Top Ten Photographs 2015

It’s almost a year since I discovered Martin Bailey’s incredible photography podcast and was inspired by him to put together a first top ten images of 2014.  After a year exploring his 500+ diligently produced podcasts, time has rolled around.  Putting together a 2015 top ten has been in my thoughts for a couple of weeks, and I thought I’d share it here along with a loud recommendation everyone who doesn’t conduct an annual review of their work considers it.

Really I can’t outline the reasons for doing so better than Martin’s post in which he shares his top ten and selection process.  Rather than repeat what he already says so eloquently, I just wanted to log a few points here by way of personal footnote, before sharing the images themselves as much for personal reference and to crystalise the whole selection process in my head ready for another year’s shooting.

Firstly, I’d definitely suggest a single set of ten images across all of the genres you shoot.  While I understand the argument for compiling a landscape selection, a wildlife selection and so forth, it misses out the real challenge and the real learnings.  Chiefly I’d suggest that compiling a top ten within a genre isn’t that far different from what we do everyday as photographers.  Typically we have multiple shots of most subjects, and we compare different expressions, angles, sharpnesses-of-eyes, etc. to come up with a best image within a set of “similars” to ultimately utilise.  Selecting between similar images then, is something we all address as a pretty mundane activity then.

Making comparisons between genres is far more interesting, and far more challenging.  For one thing it’s not mundane.  It’s rare we’re called upon to choose between, say, a tilt-shift shot of otters at sunset and a strobist street portrait of a Parisian stranger.  It’s much harder to approach and I find the typical, easy guidelines we might use to sift between similars melt away.  The comparison of shots becomes about the basic essentials beneath the surface; do they evoke the mood, the scene, the emotion?  Do they capture the imagination?  Do they transport the viewer, do they connect?  As we can’t make easy comparisons, we’re forced to consider and explore the more subjective and wild dimensions of our work, and that I find brings new insight onto what we did well and what we missed.

Secondly, both years I’ve found it a useful exercise in stepping back and pausing to consider intent, direction and the path ahead.  This year Lightroom tells me I shot 7,853 images (not including the instant deletions).  Of that I’ve so far “used” around 350 (across Flickr, Getty and family dispatches).  In that mad rush of shooting, it’s hard really to take stock of where we’re up to and where we’re going.  I’m not going to ramble about my personal learnings from that review here, but merely note that without this review – this quick check of the map, or recalibration – it’s easy to lose direction and start shooting without conscious intent or goal.

One final thought perhaps is that to me this process is about a harmonious set.  These aren’t a ranked 1 to 10, rather a gallery that I hope balances and resonates together in a generally coherent way.  There are some stranger portraits from the year, for instance, which I consider stronger shots that the final candid of Jessica dancing.  With those substituted, however, the set somehow lacked the spark of life to lift it from a series of gathered images to a distinct whole in its own right.

In sharing mine top ten though, my main advice would be to check Martin’s post on the matter.  His process is a thing of wonder, and it’s thoughtfully described in detail.  Have an amazing New Year though, everyone, and safe travel to all!

Rain Without Sky (Meltwater Under Snow At Slap Rinka) , Logarska Dolina

Jessica (Window Light), Dorset

Falu Rödfärg (Traditional Falu Red Swedish House), Nyköping

Tara (Stranger #79/100), Edinburgh

Kauppatori Reflections, Helsinki

Smoke Without Fire (Skógafoss), Skógar

Sophie Verona Savinja Howarth born 18.11.15

Rosie (Stranger #86/100), London Soho

Thermal Event (In Camera Zoom During Long Exposure), Rickmansworth

"Whirling Swan" - Jessica dancing, reflected in mirror glass

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Inspiration from Strangers – Carlo Sa

Back in November I published my first “Inspiration from strangers” post showcasing street portrait photographers that inspire my own work.  It features ten street photographers I hugely respect, with established bodies of works in the many tens to many hundreds of stranger portraits.  Yet there was one photographer missing.

