Sunday, August 24, 2008


I spent a sparkling end-of-winter's Sunday in Cape Town in my studio, using my day off to work on an own project. He's hip-hop, she's classical. Awkward to start, they eventually tuned in to each other's style and helped me to make these pics.

I couldn't have said it better

In his book, How to grow as a photographer, Tony Luna writes:

It's the mystery that takes hold of you first. You learn a few basic things about focus, composition, lighting, perspective - and then the technical things go from something mechanical to an extension of yourself. That mystery roots itself as passion and, pretty soon, all you can think about is the next shot. You walk down a street and the telephone poles line up for you, or a ray of sunlight bounces off a window and into your imagination, or a shadow belies an illusion and you gasp at the wonder of it all. All at once you are hooked. You dream about your next composition, you sketch out ideas on napkins, you learn a new way of communicating without saying a word. If necessity is the mother of invention, then passion is the lover that invades your most mundane thoughts and elevates everything you once saw as ordinary to a new level of spectacle.

(How to grow as a photographer - Reinventing your career, Tony Luna, Allworth Press, New York, 2006)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Have I mentioned how much I love my macro?

Arching back to kiss the sun

I recently acquired a Canon EF 100 mm Macro F/2.8 USM. After many years of holding my breath to squeeze an image from a set of extension tubes, I now know what it's like to shoot macro images like a grown-up.

Not that there's anything wrong with extension tubes or filters. If anything, they will teach you to be truly grateful for your macro!

A fragrant mix of poetry, herbs and roses

Detouring from workshop to portrait

A week-long writing workshop squished into the everyday can cause havoc with life. It's been worth it, though. An amazing journey along which I met beautiful, interesting, creative women, each with a story to tell. And they weave their stories so magically.
The hours between just before 8:30 am, when I set off on the forty-minute drive to Kalk Bay, and one o'clock transported me to a quiet, nurturing, creative space, where I time-warped to places I had thought I had long forgotten. By Wednesday, my head was buzzing when I left, and I, high-energy, I'll-sleep-when-I'm-dead kind of person that I am, would be craving a nap.
No nap for the wicked! Some things cannot be left undone. Like fetching kids from school, for example, or mopping up a nine-year-old's vomit at two in the morning.
And so it happened that I double booked. Every little chore needs to be diarised. If it's not diarised, I'll override it with work engagements. So, even though I know that there's the swimming fetch-and-carry every Monday, if I open my diary and it's not written in there, I'll book a portrait.
I didn't diarise the saxophone and drumming lessons for Tuesday and booked a portrait. I had to leave Kalk Bay and make it to a briefing forty-five minutes later. That gave me fifteen minutes to go home and fetch studio equipment, which I may or may not use for the portraits (preferring window light), before heading off to fetch kids. My cunning plan was to take them to the music lessons an hour early, leave them there while I do my shoot, and then pick them up just as they finish. This would get me all the places I need to be on time. All they would have to do is amuse themselves with a milkshake at a nearby restaurant for the hour before their classes started. Perfect.
But, as you know, when dealing with kids you cannot devise a plan dastardly enough to be foolproof. But, naively, I always try. Pick them up from their respective schools and explain the drill. 'No!' is the cry. 'I must go home and change first! I can't go to drumming like this!' Okay, okay, I had forgotten that the seventeen-year-old's drumming teacher is cute and, no, of course she can't go to lessons in her school clothes. Good lord! How remiss of me! So I detour back home and wait while she changes. The clock, however, is less considerate and does not wait.
The day started out a bit chaotically. Living by the seat of my pants, as I do, making it up as I go along, means that I sometimes run on empty. This could be as simple as having forgotten one or most of the three-times-daily meals our greedy bodies demand, or it could be slightly more important, in that the car's petrol tank is empty. As it happened on this morning. No problem, I'll put in a hundred rand, I think, as I swerve into the nearest petrol station. Perfect plan. Except that the petrol fellow is still a bit sleepy and puts in R122,45. But I have only R100 in my wallet (well, there was a snack sale, and I didn't make lunch for Thing 1, so she needed tuckshop money). I'll be back later, I say, and screech out of the petrol station, leaving him looking very worried. Just one more thing to add to today's list: swing by the petrol station later on and repay my R22,45 loan!
At the following day's workshop we had to write down in phrases of no more than three words what we had done between leaving the workshop the previous day and going to bed. What I wrote in three-word (okay, I cheated a bit - there are some four-worders) phrases far better describes the day than any number of paragraphs could. Here's what I wrote:

