Tag Archives: musician

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 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.

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.


Light Painting Composer and Audio Producer Frankie Lowe

This instalment of my personal light painting project had me working with composer, audio producer and musician Frankie Lowe. I was fortunate to meet Frankie through one of my previous light painting subjects, composer and cellist Atzi.

I love working with musicians and artists on these light painting projects, because they relate to the kinds of moody pictures one gets with this technique. They also like the novelty factor. After all, light painting does produce photographs one is not used to seeing, and as an artist it is always good to differentiate yourself. Another great benefit of working with artists and musicians is that they are full of ideas, and no two of them are remotely alike. This guarantees a new and interesting experience every single time.

Composer and audio producer Frankie Lowe at the piano light painting

I decided to gel my LED light torch and picked a cool blue to add colour contrast with the warm tungsten light by the piano. Since bluish people look quite unnatural, I removed the gel when light painting Frankie’s face.

The session with Frankie was no exception. I asked Frankie where he’d like to be photographed, i.e what kind of location would represent him and what he does best. I want my collaborators to like the images I produce and use them to promote themselves. It’s a win win situation. They get something out of the project so it wasn’t a waste of their time, and my pictures get exposure.

Frankie chose to be photographed in his recording studio. This posed a number of challenges, given the tight space, amount of recording equipment and number of musical instruments. While light painting a scene, I need to move around and be able to light the various parts of the scene from interesting vantage points. And the number of objects in the scene created some challenges in composing the photographs. Photography is all about problem solving.

Light painting of composer and audio producer Frankie Lowe in his recording studio

I’ve grown to like environmental portraits of this kind. There are lots of things to keep the viewer looking around the frame. And the light painting adds depth and dimension to the scene.

I’m quite pleased with the final results and especially the experience gained in carrying out this project. I was also delighted by the reactions on Facebook when Frankie updated his banner with the studio photograph above. All in all, time well spent.

Light painting of composer and audio producer Frankie Lowe  in his studio playing the guitar.

The last set up of the session. I experimented some more with colour gels.

Light Painting Composer and Cellist Atzi

I first met Atzi in late 2008. At the time, I was serving as the webmaster of Amnesty International’s Edinburgh St Mark’s group. As the webmaster, I was responsible for the content of the website, and I had realised it would be very useful to put photographs of the events we were organising online. It would show what the group did and who we were. It was very effective in that we had a steady stream of visitors to our monthly meeting.

I also wanted to have the best possible photographs, because I knew that having good quality pictures on the website would reflect positively on the group. Since the events were usually low light affairs, I needed to use additional lighting. So I decided to learn as much as I could about using speedlights to improve the quality of my photography.

Composer Atzi playing the cello inside the Innocent Railway tunnel in Edinburgh

This location has got plenty of great elements of design. Line, shape and texture. It took me a while to set up this shot as I wanted the line of lights to lead to Atzi’s face

Back in 2008, Amnesty was running a “Stop violence against women” campaign. Erin Townhill was responsible for that campaign at our St Mark’s local group. Since she’d realised the campaign events would need to appeal to men, the St Mark’s “Stop violence against women” events included whisky tasting, wine tasting events and on one occasion, a band night. Erin’s boyfriend, now her husband, played in Atzi’s band, Lipsync for a Lullaby. Needless to say, it was one of the bands featured at Amnesty St Mark’s 2008 “Stop violence against women” band night.

It was my first time photographing live music, and as I big fan and follower of music photographer/one light instructor Zack Arias, I was very excited. I so enjoyed taking live band photographs that I told Erin to let the bands know that if they wanted someone to take pictures at their gigs, I’d be happy to volunteer. Atzi was the only one to respond. In the following year, I went to nearly every Lipsync for a Lullaby gig to take pictures, and in the process learned to use off camera flashes. And ever since, I’ve been a fan of Atzi and Lipsync for a Lullaby.

Medium shot of composer Atzi taken in the Innocent Railway tunnel in Edinburgh

For this medium shot, I used a longer focal length to compress the perspective of the tunnel, playing with the lines and shapes to achieve a pleasing composition.

Atzi is a very talented composer. He studied economics and not music at the University of Edinburgh, but he was nevertheless accepted into the Music School’s Master program in Composition on the strength of the works he showed to composer and professor Nigel Osborne. Atzi also wrote the score for “The Making of Longbird”, a film that was awarded “Best Short Animation Film” at the BAFTA 2013.

Even though it had been a few years since I last photographed Lipsync for a Lullaby, I knew Atzi would be interested by my light painting personal project. He let me decide on the location for the shoot. My original plan was to photograph and light paint him amongst the rocks and fall coloured trees of Salisbury Crags. Everything looked fine until we were on location waiting for the sun to set to begin the light painting. We noticed a storm in the distance, and strong winds were directing it our way. Ten to fifteen minutes later we felt the first drops of rain. It was time to retreat!

Composer Atzi standing against a wall holding his cello., inside the Innocent Railway tunnel, Edinburgh

This photograph nicely illustrates the power of lighting. Simple background and simple pose, yet the resulting image is quite dramatic.

