Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Portrait Element: Glynn Thomas

Today I carried out a portrait shoot with Glynn Thomas, a Suffolk printmaker who specialises in etched prints with stunning colour. Both my family and I are big fans of Thomas, and several of his prints hang from the walls in our house. His abstract landscapes depict a world with a perspective flipped on its head - roads appear to begin in the sky; huge chunks of towns and villages are flipped on there heads in a conglomeration of architecture and natural scenery. I was lucky enough to gain access to his studio, where Thomas creates his works on a traditional Victorian replica printing press. 

Thomas was born in Cambridge in 1946 and studied at the Cambridge School of Art from 1962 - 67, specialising in illustration and printmaking. He then taught printmaking at Ipswich School of Art for twelve years; now, Thomas resides in the sleepy village of Capel St. Mary in Suffolk, working as a full-time artist. He has illustrated a number of books and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers; at the Society's 1983 annual exhibition, his etching 'Honfleur', was awarded the Davys' prize for the best print.


Glynn poses next to his traditional Victorian replica printing press.

I felt that this shoot was far more successful than the one at the Pinkuah Arms last week - above are a few examples of the portraits I took using my DSLR (as with the previous shoot, I will not be able to view the film exposures until I return to University). 

There was far better light in his studio than in the Pinkuah Arms, and the room was infinitely more photogenic. With Glynn I felt a lot more comfortable and a lot more confident in using the flash gun, I was also far more proficient in the positioning of the subject. Furthermore, I was far more aware of composition, spending  more time on each shot - making sure I bracketed (when shooting on film) and taking the time to talk to Glynn between shots to create a more comfortable atmosphere. After about ten minutes I was shooting without doubt in my exposure or composition.


Above are my three favourite portraits taken on my digital camera - if I was to decide an ultimate favourite from the three similar frames, it would probably be the very top image, simply because of his more relaxed stance and the way I shot from below, giving a far more interesting composition.

I am particularly proud of these shots because I believe they are the first time I have managed to truly use the Metz flash to its fullest potential - the subject is well-lit by the flash, but not overpowered by it. To help create the softer light I covered the flash head with a piece of white clothe held in place with an elastic band, helping to create a nice tonal range and a softer light, with dark hues of brown, green and blue. 

The final three portraits are of Glynn standing with his traditional Victorian replica printing press, which he uses to create his prints. I think these images are very successful, as they are well-lit and serve the purpose of environmental/formal portraits well. Again, I used the Metz flash with the make-shift soft box to create a more ambient light. Here, though, Glynn was also lit by light coming in through a window, which illuminated the scene nicely, picking up the details in his clothes and in the frame of the printing press. 

All in all, I am very happy with the results of this shoot, and I can't wait to see how the films process. Next week I am heading to Manningtree for a portrait shoot at the sailing club there - I am exciting to continue using the Metz flash more and more to keep on improving my portraits. 


Monday, 26 December 2011

The Portrait Element: The Pinkuah Arms

Christmas has come and gone, and it's been about two weeks since I last updated this blog. For this I feel slightly guilty, yet at the same time not, as until now I have had absolutely nothing to report. Amongst all the festivities and catching up with family and friends after returning from university, I am proud to say I have finally made  a start on my portrait project. This came in the form of Mike and Laura - a couple who run a local pub near to where I live: The Pinkuah Arms. They are a brilliant pair, and I have worked with them in the past. 

This was the first time I had undertaken a portraiture shoot, so I was quite nervous when working with Mike and Laura, even though they are not strangers to me. Because of this I found myself turning in to a blabbering mess and generally forgetting how to take a good photograph. I'm not quite sure how or why this happened, but it caused me to make some stupid mistakes - let's just say that if it were not for the wondrous, life-saving editing capabilities of RAW, this photograph would not look the way it does now. Nevertheless, I managed to get a few good shots, as seen above taken on my DSLR. Unfortunately the majority of the shoot was taken on film - as the project brief dictates - so I won't have an idea of how they turned out until I process them.  

I think my downfall with this shoot was confidence - or rather lack of confidence. I was concentrating so hard on getting the right exposure whilst using the Metz flash, I almost completely forgot about composition and building a successful rapport with my subjects. I will be returning to Mike and Laura again on Wednesday to shoot some more, so hopefully I will be able to build on what I have already done in a more relaxed nature, and not choke when it comes to stringing together all the elements for a good portrait.


