Gimme a Lightsource, LG – Seoul Editorial Photographer

Many of you who have shot with me in the past will know that I like light. In fact, I love light. I’ll use ambient, look for light sources at my location, or make light myself. I own 7 different sizes of softbox, countless umbrellas, reflectors, 3 Nikon SB-800s, a Paul C. Buff Einstein, a couple of older Nikon flashes, a 200 lumen LED tourch, and probably a few more things tucked away in boxes that I’ve forgotten about. I use this stuff on nearly every shoot I do. But today, I wanted to share a technique that fits in with the way we have to work most of the time. Using what Joe McNally calls “available light.” That, of course, being whatever light is available.

One of my other favourite alternative sources of  light is the little “flash” on the back of my smart phone. Currently, I’m using the LG Vega Iron, which has a pretty blinding light on the back of it. Using any of the “Flashlight” apps available, you are able to keep this light on permanently and it makes for a great substitute for flashes or small torches in dim situations. You can use it to light paint, or for simple illumination of your subject.

On a recent shoot for UC Hastings’ College of the Law Magazine, I was using the light on the back of my phone to provide a focus assist in a dark room. The camera was struggling to get focus, and the splash of light the phone provided was enough to allow the camera’s autofocus system to work. For the first few frames we worked like this; using the phone to focus, and then an SB800 to illuminate Nathan. Then it clicked, this shoot was tech themed. By using the very tech Nathan’s company develops to light him, we could add another dimension to the image. It turned out that the balance the phone light provided was just the right amount to light Nathan, and we ended up with the shot below.

Seoul Editorial Photographer

This second shot was used on the cover of the magazine (thanks UC Hastings!), and is lit with an SB800 in a softbox. Both make for great light on Nathan.

Seoul Editorial Photographer

In a pinch, look around you. You might find light from a space heater, a torch, or just your phone. I’d love to hear about your use of alternative lightsources as well!


Personal Work: Fine Art Portrait

As a working photographer it is all too easy to get caught up in working on jobs and forget to nurture the creative side. As much as we love to create for others and complete jobs to the highest standard we are capable of, every job needs professional development from time to time. For us that comes in the form of personal work. Creating for the sake of creating is a great way to remind ourselves why we are in this craft we love so much. It also gives us the opportunity to learn new techniques or play with a new piece of gear.

This shoot came to me one morning last week as I was sipping my coffee and finishing a chapter of my book. I didn’t live in Seoul at that time, I lived in a forest filled with magic and dreams. I decided then and there to make an image of that feeling. Three days later, I had organised to shoot with Jaymie and my good friend Andy.

We met at Olympic Park in Seoul with a rough idea of what we were going to do, a camera, a tripod, a book, a lantern, and a cup of coffee each. From here we set about piecing together the image you see below. Sitting Jaymie on the picnic rug, I began collecting vines and leaves to place all around her. We then decided to tie up her hair using a piece of twine I had with me. Two guys attempting to achieve this must have been quite comical to any onlooker, but in the end Andy brought out his inner hair-stylist.

From here it was a case of lighting Jaymie and the lantern. The lantern is lit by an SB800 powered to 1/128 sitting behind it with a full CTO gel attached. Jaymie is lit by another SB800 at 1/16 power in an SMDV Diffuser 70 to camera right. I have been wanting to try the new Diffuser 70 for a while and learned quite a lot about it from this shoot – review pending! We then took Jaymie out of the frame and tossed leaves and pages all around to be composited into the frame in post.

This shoot gave me the freedom to put together each piece of the puzzle as I saw fit and create the image I had in my mind. It was a great excercise that I think we all need to do more often.

Seoul Fine Art Photographer: Personal Work



Beats by Dre #showyourcolor at Ansan Valley Rock Festival 2013 – Seoul Photographer

It’s hard to say no when Beats by Dre comes knocking and asks “Do you want to photograph festival goers being themselves at Ansan Valley Rock Festival, hang out with a handful of beautiful models, see Nine Inch Nails, and have a few drinks?”. From my perspective, there is only one answer to that question. A resounding yes followed, and the preparations began.

As part of Beats by Dre’s Show Your Color campaign, we would be photographing 300 festival goers each day in the Beats by Dre tent. The process was simple: come in, choose a word, represent that word in your photo, collect a print, share your image on a social network and pick up your prize. On our end that meant squeezing a flash and a computer into a corner of the tent and photographing those that came to see us.

