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.






Food glorious food – and venues, chefs, cocktails, etc


This was a massive shoot. 3 new venues, huge menus, a 200 seater restaurant, a cocktail bar, 10-chef kitchens, everything brand spanking new and a view looking out on to the ocean. There was even a cannon somewhere along the way. Much fun.

So there’s a new place opened on the Viaduct, the region of Auckland renowned for high-end eateries, buzzing nightlife, and daring cuisine. This new place is called White & Wongs, it’s where the maritime museum used to be (they moved around the corner). They’ve done a wonderful job with the interior – it’s plush, opulent, spacious, comfortable, welcoming, and that view just pulls you through like a giant magnet. Amazing to think the maritime museum had this all to themselves for years.

I was asked to come in and shoot the food, the venue, service, chefs cheffing, waiters waiting, the whole shebang. It was a lot of fun.

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For this shoot I wanted to use a warm colour palette. I’ve spoken about white balance and colour choice before but look at these shots, then imagine if they were tinted blue or colder. The whole thing would look less inviting, smaller, darker, unfriendly, and basically everything you don’t want in a restaurant or commercial space. Because of this choice I set the white balance in camera to 6200k, which is pretty hot (too hot for skin tones) but gives a warm orangey tint to whites and leans the whole image to a warmer range of colours.

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In most restaurants a lot of people have gone to a lot of effort to make the place look inviting and also thematically consistent throughout. Details like the cushions, glassware, plate size/shape, door handles, fork handles… everything has been chosen specifically for that venue and vibe so on every shoot like this I like to take a few minutes to just walk around and see what draws the eye, what details can be seen and use them. It’s one of those times when as a photographer you just need to trust yourself, if something catches your eye then ask yourself why, what made you stop. Is it the colour? The lines? The shape? How it interacts with other objects around it? Shoot it. The worst that happens is the client never sees it and you learn something from it, the best thing is you send it to the client and they think you’re great for taking the time to showcase their hard work.

Stuff like this:

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Showcasing the interior design and also, in this instance, the old-meets-new with the old rustic wooden steps that lead onto a newly laid and gleaming floor. And things like the lampshades, cushions fabrics, and contrasts between materials used. It’s also with things like this we can begin to build a textural palette of a space too. That might be the most pretentious sentence I’ve ever typed on this blog.

From my perspective I include these kind of shots so a client has the option of using them as filler images, or in a web gallery. I don’t expect them to function as hero images by themselves, or people to go “wow, what a great cushion!” and immediately book a table but they add depth to the narrative of what a space is and what the vibe is like within. You’re setting the scene a bit more than just throwing up a shot of the main dining area (which of course you need), such as this:

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That shot was a total bitch to shoot. It’s midday on a glorious summers day, the sun is streaming in yet inside is kept subdued and cozy where the lights are dim. This means you’re shooting a massively contrasty scene. You can see the shadows near the bottom edges of the windows and where I’m standing taking this pic is pitch black on camera compared to the outside. This ability to show the huge extremes from pitch black to blinding sunlight is called dynamic range, and you need to maximise that dynamic range to include all the tones in an image. There’s a few ways – you can take images at different exposures and stack them together – but what I did here was shoot at the lowest contrast possible, expose for the highlights outside, then in post-processing bring up the shadows and exposure of the inside only to equalise the image. It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Basically point the camera outside, take a note of the exposure settings needed to get it around +1 or +1 1/3. Then switch to manual and tweak those settings while you’re shooting the room. After 3 attempts and chimping the histogram you’ll have it locked in where the dynamic range is big enough to show everything you’re shooting. Camera sensors are very smart but they still haven’t figured this out yet.

People come to restaurants for the food. It looks like this:

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These were lit with a softbox from camera left or right and a reflector on the other side to kick some light back into the frame. I wanted to keep it luxurious, let the colours in the dish pop and hopefully compose it where the eye is drawn to the main plate whether through colour or leading lines. I know there’s some duplicates in there but it’s imperative to provide some options. I’ve no idea if a website will email asking if they have a landscape photo, or a portrait image, or whatever fits in their spread, so you’ve got to cover the bases and shoot the same thing in a few different ways in case they come looking for it. Again, the white balance is set to 6200k to really warm up the colours. It helps to make food look vibrant and fresh. If you set the white balance to auto in post it’ll make everything look very blue and grim. You don’t want that and if I was eating somewhere I wouldn’t want that either.

