Impressions from London Zoo (Film)

Last week I posted photographs from London Zoo that I took in October, this time I would like to share with you a short film I made in the same zoo last weekend. The trip was organized by the Photography and Modelling Society. I had about four hours during which I could shoot. Some of my favourite enclosures, including the rainforest indoor area, were closed to the public, and somehow I ended up shooting birds more than anything else.
Around 20 minutes before we had to catch the train the delivery guy showed up with my new LCDVF as well! I had been thinking about buying a Zacuto Z-Finder, but since they are sold out pretty much everywhere and cost 2-3 times as much I had ordered the LCDVF from (The buying part was a bit tricky since the payment instructions got lost in translation, but I called them up, got everything sorted out and had the parcel within four days.) I might write a short review of the LCDVF, but in a nutshell, I prefer it’s 2x magnification to the 3x of the Zacuto (which I tried briefly at The Flash Center), and the magnet mount they use seems like a good solution to me. Having the LCDVF with me was really helpful for focusing, especially as most of the animals kept running or flying around. The experience is definitely very different from shooting stills! I had taken my tripod with the Manfrotto 808 head with me. There really would have been no way around a tripod, at least for the telephoto scenes: I used the EF 70-200 2.8L IS lens with both the Kenko 1.5x and Canon 2x Extenders on it, giving me an effective focal length of 210-600mm, and without the IS the footage would have been fairly shaky even on the tripod.
For the wide angle shots I used the Canon EF 24-70 2.8L which was attached to a shoulder mount. This helps to distribute the weight of the camera a bit, but I had to find out that it’s not very practical to use it whilst carrying a backpack.
Unfortunately Canon won’t release the new firmware for the 5DMkII until later this week, so I still had to shoot at 30p rather than 24p. I hope the video doesn’t look too choppy! I also think that I’ll have to invest into some kind of external microphone sometime soon if I ever want to make anything that isn’t overlaid with music. Here I mixed the song with the ambient sounds, but I was fairly limited even with that, since the camera picks up the noise from the IS as well as the wind and the noise when I touch the camera.
If you’re interested in the music, the album by Denis Richard can be downloaded from Jamendo.

London Zoo

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A day after having visited the London Aquarium, Alison and I went to see the London Zoo. I had been there quickly once during a DPC get-together, but this was my first opportunity to actually explore the zoo properly.
The photos above were all taken with a Canon EOS 5DMkII and EF 70-200 2.8L IS lens, handheld.
Mouse-over the photos to see the name of the animal on the photo. I can’t ID the owl on the third picture, if someone can help me there please leave a comment.

Wedding: Kirstin & Christophe

What an awesome wedding. Kirstin and Christophe made sure that their guests would have a marvellous time, and the great atmosphere made being their photographer a great experience. Christophe is a user on, where he and Kirstin had seen some of my work. In fact quite a few members of that community were present at this wedding, apart from myself and Christophe, there were his brother-in-law Alain and of course Olivier, who assisted me throughout the day.
We arrived at the church well ahead of the couple to give us a bit of time to reevaluate the positions from which we’d photograph – children from the church communion had built a symbolic space rocket which remained set up between the altar and the congregation. It turned out not to be a problem though, the Belair church is fairly spacious. The ceremony was one of the most beautiful and entertaining ones I’ve witnessed this summer. Both the bride and groom are members of church choirs and they’ve been friends for a long time with the priest that ministered.
After the ceremony Christophe was made to showcase his talent with the accordeon and Kirstin hers as conductor. Quite a fun interlude! After Kirstin and Christophe had shaken hands with all the guests at the reception we drove to the communal park in Hesperange that I had already visited with them beforehand, to shoot their couple photographs. The weather played along nicely, a slightly overcast sky makes it easier to balance artificial and ambient light. Like before, it was Olivier’s job to make sure the light was held in position just where I needed it.
The dinner was in a lovely restaurant near Altwies, called Le Moulin. We took the group and guest photos outside the restaurant in front of the picturesque brook before moving inside the luxuriously decorated converted mill to cover the dinner, games and emotions for the rest of the evening.

