Do you watch movies or TV shows? Of course you do.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way in which cinematographers and directors of photography (DOP) can utilise all our favourite things like depth of field, camera angle, lighting etc to enrich the feeling we get from a character: in other words you can shoot in such a way to characterise the cast. We can do the same in photography since we have much the same tools available, the only difference being we’re recording a single frame.

Years ago I mentioned how I typically shoot guys in rock bands one way, and female professionals another. That’s probably common sense, but breaking it down and we get into the same territory used in cinema.

If we use a low angle on a shot, and shoot wide, we accentuate height, width and convey a feeling of physical power which can be used to intimidate (at the extremes) or convey authority and control.

Here’s a shot of actor Tyrone. He’s a guy known for his roles as a bruiser kinda character – the bare knuckle enforcer sorta dude. Shooting from low and having his hands in the centre of the frame accentuates the size of his arms, and him looking down has that menacing look to it.



Here’s another example where I’m shooting low to make people look tough.


asy enough right? We’re all familiar with these concepts and see them a million times a day throughout media channels but it’s a tool to stick in your toolbox when you’re trying to present a feeling to the viewer of an image.

And this is shooting at almost the opposite way: eye level, warmer colour palette, longer lens to blur the background and convey approachability and friendliness. By warming up the colour palette we can make the images appeal in a totally different way than the cold-toned images above. To get this warmer tone I shoot around 6000K and might add a little tint in post processing to even out all the tones in a frame then desaturate just a smidge to stop it looking clownish.



GG2 small (8 of 8)And I should point out this isn’t a gender thing, it’s not shooting guys one way and girls another. It’s just simply using angles, focal lengths, DOF, and colour grading to convey something deeper about a subject.

Food Photography Auckland part 439.

Hello there, thanks for tuning in.

Let’s make a cup of tea, sit back, put Gojira on your home stereo system and read a little bit about food photography.

See, ‘food photography’ kinda misleading. It’s over-simplifying the task because the food is only part of the frame, what you’re shooting is a scene, a memory that people want to have and an experience they want to share with their nearest and dearest. This is why pictures of plates by themselves don’t do anything to make people interested or do anything to make a kitchen any busier.

On my last shoot I heard the best thing I could ever hear from a client: “That picture sells food” the Operations Director said as he pointed to a picture of mine on a flat screen TV behind the counter where people order. It was a pretty innocuous picture of a sandwich looking fresh and inviting, bread all golden toasted and soft, next to a nicely blurred cup of coffee all steaming warmly, and way in the background a newspaper with the crossword page facing camera. All arranged quite succinctly on a wooden tabletop.

What does that image say? It doesn’t say “this will cost you $10” (or whatever it costs, I just made that up), it says “this is a nice relaxing thing to do before you start your day” and that, dear friends, is what a successful image needs (in this instance) – it has to speak.

That probably sounds pretentious, and it might be, but it’s also right. If you’re shooting food, sell a scene. Plates by themselves look like menu shots in food courts. Set the table how it should be, get a glass of wine, a pepper grinder, a salt shaker, set up another place for someone else while you’re at it since not many people dine alone.

And now here’s some food.





All shot at 70mm, lit from somewhere close to behind with a silver reflector occasionally used camera right to kick some light back in. Nothing fancy.

When it comes to styling food, I like to fill the frame but obviously make the thing on the plate the hero/focus and like all my shoots it involved working backwards.


If you don’t know what you’re aiming at you’ll never get it. If you can visualise the image in your head before you even pick up the camera or move a light you’re 90% there, the rest is just making it happen.




And, since that restaurant was putting on a festival all about seafood we shot some stuff for use in EDMs, backgrounds for copy, print ads, social content the usual thing… I’ve probably rambled before about how commercial photography now is different to what it was 10 years ago. Taking pictures is still taking pictures but the outlets for the images is hugely diverse now. I give my clients image libraries, shots of everything like the venue, kitche, food, service. I want to enable my clients to tell their story through a curated selection of images and give them imagery they can use to reinforce or build a brand across all their networks like print, social, EDMs, web banners… the usage of the pics is limited only by the imagination of the marketing department.

And that’s about it, rather than throw 600 images at you to stroke my ego I try to bring meaningful information here and hey, maybe this’ll help.



Just fuckin’ eat whatever, mate.

“Just fuckin’ eat whatever, mate.”

I like Ben. He’s always moving. Usually forwards, 10 things firing at once in his mind. Mercurial, gifted, and humble. Meet Ben Bayly.

Today I’m at The Grove. A little out the way despite being in the middle of Auckland’s CBD, The Grove is a smart, cozy, classy venue that seats about 80 people in understated luxury.

To just say “food” would be over-simplifying. This is like modern art. This is next level cuisine. I mentioned to Chef that this looks more like sculptural forms than food. He’s probably used to that.

Here’s what it looks like:


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This is much easier than trying to talk about lighting for 400 words. This is the setup for the majority of the dishes.


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Ben Bayly:

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Book your table at


And book your shoot at

Forgotten Lockett & Tez Mercer Photo: Shooting fashion in an unfashionable place

Forgotten Lockett.


