Damien Lovegrove is a treasure trove of both photographic and business knowledge. With years of photographic commercial and wedding work under his belt, this knowledge is all field tested by real life. I feel fortunate that he took an hour out of his busy schedule to share some of this insight with us. To say Damien is easy to talk with would be an understatement. He is flowing with wisdom, ideas, encouragement and more.
Damien is considered by many to be one of the world’s most influential contemporary photographers. These days he is best known for creating portraits that make women look amazing. Damien is known for his lighting style picture composition. If you don’t believe me check out his website, Lovegrove Photography and you will soon be convinced.
He is also a fellow Fujifilm X-Photographer and ambassador. He has shot exclusively with Fuji cameras since May 2012.
Damien shoots around 1,000 frames a week. He says if he doesn’t shoot that much in a week he starts to feel like he is going backwards. Yet, I never got the impression in this conversation that he is driven to the point where he runs over everyone in his way. Generous with his knowledge and experience, he speaks with me about creating what he calls that “big picture equation” that helps a photographer stay afloat financially. We also spoke about developing a style that is uniquely yours and how critical this is to your work. We cover how to take a dream and turn it into a reality and so much, much more.
This is a good example of Rembrandt-style lighting and photographing on the “short” side of the face.
Piet is holding the small Cactus flash attached to the SMDV 70cm Speedbox.
The setup. The SMDV Speedbox is off to the subject’s right and high. The subject is turned slightly into the light giving the photographer his shadow or short side of his face.
In the prior post, I made a big deal about how we used the SMDV Speedbox when photographing sadhus in Varanasi. We had so much interest I wanted to expound on the use of the softbox and talk about one man, the Faqir Baba.
First off for you non-Urdu/Hindi speakers, the word faqir (/fəˈkɪər/) literally means “poor”. It is generally a poor Muslim (sometimes a Hindu) man who wanders and lives off of donations, aka alms. In Kashmir, where I lived for years, you’d run into Suji Faqirs all the time. The term Baba is idiomatic for simply any wise old man. So together, Faqir Baba becomes more of a title, than a name, but that’s how it rolls in India – titles often become names or nicknames. For now, I’ll refer to him as simply Babaji. Ji being an honorific, so “Mr. Wise Old Man”. Ok, enough with the language lesson.
Babaji looking into the light.
The light set up. This time, the light isn’t as far off the to the left.
On our second day in Varanasi, aka Banaras, the holiest city in India… for Hindus we met Babaji. Why would there be a Faqir wandering around Banaras? Actually, a little-known fact outside of Varanasi is that this Hindu city is made up of 30% Muslims. So even though the city is known as a Hindu city it has a huge Muslim population. It should be no surprise that we should run into this kind old man, Babaji.
Remember, this was a photo workshop. We had three students that signed on to learn how to take better photos and expected their leaders, Piet Van den Eynde and I, to deliver the knowledge as well as the opportunity. Once we saw this man’s face we knew we had to photograph him. This is where it gets sticky and if you listened to the previous podcast you know our thoughts on paying models. In short, if we take them away from what they are doing – take time away from their “job” then it seems only fair to remunerate their efforts.
We set a price using a local boy from our hotel to help out and off we traveled in search of the perfect location to photograph Babaji.
No flash. Just available light. The background is burned in Lightroom.
At this point, I think I need to make it clear, that I have always, ALWAYS considered myself an available light photographer. Piet does as well, in fact, he is always quoting Joe McNally saying, he will photograph with whatever light might be available. Cheeky, but true for him. I think my definition is closer to: an available light photographer is a photographer who is scared to death of flash! If truth be known, that has been me for years or at least until I began running workshops with Piet four years ago.
When we first started these workshops, or Photo Treks as we call them, Piet would bring his Lastolite Trifold umbrella and a Speedlight. As time progressed Piet’s lights got bigger and more powerful: Cactus, Godox and now the huge 600-watt seconds Jinbei. The little umbrella was not sufficient any longer. Once we started using the Jinbei, spillover of the big spread of powerful light was just too much for the little guy. This year, Piet brought with him a couple of the most ingenious softboxes I have every worked with – the SMDV Speedbox. The Speedbox is aptly named as after the initial setup, it takes literally seconds to put up or take down. Check out the video below.
This was shot with the light off to the left of Babaji.
Shot even wider with a 16mm. Same light setup. But by shooting this wide you can now see the light fall-off on the edges of the frame.