Behind the Scenes: Shot Glasses

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I wanted to play with some water and came up with this constellation of shot glasses. The glasses actually stay like that on their own – no glue needed. To light this image, I used the back of a poster as background – probably a Star Wars poster, I have more of those than I have space on my walls. In order to avoid highlights in the wrong places on the highly reflective glasses, I directed the light from the flash at the background. The whole thing is therefore backlit. I used a DIY snoot to concentrate the light on a small area and to create a soft fall-off, so that the center of the background would be slightly brighter than the edges. I also put a double CTO on the flash. As a result, the background in the original RAW was plain orange. When I turned the background back to gray during RAW conversion, the ink in the main shotglass got a stronger blue colour as a result. The post-processing consisted mostly of getting rid of dust and scratches on the glasses.
The photo was used in the last issue of inQuire to go along with an article on drink spiking.

London Aquarium

I visited the London Aquarium and decided to film a bit rather than take photographs. I lost quite a few takes because somebody bumped into me while I was filming… The place was really packed with people.
The video is CC-BY-SA.


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Alison and I visited the Kasematten as part of a touristy visit of Luxembourg. I’ve been there a couple of times, but it’s the first time that I’ve seen a bat hang from the ceiling of one of the tunnels! The little guy didn’t seem to be bothered by all the people passing through there (most of whom didn’t notice the animal was there), and it didn’t even move when we photographed it close-up with flash.


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Alison and I made a trip to the butterfly garden in Grevenmacher. This time the temperature was a bit more comfortable than the 40°C in the World of Butterflies. We only had one macro lens between the two of us so we took turns in photographing and holding a flash for one another. We started out with the ringlight adapter but moved on to a DIY diffuser to light the butterflies. It’s quite useful to be able to sculpt the light the way you need it to be rather than being at the mercy of the sun shining through a glass roof and foliage. I used the Pocketwizard Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 to allow the camera and flash to communicate with one another. Setting the flash power manually would have been tricky, since we worked without tripods. At those small distances, a few centimeters change in the distance between flash and subject can make a big difference. (Inverse square law: if the flash is giving me a correct exposure at 1/8 power and 10cm distance, if the flash moves 5cm closer the power needs to change to 1/32. ETTL takes care of this on the fly.)
So my technique here is to get the aperture I need for a decent depth of field, then dialing in a shutter speed and ISO that get me enough ambient light for a photo that’s slightly underexposed, then bring in the flash to get the exposure to where it needs to be.
(For those wondering what the title means: it’s one of the Luxembourgian words for butterfly.)

Wedding: Carole & Jules

I first met Carole and Jules at the wedding of their friends Martine and Mike the year before. They got in touch with me last winter and I ended up shooting their wedding day in July together with Olivier Kerschen as assistant. We took photos of Carole getting ready at her parents’ house and, once we determined that the weather was going to play along, drove to the Parc Municipal in Mondorf. It’s a really great place, quite big with lots of different possibilities to take the couple shots. The size meant that we had to walk around a bit to get to the places I had scouted beforehand but it worked out nicely. I used the 5DMkII again, mostly with the EF 70-200. Olivier was in charge of getting the lights where I needed them – which sometimes includes dangling halfway off a bridge to get the light in the perfect spot.
The wedding ceremony was in their hometown Ellange, in a lovely small church just opposite the venue in which the reception was held. And you should have been there to see their faces when the white limousine arrived to pick them up! We moved on to the the Restaurant Delicious in Sandweiler, outside of which I took portraits of all the couples before everyone went inside for the dinner. It’s a nice place, they had hired some cool DJs and the fun just didn’t seem to stop. I especially liked the balloon-popping-sumo game their friends had come up with. When we left around 3am the party still wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down!

