Tintagel, North Cornwall, England
Time / Date:
6:34 AM / April 17, 2008
Camera: Hasselblad H2
Digital Back: Phase One P30 digital back
Lens: Hasselblad 35mm prime lens
Support: Manfrotto Tripod
Computer: MacBook Pro
Lighting: 2 x Profoto Pro B2 1200 Battery pack kit: Daylight balanced
Shutter Speed: 1/10 second
Focal Length: 35mm
I worked closely with the record company for a couple of weeks picking out locations on the South West coast of England for Seth’s up and coming album. He’s a renowned folk artist who produces music reflecting on stories old and new to his homeland. On this occasion the album was brimmed with tales of the tough ocean terrain and human resolve that serves as symbolism to the struggles of life. Pretty deep stuff so the pressure was on. So being the UK you can rely on the weather over here to help out, we wanted savage seas and intimidating, God fearing skies, hell we needed them! So we planned ahead and narrowed our location options down to the beautiful but weathered small seaside village of Tintagel. Some of you may or may not know but over here we have a big fable of a great English king called King Arthur. His legend told of historic triumphs over old foes and was a man of honour and valour and was followed into battle with the knights of the round table. Myth has it that Tintagel is a possible site to his famed castle Camelot so you can see why this location was so exciting to Seth and of course to myself and the team. It is steeped in folklore and full of character to boot. Perfect for our backdrop.
Back to the weather. We wanted rough seas and God fearing skies. What we got was pretty much the most perfect bluest of blue and the calmest of tranquil sea Cornwall may have ever witnessed in early spring. Not to be deterred we decided to stuck to our plan and attacked the day as hoped. Being eager for early dawn light we headed out to the location cliff top in near darkness and set up the shot. Now I’m OK with heights but still to this day I get queasy at the thought of how close Seth got to the edge. Fair enough the wind was negligible but even so I’m still to this day unsure if my insurance would have covered any slip ups! Equal amounts of bravery and stupidity by everyone. We found a great spot that had this shingled man made edge that used to be the site of an old cliff side building. We had a great raised verge that looked onto the mark where we would set Seth. The camera was mounted onto the tripod to give us the raised angle vantage so Seth could be well positioned in frame and still get the dramatic view below while minimising camera shake. The Hasselblad was chosen because of it’s great detail at wide apertures and low ISO’s. At that time digital SLR’s really didn’t cut it for me especially shooting scenes like this and shooting with medium format is something I’m comfortable with.
For an album shoot on location like this I always think you can’t have enough options available to you. I like to use medium format where possible but always have a great DSLR for back up. The P30 digital back at the time was pretty much the business to my eyes so it was a natural choice. I also took along a Canon 1DS for the more reportage element if needed but for the better part the Hasselblad was the main body. I now use a 5d mk3 but at the time a 1ds was good enough. I used Profoto lighting because at the time it wasn’t just the best quality of light for location flash but also the best for battery charge consumption in cold weather. Very important to think about this when its near freezing and you’re miles away from a charge of electricity. Batteries drain very quickly so you must be economical with its power. All lighting was intended to be subtle in tho instance and pretty much used for fill but also ready as back up in case the light was awful and we needed to create our own drama. Again it’s good to have extra options. In the bag I packed the 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 150mm prime lens’, two H2 bodies and a P30 digital back.
Making the Shot:
We waited patiently for the light to break and for our background to appear. As it did I worked closely and quickly with the art director so we didn’t extend any further risk to Seth but managed in that short time to shoot lots of great options which as standard practice have never been seen other than on my website. This particular shot is one of my favourites but it never really got used officially. I think we all get attached to images for our own reasons, the pure danger and execution meant I couldn’t be more happy with what we produced. I mean he’s literally on a cliff edge, no safety ropes, just ridiculous really! Yes we could have Photoshopped it but I think you should always do everything in camera if you want authenticity.
Editing & Processing:
The edit was honed down at the location by tethering the camera to my laptop. Each RAW file was loaded real time into my Capture One Pro software which works really well when you’re teamed with an art director. We tried to make sure the focus was locked on Seth, which if you’ve used the Hassleblads you’ll know can be tricky due to its single focus point. The software has a good loupe system, though been steadily improved in later incarnations. Post shoot I like to apply simple presets to achieve the look I want. I use Capture One Pro on my set up shoots because it seems to me the processing and control over RAW is smoother than most other processing programs. But if I’m busy with reportage I like to use Lightroom 4 for speed and better highlight recovery.
My advice when shooting something like this is just plan over and over again. Try and understand what the artist wants and discuss at great length with the art director all the permutations you can think of. I always find it gets all the stupid ideas and problems out the way so you don’t have to sift through them while you’re on the shoot. Some shoots are all luck but all the successful ones you make your own by planning ahead.
About the Photographer
Andrew Whitton is a portrait photographer working in the UK who specializes in the entertainment industry. Whether working with internationally renowned bands in the studio or traveling the world as a concert photographer, Andrew is awesome.
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