Saturday, 20 January 2018

'Spaghetti' hell

Coming to the end of week 3 now and I decided to combine this week's photo challenges.
Dogwood's challenge was to shoot full manual but it's something I normally do anyway, especially when I'm in a controlled environment where I'm not relying on natural light & the sun constantly popping in & out..

Technical: Full ManualWhile the camera often determines shutter speed and aperture for the photographer, it doesn't know your creative intent. This week, challenge your self to assume creative control over the camera by using full manual mode. Select a subject where varying the aperture and / or shutter speed helps enhance the composition and visual qualities of the image.
The other brief was to artistically sell your favourite food. "So whether you turn your food into a piece of art, then shoot it.. or you shoot your favourite food and play around with the image in post, the choice is yours. Don't just pick a food because it's artistic, pick your food because you love it.
Make me want to eat this.. make it beautiful or bonkers.. sell me your favourite food."

Set-up in the kitchen.. obvious, but I like photographing kitchens. I've got a bit of an obsession with my fave studio, The Hacienda London's kitchen and photographed that before any other room in the stunning location, haha.. although theirs is MUCH nicer than my kitchen, but I like having loads of food / bread and kitchen utensils on the sideboard with which to make a cool set.

I set up a small gridded beauty dish directly in front of me and relatively low as I knew I wanted to be leaning over the table and didn't want the shadows on my face too harsh. The camera was set up out of shot & to the left in this image, hitting the table at 45 degrees.
Without the grid on the dish light bounced everywhere and looked quite flat, but with the grid not enough light hit the worksurface behind me, enhancing the fact I was in a kitchen. I set up a speed light on a stand directly behind where I sat for the shot so my body hid the stand.. that light (lowest power) hit the food directly without hitting any of the white cupboards. When the cupboards were lit, they overpowered the entire image - being white they are a huge distraction. If anything, I wanted less light on them.
Before I put the speedlight on a stand behind me and aimed directly, I had tried balancing it on top of the see-through extractor hood, (flashing through it) and taping it under the cupboards aiming down, but although it looked like there was some kind of funky under-cupboard lighting, it didn't look right.


My favourite food is pesto spaghetti! I love the taste of green pesto, although I have the veggie stuff because I only eat plant-based foods, (tastes the same; I dunno why the original even has Parmesan in) and I thought I'd do something messy with heaps of long strands of spaghetti all over my face and hanging out my mouth.
Except I also have a slight sensitivity to gluten.. it's nothing major, but I try to be good so I used gluten-free spaghetti, then found the lack of gluten fails to keep the spaghetti in long strands(!) so it all broke up and looked like macaroni cheese instead. I'm gutted because it was supposed to look like spaghetti; in my head, this was the main feature of the image and I think it really messed up the shot.
To make up for it, I swapped my fork for a ladle to exaggerate scooping it into my mouth and used a huge clear dish so you could see how much spaghetti there was inside - although, by the time I got the shot, most of it was on the floor!


I thought a 50mm would be perfect but the kitchen isn't huge. It would have worked had the table been right up against the cupboards, but that didn't look realistic so I put lots of space around the table and used a 35mm instead. Actually, the 50mm is broken, (it refuses to focus) so I didn't have a choice but the 35mm was perfect.
Used a wide aperture (F2) for a shallow depth of field as well as upping ISO to 200 plus very slow 1/25th shutter speed to allow some of the ambient light to come through, although it was getting dark outside by this point. The finished image is probably not as sharp as it could have been as although camera was on a tripod, I still had to breathe and there was weird short hybrid spaghetti flying everywhere. 

I don't often do messy stuff.. it's not that I'm afraid of getting dirty, it just feels weird having done smooth hair and nice make-up to go and smear pesto sauce all over your forehead & chin and whack a load of it down the front of your top.
I recently moved out of London so sorted a load of my clothes - the white vest top I'm wearing is one I was going to give to a charity shop anyway.. (I have bags of stuff for charity) so if the stains, (or the basil smell!) don't come out it's no great loss.
The spaghetti on the table wasn't arranged like that either; I was concentrating on so much at once - my pose, strange arm positions, making sure I kept still due to the slow shutter speed and trying to find the trigger to press with my foot - it naturally fell all over the place.


I feel proper fat now and still smell of pesto, and I'm still annoyed the spaghetti broke up into little bits.. it's really ruined the image for me and every time I look at the finished image, I can't get past it. But learning curves and all that, even though that specifically was nothing to do with lack of photography knowledge. Stupid gluten free rubbish.

