It Takes More Than a Just a Pretty Face

I’ve been very lucky to have had the chance to work with some extremely talented models in the past, but truly gifted models few and far between. For every great model I’ve worked with, there’s been many that haven’t even gotten past the initial interview. Having a pretty face or a good body doesn’t make you a model any more than having the latest gear makes you a photographer. Cheap and accessible digital cameras have spawned a whole new wave of both “photographers” and “models” over the last few years, and while everyone has to start somewhere, leaving the starting line is something only few manage. Here’s some of the things I look for when choosing a model for a shoot (Warning: slightly NSFW images after the break).

Continue reading “It Takes More Than a Just a Pretty Face”

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Advice From Behind The Lens: How To Look Good On Stage

I’ve been shooting bands for almost a decade now, and while looking back over thousands of performance shots last week, I realized that all the bands I’ve photographed fall into two categories: “That show was amazing” and “Wow, I don’t even remember taking these pictures”. I know that’s a pretty obvious statement; of course I’m going to remember some bands and forget others. What wasn’t obvious at first, however, was that the more I thought about the bands I had forgotten shooting, the more I realized musical ability had very little to do with whether I remembered the show or not. I had shot some amazingly talented musicians but had completely forgotten their live show, while I could remember in detail some four song sets of the smallest and off-key garage bands. When it comes down to it, the common denominator is that some bands forget that when you put out a CD you’re a musician, but as soon as you go on stage, you’re a performer. If you want to be remembered, you have to put on a show, be larger than life. Occasionally when a band asks me to come shoot their show, they’ll ask if there’s anything special I’d like them to do; well, here it is: my guide to getting the best photos you can out of your performance. Continue reading “Advice From Behind The Lens: How To Look Good On Stage”

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May Was a Great Month of Music

Last month was a great month for concert photography; three of my favourite Canadian acts came to town, all three of which I missed last time they played. First up was the Kelp 17, the Kelp Records anniversary weekend.

Every year Kelp Records throws a weekend music festival featuring Kelp bands past and present. Tons of great bands played, but of particular interest for me was The Acorn and Andrew Vincent. The last time I was able to catch The Acorn was two years ago at Kelp 15 when the festival was hosted at The Mayfair Theatre. Acorn fans got a real treat that night as Rolf and the band played their first full length album, The Pink Ghosts, from start to finish.

Day two of Kelp 17 featured Andrew Vincent reunited with his old backing band The Pirates (Scott Terry and Bryan Curry). Another flashback set, they played their classic hit album I Love the Modern Way. Here’s the rest of my Kelp 17 shots up on Flickr.

The next weekend Wax Mannequin came back to town to play Irene’s in the Glebe. I missed him playing the same venue a few months earlier and was pretty bummed. I caught Wax Mannequin’s show at Zaphods last year and have been dying to catch him play again. Finding a lot of new music kind of bland and formulaic recently, I don’t often come across an act that sounds so totally different from anything else out there. I’ve seen and photographed many bands over the last few years and no one, absolutely no one has the same presence, enthusiasm and charisma on stage as Wax.

He’s a one man show, but sonically he fills the room like a juiced up, angry wolverine orchestra. A true Canadian act, he even belted out a cover of The Log Drivers Waltz, from the National Film Board animated short you might remember if you were born in the late 70’s or early 80’s. The clip below is from another show, but I just had to post it, this song really brings back memories.

As an extra bonus, he had copies of his newest 7″, Hear Some Evil, at the show, a collaboration with The Burning Hell. Wax has worked with The Burning Hell often in the past, always with great results. If you ever get a chance to see him play, go, don’t think, just go… I promise you won’t regret it. You can see the rest of my pics from Wax Mannequin at Irene’s on Flickr.

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England Trip 2011: Round One

So it’s been a bit over a week since my cross the pond trip to the UK and I’ve finally gotten through the first batch of photos from the trip. People have been asking photos since I got back, but I swear, it’s not laziness, there’s a method to the madness. I usually like to put aside big batches of images like this for about a week after taking them, time permitting. I find that when I try to pair down to just the best images very soon after taking them it can be hard to be objective. By letting them sit for a while and forgetting about them I tend to be much more objective when it comes to picking out the keepers. I’ll probably end up doing the trip in three batches: UK Round One, Iceland and UK Round Two. Breaking it up into smaller batches also makes going through a couple thousand images much less daunting.