The light was about 3 ft away, and set for aperture f/4 at ISO 160 and around 200th of a second shutter speed. Since my strobe is lighting the entire scene I don’t need a slower shutter speed to bring in any ambient light, like if I was shooting at 1/50 of a second the natural light would start coming through. Not always a bad thing but if it’s from a light source with a different colour temperature (fluorescent lights for example) then that becomes a whole new ballgame of balancing kelvins and I’d rather not go into that, or deal with it unnecessarily so I don’t and the softbox takes care of everything.

I try and shoot food as long as I can in the space available. You get the background compression and the depth of field by shooting things long. Shoot wide and the scene distorts, the dishes look tiny and you start introducing distortion and curvature. Not good. These were all at 70mm which is plenty long when you’re standing on a chair trying to compose a shot on the table. Also, the angle I tend to go for is ‘diner angle’, that is the same angle at which you’d see the food if it were being served and you were sitting there waiting for it.

3 things to help you out with food/kitchen photography:

1- Everyone is called Chef in the kitchen. Call everyone Chef and you’ll be fine. It’s a sign of respect as well as being useful if you don’t know names.

2- If you’re in a kitchen shooting, communicate what you’re doing and where you’re going. Say “coming behind” if you’re passing behind someone so they don’t turn and pour something onto you and potentially waste a dish, say “over your shoulder” if you’re shooting over their shoulder. Be clear and be concise. Don’t explain why, just say what you’re doing clearly. I’ve seen photographers get in the way, get bumped into, knock plates, be very close to knives, and general myopia. Don’t mess with the guys at work, show respect and you’ll be welcomed back.

It’s their domain. 

3- Ask Chef if there’s a presentation side to the dish. That’s the side they want the customer to see when the dish is set down in front of them and they usually have an insight into what they want to showcase. You don’t have to take their advice, but ask for it because you never know. It also shows respect to Chef that you’re asking for their opinion and input into the process. 

I also shot some of the cocktails from Sardine, the cocktail bar next door. Also some detail shots and the bar manager himself. Names to faces and all that.

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The portrait was shot with a 135mm lens, that’s why the background is so awesome. Everything else was shot at 70mm since the only 2 lenses I use 99% of the time are the 24-70 and the 135mm. I have others, some wider, some longer, some faster, but those 2 lenses are so awesome they’re the first things in the bag on every shoot unless I want a specific look.

Here’s some more images of restauranty stuff.

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That’s a guy chopping stuff btw. More miscellany but this time I wanted a hands on feel of a restaurant in flow, so that’s drinks being poured, smiling diners celebrating, Chef asking for service, that kinda thing. Something with a bit more motion about it. The checks is something I always like to photograph because I think it looks cool and if people see a busy stack they know the kitchen’s busy, and if the kitchen’s busy then the restaurant’s busy, and if the restaurant’s busy it must be busy for a reason.

And I think that’s about it. Over 2 days I ended up submitting around 350 images to the client across 3 different venues and menus. They were long days, with a lot of ground to cover but it was all good work and the staff at these venues are great so they have my thanks for their patience and respect and not asking why I needed another bowl of limes, or not minding when I ask if I could could have a black ramekin and not a white one, please?

Hopefully that was helpful!



Converse Jack Purcell w/ Sammuel Levi (@styledlevi)

I was asked to shoot a campaign for Converse to showcase their Jack Purcell sneaker. The brief was ‘a day in the life’ style, pretty much following around fashion guru Sam Levi on his day to day activities wearing the shoes. The client also wanted a minimal, candid, informal style to the photos and cropped to a square so it would fit in with Sam’s Instagram following (he’s a popular, and very nice, dude). I asked Sam to bring a bag with a few changes of clothes, maybe 3 tops, 3 pairs of pants, and of course the shoes would be the Jack Purcells and we could get the shoot out the way in a couple of hours.

