Les filles et un garçon

As I think I’ve already told you, I am in the middle of trying to learn about this portrait palaver! I had watched the videos, I had perused the books, I had bought the equipment, I just needed some willing victims. Erm, I mean models. I was going to see my perfectly dysfunctional family for the weekend in Brittany so I was going to have to charm them into sitting for me.

We were of course late and as usual it was my fault. Who else could possibly be to blame? Just remember that the previous day I had been in Paris with my 10 year old daughter. Now I’m not trying to invent excuses but I’m certainly claiming mitigating circumstances.

But it was still my fault. all my camera gear was downstairs and ready to be loaded into the car. My son was still with us and helped me. I had my backdrop, my flash, my camera, which is pretty important, my soft box, my trigger, and everything, or so I thought. Little did I know that I had forgotten the stand. I wasn’t going to go home to get it, otherwise I would never live it down and going 200km and back for a stand might seem a little unreasonable. I think reasonable is about 500 metres and I will still incur the wrath of my wife.

We made it in one piece and after a while I wasn’t being yelled at either. What I didn’t say was that I needed to fill the car with petrol and that was going to add on time. I also bought some water too. Hey, if you’re going to be late , then be late for a reason! The other reason was that there was loads of traffic on the roads too as it was the 14th July weekend. Our average speed for the 200km was 56km/h.

We settled in, and I unloaded my kit and started cursing myself for having forgotten that blasted stand, bordel de merde de mes couilles, but it’s a learning curve and I had just learnt to load everything myself so I’m sure of everything. Ah well, I was going to have to without the flash set-up and just use natural light.

The next morning my brother in law posed for me and gave me a chance to explain to everyone how the whole shebang worked. I also got a really good photo of him that won applause on his Facebook wall, which is praise indeed! We were going for the philosopher look….

my brother in law, Vincent.

Can you feel that 80mm F 1.8 bokeh creaminess? Just the right ammount to look like an understated sex symbol… Even I’m starting to get flustered!

The results had really given me a confidence boost and my sister in law was so impressed that she needed no coaxing to sit for me. It was going so well that my niece wanted in as well. My wife and daughter had obviously forgiven my short- comings and I ended up taking photos of all of them.

It was a fun moment and I think one that will be remembered for the right reasons. I couldn’t have hoped for better.

Île de Nantes with the XT2

It was the first full day of leave from work and I wasn’t able to get to the UK so what is a guy to do? I was devastated but it became clearer and clear that my trip to Hull wasn’t going to happen. You can take the man out of Hull, but not the Hull out of the man. Retail therapy would cost a fortune. An interesting idea with many merits, but my credit card might not be OK with that… So I decided to go out to Nantes with my camera.

Some of you might remember me talking about Sean Tucker in my article about the portraits with one speed lite. His latest video was talking about minimalism in street photography and how he would go around the Barbican for some modern architecture photography shots. Believe it or not but I don’t actually live in London, no, I live near Nantes and so did the next best thing. The Île de Nantes is an area that is under development and has some very interesting architecture with lots of texture.

Nantes is one of those places that is old and has gone through so many mutations over the centuries but has always found a way of reinventing itself. Some of you might have realised that I frequent a certain establishment in the quartier historique of Bouffay, which is where the staff of the Castle used to live. There are long boulevards with Hausmannien architecture. Other areas with traces of various workshops from the beginning of the 20th century, the Passage Pommeraye, that 19th century collection of shops that have become such a feature of Nantes. The Île de Nantes had the naval dockyards that after the decline of shipbuilding in Nantes were transformed. And so it is the turn of the rest of the Île de Nantes.

I wanted to try and find shots which were based on form and light almost as if I were trying to give my eyes and vision a workout. I was using the FUJIFILM XT2 with the 16mm f2.8 lens. It was a lovely day too!

I think it might have to be something that I should try more often….

Paris!

Yesterday I went to Paris with my ten going on thirty year old daughter. It was on a whim almost. Just the same about about that song about a sleeping lion, where the desire to burst into song was just a whim away, a whim away, a whim away,a whim away, a whim away, a whim away, a whim awaaaaaaaaaay…

By rights I should have been in the UK. I had lieu days to take and had organised myself a little get away to Hull! I know Dear reader, but it’s home, I had plane tickets booked, hotel booked, rides about photography that I could do. But when I booked all that, little did I know that ultimately, it was not to be. Thanks Covid 19!! I still managed to get all my money back though.

My boss came along to see me and asked that despite things being cancelled, was j still going to go on leave, I thought about it for one second, and said, why not! So I was going to have some time on my hands.

