Cassiopée, Queen or Constellation?

The Cassiopée that I will be talking about is neither. She is not a star that looks like the letter W, nor is she an arrogant queen of Aethiopia who annoys the god of the sea. Mine is a barber. She works where I get my beard taken care of was part of the article showing a series of portraits that I did for the salon O Barber, 2 rue de Paré, Nantes.

She is part of this generation that is our future and is part of the Instagram experience, where image has become the king as well as a projection of self-image. Back in the day, when I had hair, yes Dear Reader, there was such an age even though it was many many years ago, we expressed ourselves through our clothes, what we smoked, and the kind of beer that we drank. Now they use a little device that lives in your pocket and broardcasts to the world. Scary isn’t it!

Anyway. Cassi was very happy with the photos I took of her in the barbershop, and asked if it were possible to have some new photos. I of course jumped at the chance to add to my “œuvre” and to add to my “répertoire.” Since the barbershop photos, she had changed her look, as you will be able to by checking here. I was very flattered that she asked me. I asked what kind of photos she wanted, studio, or on location, and black and white or colour. She chose location and colour. I remember my son’s ex-girlfriend Elise, who said I should try and do more colour photography as it was something she thought I was good at. Well, for once, she was right about something, so I thought, right matey, let’s get some colour. Cassi suggested the Île de Nantes, with its machines, and the famous Buren Rings, but my mind went back a week to where I had done my last photos. Trentemoult. It’s a village that just breathes colour and I knew I would be able to get something good out of my location.

Like most plans that have been well laid out, things never seem to go to plan. We had already pushed back the rendez-vous by one hour to avoid the rain. Great. I was bang on time, and even managed to find a parking space, which was part of the plan… What wasn’t part of the plan were train delays, replacement bus services, the wind coming off the river, and my model being an hour late. Improvise, adapt and overcome. We ended up chatting on Instagram following her progress, and my need to improvise, nearly lead me to a café terrace, adapting to a beer, and overcoming the wait, but I resisted, and remained patient, getting out of the wind. Even the ferryman had problems sailing up to the quay.

She arrived, apologising with as much gusto as the wind, and I said not to worry, let’s get out of the wind and start shooting. She was very soon at ease and we got on with it. Wondering around the streets using the coloured walls as backdrops, and getting the shot. In my mind I had been wondering about the colour of her outfit, and how to incorporate complimentary colours into the shots. She wore a little black dress with white polka dots. Perfect! I would take my series of shots, show her on the camera screen, and it gave us both confidence in the process. Wandering around I would see a wall, see the colour in my mind and say, could you possibly just put yourself up against this wall please? Which she did with grace. Then can you just crouch down, thinking how lucky I was not to have to do the same. Middle age and arthritic knees do not mix well.

It’s a beautiful little village, and very bohemian chic, or Bo-bo, for the French.  Very stylish, trendy lefties, ecologically aware rich people, who have gentrified what was a fishing village on the Loire, but still allow the hoi polloi like me to come along and use it as a film location.  At every turning, we would get a new colour and new feel to each photo.  I have actually done black and white photography here too and it works just as well, but the colours are amazing.  Did I mention how colourful the place is?  Because it’s really colourful, and makes the rainbow flag look quite boring!

After an hour we had a certain amount of photos and I had something I could work on.I offered to drive her to the station so she less things to worry about, dropped her off and went to the pub!  Because I can, and more so because they’re open!!  I improvised, finding a spot on the terrase, and Simon, Stephanie, and Evan, greeted me with fist bumps, which has become the new handshake.  Simon came over and asked would I like a Guinness, so I decided to adapt and say, yes please.  It was lovely just sitting down watching the world go by, judging it, and looking at pretty women.  I was overcome with joy.  What more do you need.  Well, a couple of friends that I hadn’t seen for eight months whilst the pub was shut due to government Covid restrictions, invited me over to their table.  At last I was able to talk bollocks again and make people laugh.  Pure bliss!

On Monday Cassi was already asking me when she could have her pictures.  Apparently patience is not her forte.  I said that I would start the editing process and the inevitable cull of photos that Monday evening.  By the end of the first night  the cull had been done.  Some because the composition was off, some didn’t turn out the way that I had hoped, others because the auto focus hadn’t focussed they way I thought it had.  By about ten that night she already had some images for the Gram. 