This whole idea was inspired by Slink & Kositski's spag bol bonanza 
Super fun to shoot and I even cleaned up afterwards!

Friday, 19 January 2018

Experimental spontaneity

Earlier this week I went to visit my friend Jess and shamelessly used her place to take selfies, as well as photographing her as she's stunning and photogenic.
I ran out of natural light in the end and these really are just snapshots. I only had my camera, tripod, remote shutter release, speedlight, and stupidly I brought an 85mm lens to use. That's a pretty long lens to use in someone's home; I need to remember a 50mm is much more versatile.
On a side note, I discovered yesterday that the 50mm lens is broken.. it endlessly tries to find focus but with no luck :(
Anyway, on to the photos.. thanks to Jess for letting me use her home!

This has quite a lot of Lightroom slider pushing because I didn't increase the exposure compensation in camera, (on aperture priority) but didn't want to completely blow out the background either. I tried using flash, but didn't have full gear with me only a speedlight & no modifier and it ruined this backlit effect even on minimal power. Not much learning was had from this.. only to bring a modifier & stand for more flattering light next time, ha.


The second shot is my favourite from this set of experiments.. Jess has a mirror-top coffee table in the living room, so I sprawled over it with an open copy of Vogue.. camera was on fully-extended tripod on top of the sofa, angled down and I used natural light as there was a large window right in front of me with beautiful light coming through.
Wish I'd used more of the mirrored effect in hindsight.


Feel free to click on these to see them larger..
There was a random single armchair in the hallway which looked pretty amusing, but photogenic.
The first shot is an accident when I got up to look at the back of the camera, I pressed the shutter by mistake, setting the speedlight off which was just in front of me at the time.. on the floor, pointing up. Not technically okay in the slightest, but I kind of like it.
The actual photo aim was me in the chair. The speedlight was in the same place on the floor just out of shot, bouncing light around the white walls. I didn't want to face the window on the left of this photo because that would have been my 'bad side,' haha. I did try this, but the difference in exposure value was too great to use natural light alone.. the highlights on my face were blown out, but the lower half of the image was too dark..


Not particularly what I set out from this shot at all.. the focus is completely out and I was rushing time against ambient light. Again, bounced speedlight off ceiling, but I do want to include it in this set because I love all the mad dress textures against the symmetry & plainness of the sofa. Taking the colour out makes it clearer, but although the colours are mad I like the clash. Originally this was a colour shot in my head anyway, with a retro feel.
Which one do you prefer, the B&W or colour version?


Sunday, 14 January 2018

Dry your eyes

On Friday I went to the SWPP tradeshow in London and came back with a brand new Nikon D850, so yesterday I was itching to play with it and check out focus performance.
I asked Simon to give me a theme and he said 'water,' so I went off to gather some Pinterest inspiration, which I do from time to time.
I liked seeing straggly hairs and smudged blues on the face, so I used false eyelashes, blue nail varnish, blue eyeliner and a whole range of blue / green eyeshadows to brush on randomly. As you can see below, the saturation wasn't great in real life however much I used, but was pleased to get my hair strands neat and the rest of it slicked back with lots of hairspray.
My hair is ombre, so dark from the root til about half way, then blonde to the ends. I used wet blue eyeshadow to temporarily dye the blonde ends of these strands and set in place with more spray.

⇩⇩⇩-------------------------- (not my images) --------------------------⇩⇩⇩


I set the camera up on a tripod, used the 70-200 on about 150mm for the final shots, used a small gridded beauty dish up fairly high, very close to me and a reflector very close under my chin. Reflector was held with one hand, my other hand was in frame and the remote shutter was on the floor being pressed by my foot.
I added water to my face too via a squirty bottle, but the droplets weren't sticking. I needed oil to help them stick but I didn't want to put oil on over the top of all the blue eye shadow.. I used coconut oil for the shine on my lips though.
I'm playing it safe for now, but my next beauty shots will be more adventurous: F14, 1/100, ISO 100.
The difference in sharpness and quality in Lightroom / Photoshop is immense.. the D850 is phenomenal. I can see each miniscule hair follicle where each singular hair emerges in unbelievable detail I wouldn't even catch in a magnifying mirror. Bonkers!

Also, I'm going to have to shave my face, lol.. it's like I've put glasses on after years of being blind. I know it's not about the gear, but right now this camera is my new best friend.


Sex in the cosmos


My next selfie was more complex than the first two because it involved a lack of space, a bit of waiting around and having to think outside the box a bit.
The theme: 'School of Knocks - every single one of us, at some point in our life has had a hard lesson to learn so describe to me about the lesson you've learnt.'

