I don’t shoot “poverty porn“. Photographers shooting the marginalised in society just for entertainment makes me uncomfortable – it kind of reminds me how people in the Elizabethan era would visit Bedlam and pay to money to be entertained by the inmates for something to do on a Sunday afternoon. But this time I was quite angry at was happening, or more precisely what wasn’t happening, and I felt I had to share it.
I was attending an outpatients appointment at Royal Perth Hospital when I stumbled across the scene above. The young aboriginal girl under the blanket was sick and on the pavement outside Perth’s main accident and emergency facility.In the background are nursing staff having a smoke and checking their phones acting like this was a perfectly normal situation. So when did sick people lying on the pavement outside an accident and emergency facility become normal? Has our society become so hardened that we are impervious to the suffering of our fellow-man? Something has definitely gone wrong somewhere.
Last Saturday I found myself in town wandering around with my Olympus Pen EP-5 and the just 3 lenses (17mm f2.8, 25mm f1.8, 45mm f1.8) when I found myself outside the building that is home to Jan de Jong Martial Arts Fitness in Hay Street. I knew the fun day demonstration was about to start as I had received the flier from them a few days previously so I thought I’d pop in and say “Hello” for old times sake. I started attending the school in the early 1990’s as a solution to a problem with work place violence. I had no idea I would become completely fascinated by the martial arts taught by Shihan Jan de Jong OAM and that continues to this very day. Over the years I’ve tried many times to photographically capture what it is that appeals to me. I’m not after a static record shot, but something that shows the grace, beauty, refined power and energy that is inherent in bujutsu. Under equipped and ill prepared I had another go shooting first stills and then some video footage. One day I’ll actually get something close to what I see in my mind’s eye and feel in my heart.
The “Strobist” phenomena burst onto the photographic scene some ten years ago and thanks to the efforts of David Hobby and the timely release of reliable affordable radio controlled flash triggers a whole movement was born. What was exciting was that Hobby advocated a lean and mean approach to lighting using affordable and portable speedlites. In an era of auto everything Hobby also broke the mould by showing people how easy it was to use manual flash. Joe McNally shooting Nikon and Syl Arena using Canon quickly jumped on the band waggon extolling the virtues of off camera flash using the TTL systems of Canikon.
The other day I had the sudden realisation that I would need a new photo for the promotion of current exhibition as the one I had been using was out of date – I have considerably more hair on my head and less hair on my chin now. My preferred photographer is Liv Stockley but she is currently somewhere in Africa and unavailable for the job. So I would have to shoot this myself aided by my partner Helen. Using the Olympus OMD EM10 with the fantastic Olympus m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 was a no brainer – bags of resolution, fantastic image quality and it allowed Helen to take the shot by controlling the camera via wi-fi using an iPad. Lighting was the conundrum. It would have to be flash, but how to control it? I wanted the key light in a big brolly box, but this would mean I would lose the TTL flash capability as Olympus use a line of sight light transmission system for their wireless flash. Once the slave flash is enveloped by a large light modifier it can’t pick up the signal from the master, so I would have to use a radio trigger. There are no reliable easily available radio controlled TTL triggers for the m4/3 system so it would have to be manual all the way and the excellent Hahnel Captur fit the bill perfectly. They are available from good camera stores, I got mine from Digital Camera Warehouse, and they have a good warranty. Why take a punt with cheap no name “poverty wizards” from dodgy Chinese Ebay sellers when you can get an excellent product locally? So that’s the triggering taken care of. To work out the exposure I used my trusty Minolta Auto Meter Ⅴ F. Sadly no longer made by Minolta as Sony took them over and canned the flash meter product line, but it is now made by Kenko. Yes it is old school and some may argue that in the digital era not needed, but I like working this way. In this scenario there is no need for TTL flash as the lighting and subject to camera distance remain constant.
Equipment sorted the styling of the photo was the next consideration. The portrait would be a classic head and shoulders, but I wanted something clean and contemporary. Initially I thought about using the classic Rembrandt lighting style. It’s the studio portraitist’s bread and butter lighting, but it is a little bit staid. So I decided to go with broad lighting. One Metz Mecablitz 64AF-1 Flash in a brolly box was the key and a large reflector provided the fill. To provide a bit of separation from the background a Metz 44 AF-1 (now superseded by the 44 AF-2) fitted with a Hohnl Speed Grid. Simple and effective.
So while the “Strobist” phenomena has largely gone out of fashion, the principles and skills are very useful and every photographer should have some grasp of the basics.
There’s no doubt about it the OLYMPUS M.45mm F1.8 lens renders images beautifully. It’s not razor-sharp in that clinical digital way most modern lenses are thank goodness, but it is sharp enough with a pleasing fall off at the edges. This lens is for taking pictures of complex 3 dimensional subjects not flat test charts and brick walls. The bokeh is very pleasing – it renders the transition between areas of sharpness to blur in a very smooth manner. As I have said before I don’t consider myself a bokeh slut by any means but there is something about this lens that just makes you want to shoot at wide apertures. Anyway enough of my wibbling lets just look at some pictures.