This kind of shoot is really refreshing compared to my normal stuff with the big lights, the venues, the styling etc etc. This was literally walking around taking pictures, if something looked cool or jumped out, we’d talk about it and use it in the shoot. I wanted a few different backgrounds in this to showcase the versatility of the shoes how they can be worn in any occasion and still look great and fit in.

Setup was minimal too, 1 camera, 1 lens, 2 batteries. All good.


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I didn’t want to just spam the client with pictures of shoes… of course the shoes are important but the lifestyle they represent is more so, and it also means I don’t have to just shoot a guy’s feet for 3 hours. The focus for me was on strong shapes and lines in an image. If you look at the ones posted here there’s a lot of linework going on which hopefully keeps things interesting and adds some dynamism to the shots.

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Since it’s Instagram-inspired I wanted a vintage (dare I say ‘film’) look to the images, which was achieved by manipulating the curves panel in Lightroom (or Photoshop). There isn’t really one ‘recipe’ which works as what works on one image won’t work on another but the starting points were raising the black point, lowering the white point, adding a bit of grain, cropping to a square, and then manipulating the red and blue curves to tone the highlights and shadows. Every now and then I would use the main RBG curve to lower the brightness and give a bit of an underexposed look like you can see where Sam is walking down the steps. Cool stuff.

So overall, a minimal shoot but by no means less difficult than others. The vibe and feel was the most important thing, and for me it wasn’t so much about crystal clear sharpness and removing shadows in an image, but about representing the lifestyle of a vital young dude. Cheers.

‘Nature’ photography

Trees and stuff.

Happy new year y’all.

We’re back in the swing of things at TMP after having some much needed R&R up North (ish) over the holidays. Time was spent in Kerikeri and around the local area including some of the kauri forests there. What a fabulous place to head to when you’re a bit over time spent in the city and although the weather was tumultuous and turmoiled it did the trick of recharging batteries.

So this isn’t some big fancy shoot with wardrobe stylists, makeup people,  deadlines, any of that stuff, just a dude with a camera walking around forests. Which, for me, is almost how it all began except replace forest with city and you pretty much have it. I’ve done these photo walks all my life, or ever since I had a camera I should say – just grab a camera, a lens, take an open mind and see what you see.

When I was in college we studied Flâneurism a little bit. Basically, and if I remember correctly, it’s looking objectively at a city or urban environment you feel you know pretty well, instead of looking subjectively through the same old eyes. Forgetting what you believe about a space and imagine you’re seeing it for the first time, or removing any preconceptions and just seeing what it has which interests you. I’ll throw something in here which makes this look a bit more academic:

The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world “picturesque.”

— Susan Sontag, On Photography, pg. 55
Or something like that.

These particular shots were taken with either a 135mm or the 24-70mm, and these two things make up the majority of my ‘everyday’ kit. There’s enough space in the bag for another lens, or a flash, or probably both with a bit of a squeeze. Grab a camera. Walk around. Point it at things and push a button.

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And here’s some other images from doing the same thing:


Grab your camera and point it at stuff. It’s good for the mind.

Joe Parker Photoshoot – Editorial/portrait/fashion

Styling by Louise Hall-Strutt, Wardrobe by Barkers.

This was the week before Joe’s fight with Daniel Martz. I had an exclusive shoot with Joe on behalf of a magazine running an 8 page article on him, his career, and his future. There was a 2 hour turnaround time for this, which included time for the interview at the end. On the drive down I had visions of a guy in a dusty ring in some industrial looking space, with bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and bruised punching bags swinging from girders. The reality was a little different. The shoot took place in an old garage converted into a gym where Joe has been training since he was a boy. Not grand by any means but honestly more suited to Parker and the space had that level of authenticity and life you just couldn’t plan for (or make in a studio). No ring, no fancy props, just a man training hard by himself in his garage in Papatoetoe struggling and fighting to realise his dreams.

I also had word this might end up on the cover and since I’m familiar with this magazine’s style and their usual choices for cover artwork it filled out one of the looks for me. As with most shoots you want a mix between efficiency and variety, so I aimed for 4 looks with 4 different outfits in about 90 mins. The first look would be the cover shoot, white background, suited and booted, and pretty much all about the face and the look. Looks a little like this:

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The second one down was the image selected for the cover, and the third one down was used for the hero image on the opening spread. Lighting is just a big light in the back as a background and a silver umbrella around the front. I sometimes use softboxes around the front but a silver umbrella puts out a hotter, more contrasty light. I wanted some pretty deep shadows for some drama and maybe a bit of menace in some shots and a softbox would basically make it too pretty.

