Thursday, 22 December 2011

Tom's Top Ten

It's that time of year again.
Everyone is looking back and producing lists for the year's end. Whether it's the top gadgets or the most purchased records, you'll find ranking lists everywhere.
So, in keeping with this trend, I proudly present my favourite (own) images of the year. I can remember each one so vividly .

In no particular order, they are as follows:

London. January 2011
EOS 5d 17 - 40 zoom
1/20th @ f4 with Speedlite set at -1 stop

This was taken at the beginning of the year when I was over in London. My son Nicholas was with me and we were doing the touristy things. As we were heading home I came across this scene with the red phone box and a pub in the background. I racked the zoom out to 17 mm and stood close to the phone box to make it large in the frame. The ambient light measure 1|20sec at f4 with the ISO set at 500. I stuck a 420 EX flash in the hotshoe and set it to underexpose by one F stop.


Diegten April  2011
EOS 7d 28 - 135 zoom at 65 mm
1/50th @f13

This is near my home and I mentioned it in a previous blog post. I had often seen the blossom on the trees but had previously never had enough time to get around to recording it. Again, I was with Nicholas. I used my Benbo tripod for this image. This is an HDR of three images.


Grossmünster Church
EOS 5d 17 - 40 zoom
1/3rd sec at f13

The only "work" image in this list. This was taken at the Grossmünster church in Zürich for my friend, the Swiss Lighting designer Renato De Toffol. He has installed a mood lighting programme in the church and I spent several hours there. Again, this is an HDR image. The ISO was set at 320.


Bench in the forest
Canon G9
1/60 @F2.8

Nothing much really to write about this one. I was walking with the family through the forest near my home and saw this bench amongst the foliage. As I was travelling light. I used the G9 to record it. I always set the ISO manually and this time it was set at 125.


Through the arrow slits.
EOS 5d 17 - 40 zoom
1/200 sec @ F11

Taken from the Castel Grande in Bellinzona, Switzerland when I was on holiday earlier in the year. This was a slight variation on my sunny day exposure and the ISO was set to 200.


Italian Deli. Lugano, Switzerland
EOS 5d 17 - 40 zoom
1/50th @F5

We spent a few hours in Lugano and I found it really hard to find anything remotely interesting to photograph. my wife went to do some shopping and I wandered around for a while until I came across this popular delicatessen. I took several images of the customers buying food but had to wait about fifteen minutes until the area in front of the deli was clear. the light was fading fast as a storm was approaching so I bumped the ISO up to 320 and shot this one


Boats docked at Gandria, Switzerland
EOS 5d 17 - 40 zoom
1/200 sec @F13

A typical "postcard" type image but I still enjoy this picture very much because of the memories it invokes. I remember the warm sunshine here. The olive trees and the narrow cobbled streets.


Ancient church near Sonvico, Switzerland
EOS 5d 17 - 40 zoom
1/125 @ F18

This is the ancient church of San Martino (Chiesa di San Martino) near Sonvico, Switzerland. I saw this church in a guide book and decided to go and take a look. We found the town of Sonvico quite easily but couldn't locate the church. Sonvico itself seemed to be closed for dinner and there wasn't a soul on the streets. Finally a bank opened its doors and I enquired inside. The bank manager was very helpful and drew me a map. We got in the car and drove several kilometers until the road forked off left and went through a forest. I was beginning to wonder if I'd be able to turn the car around when we came to a clearing and there it was. Beautifully situated in a clearing with the charmingly named "Denti della vecchia" (Old person's teeth) mountain range in the background.


WW1 tank traps at Chichenzimmersattel
EOS 5d 17 - 40 zoom
1/125 @ F14

A couple of months ago, the Swiss organisation responsible for the upkeep of military monuments has a sort of open day. Two of the monuments were in my county so I decided to go and take a look. The first monument was a bunker which was well hidden up the side of a hill in the forest and didn't produce any satisfactory results. The second one was these tank traps which date back to the first world war. They are located on a mountain pass on what used to be the main road to Basel before the current motorway was built. It was extremely windy on that day and the storm clouds began forming. I had to brace myself against a wall to avoid camera shake.


