When I was a mere broth of a photographer, and just learning the craft, almost all weddings, portraits and product and advertising photography was done in the Studio. Photographers like D’acre Stubbs specialised in getting just the right light on a product, and Wolfgang Sievers made wonderful detailed industrial photos with dramatic lighting.
And I traded my poor old Super Baldar, 120 folding camera for the chance to learn the craft as a trainee.
A photographer had full control of lighting and surrounds in the studio and as in those days, film (yes, either remember or google, Film), had very low sensitivity, think ISO, and so generally a larger format camera as the tool of choice. One of the jobs a young photo assistant had, among many like brooming out the floor of the studio and mopping up the tiles in the darkroom was to load the Double-dark Slides for a photo shoot. Mostly an Ilford product called HP3, it had for many years an ISO (well ASA actually) of 200. Then for reasons I’ve never been able to determine, it was relabelled as 400ISO. Same film, same ingredients, same large football sized grain pattern, same everything except name.
Most pros (and Ilford Tech Staff, I later discovered) hated it. But my mentor loved it, and invariably shot it overexposed, (think ISO 40) then dunked it in some brew in which he underdeveloped it, so the results were a soft, grey negative without blacks. Then wonder of wonders he printed it on a ‘hard’ grade (more contrast) paper and managed to extract the most gorgeous black tones. Quoth he, “They put silver in there, its your job to keep as much of it as possible in the paper and flush as little as possible down the sink”.
But the days of the family, or the bride and groom coming to the “Studio” for the formal photos were, like hand-coloured prints, about to fade into history, (along with said HP3, it should be noted). Across town the new, “Studio”, was shooting all weddings and family groups etc, not in the Studio—because they didn’t have one!— but out in the open air. Gasp choke!
And they were not using large format sheet film cameras, like the reliable Linhoff Technika I was getting used to handling and would actually be allowed at some stage to not only set up, but take the photo, they were using 120 roll film in cameras with names like Rollei, and well, Hasselblad.
And because it was all the rage, overseas, environmental portraits and wedding groups became the “thing”. Now a Hasselblad in those dark days would have cost me around 3-4 years salary. So that was never going to happen. We went Rolleiflex. We scouted many outdoor locations in local parks and open areas, and because of the studio control of light, we used different locations for different times of the day, and season. Down the road, ‘they’ shot in the same spot, 125th of a second @f/11 and used fill flash from the venerable Metz 502 unit.
These were really freeing days visually, and ‘they’ went on to build an outdoor settings location with trees, carefully placed, stools, benches, short pieces of fence, old wheels and rusty farm stuff, to ‘enhance’ the photo session experience.
And the environmental portrait became the stock in trade. Mentors like Dean Collins, “The master of light’, Don Nibbelink, a master of gaining the right expression, and Neil Montanus, doyen of the right moment in the environment, were among trail blazers we sought to follow. And would you believe it, and I find it hard to write, we began to shoot with Colour Film. Kodak Vericolor being the choice and preference, and mostly because… It had the word, “Professional” printed on the box. Mind a wedding pro I worked with for a while only shot on the over the counter Kodacolor (and it was cheaper), and said he couldn’t see the difference.
About this time, the Department of Defence, the Australian Military Forces, to be precise, were in need of photographers, and I was conscripted to help their plight. I came across just recently in a book, a photo that I shot for them, and I was still as pleased with it now as I was then. A beaut moody, light through the trees, 3/4 backlit army dude on patrol.
And as I was in South East Asia, I was able to acquire a Nikon F with a 50mm f/1.4 lens. Well all the pros were going that way. Look at the work of war correspondent David Duncan Douglas. Still have the “F” out in the garage, all it needs are a few rolls of Kodachrome, and somewhere to process it, and well, I’d be on the road again. Cue the music.
Time,however, as they say. Marches on.
We, EE and I were out at the formal gardens at Werribee Mansion the other afternoon. And of course all the preamble begins to make sense as there was a photoshoot, bride and groom happening. Had to restrain EE from going over and stagemanaging the dress and the setting. Hard to let somethings go.
We however continued over to the Ornamental Lake. There have been several Nankeen Night Herons using the pond and we were hoping for a few fine shots.
But as I sat there with the late afternoon light splashing through the trees, I was suddenly taken back to the studio, and light and backdrops and getting the right pose for the light and keeping the backdrop lighting balanced. And out of all that, a White-faced Heron dropped on to the water’s edge about 5 metres away.
It moved this way, and that, and stepped into the sunlight, and out again, and all the while, I’m working with the bird, against the backdrop, too bright there. Too dark there. Not enough turn on the head yet, nearly, nearly, ohh.turned away.
Then I was inspired enough to keep working with the ducks and coots in the same way. And that lovely light just did what it did all those years ago when it was 1/25th @f/11 against the wooden stump, with the light streaming through the veil. Shoulder down, leg forward, hold it.
You’ve come along way down the page. Let the photos speak.
White-faced Heron, wanted to make the delicate markings stand against a neutral backdrop.
Now for the dynamic moody moment. To be helpful, the Heron stepped for a moment into a shaft of light coming through the trees, and the muted lake in the shade provides a blue sky reflection. Lighting balance easy.
Raven with attitude. A dash of glancing light to highlight against the backdrop and to bring out the form of the feathers.
Australian Pelican. Getting down to the business of feeding. Front light de-emphasises the form, and makes a shape statement.
Dusky Moorhen. The moment.
Chestnut Teal, male. A sliver of light to open up the face, and then just wait till it peeked at me.
Australian Maned Duck; Female.
When you are this gorgeous who needs a makeup artist.
Australian Maned Duck: Male
3/4 front, Bloke lighting. Never fails.
Nankeen Night Heron: Juvenile
Then the lighting and the setting all come together and the “talent” just works with it all. Too easy.It is in the middle of heavy duty preening out the baby feathers.
Superb Fairywren: Male. Moulting into eclipse. A touch of soft lighting to match his mood.
- Postscript: Just cause I’m feeling dreamy eyed after looking at the Super Balda on Flickr. I published my first photos from that camera. Would love to find one on ebay. 🙂