Carlo Sa is the exception.  Away from Flickr for a while it took a little longer to get his positive response to my request to show his work.  There are just seven images in his 100 Strangers portfolio on Flickr.  They’re not neatly ordered in a set.  Nor are they posted in order.  Portrait 06 is missing, in fact.  There are elements that some would challenge on technical grounds.  And I’m totally in love with them.

Stranger Portrait 04, Carlo Sa

What they have is that urgent spark of visceral presence that so many – myself certainly included – over-process or over-think or otherwise suffocate.  Portait 04 (above) was the first I came to.  I love the bright, glossy reflection in his glasses.  The weird, at once ultra-real and yet somehow fantasy play of light, especially the odd rim light on his right cheek.

Stranger Portrait 03, Carlo Sa

There’s the same feel of a sticky urban Californian night, and the same polluted wash of light in 03 (above).  The same frisson of human contact.  Portrait 02 (below) is a little more contrived, with more front, but the same fierce, dirty, real world lighting.

Stranger Portrait 02, Carlo Sa

They’re risky portraits for me and packed with lessons I’m still working through for a future post, wanting to keep the focus here on Carlo’s work.  In our email exchange Carlo noted a number of other portraits for his project and I can’t wait to see them.  There’s a raw authenticity to them which I struggle to define, but know I don’t see elsewhere.

It’s a real skill balancing that sense of real life and intimacy.  I really admire the details Carlo leaves in, and his use of found and borrowed light.  The well judged elements of imperfection perfectly catch that random blaze of half met, half missed glances, the brief confrontations and flirtations, the energy of urban life, but hit with a little cinematic supercharge that lifts it above.

 

Stranger Portrait 01, Carlo Sa

All images copyright Carlo Sa (2014), used with permission.

Ongoing experiments in intentional camera movement as part of the learning journey

My daughter Jessica had asked for a camera to celebrate the arrival of her sister Sophie.  As she said; “Sisters are special.  Sisters can buy you ‘born gifts’.  I would like a camera.”  Being a soft touch, I complied and she’s making good use of a seemingly bombproof Nikon S33 – for example.

As she makes headway with that I’ve set myself the challenge of teaching her to shoot.  Moleskine/Milk have a neat promotion to offer a free photo book to Getty Contributors, and I thought I would use my free credit to create a “how to take photographs” book for Jessica.  In beginning the process of writing that book, I’ve been reminded of some of the reasons I shoot and – resonating with what I’ve taken from the inspirational David duChemin – have come to realise how much harder I could be pushing the envelope in terms of creative photography.

intentional-camera-movement-moon-spin (1 of 1)
Full moon and late autumn trees, 2 second exposure, spiraling movement

Intentional camera movement has stood out to me as part of that for a couple of reasons.

For starters, it offers benefits in terms of being an initially low pressure style of photography that can be practiced in brief moments, and is possible at night, without significant kit, whilst offering an infinity of new subjects within even a minute’s walk from the house.  I’m also enjoying the more poetic quest to shoot “how it feels” as outlined in this original post.  And I’m also seeing how intentional camera movement or ICM resonates with the core principal of my photographic style.

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Silver birch with mid-autumn leaves, 1.6 second exposure, jagged shake

More and more my literal photography is feeding my stock library at Getty Images.  There you’ll find those shots I consider well taken, technically sound images of scene or objects that I found interesting or thought might be salable.

The kind of photography I consider “mine”, and the kind of photography I’m trying to teach Jessica, is based on the idea of making the mundane appear fantastical.  So far that’s taken a couple of branches.

The first, and longest standing, is long exposure and light painting.  Shots like the following where by compressing time and adding light one can take a dull night scene and conjure something a little more magical, something one step left of reality.

 

The second path is one of shooting street portraits of strangers, usually with a dash of adding light from a reflector or strobe or more, with the aim of taking an average person from the street and elevating them to a Vogue style icon.

