Karin Park – Electronic Sound Magazine

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Neil Mason is the commissioning editor at Electronic Sound Magazine (electronicsound.co.uk) and approached me about shooting an electronic musician they were featuring called Karin Park. He’s been watching my street work on my Flickr and blog for a while and encouraged me that he wanted me to do a similar style of thing for the feature.

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I went to Olso in Hackney with the writer Danny Turner in the afternoon for the soundcheck and met the band which consisted on Karin Park, her brother David on the drums and bass and Juno on the keyboards. I started off by shooting Karin in her dressing room applying some makeup and chatted briefly to her about her music, I find this kind of interaction hard as it’s quite intimidating and the whole patter of a portrait photographer something I’m not used to but as a former model she was an excellent subject, knowing just what to do to give some great close up shots of her in a mirror.

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The sound check was a great place to get all sorts of shots, with the band being completely happy to have me move around them on stage and shoot completely unhindered from all sorts of different angles, they also had a YouTube music channel there shooting some film for a feature which meant that they did full run throughs of a couple of tracks with full lighting. It gave me one of my best shots where Karin was sat on a stool and the lighting guys bathing her in wonderful blue and purple light.

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After the soundcheck was finished we shot quite a few backstage shots in their dressing room and in a small bar area. I found a spot behind the bar which had great lighting and took portraits of David and Juno, testing out a few different settings and getting ready to shoot Karin for what I felt would be a great intimate portrait of an artist just before she went on stage.

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When Karin was ready I asked her if I could get a few shots of her and while she was quite busy and clearly nervous she agreed. She said she didn’t have much time but because I had already shot David and Juno there I was all set up and after only ten shots I said ok; which surprised her. ‘That’s the fastest photo shoot I’ve ever had!’ but she was pleased with the shots I had got of her and so was I.

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The show itself was full of a really enthusiastic audience and I took quite a few shots from in front of the stage. This was the most challenging aspect of the day as getting a great shot of her live with people all around you proves hard. It really goes to show that getting a really fantastic live shot is a lot harder than you would imagine. The lights are moving and changing, Karin was very energetic in her performance and this made it hard for my Nikon and Sony to freeze her in the action. I never use flash and obviously this is not desirable to the artist while they are in full flow so shooting at f1.8 on quite a slow shutter speed makes this challenging and tricky.

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I moved to the sound and lighting booth for some wider shots which encompassed the whole stage and audience and while this made of a couple of interesting shots I can see now why most photographers don’t do this, the intimacy is lost and the shots look a lot less exciting from this far back.

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The performance was fantastic and the new album ‘Apocalypse Pop’ sounded superb live, if you ever get a chance to see her live I would highly recommend it. Make sure you check out the article in Electronic Sound Magazine and I look forward to my next assignment!

You can see even more pictures from this shoot on my flickr page

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Wizard of Oz

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When I was living in Edinburgh I took some pictures for Ikram Gilani who was putting on a show about the boxing industry as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. The shots were simple as the show was basically a couple of spot lights and a couple of chairs. The lighting really suited my style of photography and you can see the set here.

Brett Hunter was at one of those shows and worked on some post promotion and I shared the pictures with him. This year Brett as part of Bright Ideas CIC was putting on a production of Wizard of Oz for all the local schools in the Lanarkshire area and asked me to come and along and shoot the production.

One of my stipulations was that I would be given full access to every area of the production, I would be able to get on stage during rehearsals and shoot a couple of the public performances.
I essentially wanted to shoot in a candid manner but with everyone knowing I was there and giving me that freedom.

I flew up to Glasgow on the Saturday and went straight to the rehearsals which were double interesting because it was the first time some of the cast had met each other and also the entire set was being built at the same time. I wanted to get as much of the build up, backstage and practice as I could and on the first day I shot over 1000 pictures with around 70 being in the final edit that night.