Look 2 was working the bag. Shots like this are really useful to flesh out the portrayal and by the shots above you wouldn’t necessarily know the guy was a boxer on his way to the top so I wanted to get some action shots of just working the bag, nothing crazy, and no suits.

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And then sometimes you turn off a light and see what happens.


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What I like about this location is that everything there is real. It’s been there for ages and serves a purpose. It became a portrait in a sense because by looking around at the things in the background you get a glimpse into the character you’re photographing. Everything is functional, used, maintained, and has a purpose to it. There’s a few personal touched like the Ali poster on the wall and some scripture quotes written on the mirror but the rest of the adornments in there are all about fighting: charts on movements, workout routines, different gloves, exercise equipment.


Onto look 3. Forgive me, it’s a tight space to work in.

Another change of outfit and time for some shots that would function as DPSs and I think would look really good with copy around them. Again, the background is as important as Joe himself and I wanted to showcase the gym as much as anything else. If you look closely, to Joe’s right is a stack of belts. You can see them in the mirror. I thought that having them openly on display, or him wearing them, would just be a little too heavy-handed and cheesily simplistic, but to his utmost credit Joe earned them and it’s only fair they be seen. This seemed like a compromise where they’re visible, but not the subject and for me, it’s the kind of thing that adds some depth to an image like the more you look, the more you see.

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The light here is a bare strobe at the back (you can see it flaring in) and an octabox in the front. I wanted the light at the back to look like harsh sunlight and wanted those long shadows from Joe’s legs and feet on the floor. I shot a little upward too to make him seem looming and powerful – he’s like 6 foot 4 and in very good shape, so doesn’t need much help but still there’s a psychological element apparent when you shoot someone from below.

Do a bit of b/w closeups for added variety.

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Look 4 was simplified and stripped back a little from this. I wanted to keep it natural looking, not so posey or dramatised, somewhat candid and there’s not a great deal to really say about it. I saw the ropes and asked if he could just hold one while looking at the camera. No glaring or stare downs, just look like Joe Parker when he’s Joe Parker. The first two are natural light through a side window and through a skylight in the roof. This was at something like ISO 1600 to get the exposure.

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I lit a couple just to add an extra edge but I think I prefer the natural light ones.


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And here’s a setup shot so you can see ‘the magic’.

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   And that’s about it. 8 pages, 4 looks, 1 superstar supremely humble boxer and it’s on to the next one.

Styled Fashion shoot for M2Woman Magazine

Styling by Juvena Worsfold: one of the best stylists I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Good eye, great work ethic, easy to get along with, with a fine taste in movies! Everything else (photography, lighting, editing, whatever) handled by me.

So this is a little different in that it’s not portrait photography. Products are both easier and harder to shoot: easier because they don’t turn up drunk, have bad moods, or get tired of doing the same thing, and there’s very little chance of them running late for an interview and giving you 1/3 the allotted time. And harder to shoot because it’s clinical, precise, things have to look how they look (well, yeah) and occasionally products are infinitely finicky such as when you’re trying to lay a bag strap so it’s just right but never is.

The intent here was to funk it up a little, not do 100% birds eye views of top-down photography and do something a bit more structured with some layers to it. Juvena can take full credit for this, it’s my job to basically justify the hard work stylists put in (and man is it hard, it seems like only 10% of the job is the actual styling).

The lighting style/look for this was something a bit warmer. I wanted to give it a sort of dusty look, somewhat filmic, almost cinematic with some colour grading and hard shadows.

To get those hard shadows I just used a bare light – just a studio strobe in the reflector dish to channel the light forward and make it more efficient by minimising the spread. I wanted it to look hot, and hard, sharp like a desert sun yet toned like a dusty twilight. There was a bit of fine tuning with the position and angle of the light but it came out around 15ft away (almost on the other wall) and somewhere around waist height (we’re shooting stuff on the floor in a corner of an office room). Set the light for f/11 and ISO 320 (since Canon cameras are sharpest and most noise-free in increments of ISO 160) and you’re good to go.