That first day was spent in Nantes taking photographs and avoiding the shops to buy a new lens for my XT2. Consolation retail therapy is great but it has a tendency to cost money. So I went and did what I usually do and walk around taking photographs. That was Day 1. I will probably write another article about that later, but there are things about yesterday that won’t wait. Or I will forget and it’s worth not forgetting.

Sooooooooo…. I love Paris. I love the different quarters, and how they all have a really different vibe. I wanted to just roam the streets imagining myself as a Henri Cartier Bresson. Hey I’m allowed to dream!

My daughter also loves Paris and has been on at me to go there for ages. My wife starts getting heart palpitations at the mere idea of me, daughter and Paris, when mention I. The same phrase. So a couple of day before I asked Kate if she was up for it? Surprisingly she was! And what shocked me more was when my wife thought it was a good idea too!!! And who said miracles don’t happen.

I asked what she wanted to see while we were there and she said the Louvre and the Tour Eiffel. I had a moment of lucidity and thought, get the tickets online first fool! So I did!

Friday morning, armed with two cameras, all the printouts for the tickets, and ID, my son drove us to the station in Nantes for the 2hr15min TGV for Paris. I was worried about the inevitable, Daddy, I’m bored, but it never came. Connect 4 on my phone helped. I have taught my daughter about everything I know about this game so she’s a formidable opponent.

We arrived in Montparnasse, and I knew which metro to get on and how to get to our destination. As a thank you to Killian we got home a little Moleskin notebook for drawing in. We found Mark’s And Spencer’s food shop and noted where we would get our evening meal from. I live my daughter but she is notoriously difficult when it come to food.

There’s a detail that I haven’t mentioned yet. Kate is on crutches and I have a walking stick. Thank you arthritis. In the metro there are numerous stairs. She was great getting over all the obstacles.

We arrive at the Louvre via the Carousel du Louvre which looks nothing like a carousel but more like an inverted pyramid. Obviously trying to confuse American tourists.

We started off looking at Greek sculpture. I’m not talking about the paper mache stuff in the local Kebab joint, but the real McCoy. Then I told her how old the statues were. Then it began to sink in. She had studied Greek mythology at school so it was like being amongst old friends for her. Very old friends.

We went on to see the Roman contribution to the world of art. I was amazed by the details in the statues and thinking how lifelike they were. I’m also amazed by the intricacy of the carving. The hair, the eyes. You could imagine them coming to life and going out for a beer and how denarii doesn’t go very far these days…

What I haven’t told you about is the huge number of stairs then you need to go up and down…. get ready for this. By the end of the day we had done nearly 16000 paces and 127 floors according to my watch. We must have been mad. We saw the paintings and Kate was amazed by how detailed they were and how you couldn’t even see the brush stroke. I was taken aback by the colours and pigments.

One of the things you have to do is to see the Mona Lisa. When I was a child the painting was on a wall and there were a huge amount of people infront of it so it was night on impossible to take a photo. Just that was then. This is now. Now there is a line that meanders around like at Disney, and people can get quite close and take their photo. As you go around the line you admire other pictures on the walls. As we were doing the whole cripple thing, on of the Museum staff came and asked Kate if she would like to go right to the front and get a better view. Damn right she did. For the hoipoloi, they get within about 5 meters of the statue, but with the cripple card we were less than tree metres away! I actually felt really guilty about it, but I’m not throwing away my shot, as Hamilton said and I got my photograph!

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Happy as a pig in shit!!!
We then had lunch in the museum cafe  overlooking the rest of the Louvr and the Jardin des Tuilleries, and tearful for my daughter’s ankles I though I would have to give it a miss. Shame really because she would have loved it.  But it was not to be this time. 

We continued with our visit looking for the iconic works that you only get to see in books, or on the old 100 franc banknote.  We finished by the ancient Egyptians and the mummies.  We all need our mummies after all. We had also discovered the lifts. What a Godsend they were too. We saw the Victoire  de Samothrace, Milo’s Venus, that really big painting of Louis XIV looking so butch.  Kate asked me why was he wearing tights, and I told her because it made him look good in heels. 

We saw the painting of Napolean being all regal and placing a crown on the head of his bride.    When saw Marianne au naturel as she mounted the barricades with the Tricolore, we saw the Radeau de la Meduse, and she was of course médusée Papa!  French joke…

Saying it was all amazing is like completing for the Understatement of the year 2020.  She was the right age, and who knows what it will all lead to in her mind.  I was a good father that day.  This is what she said,  “the Louvre made her feel so young compared to the works of art.” 

