Tag Archives: music

Music Photography: Diving Station

Manchester based band Diving station are releasing their first EP today at Aatma, 14-16 Faraday St, M1 1BE. I was fortunate to photograph them last August when they visited Edinburgh.

Manchester based band at Silverknowes beach, Edinburgh

Diving station at Silverknowes beach, Edinburgh. From left to right, George Burrage, Sean Rogan, Anna McLuckie, Barny Kimberley.

I really love long exposures of seascapes, because of their effect on water and clouds. I had dreamt of combining a long seascape exposure with people in the shot, and when I proposed this idea to Anna McLuckie, the lead singer, she was very enthusiastic. The picture above consists of two photographs, one with a relatively short exposure to get the band and a second frame taken without the band but with a two minute exposure. It was a typical Scottish summer day (that was the only day where the band was available for a shoot), but I knew that if we waited until after sunset, the light would be soft and there would likely be some colours in the sky. I’m quite pleased with my first attempt at a photograph of this nature.

Manchester based band Diving Stattion at Silverknowes beach, Edinburgh.

I like unusual compositions, and since the sky over Silverknowes beach looked really interesting, I decided to give it the lion’s share of the frame.

Manchester based band Diving Stattion at Silverknowes beach, Edinburgh.

More conventional composition this time. I always shoot these.

The band logo has a lot of blue in it, so I wanted to give the other beach shots a blue colour cast. This is easily done by setting the white balance of the camera to tungsten and lighting the band with an off camera flash and CTO “orange” gel on it to give them proper skin tones. I worked a number of compositions with two of them shown above.

The photo shoot started earlier in the day, in a stairwell, believe it or not. These kinds of locations are a blessing and a curse at the same time. I’m sure you get the curse part, but the constraints imposed by locations like these allow one’s creativity to be pushed, and one’s frame of mind to be stretched. I’m always up for a challenge.

Manchester based band Diving Station group shot, straight on

The more people in the picture, the harder it is to get everyone looking good. Fortunately, every band member liked this photo.

I always need to warm up at the beginning of a photo shoot, and so we started by taking very straightforward band photos.

Manchester based band Diving Station group shot, from above

I always try different angles, either from above or below.

Then I started looking for different angles.

Manchester based band Diving Station, "behind bars".

I always look for elements of design such s lines. The stair railing offered an opportunity to frame each member of the band. I also liked the pipes above their heads and therefore included them in my composition.

And compositions.

Manchester based band Diving Station in a smokey stairwell

Adding smoke completely changes the atmosphere of the location. Pun intended.

I had brought with me a smoke machine, because I thought this could really add some atmosphere to the photos. One light behind to backlight the smoke and a light in front for the band.

Manchester based band Diving Station in a smokey stairwell

I love silhouettes, so I just had to try to light the band just with the backlight. I really like this moody pic.

After I get the “obvious” shot, I like to ask “what if..?”. For example “what if I switch off the main light?”

Manchester based band Diving Station in a smokey stairwell

When I sense I’m running out of ideas, I just try something. Anything. So I put a bare speedlight on the stairs, camera right, just to see what would happen. Lucky me.

Usually, a number of mistakes occur when I start working my subject and lighting. Fortunately, some of them turn out great. At the time I didn’t think much of the shot above. I think it was because it wasn’t what I really was after, but the band immediately liked it. And I have to say it has become one of my favourite shots of the day.

Manchester based band Diving Station in a smokey stairwell, "behind bars".

Since I liked this composition, I decided to revisit it with a different lighting set up and the smoke.

With the smoke and more moody lighting scheme, I explored some of the earlier compositions. I never thought you could have this much fun with a smoke machine in a staircase.



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 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.

Light Painting The Miracle Glass Company

Light painting consists in illuminating the scene with a small LED light during a long camera exposure. Typically, I combine a number of pictures in Photoshop as it is usually not practical to light the whole scene in one go.

Because of the long camera exposures required, the subject one photographs must stand still. There lies a major challenge in light painting people. You and I can stand still, but only up to a point. We aren’t rocks or sofas. When light painting people, there is always some slight motion from shot to shot. How one lights the subject and good Photoshop skills are required to produce sharp light paintings of people.

