A trip to Soufriere – St Lucia…in a terrible car

As I mentioned a few blogs back, I spent a very relaxing weekend with James over in St Lucia last week.  I had gone out to help with a few technical things, talk over a few ideas, meet with the team, and generally touch base with the St Lucia arm of Colorbox.

I am happy to say, that James is doing a great job, so once we had got all of the niggly odds and sods done we were able to go on a little adventure.

In the worst car in history.

James has a terrible little Chevrolet Vomit Buster as a hire car out there, and it is awful.  Smaller than my 70-200 lens, with less power than the focus motor, this thing is utterly, utterly dump.  To make things worse, St Lucia has those wonderful topographical beauties that we here in Barbados can only dream of….Hills.  Loads of them.  As far as the eye can see.

And the little car struggled with every one of them.  But despite the inadequate engine, leg room and complete lack of sound proofing, it really was the most beautiful drive.   We snaked our way down from Castries down to Soufriere over the course of 90 minutes, climbing hills and bombing down the other side, with views to die for and sites to behold…it was a lovely day.

I had not actually taken my camera over to St Lucia and James wanted to visit some waterfalls (you can read his excellent blog on that here) so I offered to take some shots of him and his lovely girlfriend, Michelle, with his Canon 7D.  Now, for those of you not in the know in camera world, Canon and Nikon are the two big boys in the camera market.  It’s like BMW and Mercedes; both companies are amazing but whichever one you own, (in my case Nikon) you look over at the other side and secretly covet little things they have.   Publicly, however, you make brash, sweeping statements that put the other brand down and champion your choice of camera over any one else’s.

Truth be told, both manufacturers are amazing, and at the end of the day, when you look at the pictures, you would never know what was shot on what anyway…but I digress.

James bought his 7D a year ago now, and I have always liked it.  It’s quick to focus, comfortable to hold, and the colours are exquisite.  So I really was quite excited to get to shoot with it for the day.

It was also nice, because this is my comfort zone – this is what I do.  Take a beautiful couple in love, find some nice scenery, plonk them in front of it and get some great shots.

Using the Canon, however, I quickly fell from my comfort zone.

Oh. My. God.

I’m not sure whether it was the rickety journey in the God awful Chevrolet, or the 20oz coffee I had drunk that morning, but within a few minutes of our adventure I felt my heart rate increase and I got really, really nervous.   This in itself is ridiculous –  James is one of my best mates and we were just out having fun, but I found it very hard to relax with this alien thing in my hand.  Everything is backwards.  Aperture and shutter are the wrong way round, focus and zoom are inverted – and even the exposure meter is backwards.  What the flash were they thinking?

Surely this is more than an accident?  Surely this is just the two camera giants being obtuse?  “They go left, we’ll go right.”  “They go down, we’ll go up.”  It truly was disconcerting, and I could not fathom it.  I was also amazed at how much I just ‘do’ when I’m shooting.  Fire a frame: slightly over exposed in the background, stop it down a third on the shutter.  Flash too powerful: close down aperture by a stop, slow shutter by a stop – ambient and flash now correctly balanced, get on with the shoot…but try doing that on a camera where everything is backwards, and you end up looking like my dad trying to send a text message.

It is a painful sight that I hope none of you will have to see.

And that set the tone for the day.  James and Michelle were very patient with me as I blundered around the bizarre control system, and despite my inept ability with the camera, I still got some cool shots for the two…but as the day war on, I fell more and more out of love with the Canon, and pined more and more for my beauteous Nikon.

The camera is light, and very, very comfortable…but I missed the metal ruggedness of my beastie Nikon.  It was very quick to focus and the sigma lens James has is beautifully sharp, but I missed the chunky, 100% viewfinder and focus system I understand.  I took some wonderful pictures with the Canon, but all the while I held it I just felt like I was cheating…

I did love the jog wheel on the back, and I did love that the hot shoe is a lot further away from the eye piece.  When I put my pocket wizards (radio triggers for my flash) on my Nikon, the base pokes out and stabs me in the eye.  Every time.  And for that I was truly envious…but everything else?…Sorry Jimbly, I love you buddy, but you can keep the Canon…I am sticking with the Mercedes of the camera world.

