I was contacted by Genesis Advertising a while back in regards to doing a couple of simple ads for Invest NI. As most people can probable understand however, shooting on location in Northern Ireland in January is never simple.
The first task was to photograph a golfer teeing up. It was blowing gales and raining for the weeks over the December holidays but one day the rain let up, the wind however didn’t. Darren the creative on the shoot told me of a tight and tidy greens over at a lawn bowling pitch near his place. I had been searching through all the golf courses and even football pitches for some short, well keep grass, no luck what so ever. Everything was soaked and muddy and soaked.
We arrived on the edge of Belfast Lough at our destination. My trusty Kato (aka Bubbles aka Cef) unloaded the lighting and cameras from the car while I did a quick scout around. We found a nice sheltered area from the wind with a decent non-descript background. Darren and his model arrived and we light the poor guy up. It was still quite windy and cold for the most part but the sun was on our side, giving us a tiny amount of warmth behind the hedges of the bowling pitch.
The idea was to back light him from up high with a Profoto ProAcute 600B and a silver softlight reflector, on camera left with we used a touch of warm fill from a California Sunbounce Pro, low on camera right. A super shallow depth of field was used to really focus your eye down on the ball itself. I think it worked out well and with a little tweaking in Photoshop, it fit the bill perfectly.
Our next subject matter was a lot less glamourous; a double decker London bus and unfortunately it was not located in London. We drove up to the manufacturer in Ballymena and were given ten minutes with the “special” bus in the parking lot, just where it was. Not too much we can do to make it “sing” so we lit it from camera left with a normal reflector on the ProAcute 600B, just giving the paint a little pop as well as the chrome on the wheel. I warmed it up a little in post and retouched out a few loose items on the ground and it matched up pretty well with the golf image.
This is the final ad
The final assignment was to photograph the Carrick a Rede bridge on the north coast. Again, this is January so its not exactly tanning weather. I don about seven layers and my parka, knowing full well its going to be a long walk in and a long potential wait for the right clouds and weather. It was cold and windy on the very edge of the bridge; there is really nothing stopping me from falling 50 feet down into the chilly water below except for me wrapping my arm around the ropes of the bridge and hanging on in the wind.We waited and shot intermittently for a couple of hours before I moved over to the near side of the bridge. Here I literally hung my lower body off the cliff to get the best angle on it; trying to make it as extreme as possible for Darren’s layout.
It ended up, that the choice pick was a layered merge of four frames with a nice blue sky and a slight wisp of clouds leading into the background of more dense mass. Some light retouching in Photoshop to clean up the foreground and that was that.
Here is the final for this one.
p.s. I did not take the image of the graph.
I worked with Matt from AV Browne recently on some billboards that are out right now. They were for BT and their Infinity Broadband service. The image was to be comprised of two little sisters staring up at the marvel of BT’s swirling broadband lightstream as it enters through a window and engulfs their Christmas tree and presents.
There is an unwritten rule in photography; don’t photograph kids or puppies and you’ll keep your sanity. Well we luckily missed out on the puppy but keeping two little under 10 girls attentive is a magic feat on its own. You can get one to do what you want, then the other is crying off looking for their mother. Keys, dolls, air horns, nothing really works consistently, you just have to hope one of the kids is good and then get a decent frame of the other to strip them into the final.
We were very lucky with this one. We got some decent frames of each of them, actually quite a few. So, those images along with some empty plate shots of the scene with a few variations would make it easy to comp the files. Dermott from Streetmonkey was there to advise on the compilation direction for the image and between Matt and myself we made short work of it all.
As far as lighting goes, to simulate the glow from the lightstream I tested a few different options. I tried softboxes at first but they were a little too soft and umbrellas were just too much all over the place. In the end I decided on a Chinese lantern with skirts on top and a small strip bank with a recessed front and barndoors on the bottom.
Below are a few of the images used in the comp.