Besides being an amazingly fun vacation, this trip to England really opened my eyes photographically. I didn’t want to bring my full DSLR kit with me, I knew I’d be doing a lot of walking and my Canon rig would destroy my back by the end of the trip. I also didn’t want to rely completely on my film Leica kit. What if they wouldn’t hand check my film at the airport and it got X-Ray haze? What if it gets confiscated for some reason? What if I run out of film? What if I don’t bring the right film? I’m probably going to want to take a million shots, do I want to soup 20-30 rolls of film when I get home? I really wanted a digital alternative to compliment my Leica RF kit for the trip. I ended up picking up one of the Sony NEX 3 micro 4/3rds bodies a couple weeks before the trip with a Leica mount adapter so I could use my rangefinder lenses on it. My plan was: Leica M2 loaded with ISO 100 for during the day, Voigtlander R3A loaded with 400 for at night and I could use the NEX for snapshots and what ever focal length I wasn’t using on the film body. By day three I was using the NEX exclusively, it really turned out to be that amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to jump ship on film, I love the stuff… but for running around a big city for 8-10 hours a day even a two body RF kit gets heavy after a while. I also found whichever camera wasn’t around my neck and therefor hanging off one shoulder kept getting bumped and jostled around, especially in the subway. I really wasn’t prepared for how busy London is.

As it turned out, the NEX paired with either my Voigtlander 15mm or 25mm (giving me 24mm and 40mm field of views respectively on the NEX’s 1.6 crop factor sensor) was about all I needed for most of the trip. The NEX’s flip up screen also let me shoot from the hip very effectively. One of the biggest complaints I read about the NEX before buying it was how it was fiddly to focus manual focus lenses on the LCD screen. Well, when set to hyperfocal distance on the 15mm and 25mm, everything from about 3 feet to infinity is already in focus… problem solved! All I needed the LCD for was rough framing, no fiddly focus issues. I’ll be doing a more in depth review of the Sony NEX at some point in the future, but for now, all I can say is that it was probably my most useful photographic purchase in a long time.

I have a ton more to talk about regarding the England trip, but I’ll leave at this for now. Stay tuned for pics from the Iceland and Brighton side trips, a review of my new travel bag from Grafea and more. You can see the rest of the first batch of my UK vacation pics on my Flickr.

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Grafea Camera Bag Shoot

Amidst the craziness of Ottawa Fashion Week I snuck in a shoot with Tania for Grafea London. Grafea are the creators of some of the most gorgeous and affordable leather bags, briefs and purses I’ve ever seen. I wrote a review for their newest camera bag, the Grafea PHOTO a few months ago and recently they approached me to do a shoot for the bag.

I wanted to do an outdoor shoot, but Ottawa has not been very accommodating weather wise. It’s been either too cold, too sunny or too rainy every time I tried to put the shoot together, finally we decided to just go for it, regardless of the weather and see what happens. This particular day it was blindingly sunny and deceptively cold. We ended up having to do the shoot in whatever shade we could find. It turned into a complete run and gun, eight locations and four hundred plus shots in just under an hour.

Sometimes I actually prefer this method as it keeps you from over thinking things. You can have a great plan with the perfect location and somehow when it’s time to shoot there just isn’t that magic you pictured in your mind. By running from location to location and shooting a minimal number of shots per site you get a great variety to work with afterwards and avoid the

“200 shots of the exact same thing” syndrome that seems to have taken over the digital workflow. One of my least favorite things that digital has given me, hours sorting through what’s essentially the same photo to pick out the best shot. It also keeps the model fresh and spontaneous, over all I think it worked out well in this case.

You can see the rest of the Grafea Camera Bag Shoot on my Flickr. Stay tuned, as some of the shots are currently up on Grafea’s Blog and some will soon be included on their website as well. Many thanks to Tania, she was great to work with as always.

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Rasputina: Great American Gingerbread Tour

A few years ago I had the opportunity to shoot Apocalyptica right here in Ottawa not 50 ft from where I work, actually. At the time I thought it would be the greatest show I’d ever get to shoot. Not only is Apocalyptica visually an amazing band to photograph but they’re one of my favorites musically as well. Well last month I did one better.