Must go
Need to get going
Going to make it!
Running ahead
On time!
Next on the schedule
Fetch Shaye
Fetch Ashleigh
No! First home
Fetch camera
batteries, memory card
lights, cables, umbrellas
Load car
Fetch kids
All clashes
How to fit in?
Drop kids off
Through traffic
She's late
Take portraits
Good ones
Load car
Fetch kids
Make tea
Crash on bed
Homework, supper
Petrol guy!
UP. Move. Go.
Shopping for food.
Feed kids, self
Petrol guy grateful
Make assistant laugh
Keep sense of humour
Drink wine.

The in-between bits, though, the writing and the photography, are pools of stillness. I hold a pen in my hand, I hold my camera, and it's like meditating.
Today's shoot was a portrait, which is always my favourite kind of shoot. I love the energy that's created in the room during that time. I've usually not met my model beforehand, and chances are that we won't see each other again after I've dropped the images off. Yet that time spent creating images is incredibly intimate and warm and always leaves me feeling pretty good about the day and about what I do for a living. I feel pretty lucky.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Editing kids, shooting wine

Sunday morning and a good time to spend editing pics of sweet li'l kids.

It's a time-consuming but quite therapeutic activity, sifting through pics, deleting, cropping, resizing. Clients often don't understand the value of this part of the job, and feel that it's not something one should be able to bill for.

But it's digital ... it's so easy! Just take better photos and you won't need to work on them afterwards, they say.

They often insist on being given the unedited pics, saying that their designers will sort it out. This kind of arrangement seldom ends well. Usually the designer has just too much to do, like designing, for example, to spend any decent amount of time with the pics. The buck is passed to the typesetter who is kind of busy, errm ... typesetting. He or she can't take the time to open and tweak each pic. Of course the images should go to the repro house straight from the photographer. That way there'll be no tears later. But with budgets being what they are, the pics are passed from one person to the next, and eventually end up in print looking less professional than they should and someone's in trouble. And that someone is usually not the designer or the typesetter.

The editing process is an integral part of photography. You may not enjoy computers much, and may want to be out taking pics instead, but if you want to be able to present your work, it's going to need a bit of nurturing before you put it out there.

After sweet li'l kids, it was time to pack up and head to the studio to photograph some wine bottles.

It's just as well that I love being there, as one can while away a great deal of time trying to light a wine bottle. Flash lights aimed at the wall behind, bouncing back to create some backlighting. A softbox on the one side, polyboards all round. Nope. Not working quite as I want it. Okay, flash beneath. Nope ... that's not quite it either. Okay, black polyboards. Hmm ... maybe ... nope. Okay, let's shift the lights again. This can go on for hours. Just because you've photographed wine bottles before doesn't mean that you have the formula sorted.
Photographing red wine is different to shooting white wine, and one white is different to another. Likewise the red.
Before you know it, a pile of other work has gone undone, and must still be cobbled together before bedtime. Mornings are too wild for catch-up jobs. Oh ... hang on ... can't do the other work before bedtime. The wine bottles must be edited first, and emailed. And then there are Friday's function pics, cds to burn and print, cd covers to make ... another long night!

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Being a mom and a freelancer is just not for whoosies. 'Oh, you're so lucky,' they say. 'It must be so nice to work part-time.' Or 'from home' or 'to be able to be there for your kids'. Well, firstly, freelance is not part-time. And, yes, it's great. I'm not designed for nine-to-five. I'd love a regular income but the soul-sacrifices are just too big for me. I wish I had the personality that dovetailed into corporate life. I've done the heels, the shoulderpads, the big hair - okay, give me a break: it was the eighties! Now I need to be in flats because I move at warp speed for most of the day, slowing down to a run just long enough to help with homework.

And so, that's why, after a late night of editing pics (after a mood-enhancing, totally uplifting poledance class), Friday morning involved sorting out goodies for the Grade 3 snack sale, getting a sack of recycling together and tying a nine-year-old's knotty hair into a ponytail before barrelling out the door to the Planetarium to photograph a women's event scheduled to start at 8:30 am.

I don't generally do events photography. I don't particularly enjoy it and approach it with a bit of apprehension. They always go well and the people are always extremely open and friendly, but there's something about having to wear a personality for a few hours that causes a slight fluttering in the stomach.