 

ICM seems to offer another path on that journey – expressing an element of fantasy from everyday scenes, like the trees above, or from leaves on a pavement/sidewalk.

intentional-camera-movement-circular-leaves (1 of 1)
Mix of leaves on hedge and sidewalk in rain with reflected headlights, single second exposure, horizontal looping movement
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Streetlight on last leaves and white plastic bag caught in tree, 2 second exposure, held for a moment, then vertical drag and waving motion

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Apple tree at night, single second exposure, tight, rapid loops

Moonlight (Intentional Camera Movement), Ashridge Estate
Slightly out of focus trees at sunset, 1/4 second exposure, slow vertical sweeping movement

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Autumn beach leaves in sunlight, 1/5 second exposure, fast vertical sweep

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Jessica’s first ICM shot, autumn trees in sunlight, 1/4 second exposure, 1/4 second exposure

Street portrait tip – Using Canon’s custom shooting modes to help test backgrounds

When I first upgraded from my Canon EOS 300D to the 5D Mkii, one of the first things I had in mind to do was to sit down and set up the three custom shooting modes.  In the end, they were a feature I barely used.  Now, five or so years on, and a camera model later, I’ve finally found a use for them.

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Unused street portrait background – Edinburgh

I should note that I typically shoot manual, with a single “one shot” AF focal point (joystick controlled, assigned to the shutter button).  I have the automatic “preview” turned off, meaning I have to press the “play” button to view each image I take.  All of this works extremely well for me when actually shooting portraits.  I find it best for control, for the appearance of control and for battery conservation.

However, before I can get to shooting those strangers I have to find a background.  And for doing that, my standard settings are a nightmare.

You see, when shooting strangers for my 100 Stranger Project, increasingly at night, I’m walking around with a light stand and shoot through umbrella in one hand, with a reflector or two tucked under it, and the camera in the other.  I can shoot one handed, with the camera on a black rapid strap, pre-focusing it on the ground, but if I recompose it’s too easy to refocus on the background and have to “reset” it by pointing at the floor again.  Moreover, with only one arm, it’s a nightmare to preview the background, juggling kit to get a straining finger tip to the preview button.

 

street-portrait-background-edinburgh (2)
Another unused street portrait background – Edinburgh

On a recent trip to Northern Ireland, I finally got around to testing custom shooting modes for this, and it works fantastically.  I now have my manual mode set up for my favoured settings – “one shot” AF, no preview, etc.  C2, however, is set up with my usual night exposure settings with my portrait lens, the 100mm f/2.8 L IS macro (f/3.2, 1/50, ISO 1600), with automatic preview on, with focusing moved to the back button and deactivated on the shutter button.

It sounds like a small thing, but it’s transformed my night portraits.  I can now whistle around freely, at pace, casually shooting and testing backgrounds whereas before I would decide not to test some on account of the juggling act of gear.  I guess we sometimes build up the custom shooting modes in significance – decide they should have some very important task or emergency application – but what I’m finding is that in fact small, apparently trivial tweaks like this are delivering massively and making my photography more enjoyable again.

Before/After – Processing Ten Street Portraits; Workflow & Tips

SOOC zoe-1  Zoe (Stranger #87/100), Paris Bastille

SOOC greta-1  Greta (Stranger #14/100), Venezia Fondamente Nove

You hear the phrase “getting it right in camera” a lot, but I don’t think people think through what that means.  If you’re shooting on a digital camera, “getting it right in camera” is a misnomer nowadays.  There’s lots of good resources that advise one “exposes for the right” to get the cleanest, most tonally rich images.  It’s just the way our camera’s sensors work – right up to the point we blow our highlights, we’re capturing richer and richer information.  Check out Martin Bailey’s excellent podcast on exposing for the right if you’d like the full story!