Where it gets surreal is that I put some of the images in my stories on Instagram, and Google, in it’s wisdom suggested some collages for me, that I added on at the end.  So I thought what the heck and why not. Little did I know that Cassi would react.  She asked me very nicely and kindly to remove one of the stories, because she thought her cheeks were too big on the photos proposed by Google.  I of course took the photos down, but it pushed my mind into questions of self worth, self image, the place of the image in this modern world where we are no longer just an image, but ust create a public persona and sell ourselves to the world!

I told her that I thought she looked lovely on each photo that I had taken. I mean we have to love ourselves. To put not too fine a point on it, I entered Dad mode!

“Right, you know I’m a Dad, and strangely enough I see the world through the eyes of a Dad. I will therefore talk to like a Dad. You will listen, and listen well. We are allowed to have complexes concerning our physical aspect, especially with al the images that are on Instagram, Facebook, on on the more traditional media. We live in an age where “Image” is king. Well you have to put it in its place. There are men who like arses, some boobies, some like skinny girls, some like girls with a bit more body. But that only counts in physical and sexual attraction. You can’t base a long-term and durable relationship on just being pretty. If you boyfriend just stops at your physical appearance, it might be time to change boyfriends. There is already so much hate in this world, and enough people to hate us, why waste time hating ourselves, when others can do it perfectly well for us. Shouldn’t we love ourselves the way we are already? With an unconditional love? And here’s something else, we are more than just our good looks! We are our own person! we have so many facets that shine in this world. Sometimes it’s hard to see ourselves shine, but we still shine despite that! There I’ve said it!!! Think what you may. You’re a great girl. You are pretty. You have beauty. Please let yourself shine. The world needs it!”

Sometimes this world that we live in is so perverse. The media fills us with all our complexes. The say we are too thin, so bulk up, or we are too big, so slim down. You have long hair, then cut it. You have short hair, then let it grow. You have curly hair, then straighten it, you have straight hair, then curl it. The day we can accept ourselves the way we are, the world will become an easier place to live in.

I’m fat. There, you might have already guessed it. Do I look like Brad Pitt? Nope. But then again, Brad doesn’t look like me. His loss. Do I love my body and do I have issues with it? Yup. Will that stop me living? Nope. Will I ever be a top model? Probably not. Do I care? Not in the slightest. I am me. My body helps me move around, to love, to work, to hug my wife and children. That’s a damned good start.

Anyway. Let us leave the stage for Cassi and the colours of Trentemoult! Canon 6D Mark ii, and the 85mm f1.8 Canon lens.

Cloé in front of my lens

It was last Friday, and we were only doing 36 hours this week at work, so I was free on Friday afternoon. I like to go and visit my son, and his girlfriend, as I know I’ll be allowed to have a nice cup of tea and be able to talk photography without being told how boring I am. My daughter-in-law asked if I would like to come round as she was doing a photoshoot with somebody from Instagram. There was a friend to do make up and hair, and we would take it in turns being made up and photographed. Sounds like a deal right?

I of course turned up to early as they were getting the other girl from Nantes. I was asked if I could get pizza and off I went to get pizza; It’s easier like that. I got back and everyone was there. Elise, my ex-daughter-in-law, Maureen, to do the make up, and Cloé the girl from Instagram who was along for the ride. That morning I had piled up all my gear and put it in the boot ready for the off. I had a couple of lights and some modifiers for speedlights. It was going to be a good day. Tea, and pizza in the same phrase has to be a good omen.

Elise does a bit of YouTube and has a three light set up for her videos. Fine for video but not so good for photography. As you might have seen I have been exploring the use of artificial light in photography and seem to be on the, if not right path, then certainly a path that is taking me somewhere. So, I wasn’t a fan of these video lights and thereofre set up my own. A flash, that would flash into an umbrella and the light would come back through an translucent white diffuser giving off a nice soft light. Yes I’m a big softy! I had a new led light to act as a hairlight, and was able to turn the power down so it wasn’t too harsh.

Elise started off and it interests me immensely to see somebody else start working and see how they interact with the model. The model being Cloé already made up by Maureen. I would take the occasional “behind the scenes” for Elise. I wasn’t happy with the light, so when it was my turn I turned everything off and just allowed my lights to work their magic. i’m becoming a fan of this soft light and seem to have understood the basics of how it might work and what it might do for me.

Cloé wa already “warmed up” if you can say that, and we started talking about her complexes about the way she looks. I showed her the first photos that we were getting and she seemed happy with the way it was going. I shoot RAW and JPEG at the same time. It means that I can see my black and white image on the screen and it gives me an idea of what I will achieve later whilst editing. I will however only edit my RAW file, as each pixel contains so much more information than a JPEG file, and although less destrucive than back in the day, it is still a feature of JPEG files even though they have progressed immensely over the last 15 years.

