Chalk & Cheese

My eldest daughter Megan is home from university for the next 5 weeks; 5 weeks that will see some significant changes in this family as we separate and begin new lives, so it’s nice that Meg, and her boyfriend Jack, are here for one last time with all of us present.

She arrived on Friday evening, so had yesterday to settle in and get ready before she and Jack went to dinner at the excellent Broad Chare in Newcastle, while her younger sister Holly was also getting ready for a night out with her friends in South Shields.

So what is a photographer to do when he has two beautiful daughters together in their finery when it’s such a rare occasion?  Inevitably it’s portrait time.

You may be aware that I’ve been reading Christa Meola’s The Art of Boudoir Photography lately, and there was a lighting set up that I wanted to try and replicate involving a single, diffused overhead light source to create some interesting shadows.  Now I don’t possess a studio, but then she does most of her work on the road so that shouldn’t be a problem.  I chose a suitably coloured wall as my backdrop (though if you’re trying to do the same a roll of backing paper could produce the same effect) and set to work on the lighting.  This was my biggest challenge.  I have a couple of lightweight stands for my speedlite flash units, but nothing robust enough to suspend a studio strobe so battery powered flash was my only option. I then had to find a way of suspending a diffuser panel beneath the two lights.

Using a clamp attached to each light stand I gripped the diffuser (part of a small 5 in 1 reflector kit) and angled the flash heads downwards.  Setting one flash unit to trigger the other I now needed a radio transmitter to activate that unit when I pressed the shutter button.  It all felt a bit Heath Robinson, but taking a couple of test shots with a self timer demonstrated that I had the effect I wanted, especially if I positioned a reflector to bounce some light back into the eyes where the overhead light caused them to be lost in the shade of my eyebrows.

Good to go then, but for one thing.

You can set up equipment, test tweak and adjust and ultimately get what you’re after.  You can’t do the same with daughters.

Megan declared that she didn’t really want to be photographed last night, and devoted herself to getting Holly ready before she even began her preparations.  This not only robbed me of one of my models, but meant that I couldn’t even rely on her to hold a reflector in place.  Hey ho.

Holly (who has always been the more co-operative photographic model) and I persisted, and got some nice shots.  As I thought, getting any catchlights in her eyes was difficult without reflector.  Thinking about it later I realised I could probably have attached the reflector to a light stand with some gaffa tape and had some effect, but this was closing the stable door after the horse had bolted.  Consequently I had to resort to post processing to achieve those catchlights in some of the shots.  Nevertheless I’m happy with overall outcomes.  Not bad for shots taken in a front room against a wall of flaking paint with nothing much more than a couple of flash units.  I’m sure the model helped too!

Left beachless

According to wikihow, there are 15 steps to becoming enigmatic.  Well I can’t comment on all of them, but in recent days I’ve been involved in an exchange of emails that certainly demonstrate some of the steps listed, in particular the following:

  • Keep silent more often than not
  • Don’t be so keen to fill in the gaps
  • Be cautious about how much information about yourself that you share
  • Make people work hard to get close to you

My correspondent goes by the name of Mrs Smith.  No forenames or even an initial.  Just the most common English surname.  Of course it might be genuinely her name, but she’s giving nothing away.

Looking for a new piece of inspirational coastline to shoot at sunrise I asked her advice as someone who walks her dogs on the east coast.  Not the Durham coast, or even the North East coast.  The East Coast.  Suitably vague.

Eventually she recommended Seaham to me.  “Aha.” I thought, “Progress”.  I offered to share my pictures with her.

Seemingly not any picture will do however.  She already owns some lovely imagery of the coast.  I’d better be on my mettle then.  Oh and she really likes black and white pictures.  Me too, but that brings a whole new level of challenge when you’re trying to capture a sunrise where you can usually rely upon the rich colours to do most of the work.  Nevertheless, I picked up the gauntlet.

Arriving at Seaham at about 8.00 am, it was still dark so I thought I’d have plenty of time to find my location, set up my tripod and shoot away.  First realisation that I’d underestimated the lady in question. My usual haunt has two miles of unbroken and accessible shoreline running from Whitburn to Roker.  Get to Seaham and it’s take your choice time.  Seaham Hall Beach maybe, or Vane Tempest?  Continue south past the harbour and there’s Chemical Beach, which is itself separated by Noses Point from Blast Beach.  I parked at Noses Point and walked towards the harbour.  Plenty of cliffs but no way down.  At least none that I could see in the first light of the day.

Even the harbour was protected by tall fencing at this side, so that was out.  The sun had broken free of the horizon now, and I returned to my car duly defeated. Stopping briefly by the North Pier where there was less fencing I got one decent picture and then headed home. _MG_6714-Edit_5-Edit_6-Edit_tonemapped-Edit-Edit-Edit To add insult to injury, a few minutes later the sky burst into flame though by now I was miles from the shore.

Fifteen love to Mrs Smith?  Not quite for this was Thursday and I’d promised the pictures on Friday.  This was just a recce.

Friday brought a different outcome.

Wonder if she’s called Angelina?  I’ll never know.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005 film)
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gathering Part II

The location of the second gathering taking place this weekend was West Hall, or rather the grounds of what was once West Hall, the former residence of a local magistrate which was demolished half a century ago.  To the north lies a kennels, to the south a scout camp, and it was here that I met the participants of The Celtic Gathering.  They weren’t boy scouts.

As I found out, they weren’t Celts either for this was a motorcycle rally.  As Steve, one of the organisers explained, most biker rallies tend to be associated with heavy metal, so in the interests of something “a bit more folky and fiddly” the Celtic Gathering of bikers from across the country came together for the first time four years ago.

Meeting on the Friday, they set up their tents, cooking and performance areas and enjoy a couple of days together, a couple of live bands and a couple of beers (or more) before heading home on the Sunday.  The event is certainly a success; originally attended by about 80 bikers, there were three times as many on site this weekend, and more continued to arrive which was creating some logistical problems in terms of finding remaining spaces to pitch camp and park up.

Wandering amongst them in a sea of black leather and death’s-head t-shirts I encountered a really friendly bunch of people, with some amazing machines, and I was invited back for the live entertainment later that night.  Having had our own party at home we didn’t make it however (walking in a straight line was proving problematic) but thanks to Steve, Dave, “Trog”, “Scratch” and everyone else who made me welcome with my camera.  (click on any image in the gallery to open larger versions in a carousel)

As you can see, the motor enthusiasts in Whitburn aren’t confined to two or even three wheels.

My portrait today is of Steve who sat me down and gave me the history of the event, and the thinking behind it.  Shooting in a tent and under trees gave me little light to capture something really sharp, so whilst this isn’t technically great quality, and does feature a little movement blur it’s fitting that he should have pride of place and I still like the way it has turned out and the way it captures this nice guy.