One of my biggest life lessons to date was a lop-sided view of a situation which became more and more apparent, (or so I thought) that it added up to one person's negative account of things, only enhancing (and so I wrongly believed, validating) my own thoughts on the situation.
It turned out to have a major 'other' side to the story which I didn't see despite being in the situation myself. One person in particular got badly hurt because of my actions, and I should have kept my ears and instinct well and truly open to other alarm bells.
I think we are often incapable of seeing things for what they really are when we are vulnerable or at a certain point in life where we feel like we've lost some sort of control. Some people can be manipulative and some will do anything to avoid confrontation.

So my lesson is the age old 'don't judge a book by its cover' / 'always two sides to every story' etc.. something you think you learn early on until a situation comes along which throws everything you 'know' off kilter.
I wanted to create something which illustrated a sliding doors story.. two seemingly opposing lifestyles, which are generally not associated within society. I thought about using the bedroom as an actual bedroom housing an intelligent student earning extra cash via sex work at the weekends. I took the phone receiver & cable from another room and tied the cable to a light stand by the bed.. I pushed my desk up against the bottom of the bed. I have a great book, COSMOS by Carl Sagan, lovely and large (and obviously science related) to lean upright against the end of the desk on the bed, and dressed up like a tart.
So the idea was born from this..



Using the D300 again, I had just about enough room to set the camera up on a tripod at the bottom of the bed, just above bed height. Had to use a 24mm lens (35mm equivalent on the D300) as the camera was already up against the wall.
There was no room for a light so I set one up outside in the garden with a battery pack to shoot through the window. The blinds showed through in a few of the images, but not the final image as I brought it closer to the window in the end.. this was fine because I don't think lines from the blind would have added any context to this anyway.
I wanted the photo to look seductive with implications of sex work whilst studying, so I used my red gel again over a speedlight set up slightly to my left, and to counterbalance the warmth, I taped a purple gel to the wall where the outside light was shining through so it kind of hit the purple, but didn't turn everything purple. This colour tinted the distracting white colour of my bed canopy, which I didn't want to take down. All trial and error.. no precision in this!
The outside light also hit the window frame, leaving a red vertical shadow down one side, which is why I didn't want to leave the other side pure white..

So from the view of my shoot position, this is what I had so far: a speedlight with red gel 45 degrees-ish to my left, a light with small beauty dish outside in the garden, (approx. 2m from the window and 45 degrees-ish to my right, sort of hitting that purple gel taped to the wall) and the camera against the window / wall on a tripod.


It's a small video, but here's a little behind the scenes of the shoot. I chose a final image with my hair down as I thought it looked better, and I wanted my right hand turning the pages of the book and my left holding the phone to my ear so I had to press the remote shutter with my knee.
It isn't easy to press the shutter with your knee and hold your stomach in! A sound activated trigger would be handy..


Then my battery pack died, which was powering the light in the garden.. so I had to wait half an hour while it re-charged. I think it ran down faster being in the cold but that was a bit annoying. I could do with another battery pack.
Here is the finished image.. I'm not sure how Carl Sagan feels about being part of such a saucy image but I'm sure he'd appreciate the 'stars' from the fairy lights in the canopy. I could say I planned that, but.....! There was no ambient light in this shot, but amazingly they showed up as tiny little dots of cosmic light.

Colour harmony with gels

I recently went for beauty retouch tution from phenomenal photographer, Iulia David so have been keen to shoot more close-up beauty self-portraits in order to practice, as well as shooting other models of course!
Dogwood's theme this week has been:

WEEK 2Composition: Color HarmonyGet out your color wheel. Do opposites attract? Can there be harmony with opposite colors? Does the Hulk wear purple pants? Mix warm and cool colors.
First of all, I don't have any funny / interesting BTS photos or videos of this as I forgot to do any(!) but I used a simple small beauty dish with shower curtain diffuser and taped my red and turquoise gels to a boom arm stand in front of me.. took ages to get it the right shape to frame my eye. Obviously, the closer you take the photo, the more precise your placement has to be!
Ironically, I bought Jake Hicks' Coloured Gel Portraits & Retouching Photography Tuition back in December and haven't had the chance to look at it yet, so I will be expanding on use of gels throughout the year and can't wait to get stuck in!
Back to this shoot, I was sat on a stool and used my foot to press the remote shutter release on the floor. I whacked the aperture right up to F14 as there was no point in shooting any wider than that for beauty with no background on show and I wanted to ensure a sharp image.
Used my Nikon D300 with 85mm (so more like 120mm as cropped sensor) as the D800 has now died a slow drawn-out death and refuses to focus (I think a mirror replacement is needed and a few other bits)
I decided to use red and turquoise gels as I only have 3 gels total.. (the other is purple) and I found these to be the most opposing colours on the colour wheel; they definitely work in harmony with each other, clashing with pink lips & nails.
A minor problem I encountered was when the red overlapped the turquoise too much, it looked black so I tried to arrange them with as little overlapping as possible. The finished image was cropped slightly too, although not much as I know the D300 doesn't have a huge sensor unlike some of the newer DSLRs.
After I'd taken this, I read something quite interesting about what colour harmony actually means.