But the one thing I could not fault the Canon for:  despite it’s inept operator we still got a shot of the god awful Chevrolet that even the BBC boys at Top Gear would have been proud of…True, I had to cut 99% of the hateful thing from shot, but between Jimbly sat looking cool, the Piton mountains in the background, a big flash bouncing off bonnet and a queezy feeling photographer behind the lens, the Canon did a marvelous job of making even the Chevrolet look acceptable.

Thanks for the adventure James – it was a blast.

x

Advertisements

Ladies and gentlemen…we have 50 posts!

And boy am I proud of myself 😉

It has been a year since I started these ramblings, and 50 posts later, 600 subscribers, and nearly 10,000 views to date, I am a very happy man.   I adore writing this blog, and I am touched that so many of you (apparently) enjoy reading it too.

So I wanted to take this time to thank each and every one of you who has liked, commented, linked, read, or just looked at my pictures – I really do appreciate it.  I have also been lucky enough to be nominated for an award – I will be making a page especially for that over the next few days – not that I am arrogant and think I shall be nominated for a million more, but it is the sort of thing that I do not want to get lost in the blogroll…which brings me onto this week’s post.

I love the blog format, but it is all about the post you write today.  Before you know it, the post of yesterday is swept aside like my money at a black jack table, and no one can find it again.  And so, in honour of my new subscribers and readers, I wanted to look back on my favourite 5 blogs of the past.  I do apologise for the self-indulgence, and to my hardcore fans that have been with me since the start.  I am afriad you may want to skip this week’s installment, and come back next time…I have got some CRAZY good stuff to share with you then 🙂

But until then, I leave you with my top 5…click on the picture to be whisked off to some blogage of the past. And really, truly, with all the sincerity in the world:  thank you.

I am very humbled by your readership 😉

 

Ferg’s Top 5 blogs from the past.

Number 5 – the Limbo Lady

I love this blog, it is littered with excitement – a new job, a new camera, and this was the first (of many) photos I took of the amazing Cheryl.

 

Number 4 – The Caterpillars

Again, another exciting blog.  I had discovered that my D700 could do timelapse and I got a little giddy at the thought…and these guys are just AWESOME.

 

 

Number 3 – Steve Jobs is a pain in the arse (NB – this was written before he passed away)

No photos for this blog, but I re-read it and gave myself a giggle.  As you will tell from the first paragraph…I was having a very bad day…

 

Number 2 – Dwayne the dancer

This was the first blog that I introduced my little logo thing on my photos.  I was crazy excited because I found out  that a lot of people were finding me through Google’s image searches….and rather vainly hoped that someone had used an image of mine in a presentation, or school homework or something….I love the thought of my work being used to better an assignment, or be a good header for a slideshow – but if they show it in class – I want everyone to see where it came from.

 

 

And…number one has to be:

Number 1 – Ollie

The best blog, because it means so much to so many people.  Ollie came home, and all involved were  relieved, happy and joyous.  It really was a magic day.

 

As always, thanks for reading guys…and don’t forget to subscribe!

x

Digging up a gem

So, this weekend I am in St Lucia.  I am staying at the beautiful Morgan Bay resort, and catching up with James – newly appointed as manager out here.

He is doing a fantastic job, and things are well and truly being looked after for the time being…so that means I get a bit of time to myself – if it aint broke and all that.  But the pain in the arse thing is that I have left my camera at home in Barbados.

What a clown shoes.

But not to worry – I will use my time productively I tell myself.  I have been going through figures, looking at promotional material, and generally being good…but then my mind started to wander a bit, and I started to go through all of my photos on the laptop.

Big mistake.

Because this whole photography thing is a very, very steep learning curve.  The pictures I take today are, in my mind, amazing.  But I will look back on them in six months and think “did really take that sh**?”