Friday, 9 December 2011

the story so far: contact sheets

The Person at Work

John and Diana Edwards - Penryn boat yard

Shoot 1

Shoot 1

Shoot 2

Shoot 2

Shoot 2

PCSO Fiona Gamble

Falmouth Harbour Commissioners

The Establishing Image

'Community' - Remembrance Sunday

'Industrial Coast' - Fugro Seacore 


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Metz Flashgun

As my new assignment dictates that at least two of the finished portraits need to be lit by artificial lighting - be it flash or studio lights - I decided do some experimenting with the Metz flashguns that the photography centre has here on campus. I have never used flash with digital cameras, let alone film, so the thought of photographing with flash on my Olympus was quite a daunting one. However, I know feel more confident after having tinkered with the Metz - turns out flash is nothing to be afraid of after all!

Fill-in flash

The difference in lighting between the sunlit and shadow areas in a bright, sunny scene is often too much for film to handle, particularly when using colour film. If you expose to keep the highlight detail, the shadows will be black and empty. Using fill-in flash supplies extra light evenly across the subject. This has little or no effect on the brighter areas, but boosts the shadows dramatically to give much more preferable results. Correct use of fill-in flash should not be noticeable, and if anything will make the subject look healthier. It will also help to liven up the subject on those dull, Cornish winter days.

The general calculation for fill-in flash is 1.5 to 2 stops below the ambient light reading. For example, if I had a light reading of 1/60 at f/8, I would set the Metz flash, in 'auto' mode to f/4, and my camera to 1/60 at f/8.

Flash as main light

If the ambient light is insufficiently illuminating the subject, an alternative is to use the Metz flash as the main source of light. By simply reading of the scene, I could set the Metz .5 to 1 stop brighter than the reading, and set the camera likewise. For example, if the light reading is 1/60 at f/4, I would set the Metz, on 'auto' mode, to f/5.6 and set the camera accordingly at 1/60 at f/5.6. This will make the subject stand out on a dull and dark day.

Flash to make daylight look dark

As an aside, I could consider turning daylight considerably darker by setting the flash to 4 stops over the ambient aperture reading. This will create the look of 'night-time' in daylight. So, for example, if my ambient reading was 1/15 at f/11, this would now become 1/250 at f/11 (setting the shutter speed four stops faster). This will be difficult to achieve with a 35mm camera due to limited synchronisation speeds, but could be considered nonetheless.

My flash testing

Below are the results from my play-time with the Metz flashgun...

Straight flash:

The straight flash gave quite a harsh lighting effect, with all depth in her facial features completely blown out. I was also getting this rather annoying dark line appear at the bottom of the frame - I was later told that was due to using such a wide lens (18mm) and that the Metz work best with a 50mm prime. 

Bounced flash:

The bounced flash gave a lot more of a three-dimensional image and a more diffused light.

I will not be going on any more shoots until I return home to Suffolk for Christmas, so for now I am just getting my head down to some research and experimentation.


Seba Kurtis

Seba Kurtis

Seba Kurtis is an Argentinian photographer whose life and work has been heavily influenced by his experiences as an immigrant. His prints are often created from old or damaged negatives, which give the majority of the photographs a bleached, worn out effect.  His series of photographs titled Drowned consists of a series of prints created form negatives which were literally thrown in to the same sea which thousands of African’s crossed – and often died – in an attempt to reach the Canary Islands for refuge.


The images could be considered to be quite a conceptual form of photojournalism; however, I see the technique of ‘drowning’ as giving the viewer a smaller, tantalising snapshot of the land these people have given their lives to reach – the fleeting outline of a palm tree, or the seaside resort bleached by the damaged negative. I think Kurtis’s intention was to create a narrative from the immigrants’ point of view with these photographs, giving them the same sense of urgency and desperation that the immigrants undoubtedly went through. It is obvious that Kurtis feels passionately about this subject; on his website he tells of how he faced deportation whilst working in Europe after an 8-year battle with “lengthy bureaucratic bullshit, mind games and loop holes” to gain his legal right to stay.

Immigration Files

Kurtis’s online body of work is accompanied by ‘immigration files’, scanned copies of immigration forms for when he was battling to get access to Europe. I think this gives his work more depth, and reinforces the fact he too has been subject to legal battles, deportation and immigration.


Another body of work, Shoebox, is a collection of Kurtis’s old family photos. They were retrieved from a shoebox after their home got repossessed in the 1980s – the shoebox was the only item in the house to survive; the photographs had been damaged by a flood. These flood-damaged prints form the entire body of work, giving a unique insight in to his family history, tainted by the water damage, which for me represents their tumultuous existence. 

They are a really intriguing set of images, which have documented the everyday life of Seba’s family. The caught-in-time feel to the photographs, combined with the washed out effect from the water damage gives an eerie feel to the collection. I think Seba is somewhat of a refreshing character in the world of photography, and indeed photojournalism, approaching subjects that are close to his heart, and producing bodies of work which reflect the subject at hand in a graspable, physical manner through the eyes of the perceived narrator.