Forgotten Lockett (FL): a fashion label based in Auckland, New Zealand. Everything is designed, made, finished, modeled and shipped by one unstoppable lady: Nicole. Say hello, everybody.


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She’s a total inspiration.

FL as you’ll see specialise in alternative fashions. Grungy, bold, vivid, alluring, and it’s all one-off stuff. Real cool and encouraging that there’s people out there blazing their own trail and kicking mountains of ass along the way.

So what’s my job here as the photographer?


  • Make the outfits look great
  • Make the model look great
  • Present both in a way that is eye-catching and on-brand.


Now that I see it written down, that’s pretty much the MO for every shoot but, drilling down into it and researching the brand you get a clearer idea of what is “on-brand” for this particular brand and why the same approach probably wouldn’t work for Armani or Davidoff as what would for FL.


So with that in mind and homework done (by perusing the etsy page, website, IG and other social profiles) there was a bit of a gameplan about the ‘look’. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s way easier to know where you’re going if you have a direction to go in. I think backwards. Start with the end, then figure out what steps to take to get to that point.


The wardrobe was obviously going to be handled by FL. My job is location, lighting, settings, and a little bit of discussion/direction about what I’m thinking would work well and why I’m thinking it – this last point usually comes down to walking around a space you think is cool and looking for 3 or 4 distinctive locations you can use within the overall space. For this shoot in particular, which took place in an old metal workshop, I used the main shop floor for 90% of it, but earmarked 5 locations that would combine well with different outfits.

I took a few test shots, checked where the natural light was coming in, what colours are present in the scene and made some notes.


Given the subject matter and style of outfits bright poppy colours wouldn’t do. I wanted industrial, gritty, scratched up, muted shades of olive and brown and tarnished worktops scarred through decades of use.

I guess this is visualisation. It’s kinda thinking through the job before you begin, get your workflow together, try and imagine where the light(s) should go and what shadows and shapes would that make? Do you need 1 light? 2 or more lights? Now’s the time to figure that out – not when the client walks through the door and you need to spend 20 minutes looking into corners and holding the ‘L frames’ in front of your face scoping out angles.
Key light was an octabox up high. Fill light if required was a softbox, a bare light, sunlight, or a combination of all of the above. I wanted an angular light to provide huge shadows so the main light was a bit more around the subject than I would typically do for a corporate gig or something a bit brighter, it wasn’t quite 90 degrees but you can see by the shadows around the nose that it was a pretty acute angle. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes it’s not so good, just move the light until you think it looks cool. You’re the judge here. Trust yourself.


Remember, you can make anything look badass with a light in the right place.

That sentence might encapsulate 10 years of doing this. Funny how it goes sometimes.

And here’s the images:

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Editing these shots wasn’t that involved. The model already had great skin, the wwardrobe was taken care of, my lighting was right in camera, so editing was primarily global adjustments in LKR using curves (see below) and white balance to tone it a bit colder and bring some rich density into the midtones. I try and avoid pure black and pure whites in my shots where possible- they’re useless as they contain no detail, just black or white. They’re in there somewhere but it’s totally possible to make things look bright or dark without muddying it up or overexposing everything.

One thing I always do when I think I’m done with a shot is push ctrl+shift+L for auto levels. Do this on a duplicate layer. If you like it, then you’re all set, but if you don’t and you think it changes your colours too much, then set this duplcaite layer to ‘luminosity’ and it will only affect the lightness values and not the colour. This all your hard grading work is left intact but you get the full range from black – white. And I say this only as a “hey, this might help”, I ignore the auto-levels all the time because I’m happy with the look but if you need it, it’s there.

Curves and their curviness.

I mentioned something about using the curves function to change the colours of an image. I stumbled across this accidentally; Canon sensors tend to have quite red shadows which, to me, looks a little too warm. For shoots like this I want cold which is blue, cyan, teal, pale colours. So, open your curves command with ctrl+m, select the red channel from the drop down, grab the very very darkest point (usually bottom left corner) and drag it along the bottom edge towards the right corner. Move it just a little bit until the 0 becomes an 8 or 9. This is tinting the red in the dark regions towards blue, so the shadows will become less red and more blue, and therefore colder looking. Easy right?

For this setup it was my tried-and-tested unbeatable formula for almost any occasion from corporate to portrait to fashion to music to product: big octabox/light source in the back and a softbox around the front at roughly 45 degrees and pretty high. Aim for an f/8 exposure and the background to be JUST blown out into white. If you nuke the back it just overpowers everything and goes crazy, you just want a slight wraparound to the subject and it to look like a white cyc wall in a studio. Easy peasy. Then it’s up to you, and the subject, to understand how it looks and then roll with it. Good models (like Nicole) will change position after every click but it helps to ask the subject to just move their head a little, look around the frame and around the camera after every click. Right down the barrel, over the camera, look to the side, narrow your eyes, adjust your jacket, whatever, just subtle movements can make a big difference to the end product and help this from looking too ‘passporty’.