This was meant to be just a half-hour shoot. So bargain basement quote. She just sounded so nice on the phone and I feel a need for nice people in my orbit. Of course it wasn't a half-hour shoot. Nothing ever is. I lugged my kit home at 10:30, instead of 9:15.

Torpedoed up the steps to my computer to finish writing my Intro to Photoshop course, which I'm meant to teach in two weeks' time, ignoring my seventeen-year-old's 'when are we going' wails.

She's been on my case to take her to book her learner's licence for weeks and weeks, and I can just never fit it in. I had told her she could stay home from school today so that we could do it in the morning, but that I had work to finish and so she would have to wait until I'm ready.
Got the notes written and emailed and headed off to the traffic department with Firstborn. I would find time for journalling, I figured, intending to bask in the sun-warmed car and write while she did the red tape on her own. Also had a stash of magazines and a book for afterwards.

But, no. 'Awww, don't let me stand there on my own ... come in with me!'

I'm a pushover. So in I went.

I should at this stage mention that I was wearing my killer 'stop running away while I ravage you' black boots. They're not generally meant to be worn standing up. What? Sometimes I like to look nice.

So there I stood in my stillettoes from 11:50 am until 1:30 pm, just to make it to the first window in the trio of windows required to make the booking. Decided, eventually, to hold her place in the eye-test queue while she stands in the payment queue. Predicatably, inevitably, she makes it to the first window only to be told that she should have been in the other queue first.

By this time, a woman in Crocs had sidled up to me in the eyetest queue, trying to find a way in which I could be of service to her. If I stood in the one queue and she stood in the other queue, then it would go so much quicker ...

Yes, but see, I'm already doing this for my daughter and I've already been standing for an hour and a half, and ...
Daughter arrives in the eyetest queue and I vacate my space to go and read a magazine. Blondie in Crocs suddenly appears next to me, gently, familiarly, touching me on the shoulder. I must sit in her space in the eyetest queue while she stands in the payments queue.

Now this is where I have no idea what happens in my head. I say 'yes' (when REALLY I mean NO) and go and sit in her seat. But wait ... I'm crazier than even that ... I get up from the seat, go to her in the payments queue and tell her that it makes no sense to do it this way. She should go to the eyetest queue (which is seated) while I continue to stand in my boots, holding her space.

Did I mention that she was a total stranger?

So off she goes to sit in the queue while I stand tit-to-tail, pressed up against my fellow humans, in the payments queue. I did have the latest Photoicon in my sweaty paws, though, and I do recommend that you rush out to buy it.

Unbeknownst to me, she then tried to jump the queue entirely by trying to convince my daughter to take her to the front of the queue with her when she went to pay (the teller had told my daughter to come straight to the front after having they eyetest done, since she had already done her time in that queue, albeit erroneously). I think my sense of humour would definitely have left me at that point, had she managed to wheedle her way in.

In the meantime, Thing 2 had to be fetched from school at the other side of the mountain, and I had another shoot to get to by 3:30. Luckily, for a change, there was an available granny I could call on to fetch Thing 2, as the queue with Thing 1 was going to delay me by hours.

Got out of there by 2:30, bulletted home, packed up studio kit, camera, batteries, memory cards and headed out, still in boots, to Observatory to fetch my model for the 3:30 shoot.

Arrive in Observatory. No model. Phone model. 'Oh, sorry, I meant to phone you earlier to tell you that I'm in Woodstock for the day.'

Did I mention that it was peak-hour, main road traffic at that stage? And that my petrol tank was completely red-light empty? And that I was still in my boots? And that I hadn't got round to eating yet?

So off I go. Find model. Lug studio kit up the steps to my studio ... haul my camera from the bag ... dig around in there some more to find my sense of humour ... and start to shoot.

And there's just something about being in the studio, finding that space inside myself, when the rest of the world retreats. We connect. He starts to perform for the camera, I aid and abet him. And we make some really great pics together. I can't post them here, as the publisher hasn't seen them yet, and it would be very uncool of me to do that. But here are a few grab shots. I'll call him back for a portrait session sometime soon.

And then Thing 2 had to be fetched. Thing 1 and boyfriend wanted a dvd ('when are you coming home?'), supper, entertainment. Significant Other was at a cocktail party so I didn't have to meet any of his needs for a while. It was nine o'clock by the time my day of work and servitude ended. Saturday's portrait sent a text message to cancel. There are still those wine bottles to photograph, that book to edit, those kids' pics that need sorting, and kids who need to be taken places and bought stuff, a dreadful dinner to go to. But that's for Saturday.