If you’re not critical of yourself, you’re not serious…so imagine my rage when I saw this:

Yes, it’s nice – a big colourful, Bajan sunset.  But really pretty basic – under exposed to get all that drama…but nothing special.  So here I am, in the hotel lobby, muttering away to myself about how I should have made it more interesting, “bloody fool – put a tree or a guy or a boat, just something in silhouette to give it some freaking context. God damn rookie…” You get the picture.

And as I flicked through the next few images, I realised that the me of the past was not quite as out of touch with this whole photography thing as I had first surmised.

Hope you’re all having a great weekend guys…more gems to be uncovered soon, I am sure!

 

x

 

Usually we just eat…but tonight we dance.

The other night, Sian and I were sat enjoying our dinner in our usual place.  We were in our usual restaurant, sitting at our usual table, drinking our usual wine, discussing the usual challenges and ideas work has been throwing up.  I looked at Sian, usually, and was about to say something utterly – well – usual.  But then we heard something.

We heard music.

 

This, in itself, is not unusual – we are treated to live music most nights.  But the music we could hear was very, very different to the usual Sokha and Calypso the Bajans bless us with.  This music consisted of trumpets and trombones and saxaphones and drums and singing and all manor of awesomeness that can only be made sense of in one, glorious form.  Big Band.

We gobbled down our dinner at double speed and ran into the main bar area, to be treated to this magnificent site:

The Sherborne School Swing Band were here, and they were playing the Almond Casuarina for their last night.   Apparently they had been here in Barbados for a week, having played in various hotels and concert halls throughout the island – culminating in a final show in the hotel they have called home for the last week.

They. Were. Fantastic.

Now, as readers of this blog will no doubt know, I have a strong affinity to music.  As I explained in my blog during our brief Easter break, we grew up being force fed this stuff.  My brothers and parents are prolific brass players, my sister is amazing at pretty much everything, and I was pretty handy with my saxaphone, before the lure of drum and bass lured me to the stage…but that’s another blog, for another time.

Hearing bands like the Sherborne School Swing Band, takes me back to my childhood…being 9 during summer holidays playing in a school hall with a bunch of kids I never would see again, and going to the never ending program of concerts that my amazingly talented siblings were playing in…not to say that any of us were in bands this good, but it is amazing how music has that ability to place you a million miles from where you are.

Sian and I were expecting another usual mid-week meal.  But the Sherborne School Swing Band were able to give us both so much more.  For the 45 minutes that we caught them, I was a whipper snapper back in good old Croydon, far from the stressed and homesick old fart that I am now.

And, I am pleased to say – I don’t think I was the only one!

 

Thanks for reading guys – and hope you have had a great week 🙂

 

Incidentally – for those of you still reading, I have been incredibly flattered to have been nominated for an award for my blog from the wonderful Becky Says Things.  I will be doing  a proper post about this momentous event over the coming days – but wanted to say a huge thank you to her, and urge you all to check her page out.

It is very, very funny 🙂

 

 

 

Puppies, Parties and Peeing it down.

Last night was our friend Kate’s birthday.  She manages an uber-chic, turbo cool club here in Barbados…so Sian and I stick out like sore thumbs.  Whenever we go there, we have a fabulous time, but it is one of those places people go to party and be seen to do so, which is not really our thing.  However it was her birthday and as we don’t go that often it was all very exciting 🙂

We got a call from the lovely Rob and Penny who were organising a few cheeky pre-party-put aways, and so we headed to their beautiful new house beforehand.

Now, obviously, going to a party, we had to bring our camera.  But being that our wonderful Nikon D700 weighs approximately 950 tonnes alone, we couldn’t take the full bag with our vast array of lenses.  So I packed the normal party kit.  Our super sharp, uber wide angle 14mm-24mm, a flash gun and some cheap radio triggers.   We take the wide angle for several reasons.  First up – it looks cool.  The edges of the photos bend and distort with the barrel of the lens.  Secondly – you get a lot more things in focus (more on this later).  And thirdly, you are able to take much longer shots handheld and not get that horrid blur that every point and shoot camera in ‘night mode’ gives you.  There is a lot less camera shake at 14mm, because the lens is physically closer to the sensor. Please post a comment below if you want any more on this – but that’s it for now on camera stuff – promise!