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You can use a white umbrella in the back, a softbox, and any modifier you like ‘out front’ (a beauty dish looks especially cool). It’s a pretty sweet lighting system that you can use on a whole host of subjects and genres.

I think that’s about it. Take-home facts:

  1. Trust yourself.

  2. One light can change everything.

  3. Do all your experimental editing on a different layer.

  4. Drink tea.

  5. Hug dogs.

  6. Call your grandma.

    That’s about it.


Until next time.

Stuntmen are badasses

Sometimes you meet some interesting people.

Once upon a time I was shooting production stills for a short movie called Just 3 Girls. While shooting on set I met a guy called Mana Hira Davis – you’ve seen him before, you just didn’t know it was him – he’s a stuntman doing films around the world, jumping out of buildings, being set on fire, no big deal, the usual stuff. We got talking about doing a photo shoot of sorts with no real plan in mind just something involving tactical gear, firearms, badass facial expressions with a vaguely paramilitary air.

These guys go all out. It’s 100% all the time. If they’re asked to take cover behind a wall of tyres, they don’t stroll over then crouch down. They run full tilt like they’re dodging bullets, yell for suppressing fire, then slam into the tyres and bring their weapon around to bear. It’s amazing to watch and shows the chasm that exists between the real-life working pros and the play actors phoning it in.

Humourous Interlude: The 3 guys met me outside the office. Mana asks me what kind of gun I’m looking for in the shoot. “Something big” I replied. “How big?” he asks, while opening the boot of his blacked out Subaru. “The biggest you got” I say, because really, that’s the only answer.

The boot swings open – and this is on a pretty busy street at 5pm so everybody is leaving work and driving past – and there’s a stack of guns in there, shiny, black, oiled, maintained. These aren’t water pistols, they’re legit replica guns (legit replica? you know what I mean) from movie sets so they’ve got the proper weight, the correct balance, all the moving parts like triggers and slides just without any of the firing mechanisms. Basically they look darn real (apart from the one from Halo for obvious reasons) and you’d be forgiven for thinking we were conducting some kind of clandestine arms deal in West Auckland. So if you drove past, looked over and saw a blacked out car full of guns and a guy saying “wow, nice balance” while hefting a Desert eagle, then you mashed the accelerator to escape the crazy people, my apologies. It was all for a photo shoot, I swear.

It’s a carjacking with a very big gun.

This was a bit of a challenge to light… well I say challenge, but I threw up one light on the left which is lighting Mana (on the bonnet), which left Tori’s face in darkness. What do? Throw another light on camera right to light the near side of the car so you get the balance in the frame and some context, otherwise Mana is just screaming at shadows which I don’t think he does frequently. I shot this at f/11, 24mm. The light on Mana is on about 3/4 power, the one round the other side near me is on about 1/4. I didn’t want equal brightness across both guys because to me the attention needs to be pulled upward to Mana’s ever so emotive expression so I left the car technically underexposed. Basically, it’s 2 lights almost facing each other. I hate on-axis lighting (like an on-camera flash would be), it’s flat, boring, 2d, and it eliminates all depth. If the light is coming from the sides or going across the subject though, that’s cool.



That’s an alternate angle from a bit later in the day. Same lighting. Same screaming.


As the shoot went on we got closer to a narrative as to why this was all going down. A guy lost something, he wants it back, he punishes the people who took the thing. That’s essentially it, but it gave us something to pin the pictures too and a story to work with.




Ambidextrous gun control there. Lighting in both those pics is a single big octabox pretty close at around f/5.6.






I wanted to get some solo shots of the guys, both for some characterisation and also so the guys would have something of just them if they wanted to include something in their portfolio.

Set faces to stun.

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Lighting here is an octabox directly above, sort of in between camera and subject. If it’s directly above the face it leads to big deep shadows under the eyes which I didn’t want, so by bringing the light out slightly towards the camera it still looks just as cool but there’s enough detail in there so the viewer has something to connect with. Since the first thing people look at is the eyes, it makes sense to make them visible.

And that’s about it. Guns, lights, knives.

Shooting for the Women’s Refuge – to keep what you have you’ve got to give it away.


I do pro bono shoots every now and then  (the one before this was for Shine up in Auckland) and I’d urge you to do the same whatever your profession. There are hundreds of charities and non-profits in desperate need of help (pictures, web design, even things like making posters) and would absolutely love to hear from you if you have some free time.

I saw a post on Facebook. A friend of a friend from the Women’s Refuge was looking for someone who could help out and take some pics of some women who had been through hell and come out the other side. There was to be an event, a ball, to celebrate the launch of a coffee-table book called Grim Tales featuring stories of these women and how they prevailed and triumphed through sometimes life-threatening abuse. For sure I put my hand up and volunteered to take the photographs. Nobody should have to endure what these women went through and if my mediocre skills help just a teensy bit then it’s worth it right? The only thing it costs me is time after all, but that little bit of time might give someone something they can cherish and look back on in years to come… which would mean printing the images.