Atzi asked me if the light painting technique works in a covered area, which it does. I then remembered the Innocent Railway tunnel just a few minutes walk away. In the end, I think it worked out for the better, and I’m quite pleased with the results. Atzi also felt the tunnel as a location better reflected the kind of composer and musician he is.

Event Photography: Edinburgh City Singers

In my previous blog post, I discussed how photography can help promote club events. It turns out that event photography can benefit other kinds of businesses or organisations.

Edinburgh City Singers concert wide shot from back of St Cuthbert church

Establishing shot showing the choir in their concert venue, St Cuthbert church

A few weeks back, I covered the Edinburgh City Singers’ summer concert at St Cuthbert church. While it is perfectly fine to use a flash and freely move about in a nightclub, this was not possible when photographing the choir during their performance. Therefore I had to use the available light in the church and do the best possible job given the circumstances.

Close-up photograph of one of the female members of the Edinburgh City Singers

Since it was not possible to get really close to the choir during the performance, I took some close-up pictures during the rehearsal before the concert.

Edinburgh City Singers is a new choir that started in January 2014. It offers a singing outlet to anyone who wants to get involved. The photographs of their concert will help them in many different ways.

Medium close-up of solo singer of the Edinburgh City Singers at St Cuthbert's church

From the aisle of St Cuthbert church, I was able to capture a few photographs of the solo singers using my telephoto zoom. It was a real challenge to remain still enough to get some sharp pictures given the low level of the ambient light in St Cuthbert.

Good photographs make the organisation look professional. The pictures show the visitors to their website and Facebook page what their concerts are like, and encourage them to join the organisation.

Establishing shot of the choir in St Cuthbert church from the balcony

During the second half of the concert I was given access to the balcony of St Cuthbert, and that allowed me to document the event from a different point of view.

The photographs also preserve the memories of the event for the current singers and the members of the band. For this reason I tried to take a wide variety of shots to get as complete a coverage of the event as possible.

Choir photograph taken from the balcony of St Cuthbert during the concert

My elevated point of view allowed me to take a picture of the choir in its entirety.

It is always important to look for other points of view so that your event photographs don’t look the same as those taken by the people in the audience. I was able to get some pictures of the choir and the band from the balcony that could not have been taken from the church’s floor.

Vertical photograph of the Edinburgh City Singers choir taken from the balcony of St Cuthbert church

I learned to look for both horizontal and vertical compositions. This photograph of the choir shows more of the background than the previous picture of the Edinburgh City Singers framed horizontally

I was ultimately able to deliver over eighty photographs of the concert to the choir .

Photograph of the pianist, guitarist and drummer accompanying the Edinburgh City Singers choir at their St Cuthbert's concert

Last but not least, I thought it was important to get some pictures of the accompanying musicians, since they obviously were an integral part of the concert.


Dramatic portrait lighting with Lisa Rigby

In a few of my previous posts, I talked about how I like to photograph women using a beauty lighting set up. But sometimes, breaking the rules is a good thing.

In the commercial world, one typically sees ‘happy’ pictures. Light tones without deep shadows. For some subjects, however, a more dramatic, darker mood is a better fit. Musicians and athletes tend to fall in that category. Maybe it’s just me, but most musicians I know relate to darker, moodier photographs.

Singer songwriter Lisa Rigby holding a mandolin profile portrait

Profile pictures lend themselves better to moodier lighting in my opinion. Lisa is holding a mandolin, a favourite instrument of hers.

A while back, I set up a few portrait sessions with Edinburgh based singer/songwriter Lisa Rigby.  We did a sunset/night urban decay photo shoot, another shoot in a park and a portrait session at a friend’s house. The sunset photographs had a mood of their own, but I wanted to try to get much more dramatic images. Since the photographs are all about tonal contrast, bright areas versus dark shadows, I felt colour was a distraction, and the pictures were converted to black and white.

Singer songwriter Lisa Rigby looking at a painted face on a wall in Granton,  Edinburgh

When I saw the painting of the face on the wall, I immediately thought of this picture. We also provided some entertainment for the security camera operator, who followed us around the courtyard for the duration of the shoot.


Image making vs image taking


The above image of actor/musician/composer/friend Jim Bryce is one of my most popular photographs to date.

As an actor, Jim had to have standard actor head shots taken every so often. He called them ‘mugshots’. Needless to say that he didn’t like the idea of another ‘mugshot’ for this project. Anything but, in fact.

So we set out to find concepts for photographs that would better suit Jim’s personality. There is a significant difference between taking a picture and making one. The making of a photograph requires some planning and thought. Jim and I had a number of conversations about it, trying to think of as many ideas and concepts as possible.

I no longer remember precisely how Liu Bolin came into our conversation. He might have been in the news at the time. In any event, Liu Bolin is a Chinese artist who can paint himself to blend in any background. He provided the inspiration for the above photograph. We didn’t want Jim to completely blend in the background, like Liu Bolin does, but to appear to come out of it.

Since Jim is an avid book reader, we thought it would be appropriate for him to appear to come out of his bookcase. We tried a similar shot with a wall, but the bookcase picture we made worked out much better in the end.