So anyway, we headed out of the door with our patented ‘party kit’.   We got to Rob and Penny’s house and my heart leapt when we met the new members of their family.  It then quickly sank again when I remembered what kit we had with us, and all of the wonderful lenses and gels and other sexy paraphernalia we’d left safely tucked away at home.

Rob and Penny have recently had a litter of seven of these critters to mum, ‘Bo’.

And they are utterly, utterly adorable.   Being a responsible couple, they have been meticulous in finding homes for the new pups – making sure the people are right, taking them all to dog training classes, and securing each little bundle of fluff the best home possible.  But until next week they have all of them, mum and all, in their new house.

And I am going to do a proper shoot with them before they go.

But last night I had to make do with what we had.  Ideally, I would use a much longer portrait lens for these guys, but as we had the crazy-ass wide angle lens I had to just to make it work.

I love this shot – with little pooch looking out at me, nibbling on Sian’s ‘Caribbean Blue’ necklace, and Rob and Penny chuckling in the background.   But here you see one of the problems with the wide angle lens.  With a long portrait lens you get what is called ‘bokeh’.  This is the blurring effect of the background that in turn helps make your subject pop out and appear more striking.  With a wider lens you lose this effect – more of the scene remains in focus – which is why we take it out as our party lens in the first place (see first paragraph!).   In this photo you can clearly make out Rob and Penny in the background.  But if I were shooting at 200mm with a wide aperture, Rob and Penny would be turned into a beautiful swirl of buttery-bokeh, all colours and indistinguishable shapes.

So what to do with these beautiful pups? How to make them stand out against their backgrounds without that lovely portraited blur?

That’s right – you guessed it.  Flash.

Nice narrow aperture, powerful flash, 200th of a second.

Bosh

Now, these pictures aren’t perfect – the light is hard, the shadows very pronounced, and the ambient light is non existent…but I am really pleased with them none the less.  It was a down and dirty 5 minute shoot,  and I love this part of photography.  You know what you want to achieve but your kit is not ‘the right stuff’ at the time.  Despite this, with some quick thinking and light trickery I was still able to get the shots I wanted.

After the puppies, some more friends, a trip to another house and some (yummy) jelly shots, we headed out to the nightclub – which was what this blog was initially meant to be about!

It was a great night – everyone was in top form, there was a HUGE turnout and Kate seemed to be utterly happy with it all.

Hopefully you can see and agree why I think the 14-24 is the best lens for a night out like this.  When in a cramped club with little room to breathe, it captures the whole goings on.  Unlike the puppy shots, which were shot deliberately fast to kill the ambient light, these were shot at a much slower shutter speed – a 5th of a second.  This lets the sensor soak up all those lurid reds and greens and other luminescent colours the d.i.s.c.o lights throw up.  I love it.

At about 3am, the uber – cool – retro – house – funk that we had been strutting to was quickly replaced with what can only be described as “Bondage Rap”.   Clearly “Ganster Rap” is oh-so-passe nowadays…

I love hip hop, but cannot fathom why anyone wants to listen to tripe like “face down, eyes up, that’s the way we like to f” – you get the idea.  I adore my music, and like to think I am ‘down’ with the kids…but seriously, who benefits from this horrificness?   Who enjoys listening to a guy rapping (to a FAT beat, I admit) about having violent intercourse with a girl half his age ‘cos that’s how we do it in my hood’?  Does anyone even care about the lyrics of  music anymore?…I don’t know – that’s a blog for another time.  Point is, we had an awesome night, and called it quits before I stopped the music and lectured everyone on the finer points of hip hop and sent them all home with no supper.

The only thing I regret is not getting a shot of the birthday girl herself, but Priva have their own photographer (who is very good). Being in the game I know how annoying it is when someone starts getting in the way and shooting stuff you are being paid to capture.   It usually ends up being a “my camera’s bigger than yours’ scenario and no one likes it.