Light painting of Miracle Glass Company in an abandoned location

I don’t really know what the used piece of equipment in the foreground is, but when I saw the location, I knew I would use its lines to direct the eye of the viewer to the band.

I started doing light paintings with inanimate objects. I then tried to photograph one person. The next step in that evolution was obviously light painting multiple people.

The atmospheric images this technique produces appeal to musicians and artists in general. So I enlisted the help of Edinburgh rock band “The Miracle Glass Company”. They describe themselves as follows:

“From supernaturally beautiful songs to seismic mind bending jams, Miracle Glass Company represent all that’s best about cosmic rock n’ roll.”

Light painting of Edinburgh rock band Miracle Glass Company in an abandoned location

We tried a number of different poses for the band, and a few different compositions.

A great benefit of working with that band is that they happen to rehearse in an abandoned church, that is apparently serving as some sort of carpentry atelier. Derelict locations full of “stuff” are absolutely wonderful for light painting.

Light painting of Edinburgh rock band Miracle Glass Company in an abandoned location.

The entrance to the location lent itself nicely to a vertical composition.

Light Painting A Sawist

If you follow this blog, you know that one of my current personal projects involves the technique of light painting.

I love the mood  one can produce using light painting, and I’ve been exploring  a number of subjects and locations. Since I usually only light a bit of the scene at once and must therefore combine a series of shots in Photoshop, I cannot really see the final result on the back of the camera. I therefore need to develop some intuition about the technique and be able to visualise the final result and how to light the scene to get what I want.

light painting of sawist in front of  Cramond Library Bistro

This building really caught my attention, and I knew it would provide an interesting background for my subject.

Louise is a professional cello player, but also likes to play the musical saw. I usually asked the people with whom I collaborate if there is a particular location where they would like to be photographed. Louise suggested an old tree in Cramond with amazing roots.  It looked great during the day, but when we got there at night, the chosen location posed too many practical problems and we had to resort to plan B.

After walking around for a while, we found the Cramond Gallery Bistro in the picture above. It didn’t take me long to decide this would likely be a wonderful background.

light painting of sawist on stairs in Cramond

The village of Cramond is absolutely wonderful if your looking for photo shoot locations.

We had time for another location, and I was drawn to the door and statues on the floor in the picture above. It was not easy to frame the picture in complete darkness, and I realised it would have been a good idea to take some additional lighting for this purpose. I learn something new every time….

Edinburgh Fringe Festival – Busking

Did you know that you have to audition to busk in London? And that in order to busk in Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall you must have a YouTube account?

Fiddle player Faith Grossnicklaus busking on Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Fiddle player Faith Grossnicklaus busking on the Royal Mile during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

In Edinburgh, you don’t require a license to busk provided no payment is requested. During the Fringe Festival, the Fringe Society manages two areas for street performers. The Royal Mile and the Mound Precinct. You need to apply for busking spots. Each slot lasts 30 minutes. 5 minutes to introduce yourself and 25 minutes to perform.

Fiddle player Faith Grossnicklaus busking on Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Since she had noticed I was taking photographs, she gave me her business card asking me to send her a “few good ones”. Since I very much enjoyed the performance, I did oblige.

The only act I photographed during this year’s festival featured a violinist (Faith) and her accordionist partner (Strangely). Most of the time, I simply listen to the music.

Strangely busing on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Strangely gave me the impression of a rather jovial character.

Strangely busking on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Some musician remain stone faced while playing, but definitely not Strangely.

Live Ceilidh Band

“Unpredictability. Accidents. Not good when you’re engaging in, say, brain surgery, but when lighting…wonderful!” – Joe McNally

At the end of the Paul Chamberlain-Michael Haywood promo shoot at the Voodoo Rooms, I was asked by Paul if I was available to take live pictures of the ceilidh band he and Michael are part of.

I gladly accepted the opportunity and found myself a few days later at the Edinburgh ceilidh club event in Summerhall.

I first tried taking pictures without the help of a flash, but the fraction of usable pics was low enough that I decided it was best to use some lighting help.

When using flash, I typically like to underexpose the ambient light, to saturate the background colours and give the pictures more contrast. Since I like to take lots of pictures during a live event, to increase the chances of getting some good ones, I was shooting fast. So fast in fact, that on quite a few occasions, the flash didn’t have time to recycle and hence didn’t fire.