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Astonishingly that one and only run through was all the practice they had and on the Monday morning they had their first performance, I shot lots of backstage stuff and build up and on the first day tried to get more behind the scenes images. On the monday there were two performances, the first was (as you would expect) quite rough with technical issues with sound and almost everything that could go wrong, going wrong. In that kind of environment it’s hard to be sensitive to the panicking stage hands, music and lighting people and actors frantically trying to pull something together when everything around them is not working. To that end I don’t think I got a picture which eloquently illustrated this, only close.

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The afternoon show was 100% better and it was only after this that everyone relaxed. The backstage shots from this afternoon were much easier to shoot as they were certainly more confident in their roles.

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The second day I went out front to shoot the show from the audience’s perspective, crouching in the pit and also moving out between the audience. I’ve never really been a fan of music photography where the shooter only gets to take pictures up the nose of the artist from the pit, I also now realise quite how difficult it is to get anything decent from that angle.

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Now that I was familiar with the show and the way it was being performed I could start to think about the set pieces that I wanted to shoot that would give us the promotional type shots that could be used by the production company. I wanted to do family portraits and this is an area I certainly need to improve on, directing people and having the confidence to keep going until I get the shot I want. Knowing people had lunch to get and not wanting to hold up actors is all well and good if you’ve got your shot, I didn’t feel like I devoted enough time to this and the result is good but not spectacular.

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After 4 days I was shattered, it was such hard work being on throughout three days of shooting, most of the time spent on your feet moving from one area to another and constantly looking for a shot whilst managing the multiple cameras was exhausting. Coupled with the editing in the evening, not enough sleep and a few takeouts ment by the time I got home on Tuesday night I was done for. Next time I shall do it differently, take better care of myself and be better prepared.

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St Pancras Pianos

Between December 14 and the end of January 15 I was walking through St Pancras Station every day. I noticed people playing the three pianos that are along the walkway towards the tube station and after a few days I realised I needed to be taking pictures of them.

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Before my car boot sale pictures I had never worked on a project that had and start and finish, my work was ongoing and I always assumed it would be, but the benefits of a project with a finite life are much clearer to me now. A change of scenery and a different approach is a breath of fresh air after being stuck down those tube tunnels for so long.

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If you Google for them you get hundreds of pictures of people’s backs so I decided to get parallel alongside them to capture them in portrait, it also means they sometimes see me and look over. It’s an interesting angle for shooting these pianists as you also capture the bags and personal items they bring with them, the people watching them and the other commuters walking past; it makes for an great picture.

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It also works quite well for a square format and perfect for an Instagram project. I’ve been experimenting with growing my audience by trying to come up with separate projects for Flickr, Instagram, Google + and soon Pinterest with only Twitter and Facebook the aggregators, so only subscribers to those social networks get to see them all. I’m not sure it’s going to work but personally it annoys me when I get a Facebook post, Tweet and Google + update which all contain the same content, so I’m trying to get away from that.

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So while these pictures are processed in Instagram they are not taken on a phone camera, but on my Sony A6000 and wifi’d over to my phone for processing. This means that I have the original raw files and plan to give them a second life in much higher quality and processed differently in the form of submissions to magazines, exhibitions or a book.

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But back to the pictures themselves, I’ve had an amazing response to them I think because there is a story in each one that leaves the viewer wondering what made this person sit down in the middle of a crowded train station and start to play the piano. Where did they learn, can they play well or just a few notes and where are the going? It’s an extraordinary public place to play the piano and while they might shy away from performing in front of an audience normally maybe they feel like no one is listening, although people do.

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Some of the same people crop up again and again and some people bring sheet music or play off an iPad so they clearly came to play there while many others just simply sat down while they were waiting to get on their train, it’s a fascinating slice of human life.

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I no longer commuter through there so whenever I go into London I have to make sure I grab a few shots as I still feel there are legs in this project and it’s ongoing and shall continue. I hope you like it.

A new me

So as of the start of February 2015 I’m going freelance, I’ve done this before but for different reasons, this time I’m doing it because I want to readdress the balance in my life and buy back some time.