And that brings us up to this morning.

Bleary eyed and fuzzy headed, (becoming a bit of a theme of late since work has quietened down so much) Sian – somehow – woke up full of beans and convinced me to go to Hunter’s market.  I was promised coffee, and pastries and all manner of things, not to mention a chance to see our good friends Ally and Billy there too…but when we got there, the weather was not on our side.

I felt a bit like the girl in the song from last night:

But a hearty lunch with our friends later and a lazy Sunday has left us in great stead for the week ahead.

Hope you all have an awesome one too.

Thanks for reading guys

x

Colours colours colours

The other night, Sian and I went down to dinner and we did something we rarely do nowadays.  We took a few photos.  For the fun of it.

We weren’t shooting for a wedding, or a corporate event, or a client wanting to show off their fancy property…we took the camera to do some good old fashioned light-on-sensor-gimmickry.  And it was great.

In the last few weeks of writing, I have been telling you all how we have had to move and we are living in a new place – but I am yet to show you our new abode:  The Almond Casuarina.

This is the biggest of the two pools on resort.  Just under the bridge is a swim up bar, and it is a lovely place to chill out on a Sunday when you have the time.  The beach is off to the right, and the main restaraunts and bars are within that warm, fuzzy glow on the left.  It is a lovely hotel, albeit MUCH smaller than the Village, where we used to live.

Sian is great at times like this.  Everyone was sat down enjoying their meals, whilst I tinkered with my camera, setting up tripods and light stands, and she watched on with patience and anticipation.  I then asked if she would mind standing on the bridge like a lemon and holding a flash up in front of her face.

She of course had no objections.

After playing about at this pool for five minutes or so, we wandered around to the next one for the shot I was after.

This pool is on the other side of the building, and I wanted to play here for two reasons.  One – it is always very quiet in the evening, so long exposures are doable without upsetting anyone, and two, it is not very well lit. Despite what this 6 second exposure tells you, around the pool is actually quite dark, and that’s what I wanted.

Because the shot I was after was a little different to the one you see above.  What I wanted to do was shift my colour space dramatically, so that the water glowed a golden orange rather than that misty blue.  This would mean shifting my white balance to a much warmer temperature – but I needed my subject, in this case Sian, to remain ‘true’ in colour.  I also wanted to get the effect of a calm, oily surface on the water and catch some splashes in the pool that she kicked up.

Solution to all of these requests?  Flash.

A few months back,  James very kindly bought me a set of coloured gels that I can stick over my flash gun.  If you haven’t heard of or know James, go and check out his blog.   He is awesome.  Anyway, the point of these coloured gels is that I can shoot my flash at Sian and not only illuminate her in the darkness, but by using a different coloured gel, the colour of the light hitting her will change too.

Bare with me on this…

When I ramp my white balance to a very warm 9000k, the scene becomes very, very red.  So, to bring Sian back into the correct colour, and not leaving her looking like a sunburnt beetroot, I hit her with a powerful blast of flash, shooting a deep blue colour.  The blue negates the red of the scene, Sian looks normal, and I get that burnt orange on the water’s surface I was after.

I also asked Sian to kick up some water just before I blasted the flash to catch those little splashes in the air…It is not perfect, but in the twenty minutes of playing, we got to use a little bit of new kit, I got to tell you all some photography nerd-ary, and I got another dazzling picture of my hot wife.

Not a bad day in the office really…

 

 

Thanks for reading guys

x

Kickboxing in paradise

As promised, I want to get back to the photography part of my ramblings, and as luck would have it, I had a golden opportunity last night to stretch both my camera and my brain.

We went kickboxing.

Well, I say we went kickboxing – what I mean is we went to watch kickboxing.  Sian has made some great friends at a training school she goes to when work allows, and every year there is a meeting at the Barbados Community College, where friends and rivals of different schools, ages, skill levels and countries, commune en masse in order to kick the crap out of each other.

I must confess, I am not a huge fan of the sport myself…I find it a tad too hardcore at times.  As such, I am always more than happy to take the role of photographer to keep my mind on other things – like shutter speeds and apertures and ISOs…rather than the two grown adults knocking seven bells out of each other.