I spoke to Kale Print in Tauranga and explained what the shoot was for and why I was doing it, and to be honest I was looking for some prints to give the women after the ball. Otherwise, no matter how good the pictures might turn out they’ll just be on a hard-drive, or on Facebook, or on a screen and forgotten about. A print is so much more meaningful than a collection of pixels and Kale Print, in all their awesomeness, were totally on board and offered to print an A3 on the house for the ladies at the event. How cool is that? Sometimes people are fantastic.

So, the night. I went down early to check out the location (The Incubator in Tauranga’s historic district) and try and find as many different backgrounds as I could that were in keeping with the theme and could be shot in the same room with minimal teardown/setup shenanigans. The Incubator is a total smorgasbord of random props and bits of sets from TV shows, stage productions, that kinda thing. None of it matches, and its eclectic wacky nature was a real inspiration in framing some of the shots.

Lighting was just a big octabox and occasionally a softbox for fill. I had to be quick with an hour to photograph all the ladies before they were needed for the ball and presentation of the Grim Tales book. Without further ado, here are the images selected for printing.

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I wanted to make every image different, personalised but also hopefully complimentary to the outfit as a whole and testament to the strength of these women. I didn’t want the posing to be demure or effacing, but proud, forthright, unashamed. An attestation that they won’t be broken. I’m proud of what we accomplished that night. I’ve done a lot commercial jobs around the world for some pretty big clients, but this one means a great deal to me and hopefully, to the women involved.

Please go and check out the book here: and all the proceeds go to the Women’s Refuge who need all the help they can get.

And if you’re inspired or wondering if you can help out, have a look around on Google or Facebook for charities and non-profits in your area. What floats your boat? Conservation? Animals? Human rights? Someone out there would love to hear from you and have you on board.

UnderRated – band photography with the BOP’s hip-hop phenoms.

I had the pleasure of photographing and interviewing the Bay’s fastest rising stars, Underrated.

My job here was to photograph, interview, and then write a 1,200 word article on the band for publication in one of the Bay’s well known magazines. It would be a 6 page spread and since I’m the guy asking the questions I wanted to look at the history of the band, the motivations, the reasons, and let the guys tell their story, whatever that may be.

The thought process here was to hopefully avoid cliches about rap group photography. I didn’t want to portray them as gangsters, with suits and Cristal and Bentleys , throwing shapes and giving gang signs. These are intelligent, witty, urbane, and soulful artists who just happen to make hip-hop music. I checked out their songs before the shoot and I was struck by the unflinching emotive rawness of their lyrics. They’re delivered sharply and slickly yet the subject matter is occasionally pretty heavy, like friends in jail, or teenage pregnancy, or not fitting in, or just a general fuck you. It’s quite refreshing honestly when a new group doesn’t just replicate what came before but follows their own voice.

So… photos. Since I knew it was destined for a magazine, that probably meant a DPS opener (double page spread). With that in mind I shot something with enough space left in the frame that would both be nice to look at but leave plenty of room for copy and the opening section to the article. Here’s a selection of options depending on what the mag wanted to run: band left, band centred (for a one pager), band right. All of which have enough space for words and a headline.

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When shooting for magazine spreads it’s prudent to leave cropping space around the edges and also be mindful of where the gutter will lie (that’s the fold in the middle of the publication). Camera focal screens have a central focus point so you have a headstart when it comes to framing like this. Generally speaking, if you can avoid a face being in the fold of the page then do so. It’s the first thing people look at in images, and if it’s buried in a hard fold somewhere then your photos don’t look as good.

I lit the above frames with just an octabox on the left side pointed right at the wall. It’s the shadows I wanted, not really the light itself. I wanted to get a little bit of a badass vibe to the pic. These aren’t insurance salesmen, they’re rappers and I was actually inspired by Nako’s hat (guy at the front), because I knew that if you get the light high it’d cast these sweet shadows across his eyes.

Leading Lines:

The leading line of the wall makes the eye wander through the page from front to back, and I used that diagonal line as a counterpoint to the band, who are standing pretty vertically. Rather than having the guys just stand flat against a wall, I asked Shaayd (guy in the black) to face the camera, Joe in the middle could pretty much do whatever with his positioning as long as he stayed reasonably close to the wall. The guy at the front, Nako, pretty much only had one option (that I could see) from this angle which was to crouch down. This way, everyone gets equal space, nobody really looks like “the front man” (there isn’t one) but they look like they’re part of the same thing. I wanted Shaayd to face the camera to stop the eye wandering too far, like the focal point of the image ends where he stands, the leading line of the wall might be useful but it’s not the subject here (this was further emphasized by the fall off in the lighting, which I enhanced in post by darkening the furthest points so the eye is drawn to the brightest part – our band). There’s a bunch of simple things here that combine into a rather successful image.



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This was around the back of a closed cafe. We found a chair, found a little space with the sunlight filtering through a tree, I set up a light opposite and hey presto. I liked how the colours complimented the frame, like the reds and maroons are evident through the image from left to right. Again, just a big octabox to the right, shooting around f/14 to get everything in focus.

