“Magic should be unassuming. It should catch you by surprise, and it should fill you with that sense of wonder”.
— Maddox Magic
Back in Autumn of last year I had the opportunity to shoot the portrait of an entertainer and magician supreme: Maddox.
Check out his video (not by me) and photos from our shoot (by me) below:
Maddox approached me with a brief I immediately warmed to. A range of different crops, everything from a cinematic full length shots to tighter-cropped head and shoulders shot. A range of styles from cinematic to street photography. All with a fresh, engaging, approachable, and cool vibe.
As with the majority of our shoots, we spent 2 hours together in London to get 5 outstanding portraits. (And as with many of our portrait sessions, the client wants a few more than just 5 from the shoot!)
We made use of the structures found at Barbican to create dramatic shadow and light photos:
Barbican is one of the finest examples of brutalist architecture in the world, a sprawling mass of thoughtfully designed shapes with large open spaces for the public and hundreds of interesting hidden corners, curved walls, enormous concrete pillars.
It’s an urban portrait photographer’s dream place to work, on the right day with the right light. There are so many opportunities for interesting compositions, implied vanishing points, squares of light, dark structures. I love to experiment with depth of field in shots like this one below, I think we nailed it on the final take:
Brick Lane makes a fantastic backdrop for photos. The atmosphere brings out the best in people, and there’s always a flash of colour:
A few months back I had a chance to get up close and personal with the Marvel Comics character Deadpool. We met in a South London Warehouse; Deadpool lounged on a shagpile rug, showed off his weaponry, and we discussed the launch of the upcoming American superhero film, Deadpool, the story of his life so far.
Well, not quite.
My client was Rainbow Productions, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of mascot and character costumes. The nice chap roped into being the anti-hero was the anti-actor and newest member of the sales team, Matt.
Rainbow Productions brief: to make identically sized Deadpool costumes to be shipped worldwide for Red Carpet productions who were in charge of the cinema launch for 20th Century Fox.
It was a great pleasure coming face-to-face with the sarcastic superhero himself. I didn’t realise a superhero such as Deadpool could be such a sensitive conversationalist. He asked about my career as a London portrait photographer, and even suggested I make friends with his new friends, whose skins hung all around us in the costume warehouse; Pepper Pig, Tinky Winky, Postman Pat, and my personal favorite, Pingu, to name drop just a few…
Favourite place and time? April in Paris? New York in the Winter? Nope – Chiswick in the Autumn. No better place and no better time of the year for beautiful colours and gorgeous light. Some photographers are busiest in the summer with weddings and the like, but I find one of my busiest times is September-October. I rarely blog my personal portrait sessions but just wanted to post some portrait shots from yesterday’s “Chiswick in the Autumn” session with Lin.
DISCLAIMER: I’ve labelled mushrooms on this blog. I’m new to foraging and my labels may be wrong. Refer to a professional. We had the knowledgeable Lisa of Edulis and Matt of Eden Wild Food by our sides to show us the ropes.
Showering at the end of today reveals little pin-pricks on my skin from brambles, itchy raised bumps of stinging nettles unnoticed until now, and “foraging fingers” of yellow, brown, and slime. This all gives way to an overwhelming sense of a thrill which, until recently, I’d have reserved for discovering a new piece of music from my favourite artist or experiencing some new culture or cuisine.
New Forest mist at dawn
Rewind the clock back 2 weekends, and I was camping in the New Forest. Camping is not a pastime I had ever relished. I had taken every opportunity over the last 15 years since my teens to scald the stupid types who trade warmth, civilisation, slated pitched roofs and other first world comforts for a night in an undersized, cold, damp figleaf of canvas that barely covers enough floor space to lie in the foetal position. I’m not an outdoorsy type.
But after 16 years of refusing to camp (I last camped in my teens), I gave in, on the proviso that there would be a minimum of 18 inches of air between me and the ground at night – oh – and on the proviso we would find a room with a view.
The reason for all of this camping nonsense? Mushrooms. I’ve long held a great deal of respect for fungi, although I’ve not until now known the first thing about the subject.
We booked onto a mushroom course, and within a day of meeting the wide-eyed Lisa Cutcliffe of Edulis Wild Food, I was bitten by more than one type of bug.
A basket full of edibles – with one exception
Lisa Cutcliffe – look what we have for lunch
The mesmerising gills of the porcelain mushroom
The common reaction to “I’m going to pick some mushrooms to eat” is “goodness, isn’t that dangerous?”. Well it only took a day with Lisa to realise how much I have to learn in the coming years about the enchanting world of fungi, but this one day certainly set me on the right path. Now I’m able to confidently identify 20+ mushrooms from 10 paces. Since the course I have become somewhat obsessed with how to determine the right environment for different types of mushrooms, and this seems to me harder than making sure you don’t poison yourself.
It’s hard to work out where mushrooms grow.
But if all else fails, you could do worse than starting with a wood that looks like something out of a fairy-tale:
How to find the perfect woods for foraging – choose the ones that look most fairy-tale
Lisa taught us about the trees that fungi seem to latch on to most, I won’t spill the beans here but these are two of the main four:
Learn your leaves
An early success: some beautiful Chanterelles.