We eventually found the exit and by the time she got there she was almost in tears because of her sore ankles. I made it my duty to find a chemist’s and get some painkillers. So we did…

You can’t go to Paris and not have a drink in a Parisian Café. So we did. The waiter was actually very pleasant and completely broke thevsterotype of the pissed off and impatient French waiter that tells you off for not being quick enough ordering…

Sitting down for a while really helped too. We felt rested and the two doped up cripples were ready for the next treat. The Eiffel Tower. It looks like Blackpool’s tower except it has Parisian Class. And the weather is generally better too. We took a taxi. I didn’t want to put her through the steps in the metro again. Our man dropped us off on the Champs de Mars, and we scouted around trying to find the entrance. It’s amazing to think that this towering feat of engineering was destined to be temporary and has yet become an emblem of Paris. It’s also slightly massive! Thanks to Covid we couldn’t go right to the top, but still managed to get up to the second level. The panoramas are amazing and I showed her all the sights that we could see.

We took another taxi to the Rue de Rivoli to go and see WH Smith’s. Now for those of you who live in the UK you can’t imagine how it feels going into a bookshop where it feels like home except it still has Parisian chic.

The final Taxi took is back to the Station and we descended on Marks and Sparks like hunger on the world. Our goodie bags were getting heavier and heavier, but my appetite helped lighten the load.

My son came to pick us up and was lovely about it.

It was her dream fulfilled and I know the memories of that day will stay with her for the rest of her life.

The obligatory bike shot in the streets of Nantes

To start off with this was just going to be a short preparative article before I publish my the photos from my night time article about night photography in Nantes. I was going to start off by talking the pubs opening in England and Ireland tomorrow. I wanted to show you the way that the new normal isn’t like the old normal but it’s still OK and that you can still enjoy meeting up with friends and rediscovering each other after lock down. Our bars reopened on the on the 11th of May so we’re kind of used to the whole thing. We put on our masks if we have to move around the bar. I might be half English and half Irish, but after a certain quantity of ale we all have to visit and inspect the plumbing. Just put the mask on and don’t forget to wash you hands afterwards;

So I’d finished work at 11h45, and was free for the whole afternoon. When I go to Nantes I always park in the same place. I’m a creature of habit. So, I park, and as soon as I come out of the car park I put my camera to my to check my settings. To start with I had the Helios M44-2 55mm lens on the XT2. It’s a lens famous for its swirley bokeh, but on the APS-C captor it’s more tricky to get, but it’s still a beautiful lens. I take a few shots of Bouffay. The bikes, the tramlines.

I wanted to capture the textures of the street. In black and white one can’t capture colour even if that colour information is present in my RAW files. I was looking for repetition of patterns, wanted to to get depth of field, wanted to play with the light reflecting off the street and capture people coming through the pool of light.

Strangely the pub isn’t very far away from these photos and I strangely I found myself sitting down with a Guinness in my hands… I had my mask on, and my hands have never been cleaner. It’s good to be amongst “my people” once more. I think that’s what I missed most about lock down. Having this social group of people who are good to me and make me want to be good to them. They know their names, and I love them dearly!

Well I wasn’t expecting that to go there… I’m such a sentimental old fool. I have hugged them and have made a real special effort not to break their ribs whilst hugging them.

So here are the photos of the pub where my “people” seem to congregate.

So it was already a great night, but I wasn’t there just for a good time despite rumours in certain quarters that I will always deny of course! I wanted to take even more photos. I had the Fujifilm XT2 and the 7 Artisans 35mm F1.2 lens which turns out to a be a manual focus, 50mm equivalent. I usually like to go wider, but that’s my little secret!

When I’m next in Nantes, hit me up! I’ll usually tell people on my Instagram and come up and say Hi! I might even buy you a beer. If we talk, be ready to talk about photography and this fair city of ours. If you have any questions about the photos in this article then just ask! I don’t bite.

Back in Nantes for some street photography

It’s always good to back into town. I took along my daughter, a fuji XT2 and a cheap Chinese lens that was dirt cheap. I mean dirtier than my work boots after a hot summer day. But like my dirty work boots, it got the job done. You will of course see the results at the end of this article.

The lens in question is the 7 artisans 55mm F1.4 (equivalent to a 80mm full frame lens). It’s basically a portrait lens, and it was strange using it for street photography, wow, I just broke a photographic rule. Aren’t I just the ittle Rebel! Traditionally one would use a 35mm or 50mm lens. People have criticsed this lens on youtube and the jist is to say that it’s soft in the corners, and if you look at 1:1 at pixel level it’s not as good as “normal lesnes” . However this is not what i’m about. I try and capture a moment in time whilst wondering around the city. When you look through these photos will you seriously be looking at each individual pixel? Some of my film cameras don’t have lenses that do that compared to my fancy Canon DSLR lenses.