The backgrounds are literally coloured sheets of cartridge paper taped to the wall and the colours were swapped in and out depending on the dominant colours of the products. You can be complimentary or clashing this way and since it’s rather small things a couple of A3 sheets is typically enough to use.

setup shot:

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Which became this:

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Get the right angle, zoom in, pay attention and:

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I find it pretty cool that you can change the entire look of the scene by selecting the right paper colours to go with what you’re shooting. Kudos again to the stylist who makes my job very easy and means I can focus on doing what I do.

stuff (3 of 7) stuff (4 of 7)And that’s 6 pages done. On to the next one.

Shooting for 7 Days – Jeremy Corbett and Paul Ego

Wardrobe by Nicholas Jermyn, Styling by Lou Hall-Strutt, everything else by yours truly.

Hello there, and welcome to the latest installment of the blog. Last week I had the joy of shooting 2 well known personalities from the box in the corner of the lounge. I was commissioned to shoot a 10 page article which would feature these 2 gents, the wardrobe would be handled by Nicholas Jermyn and the shoot was at their new premises somewhere near Great North Rd in Auckland… Scanlan Street maybe?

When shooting busy people you get hardly any time to do anything, it’s pretty much a shake of the hand, a quick “how are you?” and then they’re off to do the rounds, shake more hands, get dressed and prepped before the shoot. This is the time when you can actually scope out the place for backgrounds or shooting locations because not only do you need something in the background but space enough for a couple of lights too. This shoot was wrapped up in 45 minutes front to back, with 2 or 3 outfit changes, different locations and lighting looks, and left with plenty of time for the guys to go and do an interview for the piece. Preparation goes a long way.

The way I worked this shoot was to shoot one of the guys while the other was being fitted and styled, then when he was ready, the first guy would go and get fitted out in a different outfit and we’d repeat this swapping over until we were done and I’d tell the guys that the next shoot, we’re gonna be outside by the big metal roller door, or upstairs near the pool table, just something so they’re not walking around looking for me and everyone knows where they need to be when they’re ready. Again this goes back to the time spent walking around beforehand, scoping out areas you want to use and basically trusting your instincts and your eye that you can make it look cool even though not every single detail is nailed down because, on shoots like this that happen this quick, they’re simply isn’t enough time.

The photographer’s input to the fitting and styling is occasionally substantial but often minimal – it’s the stylist’s job to pick the outfits yet they might hopefully consult with you about choice of background or what colours are present in a scene which gives them a slight palate to work with and/or avoid.

Anyway, this is apparently a photography blog. Pics.
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This was just a single softbox a little up and in front of Paul and slightly pointed down. I like the hawkish profile and I just asked Paul to sit there and steeple his fingers, looks Presidential to me, or something from a book cover. For the finished article I removed the frame from the back in post, like this:



Move around slightly to the front and you get:

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Pretty moody so needed to lift it a bit for the next set of Paul. Good ol’ white background (which was whited out for the mag)

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Stick a big light in the background, soft light around the front and you’re good to go. Here’s Jeremy playing pool.

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Lit with a massive octabox camera right which is handily big enough to cast light back behind him and light the whole space.

7db (22 of 70) 7db (20 of 70) 7db (19 of 70)Corbett’s time in front of the light which was whited out completely in post.

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ext we took a little stroll outside for a different feel, something cool but a bit gritty around the edges. You work with what you have.


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All in all, 45 minutes of time, 10 pages blocked off in a magazine and a variety of looks and moods to augment the story and the layout. Not bad! Lighting again was just a big octabox and lenses used were between 24mm and 135mm.

Shooting Jon Toogood from Shihad

I didn’t think it was his real name, or at least spelled that way. Jon Toogood is a bona fide rockstar. His band, Shihad, have shared the stage with behemoths of the rock and metal world including superstars like Metallica and Black Sabbath, ever since their arrival on the scene with Churn in 1993. 5 number 1 albums to their name, multiple world tours… suffice to say that Shihad are pretty big.

