Aug 29, 2009

Belgiumdigital goes live!

It has been quiet on this blog for a while, and there's a good reason for that. I have been very busy (with some other BD buddies) finalizing the website, and preparing the PR kit for this upcoming event.

Belgiumdigital, Belgium's most prominent Internet community for digital photography (you guessed that, right?) is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a big all-day event on September 27 loaded with attractions for photographers. Have you ever wanted to shoot a live pop concert? Or fashion models on the catwalk, beautifully restored oldtimer cars, bodypainters at work? We have all that set up for you!

There's workshops on diverse topics, from studio and location flash lighting through food or underwater photography, from color managed workflows through the best Adobe Lightroom techniques. Two leading Belgian pro-shooters come to discuss their latest projects with the audience. In short: every aspect of photography you see on the collage above is featured on the program.

I have only one recommendation for you: be there!

Gear notes: this time, just Photoshop...

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Aug 19, 2009


I like good food and I like to cook... so no wonder that I am also attracted to food photography! Already some time ago I got the opportunity to join two friends for an extensive 'real' food shoot. Chef Wim Mertens of the Antwerp restaurant 'Het Gerecht' invited us to add pictures of his latest creations to his website. We arrived on a day with no lunch service, so we had full access to his skills and attention for several hours.

This was my first hands-on experience with 'real' restaurant dishes, so I was in for a thorough learning experience (to say the least!). Each of the three photographers set up for a different lighting setup. On our main stage we used a large shooting table with a curved white background, two large softboxes and a ring flash. In the dining area we went for soft daylight with a little fill from a speedlight and a shoot-through umbrella. I went for a minimalist setup: a medium sized light tent, three SB-800 flash units and a collection of white, sliver and black cards to further sculpt the light.

We had great fun (photographically) making our way through the multiple course menu, from basic ingredients to polished plates. Little or no calories though: the food had been specially prepared for the shoot: for instance, fish was undercooked to show better its textures. New plates were brought in as needed while we fine-tuned composition and lighting.

This one above became my challenge of the day! The lady of the house, in charge of the dining room, was begging to make a shot of these colorful candy jars. Aah, all that glass...!

Lessons learned: make sure you have a good idea of the dishes you will photograph and prepare your setups as much as you can before you start: time will running extremely fast during the shoot! (and have something to eat in your bag, as it took us many hours of concentrated pleasure before we finally had a bite!).

Gear notes: D200, 17-55/2.8, 90/2.8 SP Di

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Aug 13, 2009

Perfect models

Have you ever been looking for the ideal environment to develop and refine your photo skills? I found my perfect training ground at the Planckendael animal park, near Mechelen, not too far from where I live. This 'extension' of the Antwerp Zoo used to house breeding programs and animals that were old or recovering from illness; by now it has been developed into an extensive collection of interesting species, all enjoying spacious habitats. The abundance and variety of animals and vegetation offers lots of subjects to challenge your composition, focusing and lighting techniques. And no fuss about privacy or publication rights with these models!

This fellow is great for testing your patience and determination. To begin, you will find him sleeping high on a branch most of the time. Or when he's awake, he will turn his back to you and just sit there quietly for hours. If however you understand his activity pattern and know his feeding times (hint: ask the caretakers!) you may have a better chance - that is, if he's not hiding just behind that greasy spot on the thick glass of the cage... So a dose of luck, good timing and quick reaction, and a shallow depth-of-field may get you a koala shot like the one above.

No need for endless patience with this one: Oriental Small-clawed Otters are busy and nervous creatures, swirling around in small packs, always on the lookout for danger - and for food! They move fast and hardly ever sit still, and definitely will challenge your timing and focusing skills. You will be easily rewarded though as they are playful and take on charming poses...

He's seen it all, nothing left to surprise him... But don't be fooled: the eyes follow every bit of movement through the wire fence. The use of a long focal length combined with a large aperture makes the enclosure almost invisible.

