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.

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Gone racing

6 09 2014
The Mechanic.

The Mechanic. Without Kimura-san, the Lola Formula 3 car would never have gotten off the trailer.

‘Peter-san, please brake on’ – Kimura-san was about to put the jack under the front suspension, and just needed me to activate the brakes. Climbing over the wide body moulding, I levered myself into the driver’s ‘seat’ and stretched my legs down a seemingly endless tunnel. My size 11s found the pedals, but you need ballerina’s feet to touch only the brake. By turning myself kind of sideways, and pointing my toes, I managed it. Not a comfortable experience by any stretch of the imagination, and then there’s the wild howling crazed monster of an engine, inches behind the driver’s head. You really have to be a slave to cars, to even contemplate strapping yourself into one of these missiles.

I had come to Fuji International Speedway, location of the longest straight in the world, to shoot some portraits with a 10 year old Japanese karting champion. Unfortunately, he had gone to school. But Kimura-san, the mechanic for dentist Saito-san’s little F3 Lola, had an interesting face, and I told him so ‘not interesting, Peter. bad, maybe’. Saito-san owns and drives the Lola at closed meetings like this one, or historic racing events. But he seemed a little camera shy. So Kimura and I went to the pit lane, where you have these beautiful converging lines, and a heavy cloud covering the background. I shot with a 14mm lens, to include the dramatic architecture of the grandstand and circuit buildings. A flash in a soft box provided the light for Kimura’s face. It was a shame that the original subject had not made himself available, but still coming away with a great shot is compensation in itself.





the baseball flyer

21 03 2014
shooting one picture for a flyer going to local Little League parents

shooting one picture for a flyer going to local Little League parents

making up a flyer for a local Little League team; we had to borrow the glove and ball, the guy who was going to lend us the bat pulled out. then my kids who promised to model for me decided to bring their friends along to the session. lesson learned: when using a human light stand please ensure they are at least 16 and not in the company of their mates.

used my D1x for this, knowing that the fence surrounding the bb field would have been pretty close to where Rex has to stand. so shooting 1/1000th at F2.8 on the 80-200 – the flash still syncs ok. processing in Perfect Effects. not sure if we’ll be using this one, really wanted a landscape format shot for the flyer





Cheetah Bare Bulb modifiers – first impressions

30 03 2013

if you follow my occasional ramblings, you’ll know that I expressed an interest in the new to market Godox bare bulb flash and, more pointedly, the associated light modifiers that had been announced by the US distributor CheetahStand. I already own a couple of Sunpak 120J  barebulb units, and am quite happy with them. However finding modifiers has been a thankless task, until now. I ordered one of each of the following:

Std 5″ reflector

Wide Angle Umbrella Reflector

Honeycomb Grid and colour gel set

Conical and Cylindrical Snoot Set

12″ Beauty Dish

19″ Softbox with grid and ‘beauty dish’ reflector

All the accessories above come in plain white boxes, none of which could be considered substantial. The snoot set is the only item that has any kind of internal packing (a preformed card holder, which locates the units securely inside the flimsy outer box). Both snoots seem well made, and the honeycomb inserts are both removable.

Both reflectors, compared to my Sunpak originals, have the same planished finish inside, albeit with a slightly duller finish.

The grid and colour filter set seems well put together, just a shame there is no soft case or wallet included. Perhaps the case for my 122mm filter will fit? The grid has a flexible plastic  pulltab screwed to the side, to allow easy removal from the standard 5″ reflector, which has an appropriate sized lip to accommodate it.

The 19″ octagonal soft box, which is based on an umbrella design, has a recess of maybe 2″ deep at the front – this recess is lined with velcro, so that the front diffuser and grid, can be attached. The whole unit costs just $50…..which could be the cost of a eggcrate type grid alone, at another more well-known maker. There is a slightly dished metal reflector panel supplied, this screws onto the crown which surmounts the umbrella ribs, with the idea is emulating the light which comes from a beauty dish. We will see!

Finally, I did purchase the purpose-made 12″ beauty dish, which comes with a honeycomb grid, and white front diffuser. The construction is all metal but this hasn’t made the unit any less prone to damage…my example arrived damaged. I am fairly certain that this damage could have been avoided had the white box packing been supplemented with internal locators (expanded foam?) and possibly a double wall ‘white box’. Since CheetahStand have decided that international customers need to pay to return their faulty goods, it seems  as though this one is destined for the bin. Which is a shame. I had looked forward to using a decent metal beauty dish.

Over the next few days I hope to be able to get some practical experience with the modifiers, and report back. Cheers for now





Lemon Drops

3 05 2012

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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……

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Getting closer

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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.

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

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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.