Bill Henson Exhibition

•June 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A few weeks ago I had a really WONDERFUL day touring Sydney’s galleries. Of particular note were the 2010 Biennale of Sydney, the Archibald, Wynn and Sulman Prizes at the Art Gallery of NSW, and the exhibition of Bill Henson’s latest photographic works at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Paddington.

Untitled by Bill Henson (2009/2010)

Untitled by Bill Henson (2009/2010)

Henson’s portraits have a kind of luminosity to them; his technique makes the skin of his subjects seem translucent yet gritty, perhaps even stained or dirty, and thus human; the viewer senses the mortality and fragility of his subjects. I had a go at replicating Henson’s grainy, green-tinted photographic technique the day after I visited the exhibition:

Untitled by Leonard Low (2010)

Untitled by Leonard Low (2010)

It’s only partially successful – but this is the first time I’ve tried to process my photos to achieve this look, whereas Bill has had decades to refine his technique! I suppose if I want to continue to reflect Bill Henson’s influence, I will get better with some further practice. 🙂 In particular, I need less my colour treatment to be more greyish and less green, I need back/hair lighting on my subject, and more fill lighting so that the subject stands out more from the dark background rather than merging into it. I’ll work on it!!

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Yarralumla: Autumn Twilight

•June 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I took this landscape shot on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, near Yarralumla Nursery. Handheld using 3 bracketed exposures, 2 stops apart, and combined in Photomatix to create a single High Dynamic Range file with 11 stops of latitude, which was then post-processed in Lightroom 2.

Yarralumla: Autumn Twilight

Yarralumla: Autumn Twilight

This technique of creating an HDR file which I process photographically using Lightroom is a technique I’ve been developing myself. Rather than tone-mapping in Photomatix – which almost always results in awful, overly saturated images – my technique brings out detail in all areas of the image without making them look like technicolour monstrosities.

Portrait of Nicole

•June 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Nicole was one of my actors in my short film I did a couple of months back for the Lights! Canberra! Action! film festival. Because she would like to do more acting work, she wanted a casting portrait done to attach to her casting bios and applications. I shot this on the spot (on location) in the terrible, dim tungsten lights at the Pancake Parlour in Civic, using a ring flash adaptor to provide even, diffuse lighting, and using a black foamcore “reflector” to provide a backdrop.

Portrait of Nicole

Portrait of Nicole

I changed the white balance to a balance out the yellow lighting, and the result was a blue tint to the shadows that looks quite theatrical, almost like it’s lit with stage lights.

Entry in Lights! Canberra! Action! Film Festival

•June 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I did it! A few posts back I was considering entering a short film in Lights! Canberra! Action!, and here’s the film I submitted, shot on my Canon 5D Mark II. It was my very first attempt at shooting a short film, and I learned a lot from making it. 🙂

While it didn’t make the Final 12, I learned a LOT from the process of planning and shooting the film… and I’ve since learned quite a bit about editing too. Here’s my feedback from the judges (which I think is fair!):

Hi Leonard,
Thanks for your patience in waiting for this feedback.
I’ve had a look at the judges scores and notes and have compiled the following comments on your film, Head over Heels (ID#1016):

The film scored its best scores in cinematography, with inconsistent audio levels pulling your sound score down – sometimes the dialogue was hard to hear over the ambient sound of the locations. The biggest comment was that the pace of the film could have been quicker ie. more story within the duration, or a shorter duration overall would have benefited the film greatly.

Overall, it was considered a good concept that could have been a stronger film with a tighter edit and clearer audio but had great quality visuals, some lovely lighting and a lead actor that had half the judges comparing him to Sam from Supernatural (in a complimentary way – he’s like a doppelganger!)

I hope this helps and that you’ll enter again next year.

Kind Regards,
Marisa Martin
Lights! Canberra! Action!
Filmmaking Festival

Opera by Candlelight

•February 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Opera by Candlelight is an annual event in Canberra at which some of the most talented and promising young musicians in the local region and interstate showcase many of the best-loved arias and classical solo pieces in a beautiful outdoor setting, made even more enchanting by the romance of candlelight.  It was lovely to go as a spectator, but I also brought along the camera to practice some stage photography skills and managed to get a few nice shots (despite consciously staying well back so as not to annoy other audience members or distract the cast!)

Don Escamillo (performed by Philip Barton) brags of his exploits in the bullring.

Don Escamillo (performed by Philip Barton) brags of his exploits in the bullring.

