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Backstage at the Giffords Big Top with Olympus

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Roll-up, roll-up to Giffords razzmatazz, music and miraculous circus.  Enter Luna Park, home to illusionist Odoroff and the irrepresibble Tweedy amongst other larger than life characters.

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A magical world where your imagination is allowed to run riot.  Where Olympus have provided access and equipment to capture it.

Your ringmaster for the day, Damian McGillicuddy, Olympus principal photographer and true lighting and digital magician.  Ably assisted by visionaries, Rob Pugh and Neil Buchan-Grant.

As the lights dim Tweedy enters to captivate the camera toting guests.  He does his best to scupper Olympus’s plans.  His comedy routine invoking involuntary camera shake caused by uproarious laughter. Luckily image stabilisation saved the day.

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The next acts, Bibi and Bichu, Jolly Jack (Big Dave) and the Aeronauts pose other problems.  All testing the anticipation and hand to eye coordination skills of the assembled photographers.

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The Aeronauts acrobatics are executed with a daring finesse and almost supernatural affinity, such is there timing and skill.  Testing photographer and cameras tracking and focusing ability alike.

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Obviously, flash could not be used given its potential distraction for the performers, whilst also killing the atmosphere of a shot if ambient and flash were not adequately mixed.

Varying the shutter speeds and aperture allowed the camera to record movement and the depth of field within the images.  Obviously, the performers could not be individually light-metered as you would a studio portrait, but the circus lights appeared to be tungsten based, which I retained the tungsten cast.  Giving the images a performance quality.  It would also allow for sepia post-processing to give the shots a Victorian feel to them.

Venturing outside the big top to be greeted by Odoroff the mustachioed magician and Rob Pugh.  Who set up a Profoto  flash with fitted soft box by a vintage Giffords liveried van incorporating an organ.  I preferred to shoot natural light rather than mixing the flash with ambient and balancing the two just for speed.

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Damian set up on the bleachers within the big top.  Kata Kiss, a virtuoso gymnast and hoop expert threw the shapes, lit by two strip boxed flashes set at 45 degrees to the rear on each side of her.  An elevated soft box with fitted flash was held to the front of her camera right.  I set shutter speed of 1/30sec when shooting Kata Kiss to ensure that movement of the hoops was recorded within the image.

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Last but certainly not least Neil and Tweedy were found just inside the big top doorway.  Neil’s flash being fitted with a diffused McGillicuddy collaspible beauty dish, to sculpt the light.

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It picked out Tweedy’s expressive features superbly enabling me to capture a partly comedic, partly melancholic portrait.  Telling the story that whilst Damian educates his delegates (background) Tweedy has been excluded from the group for clowning about.  By including the out of focus Damian and his delegates it provides the shot with depth and possibly pathos.

All too soon the day came to an end, but what a day of edutainment (Damian McGillicuddy).  Thank you Giffords Circus and Olympus.

Manchester Urban Portrait Shoot

zoe blog headerWith a brief Manchester urban portrait shoot in the pipeline I began by unburdening my camera bag of its bulk.  Leaving the large Canon 1D series bodies, prime lenses and numerous flash guns at home.  Preferring instead to rely on the small but beautifully formed inconspicuous Fuji XPro-1, two lenses (18 and 35mm) and the Calumet GF400 bare bulb flash kit.  It felt strangely liberating being free from my usual baggage.  Yet still having enough power and pop to create useable portrait images.

Meeting up with model Zoe at the Night and Day Cafe to discuss the shoot route.
Castlefields proved a perfect setting with its canal basin, geometric doors, railings and stair wells set against an urban skyline.

Sometimes making the most of a two or three metre area to frame up the shots.

Manchester Urban Portrait ShootManchester Urban Portrait ShootManchester Urban Portrait ShootWhilst at other times incorporating the wider panoramic scenery and urban skyline into the image.  Sometimes balancing the available ambient light with the flash and at other times, killing the ambient light by under exposing by up to 2 stops and lighting the image using the GF400 with fitted diffuser.  This technique allowed for a day time shot to be given a night time look.  Atmospheric dark contrasty shots being the order of the day whilst high key shots were definitely banished.
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We ended the session by making our way back to Deansgate.  To the late victorian neo-gothic, John Rylands library which dominates the streetscape.  The dramatic setting proving perfect to create some film noir type shots, incorporating the shadows and harsh light to sculpt the images.  With it’s cloistered corridors and large opulent stone steps flagged by lighted piers and stained glass windows providing a rich tapestry for ideas and backdrops.

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All too quickly our time came to an end but suffice to say the two hours spent shooting with minimal kit yielded publishable results. Many thanks to Zoe without whose natural pose ability and patience the session would not have been either as enjoyable or provided such excellent results.