The other side of the coin…..the grass is just the same colour

8 11 2014

DSC_2393 - Version 2

For 5 months I have been culturing a beard. The moustache and chops are optional but depend on my propensity to approach the razor. I’ve had beards before; they come and go. The first when I was about 28, the second aged perhaps 35.

Of my own volition, I live in a society which discriminates against many things: tattoos, skin colour, ethnicity, gender, and beards. Of course there are also many positive points about Japan which in my opinion outweigh the negatives quite considerably but nonetheless…..I can see the grass on the other side of the fence and it is exactly the same shade of shit brown that it was when I lived in England.

I consider myself privileged to have had the experience of living in a society whose values are far removed from those I experienced in my formative years. I think it’s an extremely humbling and valuable life lesson, that absolutely everyone should aspire to. It seems that there are so many people whose outlooks might change when they’ve had the experience of being treated as an inferior commodity; with no hope in sight of being able to truly change that society mindset.

So this morning, armed with a sharp blade, foam, and a vision of purity, I set about the cancerous growth that had so clearly afflicted my face for the last 5 months. A labour of love (and hate, and itching, and the most negative reactions you could ever imagine from my sons and the wife – I suppose everyone else being too polite to say?) destroyed in a few deft minutes. Oh so that’s what my skin looks like? Yuk! Should have left it alone. One cold sore and a few unidentified bumps have been discovered. Should we inform the National Geographic Survey?

Visually I thought a beard added significantly to any guy’s appearance. It’s a balance implement for the hair on his scalp, even if he doesn’t have any? Well I have to think about that one. Maybe add some bristles in Magic Marker to a few campaign posters that are stuck up around my neighbourhood, just to get a vague idea. The hair on the chin adds a frame to the ‘eyes/nose/mouth’ that seem to be the fixation of portrait viewers. Or perhaps that’s just me.


An Extra 12″

29 08 2014
An Extra 12" (adjustable spanner)

An Extra 12″ (adjustable spanner)


Been doing a few product shots this week, mainly tools. The texture on some of these is absolutely stunning. Choosing a background that compliments the product is quite a big part of the process. In this shot I wanted something other than a plain background, but not with too bold a texture. I used my son’s balance disc, and lit it with a single gridded strobe, shooting at F2.8 on an 85mm lens at pretty much closest distance to the spanner, which was sitting on a piece of glass between two chairs, over the training ball.  Ambient light illuminated the upper side of the tool. I also used a 0.6 ND filter in the gel holder of my Pro Shade, just to allow the use of a wide aperture (throwing the rubber spikes on the balance disc out of sharp focus).

The camera was mounted on a Manfrotto 3021 tripod, with the centre column set parallel to the floor. This is a great tool and the only way I think it could be improved is perhaps a carbon version, with titanium fittings. Just waiting on that lottery ticket….

at the front lines

10 11 2012

doing a bit of work for a local metal band. it might sound glamourous but it really isn’t. think I must have gone deaf many years ago, when I used to shoot for the UK music papers. when you have to stand in front of a giant stack of speakers, whose output literally shakes everything loose, that experience lives on for several days. I don’t get that background hiss in my ears anymore. hearing protection was something that the older generation did. now I’m in that older generation and protection would be largely pointless. live and learn I suppose..

so the band I am working for, Gotsu Totsu Kotsu, tend to play in small live houses, where the audience is right in the band’s face. which is great for atmosphere and vibes, and communication. but not so great for shooting pictures. unlike the larger venues, there is no dedicated space for photographers, so it’s simply a case of finding a niche, and slotting yourself into it. the crowd dynamics in Japan though, are quite different to the West. although the basic format is the same, with a maelstrom of whirling bodies in the centre (moshpit), and a distribution of more static fans at the edges, Japanese fans are pretty polite and perfectly happy to let a 6′ guy with camera stand in front of them to shoot pictures.  unlike some gigs in the West where you may as well just pick a fight or spill someone’s pint, if you want a better position for shooting.

for this shoot I used a 10-17, 17-50, and  85mm lenses. basically you want to be changing lenses as little as possible, so each lens is mounted on a camera body, ready to use. I try to avoid using flash, because it does kill the atmosphere, so it’s a case of spotmetering the performer’s face, shooting wide open, with a fairly high iso, to increase the chances of getting a sharp picture. the bigger the event, usually you can count on better lighting. in this instance, there was almost no frontal lighting, and the event was held in a basement with a fairly low ceiling, Painted Black (what else?).

the 17-50mm lens that I used for this event, is made by Tamron, in Nikon AF mount, and has a useful F2.8 aperture. this is the non IS version, and apart from the hood continually detaching itself, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it. shots from this show, for example, where spotlights are shining directly into camera, show no flare or significant contrast issues. it’s sharp at F2.8 and brilliant from F4 onwards. AF speed is hardly stunning, but it’s fine for my purposes.