We kept talking and caught her laughing at some of my Dad jokes that she hadn’t heard before. I would see a picture I like and then activate the shutter. The first few reminded me of Anne Frank, and what she might have looked like had she have survived the war. Now I’m feeling sad about all that suffering in the camps. What an utter waste of human life.

Anay, we kept going and the feeling of the photos changed and looked slightly more modern. It is 2021after all. I switched to the X100F which is usually for street photography but holds it’s own in a studio environment, and the 35mm equivalent lense was great for getting some full body shots. The fact that Cloé was sitting on the floor gave a very flattering angle and I think I might just have to do it more often.

Before showing you the photos I would like to say a huge thank you to the three girls for putting up with me and the very generous feed they gave me. It gives one such a boost, and at the moment it’s a wonderfull thing to have. Covid is getting right on my wick, and although I know that this situation is temporary, it feels slightly less temporary.

So the tools used for this shoot… Canon 6D Mark 2 with a 50mm F1.8 lens, a Fujifilm X100F with a converter so I could go from a 35mm equivalent to a 50mm equivalent. The fash was a GODOX TT600 speedlight with GODOX X1T triggers.

Barber shop portraits

Dear Reader,

I have neglected you and have been away for some time. I needed to get rid of the introspection and get over it. I have also tried to learn new things and have been experimenting with using speedlites and light modifiers. Now you have already seen the beginnings of this exploration, but I have managed to find new victims, I mean models and was even asked by my barber if I could take some photos for them too.

My father always taught me to be good to people. Goodness will never be wasted. If somebody throws it back in my face then it is a réélection on them and not me. As long as my motives are pure then all is good, so to speak. I have been to that barbershop since it opened and have followed their progress over the years. When I am in Nantes I seem to always have a camera around my neck, as you never know when that “shot” would come along. And whilst waiting my turn I might take a couple of photos and I would of course give them a copy of each photo.

I am more an introvert so the idea of meeting a complete stranger and building a quasi instant rapport with the person is a pretty daunting prospect. Maybe it is what is the most difficult for me. I have been given various means of getting through this scary barrier. Some say, fake it ’til you make it, but it’s not really for me. One thing I did use was get the person to pretend being in a photobooth. I’m generous and so give them 5 shots instead of four, to pull funny faces and get it out of their system. It generally works and I encourage the person in front of the lens, and show them the first images and get them more at ease… I suppose if it works, then it works.

They also see me getting all my kit ready and set up, and you can see a kind of wonderment in their eyes, as if this guy is really serious, so we’re going give it a good go.

So last week I had dropped a message to my son asking him to give me a hand and be my assistant. He was there for moral support and to help me lug my equipment from the underground car park to the actual barbershop He did it brilliantly. So we arrive and they were waiting for us. We introduced ourselves to everyone, new staff, and learnt each other’s names. It’s always nice to say Kim, instead of hey you. Cassiopée was used to being in front of the camera and was fine posing and smiling, and what was worrying me was not being able to get a “real” portrait. Paco, the poor lad was just busy cutting hair.

This of course, raises the subject of what is a “real” portrait.

Portrait photography is about capturing the essence, personality, identity and attitude of a person utilizing backgrounds, lighting and posing.

I don’t know how far I am managing to take this concept on board but I’m trying. So, Cassie was easy to photograph, but Kim was a different matter. She told me before shooting that she didn’t feel at ease being photographed, but when showing her the photographs when I took them, she began to build her confidence, and her colleague helped her too. We did single portraits, then a whole load of portraits of the two girls together. I think the extrovert side of Cassie helped Kim to be less conscious of the camera. It was there but by the time she finished she could have gone for more. Thank heavens for Cassie.

I knew that my camera settings were the right ones for the result I wanted, and my lighting set-up was the way I wanted it and I was getting consistent results which is good too, which just allows me to get on with taking the photos and concentrating on the person in front of my lens. Who doesn’t look good in a low key portrait. I think they have certain elegance that you don’t get in different portrait formats, however much I might love candid street portraits.

Photographs of the inside of the Barbershop.
Inside the barbershop

As I had been asked by the boss to take the photos I felt it was not the time or moment to experiment and decided to keep myself in the “safe” zone. I’m lucky in the way I have a daughter in law or daughter who are always up for being photographed and don’t’ care me trying something new. It had been decided that I would take some portraits of the barbers, and some of the Salon itself. Looking back I was just trying not to take up too much space and for the ambiance shots I might have been better using a wider angled lens to get a larger angle. Each “job” has its constraints I suppose.