"A color harmony is three colors spaced evenly on the color wheel, for example: red, yellow, and blue. They add interest to a composition but are seen to harmonize.

Complementary colors on the other hand are opposites on the color wheel, for example: red and green. When you pair complementary colors you have high contrast, not harmony."

So basically that two colours do not make 'colour harmony,' only 3+ ..interesting and not something I'd considered before. I am actually after a bright yellow gel, something for which I went to SWPP in London in the first place but came out with a camera instead. I guess the skin could be considered in the colour palette, which is quite warm with yellow tones.
I like the way the red gel curls round at the bottom making a line of highlight.. your thoughts welcome as ever.


Blowing away the cobwebs

On 4th January I had some new dresses delivered, one of them a layered, lace & part-sheer white halterneck floor-length number which I wore to the beach for my first self portrait. I decided there and then that I would take all, (or most of) my entries to the Dogwood Photography Challenge 2018 as self portraits to make it even more challenging. The theme for the first week was:

Vision: Look AheadNew year. New beginnings. New you. Look ahead. Interpret as you wish.
Luckily my local beach is only a 2 minute walk from my home.. my partner in crime, Simon was with me to make sure nothing blew away. Apart from all the metaphorical cobwebs from the old year.. obviously.. to tie in with the theme.


It was a windy and cold day, but I mostly wanted full-length shots at a low angle so the camera was balanced on my camera bag on the pebbles rather than on a stand to save it blowing over, remote trigger in my hand.. I normally prefer the beach at low tide so there is some wet sand, but I didn't have that luxury today.. the sun was lowering in the horizon by 3pm and the tide was up, but I actually think I prefer the pebbles in these shots. The sun caught them and made them sparkle; that doesn't usually happen. The wind made some great waves too, but it was hard trying to listen to when there was a big wave happening behind me so I could press the shutter at the right time.


I packed a load of lights and stands but figured it wasn't worth setting them up in the end as a) it was too windy and risky to set a light up on a stand, even though I could have probably got Simon to hold a speedlight for me.. (voice activated light stand, hehe!) ..it was also difficult to do anything except stand upright and get hair out of your face in that weather.. and b) the natural light was soft and lovely, so I put the camera on aperture priority and increased the exposure compensation. I had a bit of work to do in Lightroom afterwards to reset the balance between the subject (me) and the backlight, (the sun) but I expected that and think it was worth it. I've also added quite a bit of clarity, not just on my face / hair, but also the dress.

These are all shot on a Nikon D300 with 85mm lens. I usually shoot with a D800 but it's old & faulty and I forgot about the D300 being a cropped sensor so it was actually more like a 120mm lens.. I was lucky there was enough space to put the camera far back enough for full-length shots.
Also luckily, the beach sloped upwards, as beaches do, so I didn't have massive distortion from the camera being too low, even though it was beautifully low enough sitting on the bag.
I recently bought a D850 to replace the D800 and I know the dynamic range is superb.. I can't wait to try something like this out again with this camera to compare the RAWs.

Anyway, I retouched eight images from the 80-something I took.. enjoy!










Hello! An intro post..

Hi, I'm Toulouki!
In all my years working as a freelance model, I never thought I'd pick up a camera. That was their job, those photographer people.
I've been taking photos for around two years; this year I want to be everything - the stylist, the model, the photographer and the retoucher. I set out to participate in weekly photography challenges like the Dogwood Photography challenge 2018 and some more personal ones among friends, trying to compose these images completely by myself to improve technical ability, retouching precision, build creativity and learn things I wouldn't necessarily learn were I to only shoot others along the way.

I also hope to remove the negative stigma attached to the 'selfie,' as every photographer has a model right there with them at all times if they can get over the whole 'there's a reason I stay behind the camera' thing.
I hope you enjoy my collection of self portraits, the stories behind making them and perhaps they will inspire others to try their own.

This is me.. looking, well, relatively normal (made up and barefaced)



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