Bray, Dublin

Remember when I said I’d blog more frequently? Yeah…that didn’t go so well, but here’s some new stuff for you!

I’m working on some college projects at the moment, some rather interesting ones actually, and I’m about to move into shooting analog (film) so there’ll be plenty of that on here in the next few months! As well as a lot of talk about my upcoming feature length film titled “The Kids Aren’t Alright” – more information about that can be found on its website: http://tkaa-movie.com/

Anyway, photographs! Here’s some recent ones from a shoot out in Bray, in Dublin. These were all shot on a Canon 50D, and Sigma 24-60mm F/2.8.

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Exploring my artistic side

I’ve created a new tab on my website called “Artistic Projects” – I’ve never been really open to the idea of exploring the more “artsy” side of photography, but as I’m in college studying photography now I thought I’d delve into a bit of project work. Building stories around particular themes, or just posting the college work I’ve done.

At the moment one of my assignments is up there, a Kitchen Still Life assignment we got about two weeks ago.

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As well as a personal project I did recently titled “Through the Fence” – which simply put, revolves around looking at/through a fence.

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It was a cool little project that developed while I was out on a photowalk recently, and I thought it was something quite special which I could develop into something bigger in the future!

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But for now, I’m going to keep things simple and just get stuff up on my site as frequently as possible, to get my inner artist to blossom into a beautiful– scratch that, that sounds pretty lame. I just want to take cool photos.

The full photo projects are available on my website, here: http://www.stuartcomerford.com/Artistic-Projects

The Untold Story :: Short Film

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Directing is a bigger step away from photography than I ever expected. My heart has been in cinema probably about as long as it’s been in photography, but it’s a very different change of direction in many respects. (Although, my taste in films is probably just as questionable to most as my taste in photography is). I’m glad to get away from photography for a bit and I’m extremely happy to have taken on this project. I’ve been writing several variations of this story for the past 2 years straight in my English class, and after turning it into a photographic story to use for my college portfolios it seemed almost silly not to take it one step further and turn it into a short film.

This was only possible thanks to everyone who participated and contributed to the making of.  And a special thanks to The Rehns for providing some brilliant music for the soundtrack (I suggest you check them out here – http://www.facebook.com/TheRehns ). This was a pretty strenuous undertaking as it was a first for everybody involved. The film is set to take part in the Kerry Film Festival, Cork Film Festival, IndieCork Festival, and Dun Laoghaire Underground Cinema Film Festival in the coming months and hopefully more in the future.

For now, I present to you, my debut as a writer/director – “The Untold Story”.

‘The Untold Story’, is a documentation of the frequently avoided subject of teenage depression, following the story of one teenage girl as she deals with bullying, social exclusion, isolation, and domestic violence while nearing the end of her time in secondary school. It touches upon the serious topic of teenage life, more specifically – the part of teenage life that people prefer not to discuss openly. The film depicts modern teenage life in school as vile and abusive as it really is. It aims to reveal how two-faced and self-absorbed teenagers can be, while highlighting the pressure to conform to an idealistic image of what your peers deem acceptable, with those who are ‘different’ being looked down on and bullied – both psychologically and physically.

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Eliminating distractions when photographing concerts

In music photography, one of the biggest concerns (apart from lighting) is how nice the stage is.  When indoors, the stage is usually (but not always) lovely, it’s clean, has awesome lights and is sometimes customised for the band you’re photographing – depending on how big they are. But when you’re outdoors, stages generally tend to be nothing more than a small tent raised off the ground with people crammed closely around it, or a huge tent with scaffolding everywhere at a festival.

Well, the small tent situation is what many early stage music photographers get stuck with. It’s either this or a small dingy pub (I haven’t quite figured out how to make the most out of these situations yet). These events are generally the easiest to get access to as a beginner, which sucks, because no matter how hard you try you’ll never be able to get amazing looking photos to help you progress, show off your skills and gain access to bigger events. However, they are good learning grounds when it comes to watching your frame. You’ll have to work harder to keep unwanted objects out of your background/foreground because the stage honestly looks like someone just threw everything there. My first paid live gig was to photograph Kate Nash in a tiny, terrible pub here in Dublin. I hate every single photo I took that evening, and I hated the entire evening because of the god awful stage.