Jetty. St Prex, Switzerland
EOS 5d 28 - 135
1/250 @ F10

This was taken during a stop in St Prex in the French part of Switzerland. I wanted the birds to fly off but they showed no signs of leaving at all as I walked towards them. Finally, I had to hold my camera to my eye as I waved my right arm around. The birds finally got the message.

Well that's it for now. I hope you found this 2011 list of interest. It will be interesting to see what my favourites will be next year. Please feel free to leave a comment.

I wish you all a merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous new year.


Saturday, 3 December 2011

Take some time out

I was on my way to work last Friday when I saw this beautiful sunrise.

I am by nature not an early bird so I'm thankful for the Winter mornings when the sun can be seen (weather permitting) rising.

I parked beside the church in our village because this afforded me an elevated view on the sunrise. I used my EF 50 mm lens and selected a speed of 1/160 to let me handhold it. The aperture chosen by the camera (in TV mode) was f5.6 The ISO speed was 400.

I ran the RAW file through Canon's DPP programme and sharpened it up a bit. The shadows were lightened just a touch and the saturation increased slightly. What you see here is as near to reality as I can get it.

When I record things like this, I am glad that I have such a passion for photography and that nature constantly provides me with such great subject matter.

Thanks for reading

Friday, 2 December 2011

Extasia 2011. Switzerland gets naughty.

I’ve already mentioned and written about the annual Streetparade but there is one other event which also attracts visitors from afar and that’s the Extasia.
Extasia is Switzerland’s answer to the Venus erotic fair in Germany although on a smaller scale.
The event used to be held in Zürich but moved a few years ago to Basel next to the football stadium near where I work.
The event is always covered in the press in the week’s preceding. This year’s coverage centred on the fact that a religious group would be holding a prayer vigil outside the hall. This no doubt generated free publicity.
I turned up shortly after opening time and bagged myself a position beside the main stage. Looking around me I saw lots of expensive DSLR’s and of course the ubiquitous camera-phones everywhere. 

Hands up if you own a camera-phone 

I had the EOS 5d MKII with a 17 – 40 zoom for anything that might happen right next to me and an EOS 7d with a 28 – 135 zoom to handle the performances that happened a bit further away. Both cameras had flashes fitted.

One 8Gb card gone already 

Here are some of my photographic impressions from the night. Of course there was lots of nudity but I’m only putting the tamer stuff here.
IMG_3473 IMG_4031
IMG_4089 IMG_4228

IMG_4396 IMG_4205
IMG_4143 IMG_3344

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Laid off

This sums up my mood

On the 13 of September this year, I was invited into the HR department and told by our new department head, that the company for which I have worked for the past nine and a half years had no more need of my services.*

I was given five months notice, effective from the beginning of October. My last day will be at the end of February 2012.

To say that I was shocked would be a massive understatement. To be laid off is bad enough, but to be made redundant when you think that all is well is a nasty surprise.

Since my birthday in 2002, I have worked as the in-house photographer for the premier lighting company in Switzerland. The work I do includes, but is not limited to product shots, on location work, portraits, exhibition coverage and lots, lots more.

As the sole English person working here, I proofread brochures and documents for accuracy in my mother language. With my knowledge of HTML, I built private websites for my co-workers including members of the management board.

Presentations, movies and PowerPoint’s are also called for. In fact, only last week, one of my self made movies was shown in the town of Olten to inform its citizens how their Christmas lights will look next year.

I’ve immediately started a campaign of letter writing and registered myself for email alerts for any jobs with “photography” somewhere in the description.

The rejection letters are coming back thick and fast. It seems that employees can now be choosier because of all the “photographers” on the market and the plethora of picture libraries.

Although (at the time of writing this) I have another three months or so until I have to go, I am cautiously optimistic of finding an in-house position. If not, then I’ll have to go back to freelancing.

Other steps that I’ve taken are building up a mailing list of architects and lighting designers etc that I have worked with in the past and offering my services to them. My print portfolio has always contained my best stuff so I don’t have much extra work to do with that. My website will be completely revamped to show more professional work. Business cards will also be added to the mix.

Since I first got into photography, I have always been able to survive. In the past I moved to different countries and was always able to find photography related work, whether it was managing a lab in South Africa or being the base photographer for the US army in Stuttgart, Germany. (For which I received a certificate of commendation for my photographic work and knowledge.)