Next up it’s the good ol’ headshots. Again, trying to avoid the typical rap/hip-hop gangster vibes I wanted to do something serious, artistic, bordering on high-brow, and present these guys in an honest way with no probs, gimmicks, or bullshit. Just good light and a “stand there and look at me” direction. I like this kinda stuff, but it takes communication between the photographer and the subject. It’s unflinching, unforgiving, and there’s nowhere to hide so you’ve got to trust one another and chat enough beforehand to have a rapp


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Here’s Nako:

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And here’s Shaayd:

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I guess I was trying to keep it dignified. Shot all these with a 135mm @ f/3.5. Lit with a softbox up front and an octa round the back for the white background effect. And here’s the opening page.

Great fun with some great dudes. Here’s their Soundcloud if you want to give them a listen:



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cheers, y’all.


Production Stills for Just 3 Girls – short indie film produced by BOP Film


I put my hand up (well, on Facebook) to offer my services for a short film being made in the Bay of Plenty by BOP Film. The film is called Just 3 Girls, directed by Anton Steel, written by Daryl Belbin, filming by Chris Kirkham, Steve Lawton, Jared Something, and Andrew Taylor on camera assist.

There are loads of other people to name, including 100 extras who volunteered their time for one of the action scenes.

I’m on productions stills and photographing behind the scenes. I think I whittled it down to about 50 shots each from the 3 days, and then whittled that down to 10 from each day that tell the story of a bit of the film, and some shots showing off the awesome teamwork present on set where everyone helped out the other guy and chipped in, if required people threw on a hi-vis and directed traffic, people grabbed gear, others held reflectors or dried off headphones… whatever it was, someone volunteered their time and energy to make it happen.

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Those are some giant pictures.

So, this wasn’t shoot all about lighting and post production and fancy stuff, it’s about recording what’s happening on when the actors are doing takes. I didn’t shoot at all during actual takes, and tried to get myself out of the way of the cast and crew, for a couple of reasons:

1- you’d probably be in someone’s eyeline when they’re doing a scene, something always better avoided. It’s not fair to the actors and honestly if you’re just looking, you don’t need to be there and the cast/crew need space to work.

2- Unless you’re using a sound blimp to completely remove shutter noise there’s a chance the booms and sound guy will pick up your shutter sound. There’s a strong chance they won’t hear it, but you’ve got like 6 rehearsals to grab the shots so it isn’t generally worth the risk to have shutter sounds on the final recordings.


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For 90% of the shots I used the trusty 24-70 L. No fuss, it just works and takes rather nice pictures, it can focus really close, is pretty wide on a full frame camera and focuses fast. It’s a true workhorse. I also packed the 50mm 1.4 and 135 f/2 but used these sparingly, or when I wanted to compress the field a bit more or pick something out of a crowd. Or someone can give you the finger while you’re thinking about your lens choice.

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I wish there was more to write… but honestly the whole thing is capturing what’s happening in front of you, the majority of which comes down to decent positioning and timing so you get the shots you need when they happen. There’s a saying in sports photography: “if you see it through the viewfinder, you’ve missed it” which is entirely accurate here: you gotta snap as it’s happening, not afterwards. This means you need to watch the rehearsals, listen to the DOP or the stunt coordinator or the director or whomever else is calling the shots and anticipate who’s going to be where and then think where do you need to be to give yourself the best chance of getting the shot.

There’s a huge massive gigantic amount of talent packed into that last shot. You’ve got stuntmen from LOTR, Karl Urban’s body double, martial artists, prop makers, set designers, wardrobe, makeup, hair stylists, runners, actors, stunt coordinators, fight choreographers, screenwriters, runners, coffee makers, traffic directors, production crew, social media gurus… all of whom volunteered their time to spend 3 days making a movie to put BOP Film on the map and draw the eye of moviemakers to the region. A region which is studded with incredible scenery in a reasonably central location and with an awesome abundance of world-class dudes and dudettes right on the doorstep. Here’s to many more projects.


Band photography at MAINZ (again) – TezMPhoto

Word up guys,

A few months ago I got a call from the head honcho at MAINZ (Music and Audio Institute of New Zealand). It’s a school dedicated to the musical arts and encompasses all things musical like playing, songwriting, recording, performances, mixing/mastering, exploring different genres, and is basically a cool place I kinda wish I’d attended (except I lived in Manchester, UK and studied criminology instead which made me very adept at Tekken 3). The Dean Emeritus there had a bit of a brainwave to involve the students in a photoshoot.

The reasons are twofold:

  1. The students and school get some awesome photography for use on posters and other artwork
  2. The students get some experience in the settings of a photoshoot with the big lights and the “move a little bit to your left, please” so that should it come around again they’re familiar with the process.

Having said that nobody was particularly nervous despite the fact we’d never met and a lot of these bands are newly formed at MAINZ, and it’s great fun and inspiring working with some very talented people who know how to present themselves and have their shit wholly together. The future bodes well.

Anyway, the first shoot went really well and the second one went just the same.

