbulo (meaning Black Bull) we waded the Kibbish river and headed up into the bush on the far bank.  After a brisk 40 minute walk we arrived at the corral of a man we had met and photographed on the river bank the previous evening and who had invited us to visit him with his cattle. Scanning the cattle with a very knowledgeable eye a young cow was selected and quickly cornered by the young herd boys who then held it ready for blood to be taken. 

Surma-4
Surma-4
Surma-6
Surma-6
Surma-7
Surma-7
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM

Strangely the cattle were not particularly disturbed by any of this - perhaps used to this near daily activity.  A leather thong was quicky passed around the cows neck and tightened - it's jugular vein by this stage very pronounced but still a tiny target for for the bow and arrow held by one of the elder herd boys. 

Surma-9
Surma-9

One quick shot with a sharp arrow into the bulging jugular was all it took to release a throbbing stream of blood into the gourd bowl held ready.  Seconds later with the bowl full of vivid red blood the thong was removed and a small handful of mud pressed into the tiny cut.  The blood clotted almost instantly and the cow was released and trotted off to join the rest of the herd seemingly none the worse for it's experience.

Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM

With only minutes before the fresh blood would start to clot, two of the young herd boys quickly polished off the blood in a matter of seconds and then without another word the gate of the corral was opened and they quickly left and vanished into the bush with the cattle.

Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM

Photographing this event was always going to be at least a little bit tricky - with little or no verbal communication possible between me and the subjects there was no real way of telling what was about to happen and there was no option to say hang on a second whilst I change lenses or recompose.  With an already bright sun causing the usual problems of photographing black skin in broad daylight I chose to shoot with off camera fill in flash triggered through a Canon ETTL cable and shot through a combination of white brolly or small softbox.  Trying to get well composed images whilst slipping around in ankle deep cow shit is not the easiest thing to do and as always with hindsight there are always things you might do differently but in general I think I more or less caught the flavor of the morning if not the smell.

Surma-15
Surma-15

With the cattle gone it was back down to the river to wash off the the knee high reminder of the mornings experience and then back to the tents for our own altogether less adventurous breakfast.

Lightroom 4 - to use presets or not?

Lightroom 4 is my current image processing tool of choice.  Quicker and simpler to use than Photoshop and does most of what the average photographer needs in a few easy clicks of the mouse.  It's a great tool for editing images as well as captioning, keywording and generally making sense of the thousands of images we end up with spread over endless hard drives.

vsco
vsco

But the process of image manipulation is a tricky one - when you shoot an image do you know how you want it to end up looking or is it a question of chance where all the tweaking takes you?  Do you end up in the same place every time with a generic looking well balanced but slightly dull looking image after minutes spent adjusting exposure, white balance, shadows, highlights and the rest of the sliders...?

I came across VSCO Film recently - a really nice interesting series of Film Emulation presets for LR4, Aperture and Adobe Camera Raw.  With the film look being all the rage in digital processing at the moment these presets make the task of achieving this pretty straightforward.  The clever boffins at Visual Supply Co have done all the hard work for you and worked out all the settings you need to simulate your favourite film from years gone by - right down to the color shifts, the grain and softness.  There are 3 packs available featuring all the standards from Kodak, Ilford and Fuji with familiar names such as Portra, Neopan, Superia and Delta.  Film 03 is a bit more quirky as it features instant films like Polaroids and many other peel apart films.

These wont be to everyone's taste for sure but they do give you pretty extensive starting point for trying to work out the look you might be after - and maybe that's a whole new problem in itself.  Now instead of having an image to process manually and ending up with an average looking image you can now have literally hundreds of presets to choose from - many of them potentially interesting - and then what do you do, you will probably (like me) go through them one by one until you settle on something that gives you a pretty average looking image that's perhaps not that far from the image you'd have arrived at anyway but this way might take even longer. I've only just started exploring the possibilities these presets give you but I can already see that they work particularly well with well lit images whether in the studio or outdoors - more testing required!!

