Light Painting a Dancer in Leith: Lucy

Leith is a district to the north of Edinburgh, and the area is replete with photographic opportunities. In particular, the surroundings of the port of Leith, the largest deep water port in Scotland, provide a number of good locations for photo shoots.

Light painting of dancer, standing, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

We started with a simple pose. I had to move in and around the bridge to light paint her face and then her body and the background.

I had noticed ‘the blue bridge in Leith’ a while back, but hadn’t had an opportunity to shoot there until I met Lucy, a dancer who happens to live nearby. I like the colour (blue is my favourite colour), lines, shapes and textures of this location. I’m sure I’ll go back for other shoots.

Light painting of dancer, sitting down, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I try, as much as possible, to shoot both vertical and horizontal photographs. I asked Lucy to give me an interesting pose I could frame horizontally.

I had asked Lucy to wear colourful clothes, and I was delighted to see her outfit. And in hindsight, her hair colour provides a nice contrast with the blue background.

Light painting of dancer, sitting down, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I was worried that in the previous photo, Lucy’s left hand would be a bit too prominent in the frame and that the camera hadn’t properly focussed on her face. So we did another light painting with this set up and a slightly different pose.

Dancers are very comfortable with their body, so I let Lucy try a number of poses. Apart from the first photo above, it was clear to me I would not have gotten the same type of photographs with a model rather than a dancer.

Light painting of dancer, standing and bending backwards, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I like to start the light painting session with poses I know the dancer can hold for some time without moving. Once I have a couple of shots ‘in the bag’, I like to try more demanding poses. Lucy did an incredible job standing still during the whole shoot.

Finally, on our way to the bridge we noticed the bronze statue and I knew there was a photograph there. As we walked back we made a quick stop for one last picture.

Light painting a dancer in Leith, Edinburgh next to a statue.

In this photograph, I used the ambient light for the background and only light painted Lucy, the statue and the bench.

Light Painting a Dancer on Calton Hill: Amy

Calton Hill is one of most popular locations in Edinburgh, because it offers a spectacular view of Princes street and the castle. It is where Amy wanted to get photographed and I was delighted to try out Calton Hill for light painting.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill with the city of Edinburgh as backdrop

Calton Hill offers a great view of the city of Edinburgh that I used as a backdrop.

One of the things I hadn’t anticipated is that some areas are closed to the public at night. In hindsight it makes perfect sense, for safety reasons. The problem was that I had a number of shots in mind that were now off limits.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill with the city of Edinburgh as backdrop

The big rocks provided a great combination of shapes and textures (elements of design), and I immediately knew I could use these as an interesting foreground.

While on some level it was annoying, I like to be thrown a challenge or two when shooting my personal projects. It is good to practice improvising because that is something that can happen on a job. And the more experience I have overcoming the hurdles the real world throws at me, the better prepared I am when it really counts.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland

Another location with lines, shapes and texture to use as a background. We tried some different poses, but this is my favourite.

The picture below is one I had I mind before the shoot and was the last set up for the night.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill, Edinburgh with the Balmoral Hotel as background.

The Balmoral Hotel is one of the landmark buildings on Princes Street, Edinburgh. Using a telephoto lens, I was able to compress the perspective and effectively use the building as a background.

Light Painting a Musician: Finlay Hetherington

I got to know Finlay though a mutual acquaintance and I was delighted he was interested in taking part in my light painting project.

Light painting of musician and education Finlay Hetherington in front of a graffiti wall with his trumpet

A very simple background can be made interesting by light painting. We both immediately noticed and liked the word ‘love’ on that part of the wall.

Urban settings can work very well for light painting, and I’m always on the lookout for new locations. Typically, I want as many elements of design as possible, i.e lines, shapes, textures and colours in my backgrounds.

Light painting of musician and education Finlay Hetherington in front of a graffiti wall with his trumpet

I like to try a number of variations for each backdrop.

A dancer introduced me to the the graffiti wall and the old building seen in the first three pictures. We never collaborated on a light painting project, but I always kept these locations in mind.

Light painting of musician and educator Finlay Hetherington with his trumpet in an urban location

This location was challenging to light paint because of the street lights nearby that forced me to use a faster shutter speed than I would have liked.