Back to the portrait shoot of Babaji. We had scoped out a location the day before and were excited to have it as a backdrop. But, like so often in India, things changed at the last minute. We arrived with cameras, lightboxes, photographers and, of course, Babaji only to be told in no uncertain terms we had to leave. We explained to them we had permission from the building owners (in fact we did). They didn’t care, they were the residents, they had final say, “move on!” So after that, our little crew of photographers started walking through the alleyways and streets of old Varanasi looking for other interesting backdrops, with Babaji shuffling behind us.
It wasn’t too long until we came around a corner and found a ledge or shelf protruding out from a green wall in desperate need of paint (always a good sign) and a blue door. Perfect! We politely invited Babji to have a seat on the ledge in front of the door. Then we quickly popped open the SMDV Speedbox. Now, it should be stated here the available light in this location wasn’t bad at all. In fact, I was a little skeptical about using extra lighting (see the previous post) I only mention this here because we had two choices of off-camera lighting – the Smaller Cactus flash or the larger Jinbei. We went with the Cactus RF60 because a more powerful Jinbei would have been too much. All we wanted to do was add drama or texture to the image, not drown out all the available light.
Using the Cactus we had to shoot in manual mode. The best way to do this is to set your shutter speed to its sync speed, for the X-Pro2, it was 1/250th, for the X-T1 it is 1/180th. Then you adjust your aperture for the appropriate background exposure. Now add the flash to the equation and adjust the power of the flash from the remote trigger. Pretty simple in theory.
As a rule of thumb, you can lower the shutter speed to increase ambient light. You can also open or close the aperture, but then you should also adjust the shutter speed accordingly in order to keep the same ambient exposure. To adjust the amount of flash exposure you can do one or two things. You can adjust the power of the flash or you can simply move the flash closer or farther away from the subject. The last tactic is tricky as you have to consider something called the inverse square law. Let’s not get into that here. Here is a tip: if you stop down your exposure from the “correct” or “balanced” exposure to a tad underexposed you will add drama to the image when you add the flash. You can clearly see that effect in a few of the images.
Once we got the exposure the way liked, we adjusted the direction of light for the shadows we wanted. Basically, we sculpted the light by moving the softbox around. Piet and I both like photographing our subjects from the “short side” of a flash-lit face. It always seems to give more drama to the look. What I mean when I say the “short side” of the face is, photographing from the shadowed part of the face. That meant putting the SMDV Speedboxoff to the right or left of Babaji and having him look just off the light at times. What you get with this type of lighting is a look as if they stepped right off an oil painting from a Renaissance master.
One other important thing that we did is add a grid to the Speedbox. The grid sometimes called “egg crate” directs the light even more than the softbox does. By adding the grid you eliminate light spill around your subject and you contain the light to a very small confined space. This brings you more control of your background. You can add an extra light to the background to give texture to it. We never did this, probably because we were too self-conscious about time with any given subject. None of this happened quickly. These extra steps take time, so all the better if you can set up and take down your softbox quickly.
Faqir Baba, Varanasi, India
Honestly, that is about it. The hardest part of this process was taking the time to let everyone in the group shoot. I gotta say, Babaji was very patient and a super compliant model.
So all-in-all winners on this trip were the SMDV Speedbox and Babaji. You can find both the 70cm and the 110cm (we used it with the Jinbei and a Bowens mount) at 1212world.com. Both the 70cm and the 110cm have the ability to use a grid (to be purchased separately). If there is a downside to using the Speedbox it would have to be the price. These are not cheap. But as the age old adage goes, “you get what you pay for”. There really isn’t much out there to compare with the Speedbox. I have used umbrella type softboxes. They are easy to set up, but they are heavy and the flash unit has to be inside the box. That means having to tear apart the box completely each time you put it up or take it down. But even more of an issue with having your flash unit inside the box is if your flash remote is optical you are in trouble. It just won’t work. With the Speedbox, you have speed and accessibility to the flash.
These are amazing softboxes with beautiful results. Don’t take my word for it. The proof is in the pudding or in this case, the photographs.
Piet, (foreground) and Rene (camera to his face) and the SMDV Speedbox Professional 70cm and a Cactus RF60 in the alleyway of Varanasi, India.
Every year after our workshop in India, Piet Van den Eynde and I spend an hour or so talking about this years new Fujifilm gear. Because we do it in the field it sometimes becomes difficult to find a good location to record these discussions. It is India after all, things are noisy. One year we even made a tent out of blankets and recorded the show under it. Not to worry, this years was a breeze. Piet and I only had to deal with noisy bellhops and stray dogs, all of this served as a background to an amazing hour of looking at the latest gear from Fujifilm. For this episode we invited camera geek and photographer Rene Debar, host of the Fuji Xtras blog to help us with our yearly overview and to discuss the new Fujifilm X-Pro2.