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Before the shoot I say pretty much the same thing… I know it feels a bit silly and exposed when you’re stood there in a big room with lights pointed at you with a big camera following your every move. It’s not really a natural environment for the vast majority of us and not something we come into contact with very often. But, it doesn’t matter. For the 15 minutes of the shoot they’ve got to believe they’re the biggest, baddest, and best mofo who ever stepped into that room. Confidence shows through and all these people have the right to be where they are. It probably speaks to their good natures that most people shy from the limelight at the risk of pulling attention from someone else but in shoots like these it’s all about them and if it comes down to a face on a poster I’d rather see someone with self-belief and a confidence about themselves. And I’m not talking about being cocky and showy here, but the ability to just look right down the barrel of the lens with a conviction.

Everyone walks into the room unsure of what to expect. It’s totally normal. But put it aside until you leave the room and the work is so much better. The transformation between the first few frames and the last are incredibly noticeable and it’s rare that I select the first few frames from a shoot like this because everyone is still acclimating to the environment and the parts they play.

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A challenge from the photographer’s perspective, apart from the inter-personal stuff, is coming up with different settings, looks, and compositions in a white room containing a couch and a sink and nothing else. You can alter the feel and mood of a shoot not only with lighting and setting but with lens choice and angle. Here are two different pics of the same band:

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Taken about 8ft apart. Same lighting, but one is taken at 85mm stood up, and the other taken at 24mm sitting on the floor featuring an attractive crane in the background. Actually this band was among one of the most technically involved to shoot… and by that I mean it took about 30 seconds longer to set it up than the other guys. Not because of the guys, they were nothing but awesome and polite, but when you have a bunch of people all wearing black against a white background it’s easy to just have some floating heads on top of a shapeless black blob where their bodies should be.

So what do?

Remove hands from pockets if they’re wearing long sleeves. It’s a little thing, but seeing the hand at the end of an arm gives a sense of scale and proportion that you lose among a sea of black if every hand was in a pocket. And move the fill light so it fills in the shadows the key light doesn’t hit. If you do this right you’ll get a little bit of exposure in the shadows but not blow anything out. Easy right?

When it came to the posing/direction of the band in the bottom pic I wanted the singer to be at the top of the pyramid and knew her hair would make a great focal point. Usually when people first sit down they sit back in the chair. That’s cool but it doesn’t lend itself to a good group pic and can have the tendency to make someone look lazy and unengaged so I ask anyone who’s on the ‘bottom rack’ of the couch to move forward so they’re sitting toward the camera, interested and engaged. Since I was shooting at 24mm from pretty close, if they were sat back they would have massive feet too due to the lens’ distortion. We don’t want that… except when you do of course.

Another posing ‘trick’ I absolutely swear by is having the people on either end of a line face the middle of the frame. It looks way way more focused and cohesive this way and I’ve found that if everyone just faces forward it just looks stretched and almost imposing. By facing the outlying people in (in a standing shot) you’re pulling the focus into the centre of the frame and keeping the eye from wandering. Here’s an exmaple shot of when I shot the Feelers a while back but utilising the same principles as described here. Dark long sleeves? Hands out of pockets, and dudes at either end face the middle.


Here’s a few more of Emily to add some mileage to the usefulness of the imagery.

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And a couple more of Moana:

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So…. lighting.

The key (that’s the ‘main’ light whose job is to light everything) was either a big octabox (8 sided) or a softbox (4 sided). And the fill light (which fills in the shadows cast by the key light, or to be used as a separation light) was either a softbox or a bare bulb depending on what I wanted to see. The key light is typically up as high as it can go and the other light around eye level and I aim to shoot at f/11 or so on a group shot so everyone is in focus, but around f/2.8 on solo shots for the sweet depth of field.

What does that even mean? Well, basically, the higher that number the more stuff is in focus. The lower that number the less stuff is in focus. In the pic above of Moana, you see how the background is out of focus but her face is not? I’m shooting at f/2.8. If I were shooting at f/11, or f/14 or higher, that background would be in focus. That’s about it in terms of how aperture (or F-stop) affects a shot and it’s a creative choice in settings like this.

Since I’m on a tangent he’s an even better example of depth of field, which again, is basically the amount of stuff in focus. This is shot at f/2 and I’m focused on the cone in the front, if that same image were shot at f/22 then guess what? Everything front to back would be focus. This lesson was brought to you by traffic cones.

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So the lighting… it’s pretty simple. Point it at something, get the shadows where you want them and you’re good. Which is actually kind of backwards now that I see it written down. But when I shoot I’m looking at where the shadows are, rather than where the light is. Why? The shadows are the thing that define the shape of something, like a curve or a hard line. They call this “shadowform” in classical art circles (have a look at Caravaggio for some kick ass shadowform) and for me, it’s a different approach to getting the lights right. Once the shadows are where I want them, or don’t want them, it’s a matter of adjusting the light power to get the exposure correct for the subject – a face, a plate of food, a traffic cone, whatever.