You can see where I’m going with this I think. Yes it’s cheap, but it’s also a metal build, and feels great on my camera. It gets the job done. And even though my old teacher isn’t into the soft silky focus of the bokeh, that’s alright too!

Am I seeming slightly defensive here? Possibly. I have a habit of defending the weak when I can. This lens has been getting a hammering on YouTube and the Internet in general. But it’s OK. For the price you’re not getting the very latest in lens technology that will encourage you to take out a second mortgage on your house! This one only cost me 109€. And for that price it does the job, which is what I ask it to do!

The Internet has become a place of polarisation,and people spout such codswallop about anything and everything. Be that political, racial, sexual, and the list goes on. Yes People, I bought a cheap Chinese lens , and yes I enjoyed using it! Yes I even dared to share some of the results with you!

Photography has always been expensive and even now top end gear costs a fortune. If somebody has a cheaper option then why the hell not!

I bought it as a compliment to my Fuji XT2 which is also a compliment to my Fuji X100F, which is a lovely little camera and with my Mamiya C220 is my favourite camera for street photography.

I don’t know if the following photos are streetphotography or not, people have their own ideas, but they were certainly photos taken on the streets of Nantes. I’m not going to enter into a deabte about what is or is not street photogrpahy. I was certainly happy with them otherwise I wouldn’t dare sharing them with you!

Feel free to give me your feelings about the photos and any feedback is always welcome. You already have a link to the lens for a bit more info. The group in the photos is Polka & Co and the play French Jazz and I’ve heard them a few times playing in town! The restaurant Chez Maman is one on my favourites and also has the gift of just being opposite the John McByrne Irish pub, and just happens to be Daddy’s Happy Place…!

Flash portraits

I know nothing about flash photography. Well I know a tiny bit but hardly anything. During lockdown, when everyone was making cakes, cooking, making banana bread, drinking and getting fat, I decided to do something about it. Yes people. I went onto YouTube and started researching the whole thing.

I’ve been taking photos for as long as I can remember and had a flash. It gives off a powerful light, and back then you had to calculate the exposure from the distance and the sensitivity of your film, and the results I got with it were, at best, not what I was after. That poor flash became neglected and then the batteries leaked and I lost the thingy, technical term again, that kept the batteries inside.

I did get good at “natural light” photography and that was fine. But it was always because I was useless and incompetent using a flash.

But that was then. I have no graduated from incompetent clumsy fool, to beginner. Don’t worry, I’m still a clumsy fool though.

There was this video that caught my eye made by Sean Tucker. He’s a photographer, and in my eyes at least, a rather good one. He’s also quite a good teacher, and I have learnt a lot from him, and he has allowed me to rethink my photography and made myself ask some deep philosophical questions about “why?”

He talks a lot of sense, and is zero bullshit, which is also very appealing. I enjoy his humility, and honesty. These two qualities are so rare nowadays and it’s wonderful to discover them again in this man.

So…. back to the video. I’ll just put it down here and let you watch it first and then we can both be reading from the same page as it were.

Not bad was it! What I like about the whole thing is that it is basic, gets the skill set simplified and presents it in an easy to understand way. I’m lucky as far as knowledge goes. I’m not a “complete beginner,” but I did get so much out of this.

I went onto Amazon, as quite a lot of us did during lockdown, and ordered the kit. It eventually arrived and I couldn’t get the bloody trigger to connect with my flash. I ended up ordering one of the same brand that wasn’t too expensive. I have a very small space to do everything but it fits, just, but just is good enough for me.

I started off just using the backdrop and the light coming in from the window. Those shots are in the last two articles. Here and here… My willing victims, erm, I mean models being my wife, and my daughter. I thought I would start gently with people I knew. I have a certain social anxiety, so it felt better than being with a complete stranger.

The next day I set up everything with the flash and the rest. This time it was just my daughter, but we had a laugh, and it was a lovely way to spend time. That was until she said she would be charging me 20€ a pop! I got her down to 5€, and I ended up taking her out for lunch in Nantes today just the two of us.

So here are the results. I was using the Canon 6D Mark ii, with the traditional nifty fifty, 50mm, F1.8 lens. Any “constructive” criticism is welcome, and encouraged. I am far from knowing everything, and learn something every day. Thank you for being so patient!