Photo Shopping

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Last week I posted a bit of behind the scenes information about the setup for the picture Zombies at an Airport. This time I’m publishing the original image along with the finished photo so that you can see what can be done to give a photo some flavour.
I actually shot this for a competition on Photogen, but then it turned out I had misinterpreted the topic, so I submitted something else instead. If it wasn’t for the competition which requires anonymity though I might have taken the picture the other way around, showing myself pushing the trolley.
I borrowed Alison’s EF 17-35 2.8L lens for this. (I don’t have a proper wide angle lens for the 5DMkII yet. I’m hoping for Canon to release the 14-24 2.8 L that’s being rumoured about this year.) The camera is mounted to the trolley’s handlebar using a Manfrotto superclamp. I dialed the camera to ISO100 to get the best possible image quality, and then closed the aperture down so that I could get a long enough exposure time. In this case I ended up with f/9 and 1,6 seconds.
The post-processing should be pretty self-explanatory from the pictures. I fixed a highlight from a ceiling light with the clone stamp, then I used Curve and Hue/Saturation/Lightness adjustment layers to add contrast and shift colours the way I wanted them. The advantage of using adjustment layers to do this is that you can re-adjust them later if you change your mind, and that you can easily apply layer masks so as to apply the effect of an adjustment layer to a specific area of the image only. As you can see it’s nothing too fancy, but I think it makes all the difference between a picture that looks fairly flat and one that pops.
In case you’re wondering what I was shopping for (I didn’t go to our local supermarket just for the photo), it’s Spicy Moroccan Stewed Fish with Couscous from Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food. Lots of great recipes without too much fuss in there. And some cool and helpful pictures by David Loftus and Chris Terry (although I think they went a bit overboard with the tonemapping on some portraits).

Zombies at an Airport

The sequel to Snakes on a Plane

The sequel to Snakes on a Plane

A bit of behind the scenes information about my PAD for September 16th 2009. The initial concept for the picture was to have a hand come out of a suitcase, and to add some visual drama by putting a lightsource inside the suitcase too.
I placed one of my flashes inside the suitcase. Because I wanted the light to spread as evenly as possible, I placed the flash inside a clear plastic tube (the ones you get when you buy 100 DVD-Rs together… I burn every RAW file I might ever need to get back to on DVD. Twice.) Since the lid would be closed, Canon’s ETTL triggerism functionality wouldn’t work here – it needs line of sight. A perfect opportunity for my new PocketWizard set then. The flash and the FlexTT5 fitted inside the tube easily. A stofen omnibounce-type diffuser spread the light out a bit more. The settings on this flash were 32mm at 1/2 power.
The flash on the Manfrotto Nano 005B lightstand, which provides the light outside the suitcase is still triggered via Canon’s ETTL. It’s zoomed in to 100mm, at 1/2 +0,7 power. A full CTB (Color Temperature Blue) gives the light a blue cast that contrasts with the neutral light from the suitcase. To limit the area lit by this flash to a small surface, I added a DIY straw snoot to it. That way the beam behaves more like a spotlight.
I took one picture with just the suitcase, and another with the same settings (Canon 5DMkII, ISO100, f/9, 1/200) where my sister put her arm in from one side and out at the front again.
In Photoshop I layered the two photos over each other. Now all I had to do was mask Carmen out of the photo so that only her hand would remain visible.

2009 Favourites

I’ve picked my favourite photos that I’ve taken in 2009 and mashed them up in a slideshow! Some pictures in the video haven’t appeared on the site yet, they’re mostly part of the PAD project with which I’m slightly behind my uploading schedule… oops. August is complete now though! Check it out.
Let me know what you think of my selection for this year in the comments. Better or worse than 2008?

Happy New Year!

Happy 2010 guys, and thanks for stopping by the blog. I’ll post a collection of my favourite photos of 2009 soon.