It was pretty chilly on the night of these light paintings, and Finlay’s trumpet was freezing cold and thus really hard to hold while standing still. But after some time warming up in the car, Finlay still had some energy for a final setup. So we headed out looking for a location near the sea. The lighthouse in Newhaven would have provided a great backdrop, but unfortunately, it was too late by then and the sky was just too dark. But I knew of a location nearby with lines, shapes and colours (mostly red) that could work just fine. The photograph below is the last light painting we did on the day, after which Finlay and I were just too cold to carry on.

Light painting of musician and educator Finlay Hetherington with his trumpet sitting on a flight of stairs in an urban location

Lines and shapes abound in this location. I only needed to paint my subject and the stairs because I used the ambient light for the background.

Light Painting Trees

In my light paintings of musicians and dancers, the scene to light paint is relatively small. I can easily go through the scene a number of times to make sure I haven’t forgotten to light paint any part of it. And a moderately powerful LED light is good enough to do the job. Note that I never light paint the whole scene in one go, but only one part at a time and put together all of the shots in Photoshop.

I really want to hone my technique and push myself to do more and more challenging light paintings.

The bigger the scene to light paint, the harder it gets. One of the main difficulties in light painting a large scene is to remember which part of the scene one has already light painted. It thus pays to develop a systematic approach.

For the scene below, not only did I used a more powerful light than in my people light paintings, but I had to figure out which path I would take in order to light paint the whole scene.

Light painting of trees

There is a wooded area pretty close to where I live. I had noticed these trees a while back, and I immediately knew I wanted to light paint them.

iPhone Photography: Portobello Beach

There is a saying, attributed to Louis XVIII, that punctuality is the politeness of kings. I take being on time very seriously and because  I’m usually afraid to be late for an appointment, I’m often early.

iPhone photograph of Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Scotland,  with DistressedFX texture and flock of birds

I decided to include a little bit of the beach and Firth of Forth in my composition, reserving the largest part of the frame for the sky, because it was the most interesting element.

I used to rue the time I wasted waiting for the meeting or appointment because I was ahead of schedule. Not anymore. Now that I’ve learned to use the camera that is always with me, in my iPhone, I spend the time waiting for my appointment honing my iPhone photography skills.

iPhone photograph of Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Scotland,  with DistressedFX texture and flock of birds

Same composition and texture as in the first photograph, but with a different set of birds from the DistressedFX app.

On that day, I had a meeting in Portobello, and not surprisingly I was early. The light was good so I decided to stroll down to the beach to take some iPhone photographs.

iPhone photograph of Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Scotland,  with DistressedFX texture and flock of birds

This time, I left the originals colours more or less untouched and tried a different DistressedFX texture for a more somber mood.

I do like to add textures to my photographs, and one of my favourite apps is DistressedFX. With this app, not only can you easily overlay a wide variety of textures on your photographs, but you can also add a flock of birds.

iPhone photograph of Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Scotland,  with DistressedFX texture and flock of birds

Now for a different composition, excluding the sand beach from the picture.

I really recommend the DistressedFX app, but  I do  offer you this word of caution: it is very addictive!

iPhone photograph of Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Scotland,  with DistressedFX texture and flock of birds

Yet a different flock of birds for this last picture.

Maria at the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh

In people photographs, you should never underestimate the importance of the background, even for close-up pictures.

Smiling model with Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh as background

Maria probably is the most photogenic person I’ve ever had in from of my camera.

The Innocent Railway Tunnel in Edinburgh is one of my favourite locations for photo shoots. This locations has lines, shapes, textures and with the proper white balance setting on the camera, colour. In other words, shooting at the Innocent Railway Tunnel allows you to incorporate a lot of the elements of design in your photographs.

Introspective model with Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh as background

Since we’ve done a number of photo shoots together, I trust Maria do give me many different expressions for each set up.

I had promised Maria that we would shoot there someday, and after a longish wait, it finally happened. Since it was rather late in the evening and the place was therefore relatively quiet, I could really work my subject and try as many poses and framings as possible.

Model with Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh as background

Finally, a more serious expression showcasing Maria’s blue eyes.

So I tried vertical as well as horizontal frames, and symmetric (see below) versus asymmetric (see above) compositions.

Model with Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh as background Close-up shot using a 400mm telephoto lens.