Gear notes: D300, 70-200/2.8VR, TC-14E II

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Aug 8, 2009

Dancing the sun away

It's summer season in Antwerp, and that means there's a choice of events and festivities all day long, each day of the week. On a warm weekday's night, a fellow photographer joined me for a good beer and an exotic dinner on an outside terrace. Afterwards we walked up to the 'Antwerpen Danst' (Antwerp dances) location, not far into the harbor area north of the city.

There, at the big bend of the majestic Schelde river, near the Kattendijk locks, you will find a huge wooden dance floor. On Tuesdays, it's tango night; Thursdays feature traditional folk or ethnic dance from all over the world. Each evening start with a specific initiation session, and then people dance along into the night.

We just caught the end of the training session on Sevillanas, a popular flamenco-style folk dance from Seville (Andalusia). Before long, the DJ switched to a variety of traditional music from the Mediterranean and Latin America. A great opportunity for the audience to practice moves picked up during earlier sessions, or just to have fun! And all that with the Antwerp skyline in the background, and the twinkling lights of petrochemical plants across the river.

Photographically, there wasn't that much to catch that night... The place was absolutely packed - hardly a surprise on one of the best summer evenings we had so far. As the evening sun was setting, the lighting on the site became practically non-existent, evolving into so-so (a few sodium street lamps high on their poles). And there was no particular elevated vantage point, another handicap for a 'vertically challenged' person like me ;-)

So what better opportunity to exercise our skills at shooting action in low light (no speedlights!), honing our focusing techniques, testing how good our cameras handle high ISO settings (awesome on a D700!), and generally looking for those visually interesting scenes...?

Gear notes: D700, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8VR, 17-35/2.8

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Aug 6, 2009

Life along the street: China

My professional activities have brought me plenty of opportunities to visit various parts of the world. Of course, that mostly means airports, taxis, business hotels, restaurants and conference centers. But once in a while I managed to free up some time or add an extra day to step beyond the business traveler or tourist facades. And that's when you get to savor some of the 'real life' over there.

The pictures here come from a combined conference/business tour trip to China in 2005. All were shot in a hurry, going (or in this case, being hurdled) from one place to another, in between meetings or tour stops. Street scenes like these are a good way to capture and convey some of the local feel and flavor. They are stolen moments, frozen bits of what you experience on the spot.

The first one was shot in the back streets of Shanghai, a narrow alley taking us from a hidden bus parking to a restaurant near the Yu Yuan Gardens. Just a mother spoon-feeding her child in a makeshift crib...

This entrepreneur was waiting for us at the Great Wall entrance at Mutianyu, northeast of Beijing. All you can drink and crunch on a tiny table! Can you recognize some of the brands, from how we know them in the West?

Finally, an 'outdoor catering manager' from Beijing's Wangfujing district. These sidewalk stalls offering a wide variety of local... well, specialties are very popular with the younger evening crowd. If you really want to know what they serve, check this photo album.

You will have to admit: there's not much difference in how we all try to earn a living anywhere in the world...!

Gear notes: D70, 18-70DX, 28-200G, 35/2.0

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Aug 1, 2009

Blowin' in the wind

It's always very nice to get away from where you usually spend your days and explore fresh surroundings. You don't have to travel far to do so, as long as there's some contrast in the environment and in what you do. So when a couple of very good long-time friends invited us up to the coast for a dune walk and a pleasant dinner, I did not take much to say yes (and thank you!) and leave.

We started our afternoon with a good hike through one of the nicest dune areas in Oostduinkerke: the 'Doornpanne'. Although most of it is fenced off for the occasional tourist - it is a nature reserve and a water extraction area - you can still follow some nice paths through the sand hills. The wind was blowing strongly, and the skies were threatening, we did get a good shower at the end of our walk! So in all not too many inspiring vistas to get the camera clicking.

And then, at a turn in the path, we suddenly faced a small herd of donkeys. A small number of these animals have been let loose in the dunes to graze them, and thereby stimulating the growth of new vegetation. There's some ponies around as well, but these are kept away from the areas you can walk unguided. It was fun to watch the playful younger animals interact with each other. And though I had only a wide-angle landscape lens at hand, a good opportunity for some shots as well.

Lesson learned: always be prepared for the unexpected opportunity!

Gear notes: D700, 28-200G, 17-35/2.8

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