A single Chanterelle
Beautiful yellow gold colour of the Chanterelles
One of the memorable pieces of advice given to us by Lisa was this:
Start off by learning the 50 tastiest edible mushrooms, and the 50 most poisonous ones, and don’t bother with everything in between.
To my mind, the safest place to start is to look for the Boletes. These are mushrooms with tubes underneath the cap, as opposed to the more common gills. Apart from one or two of the more rare Boletes, they are all pretty harmless, and the best Boletes can be some of the most valuable and delicious mushrooms. The Cep (aka Porcini or Penny Bun) is one of the superstars of the mushroom world, as such they can be a great find.
Here are some Boletes. Had I seen the bruised underside before, I would have thought “ugh, that’s a rubbish mushroom”. Now I have a great fondness for seeing the tubes under a Bolete bruising blue. Combine this with brown flecking on the stem and this means you’ve found a Bay Bolete:
The distinctive brown stem and gentle blue bruising of the Bay Bolete
Leccinum Versicolor (Mottled Bolete) , hidden in the moss and bracken
Another Mottled Bolete
Despite turning a scary electric blue when cut, the Scarletina Bolete is edible and delicious
These slimy looking mushrooms are called Porcelains, and they are edible. They are very fond of Beech and they grow in this tufted manner. I’ve found quite a few since our day with Lisa but I’m yet to take the plunge and cook them up! They are exquisite to look at and touch.
A tuft of porcelain mushrooms on a tree
A pair of Porcelain Mushrooms
We met quite a few weird fungi on our travels, including this little coral:
The Tawny Grisette with its strongly grooved cap edges and tall elegant stem:
The Tawny Grisette mushroom
Winter Chanterelles on a mound of moss
Some other-worldly tufted mushrooms growing from a log
A Blusher looking golden brown in the sun
Lisa opened our eyes to so many wonders of the natural world, including this Beefsteak mushroom found by one of the course attendees. You can pull these straight from the tree and eat them raw. Surely this is the closest thing in the natural world to eating cured meats?
Cutting the Beefsteak Mushroom
Looks like pancetta – tastes like mushroom
Cross section of the majestic Beefsteak Mushroom
A vegan’s delight – the blood of a Beefsteak Mushroom
Although this was a fungi foraging course, we also took some time to get to know a number of other special things in the New Forest, including edible flowers, mosses, hawthorns, sloes. Here is a plant known as Butcher’s Broom, said to have been used by butchers to clean their block as the leaves are very tough and scratchy.
Butcher’s Broom (poisonous) – used to clean butchers blocks
We did concentrate on edible mushrooms, but a lot of time was given to the inedibles which can be equally (if not more) alluring. Here’s Lisa and her Fly Agaric, with its own mini-me:
The Fly Agaric Mini-Me – mushroom jewellery worn by Lisa Cutcliffe
The pretty and the poisonous
The quintessential fairy-tale poisonous toadstool – the Fly Agaric
A young Fly Agaric (amanita muscaria)
The perfect Panther Cap (don’t eat one)
Our group of 20 stopped for lunch. Lisa had dreamt-up an amazing 4 course meal, starting with the mushrooms we had picked that morning fried up in butter and garlic and served with bread, followed by a feast of venison, ale, and wild mushroom stew, then a selection of cakes made with foraged goods, and finishing up with lots of impressive home made tipples (birch sap syrup, raspberry vodka, and many more!)
Cooking up the freshest mushrooms I’ve ever eaten
Home-baked apple and blackberry cake with elderberry icing and mallow flowers
Vegan chocolate tray bake
In the afternoon we were set free to practice what we had just learnt. This is what we found:
Young Panther Cap specimen
The white scales of the Panther Cap
I don’t think these are magic mushrooms as they don’t have the distinctive nipple but they certainly look magical
Matt Normansell shows us what to look for when identifying mushrooms – (Honey Fungus shown here)
A Brittlegill mushroom
The beautiful edible amethyst deceiver
The wicked Webcap
Cleaning a Hedgehog Mushroom
The beautiful (but inedible) Mycena
A mushroom collector’s delight: a basket full of edibles
Oyster mushrooms on a tree fallen over a stream
Grooved upper ring of the Blusher Mushroom
Cramp Ball growing on wood
The Cramp Ball – used as fungus firelighter
It’s no over-statement to say that Lisa’s course has re-invigourated my love of the outdoors. As a city dweller I’m seeing more and more the benefits of taking a 1-2 hour drive and spending hours just wandering and looking at things.
Ancient forest roots
Oak leaf on a five bar gate
Caterpillar-nibbled leaves of an oak tree
Excuse the Instagram-styled photo here (edited on the iphone in situ – never a good idea!), but isn’t this spread just gorgeous?
New Forest Final Spread
We weren’t exactly “glamping”, after all how can sleeping a mere 18 inches off the ground in a tent as long as my own body ever be considered glamourous? But I must say waking up to the stunning view of the New Forest sunrise the next day, pulling out the travel coffee kit, and cooking up a mushroom breakfast in front of a couple of wild ponies was experience never to be forgotten.