I had to use the symmetry of the location to frame my model Maria for a whole series of picture. This photograph was taken with a long telephoto (400mm focal length).

My 80-400mm zoom lens allowed me to quickly shoot quite a few variations on the composition above. Starting with a close-up and then zooming out for a couple of different looks. Note that I also had to ‘zoom with my feet’ but there was no need to interrupt the flow of the shoot by having to change lenses.

Smiling model framed by the arches at the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh

Zooming out allowed me to show more of the interesting background.

I also had to take a full length photograph to complete the series.

Full length photo of model at the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh

Close-up, medium shot and full length to complete the series of vertical compositions.

While a vertical composition feels more natural with the model and background as in the pictures above, it is always good practice to find a horizontal composition of the same subject.

Horizontal composition of model symmetrically framed by the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh

Similar pose as above but framing the subject horizontally gives one an extra option.

Horizontal composition of model smiling and symmetrically framed by the Innocent Railway Tunnel, Edinburgh

We did poses with and without the jacket on, so it was time to try a variation without the hat on.

Note that for all of these variations, the model and camera only had to move a few meters. A great location like the Innocent Railway Tunnel can give you many options.

 

iPhone Photography: Lone Tree

After taking a nature fine art online photography class, I really took to adding textures to my pictures. I was therefore delighted to find out there were apps that allowed me to do this on my smartphone.

iPhone photograph of a lone tree in winter time edited with the DistressedFX app.

This is my favourite of all the versions of the lone tree photograph I created with the DistressedFX app.

One of my favourite editing apps is DistressedFX. It is very easy to use, but it does take quite a bit of experimentation to find which photographic subjects best lend themselves to adding DistressedFX textures.

iPhone photograph of a lone tree in winter time edited with the DistressedFX app.

It never ceases to amaze me how different a photograph can look when applying another DistressedFX texture.

The ‘distressed effects’ worked out quite well, in my opinion, with this photograph of a bare tree taken during the past winter, on my way to a meeting.

iPhone photograph of a lone tree in winter time edited with the DistressedFX app.

This high contrast version works because of the graphic simplicity of the subject.

When editing the photos, what I typically do is cycle rapidly through the many textures/overlays DistressedFX has to offer, and then go back and tweak the ones I thought looked good.

iPhone photograph of a lone tree in winter time edited with the DistressedFX app.

This effect is called ‘Surreal’.

If you are like me and love to add texture effects to your iPhone pictures, I would recommend you try the DistressedFX app. But be warned it’s going to take some experimentation before you get the results you want.

Light Painting Singer & Harpist Anna McLuckie

I had contacted Anna way back about doing a light painting shoot, but since she studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, we needed to meet during her holidays, when she would be back in her native Edinburgh.

The Voice UK 2014 contestant Anna McLuckie light painting in from the the organ at St Mary's cathedral, Edinburgh

Finding backgrounds with interesting colours and/or textures is one of the keys to a good photograph. Anna and I very quickly spotted that this part of the organ at St Mary’s cathedral, Edinburgh could be a great backdrop for a light painting.

I always ask people if there are locations where they would like to be photographed. The Stockbridge area means a lot to Anna, so we decided to meet up at the McKenzie bridge for a light painting session.

Outdoor photography in Scotland is challenging at the best of times, but especially during the Christmas season, when Anna and I collaborated on this light painting project. It didn’t take long for the rain and cold to totally ruin our Stockbridge photo shoot.

The Voice UK 2014 contestant Anna McLuckie with her harp light painting in from of the altar at St Mary's cathedral , Edinburgh

There was no shortage of great backgrounds at St Mary’s cathedral. With a limited amount of time to shoot, I had to use the altar for the second and last set up.

We were about to pack and go home when Anna asked me if we could do light painting indoors, to which I responded ‘hell yes’. In an interesting twist of fate it turns out that Anna’s father is Vice-Provost at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. So we got access to an incredible location for light painting. Ironically, the awful weather on that day in Stockbridge turned out to be a blessing in disguise. This is not the first time something of that nature happens to me. The moral of the story is that bad weather can actually turn out to be really good.

The Voice UK 2014 contestant Anna McLuckie light painting. She is standing with her harp in front of the altar at St Mary's cathedral, Edinburgh

We had tried a similar pose at McKenzie bridge, before the rain stopped us, and we tried it again with that superb background.