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Maybe I’m just spoiled because I’ve never really been in too many terrible venues, but nobody wants to have to shoot in a terrible venue, unfortunately for some it’s unavoidable as they’re trying to assemble a music portfolio to gain press access to better gigs. Everybody wants to just take awesome looking photos. So what’s the best way to make something good out of a bad situation? Well, the other day I photographed Kodaline in the US Embassy here in Dublin, Ireland for the 4th of July celebration. It was a terrible tiny and cluttered stage and the best solution I could find was to shoot tight. I’m not a fan of “standard” focal lengths, I like to go extremely wide or extremely close when I don’t have a specific brief to stick to. I love shooting with telephoto lenses, I love the compression. I’d happily shoot a full body portrait at 200mm, 300mm, it’s just not always ideal.

When you’re in this situation where your surroundings is mostly one big distraction with scaffolding, stands, speakers etc then unless you have a very eventful crowd, shooting wide won’t work out very well. I unfortunately only had a 24-70mm with me on the day of the gig so this is as wide as I was able to go when I moved to the back of the crowd.

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The crowd was pretty poor, when there isn’t much life in the crowd just avoid photographing them. Nothing worse than a photo where somebody in the crowd is looking away from the stage. However, having an eye open for those rare occasions when a photo pops up in the crowd is always smart.

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But when you have a band like Kodaline on the stage, you don’t want to turn around with just photos of the crowd. So, how do you deal with the horrible stage? My main recommendation is to shoot as tight as possible – for me, it was 200mm @F/2.8 which worked a treat.

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However, you might not have an F/2.8 lens or you might not have a lens long enough to compress the background enough to minimise distractions. So you need to find a way to clean up your backgrounds/foregrounds. A handy tip for cleaning up your foreground is to use the crowd to block things by shooting between their shoulders for example.

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This method can be used to different extents, I only have a little bit of their heads in here as I actually shot quite close so didn’t have much to block out. But sometimes, don’t be afraid to just cut out all the distractions and shoot with as much empty space as possible when you find a clean part of the background.

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And remember, you only need one good shot to make it an acceptable shoot. If you can get one good shot from every shoot you do then you’ll be doing better than most people.

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Amateur music photographers… what are you doing… stop.

I shot probably my last gig for a long time at the start of the month and it was a horrible experience. It was a battle of the bands event, all the bands in the battle were enjoyable and entertaining to shoot (although the entertainment factor of the music is arguable…). The headlining band, however, was a horrible experience. It was an underage band, and they had all their friends there taking photos of them. You know, all these wannabe photographer hipsters that are flooding the industry?  Well, due to the headlining band being an underage band the security were very lenient, they didn’t care about what happened just as long as no one died on their shift.
I sat in the pit waiting for the band to come on, very relaxed and ready to enjoy an uninterrupted hour of shooting. When suddenly, the band comes out, with two photographers on stage. They’re a young band, and they’re obsessed with having coverage of their gigs. (We’re also from a generation of people where every second person is a photographer, and 95% of those photographers are just in it for the popularity.) Then for the whole show I had to deal with two morons bouncing around the stage as if they were band members, the two photographers were more interested in entertaining the crowd, getting attention, and having fun, than they were in taking pictures (which is what I consider the most fun you can have at a gig…).

Here’s what I mean (I know the images themselves are poor, I just wanted to show what the photographers were like):

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In all honesty, if I had bought a ticket to see that band play live and ended up having those two numbskulls doing that on stage I’d be pissed. It’s not like it’s a big venue/stage either, this is one of my photos of what the venue looks like:

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I would excuse their behaviour if they had some amazing shots, they’d still be pricks but I wouldn’t be angry about it. Yet, I saw their photos, and I know how they work, and… I’m not excusing their behaviour. Two people who shoot in full auto, only for the reason of being cool because they’re hipster photographers don’t have any right to stand in the way of real photographers or fans at a gig. It was a pain to work around them, as I don’t want them to be seen in any of my shots I ended up with very few keepers which is unfortunate. I wouldn’t pick a single shot from their set to go into my portfolio, I am very disappointed with how it ended up going. It was going so bad I had to move out of the pit and up to the balcony after a while as I just couldn’t take it anymore. These are two of the only decent shots I got:

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If you are one of these kinds of photographers, please, please, obey the unwritten rules of photography: don’t block another photographer’s shot. It’s called a “photo pit” for a reason, use it.

It feels good to rant about things sometimes.

