Sunday 25 August 2013

Underwater Photography

This is another project we’ve got underway, a couple of personal shoots but which will be suitable for an open call we’ve spotted.  Really though, this is us mainly undertaking a type of photography we can only really do once a year in the summer; underwater photography.

When we were at Uni, a classmate did a big underwater fashion shoot for their final major project, and me and Amy both discussed the fact that we’d always wanted to try doing underwater pictures of some sort. However the cost of the equipment put us off a bit; sealed digital underwater cameras are frighteningly pricey, plus we don’t have access to a swimming pool like our classmate did.  One summer in Wales though we did experiment with buying a disposable underwater film camera, but on the same trip found a sealable waterproof bag in an outdoor shop, that we reckoned would take my digital compact camera.  It wasn’t all that practical because the bag tended to interfere with the lens movement, but it did give us some nice images.  The next year, we found a rather more useful underwater camera bag which some clever person had designed with room for a camera lens, in a large projecting solid plastic cylinder.  This happily bought proper underwater digital photography within the realms of our low budget, so we got stuck-in taking pics.

The most recent underwater shots we did were a few in France- decent lighting and very clear water, which helped the camera a bit...

This is our usual location of choice though, Llanbedrog on the Llyn peninsular in Wales.  Nice sandy beach, National Trust car park (so free for us), incredibly calm and shallow sea, and on a nice sunny day, the water is gin-clear.  We’ve returned to this spot as a regular haunt for years now, and each year end up taking a few more underwater pictures. 

And this is the low-budget, low-tech Ribbon Art and Photography Maritime Photography Kit.  Consisting as it does of the original underwater camera bag (now useful for carrying spare batteries and memory cards; nothing more annoying than being 50 yards out from the beach and the batteries going), and the newer camera bag made with provision for a lens.  The two cameras are slightly older digital compacts, a Samsung (which is marginally newer and more advanced, but which doesn’t seem to cope well with certain kinds of underwater photos and lighting conditions), and a Fuji Finepix, which is a tad basic but copes magnificently with low lighting conditions.  We use these older cameras because there is always the risk of the bag failing, and we’d rather risk killing a 5 year old camera than our more modern Nikon compact. Finally, a large inflatable swim ring which we’ve been using as alternately a prop and a floating camera rig for about 4 years; its easier to float around taking pictures than trying to hold a camera still and focus whilst madly doggy-paddling around in the waves.

First up, Amys project.  Her intention was to try and capture a balance between surface and submerged, and dramatic shots of waves breaking, all from the perspective of somebody actually swimming, with their head just above water.  The waves in question are actually the most shallow ones right on the shoreline, but photographed close-up in a way that this is not always apparent.  We also visited another location, Criccieth, for some extra shots as the waves are a little more dramatic there.  Amy managed to get some very nice shots as she went along, and we’re hoping to get back here shortly to get a load more images with different backdrops and sky.  Interestingly, the newer camera (the Samsung) copes fantastically with this kind of shot, whereas it struggles a bit with full-on underwater.

Mine now… I was a bit unsure what to do for my own shoot; when I was in France I managed to get some nice pics in rockpools, but I haven’t found any really nice ones in this part of Wales yet, it all being sand and shingle.  Plus, the Samsung wasn’t really coping with trying to focus underwater in such tight confines, as the above shot demonstrates. I had wondered about doing some shots at night, weirdly-lit rockpools using coloured LED torches, but the camera was having enough trouble focusing in daylight.  So leaving the rock pool idea, I returned to a project I’ve been messing with for a few years.

Starting when I was at Uni, I have every now and again been doing work on a sprawling project called “Inflate-Deflate”, doing abstract shots using inflatable beach toys (more in this blog entry here ). When we started doing the underwater pics, I took to trying a couple of shots from underwater, and now with slightly better kit available I thought I’d have another go (might as well; an effect of that project and my old Happygoth project is that we’ve still got tons of beachtoys in the props collection).  The aim of the pics was to get some very abstract close-ups, with weird lighting and reflections, and with some experimentation I seem to have finally hit on something I really like.

We did hit some problems though with the shoot, and whilst we don’t like to rant too much on here, I’ll mention them because it did affect the images somewhat.  First is the suspicion we seem to attract from some other people on the beach, who don’t seem happy to have people wandering round in the sea with cameras... it does tend to force us to try and find isolated spots for a bit of privacy, which suits us but makes things a little awkward.

