Thursday, January 22, 2015


You know good material when you see it, or at least that's what your gut instinct tells you. When I was shooting the OST Wave Puzzle, which was a while ago now, I knew that I wanted to make a graphic out it.

There is just something about it. The telling texture and artifacts that result from the construction process (3d printing, sand casting, and a rumble tumble); the primitive cobble stone like familiarity; the mathematical cold hard physics; with rounded cubic general form softened by erosion and intent; the timeless solid mass of the thing!

This time I was working with what is basically just pure form. Special consideration did not have to be made for color, complexity or context, like with the previous caclotus project. I got to test some ideas, like layering and depth, tiling and scalability, and going with simplicity for recognition rather than running over the complexity cliff. I shall call it OSTWAVE.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wave Puzzle by Oliver Tanner

Here at SQ1, Oliver Tanner is known for making laser cut metal sculptures. In 2014 his work was shown at Vivid, The Cool Hunter, and Maunsell Wickes Gallery. And by the end of the year I felt rather lucky to score him as a client, to photograph his latest work, the Wave Puzzle.

At the start of the project I got a pretty open brief. As we were dealing with a rather unique product, it is good to go free range and see where ideas take us.
My shoot included:
  1. An unboxing experience
  2. A few draft concept snaps to test ideas
  3. A standard product, with front, left and right perspectives, top, with and without the box
  4. Material closeup
  5. A composite
  6. A sculpture, with a gradient background
Shooting was done over 3 days. I know from experience that you need to ruminate while meandering from one stage to the next. Next was the post, which took even longer. As well as delivering highres images, I also like to test my photography handiwork by designing some promotional collateral. Yes, the whole project took longer than expected, but I was pleased with the results, as was my client.

OST Wave Puzzle

The unboxing experience

Here is a setup shot, and a few concept snaps.

A standard product shots



A sculpture, with a gradient background

Monday, December 15, 2014

Experiments with Portraiture

The trouble with portraits, headshots, and such like, is that you need a willing subject with too much time on their hands. That's a big ask. Or you can go onto the boards and seek out a collaborator who is working on the same thing at the same time and help each other out, but that's a diversion. Or you can just experiment on your own self like everyone else, hence the proliferation of selfies.

Lately I have been spending more time on this, so it's high time to share. Here are some recent ones.

1) The white room
  • Conjecture: A white background, like a cyclorama, should be easy to light, produce clean photos with nothing but the subject, and easy for background separation in post.
  • Setup: A medium size room with white walls. One flash head behind me at full power washing the white wall. One flash head on the side, bouncing against the white wall, to produce a standard side window asymmetry look and feel. Exposure set to prioritize my skin. 85mm lens, f5.6 or whatever works.
  • Results: A mixed bag, kinda good. What they say about lens flares is all true, that when you point a light source at a lens, at any angle, it will flare and generally cause trouble. Here the entire background becomes a relatively intense light source, with the flare manifesting at the center, as a discoloration of the black outfit into a hint of blue, which is perfectly fixable in this case, but not quite correct had the subject been a high fashion client demanding color accuracy. The takeaway is that this is quite fun and usable but don't assume that just because you saturate your sensor around the subject that your magic wand tool will make for quick etching work.

2) Black background with hardlight sides

  • Conjecture: Quite a while ago I formed a hunch that a subject needs to be shot with a background and lighting that corresponds to the intended scene for post. For example, if the subject will be cut out and put on white paper with some writing on it then it should be shot against a white background so that the boundary edge has a good amount of white bleeding into it, and the final result looks natural. I often see laughable results on cheap or rushed ads, where the subject is in sharp focus at the front, naturally blurry towards the back but then magically jumps into razor sharp focus with a hard edge where it meets the background, and there is no reflective interaction between the background and the subject like you would expect to see in real life. Shoot with black for dark artwork, shoot with white for light artwork.
  • Setup: Black fabric background, unlit, don't worry if you still see creases because you're not keeping it. You could shoot it in the dark in a very large space, if you happen to have one available but there is no need for in-camera perfection with digital so don't waste your time. Play with symmetrical key lights. I used two speed lights, full zoom, low power, to get a narrow angle and not much spill (sometimes we all wish for an kit of large narrow angle honeycomb modifiers, but just work with what you have and get it done). No soft fill, as it spills way too much all over this highly controlled scene. Snooted honeycomb front fill. Also there was a backlight, hoping to produce some spill around the edges, but I'm not convinced that it had any effect.
  • Results: Regardless of my conjecture, the output turned out to be universally usable, I believe the highlighted sides are what makes this so.


Etched, retouched for light backgrounds, retouched for dark and dramatic backgrounds