Where was I…

This dude is awesome. Redacy is his (stage) name. Lighting here is the good ol’ octabox in the background, softbox around the front. The octa blows out the back making it look like a white wall in a studio and the softbox lights the front. Now, Redacy is one of those dudes who doesn’t need any direction or coaxing or anything else, he just gets it. I asked if after every pop of the lights he could look a different way, or move slightly just to get some variety (otherwise we get the same shot 20 times and it’s a redundant use of time), or maybe go through a variety of expressions ranging from this to that and man, it was great working with him.

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All about that negative space.

The fabled couch makes a return:

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I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve usually got one eye on what these shots would look like with some text on them, like a logo, or some tour dates, or a headline in a magazine article and I get a couple of shots with some space to facilitate that should these shots be used in such a way.

With this band there’s nothing to do but just keep shooting. Let them do what they want, have fun, and basically just set the lights for a good look then just sit back and push the button.

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No, the one featuring the finger penis isn’t in here btw. Sorry.

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And I think that’s about it. I shot 6 or 7 acts in 2 hours. Each band/muso got something useful and go some experience under the belt for when the next shoot comes around. Cheers MAINZ for the opportunity (again) and thanks to the bands for being so utterly cool to work with.

Have some links: – Moana  – Emily

Next time I’m going to answer the question I get asked three times a week.

Food Glorious Food, Round 2

I was called back.

In March I was given the opportunity to photograph the images for a new Auckland restaurant called White & Wongs (as well as newly opened Burger Boy, and Sardine bar, all in the same block). It went rather well as you can see in the previous blog entry on the subject, and the audience’s response to the imagery has been nothing but great. Good news all around and I’m a big fan of providing mileage from a photo shoot, like all those seemingly random detail shots of silverware laid out nicely in front of a setting sun, or the shots of vases in the corner, they all find a home when the client is looking for something to jazz up the background of a site or provide a deeper and broader look into what a company is all about because a picture of a food is mostly a picture of food until you give it some context and setting.

So yeah, I was called back to do another shoot for another few restaurants around the waterfront and Britomart areas of Auckland. Namely Botswana Butchery, Harbourside (upstairs in that big brown building), and some other supplementary shots of the restaurants shot previously. It turns out there were some very popular little dishes on the menu that we didn’t shoot (I don’t think anyone expected the popularity) and some menu changes that needed to be reflected with updated imagery. That’s 2 whole restaurant shoots including food, prep, venue, details, cocktails, then another 2 food shoots, then a cocktail shoot, then a shoot of some diners enjoying the venue. In one day. With lighting and that whole shebang.


My day job for the past 3 years was editorial photography for a pretty big magazine, some portrait stuff, a lot of food, product, fashion, corporate… the whole gamut because basically if it needed to be shot, I’m the guy that gets sent to shoot it. I was always pretty quick due to having to snatch quick photo shoots with wrestlers at GPW before they went to the ring, or shooting bands in America 15 minutes before they went on stage. But in the editorial realm you get maybe 5 minutes with someone and that’s 300 seconds to do your job and go home with something not only printable but something actually worth printing that you’d want in your portfolio. I’ve said to photographers before that the shoot starts before you pick up the camera: Checking out backgrounds, looking for lines, looking for areas of interest you can use, considering where the light is or if it’s going to bleed into the scene (and you might want that) and analysing a setting or environment is all part of photography before you even get to worry about lens choice. It’s also part of the reason why being a photographer is just more than knowing your f/stops or having a lens with a red ring around the end (I don’t speak Nikon sorry).

First port of call was Botswana Butchery, a fabulously decorated establishment overlooking the harbour and seating around 250. It’s a big place. Opulent, plush, luxurious, bordering on the grandiose and utterly fantastic.

It looks a little like this:


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Some of the kitchen shots:

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I had a table set up in the back of the restaurant. My method is to strip the table, set up the gear, then add things back as you need them. It saves working around things you might not want there and means you’re starting from a clean slate and only adding what you need. It’s really handy to have some props around too – things like ramekins of salt, pepper grinders, a stack of napkins, silverware, glasses, some wine in some other glasses, sprigs of rosemary, lemon wedges, that kinda thing. You can add them in the background to tie colours together and/or to fill a gap in the frame but I have this thing about keeping it relevant to the dish. Like why would I shoot a slice of cake with a pepper mill in the back? It doesn’t make sense. Would cream, yoghurt, ice cream or something else be better suited? If in doubt, ask Chef. If it’s a dumb idea they’ll definitely tell you and it’s better to ask a 10 second question than spend 20 minites doing something and have the chef tell you that your prop wouldn’t go with that because x, y, or z… ultimately everyone is on the same side and all working towards making the experience look as good as it can.

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This is watermelon by the way:


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Just realized I write thing blog for photographers or people interested in the craft/work. This blog is written mainly for education, because when I was starting out there wasn’t much in the way of actual info and blogs were just “hey, look at my pretty pictures, aren’t they great?” and great they might be, but how they were shot, or why they were shot using one method over another seemed like Top Secret information. I wanted to just write thing like I was talking to a friend at the bar and breaking it down because there’s no mystery to it, it’s all cause and effect and repeatable.