That’s not exactly what I’m talking about here, but I wanted to kick off this post on editing portraits with that thought, because it’s kind of important in change our mindsets with regards processing.  In a world of digital sensors, getting it right in camera means shooting an image that will look overexposed unless we process it.  This realisation reinforced for me the notion that photography is a process that starts and ends a good distance either side of the camera.  We should shoot to get the best data, given that we should then process to get the best image.

no edits yolandi-1  Yolandi (Stranger #88/100), London Carnaby Street

SOOC freder-1  Frédérique (Stranger #50/100), Paris Montmatre

As you’ll see here with this set of before/after images from my 100 Strangers Project, whilst striving for the best data in camera I make plenty of mistakes.  It’s a learning project, after all.  I wanted to share here my process for editing my street portraits – partly for self reference as I look to improve, but chiefly thanks to the many questions I get through Flickr with regards the work I do.

In editing these shots then, I use two tools; first Lightroom for 80% of the work and 20% of the time, then Photoshop for 20% of the work and 80% of the time.

My Lightroom workflow starts along very similar lines;

– Boost sharpening to ~40/60, but push the masking slider up to >95.
– Boost vibrance by 10/20.
– Boost shadows by 20/40, chiefly determined by the subjects hair, which I want to keep looking natural.
– Turn the Chromatic Aberration correction on, with +1 in both fields, maybe more.  My 100mm L Macro lens is lovely for portraits, but can show some green/turquoise edging at wide apertures (I shoot at f/3.2 for these portraits).
– Tweak white balance, generally I warm images very slightly, or use the pipette on the whites of the subject’s eyes to test an extreme option.

Next I grab the Lightroom brush tool for a few separate operations;

– Take a -10/25 shadow brush and burn the deeper shadows, especially around the hair and neck, and collars.
– Zap the whites of the eyes with -20/40 saturation, +4/8 shadows and +.1 exposure.
– Paint in the iris, opposite the main catchlight, using a +.6 exposure brush, sometimes with a clarity and/or saturation boost.  Initially I was painting much more of the iris, but a fantastic Dani Diamond article on Fstoppers showed how light enters and leaves the eye.  Working on the opposite side of the iris from the main catchlight gives lots more drama.
– Darken the upper portion of the eye very slightly; -.1 exposure.  For these operations I usually find it easier to paint them in, straying over edges, then hold down Alt to clean up with much more accuracy.
– Emphasise a few key areas of brighter hair, sweeping along key lines with a +20 highlight, +20 clarity brush.
– Give clothing a little contrast boost, and maybe emphasise key highlights and shadows with a similar brush to my hair above.  Glasses will generally get a clarity boost on the rims.
– Unwanted highlights, especially in glasses generally get a -10/20 highlight brush at this point.

Finally, I might add a gradient filter to add -100 clarity or -.2 exposure to one side or other, starting well out of the frame and avoiding the subject. That’s usually us finished in Lightroom. I never crop yet, as I will sometimes borrow small elements from other frames and prefer to keep things in the broad scale and composition until after that stage.

SOOC lilyii-1  Lily (Stranger #69/100), NYC JFK Terminal 2

SOOC milena-1  Milena (Stranger #63/100), Sofia 

Now we’re off to Photoshop.  Whilst I use Lightroom to make non-destructive, pretty consistent edits, in Photoshop I’ll immediately create some spare layers and make permanent changes.

I start work with small corrections to the subject; fiddly things I want to get out of the way first.  I chiefly use the “patch” tool.  I’m not sure why it doesn’t get more love!  I see/hear lots of people using spot healing tools, yet I struggle to preserve skin texture with them.  The patch tool is a little slower – I zoom right in to near pixel level to correct temporary skin blemishes/spots, dust spots on clothes and some (not all) stray hairs.  However, for the extra time, I find a much more consistent grain and texture to the corrections, especially the skin.  Occasionally, I’ll use the “fade” follow up command to blend in patched corrections, but again that’s rare as it undermines the consistent skin texture.  If I’m going have to make changes to texture, I want to do them globally to a face – or you end up with blemishes replaced with excessively smooth patches which looks stranger sometimes.