Soooooo, the equipment contained the Canon 6D Mark 2, the
Godox TT600 Flash Speedlite, an umbrella with a diffuser, and a Manfroto stand, and a black and white reversible, collapsible backdrop. The two lenses i used wer the 16-35mm F4.0 ans the 50mm F 1.8.

Thank you also to O Barber Nantes, to Cassie, Kim, and Paco, and Bryan who just happened to be there, for being really kind to me and accepting me and letting me getting on with some photography.

Bourrée ou Macé?

To start with, I’d planned on going to one of the Loire Valley castles yesterday, but due to brain fog I thought it better to just go to bed. So I did. This morning there was no sign of fog, outside or in my brain.

I thought I would go to the Chateau de Plessis Bourée as I do like a drink, and bourée means drunk in French. I do have a family reputation as a drinker to keep up. So off I went. It’s a beautiful place and that day it was a very beautiful place, but also a very shut beautiful place. It seems the Plan B will have to do, which is the Chateau de Plessis Macé, which is slightly more sober. Boring…

I’m actually writing this in the car as I wanted to get that drinking joke out of my mind and onto paper, or screen…

All I have to do now is to drive 19km and I’ll be at party pooper castle! It had bloody well be open or I’ll be very upset and have to go straight to the pub. And with all these new restrictions means I have to get a couple in before chucking out time at 10pm. It sounds like English pubs on a Sunday when I was growing up.

Right off I go. Talk to you later Dear Reader.

I have arrived in one piece and I assume that the Plessis Bourée was nursing a hangover after a particularly good night earning its name once again. Macé looks slightly more open, or at worse, less shut. We shall see! The excitement is killing you isn’t it. Seated there on the edge of your seat wondering if I’ll be successful on this trip. It is with trepidation that I shall open the car door. Maybe more with the handle…. poor trepidation.

I decided against taking the guided tour. I did the “visite libre” and handed over my name, phone number etc. in case of Covid contact. Therefore, as the cheap skate that I am, I only visited the outsides. I still managed to get a couple of nice photos and was able to visit the Chapel.

I’ll put up the boring stuff like links etc., addresses, prices when I finish the article later on. For the moment, you’ll have to do with this!

Now for the boring stuff, or maybe even interesting stuff, depending on whether or not you enjoy history.  A Plessis is a fort built on a hill surrounded by bushes as a defence, and the word Macé comes the Latin word for Mathew, Mattheus. The original fort was built in the 11th century buy Raynaud the first and was a wooden tower, in the 12th century the wood was replaced by stone.  It always pays to invest in construction.  It defended Angers from the Dukes of Brittany.  We nicked it during the Hundred Year’s War, as it was pretty much abandoned.  It also allowed us a little pied-à-terre from which to nick local natural resources.  This is wine country and who doesn’t like a drink eh?  We were mercilessly pushed out of France, and the Plessis was taken over by Louis de Beaumont who built the castle that we see today.  1678, the Castle is bought by the Bautrau de Serrant family, and in 1749 by the Walsh family (which doesn’t sound very French to me, just saying).  In 1868 the Countess Sophie Walsh de Serrant (OK so maybe they were French after all), took up residence in the Castle and launched a huge construction project in the actual Logis.  1907, the Archives de France director, Charles Victor Langlois (Charles Victor the Englishman, Langlois is the medieval French for Englishman, oh the irony) acquired the Castle.  As in most of France during the Second World War, the Germans occupied the Castle, as they did the rest of France.  Yes, there’s something Vichy about the French, as Noel Coward once said.  1967 Philippe Langlois-Berthelot gifted the Castle to the Maine et Loire Department, possibly to avoid paying taxes (again, nothing sure, but follow the money…). 1980 the “Commons” builing was renovated as function rooms.  You have to make money somehow, and who wouldn’t to have a reception in a beautiful castle?  1987, the artistic director of the Anjou Festival, Jean-Claude Brialy, a French and very butch luvvie, presented the infamous Barber of Seville by Beaumarchais.  Skip forward to 2020, the photographer Ian J Myers visited the Castle because the other one he wanted to visit was shut, and he was buggered if he was going to leave the area without taking a couple of photos for posterity and his blog!

You, Dear Reader are now up to date.  All that is left for me to do is to edit the photos and present them to you. I had originally planned to visit a few of the Loire Castles but then Lockdown happened, again! I’ll change plans and see what I come up with for future articles!

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.

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!