Howard Ashton-Jones has often spoken about the importance of personal work outside of his main work as the official photographer for Scottish Gymnastics. Personal work allows us to explore new techniques, new genres, new styles.
It helps us to learn and develop as photographers, broadening our experiences and gives us valuable information that we can take back and attempt to apply to the subjects we normally photograph, to try to push ourselves and our imagery just that bit further.
DIYP had a chat with Howard to get some more insight into his work as well as his latest personal project.
My interest in photography was rekindled about 10 years ago, I had been a very keen amateur during my teens, using a Yashica FX3 slr and shooting on black and white film, developing in a darkroom I had in my parents’ house.
My wife coaches gymnastics, and my sons were training and competing – I got involved and started shooting the gymnasts training and then documenting the displays and competitions they and their team entered around the country.
The photos were well received by parents and gymnasts, so I formed my company PSB Photo,(@psbphoto) where we do event photography at the gymnastics competitions around here in Scotland, typically taking images, selling and printing on the day to the parents and gymnasts at the competitions.
This all led to me becoming Scottish Gymnastics official photographer, covering many events and competitions from small club level 5 year old to Olympic and World medalling senior gymnasts at the recent World championships in Glasgow. This all keeps me busy.
Taking time out from the gymnastics is essential to me to keep my creative spirit alive – gymnastics is awesome to photograph but the lack of control I have on lighting, venue, backgrounds and position (I can’t ask the gymnast to go do the move again in a competition because it will look better from a different angle).
So I am always checking out websites for inspiring ideas and imagery, for simple ideas that can be done quickly at home with very little cost involved to full blown fashion shoots when I get time
Shiny metal and glass are two of the subjects that many photographers have the most difficulty shooting, due to their highly reflective refractive properties, and this is very different to most of the work we’ve seen from Howard, but what was the inspiration that made him decide to tackle this project?
As I say above I like the simple, do at home ideas – I do a lot of water droplet photography and have received awards from RPS and Guild of Photographers for this work.
The above image is currently touring with the RPS International Print Exhibition 158, it also got me a top ten placing for the International photography award (open category) with the Guild of Photographers.
I had decided to move on from the droplets for a few months to work on other ideas, using cutlery and a small “crystal” glass ball – nice and simple and easily shot on the dining room table.
The sphere was lurking in my props box from another shoot idea years ago, and I had seen someone using it with lights underneath on 1X.com and liked the simplicity of it all.
The sphere and forks image developed from playing with the set up.
Howard’s starting point for this project was simple, but effective. Just a couple of spoons and a fork on a perforated metal sheet.
Over a few weeks it gently evolved into…
Then a combination of the 2 subjects into…
Technically, it wasn’t that difficult to do. A simple one light from behind in a fairly darkened room (to avoid other light reflections), varying the height and angle of the camera created different refracted images within the sphere – was simply a matter of choosing what I liked.
Howard told DIYP of his goal for these images. Did he simply want to produce beautiful imagery, or was it an exercise in exploring technique and seeing what he’d learn?
These images were shot for 2 reasons – the first was to create some simple but beautiful images for the Guild’s Image of the month competition and also to post up to my profile on 1X.com – but it also got me shooting something completely different from the normal shots I do, learning new techniques and dealing with new challenges as the idea evolved.
I have been with the Guild of Photographers for about a year now and they have a great Image of the Month competition which is judged by a panel of expert judges – the level of entries is mind blowing and the competition is based on competition quality imagery – (as perfect as you can get) – it’s not a case of what your clients/ followers love or like it has to be more than that, it has to be technically excellent.
I needed images for the month to enter and went about using the sphere to get some good entries for this, I also post to 1X.com which is a curated gallery website – only 5% of images entered from worldwide base of photographers get published – I prefer this type of gallery to the fan based websites where greater exposure is more down to how many fans you have and people you follow.
Howard also told us about the equipment and setup used for these images.
Shooting this image and pretty much all my table top creations – I tend to use my wee Canon 6D with the awesome Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens.
The camera is a great size and does not take up too much room on the tripod, is light weight so can be positioned easily on a boom arm if needed it also has great image quality on its full frame sensor – my main camera for gymnastics is the mighty 1DX but is a bit big and heavy for this type of imagery, although any DSLR / Mirrorless would work with this I guess, best camera is the one you have, just go and use it.
The shot doesn’t need a sophisticated camera at all – simple settings of 1/60 at F/11 on a low iso. As long as flash can trigger the background off camera flash that’s all that’s needed. I used a Canon 430ex flash on the camera (as its doesn’t have a pop up flash) set at lowest power aimed at roof , just enough to trigger the main flash sat behind the set up. I could have used a pocket wizard triggers but to be honest I had the speed lights siting there and it’s all that was needed.
Keeping it simple / lazy me.
I love the Yongnuo YN-568EX II speed lights, they are simple to use, they work !! the menu is simple and the price is amazing.
One light was all the was needed, I had a second Speedlight on the side ready to use but the images came out as I wanted with just the one sitting behind. From memory I think it was on 1/8th power shooting through the diffuser and grid.
One flash was enough as I didn’t want to light up the whole scene – the image is about the light and shapes created by the grid and then refracted in the sphere.
With the image of the sphere with coloured light – this was using 4 Speedlight all from underneath each with “Rogue” gels on, each flash was zoomed to max 105mm to give a tight patch of light in its own colour. I just re arranged where each one went to get a pleasing blend of colours.. set up was simple again.
When it comes to his workflow, Howard uses Lightroom, Photoshop and a selection of plugins to give him a look that he likes.
Images are brought into Lightroom CC with a custom pre-set, which tweaks clarity, vibrancy, highlights and lens corrections and a final crop.
I will then open in Photoshop for tidy ups, healing tool/ cloning to take out any unwanted marks or blemishes that I see (typically zoomed in at 150%).
I might then use a plug in from either Alien Skin or Radlab to find a look that I like that enhances the image (or mono conversion).
Final sharpening and back to Lightroom for export for web size (with watermark) or high res for competition entry.
My biggest challenge in these shots was probably getting the right angle for the shape / patterns in the refraction. Simply moving the camera higher or lower by a few centimetres changed the whole image, it was difficult to decided which I liked best. The size of the grid caused a few issue with it being a tad small.
In post-production the point where the background grid meets the reflective glass isn’t as tidy as I would have liked, again the angle of the camera shooting made a difference to this line. (I feel I may lose marks for this in judging in Image of the month).
Howard also offered DIYP some advice and suggestions for those looking to photograph highly reflective objects such as glass, chrome, and other metals.
Keep a cloth handy to remove finger prints. Use a darkened room to avoid other lights reflecting in the image. Experiment with coloured gels, add a few more lights move the lights around the place to see what happens – this is the fun part.. you just don’t know what the light will do.
The evolution of this shot is using other shiny objects… get your imagination and creativity going.
Reflective objects and surfaces are often difficult to predict exactly how things will turn out in the final images, but they’re great fun to experiment with. So, give it a go!
A big thank you to Howard for talking with us about this project, and you can see more of Howard’s work on the PBS Photography website, his personal website, and you can reach out to him through his Facebook page & profile or Twitter.
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