However. I was younger then and didn’t have a wife and family to think about.
I’m not going to make this post depressing but rather will use my blog to detail how I’m managing to find photographic work which is my passion.
* I have just checked my work computer. Since 2005 I have made 25,777 digital images for Regent.  Before that and up until about two years ago, I shot hundreds of rolls of medium format film. I think that there is DEFINITELY a need for a photographer.

Film from a three day shoot

 Film boxes from a two day studio shoot

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Timing.............. or the lack of it

Timing, meaning everything from pre-planning to arriving on time to being at the correct spot to get the image, in photography, is everything.

Last weekend I displayed a singular lack of any sense of timing.

As you may have read I prepared to photograph the traditional  Gansabhäut in the town of Sursee in Switzerland (for exact details refer to the previous post).

I've been meaning to photograph it ever since I came to Switzerland in 1995 but things always seemed to happen that prevented me from making the journey.

This year I made all the arrangements. I researched the event, and telephoned the event organiser, the extremely helpful and very knowledgeable Mr Michael Blatter from Sursee council.

He informed me that this year, one hundred and eleven people of all ages from 15 to 70 years old had registered. Each person would only get one attempt at separating the goose from its head. There would be two geese. Last year it had taken about one and a half hours until the second goose was cut free.

The event was scheduled to begin at one o’clock with speeches etc and a procession of guild members carrying the two geese. My interest lay however with the actual main part of the proceedings i.e. the goose whacking.

I left my house in plenty of time and was sure of arriving at about three o’clock. Getting caught in traffic and then having to find a parking space a bit away from the event meant that I turned up 35 minutes late at the town hall. I was confident however that all would be good. Last year’s event had taken ninety minutes right?

Years ago, when I worked as a press photographer, I was told always to take a quick picture at a news scene upon arrival. This ensures that you have a picture, in case anything happens such as being told to leave.

With this in mind, I popped my head trough the door and took a long telephoto shot of one of the contestants lining up his aim. Not a great pic as his left arm is obscuring his mask / face. But I had at least one pic, should anything untoward happen.

 My establishing shot
Eos7d 70 -200 zoom

I went back inside to find Mr Blatter and heard a tremendous cheer from the assembled crowd. Spinning round and exiting through the door, I saw the goose’ body lying on the ground. I snapped several pics and said to one of the press photographers standing next to me

“So that’s the first one gone”

“No” he replied. “That was the second one”

I couldn’t believe it. I’d missed the action!

I learnt from the photographer that the first goose had been knocked down after the seventh participant whacked it.

The second goose had gone after the first person hit it!

All was not not lost however. Another thing that doing press photography teaches you is that there are always other images to be made. Thinking about this, I set about taking other images from the event. Pole climbing (Stangechlädere), ugly face contest (Chäszänne), where the winners get a slice of cheese, and the combined sack race (Sackgompe) & sausage eating contest were recorded by my cameras and these images will go to a slide library of traditional Swiss folklore events.

 Ugly faces rewarded with cheese

The pole climbing

 Combined sack race and sausage eating

 Town square
As for the main event. I'll definitely be back next year!

Thanks for reading

Friday, 11 November 2011

Gansabhäut. Sort of like a Swiss Piñata

Gansabhäut. Sort of like a Swiss Piñata

Ever since I came to Switzerland in 1995, I've liked to photograph various folk festivals.

Today I'm off to photograph the Gansabhäut festival held every November 11th in Sursee, Switzerland. This involves stringing up a dead goose, then having blindfolded youths (not sure if girls take part), trying to decapitate it with a blunt sabre, whilst blindfolded andwearing a golden mask and crimson robes.

Apart from the sword, the robes and the mask, I guess it's a sort of Swiss version of the Mexican Piñata. That's the kind of thing you see on the home video programmes where a blindfolded child wields a baseball bat and (usually) hits an adult between the legs.

Apart from the main event of decapitating a dead goose, there are lots of things for youngsters to do including (but not limited to) an ugly face contest, climbing a pole barefoot, eating sausages dangling on string without hand contact (seriously) and a few others. It all finishes of with a flaming torch procession through the town,  although this last part is relatively new, having been introduced in 1997.