In this episode we also spoke about the difference between the detail you get with using off camera flash verses available light. I said I would post an example of one image shot with both flash and available light. Here they are:
The set up.
This old “fakir baba” was photographed with available light. Zoom in by clicking the photo to see the detail. But compare it to the next photo shot with the Cactus off camera.
The above image is with available light. Nice, right? But if you zoom in by clicking on the image you will see the detail, not bad, unless you compare it to the image shot with the Cactus flash. This difference is striking!
The same fakir as the first image, but this time photographed with a Cactus RF60 off to the left. Zoom in for more detail and see the sharpness and clarity. By the way, both photos made with the Fuji X-Pro2.
Check out the 100% crops to view the difference in sharpness:
UPDATE: I am a little concerned that the focus might be off on the “no flash” comparison shot. I used it because that was the only frame I had shot at the same distance AND focal length to compare and the to images. So, to be fair I adding another comparison. The only difference is the “no flash” or “without flash” image is shot closer to the subject. Both are still 1:1 and this time SOOC. But you can clearly see the flash image is sharper.
1:1 flash comparison.
Piet with the camera to his face Raju our helper holding the Cactus with the SMDV Speedbox Professional 28-inch (70cm) attached.
The results of the above lighting. BTW we put a CTO filter on the flash to warm the light’s color.
Even the little Nissin i40 performed well on the X-T1 within it’s parameters.
Of course much of the show is dedicated to discussing the new Fujifilm X-Pro2. An amazing camera, but not without a few quirks.
In India, just down the Yamuna river from the Taj Mahal is a small village called Kacchpuri. A village filled with the poorest of the poor trying to squeeze out a daily living in a myriad of ways. Many of the villagers sell used saris. They go around the area buying old worn-out ones. They mend them, wash them and sell them to people who can’t afford new ones. The whole village seems to be involved in the process. We visited the Dhobi Ghaat where dhobies wash the used saris. A dhobi (male) or dhobin (female) takes the old saris and boils them, scrubs them and then rinses them in, of all places, the Yamuna river.
Scrubbing old saris clean.
A child draws in the sand of the Yamuna as the dhobies rinse the old saris in the background.
A camel in the background hauls off sand for concrete, while dhobies wash in the foreground.
Of course, as the villagers live on the river, the children play in and around the river as well. From flying kites to drawing in the sand, the Yamuna is home to these people.
Children play on the banks of the Yamuna flying kites.
Kite flying can be a competition. Where glass string is used to cut the other team’s kite string.
Another part of the village makes bullwhips. They string scraps of leather together to make a whip and then sell them wholesale to a middleman who sell them to shopkeepers who in turn sell them to tourists.
Weaving bullwhips to sell to tourists.
Cleaning fenugreek for the meal later.
Like so many places in India, these people are poor, they have almost nothing, yet when you look at their faces you see smiles and joy. I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite preachers, “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.” – Charles Spurgeon
The Kek Lok Si temple in Penang, Malaysia all lit up for Chinese New Year.
Chinese New Year in Penang
My wife and I have been back in Malaysia 10 days now. In that time we have been working frantically on our new visa to allow us to reside here. Without going into details – let’s just say it is complicated. Our visit has coincided with Chinese New Year. Since arriving the shops and public offices have been close for Chinese New Year. It was the worst possible time to come to work on something like a visa. Especially when you have a small window to work in. I leave Sunday to host a 10 day workshop in India. But the upside is with the offices all closed it has given me ample opportunity to get back into the city and photograph this amazing place. Oh how I have missed Penang.
I hope you enjoy some of these images.
A Buddha in the upper floor of the pagoda at the Kek Lok Si Temple, in Penang.
I found this arched doorway on the first level of the pagoda at Kek Lok Si to be a true blend of Malay (read Muslim) and Chinese architecture.
The same group of arches, but facing a different direction and thus with a different backdrop. Not as symmetrical but more colorful.
Chinese lanterns at Kek Lok Si Temple, in Penang.
More Chinese lanterns. These were hanging at Kek Lok Si, in Penang.
Kuan Yin Teng Temple or Temple of Mercy in Georgetown, Penang.
Kuan Yin Teng Temple or Temple of Mercy in Georgetown, Penang.
A view back over the city from Kuan Yin Teng Temple at sunrise.