When making those more global changes I have a couple of techniques.  My go to method is the brush tool, using a technique from the incredible Aaron Nace at Phlearn.  I’m always doing this after patching.  Then I will take a large, soft edged brush at 5% opacity and paint over the face, constantly sampling and repainting with tones from the pipette.  I will try to keep using shadow tones around shadow areas, etc., but will be painting heavily over and over areas.  I’ll then add a layer mask and ensure the eyes and edges of the face are cleaned with a 100% black brush, then areas of contrast around the nose, eyebrows, lips, etc. are cleaned with a minimum 50% opacity black brush.  I’ll pull that whole layer back to 30/50% opacity – usually at the lower end.

If I’m still not happy, I will add another layer at 50% opacity and redo all the patching a second time.  If things are really desperate (only once in 89 strangers) I’ll use frequency separation.  Again, the best explanation and free action for frequency separation are from Phlearn, and worth checking out here.  It’s really rare I use it – as I find the patch technique, along with a little time and patience, is the most realistic approach and works for my look!

Before moving out from the face I’ll use the patch tool to clean up any red streaks in the sclera (whites of eyes), and to de-dust/scratch glasses.  If there are big reflections in the glasses, I will try to patch them which usually works until the reflections hit the edges.  If I’ve failed to avoid this when shooting, then I will copy the other side of the glasses, paste it, flip it horizontally and use this mirror image to provide source pixels to rebuild the affected edges.  It’s slow, but strangely soothing and generally gives a good result.

Hair is edited mostly with the patch tool in tiny sections (3-5 pixels sometimes) to remove hairs that stray into eyes, or run perpendicular to the main flow.  Sometimes I will using the clone stamp here, in one of the scattered brush shapes, just a few pixels across, to blend the flow of messy strands.  Sometimes I will draw a few extra hairs in with the paint brush, adding them to a separate layer and adding a blur in a rainbow shape across the top so as to blend them better into my shallow DOF.

SOOC bajar-1  Bahar (Stranger #68/100), Stockholm

SOOC ish-1  ishma 3l high-1

Finally I look wider than the face, tidying up any major issues in the background.  I’m increasingly shooting with my lights (usually an umbrella and reflector) very close to my subject and that means they often sneak into a corner.  I’ll use contact aware fill for the main area at issue, and then the patch tool to clean up the edges of the filled selection.  Very occasionally I will add a little extra blur to the background, masking out my stranger, and then add a 0.5/1% noise to the same area.

There are a handful of strangers where I’ve borrowed a shoulder. eye, collar, top of head, etc. from another shot of them and composited – maybe to get the best shoulder pose with the sharp eyes or similar.  I’ll handle that elsewhere.  My project is 100% not a photojournalists project!  I am trying to make realistic, but Vogue-style portraits.  The final piece to that puzzle is some minor toning.  I add a curves layer and boost blue and green in the shadows (usually 3:1 in favour of blue), and occasionally boost yellow in the highlights – but never when the background is bright.  It gives a slightly more fashion tone set, to my eye.

Hopefully this set of before/after shots gives an illustration of the impact of the process.  Sometimes it can be quite major, sometimes pretty invisible.  In some the examples shown I’m using an adjacent frame for the “before” just to avoid losing editing data in Lightroom, but in all cases the camera settings are identical and the shots are taken milliseconds apart.  I really hope they answer the questions I get on Flickr and map out my work flow and the typical actions I take to get my look.  I’m not saying this is the best way, or the most efficient way, of course.  I grew up in Photoshop 7.0, and am massively over manual in my use of the tool.  However, I find the painstaking approach useful in getting to know an image, testing and reviewing it, before posting.  Hopefully the overview is of interest and offers a few tips or ideas!  Have an amazing week!