For some reason I was the guy commissioned to photograph Jon Toogood while he was over in Auckland for a few solo shows. The photos were going to be for a 10 page spread in a national magazine covering the man and his career. An important gig.

The styling was handled by the lovely and effervescent Mike at NZ Suit Source ( who always does a stellar job of making people look awesome and he’s got a very useful grasp of complimentary colours, shapes, cuts of lapels, and conveniently has access to all manner of props. Cheers, Mike!

If you read my Taika Waititi article recently this might look familiar: white background, guy in suit, softbox around the front. The white background is an octabox so it’s a light itself. It’s advantageous not only because it’s guaranteed to actually be 100% white but because it lights the back of the subject and has a wonderful wraparound glow that just seeps through the edges. The light round the front is a softbox pointed slightly down and around to the camera right. If this light is in front it looks just like a passport photo, which you might want but you probably don’t. Then it’s up to the camera-wielder to do the good ol’ direction so the subject knows what’s going on.

I was thinking about this the other day, that on photo courses you get taught a lot of the mechanics such as apertures and focal lengths, talks about hyperfocal distances and lighting ratios, but I’ve not come across one that addresses the issue of actually talking to the person on the other side of the camera and it’s like 75% of the shoot because, after all, if the person isn’t happy with you pointing a camera at them, or feels uncomfortable, the work is going to suffer. Lighting is cause and effect but direction is a bit different. It’s a habit of mine that the first time I meet someone I’m shooting, there are no cameras or lighting gear anywhere, it’s just 2 people chatting about whatever (music in this case). This way it’s just Tez talking to Jon, or Tez talking to whoever, which is a much more comfortable dynamic than photographer/subject, or photographer/client, and it also gives you the chance to establish a little bit of a rapport before the lights go up.

Before editing the shots look like this. See how the octa lights the right (our right) side of his cheek? That’s what I’m looking for. The editing then is basically a matter of painting white around the edges and watching the lines of the suit but masking that stuff out is way way way easier than masking around someone’s hair! If you want to test your patience, give that a go, it’s great.

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And with the edits and some variations of pose:

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There’s a lot more but you get the idea. In between every shot I asked Jon if he could move his head or his chin, or look somewhere around the store, and turn his shoulders this way and that. It just gives some variety to the shots and gives options to the layout guys at the publication since it’s very rare that I have any idea about headlines, lead-ins, text placement etc before the shoot happens.

I think I had about 90 minutes for 10 pages and 3 changeouts of clothing. I’ve done more with less and it’s times like these when you’re not just taking pictures, you’re talking with stylists and tailors about looks, backgrounds, colours, styles, thoughts about what you’re looking for and what you’re not looking for. The photographer on these kind of shoots pretty much calls the shots. The subject/client always has veto but luckily Jon was cool with all the suggestions and seemed happy to stand in certain places looking cool and suave.

The next look I wanted something different, something in situ, not the typical rock n roll back-alley stuff, or a brick wall, but something a little more dystopian, maybe a little western, something… drier maybe, like arid landscapes, not caustic wit… of which I have none.

It looked something like this:

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To me there’s a No Country for Old Men look going on there with the harsh sunlight. Which I should explain: I had a helping hand from the PR agent on this case who was holding a light to camera left, emphatically ensuring the whole light didn’t topple over on what was a very windy day. It’s just the massive octabox camera left, around 7ft high, and set to about 2/3 power to balance with the sun. I wanted it to look like the sun so the light was backed off a little which makes the dropoff (that’s the gradation from light to dark) much sharper. So now you know, it’s all in the lighting, folks. There’s another, far more practical reason for the lighting too: you can’t have someone squinting the entire shoot or damaging someone’s eyesight holding their eyes open under a glaring sun. This way the look was achieved with just the right amount of squintage and everybody kept their eyesight.

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Way back when I wrote an article about white balance and how it can be used stylistically, something to do with the psychological effects of colour and split-toning (it’s been done in films for decades). It comes in here because I wanted a different colour palette between the shoots, not just in fabric and shirts but with the whole ensemble. The first set has a warm tint going on, and this second set has a colder blue tint going on where the shadows are tinted blue, so hopefully when the page is turned it’s a whole different feel and mood.