I'll be taking my Eos 5dMkII and my Eos 7D with me. On the 5d, I'll probably mount my 17 - 40 and on the 7D there'll be a 70 - 200 zoom in case I can't get too close. Both cameras will have a flash mounted to add a bit of "punch" to the red robes and the gold masks.

Pictures to follow.

To read a bit more about it in English you can visit the Swiss Tourist board website here. These are some images from previous years to be found here.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

How did I do that? Part 2

Banishing reflections

I work a great deal with reflective surfaces in my job. It could be a highly reflective silver grid on a light or even just the inside surface of a light reflector. Either way, these surfaces produce reflections which detract from the image.

Add to the fact that these surfaces are sometimes concave or convex then the problem gets worse as the curved surface takes in the whole room!

For small surfaces it's relatively simple to place the object in a white light tent. For larger objects it can get problematic and the images may have to be extensively retouched.

I had this problem recently when I was photographing one of a new range of LED lights produced by the company for which I work.

I had done all the catalogue standard shots and wanted to finish with a shot showing the light source itself.

When I looked into the reflector through my viewfinder, I could see myself! The light was just a bit too big to place in a light tent so I came up with another solution.

Here's what I did:

Camera is mounted on the FOBA stand. There's also a spirit level in the hot-shoe.

First result: 

That's me reflected in the silver reflector.

A large piece of white card with a lens sized hole in the middle is called for:

I used the self timer function on the camera to give me ten seconds of time to position the board correctly

This was the final result.

I make no apologies if you already know of this technique, but I simply like to share my knowledge.

Thanks for reading

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Winter is coming. Don't put the camera away.

I was out looking for a special place to photograph last weekend. Someone had loaded a picture into Google earth calling it a "secret chapel". I decided to go with my son to take a look.

It turned out not to be a chapel but  rather more interestingly, a warren of little hideaway bunkers that the Swiss army used back in the early 1900's to train recruits.

 EOS 5dMKII. 17- 40 zoom 
1/100sec @ f7.10 ISO 640

I took my pics and whilst on the way back to my parking spot I saw the local chapel through the fog. This was the reult and actually my favourite image of the day.

EOS 5dMKII. 17- 40 zoom 
1/200sec @ f10 ISO 640

Just remember. Even though it's Autumn and the weather my not be all that nice, there are still a myriad of photo opportunities awaiting you.
See you next time. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Test drive

My old EOS 5 has been replaced with its successor, the EOS 5d Mark II.

I've also replaced my old 50 f1.8 with the new 1.4 version. Last Sunday I decided to test both out on a walk.

Fresh out of the box

A friend told me about a popular trail called the "1000 Steps" in the nearby Kanton (county) of Aargau. which leads up the side of a hill. I thought to myself that one thousand steps is only a name. It's probably a couple of hundred at most....

 First image with the new combo. 
1/400 sec Av Mode at f2.8

 1000 Steps (in local dialect)
1/250 sec at f2.5

 Big mistake. 

 One thousand steps is actually 1140 steps which go up an incline of about thirty degrees.

 The steps are thoughtfully labelled.

The first one hundred were OK. Perhaps because I had the rucksack on my back and was leaning forward. This adjusted my centre of gravity forwards and "helped" (maybe only psychologically) to keep up an even pace.

Another 600 to go.
Or so I thought.....

I was really pleased that I had the rucksack with me. I would really have considered giving up if I'd had my shoulder bag with me. With the rucksack, I had both hands free to steady and guide myself.
The Hama Katoomba 190RL

Over the halfway mark but still 
another 400 to go.

It's a bit of a let down when you reach the 1000 steps mark and there's still more steps to go!! Another one hundred and forty to be exact.

Steps as far as you can see.

Heart pounding and completely out of breath, I reached the top forty five minutes after setting off. "So what was at the top?" I hear you ask. Nothing much. Just a forest trail and a vantage point about three minutes walk from the top of the steps.

A place to rest and gaze out over the county.
1/200 at f13 (see here)

This is one of my favourite images taken on that day with the 50mm lens. There is no Photoshop jiggery-Pokery involved. I processed the RAW file in DPP, sharpened it a bit and added some saturation. All in all I am well pleased with the camera.

 1/80 sec at f2.8

Thanks for reading. BTW All images were taken with the 200 ISO speed set on the camera.