A temple volunteer picks up the older josh sticks. He needs to leave room for the hundreds more that will be left by the worshipers to come. Early morning at Kuan Yin Teng (廣福宮/觀音亭).
A worshiper at the Kuan Yin Teng (廣福宮/觀音亭) raises his josh stick in prayer.
Lanterns in a Taoist temple near Tanjung Bungah, Penang, Malaysia.
Meet Mr Lim. A retired factory worker who now volunteers at the temple to stay busy.
One of the fun events of Chinese New Year are the Lion Dances that happen all over the city. A troop of dancers and musicians dance to give a prosperity blessing to shopkeepers in return for Aung Pow or a offering or gift.
Albert, the Chee Cheong Fun hawker, sneaks a peak at the man behind the lion mask.
As you know I have been living back in my home country, the U.S., for the past few months. To say it’s been hard is an understatement. If I hear another comment about this or that candidate or about how are Muslims are out to get, us I might just scream! As an attempt at sanity and to pick up my Malaysia My Second Home visa, Alou and I are here in Malaysia just in time for the Chinese New Year.
This is the kind of visa you physically have to pick up in-country. We’ve submitted the forms and now we hope to get approved before we leave to return to the U.S. on March 1st. In the meantime, Alou will travel to the Philippines to visit her family and I will travel to India to meet Piet Van den Eynde and a small group of friends for a photo workshop. We’ll be traveling from Delhi to Agra and then on to Varanasi. Everyone in the group are repeat workshop participants, as such, it is guaranteed to be a fun time.
I will be posting updates from both my time here in Penang, as well as my days traveling and shooting with the group in India, so watch this space.
Today I leave you with this fun shot from last night. The official start of Chinese New Year celebration began with the fireworks and the lighting of Penang’s Kek Lok Si Temple. You might recall a post I did way back in 2013 called Luck Happens: Kek Lok Si Temple. That year I was completely unprepared for the fireworks but luckily, happened to be in the right place at the right time. So this time I was ready. I might have been ready, but the fireworks were flash, bang…aaand it’s over. Truthfully, there were so little fireworks and they blew them off at such a slow rate it was underwhelming. To get this shot I had to composite two exposures into one frame. I am happy with the results and I offer it to you as my Chinese New Year’s wish for a prosperous 2016, the Year of the Monkey!
I had the pleasure of working with Dan Carr online many years ago when we wrote for the same photo website. He seemed like a great guy to know then and after this interview I can say for sure he is. Dan is a Brit who has transplanted himself to Canada. He shoots a wide variety of subjects so it’s difficult to peg him into one genre. But he is best known for his adventure and ski photography.
Dan also operates a photography educational site called Shutter Muse where he writes about everything from the business aspects of the industry to location guides from around the world. Dan has many informative eBooks at Shutter Muse as well. In this episode we talk about how he started and his journey. Dan is full of great advice and stories that even the newest photographer will find helpful.
Note: Did you notice the audio quality of this episode? I am sure you can tell it is much better than any previous episode. That is because I have purchased new mics, a new mixer and am using a service that levels the sound so you don’t hear crazy levels between me and my guest. But all this comes with a cost. One way I hope to offset this cost is by offering premium or bonus material. Want to help keep Depth of Field on the air? Then take advantage of the bonus material offered below.
Want to hear more from Dan Carr? Dan gives us an additional 20 minutes on SEO for photographers. Listen to this bonus material for only $1. Yep! 20 minutes of expert advice on how to improve your rankings in Google and other search engines for a buck! Not bad. Check it out HERE. By the way, by purchasing this bonus material you are helping keep Depth of Field on the air.
Piper Mackay represents the dream of so many photographers out there. She was working a successful career and gave it up to follow her new found passion of photography. Her career was in the fashion industry and the area of photography that captivated her was wildlife and later cultural work. In this interview we look at how she did her own, “Great Migration”. Piper speaks openly and honestly about her fears and her doubts. Did she make a mistake to follow her passion. Will she make it in the field of wildlife photography when other more experienced photographers she respects tell her she is nuts to enter.
Join Piper Mackay and I talk about her journey and her struggles. This will be an encouraging shot in the arm if you are a struggling photographer. It doesn’t matter if you are an enthusiast or a professional, there is nuggets in this hour that will make you say, I really can do this!
Bakarwal Gujjar 1989 – Photographed on slide film. I am guessing Ektachrome given the blues.