All that said I really like the product and if the film look is your thing then this is definitely a product worth looking into - not cheap but it might possibly (if you are careful) save you time in the long term.

Making vs. taking a portrait

The portrait below was shot during a recent visit to the tiny settlement of Kibbish in South West Ethiopia - home to the fascinating Surma people.  I spent several days in and around the village shooting reportage and portraits of these colorful and elegant people and I particularly liked this frame for the way it captures the gentle nature and the ease of the young guy.  But in order to end up with an image like this there is a lot more to it than just pressing the shutter and hoping for the best.

Firstly the subject - this boy was the brother of another young man who I was using as a guide and was obviously at ease and relaxed in the company of strangers which makes things a whole lot easier from the outset.  He was happy to be photographed and what's more to be photographed repeatedly without demanding payment for every frame taken which is sadly (but not unsurprisingly) a feature in seemingly even the remotest of locations these days.

The location was not that special - a patch of scrubby farm on the edge of the village with nothing that really stood out as a backdrop.  That was until I saw the banana tree.  With the tree as a backdrop I then had a way of isolating subject from the mess of the surrounding area - of course I could have used what was there and ended up with a totally different image but "I chose not to".   That's an important thing to say - "I chose not to"... I didn't just take a picture of a guy in a village but I made a conscious effort to pick a suitable subject and then pick a suitable backdrop and then bring the 2 components together.

Looking through the images in Lightroom I see that I then shot 24 frames - all lit with a handheld speedlight through a shoot through white brolly - until I thought I'd got a frame I was satisfied with.  If you have a subject that you think is interesting then it's worth keeping shooting and working the subject until one of you is either bored, exhausted or you feel you've got what you are after.

Standing there, pouring with sweat and with an image I thought I was happy with was of course just the beginning. Below is the RAW image as it came out of the Canon 5d mkll.

Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
histo
histo

As you can see the image is flat and pretty lifeless - exactly what you want from a RAW image but capturing all the data from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights as shown in the histogram

Importing the image into lightroom some weeks later I could simply have pressed the "auto" button and I would have ended up with an OK image - nothing special, just OK.  But that's not what I had in mind when I shot the image - I wanted something more like an old polaroid print so that's how I chose to develop it in Lightroom.

The end result is an Image "I made" - a portrait that I am pretty happy with and not just a picture "I took" of a young guy in a patch of scrubby bush.

Boys toys

I'm always thinking of ideas for sets of images.  Individual pictures of a piece of toast may not be of interest to anyone but put together a set of 35 different pieces of toast and I guarantee that at least someone will find them interesting as a set.

cars
cars

Well this was my latest little set of images - my old toy cars found in a couple of boxes at my parents just a few days ago.  Individually nothing special but together they make an interesting memory of days spent pushing them around in the garden or on the sitting room floor.  My father is convinced they are worth a small fortune on ebay so I'm hoping for at least a small percentage of the sale if they go for millions.  If they don't sell then I might just go and get them out of the boxes again and push them around a few more times just for the memories.

Sunday Times travel

Nice little double page spread in the Sunday Times travel section yesterday thanks to Axiom/Getty.  Shot several years ago on the North coast of Cornwall with the daughter of good friends who was then aged about 4.  I was surfing with her again just a few days ago - now aged 11 and now consistently catching green waves and still as stoked about it as she was then.  I wish I'd had my camera with me again this time..

feature
feature

Polaroid portraits

filmportraits-2A series of portraits from the Maha Kumbh Mela earlier this year - Exported from Lightroom to my Iphone and then processed in phone....  Gimmicky it may be but somehow the subject lends itself to something a bit retro.  Of course I could have shot it all on polaroid or film in the first place but just imagine the hassle of doing that.  So now we shoot on high end digital, degrade the image, stick a border round it to make it look retro and hey presto we have an interesting image.  It's odd that with all this technology our aim is sometimes to end up with something that looks as if we had none of the technology at all.  My latest camera actually has built in filters that give the impression of a plastic toy camera - where will it all end?

Click on the images below to scroll through larger versions.