Rasputina is a band that is completely undefinable, they don’t easily slot into any of the conventional musical genres when you look at their discography as a whole. They’ve toured with everything from Marylin Manson, to traditional folk musicians. They slip from haunting sea shanties to grungy industrial ballads and the incongruity makes them all the more enthralling.

They’ve been in my top five bands list since I first heard them on Toronto’s 102.1 The Edge, back in the early nineties when Alternative was actually an alternative to rock and pop and the station still played stuff you don’t hear on the top 20 stations. I never thought I’d ever get a chance to see them, let alone shoot one of their shows as they hadn’t been to Canada for over a decade. When I heard they’d be coming to Lee’s Palace in Toronto I grabbed a ticket immediately even though it’s a 6 hour bus ride away. Continue reading “Rasputina: Great American Gingerbread Tour”

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The Many Faces of Ryan

The winter’s been a pretty slow time for me. Too cold to walk around taking pictures, everything’s grey and uninspiring, so I’ve been using the time to catch up on my back log of undeveloped film. I’ll be through most of it fairly soon, so expect some samples. In the meantime, here’s Ryan. I met him at my regular Starbucks about a year ago and we’ve continued to meet up for coffee semi-regularly since. These shots were taken when a group of us were getting a late breakfast at Denny’s. It’s always nice to have friends with expressive faces that aren’t camera shy.

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It’s Been a ClubZone Summer

It’s been a while since my last post but winter is upon us and the slow period during the colder months should let me get back to my old posting schedule. I’ve been extremely busy this summer which has been a big bonus as far as revenue is concerned, but it’s really put a damper on my creative photographic outlets. The more commercial work I drummed up, the less and less time I spent just having fun with photography. After four straight nights of shooting every weekend as well as a day job spare time becomes a precious commodity.

I don’t want to sound negative though, this summer has been my most successful to date when it comes to trying to make photography a financially successful. I’ve been shooting 3-4 nights a week for ClubZone since May, and through them have gotten a weekly column in 24 Hours, which has been great for exposure. Shooting clubs has also gotten me connections to quite a few people in the Ottawa modelling community, which is starting to pay off with modelling shoots and headshot commissions. I even got a spread in this months Faces Magazine and will have pictures in an upcoming issue of Umm Magazine.

Halloween was a great time to be shooting clubs as well, with the Monster Fashion Show at Mansion being by far the most fun event I shot over the Halloween Weekend. More pics will be forthcoming as I go through the backlog these last couple months have created in my editing queue but for now here’s a sample of Halloween on my Flickr. Stay tuned as well as I slowly make my way through developing the dozen or so rolls from this summers street photography, sitting in the fridge.

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ClubZone: Black Eyed Peas and Bikinis

Well, it’s been quite a while since my last post, mostly due to the drastic increase in the number of club shoots I’ve been doing for ClubZone this summer. This last weekend was a mixed bag photography wise. After four straight days of late night shoots I was supposed to cap it off with shooting The Black Eyed Peas at their Tila Tequila’s after party. Needless to say I was pretty excited about the shoot, but more on that later… it didn’t turn out exactly as expected.

Friday night, on the other hand, turned out much different than I expected as well, but in a good way. Malibu has been sponsoring ClubZone all this month and we were tasked with getting some shots of people holding Malibu bottles as part of the promotion. Friday night turned out to be Bikini Party night at Lobby Nightclub and I got a chance to get some great shots with some of the models working the night, both with and without Malibu accessories.

Shooting in a club is much more difficult than it seems. I use a Rayflash ring flash for most of my club shooting, and that works great close up as most of the light from the flash hits the subjects face and illuminates the eye sockets and under the chin avoiding the zombie/raccoon eyes look. It throws light all over the place,however, which can make wider shots harder to pull off when you’re trying not to blow out the background ambient light and keep the feeling of the clubs atmosphere. This is definitely a problem when you’re trying to get full body, or wider, shots. Shooting with just ambient has it’s own set of problems too. For one, most clubs are lit with just enough ambient so that you can find your way around, so you’re stuck shooting at ISO 1600 or higher even with a wide open fast prime.

Even f2.8 is a bit too slow for these light levels and those f4-5.6 zooms are right out. The stages or platforms where they put on fashion shows or have models dancing are usually lit a bit brighter, but still not as bright as say the spotlights on stage at a concert. On top of that clubs tend to use strongly gelled lights… a lot of blues, reds, greens, cyans and magentas which can wreak havoc with white balance and exposure. Making sure none of your individual color channels blow out is the main concern; blues, reds and greens tend to do all right but for some reason cyans and magentas tend to blow out really easily leaving horribly blotchy areas of chroma noise.