I’ve been a Digital Designer for nearly 20 years, in that time I’ve launched a Print Design company, a Digital Agency, a music dot com, I’ve also worked in e-learning, live music, publishing, finance and, just recently, communication companies. I’ve also been freelance a few times before. But this time it’s different.

Ever since I left my job at Immediate Media a year ago there has been something nagging at me and photography has been a massive part of that. I’ve always thought I was a pretty good designer but never great and I’m ok with that. I’ve never strived to better myself in any extraordinary way, just what was needed at the time and situation I was in. However, when I re-discovered photography that all changed. Suddenly I had found an art form that I was fully comfortable with, I can hear my voice finally, something I never have been able to do with design. When I joined Immediate Media after a month I very nearly left the company because I didn’t feel like I was doing very well and I also watched this video:

Now I don’t want to make massive wet plate photographs, although that would be cool, but I want to commit myself to my art like this guy is committed to his. I will always have a backup because I can go back to work, what I do is actually very much in demand at the moment and I’m good enough to get a job at reasonably short notice but in many ways I don’t want that, I want no backup, I want it to be this or die.

It’s taken my recent experience with my last job, where the whole company has to hot desk, the equipment is poor and the tech support even poorer, the whole organisation is a mess and no one really cares to make me realise, life is too short for this.

I don’t know why I take the pictures I do, I don’t know what pictures I could take if I had a lot more time to devote to it and that is much more important to me than earning enough money to buy a house. I need to get to the bottom of why I’m so drawn to the images I make and the only thing I really want is to find out how great I could be at making pictures, where that could take me and how much better my life could be as a result.

To do this I’m thinking of doing an MA in Photography, the project needs to represent a further understanding into my process but also look at another aspect of my work and I’m not sure what that could be yet, but I’m working on it. I’m also going to travel and shoot in different places, interested to see the difference in responses and reactions to my style and my approach. It’s going to take a lot of networking, something I really find hard.

The ultimate goal is to find a way through my passion to a satisfactory result. The best thing about that is I have no idea what that result will be, it’s also scary but there is nothing I love more than a clean sheet to start again and make something new. A new me.

Four edits

There are only a few common pieces of advice I take stock in when it comes to Street Photography. With so many photographers out there trying to come up with regular blog posts you often get bombarded with do’s and don’ts that are just nonsense. But one of them will absolutely improve your photography, edit your work like a beast.

I have a process, it’s very simple and it removes a lot of the hand wringing you get when trying to whittle down your work. I call it the four edit process.

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Stage 1. Import

In the import screen don’t just import everything. I used to do that and would carefully go through each image looking for something that I could use in each one. But some shots are not even worth importing and your hard drive will thank you for getting rid of them right at the start. Make the thumbnail size large enough to weed out the missed, out of focus and just plain rubbish shots.

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Stage 2. Process.

Now go through your images and decide which ones to process. If you’ve done stage one really well you should be processing most of the ones you’ve imported because you’ve deemed them worthy to live on your hard drive. The ones you thought might be ok but when looking at them large won’t cut it should be deleted completely.

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Stage 3. Export.

Now of the processed images decide which you will export to jpg and at this stage in Lightroom you could probably lose a couple. Once they are in your folder on your drive open them in your image viewer and go and weed out the ones that aren’t as good as the rest. Be vicious, you’ve got this far so be really strict with yourself and even if you think a picture has potential, if it doesn’t stack up to the others in the folder, leave it behind (but don’t delete it).

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Stage 4. Publish.

My online platform is Flickr, it’s where I put everything and see how it performs. I upload the images to my account but set the visibility to just me. This gives you another opportunity to view them in context with your other images in your photostream and every morning I set a new image to public and post it on my Facebook, Google+ and Twitter streams. The result of this is that some images never get published, they stay in my photostream unseen because I shot something better the next day.

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The result is you publish the very best of your work but you get to contextualise it with the stuff that nearly makes it but not quite, which I think is sometimes the most valuable comparison.

Check out my Flickr page