I have some more images over at WonderfulMachine. They are featuring me in the latest installment of their tearsheet section (you’ll have to scroll into it a bit). The images are some nice portraits I did for the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children with AV Browne and Darcie Graham.
Darcie is gone from AV Browne now; she’s off doing a year at Hyper Island in Interactive Art Direction. I know some people might think that’s an oxymoron like the old military intelligence or Microsoft Works but Darcie will do great there.
Here’s a little more info on Hyper Island. It was started in 1996 with 32 students and was housed in an old prison. They now have almost a dozen long term courses in a variety of multimedia fields for around 260 students. They have two campus’; one in Stockholm and the other in Karlskrona. It is very much a real hands on school where students work on proper briefs and use real life experiences, both good and bad to come to the best results. The course run down looks like this:
Digital Media – 90 weeks, including a 30-week internship
Mobile Applications – 60 weeks, including a 16-week internship
Interactive Art Director – 45 weeks, including a 15-week internship
eCommerce Manager – 40 weeks, including a 14-week internship
Motion Graphics – 40 weeks, including a 13-week internship
Interactive Media Design & Management – 32 weeks, including a 12-week internship
They don’t have any photography classes so I probably won’t be seen in Stockholm anytime soon but the motion graphics class sounds interesting.
All the best to Darcie at school.
And thanks again to WondefulMachine for spreading the word
Here’s a short little anatomy of an image for some recent stuff hanging up on billboards around NI. It was a project I worked on for the Northern Ireland Tourism Board through AV Browne. It involved a couple of models, a Fiat 500 and some picturesque coastline of the north. I had scouted the shore along the Tor Head road overlooking Cushendun before and knew a spot where you could see the coastline as well as the village.
So now that we knew the area we got permission from the landowner to do an early morning shoot there. Below are some of the variations that happened in the wee hours of the morning at sunrise. You can see we had to spark up a 2.5 kw HMI early in the morning when we didn’t think we were going to get any direct sun.
A wide shot, it still hasn’t warmed up yet at this point.
The sun is finally coming out in force.
Luckily the sun did show its face and as it dipped in and out of clouds, we had Davey and his boys from Keylight scrim off any harshness on the models.
And this is what we ended up with in the end. Great thing about NITB is there is no trickery in the images; so what you see is what you get. The final image we choose didn’t have anything between the sun and the models, just a light haze to cut it down a bit so we didn’t need the 6×6 scrim out front. We did manage to keep some direct sun on the village and the rolling hills in the background.
I have been asked by quite a few people in the past couple of months, about an image I created for Ardmore Advertising for their client NIFRS a few years ago. Its an image they are still using on 48 sheet billboards and Adshells. Most people ask me how I did it or how many layers is it?
Well to make a long story short, 26.
Now for the long story.
Richard from Ardmore asked me if I would be interested in a project for the NIFRS as he felt it would suit my style. I was traveling back and forth to North America on other jobs but told him when I came back to NI we could meet up. It was basically an outdoor campaign showing wild fires, firemen, a hero and a burnt landscape. All of these ingredients needed to evoke emotion; to the men and to the landscape around them. "Sure, no problem", I said. We lined up a date to head out for scouting or as they call it here ' a wee recce' to the Mourne Mountains around Newcastle. We wanted a good view of the town with a decent amount of trees and growth to portray the brief properly.
The first location was about half way up the mountain overlooking Newcastle. We had the full NIFRS Land Rover detail out with us scouring over the area, looking for a suitable spot. This shot of Richard above, shows how ridiculously windy it was at that elevation so we decided to move down the hill. We found a spot about halfway down from the previous one that was sheltered from the wind, mostly, and had everything else we we looking for, sort of, more of that though later.
Here is the chosen location with Richard standing in as the "hero".