SOOC lars-1  Lars (Stranger #65/100), Stockholm

SOOC chloe-1  Chloe (Stranger #57/100), Blackpool

Test Until Destruct – How do repeated jpg saves degrade image quality

Though I shoot exclusively in RAW and edit all within the same Lightroom/Photoshop platform, at some point I end up saving my files to jpg.  Whilst I’ve always understood that that first save to jpg inflicts some pixel damage to the image, I hadn’t fully appreciated that the loss of quality stacks with each subsequent save to jpg.  A little while back, having been told about the effect, I thought I’d run a test – repeatedly saving, reloading and resaving a series of my images to jpg to see what happened.

The white figures indicate the number of repeated jpg saves.

Original image Meltwater, Hertforshire.
Original image Many Glacier, Montana.
Original image Greenhouse Effect.

At this scale the artifacts weren’t obvious for the first few saves. Seen at 100% or greater areas of the sky had become unacceptably degraded by as few as five saves, exhibiting the kind of level of damage seen at 10 saves in examples of this scale.  The damage is a result of the jpg’s compressed nature. Keeping files in RAW, PSD or other non-compressed file formats will preserve quality and prevent this kind of degradation.

Shooting Night Portraits – Using shoot through umbrellas to diffuse troublesome streetlights

Rosie (Stranger #86/100), London Soho
Rosie – Stranger #86/100, London Soho – Using a shoot through umbrella to diffuse a relatively powerful street lamp and mix light colours with speedlite.

What with work and family travel, I often end up shooting my street portraits at night.  Of course, it’s a lot more sociable when on holiday with my daughter and wife to shoot once they’re asleep, and with an intense, gripping job it’s not possible at lunchtime in the week.  For street portraiture, however, the night offers both challenge and opportunity in terms of mood and light.  In busier areas, strangers can be more open to shooting a portrait; there’s a permissive openness to the night perhaps, that leaves people more willing to take a risk – in terms of participation and expression.

Martyna (Stranger #74/100), London  Sarah (Stranger #38/100), London Southbank

16327255146_c8d2bd7008_z  12278095834_15c4006d92_k

Whilst the dark shadow and eerie glow of streetlamps or cars can be a fantastic tool in reinforcing this mood, there is challenge too.  If setting up for a sharp shot handheld, one can easily end up with a black background that fails to express the strange nocturnal world in its full, nuanced glory.

My headshots are shot almost exclusively with the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L Macro on a 5D iii.  On that lens and camera, to get the DOF and background detail I want from a night portrait, within the constraints of a maximum acceptable ISO (1600 for colour) and slowest acceptable handheld shutter (1/50 given the 100mm and IS, I prefer 1/100), I end up shooting around the f/3.2, 1/50 – 1/100 and ISO 1600.  That gives the background a dark, miscreant glow – perhaps still needing a kick of shadow +50 or similar in Lightroom, but in the right region for the mood I’m after for the background.

The trouble is those are pretty sensitive settings.

You need your flash to be on minimum power, yet can easily overexpose a subject even then.  It’s especially tricky if you want your light close (and therefore softer).  I now put a diffuser on the flash to get rid of more light.  Softboxes being too efficient, I recently moved to shoot through umbrellas in a bid to waste more light still and bring the effective flash power down additional stops.

When I made that switch, I discovered something else – that one could place the umbrella in front of a street lamp to create a strangely blended light.  The street lamp, likely carrying the temperature/tint of your foreground ambient light, mixes with the flash to create a soft, smooth, better harmonised output.  On sensitive settings with weakened flash, streetlamps can throw pretty harsh shadows under noses or chins or within eye sockets.  Umbrellas are perfect for blocking streetlamps, being close and wide, yet a powerful streetlamp still kicks enough light through the umbrella to assist in focusing, whilst blending the colour of the light as noted above.

This was the principle used in the large shot of Rosie at the top of this post – a stranger encountered in Soho – lit with an umbrella boomed out over her to block a street lamp by her friend Lois.

