Studio Werkz: A Step back in Time

For those new readers, Studio Werkz, was the proposed name of a ‘Studio Alliance”, by a group of photographers ever-so-long ago. I’ve blogged here about the formation and dissolution, (all in 24hours), so won’t belabour here.

However everytime I get the chance to make a portrait of a bird, I find myself pondering why studio offers so many opportunities to bring out the character of the subject.

It is about lighting, it is about backdrop and it is about the magic moment when the subject no longer is “having a portrait taken”, but allows an insight into their life. A sparkle in the eye, a wry grin, leaning forward, turning the body everso slightly, and there is the magic moment.

It’s like as one of my early mentors would say, “Like eavesdropping on a special moment. Developing a real sensitivity for a feeling that says so much. The lens, the camera, the lighting all are forgotten, it is the reaction that speaks visually.”

On my very first ever trip to the Western Treatment Plant many years back, I’d been travelling about the Plant with a very experienced birdo who graciously gave me a wonderful introduction to the area—so much so that I registered for access the following morning.

However, I hadn’t managed to achieve any significant pictures during our day, as we had little time to work with the birds.

After I picked up my car and was driving along 29 Mile Road on the way home, I spied this Brown Falcon sitting on the post in the late evening sunshine. Hesitantly I parked, and eased out of the vehicle, 500mm lens and beanbag.
Would Brown stay?

Now the falcons in the area are pretty used to vehicles speeding past, or even stopping, and have at least a passing tolerance for the human condition. Although what they really think of us is debatable.  Three things they they do give credit for, are lovely well spaced perching spaces, mice and rabbits.

Brown held.

And so I began to move about to get the best light, angle, and backdrop.  And for a brief moment it took me all in.
That was the going home shot.

Not more than a minute later, a vehicle approached and Brown felt the pressure and sniffing a light breeze turned and was gone.

Enjoy

Remain

Davyyd.

One of my most published bird photos

Saturday Evening Post #67 : From Studio Werkz

Studio Werkz was a proposed name for a photo studio/business in another universe. Mooted by an eclectic group of photographers, we had the idea of being able to offer a wide range of photo services, but in the morning, after the coffee kicked in, we managed to drift in our own directions.

Still I’ve often retained it for some bird portraits that have a ‘studio quality’ about them.

This is usually a clever mix of bird character, the right location and an interesting lighting set.

As my earliest mentor was oft to say when assembling a lighting order for a product or portrait, “We don’t keep adding light, we work to remove the shadows until the subject expresses itself.” Which means in commercial product photography that no two lighting problems are alike, and the difference of a few millimetres up or down, left or right of lights, reflectors, camera angle, lens choice could result in an entirely different rendition.

Which, still holds true in this day an age of bulk-flat light, the environmental feel, or the harshness of poorly balanced lighting and an over abundance of post-processing.

So Studio Werkz images try to emulate those great lighting arrays, without the benefit of controlled studio.

The other morning I looked out the front door to see what all the noise in the garden was about. New Holland Honeyeaters at corroboree. Each sitting on a branch and crying out at all its relatives.

And then one landed on the agapanthus plant in the garden.
The early morning light stuck hard lines across the bird, separated it from the background, incidentally my neighbour over the road’s garage door in shade.

“Right”.

Scramble to get the camera, grabbed the one with the 500mm lens, and opened the door.

Gone.

But the noise carried on and they flicked back and forward of the agapanthus, and I waited.

The trick of course is to get the best light on the bird, and to keep shadow detail, so there were only ever going to be some angles that would work.
Until Mr Clever turned up.

“Would you like me to pose upside down?” it seemed to say.

Adjust the exposure to hold the highlights, and the job was done.  In a studio of course, it would have been easier to add a light or two to open up the shadows, or at least put up a reflector to push some light into the shadows.  These days, we just slide up the ‘fill-light’ in software and job is done.

We each have our own way of making that work, and my favourite for many years was a Nikon Software, Capture NX(2). Its major claim to fame was some clever Nik Software, (different company) “Control Points” They measured the lightness and colour values of an area (think L*A*B* Color space), and then applied it to all similar values in a given area. Making it easy to open up shadows or make subtle changes to colour and tone. Sort of like Photoshop Layer Masks and a Brush.
Nik eventually marketed its own versions, and Google bought them out, and the series languished until DxO Labs purchased the technology and have incorporated it into their very clever Optics Pro software, now called DxO PhotoLab.

Pop the Adjustment Tool into the shadow areas on the bird’s chest, slide up the ‘shadows’ controller. Simples.
Dean Collins couldn’t have done any better with “Available Light”. — For new readers, there is a photographic joke in there—you’d need to read back on my Dean Collins series.

I have to say, I really wanted to show this as a vertical, so I’ve done a header image horizontal, as that is what WordPress demands, but here is the way I saw it.