The awesome PR agent/account manager struck again on the third look to help me out with the white balance. I mentioned in another post the $2 grey card from AliExpress. It looks like this in action:
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That’s the spectrum of luminosity (white to black) in an image. There’s 3 cards – one white, one black, and one middle grey. In post, click on the white or grey card there to obtain ‘perfect’ white balance. No tints, no purple skin, it should be neutralised. I generally start with the correct WB and then ignore it because I’m looking for a certain effect or tone in a shot which can be achieved through manipulating the WB further. But, this is the starting point for 99% of my images (when it’s convenient).

This is a car park btw. I have a thing for concrete and breezeblocks and have something like 2gb of shots of industrial things for use as textures/overlays.

Here’s the man himself:

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Get the lights out the way and the magazine can have some options for writing stuff:

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And that’s about it. Obviously there were a lot more shots but variations on a theme rather than completely different looks since time was limited and the magazine definitely got enough to print and run a fully fleshed out article with a variety of looks, spreads, styles, colours, and moods. Job done.

Thanks to Jon Toogood for being a total legend and a gent, Mike for kicking ass, and Pead PR for sending a rep who was more than happy to get down and dirty to get the job done.


Hilton Hotels: Bellini Bar

It’s brand new. Spick and span. Gleaming marble, colossal windows that frame the harbour and Rangitoto in edgeless glass. There’s a vague feel of an upscale airport lounge, or a high end conference center and unlike some of these venues it’s warm, cozy, personal, and friendly. This end of the Hilton hadn’t changed in 15 years and it showed, it was never ugly and it was never cheap but it did feel a little dated and worn and a brand like Hilton needs to not only keep up with the market, but lead it.

Suffice to say it’s a nice place. I don’t want this to sound like an ad but honestly they’ve done a very very good job and I think it appeals to a more modern crowd of a more modern age than the grey suited middle agers in their starched white shirts. It’s colourful, bright, open, and that view just dominates everything and every angle… except the ones I photographed.

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I was here on behalf of a magazine talking about the Bellini and some of the cocktails (not only their namesake) and with jobs like this you don’t really know what you’re going to be looking at when you get there and your one of the first media guys on the case. Because of that I travel general purpose, which is the 24-70mm, a fast prime (a 135mm in this case) and a 580 EX II flash, just in case and since this place had white ceilings a bounced flash would be easy to work with should I need to do such a crazy thing.

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If I can, I shoot at the long end of the lens. It flatters locations and pulls the background closer to the front (what we call compression) so the room looks cozier, better furnished. If shooting wide things have a tendency to look disconnected from each other due to the exaggerated gaps between things and if I shoot wide I try and put things in the corners of the frame to hopefully look a little bit nicer.

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There’s an aspect of photography I should probably devote more time to: trusting your eye. I’ve mentioned before that before taking any shots I like to walk around a place and get a feel for the lines and what the architects had in mind when they designed something a certain way and to get my head in the right space to hopefully do justice to their intentions. Walking around the Bellini I loved how the pillars lead you around the space from reception, to the tables, and outside to that view where the sea awaits.

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Nice orange/teal colour palette going on too and it’s nice to not see shades of grey all over the place. Speaking of which.

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The maritime theme, and proximity to the sea is everywhere – the shape of the reception desk, the materials used, the shades of blue and green, and even the lampshades hanging from the cieling are miniature boats.

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Everything here was shot at 70mm with the exception of that one wider shot from before. I kept the aperture wide open, not only for shutter speed reasons but for those hopefully artistic moments when you can pull something out of an area to draw attention to it. The out of focus areas are called ‘bokeh’ and is a Japanese term for the aesthetic quality of the out of focus parts. Every lens has different bokeh- some lenses render the bokeh beautifully well, others not so much. It can be distracting, or nervous looking, or it can be creamy and soft and rich and things just pop out of it. For me, it’s a crucial part in the lens buying decision and actually the reason why I bought the 50mm 1.4 and not the 50mm 1.8, but there we go.

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And the cocktail itself! Skillfully prepared.




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And that’s about it. I swapped the napkin for a coaster because napkins look a bit naff.