Usually.

This year, we started with something a little different:

We started with the juniors and wow, they were JUNIOR!  This was the second match between a couple of teeny tots.  It was suprisingly well natured, and the kids did demonstrate some serious technique.  In all it was a fair fight, despite the massive size difference between the two, and the crowd were really supportive of both corners.

I absolutely love the next shot.  We couldn’t hear what the trainer was saying – but the look in the little guys’ eyes is priceless.  Despite the baying crowd, the bright lights, and the fact he has been beating someone up half his size for two minutes, the youngster is totally focused on what his trainer is telling him.  It is, I am told, what this sport is all about: focus.

After the junior round, we moved onto the first adult bout.  I am terribly sorry to say I don’t know anyone outside of our own camp.  There was no card on the evening, so you either knew who the fighters were or you didn’t.  Luckily Sian was on hand to let me know who was who…

Krystal from ‘The Kore’ was up first.  That’s her in the blue corner – and that’s the guy that runs/owns Sian’s training school on the right. His name is Ian and he is a wonderful bloke.  Hard as nails, but still not too tough to sport a pink towel.  Most of our guys fought from the blue corner last night.

From a complete novice’s perspective, I thought Krystal won technically on the first round.  She had a more solid guard, and her kicks and punches seemed to be a lot more precise and calculated.  But by the end of the second round, she was exhausted.

I am never going to say “I’m tired” again.

If you saw Krystal at the end of the third round, you would understand what I mean.  She had given it everything.

Now please – do not take this as a criticism.  These guys are FIT, and they gave their all in the ring.  I cannot imagine how hard it must be to pace yourself in a fight like this.  When someone clocks you one in the nose, it is only natural to go hell for leather and try and hit them back.  This is (obviously) where the discipline comes in, and the fact that the guys even went three rounds, I think, is amazing.

Even this guy struggled the three rounds.  And when you’re as fit as Brook, what chance have us mere mortals got?

Brook actually fractured the other guys’ nose.  So Chris had his bout delayed 15 minutes whilst the ambulance took the poor injured guy to the hospital, and we awaited its return.  He came out and sat in the ring, only to be told to leave again.  That would surely affect your concentration.  But he put in a great bout, but ultimately also fell to fatigue.

The strangest bout of the evening though, was between Nick and James.  This bout was bizarre because, although in a competition and for their official records, both of the guys train together and are firm friends.

Now that’s got to be a spin out.  I couldn’t smash my mate in the face – gloves or not…but these guys went at it with each other, and put on a really good fight.

As you can (hopefully!) see, I really tried to mix up my shots as much as possible on the evening.  One of the hardest things about shooting something like this, is getting good exposure and sharp photos.  Mercifully, the gym was pretty well lit, so I was able to shoot with quite fast shutter speeds (160th/125th) which just about freezes the action.  I had my ISO cranked to 3200 on both my D700 and D800, so noise (the horrid speckles and dots) has started to creep into some of the photos – fine when small, like this, but when you zoom in and blow the pictures up, you will really notice it.

Were it not a lot of the guy’s first fights, and had I planned it properly, I would have definitely mounted two flashes in the overhang above the ring.   I think I have achieved everything I can with the ambient light, and am keen to try mounting some strobes in the ceiling….maybe I could convince the guys to allow that next year.

The other really annoying thing is those bloody ropes.  I cannot tell you how many times they tripped my focus, or cut off a face as the fighters move around so quickly on their feet.  Next time, I will take a small step ladder so I can be almost eye level with the combatants…but of course, I will need to get permission from the organisers, and more importantly this guy:

Because if he wasn’t too happy about what I was getting up to, I am pretty sure I would end up on the end of this:

Which not even my mighty Nikon could survive.

Thanks to Ian and all the Kore team, the fighters for the great show, and the fans and supporters who kept the whole thing exciting, civil, and fun.

And as always, thanks to you for reading guys – I hope you all have a great week 🙂 x