Because of my love of the Arts, I made the images freely available to Opera by Candlelight, and I’ve received some very nice feedback from some of the people involved which was very kind of them.  One of the favourite images is this panorama of the stage, created by hand-stitching two images together.  The time between captures was a couple of minutes, which means there was time for a couple of people to move on stage, creating sets of identical twins!

Kate Rafferty performs her sensitive and moving rendition of Caro nome

Kate Rafferty performs her sensitive and moving rendition of 'Caro nome'

Technical details: images were shot at 21.1 megapixels in RAW on a Canon 5DmkII, mostly with a professional 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM lens.  My 580EXmkII Speedlite was attached, but not used for most shots (as the stage lights provided adequate, and more atmospheric, lighting).  Exposures metered in Spot Metering mode and exposed at -1EV to compensate for the harshness of the stage lights, which can so easily burn out important highlights on the performers’ faces and costumes; and as an added bonus, -1EV in Aperture Priority makes the shutter speed twice as fast so there’s less chance of motion blurring and shots come out crisper.

Considering: Lights, Canberra, Action!

•January 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’ve taken part in a local film festival called “Lights, Canberra, Action” a number of times – as an actor, voice actor, and supporting crew member (with varying levels of success!).  It is run as an activity in conjunction with our local Canberra Festival, commemorating and celebrating Canberra’s foundation as the Australian national capital, and involves creating a short film that features a list of secret locations and/or items around Canberra – all within a 10-day production timeframe, from go to whoa.

But this year will be different.  This is the first year of the Festival that I’ve been in possession of one of the best HD cameras in the world, the Canon 5DmkII – together with a steadily growing video production capability, including a pro-quality RODE VideoMic and a top-of-the-line, lightning fast video workstation, a Dell T7500 with Ultrasharp 24-inch monitors, running both Sony Vegas and Adobe Premiere.  So – this is the first year I’ve had the capability to shoot and produce my very own short film for the Festival!

It’s going to run from 26 February to 8th March.  Whether I join someone’s team, or form my own, I’m really hoping I get to be part of something really great this year. 🙂

Improving Fast… :)

•January 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

So it’s been half a year since I last updated this blog, but in that time I’ve been doing a LOT of photography and continuing to learn from books, magazines, exhibitions, other photographers, and above all, experience.  I’ve become much better at wielding my mighty 5DmkII – when I first got it, it was  slightly overwhelming with all the functions and doodads, but now I can set it up and run it like it’s second nature.  I also got a new lens for it, the 24-105mm f/4 L.  The 50mm f/1.4 is still an incredibly good lens, but I’ve had countless occasions when I’ve wished I had a wide-angle or a bit of zoom, and the new lens means I can get some experience in a few different genres of photography – particularly landscape photography, for which I’ve also just purchased a top-of-the range Circular Polarising filter.

I’ve also been putting together an excellent digital studio.  It all started when I put together a collection of portraits, doing my editing and proofing on a 6-bit Cold Cathode monitor… with disastrous results!  Because of the limited colour gamut of the monitor and the cold temperature cast of the cold cathode backlights, the whole set came out with a yellow cast when viewed on my excellent graphics workstation at work!

Portrait with yellow cast... :(

Portrait with yellow cast... 😦

I realised that if I was going to get decent results I’d need to be sure that the images I was creating would look good and display and print properly.  What’s the point of taking great photos if they all have funny colours when they go out to print?  So – I now have a wide-gamut 8-bit, 28-inch monitor, and I’ve been so happy with it I’m now looking at buying an Eizo 16-bit monitor. 🙂  Here’s a photo from my most recently post-produced set showing much better colour control:

Portrait with correct colour cast

Portrait with correct colour cast

On the software side of things, I’ve been very conscious of developing good workflows to ensure I have backups of my work and consistency of production.  I’ve now set up a digital workflow using Lightroom and Photoshop, with various plugins and managers along the way to refine the process for particular kinds of work (portraits, landscapes, etc).  One big discovery was that a lot of the work I’ve done in the past has been exported or saved using non-optimal colour spaces.  As a result, some of the colours have looked a bit funny on screen (e.g. shadow tones on skin and hair) and I’ve pulled my hair our wondering why they looked so bad!  Turns out I’ve needed to manage my colour spaces a bit better, and/or use the correct export features in Photoshop to ensure the exported shots look as good as what I’ve created in Lightroom/Photoshop.

So… 2009 was a big year of learning.  The goal in 2010 is to start putting all these skills to the test and start creating commercial-quality and competition-worthy images and products.  Look out for my new digital design & photography website, coming soon… 🙂