Focusing can also be a pain. The one big disadvantage of the ring light is that it blocks the IR assist lamp on the flash which aids focusing in low light. It can take 3-5 second sometimes to find a contrasty area I can lock focus on and some places in the club are just too dark to try. Usually one would focus on the eyes, if you get them in focus it really doesn’t matter if anything else is, it’s just the way our brains have been trained to look at photos. But in a club the lights are usually coming roughly straight down and people tend to tilt their heads forward when posing, so hair and brow ridges tend to throw the eyes into shadow and make them bad focusing points. Unfortunately, often the best place to lock focus is on a girls bust line; most girls are wearing dresses much darker than their skin tone so the line between skin and dress is a strong contrast line, well suited to the AF sensors. The trick is to lock focus on the bust then lean forward a few inches to compensate for the distance between where you focused and the distance to the eyes so they become the point of focus. This doesn’t always work out as people move around and you end up with tack sharp breasts and blurry faces… people tend to get the wrong idea about that 🙂

Also, shooting wide open leaves me with a pretty narrow depth of field, which is ok most of the time because people instinctively tend to form crowded police line up poses along the plane of focus when there’s more than 3 people in the shot. There are times thought that someone has to jump in the front of the group and you end up with one blurry guy blocking the shot.

The two models that night really made my job easy though. Both of them new how to pose without taking much direction, which is pretty much impossible with the volume most club sound systems run at. The most important thing though is both of them knew how to hold the pose long enough for me to focus and compose. The biggest problem by far I’ve had with these types of shoots is that inexperienced models will often switch poses in rapid fire mode leaving no time to evaluate the scene or even lock focus. It doesn’t take long, a one-two count is usually sufficient, but the key is making it look natural for the spectators just there to enjoy the show. I’ve shot models that almost seem to be doing the robot, jerking quickly from pose to pose with a mannequin-esque freeze frame in between. That night turned out to be one of the best undirected model shoots I’ve done in a while. You can see the rest of my shoot with Nikki and Ashleigh on Flickr.

As for the Black Eyed Peas shoot… well, I had a nagging suspicion the night would go down like it did, but I held out hope. I got to Tila’s early and met up with the three other photogs that would be shooting the night. We where on the media list, we got showed around to where we’d be able to shoot and initially we where told we’d have all night to shoot them. This all went down hill as

soon as the Black Eyed Peas manager showed up and started changing things. We went from shooting in a spacious little VIP bar, to shooting on a cramped riser with one booth. We went from being able to shoot all night, to only the first 20 minutes after they got there, to only two of us for 10 minutes to finally only one of us (not me) for a little more than a minute while Will-I-Am shielded his face or turned away from the camera. After over two hours of waiting one of us got three kinda crappy shots. I don’t blame the venue, they’ve been really good to me and seemed just as confused as I was. A big tip to anyone aiming to do this type of shoot, make sure you get hammered out ahead of time exactly what the conditions of the shoot are going to be, and make sure this comes from the celebrity themselves or their representation. Venue’s can set up whatever guild lines they want for the night but it’s the act that usually gets the final say and they can change what they want pretty much any time they want. Going into a celebrity shoot without pre-arranged plans, and I’m talking days or weeks, not hours ahead of time is going to be a crap shoot and it just wasn’t my night at the table.

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Dana Meise – The Great Hike

You meet all kinds of people when you spend your free time wandering around the city with a camera. My last post dealt with some of the unfriendlies I’ve come across in my wanderings, so I thought I’d share the story of Dana Meise to balance things out.

I met Dana while I was walking up Elgin one night, he stopped me to ask directions to the Byward Market. I was heading there myself so we walked and talked our way up there. Turns out Dana is hiking his way across Canada and had just arrived in Ottawa. He started out in 2008 in Cape Spear, Newfoundland, at the eastern end of the Trans Canada Trail and has been hiking his way west in stages ever since.

He’s not officially sponsored by anyone but has found support from all over Canada, from donations of gear and supplies to places to crash for the night. Currently he’s taking donations for the Brain Injured Group; if you’d like to support his cause you can check out his website The Great Hike or support The Great Hike on facebook.

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