Lemon Drops

3 05 2012


So here we are on a wet Thursday afternoon. Middle of Golden Week, the national holiday of springtime Japan. It’s chucking it down with rain for the second consecutive day, and it’s my job to entertain & educate my two small boys, and their mates. Let’s have a bit of fun with flash:

We’ll take this PET bottle and cut it roughly in half lengthways. A fishtank would have been better, but we just didn’t have one lying around. We’ll put some towels down on the floor, and another towel on this low table. Lay the bottle on top of the towel, and light. A Nikon SB26 in the front, set to 1/16th power, and a Metz 40MZ in the back, at 1/32nd power. Fill the bottle with water, and find some colourful fruit……


Having these Nanostands makes life quite simple. The Metz in back is fired by a radio trigger, and the SB-26 simply has an integral optical slave unit, which explains a lot of its popularity, I think. In the setup pic above, I put a black poloneck shirt on top of the towel, to try to make the background a more continuous black. We hung a black canvas background behind the set. Much as I would LOVE Black Sabbath curtains, I can’t see the missus going along with it.


Find a willing participant – no shortage of small boys wanting to get wet and lob fruit around. Great! This guy’s even colour-matched his pajamas to the lemon. Take aim, and fire at will:


Missed! No fancy laser beams or sound/light triggers here, just a degree of ever more accurate prediction of impact. Just a fraction of a second later, and I would have nailed it. But the beauty of this little setup is, you can have as much splashy fun as you want. The camera and shutter speed are largely unimportant…….because, as I explained to a group of students last week, the only light in this shot, is coming from the flash. Which is burning for only perhaps 1/2000th of a second. Maybe even less. You just want to make the exposure based only on the flash, ie a low enough ISO, small enough F stop, and high enough shutter speed, to completely exclude available light. All shot at 125 asa(iso), started at 1/800th F5.6, and ended at 1/1250th F8. Just experimenting really. I should add that I shoot with the Nikon D1x, whose flash sync speed is unlimited. Most current cameras can’t sync beyond 1/250th, but with dim available light, that shouldn’t present a problem.


Getting closer


Ah-ha! Perseverance pays off. I’ll own up to being a grumpy old curmudgeon and say now that there are a number of things I’m not happy with – could always use a little bit more depth of field with the water drops, some of the ribs in the PET bottle have distorted the light, there are lots of ways that this could be improved but yes, we had fun, my two sons both have their own DSLR cameras and got involved with shooting, which was half the battle really.


And yes, he really got his teeth into our little project…..still scratching my head about that. Happy trails!


Observations from the field

3 04 2012

So recently I’ve been shooting in various clubs and restaurants, and have a few observations to share.

First up, where any booze is being served, you need to be extra vigilant with regard to lighting and stands, and also storing your gear. I had stashed my bag under the table; fortunately I had remembered to close the lid. Sure enough, a glass of fruit juice went over the edge of the table. And drinkers generally aren’t interested in photographers and their careless placing of lightstands. What silly bugger left that there? Oops. Stupid place to leave a light anyway, wasn’t it?

Japanese drinkers though, are more deferential and polite, more respectful. Just what I’ve found. Still pays to be careful though.

And a practical observation: while I’d love to plug my lights into the house mains supply, there are some disadvantages. First up, the cabling, especially where foot traffic crosses the cable’s path. And then (maybe unique to Japan) the limited current draw on the circuitry. If I have to be responsible for another blackout in a bar…. Japan has a reputation as a futuristic nation – couldn’t be further from the truth!

So I’ve largely been relying on battery-powered strobes (usually a bunch of Metz 40MZ units) for these type of events. The only disadvantage is the battery capacity – even shooting at 1/16th power, the juice starts to run out around the 250 frame mark. So right now I’m looking for alternative external battery packs. Quantum Battery 1 seems like the best option, since with the right cable that can power any of my battery type flashes. Plus it works as a counterweight on a boom, or on the base of a light stand.

Griffin Survivor iPhone ‘Armored’ Case

21 03 2012







I recently noticed a small chip on the rear of my iphone; assuming that this was down to kid-related damage, I’ve acquired a Griffin Survivor ‘Armored’ case. This does make the phone quite a bit chunkier, but function over form is definitely valued here. The only downside I’m aware of, is that accessing the icons at the base of the screen does require more slender fingers than I’m equipped with, due to the thickness of the casing. The belt clip has yet to be put to the test, mainly because I prefer to work naked…

My friend Freya, Goddess of Metal

18 03 2012

My friend Freya, Goddess of Metal

…so after we did her very serious-looking headshots, we then went upstairs and watched some Aerosmith videos. And then fooled around a bit. My studio doesn’t have a wind machine but an assistant with a large cardboard box worked fine…