Michael Haywood playing the violin at ceilidh event in Summerhall, Edinburgh, with the band Hotscotch

One of the lights at Summerhall produced a rim light on the musicians when shooting from that particular angle. This is the feature that caught my attention when reviewing the photographs on the LCD screen of my camera.

When I decided to review the pics I had taken thus far on the LCD screen, a few really caught my attention! The light was really interesting, and I loved the mood created by the underexposure. It quickly occurred to me that those were the pics when the flash didn’t fire. I quickly switched off the flash and explored this set up for a few minutes. These pictures happened to be some of my favourites from the live ceilidh event. Joe McNally is absolutely right. When it comes to lighting, embrace the unpredictability and accidents. They may lead to some interesting photographs.

Paul Chamberlain playing the accordion at ceilidh event in Summerhall, Edinburgh, with Hotscotch band

With the accordionist Paul Chamberlain, not only did I get a nice rim light, but some wonderful reflections on his instrument.

Chamberlain-Haywood Promo Shoot

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by accordionist Paul Chamberlain regarding doing a promo shoot for a new duo he formed with saxophonist/violinist Michael Haywood.

To my delight, they chose the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh as the location for the shoot. It is a wonderful place to take photographs. In fact, my first model shoot, about four years ago took place there.

The main reason I like to work with musicians is that they are generally looking for creative pictures and are willing to experiment. The photograph below was the last set up of the shoot and is my favourite from the day.

Michael Haywood with a saxophone soprano and Paul Chamberlain with an accordion, photographed back to back using dramatic lighting.

The wonderful thing about lighting is that it allows the photographer to completely control the light and come up with images that would be very difficult if not impossible to create using only natural light.

The reason the experimental set up was the last one is that I always want to make sure I have some pictures the client can use. I also need to warm up at the beginning of the shoot, so I always start with tried and tested set ups and get some nice pictures in the bag. Once I know the assignment is completed, I can feel free to experiment if there is some time left and the client is up for it.

When I saw the black, shiny table, I knew there was a picture there, because I could get some nice reflections. They always add a wonderful element of interest to your images. The colour scheme also worked very nicely. Mostly black, with a touch of colour from the violin, the musicians’ faces, the other instruments and the background. Surprisingly, perhaps, even though the photograph is mostly monochrome, it works much better in colour than in black and white.

Paul Chamberlain and Michael Haywood with their instruments sitting at a table in the Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh

I knew the reflections I would get from the shiny black table would add a key element to the environmental portrait of the two musicians.

For the first set up, I took individual portraits of Paul and Michael. With artists, these portrait sessions can go in unexpected and wonderful ways. This time was no exception and I really like this picture of Michael Haywood.

Portrait of Michael Haywood with a saxophone soprano,  looking up, taken at the Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh

Michael Haywood is a dreamer.


Let there be light!

I realised I really needed to learn about lighting when I was taking live photographs of Edinburgh based band Lipsync for a Lullaby. The local venues the band was playing in were very dark. Since the low light capabilities of the camera I had at the time weren’t that great, I definitely needed some additional light to take decent quality photographs.

My job as I saw it was to take a variety of shots during the performance, from close-ups to photographs of the whole band. Therefore, I had to figure out a way to set up my small flashes in such a way that the lighting would work in all these cases. I usually set up three lights, one to the left of the stage, one to the right, and since I’m a big fan of back light, one at the back. The venues where the band played were typically rather bland colourwise, so I started experimenting with coloured gels on my flashes. My favourite set up consisted in using the three primary colours, red, blue and yellow for maximum colour contrast.

Band Lipsync for a Lullaby playing at the now defunct Forest Cafe in Edinburgh. Shot with a fisheye.

Lipsync for a Lullaby playing at the now defunct Forest Cafe in Edinburgh.

In the above photo, one can definitely infer that there is  ‘blue’ light coming from camera left,  ‘red’ light coming from camera right while the ‘yellow’ light at the back is visible in the frame.

Close up portrait of Lipsync for a Lullaby viola player David Townhill performing at Henry's cellar bar in Edinburgh.

Portrait of viola player David Towhill from Lipsync for a Lullaby framed by the out of focus double bass player Balazs Hermann. The band was performing at Henry’s cellar bar in Edinburg.