With the location picked we now had to got about casting. That was pretty much taken care of by Ardmore and the NIFRS as they wanted to include men from the different stations. My next task was to concoct a lighting scheme and rough layout of how I wanted the day to go down. During this time I was in the middle of moving my studio over to Northern Ireland so I had to rent my lighting from the good folks at Calumet. Unfortunately they didn't have anything I wanted so I had to make due with some Bowens mono "blockheads". I lined up a genie to power everything but was told by the Fire Service that it wouldn't be needed as they had one there. Cool, one less thing for me to think about.
When the day came, my assistant and I headed up the mountain with the crew, the agency and a couple of service appliances(fire trucks). The shoot was reasonably undramatic considering what we were dealing with. We couldn't start any fires so they would have to be put in post. The crew had a smoke machine but the winds were so high that it all just blew away. I set the lights and asked the guys about the genie they had. Some guy came out from around the truck with this little neon green shoebox. "What is that?", I asked. "That's your generator". Well, it was like nothing I had ever seen. It was a little two stroke compact genie that I don't know what would power. My mind started to race, "damn, what now?". Luckily a much larger one materialized after a few moments, phew. We sparked everything up and shot a few test images. It was all coming together.
There were a few little hitches that I knew would come into play with this project; one being the resolution for a 48 sheet and two, the physical dynamics of the actual landscape. The first point I knew I could get around by stitching or combining images together of the landscape and dropping the crew into it. I ended up doing four images, shot vertically.
You can see from those images that most of the elements are already in place, except I didn't like the horizon above his head and to move the camera angle lower would mean we would lose the foreground field behind the ridge the hero is standing on. More to do in post then.
The stitched images look something like this.
Now time for some post production on this sucker.
First thing was to give the image some shape, stretch it out slightly and correct the distortion. I then proceeded to move the horizon line down so it was much lower in the shot. From here I started adding elements; smoke and fire that I created at the farm against a black background, and the rest of the members of the others crews who all played different parts in each crew's images. So, no this isn't just 3 or 4 guys cloned all over the hillside, they are all unique individuals who played specific roles in each others shots. I removed cables and stands, Added my own brand of treatments to the sky, trees and grasses. With me moving the horizon down, it started to crunch down some of the noticeable landmarks of Newcastle. With this I had to go back in and save certain neighbourhoods and buildings so that it anyone who looked at it, would know it as Newcastle. In the end, each element had its own layer and most of those had their own layer mask so I could tweak the living bejesus out them. Of those the fire were contained in a group as well as a group for smoke and crew. The sky and clouds had their own layer so I could shift it up or down or side to side depending on where I wanted everything up there to be placed in respect to the crew and landscape. Finally I added some final colour and tonality treatments with separate colour mixer, hue/saturation and curves layers and cropped it to its final size.
26 layers and probably 26 hours in assembly time.
and with copy
I'm not trying to get too political here but why does all this still go on? Almost everyone living here knows the answers to the rioting and violence and why they still happens but that still doesn't answer the question "why?". No one really wants it but they want to keep on marching and doing July 12th and of course people clash. I'm not going to get all heavy handed and start giving ideas or solutions; its too embedded in people.
The PSNI have had a tough time of it; being the long heavy arm of the law in the past, trying to work along side the army to keep the peace. Since the early 2000's the PSNI have been responsible for upholding the law alone. They are ever changing their brand and becoming more public friendly. This is where I came in.
I was hired on by local agency Genesis Advertising to translate their brief into images. They were looking to create a bridge between the public and the PSNI, to show how the PSNI is committed to listening to the public and solving their problems and issues. The brief outlined about a dozen images, all on location, with a diverse cross section of the public, represented by models. Of course the beautiful Northern Irish weather that I love so much proved itself once again as being as reliable as a Lucas ignition. Many of the images were shot in the rain or blowing gales. It was on one of these days that I got a severe chest infection that had me coughing and hacking in pain for almost 2 months.
I’ve been working with the NITB for the past year or so. They and the agency have been great to work with; problem solving, location scouting and hunting, casting and oh ya, creating images that we feel are unique and cool. Here are some of the latest ones for the spring/summer campaign in different formats for different media.