With a triangle of space approximately 2.5 square metres in size, there was no room for more than one flash, one photographer, and the subjects. I would be squeezing myself in next to a single lightstand with my Westcott Orb flying over my head. This size of light would give some freedom of movement to the people who visited the booth, and give a fairly cleanly lit background as well. We needed to have a background that was close to white so as not to distract from the subjects and their chosen words. My 24-70 gave me a good mix between headshots and waist-up portraits in this space, and allowed me to shoot small groups if they came in.

We also needed to run a printing station, but there simply wasn’t enough room in the photography booth to have everything set up. So, we needed to get the images from the booth to the other side of the room without filling the place with cables. I tossed a few solutions around in my head. WT-5A? Nikon is just taking the mickey there. Eye-fi? If only I could have got one in time. Two computers on a wireless network? Lots of possible errors, but a good solution.

I tethered the D800 to Lightroom in the photobooth, and had it save the files to a Dropbox folder. Small jpgs were the only way to maintain speed here. The second computer was on the same network and linked to that Dropbox folder. As files made their way into the Dropbox, my assistant Damari opened the files in Photoshop and overlaid the subject’s chosen word. They were then saved back into a watched folder that would upload the files to my FTP server, allowing people to instantly share their photos on social networks while they waited for the prints. This whole process took approximately 2 minutes from shutter release to final print.

Two Canon Selphy printers were connected to the second computer for the printing, and ran all day without issue. I’ll talk a little more about these printers in my next post, but safe to say that they are phenomenal. Pick one up.

Enough of that though, on to the photos.

Subject Defined Portrait – Seoul Portrait Photographer

For the last four weeks, I have been visiting my family in my home country of Australia. It has been good to see the sunburnt land again, and (touch wood) avoid the bushfires so far. One of the tasks I set myself while I am here is portraits of my family. Not in the traditional sense. I want to evoke each of their personalities in the images I make.

With that in mind, I started my project by photographing my younger brother Matt at his workstation. Matt is a little bit of everything: part musician, part party goer, part electrician – an eclectic human being. I wanted this to come across in the image. This wasn’t going to be a standard Rembrandt lighting setup, and it wasn’t going to be a deadpan look into the camera.

We started simple with a blacked out room (except for his monitors – which we based the exposure on) and a CTO gelled SB800 fired into the back wall to illuminate the room to about 1.5 stops under the exposure I initially wanted. 1.5 stops under? This was my base to build on, same as you would use ambient outdoors. CTO? I wanted the key light to be really cool, but the shadows to be neutral – so I set the camera’s white balance to tungsten. On top of this we threw in my Diffuser 50 with another (non-gelled) SB800 about 10 centimetres out of the frame to camera right. Their respective powers were 1/4 and 1/32 by the time we had balanced it all out.

Now it was time to start shooting. The first few shots were to get us warmed up, so we started with Matt working at the station. Clearly, this was not going to be the final image we were going for.

Flash Portrait of Matt Working

We had filled the room with everything that is Matt, and now we just needed him to be him. “Think about it for a minute, and when you’re ready, give me a little bit of Matt,” I said. This was the result.

Flash Portrait of Matt - Personality

This works for me. It is simple, but it shows everything Matt is – bar one thing that is. Matt has his own way of doing things. His music blurs the lines, and this needed to be expressed. Then it hit me, or rather I hit it.

While swinging the camera down to have a chat with Matt about the possibilities for this image, I accidentally pressed the shutter and made a blurry image. Nobody’s perfect right?

Serendipity played the best role in bringing this image to life. I slowed the shutter to 1/1.6 and closed my aperture down to f/4, then adjusted the flashes accordingly. For the next few frames, I had Matt bring himself out again and I shook or moved the camera in circles for the duration of the shutter – making sure I lined up the frame I wanted just before the shutter closed. This is when the flashes fired – on rear curtain (slow) sync – freezing Matt and his room over the top of the chaos I had just created.

Flash Portrait of Matt - Slow Shutter

As an extra, I decided to try firing the flashes twice during the exposure. This was down with the test button on the Flash Wave III radio triggers and resulted in another portrait that represented Matt to the letter.


Two lessons from this quick session – always be open to serendipity, and never settle for ‘good’.