Secondly, its dogs on beaches; most Welsh beaches don’t allow dogs, at least during season, but Llanbedrog allows them.  We’d have got more images shot had we not had people allowing their dogs off the lead to run riot on the beach around us… nothing for quite interrupting a shoot like irresponsible dog owners throwing (apparently on purpose) their dogs’ chew-toys into the water near us, on an otherwise near-deserted stretch of beach, and us finding two massive fighting Alsations in the sea about 10 yards away.  Quite apart from the beaches being covered in dog crap, seemingly every beach we tried in this area we attracted everything from suspicion to full-on anger from dog walkers, especially on morning shoots; on the Friday morning, a wave shoot for Amy at 8am near Llanbedrog was ‘guarded’ by an elderly dog walker who stood glowering and watching us from behind a hedge whilst we were on ‘his’ beach, before heading back to his car where he actually waited for us to leave, hanging out of his car and glaring at us furiously as we left.  We’ve had odd problems with dog walkers before on shoots (dogs running into shot, stealing props, trying to attack us or the models), but never as much as in the last couple of days on these two or three beaches.

Right, ranting over.  Hopefully we’ll be returning to Wales on my days off later next week, with the intention being to do/redo some of the “Home is…” shots, and also to complete some more underwater pictures now that we’ve both got the experimental shots out of the way.  Amy will be doing some more wave shots, maybe with rougher seas, and I’m aiming to do some more pictures with inflatables now that I’ve worked out which images work best, and also perhaps some shots with miniatures for an unrelated project, if I get chance.

"Home is..." back in Wales

A busy couple of day’s photography in Wales- we arrived Wednesday evening, left Friday evening, and managed to fit an awful lot into a short space of time.  First an update on “Home is…”

Thursday morning dawned very dull and wet, so we gave up hope of getting a chair picture done at all.  When it started to really brighten up all of a sudden around lunchtime we decided to hit the beach for some other photos for another couple of projects, more on which in a separate post shortly. Post beach, with a glorious sunset, we raced up to the road above where we were staying, to a location we’d used for the concept shots last year.

It’s a nice spot, just off a single track, steep clutch-killer of a hill road, with a glorious view of the mountains.  What we’d forgotten though is that it’s also plagued with insect life of every variety from midges to giant wasps and spiders, so it was probably the most painful shoot we’ve done so far.  Still, it had a lovely backdrop for the shots.

Next morning, and with a glorious sunrise we headed out to another old haunt, a lake on the Beddgelert-Snowdon road which Amy had photographed last year.  Our first attempt at this location was marred somewhat by the fact that someone was sleeping in their car in the lay-by, but fortunately a short drive got us a nice spot where we could set up.  Bit of trouble getting everything flat and level, but we finally got a shot we were happy with.

Moving slightly further up the valley to a second lake at the foot of Snowdon, we ended up at a location I’d used about 10 years ago for a project I’d done on my Foundation year.  We had planned just to do a recce, as it was getting a bit light (our aim being to do these particular shots at sunset and sunrise), but it looked so nice we just decided to get a shot done there and then. 

So 3 shots done in 12 hours at 3 different locations, not bad going.  The demands of the day job means we’re back in Yorkshire for a week, but Amy will be using her time off to get some more shots done at a couple of locations near Bingley, more on this tomorrow.  Meanwhile, the next blog entry will be about another project we’re up to at the moment, photos for which we have been shooting in Wales alongside the chair project…

Sunday 18 August 2013

"Home is..." rain, waterfalls, clouds, and midges

A mixed couple of days for the project… Saturday was another heavily overcast, wet day (as can be seen from this shot, taken from the battlements of Caernarvon Castle).  Still, nice to be able to have a bit of a lie-in and not get up at 5am, and to spend time with relatives during the day without worrying about photography.

Sunday morning was forecast to be rather better, so we got up early and went to do a shoot at some partially-logged Forrestry Commision land.  It was a shoot which was marred a bit by problems though; the lighting wasn’t quite right when we arrived at about half five, we did a shoot (getting eaten alive by midges in the process), and moved on to another location.  The second location though –an abandoned level crossing on a derelict railway- was too overgrown for the shoot, so we doubled back to the logged forest.  By this point it was lighter, but the shoot got a bit chaotic and rushed with the midges and the presence of a dog walker heralding increased use of the car park we were somewhat monopolising.  Polite dog walker though, its nice to meet one every now and again.

Sunday afternoon was used for a bit of location scouting in the woods above Prenteg/Aberdunant, and some long exposure pics of waterfalls which were carrying a great deal of flood water off the hills.  No evening shoot though; too cloudy and wet.