To better demonstrate the difference of this technique, here are a couple of shots of a Paris stranger – kind enough to stop with her friend.  I sadly lost my email notes from the trip, and have forgotten her name, for which I apologise.  (If you’re reading here please do email me or comment below – I have you and your friend’s shots processed and ready to send to you!  Sorry not to give you named credit here!).

Sadly I did things backwards here.  The first/left most shot uses the technique described above.  A 43″ white shoot through umbrella is blocking a powerful streetlight (as well as projecting a minimum power flash from Canon 600EX-RT speedlite).  There is, to my eye, a nicely balanced warmth to the stranger and her background.

11417759_823630101057650_7224780980044789673_o  1491407_823630104390983_8002948919740782227_o

The second/right shot is taken a few moments later, having moved forward from the wall for a better blur, but having forgotten in doing so to ensure the street lamp was fully blocked.  The settings and flash were identical.  However, you can see the impact in terms of harsher, unflattering shadows and a nasty mix of light temperatures.  Try as I might I could not recreate the temperature of the first shot – the mix of cooler flash and green/orange street light undermining any simple attempt to manipulate the white balance without a grueling series of masks and layers in Photoshop.

I hope this idea helps people setting out to shoot portraits at night.  I’m looking at larger umbrellas again to help waste flash power and better mask out/mix in street lamps and the like.  Hopefully I will have more examples for you shortly!

Light Unleashed – Creating hard shadows with bare LED’s

I currently light paint with a couple of high power LED’s – one to light objects in the scene, a military spec Lenser LED, and one more modest, unbranded unit to draw lines in the scene when shooting images like these;

5022793280_c2e8fd78cc_z  11952148984_112dabb4ee_z

A couple of months back I managed to drop the second of the two in a Slovenian river, leading to its near death.  Whilst frantically unscrewing and shaking it in an attempt to bring it back to full life, I discovered the entire lens element could be removed, leaving a strangely naked LED unit exposed to a full 180 degrees sweep of reality.

IMG_1096  IMG_1098

Wonderfully compact, and now working perfectly again, the tiny LED is capable of producing a quite bizarre world of light – at once vast and smooth, yet titanium hard.  The full 180 degree area of effect is more like a cloud of light than a beam per se – used at night outdoors it offers an incredibly even pool of light in all directions, falling away over some 40 feet or so.  As an example, here’s how the beams look on a wall – first the original through the lens element, and then the bare LED;

IMG_1101  IMG_1100

What you can’t see in the second image is the huge misty expanse of light sweeping endlessly away, effortlessly smooth.  It appears a deceptively soft light, yet – as one would expect from such a tiny light source (3mm x 3mm perhaps), it is in fact insanely hard.  The shadows it creates are edged as if cut from black card with a craft knife.  What’s more, as it’s so very, very tiny, and so very, very wide it still creates these hard shadows even when placed point blank to whatever obstacle you choose to use to throw them.  Here’s a quick example – the first shot with the LED held above the (iPhone) camera, then second held lower, below the foliage, and thus throwing up a dense thicket of shadowy leaves and stalks onto the white wall.  All that’s changed is the position of the light – 3-4 feet lower in the second.

IMG_1091 IMG_1092

Being able to place it so close allows you to fill a whole garden – even a large one – with a hard, shadowy tangle of leaves and thorns, even if given just a foot or so of bramble to cast from, or turn normal banisters into a vast foreboding wall of prison-dark bars, or a shimmering net of energy by shining through a glass door.

IMG_1099  IMG_1102

I’m still working out quite what to use this learning for in terms of “portfolio images”.  For the moment, I’m just happy to have discovered the possibility and to be exploring it.  Walking around a house or garden, LED held low and open creates some wildly spooky shadows.  Also – it’s a good reminder of the difference between “even” light and “soft” light; all too easy to mistake a superficially similar until one puts a model in them.  Hopefully those of you who haven’t discovered this already will find the idea – I don’t think it’s practical enough to call it a “tip” yet – interesting and will enjoy exploring it.  If you do, I’d love to see the images that come from it!

Have an amazing weekend all!