Right now, that glass of red wine is going down really, really well.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Shooting sweet little children

I love photographing kids. Really. It's exhausting, both mentally and physically, and requires great reserves of unbiased patience and resourcefulness. But in the end, it's a really satisfying way for me to spend my time. They're fun, they're creative, they keep you on your toes and, quite importantly, they're all photogenic, which makes creating a good pic that much easier.

We all have the most beautiful, cleverest, best behaved kids in the world, and parents who arrive for a photoshoot with their offspring are no different. And so it's very stressful and a bit embarassing when Junior doesn't display his or her personality at its best. I think we feel judged when our kids behave badly ... or not even badly, just differently to they way in which we expect them to behave. So when your little fairy whips off the fairy dress, attaches it across her shoulders like a cape and runs whooping through the studio like a tiny, demented batman, you might feel a little ... well, fill in the space ... awkward, embarasssed, annoyed, irritated, ready to blow. Or you may find it amusing and wonder why the photographer isn't managing to capture this impressive display of creativity.

Either way, here are a few tips for parents who are heading towards the studio for some family or kiddie pics:

First of all, try not to have any preconceived notions of what the final product will look like. If you have in mind that the kids will sit sweetly next to each other, arms across each other's shoulders, smiling at the camera to create a classic Christmas card or gift for granny pic, chances are they're going to start squabbling the minute you walk through the door and the best you're going to get is one pic of each kid alone.

If you had in mind some lifestyle photograpy, happy kids diving at the camera, chances are they're going to dump their boisterousness at the car and put on their best cheesy smile and stiff pose. Or cling to your knees and hide behind your legs ... yes, your child ... the open, brave, sociable one who walks up to any stranger and starts chatting. And the shy one you expected to have trouble with is on first name terms with the photographer and arranging a coffee date for sometime next week.
Of course, I and any other photographer will work towards whatever you have in mind, but it's the kids who decide in the end. Especially if they're under the age of ten and if there are two or more of them in the studio at the same time.

Try not to say 'smile for the camera' - it invariably gets the opposite effect. or you get that well-rehearsed, cheesy grin that you keep telling them not to use.

Kids have a limited attention span. They may, at first, feel strange and intimidated by the idea of having their pics taken. Then they settle down and cooperate beautifully. And then they've had enough. It may be well before you feel you've had enough. It may be before the photo session is over. But once they've had enough, they've had enough. It's best to just accept it. Bribery, cajoling, anger, warnings ... these mean nothing to a kid who's had enough, and they do very little to help you create a prize photograph.

There might be tears. There might not. You can't predict. Either way, the photographer's been there before, so let it happen, let it pass. Don't feel judged or embarassed. Kids are all pretty much the same and if your kid is behaving in a certain way, chances are others have behaved in the same way in this studio at some stage before.

Don't bring bubblegum, chewing gum or chewy sweets along. They'll be able to think of nothing other than the sweets in your bag and you'll be forced to hand them over in the hope that they'll cooperate. And then you end up with little faces contorted and eyes glazed over by the sheer bliss of chewing the sugary gloop. No pics there! And once they've had one, they'll want just one more ... and maybe just one more. And then the sugar high kicks in ... and we've all been there!

Anything that can spill, will spill. So try to hold back on juices and cooldrinks in bottles and cups that can fall over. And bring a change of clothing along, should you choose to ignore that little bit of advice.

If you're going to be in the pic with the kids, try not to look at the kids and give instructions if it's an 'everybody smiling at the camera' pic you're after. What usually happens is that the moment the kiddie looks at the camera, smiles and looks cute, mom or dad have shifty eyes peering somewhere into the distance or they display an unattractive frown, or a little o-shaped mouth. You focus on the photographer and the photographer will focus on the kids.

And, lastly, go with the flow. A photo shoot is fun. The kids enjoy it, the photographer enjoys it and so should you. Try not to stress. Try not to stage manage and art direct. Just let it happen. Allow the photographer to establish a relationship with the kids and let the shoot evolve by itself. Kids are photogenic, no matter what kind of situation they end up being photographed in. You might not end up with that classic shot that you had in mind when you dialled the photographer's number, but you'll end up with great pics anyway. All those sweet facial expressions, little gestures, even the fake cheesy smiles, add up to create the pics that you'll want to put in the album, frame and hang on the wall, send to the grandparents, and fridge magnet to an appliance.