One day I should probably write something about how I actually get this work in the first place since that, to me, is one of those things that, as a photographer, you’re never ever really told. It’s like if you know your apertures and your background compression and your inverse square rule and the phone starts ringing. It’s like running any other business: if nobody knows you exist, you don’t get hired. If your work or your reputation sucks, you don’t get hired. If you don’t know how to quote and invoice, you won’t get hired. Basically there’s a ton of reasons why you won’t get hired, but there’s also reasons why you can get hired over someone else. That sounds like it was carved from Parmesan but I’m also not entirely wrong. I also digress.

So, back to the photos: I shoot everything long. Like the extreme end of a lens’s zoom range or carrying a long prime (the shortest prime I have is 50mm and I never use it). I like the compression to make things seem a normal size and have normal proportions and you can draw out the bokeh by selecting an aperture that bring what you want into focus and making everything else look pretty. The vast majority of my food is shot at like f/4, or f/3.5 and around 70/85mm to get the compression and the shallow depth of field (which I’ll now call DOF because it’s quicker). Typically around ISO 200, because there’s visually zero difference between 100 and 400 on my camera and 200 saves me a ton of battery power for the lights (since they work half as hard compared to ISO 100).

Speaking of lighting, it’s really really basic: it’s a softbox with an AB800, and sometimes a reflector but generally not because I like showing the roundness of things and if the light is too even things can look a bit too flat for my preference. I have 6 lights if things get really crazy but I love that almost window light look of a single softbox close to the subject. I keep the light close because if it were far away it gets harder and harder, and by that I mean there’s not much distance between light and dark shades, like a midday sun- it’s dark, or it isn’t with little gradation, that’s hard light. The closer you keep the light source the softer the light is, and when we say that we mean there’s a large range of tones between light and dark. I’ve been talking in code for so long I don’t remember it’s code anymore.

But as with all these things, sometimes it might not look as good as another option. This was shot with harder light to get that crisp reflection on top of the steak. It’s horses for courses, but the key is knowing what to do and when to do it.

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Then it was off to Harbourside. A note about this place: the chef is an artist. His food is almost a polar opposite of the image above. It’s intricate, layered, kind of unapproachable in the same way you don’t want to get to close to a very expensive vase for fear of ruining it and destroying its beauty. It’s seriously mind-blowing in an almost architectural or sculptural kind of way that food can look like this. It’s still a meal but it’s in the guise of something dainty and delicate with form over flavour, but it looks awesome and tastes great and the ‘wow factor’ is huge. When the beef wellington came out (the second one down with the ring) there were eyes on it from across the room. It’s a spectacle in itself. At other places they’d give you a cut of beef, some pastry, some veg on the side and call it done but this… this is art.

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My process here was a little different in the setup. I didn’t want a background or things drawing the eye or blending in. I wanted it simple, clean, almost sparse because the food has enough colour and shape to make an image interesting all by itself. Strip it back and let the food do the talking because there’s nothing really I can add to make the dish look any better.

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And check this thing out. It was all handmade, including that series of chocolate rings around the thing on top of the other thing.

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And there’s the chef. Doing his thing. And here’s some of the decking area and interiors.

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Then it was back to White & Wongs for some supplementary images. This room wasn’t fully finished when I was there last time.

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Dumplings. All the extra condiments in the background come with it, the challenge was to arrange and shoot everything in an attractive way. Since I shot a lot of the food last time I had a bit of a lead to go on as this was essentially more of the same, shot so it would blend in with the existing body of work available to the business so I had to reverse engineer my own shots from 2 months ago then do more of it.

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And a quick stop at Burger Boy to shoot some milkshakes.

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I shot some burgers too.

Then it was off to Sardine to round off the day’s shooting. This was a two fold shoot: one part was shooting cocktails, the other part was the social setting of photographing a group of friends out for an evening. This meant directing a group of friends and also make them comfortable enough with having their picture taken a few times while they were hanging out. I arranged the background and shot at this angle to show the bar, the colours, and get some shots of the staff in the background to add to the ambiance.

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And cue the people. All I asked them to do was smile a lot, laugh a lot, lots of eye contact and be social – share things, clink glasses, that sorta thing. A group of friends hanging out a bar with some food and drinks. Perfect. I didn’t worry too much about keeping the lines straight, I just floated around the table changing the angle slightly because I had the crux of the picture already laid out and knew what I wanted it to say. Then it was get the settings right (ended up being ISO 3200 because it was pitch black outside), checking the white balance and just shooting away. I didn’t want extra lighting so before I began shooting I moved the table to under a light so make it easier for me to get the lighting I needed to make the shots work.

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This image is grabbed from a set from inside White & Wongs. It’s one of those shots which sets a scene, tells a message to the viewer and that’s basically the whole story. You’re putting people in a scene, or in a setting, or somewhere they’d like to be. It’s social, not massively formal, close, warm, good food with good people. I’d call this one a success.
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A busy day indeed. I got home at 11pm, edited the images the next day and the client had them by 4pm that afternoon at full res and good to go.

Onto the next one.