About this Blog

Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Portraiture Assignment – using available light

I recently had the pleasure to photograph the lead oboist of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra in short portrait shoot at the Playhouse Company building in Durban’s CBD. As usual I came prepared with absolutely everything…6 small hotshoe strobes, brollies, softboxes stands and an army of lenses…all crammed into a duffel and two camera backpacks. I like to be prepared I guess. So I sweated my way into the foyer and soon met up with Alison Lowell, the oboist (you can see her site on www.alisonlowell.com). We wound our way through the labyrinthine backstage area to the theatre for the first shot…where we were promptly chased off from.

The first shots were fairly simple headshots against against one of the black velvet backdrop curtains behind stage. A white umbrella used as a reflector for the main and a zoomed flash-head for the hair light (Alison has lovely red hair which I wanted to emphasize in the colour images). I also put a reflector up on her lap to fill any hard shadows and soften the face somewhat.

 Then we got a little more interesting. The Playhouse building has these incredible ornate doors facing onto the side street. Light was pouring through these, despite the fact that the side-street angled away from the sun itself (essentially the light was being reflected from the concrete fa├žade of the building next door. I wanted to selectively light Alison with the framework of the doors behind her. To do this I underexposed the doors so that we got black frames with light. I then placed a flash in a white umbrella reflected back to her on camera left. This gave nice defined lighting on her right hand side, but cast a strong shadow on her left. This was moody but a bit too dark, so a kicker in the form of a strobe from camera right with a rogue flash-bender formed into a snoot filled her face nicely.

As I mention above, I came fully prepared with a mountain of gear (wish I'd had an assistant to lug the stuff about), but my favourite images came, not from the shots that used flash, but from the natural light images that we finished up with.

We had various other setups using stairs, chairs and other backgrounds. the location that was brimming with promise in the end was a sort of conservancy like space above the main foyer. Window light flooded this large area. the light itself was then bounced around thanks to a wall of mirrors on either end and light toned walls opposite the actual window. The light coming in through the large windows was beautiful. I couldn't pay for better light!

So the final few images were shots completely sans flash. The first image was a simple one using the window light with Alison up close to the window itself. This is a pretty cliched technique...because it works so well. Thanks to the inverse square rule the light falls off incredibly quickly, meaning that if the face is properly exposed, the back of the head is already about two to three stops darker. Move away from the window and the effect is less obvious, as seen in the final image below.

The images were done for next years KZN Philharmonic Orchestra brochure. Alison, an American by birth, will be performing with them for the foreseeable future. Her site can be visited by clicking on the link (http://www.alisonlowell.com).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Let's talk about...

Well that's what the wildlife seemed to be talking about this last week. The final drive of the week was one of the most interesting I have been on in a long time. We had the opportunity to watch two Spotted Hyenas mating as well as a lion and lioness doing the same (while the lion's brother looked on). Still, not all wildlife photography is of such a nature...and sometimes simple portraits will suffice.

The last week was the biggest group to date with 10 photographers joining the workshop. The pace was frenetic  for all, but I managed to collapse only one student with a migraine (sorry Kerry). 10 photographers draws a lot of intensity when it comes to group sessions, and this months group were fantastic. There was a great repartee that seemed to develop between the group as we went out on shoots and bandied over crit sessions. Yes, the weather gremlin was still in force. I swear that African Impact are going to ban me soon as I always without fail seem to bring the grey skies. As I write this the sun is shining, but last week it was anything but.


Overall a wonderful with a really a great group of photogs. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes out of this month.

For anyone wanting to book for the next workshop which takes place between the 14th and the 19th of November, please get hold of me asap. Numbers are starting to come in and we are wanting to keep it to a maximum of 6 for November.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Breathing in the Berg

At the end of last week I had a rather dim moment. I left my laptop on the Thanda bus, so waved goodbye to the wonderful guests that I had in the berg over the weekend...and my laptop and the last blog post that I was supposed to put up. So imagine this is actually being read last Monday :-)

This morning I wandered out to the ridge overlooking the Mahai Valley to gaze at my beguiling mistress. The distant whisper of Mahai Falls drifted over the stubby grass. It is sometimes good to put the camera down so that we can fall in love again with the wonder that impels us to pick up the camera and make a canvas of the world. Will our images mean anything in the future? Do they mean anything now? We can look at areas of natural splendour in the world and often a photographer’s images have been instrumental in protecting that small space. Zack Arias’ eloquent and moving video about that questions what it is he does as a photographer came to me as a I picked out details in the near distance of Dooley Waters. Will my images move people to protect the mountain that mesmerizes me so. I’m just a photographer. One of a million who is trying to make a living with a camera in my hand. Will these images do anything for anyone apart from myself. Are they just an attempt to fill a ceasely draining bank account, or can they do more for the mountain and its future. 

With these thoughts of the mortality of imagery in my head ;-) I can now reflect on this last weekend’s Drakensberg photography workshop with African Impact. Not everyone makes it to the summit sadly, as was the case this last weekend. However, I am continually amazed at how everyone walks away having created beautiful, often breathtaking imagery. For the few photographers who opted not to go to the summit yesterday, they were treated to the fantastic experience of a full 20 minutes up close to a feeding bearded vulture. Witsieshoek Resort are in the process of a developing a Vulture’s restaurant of the flanks of the hill that looks out towards Phudhatijaba. Jeremiah, responsible for tending to the restaurant is quite protective of his ‘clients’. There are four recognizable individuals that frequent the restaurant, but it is still not necessarily a regular occurance for visitors to see the birds, let alone spend as much time as the photographers did with them.


As I mention in the opening paragraphs, it is sometimes good to put down the camera. Standing above Witches with the photographers that went to the top of the Amphitheatre, watching the sun rise through the distant haze, I noticed that there was a point that the clatter of cameras fell silent. Silence enveloped the small peak that we were standing on. It was as if the mountain were holding its breath. Something made everyone stop focusing on the machine and instead stare into the glowing sky. The mountain’s hold was momentary, but it was there all the same. The Drakensberg left its mark I suspect. Maybe the images won’t necessarily mean anything in the long term. But the memories will.