Monday saw a painfully early start on the last day of photography; at least with our family having set off for home, we didn’t have to worry about tip-toeing around in the morning, and could blunder and crash around the place exhaustedly to our hearts content.  The location for the shoot was at Aberglaslyn, above the National Trust car park (an area I use for railway pictures sometimes).  The midges were out in force again, and the lighting was a little odd, but we seem to have managed to get at least one useful shot out of the location, eventually.

Its back to the day job for a couple of days coming up, then hopefully back to Wales for another couple of shoots; we’ve also got an unrelated project for another open call underway today before we head back, so updates on that shortly too.

Saturday 17 August 2013

"Home is..." Sea and Quarries

A rather action-packed day today for the project.  We started out at 5am, ending up down on the beach at Black Rock, in Porthmadog just as the sun was getting to a decent height… or would have been, had last nights weather front not been hanging around.  The lighting wasn’t quite what we wanted, but given that this is Wales and this might be the only dry morning we get here, we chose to shoot anyway.  Lots of tip-toeing around to avoid waking people up too much on the nearby campsite.

One advantage of this location is that you’re not allowed to walk dogs on this beach (less dog mess to worry about treading in, less likelihood of people wandering round in the early hours of the morning getting in the shot or just standing immediately behind you glowering).  There was still the odd random person about, but it felt more relaxed than the shoot at the same location we did last year when we were doing the concept shots.  Pleasingly, the one random council employee who was driving around barely glanced at us when he passed.

The set up was based off one we did last year, having the chair in amongst a load of beach tat, which added extra props to be carried over to the location. 

With the sun annoyingly coming out just after we’d left, we took the opportunity to do some more recce pics, finding (with the assistance of my parents who know the area rather better, and who are staying up in Wales for a bit on their hols) the derelict slate mill we couldn’t find on Thursday.  Whilst on the same road, we ended up at another location we’d done in the past, Llyn Cwm Stradlyn.

We reckoned we could get three good shots in this area, so around sunset, we returned with the props, and extra people to model, and managed to get 4 decent shots done in a couple of hours.

Saturday is forecast to rain heavily again, so we’ll see if we manage to get some more shots done or not…

Friday 16 August 2013

"Home is..." First day in Wales, location scouting

With a 5-day block to shoot some pictures in Wales whilst visiting relatives, we set off with every intention of arriving late on Wednesday, then doing a shoot on Thursday.  And typically, our arrival in Wales has coincided with some of the worst weather of the last two months.

This shot, from the Cob embankment in Porthmadog, sums up the scene pretty well; in the distance is the planned location for the first shots, being somewhat smothered with rain varying from drizzle to torrential.  The sky is what our friend Clare referred to as a Tupperware Sky, as if you’re sat in a box looking up at a flat white lid.

Given the conditions today, we scrubbed doing an actual shoo this morning, and decided to do a bit of a recce on some of the planned locations.  First stop, Cwm Prysor, on the Trawsfynned-Bala road, and an abandoned railway viaduct I had visited some years ago for a photo shoot.  And to our extreme annoyance, the site is now under CCTV surveillance.  Though there is a permissive footpath, the idea of having to explain to people why we’re lugging a lot of furniture along there at 6 in the morning doesn’t appeal at the moment, so the location has been dropped for the time being.

We found this rather nice spot, on an abandoned freight railway- nice public point of access (a level crossing), and no chance of being splatted by a train, being as nothing has passed this way in over a decade.  However, parking may scupper this spot, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

By this point the weather was seriously deteriorating, along with visibility, as we approached Blanuae Ffestiniog (though for all my life I don’t think I’ve ever visited this town in nice weather).  Two more old photography locations from Uni days, and two more rendered unsuitable by the intervening years… a new road has sealed off access to one spot, and quarrying operations have started again at another.  Attempts to find a new spot were then thwarted by the gale force winds and heavy rain, so we left.

A stop further down the valley at another old location, Tanygrisau, proved somewhat more positive, and gave us a couple of decent spots to come back to.  We finally ended up trying to find an old slate mill I’d once passed years ago between Prenteg and CymStradlyn, but got somewhat lost on a single track road which seemed to have left civilisation behind.  When we got to this point, and the livestock that had decided to block our path, we took the hint and decided to head for home.  By this point the torrential rain had properly set in, and we decided to scrub the shoot altogether until tomorrow morning.  On the positive side, tomorrow is meant to be much better weather, and whilst we’ve written-off a few locations which had the potential to be suitable, we’ve found some others to substitute.  Next up, all being well, a trip to the beach for the first shoot.