 

Studio Werkz: Creative Lighting Challenges

Warning to Birders.  This blog is mostly about photography, and lighting techniques and fanning the creative juices.  CLICK AWAY NOW!  You have been warned.

My current mentor and I have been playing with the thought, “What if you’ve taken your last “GREAT” photograph.” ;-(

Not one that is technically correct. Used the right lens, got the shutterspeed-iso-aperture worked out.  The exposure is dead on.  The subject is all as it should be.  No need for massive post-production.  Not that sort of Great.
But, y’know, Great!

And image that purely by subject/time/lighting/emotional appeal reaches out beyond the frame and the viewer “gets it”. The ones that sometimes we bleed over or travel miles for, or just happens to occur when we walk out the door.  You, subject, lighting, mood, atmosphere and feeling all make their stamp on the moment and its, “Great”. Not the one that gets more “Likes” on Facebook, or more “Favs” on Flickr.  But one that in a timeless manner somehow moves the thought you saw at the moment to the viewer’s mind and they  not only identify but also imbibe.

Y’know like McCurry’s Pic of the Green-eyed Afghan girl on the cover of Nat Geo.  Still get shivers when I recall how I first noticed that photo in the news agents rack when I’d wandered in off the street.  It was the only magazine in the entire rack that stole my heart away.

I’ve faced some big lighting challenges over the years. Buildings at first or last light. Vehicles in the moody pre-dawn. Brides and Grooms in the midday sun. Chrome laundry bowls on white gloss metal stand. And in all cases the same principles apply.

I had the good fortune to have been trained at one stage by the best.
Dean Collins. Master of Light. —A title he most justifiably deserved.
“He taught us to not only see the light, but to move it, bend it and most importantly control it, no matter where or when we were creating images” tricolorlabs.com

At one seminar Dean showed a 3 foot by 5 foot print of a portrait of Natalie Wood, taken just before her death. No matter where you stood in the room, her beauty shone from the wall. A truly stunning portrait.

So the other evening when the challenge came, I was fascinated how the various elements came together.
Gotta few minutes?
Here we go.

1807-25-DWJ_2027.JPG.jpg Continue reading “Studio Werkz: Creative Lighting Challenges”

Studio Werkz: Restless Flycatcher, on the Run

Be like the forces of nature: 
when it blows, there is only wind; 
when it rains, there is only rain; 
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.
Lao Tzu

When I was a mere broth of a photographer, and knee deep in learning the craft, one of the big studio swings was away from formal portraits in a studio and more to ‘environmental portraits’, as they became known.

I’ve blogged on this process here before and over on Studio Werkz, and the studio I was working with, at the time, was quite slow in making the ‘customer’ perceived change and ‘that mob’ down the road with their shiny new Hasselblads made the running. Yet the young-gun in me was always eager to explore new opportunities. And like hand-coloured black and white photos, the old studio portrait gave way to the more ‘exciting and involving’ outdoor portrait.

As much of my own direction turned to product photography the need to embrace the new age really didn’t catch me.  After all who wants to see their precious white-porcelain bathroom bowl posed against some tree/plant/water feature or industrial backdrop.

Yet, I have to be among the first to acknowledge, the chance to use the power of the ‘around’ and the available light has always given me a real pleasure when I get to do the occasional, informal portrait.

I’ve been contemplating my own bird photography of late, and while I enjoy the camaraderie of the Flickr page tis  a tough medium to encapsulate the images that go into making a story of the birds.  Long time readers will recall the earliest blogs here were much more the sharing of time with a bird or pair or family as it seemed to me to bring the story of their important lives.

So, I have considered combining Studio Werks into BirdasPoetry, and share the challenges of the craft of portrait stories.

Which of course takes us directly into the field and in this case a sunny morn at the You Yangs.

And almost before we had the cameras out of the car, the shrill, Zhhhhht, Zhhhhht, Zhhhht.  Pling pling pling, of a Restless Flycatcher rang in our ears.

Continue reading “Studio Werkz: Restless Flycatcher, on the Run”

Studio Werkz: The White-plumed Honeyeater Appointment

I know all the birds of the hills

Psalm 50

To say we’ve had a run of weather of late would be to guild the lily somewhat.  Lack of sunshine, and howling southerly winds have been much more the norm. Add to that the best of fast moving squalls with intense rain, and well, its enough to make you roll over and pull the donnah up even closer.

So with a touch of sunshine peeking through the breakfast room window, EE and I decided on a quick trip to The Office.  Image our surprise when we found Mr An Onymous out there as well.  Put it down to the call of the Osprey.  However she wasn’t in residence so we had to content ourselves with lesser subjects.

Continue reading “Studio Werkz: The White-plumed Honeyeater Appointment”