Joe, Tom, Philippe and Alain on New Years Eve

Joe, Tom, Philippe and Alain on New Year's Eve

Tokyo (Part 2)

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The second half of my pictures from Tokyo. (Part one is here.) In a nutshell, more shopping, more traveling on the underground, more running around aimlessly trying to find stuff at night and Sumo.
The Sumo tournament was pretty impressive, but looong. We were there for 8 hours I think. I definitely felt for the camera guy flattened by Baruto (at 2’30” in the video below).

Tokyo (Part 1)

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In June I travelled to Tokyo for about a week with Max and Xavier. In between recovering from jetlags and recovering from Asahi and Kirin I took some photographs.
It’ a pretty cool city. Busy and crazy, but cool. The pics here are from the Meji Shrine, the next two from and of the Tokyo Tower, the massive crossing is somewhere near our hotel, the next three from Yokohama, the runway is from the train station adjacent to our hotel, the last two are of Max and Xavier.
I’ll post the second half soon.

Photogen Fouermeeting 2009

This summer a handful of photographers from met at the Schueberfouer (like last year) to hang out, test the rides and chat. I decided to film rather than take pictures this time. It’s fairly busy there and I didn’t have my shoulder-rig yet; my apologies for the shakiness. I still have loads to learn about the whole SLR-video thing.

Wedding: Stéphanie & Alain

On May 16th this year my friends Stéphanie Valenti and Alain Engelmann got married in Pétange. I met Alain in the scouts when we were about 10 years old. Sté joined the scouts a bit later; that’s where they met as well.
I’m glad that I could actually make it to their wedding; it was during the exam period at uni. The wedding was on Saturday, I traveled back to England on Sunday and wrote an exam on Monday. Alison had come down to Luxembourg with me. We were their photographers for the afternoon and their guests during the evening … although when I saw an opportunity too good to be missed I got the camera out again for a couple of photographs after the dinner.
You’ll notice that I’m on some of the photos from the evening, Alison took those after setting up the lights with me.

Halloween 2009 Studio Photos

It’s good to see that the Photography and Modelling Society is getting along nicely this year. I haven’t run for a committee position so I don’t have much say on what’s happening, but I can’t help adding my 2 cents once in a while :) The photos the society took in Eliot college this Halloween (I was there only to help set things up) are available at the following link:


My collection of gels.

My collection of gels.

I’m often asked what that orange stuff on my flash is. In most cases, it will be a Full Colour Temperature Orange (CTO) gel. The CTO and other gels I use are made of the same coloured, heat resistant materials used for instance in theatre productions. You hold them in front of a light source to change the colour and/or density of the light.
The CTO is the gel that I find most useful for indoor work. The colour temperature of a camera’s flash is close to that of sunlight. The colour temperature of the bulbs you’ll find in most homes is much warmer. If you balance ambient and flash light, the picture is going to end up with either blue-faced people and a correctly coloured background, or regular colours on the flash-lit areas and a background that’s way too orange. The CTO matches the colour of the flash to that of a tungsten lamp.
The CTO isn’t the only filter that there is. Other filters will match a flash to halogen lights, or they’ll give it a strong colour tint that can be used for artistic effects.
I made my gels from sample packs of the Rosco and Lee filters. I got some from my flatmate who got them from the university’s drama department, others were sample packs that the companies used to send out when you simply asked them. They’re harder to get for free nowadays though. One of the easiest ways to get hold of a pack with a decent size and the colours that are most useful is the Rosco Strobist Collection.
There are dozens of ways to attach your gels to an external flash once you’ve got them. Some use paperclips, plastic holders, or velcro. While they have the advantage that you don’t need to trim your gels, most will negatively affect your options to use other light modifiers – an omnibounce or other diffuser, for instance, will likely not fit over your attachment mechanism.
I decided to stick with the option that takes more effort but in the end is much more flexible: I cut out the gels I need to make them fit the front of my flashes – one size for the Canon 580EX, one for the 430EX. The sizes for the I and II models are the same. The are templates somewhere on (just can’t find them anymore…)
I had to brush up my cutting skills a bit; the gels have to match the shape of the flash precisely so as to avoid bits sticking out on the one hand, and gaps throgh which non-coloured light leaks on the other.
If you’d like to learn how to use gels properly, I’d recommend over to David Hobby’s blog He’s got a section on gels in his Lighting 101 articles and general posts with info about gelling your flash.