"Home is...": Starting out

We’ve been a bit quiet of late on here (and on the facebook page), but we can finally reveal why; we have a massive new project on the go which will be culminating with us having a gallery exhibition next year!  We’ve been exhibiting work for a while off and on (and have both had solo shows in the past in Birmingham, Carlisle, and Shipley), but recently we’ve only been showing work as part of group open calls.  This time, it’s an opportunity to exhibit a project we’re doing called “Home is…” based off an old project of Amy’s from our University days.

The work will be exhibited next autumn at the Cupola Contemporary Arts gallery in Hillsborough, Sheffield.  We first exhibited with this friendly and very professional outfit a couple of years ago, entering an open call they’d advertised through Creative Bradford.  We’ve since shown (and sold) work with them a few times, but earlier this year we approached them with a couple of proposals for exhibitions.  And to our delight, they agreed.  Anyway, here’s some more about the gallery:

The Project- “Home is…”

This is something Amy started whilst at University in Carlisle, “Chair”, a shoot where elements of a living room set would have been assembled out in various locations around Cumbria, the idea being to juxtapose the cosy domestic setting within a contrasting landscape.  The practise shoots basically involved lugging an armchair around Cumbria, mainly by foot rather than by car during a particularly cold winter, and taking lots of photographs of a model (me) sat in the chair reading a paper with my face hidden.  The angle of anonymity is something that Cupola were very keen on; allowing the viewer to ‘project themselves’ into the shots.

The practise shoots never got the chance to progress to the full, massive project due to time constraints with other projects and coursework, and for a few years the shoot was just a background idea lurking in the ideas book.  In 2012 we got chance to shoot some slightly more complex versions of the project, as a first stage towards applying for a proposal for an actual show.  These pictures were shot in Wales, in the early hours of the morning (in an attempt to avoid awkward questions from random members of the general public who seem to object to photographers a lot of the time).

And so onto this evolution of the project; over the next year, we will be expanding the project for a massive series of shoots in varying locations around The North, the Midlands, Wales, and anywhere else practical which takes our fancy, all following the similar format of small, contained domestic sets (living room, office, bedroom, kitchen, etc) with varying models, always with their faces hidden to maintain the anonymity angle, just pictured relaxing in these environments. 

And as we go along, we will be keeping up regular updates on the blog and FB account documenting the shoots as we do them, along with the work we’re doing on other big projects.

Prop Acquisition

   When we first did the Chair pictures as the practise shoot back in Carlisle, all we had was the chair.  It was a bit heavy, a little impractical, and was rescued from a skip during a house clearance (slightly morbid that we did so well out of the famous Carlisle flood of 2004), but given the restricted timescale for the shoots, Amy didn’t manage to acquire anything else for it.

By the time of the further practise shoots in 2012, that original chair (which we were never that satisfied with) was long lost, so we had to start again.  And being as we planned to do the shoot at very short notice, a degree of improvisation was required.  The new chair was actually a broken wooden kitchen chair that received some rather heavy modification with plywood, hardboard, and cardboard tubes to create an actual armchair shape.  This was then clad in card and bubblewrap to bulk it out a bit further, then the whole thing was covered with a chintz bedsheet which was pegged at the back to make it look more armchair like.  The results were not entirely convincing (limited as we were by both time and the need to make something that could fit in the back of a Ford KA), but we figured it would do for the concept shots.  The lamp was equally improvised, constructed hastily from a mixing bowl, a washing line prop, an Ikea bin and a cheap LED ring-light, all hot-glued together and spray painted.

The concept shots proved their purpose though, and now we needed to get cracking with buying actual props.  Initially the issue of having a portable, lightweight chair which could be transported in a small car proved a tricky one; thoughts of redressing a folding camping chair or blow-up chair were sunk because a) it might look a bit naff, and b) they wouldn’t be durable enough for repeated use.
   After a day of searching every charity shop in Shipley, Saltaire, Bingley, and Keighley, we finally found the perfect chair- a tenner for a lovely old armchair that dismantled into three parts- nice and easy to transport.  Suitably washed, cleaned and polished, its perfect for the shoot

   The bookcase is actually an old display cabinet that was designed to be hung on a wall- we removed the glass doors, glued the shelves into place, and gave it a bit of a clean.  The lamp is a standard Ikea product, the only ‘new’ item bought for the shoot so far.  Books and ornaments on the shelves were from charity shops or our own props collections.  The rug is mine from when I lived back in the midlands.  We spent some time arranging, and rearranging, these things until we were happy with the layout, though in practise the contents of the shelves will vary shot by shot.

To start with we will be focussing on the chair shots; later, more room sets will be made (for which we have already begun acquiring items) incorporating bedrooms, desks, etc.