A Gujjar buffalo herdsman – 2012. Photographed with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III
There are two terms today that seem to categorize the world. Two terms that describe the entire world as we know it; they are digital native and digital immigrant. 1In short, digital natives are those who never knew the world without the internet and digital immigrants are everyone else. Some of us immigrants speak “digital” like a native, while many of us are still trying to figure out Facebook. We may be fluent, but we are no natives.
As digital immigrants some of us are in a unique position to comment about both sides of the digital divide and how we see these changes affecting us. Some of us on the other hand are much like the frog in the proverbial pot of water, as the heat slowly increases we don’t see the change as it is so gradual. Mind you I am not trying to comment on what is good or what is bad with our current digital world, I’m just highlighting some of the changes this migration has seen.
I migrated to the digital world from the analog world along with all the other digital immigrants my age. If I had to identify one area that was the biggest barrier to my growth in photography I think it would simply be money, not technology. As a young photographer I struggled with the huge investment in camera gear, darkroom gear and the biggest cost of all film and processing unlike young photographers have to deal with today. Photographer Nevada Wier and I don’t see eye-to-eye as to whether the digital world is really cheaper or not. Check out my interview with her on the “Depth of Field” podcast where we talk about this issue. (She takes issue with me on this point at 6:55 on the timeline.) I’ll stick to my guns on this. I still believe overall it is cheaper to get into photography today than ever before. Cameras and lenses are better and cheaper than ever. Yes, some software is pricy, but with options like the subscription model for Lightroom, you can get a month’s usage for less than two gallons of Milk (in America 😉 ).
Let’s think about this for a minute. The cost of chrome (slide) film and photo processing in 1976, the year when I graduated from high school, was somewhere around $15. A roll of 36 exposure Kodachrome would cost somewhere around $10 to $12. The processing was often only 2 or 3 dollars after that. So call it a total of $15. Today that same $15 is inflated2 to $63.46! Just buying and processing two rolls of Kodachrome is more costly than a year’s subscription to Lightroom and Photoshop today. Given that price, there was very little chance that a kid of my means would be able to experiment with frame after frame of trial and error to learn from my successes and failures. I got as good as I could through high school classes and later in university classes through a slow and costly process. But today, you can shoot as much as you want and waste as much digital data as you like at virtually (pun intended) no cost. By the way, that process of learning from your successes and failures took at the least a week or more as you waited for your slide film to be processed and returned. Today as we all know it is instant.
But here is a thought. As a photographer today I can shoot until I run out of memory, then delete and shoot some more. With this “digital excess”, if you will, are we really learning as much from it as we can or are we becoming sloppy and lazy. Reality is that creativity thrives under constraints.
“…the imagination is unleashed by constraints. You break out of the box by stepping into shackles.”
When we put limitations (intentionally or unintentionally) on ourselves like time and resources we unleash creative juices we never thought we had. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not for one instance saying that the digital revolution has stifled creativity as a whole. But I do think that it might work that way with some people. The amazing wealth of information can also serve to be overwhelming and distracting. Remember a few years ago the book that was making its rounds in the creative community? It was titled, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. He talked about how so many things fight for our attention. At the top of this list has to be the internet — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in particular. I am not alone in this observation; article after article is written about how the internet is stealing our time. With the ease of photographing and processing all your thousands or tens of thousands of images at home on your personal computer comes the risk of distraction or as Pressfield calls it “resistance.”
For me, being a digital immigrant has been a huge blessing. I would never go back. Gear cost is less than ever. Photographers have been given complete control over over the creative process. I never would have been able to clone, dodge, burn with the detail I can do with Photoshop. If I choose I can leave my graduated filters at home and use Lightroom’s graduated filters and more. The digital era has made all this possible. Light, a company who uses new camera technology has a touch screen user interface that uses sophisticated depth-mapping technology. Meaning, you adjust focus and depth of field even after a photo is taken, all the way to f/1.2!
I love being able to look at the photo I just shot, critique it on the spot and shoot again. It has opened new doors for me to do the same with others in workshops across the globe. I would never want to return to the days of analog.
My migration continues as I have moved from shooting large heavy DSLRs like the Canon 5d MK III to lighter weight and stealthy cameras like the mirrorless Fujifilm X-T1. As tech continues to get smaller and lighter and more efficient, this movement to mirrorless cameras allows less attention to be drawn to the photographer as they are much less intrusive and nondescript.
Change is never easy. Every immigrant is uncomfortable for a period of time. But there is no going back, that boat has sailed. As a Digital Immigrant I can either complain and be a curmudgeon or learn to navigate in the digital world. As I do, I quickly uncover the treasures that await.