Réserve Naturelle Albert Hopp

In 2004 the CFL presented a project to add a second track to the railway line passing through Bascharage, Luxembourg. For the laying of the tracks and the underpass replacing the level crossing, about 1 1/2 acres of woodland were chopped down. In 2009, the works are nearing completion. These are impressions of the Réserve Naturelle Albert Hopp.


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This summer, knipser from Photogen invited me and a couple other photographers, mostly members of the Photogen community, to visit the Arcelor-Mittal steel plant in Esch-Belval. It was an impressive mixture of deafening noise, smoldering heat and a thick layer of dust covering every inch inside the plant. Not the kind of place where you want to change lenses all that often.
All photos: 5D MkII and 24-70 2.8L USM.

Update: I’ve added a bit of video from the trip, also recorded with the 5D MkII.

In Arles – Outtakes

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These are some photographs that I took during the portraiture workshop in Arles that didn’t make it into the exhibition, either because they did not fit the style of the series or because they were from the first two days when I was just experimenting a bit.

In Arles – Workshop Exhibition

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[Dont forget to use the >>| buttons to see the next page.]
The pictures above are the final selection which made it into the exhibition at the end of the photography workshop in Arles, with two exceptions: the firefighter photo didn’t make it because the local photolab cropped his head off, and I don’t have permission to publish the picture I took of a librarian online.
The workshops in Arles were organized by Stage Photo Arles throughout spring and summer. I chose ‘Portrait: technique et finalité‘ taught by Serge Picard in the middle of August.
On the first day, each participant explained what they wanted to get out of this workshop. It’s weird how those little epiphanies can sometimes come out of nowhere: I told Serge that I’d like to learn how to make the people I photograph more comfortable. All he said was: ‘Why would you want to make them feel comfortable!?’ So by disillusioning me about what I thought would be my biggest hurdle during the workshop Serge had already shown me the direction my series for that week would take: My initial idea of simply photographing people at their workplace got marked by the awkward (quelquechose de gauche).
I think that weird atmosphere was even somewhat inevitable for some of the sessions. I don’t really know what I expected when I went to my first shoot at the bakery at 23:30. All I know is that the baker didn’t quite seem to like my accent when I speak French, and when, during smalltalk, I failed to agree with him that there were too many Arabs in France he seemed have lost all sympathy for me. The picture’s still my favourite one of the entire week though.

In Arles – Visit

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Back in December I won the Connecting Generations photo competition. One of the prizes was free participation in a workshop of my choice at the Rencontres d’Arles. I got there one day before the workshop started and left a day after it had finished, and of course I didn’t sit around with my camera in my backpack during those days.
The pictures from the workshop that made it into the exhibition at the end of the workshop will be posted soon, followed by some outtakes.


For those interested in how my PAD 171 from June 20th was made I’ve put together some making of information. The pinball machine is nothing other than a metal fruit holder I borrowed from our kitchen. It’s held up by a superclamp. To simulate the pinball’s perspective I used a fisheye lens. On a full frame camera this results in a circular image.
The light trails are made with a torchlight that shines into an aluminium sheet. The technique’s called painting with light. After a few tries I got the trails I wanted. In Photoshop I added masked Solid Color layers in Color Blend Mode to get the neon colours. In the end I used Liquify to fill in the corners because I didn’t want to crop away too much from the sides.

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