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Album Cover Photoshoot

Today I had the opportunity to do a photoshoot for the album cover of my friends’ band, “Checkpoint”. You may have seen me blog about them in the past, I’ve done a lot of work with them, we’ve been close friends for almost 6 years now and they got me into photographing live concerts so I love to give back as much as possible. Their new album is coming out soon, check out their facebook page for further details: http://www.facebook.com/CheckpointPunk
You can check out one of their new songs here: https://soundcloud.com/checkpoint-punk/driven-you-dead

Anyway, I am still very new to portraiture. I don’t have a clue how to pose people or how to compose shots, I always feel very uncomfortable when working one on one with people. I’m a huge fan of candid shots, about 90% of my work is of a documentation style, so this was another learning experience for me.

We all got delayed and gradually met up much later than agreed upon so we didn’t start shooting until 4:30pm, to add to that it was a horrible snowy day and we were down an alley… so I was stuck up around 1600 ISO the whole time, using my Canon 1D Mark IIN.  As per usual with photoshoots, I did a bit of forward planning and started to come up with ideas, unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with much. But I had one idea which I sketched out a little, here’s the page of my idea book:

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Well, my idea didn’t work out like I planned. The shooting itself didn’t go how I would have liked, and the photoshop afterwards went horrible. I’ll probably end up going back to it and attempting to photoshop it again but for now I’ll give up with this crappy attempt. My idea was to blank out the eyes and seal the slight opening in the mouth, to make them dummy like.

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That shot took a few minutes to set up and get the desired result, I’m really kicking myself about not getting the photoshop part right. With more time and effort my vision could come true, my cloning/tone blending abilities aren’t the best if I’m honest. After that we got on with the rest of the shoot. They had a few ideas which we shot next, mainly focused on their shoes which I found a little boring so worked around with a few angles to get as interesting a result as possible.

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After that I wanted to do some individual portraits so set up in front of that door they’re standing in front of above. The reason I’m going with a square crop for these is because the album booklet will be in square format, so for ease of use I’m keeping them all square.

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And of course, I had to capture a candid or two in between shots.

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The candids aren’t square as there is little chance of them getting used. The above one was more powerful without cropping.
Throughout the whole day I found it very difficult shooting for a square crop. In the editing process I frequently found myself cutting off little bits of the image here and there because I didn’t shoot wide enough or underestimated the parameters of the square crop. We were wrapping things up when it started pouring snow again (it’s late March and it’s been snowing sporadically every day here in Dublin, Ireland). We spent the whole shoot in a little alley, so every location is less than 15 seconds from each other, it was a really cool spot to use, had a lot of interesting textures and a fair bit of character. If you’re ever in Dublin and want to use the location, it’s the back alley to the Olympia Theatre in Dublin City Centre, not too far from the IFI. We were about to head off because of the snow but decided that we can’t turn up the opportunity to have some shots walking down the lane with the snow in the background. We braved the elements and may have gotten a cover photo out of it!

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All-in-all it was a pretty enjoyable shoot. The photos came out better than I had expected, but I still long for a particular style/feel to my photographs that I haven’t yet achieved. Maybe with time things will improve as I learn to work with people in a more efficient manner. If it weren’t for the weather I would have brought out my lighting kit and tried out a few things, but I didn’t feel up to it because of the snow. Really wanted to bring my brand new Peli 1510 case (I’ll be reviewing this soon!) but didn’t want to get the bus with it so brought everything in my Think Tank Retrospective 30. Unfortunately, in the end the only two pieces of gear I used were the Canon 1D Mark IIN and the Sigma 24-60mm F/2.8.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram for behind-the-scenes stuff from all my shoots:

http://instagram.com/stuartcomerford

Portrait of a Place, Volume 1

A few of my friends and I went down to a local chipper for lunch the other day when we had a bunch of free classes in school. Afterwards we were walking around the park next to the chipper and came across this really old, deserted playground. A new wooden playground had been build just beside it and this one was now obsolete. It was in bits, graffiti, rubbish, safety hazards… it was a broken down wreck. I felt that the place had quite a bit of character and after talking about it for a minute or two one of my friends convinced me that it would be a great place to do a photoshoot. So I took out my phone and took a few shots to get a feel for what the place was like and add it to my locations archive. However, I liked what I was seeing a took a few more with the intention of making a series which dealt with the character of the place. I’m calling this series “Portrait of a Place” and I plan to do it for a few things, hopefully the next will be done in a more planned manner!

Here are the photos, taken with a HTC One V phone camera and the JPEG (yuck!) shots were edited in Lightroom 4.

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I post some similar pictures like this on my Instagram which can be found here if you’re interested: http://instagram.com/stuartcomerford