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
When you lead photographic workshops around the world you meet some really interesting people both as subjects and as participants. A few years back I had a very talented photographer from Portugal join our workshop in India, Fernando Carvalho da Silva. After that workshop Fernando went home to Lisbon and found some craftsmen that would hand make cases and straps for his cameras. He passed a couple of those straps to a few of us to try out and use. A company grew out of this called NUCIS leather. A little less than a year ago Fernando wanted me to try out one of his NUCIS leather straps. I had to be honest and tell him I doubted I would use them as I was pretty committed to the Peak Design system of anchors and links. You’ve seen them on my camera. I know this because every time I review a lens and photograph it on my camera I get asked the same question, “What is the little red and black tab hanging from your camera?” It is the Peak Design anchor. These small tabs allow the Peak Design straps to anchor or connect to the camera. It is an easy snap on and off solution. Brilliant! Well, because of this I doubted I would use his straps as nice as they were. I told him if he could come up with a classy leather strap that used those anchors, well then…
Recently, I was sent an Angelbird 512 GB SSD2go drive. This little guy, and little is the operative word here, is built like a tank. It is perfect for people like me who travel. The great thing about SSD drives is because they are solid state they can be pretty much abused and still function perfectly. Seriously, you could drop this off a building and it would most likely survive… and no, I am not going to try that. I like it’s shiny T.A.R.D.I.S. 1 blue case and I don’t want it scratched. By the way, the case – it is honed out of a single piece of aluminum. This adds to the solid feel of the device. Now I was a little worried when I saw the USB 3.0. cable. I had never seen a drive use a type A to type A cable. But it works like a charm. The cable fits really tight into the unit and into the computer. You can get the back engraved for free. Most people put their website or a contact number. I have never had any contact info on a drive before and frankly, I have never felt the need. I guess because I have never lost a drive before so it didn’t really occur to use it that way. So I had a bit of inspiration added to the the back. Since it is T.A.R.D.I.S. blue in color I added a quote from Dr. Who that fits my ethos. “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?” Honestly if I was to do it again, I might put my email address because this drive is so small I actually might be able to loose it. Continue reading →
You know that a good camera bag is an essential. You also know that you can never seem to find the right bag, right? If I ask any given photographer how many bags they have I usually get an embarrassed eye-roll and then a number between 5 and 20. Seriously, bags are important, first and foremost for protecting your camera and lenses. But what about your other camera? You know, your phone. Continue reading →
Piet & other X-photographers on our past India workshop take a chai break to talk about what Fujifilm is serving up.
Welcome Fujirumors Readers.
It’s always fun when I get together with Piet Van den Eynde and we compare notes on the latest Fujifilm gear. This podcast was not different. This episode is about our thoughts on the latest lenses and a few interesting accessories.
So just before I left for Kenya, I got a WhatsApp message from my contact at Fujifilm Malaysia telling me they had the yet-to-be-released Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR. I have been waiting for this lens since it showed up on the Fujifilm Lens Road Map. A 16mm f/ 1.4? That’s a lot of light! But the real question was going to be, would I feel it was wide enough? Let’s face it, a 16mm lens on the X-system is effectively a 24mm in 35mm-speak and I generally like shooting wide. I like fast even better. This lens has not disappointed me.
f/1.4, 1/2000 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1
f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1
I really wanted to write this review before leaving and post it the day the lens was officially announced, but unfortunately I got the lens only the day before I left for Kenya and I have been working on an OFMP training everyday since I arrived. I was able to carve out a few moments here and there to put this little guy through some of it’s paces.
f/4, 1/10 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1
Speaking of little, this actually isn’t all that small. It dwarfs the Fuji 14mm f/2.8. It’s bigger than the 23mm f/1.4 and the real shocker is, it is even slightly bigger than the 56mm f/1.2! I am not sure I understand why it needs to be this size. I understand the weight. It weighs right in between the 23mm and the 56mm at 375 g (0.83 lb), about where I expected. After all, it’s loaded with glass. But I don’t understand the size. It’s slightly bigger than the 56mm that is 3.5 times longer in focal length. But what this lens looses in size, it makes up in sharpness. Like many of the other Fujinon lenses, the 16mm is razor sharp. You need to be careful because you’ll cut yourself, its so sharp. It’s sharp at f/16 all the way to f/1.4. I was thoroughly surprised to see this lens was not only sharp in the center at f/1.4, it was also sharp from edge to edge.
f/10, 1/160 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1
I have yet to discover any chromatic aberrations at any f-stop. It’s here where I am suppose to tell you about the 13 lens elements in 11 groups, including 2 aspherical lens elements and the 2 ED glass lens elements to reduce lateral and axial chromatic aberration, but honestly I have no idea what that means, so as Clark Gable once said, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”. All I know is it is crazy sharp!
f/10, 1/40 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1
I do know nice-looking bokeh when I see it, and this lens has it. Apparently it has to do with the 9 aperture blades. Again, I am less concerned with why it happens and more concern with “does it look nice?”, and it does.
The lens is weather sealed and becomes a great addition to the the weather sealed X-T1. Twice on this trip I was shooting in the rain and the camera got completely drenched. Not a problem.
f/1.4, 1/400 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1
f/1.4, 1/550 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1
I have read somewhere that this lens was slightly slow focusing using phase detection. Maybe, but I never experienced it. Every time I used it, it seemed to snap to focus as quick as the best Fuji lens.
I want to be fair here; I have not put this lens through a tough regiment of shooting. I just received this lens as I was leaving for an OFMP training at The Kilgoris Project in Kenya and only had a limited amount of time with it. What I can say is I am not disappointed with it. Unlike the 16-55mm, a lens that I felt was a well crafted lens but will never find it’s way into my bag, there is a chance this lens will not come off my camera! It is just wide enough to provide context in photos without creating undo distortion on the edges. It is fast, so it will be useful in low light situations, it is sharp and focuses quickly and accurately. What more can a photographer want? My guess is once I get this lens, my 23mm f/1.4 and my 14mm f/2.8 will stay in my bag a lot more.
f/1.4, 1/320 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1
Did you know that this is the 4th lens in Fujifilms lens lineup at the 16mm focal length? They have the 10-24mm f/4, the 16-55mm f/2.8 and the XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6. None of these are primes and all of them slower, with the fastest being the 16-55mm at f/2.8. It might surprise some of you that I never bought the 10-24mm f/4. As sharp as that lens is, and it is really sharp, I found it too slow at f/4. Yes, I know it has image stabilization (OIS) but that just stabilizes the lens not the subject. When I did use the 10-24mm, it was almost always on at the wider end between the 10 to 16mm focal length. So the new 16mm lens gives me speed at f/1.4 and a nice wide focal length. Do I wish this was a wider lens? Sure. But at the moment, there is no wider lens at this speed on the Fuji Road Map. But I can live with that. This lens hits the sweet spot for me.
f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1
f/1.4, 1/60 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1
The 16mm seems to have plenty of contrast and shooting at f/1.4 it gives your subject a nice separation from it’s background. It focuses close, as you can see from the tea flower and the daisy image below. I think I was as close as 6 inch or more. The bokeh get more impressive the closer you get to your subject.
f/1.4, 1/1800 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1
f/1.4, 1/1250 sec, at 16mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1
f/3.2, 1/90 sec, at 16mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1
The lens is suppose to be selling on Amazon for $999… er $1,000. So in the end, it comes down to would I shell out $1,000 for a 16mm f/1.4 lens? The answer is a resounding, “Heck yeah!”