Dance Action Photography – Kaja and Tom

While I love light painting dancers, it’s not possible to capture any kind of dance action using this technique. For my session with Kaja and Tom, I had also brought some speed lights since I wanted to have a go at capturing some dance action shots as well.

Female dancer Kaja Jurkowska jumping. Profile picture

It was key to press the shutter when Kaja was at the very top of her jump. Needless to say, it took a few tries.

Getting the timing right is essential for these kinds of pictures, and it’s not as easy as it sounds. Just a fraction of a second off, and the dancer’s pose can look absolutely horrible. Fortunately, Kaja and Tom were patient with me.

Female dancer Kaja Jurkowska jumping. Frontal picture.

For this series of jump shots, I lit Kaja with two bare speed lights, slightly behind her on either side.

I had asked the dancers before the shoot to send me some dance photographs they liked, so I could think ahead of time about how to best light the pictures.

Female dancer Kaja Jurkowska jumping. Profile photograph.

I could have taken many more pictures, but that’s because it wasn’t as tiring for me as it was for the dancers. So this was our last jump set-up.

I’m quite happy with the above pictures of Kaja. Not too bad for a first go at jump shots.

Male dancer Tom Wohlfahrt, profile picture of whole body.

The lighting set-up nicely contours the body of the dancer, creating a nice contrast from the background.

The shaft of light on the background really adds to the photos, and I must say this is not something that I had planned before the shoot. I just noticed it when we were in the dance studio. It’s always a good idea to keep an open mind during the shoot, and take a close look at the location. Serendipity often plays an important role.

Male and female dancer in action. Vertical photo.

I let the dancers choose a pose, and fired a few quick frames.

And finally, I wanted some pictures of the two dancers together. We avoided jump shots, as the more people in the photograph, the harder it is to get one that is spot on, i.e where the two dancers are perfectly coordinated and the photographer gets his timing right.

Male and female dancers in action. Horizontal photograph

This is my favourite photograph of the two dancers together.

For this set-up, I added a speed light in an umbrella camera right to light the dancers from the front.

iPhone Photography – Urban Graffiti

If you are a casual DSLR  or point and shoot photographer, you’ve probably never used Photoshop actions and presets to edit your photographs and create a particular look. And you’ve almost certainly never applied a texture to one of your images.

Urban graffiti in Portobello, Edinburgh. Edited with the DistressedFX app.

I was introduced to adding textures to images in an online fine art nature photography class. I was delighted to find out you could do this on your iPhone. Here I used one of the textures from the DistressedFX app.

One of the great things about mobile photography is that you can buy apps that can give your photographs a different look and feel with a few button presses and slider adjustments. These apps pretty much do what many Photoshop presets and actions do. At a fraction of the cost.

Urban graffiti in Portobello, Edinburgh. Applied the Diana analog filter from Camera+

A different version of the photograph. This time I used the Diana analog filter from Camera+.

I personally use Camera+ to take my photos and do some minor edits, such as adjusting brightness and contrast. I also like some of the analog filters that app provides, such as the Diana and XPRO C-41 or their retro Ansel filter for creating contrasty back and white images. I would love to try VSCO and Snapseed, but I can’t use these apps on my good old iPhone 4.

Urban graffiti in Portobello, Edinburgh. Applied the XPRO C-41 filter from Camera+. for a crossed processed look.

In this version, I used the XPRO C-41 filter from Camera+. I’ve always loved the cross processed film look and this is one of my favourite filters.

One app I recently fell is love with is DistressedFX. It allows you to combine your photos with a number of textures to add mood to your images. The app also gives you many options to precisely adjust the blending of the textures and photographs.

Urban graffiti in Portobello, Edinburgh. Edited with Chrome filter from Camera+.

I rarely use this filter (Chrome from Camera+), but I liked the look it gave the image.

Another app for adding textures and other effects to your images is Mextures. It allows you to layer many textures and effects in one go and gives you a lot of control. But beware, these apps can be really addictive!

Urban graffiti in Portobello, Edinburgh. Applied the retro Ansel filter from Camera+.

The retro Ansel filter from Camera+ was applied to the image to create this contrasty black and white version.