Breakfast the next day – smoked streaky bacon and mushrooms
And the dinners have started to look a lot more like this ever since:
Wild New Forest foraged mushroom and butternut squash risotto
At weddings I used to shoot with a full frame camera and strobe hanging from each shoulder. When using one of them, I’d always hunch the shoulder that was holding the other one to stop it slipping down. Worse still, when using neither, I’d do the same with both shoulders. This was such a subconscious thing that I barely even knew I was doing it. Years went by and I coped with a little pain here and there but never addressed the problem.
That was, until one day, after a particularly busy wedding photography season. I was staying away from home on a futon for just one night, and I awoke to severe pain in my left shoulder.
By midday after a few hours of agony I resolved to book my first ever private medical treatment (the NHS had done me well until that point, but this was pretty urgent).
I’m sure, dear reader, you must think I’m silly. How obvious the cause!
In my defence, and fellow wedding photographers will totally understand this, one’s mind during a shoot – not to mention the night before in preparation – is applied in its entirety to the job at hand. During the day one can easily forget to eat, drink water, and one certainly isn’t thinking about how one holds one’s camera. No wonder you need a full day to recover after a 16 hour day!
Long story short, I needed a way to get the weight off my shoulders and down to the hips. The legs still ache after a long shoot, but legs tend to deal with weight better than the delicate muscles in the shoulder cuff.
So the product I fell immediately in love with was the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt v2.0.
Image published with kind permission from Think Tank
Let me tell you about it.
Think Tank is the name of the company that make it. This US company has a fabulous range of wearables and luggage for cameras, each item designed to perfection by people who understand the challenges photographers face (unlike some other very well-known camera luggage brands whose products are mediocre in comparison).
The Pro Speed Belt v2.0 is one of three belts they make. It’s essentially the mid-weight one with padded edges and buckle stops. There’s a “skinny”, which is definitely not enough to hold 2 full frame cameras plus lenses and a third lens, and a “steroid” which is enough to carry quite a bit more.
Think Tank also sell a wonderful range of things you can put on this belt, called their modular component system (see the range here). They twist and rotate, you can get different types and sizes of lens pouch, covered adjustable size holsters for camera plus lens (the “digital holster“) – these also have a load of little pockets for mobile phone, tiny pad, rain covers, etc., and full-on camera bags that can be carried on the waist. Brilliant!
Problem is they don’t do a gun-holster style attachment, like the Spider Camera Holster (a different manufacturer). The latter is a great product, which includes the belt, but I’m addicted to my Pro Speed Belt. and they also do an adapter version for the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt, problem is in the UK at least it costs £140, essentially for a piece of metal that securely clips on to your belt.
Enter the Eggsnow. This little puppy costs £23 on Amazon. It comes with its own belt, but with some careful modification I discovered today it can be used with the Think Tank. Hurrah!
2x M3 machine screws. I used 22mm long screws but slightly shorter or longer should work
Pair of scissors
Some decent accurate tweezers
Firstly I removed the retaining screws and plastic washers on the Eggsnow. The screws are not “structural”, they don’t take the weight, they just prevent the holster from sliding upwards. The plastic washers are next to useless, but you can replace them if you like. I didn’t bother as my solution below didn’t require it.
When you remove the screws, slide the holster away from the Eggsnow belt. Measure the screw locations carefully, I used a Vernier gauge and made the screws 25mm apart and 36mm down from the top edge of the belt.
Now use a bradawl or something very sharp to mark holes in the Think Tank belt in the right place. I’m right-handed, so I marked it at 90 degrees to the right of the belt clips which I keep at the front. A bradawl won’t make it through the Pro Speed Belt – it’s very tough! So I used a 3mm drill to get all the way through. I used a proper drill press because I have one, but careful use of a hand-drill would work. It does of course break the webbing, but not catastrophically so.
I needed to replace the screws provided with the Eggsnow, as they aren’t long enough to go all the way through the Pro Speed Belt. Luckily I had some M3 machine screws (3mm diameter). 22mm long worked for me. I bought mine on ebay, a couple of quid for 50.
If you were to push the screws the Speed Belt and attach them to the holster, the heads would get lost in the rubbery insides of the Speed Belt. So I cut out a section of the Eggsnow (yes, it’s good for nothing now!) as follows:
Actually I didn’t need this shape, I just needed the rectangle around the screws. You’ll see what I mean below.
When cutting the Eggsnow belt, you’ll see there are 4 layers. I discarded all but the toughest layer and put that layer around the back of the Pro Speed Belt like so:
Getting the screws through the belt took a bit of work. The material inside the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt v2.0 is rubbery and the holes drilled seem to close up, so I used some needle-nosed tweezers to open the holes up a few seconds before getting the screws in. I shoved the tweezers in so far that the handle of the tweezers opened the hole up.
After a little shoving, we have a very secure holster attached permanently to the Think Tank Pro Speed Belt v2.0:
Right – add to this the digital holster and a lens drop, and we have ourselves a mean camera carrying machine! The holster makes for super-fast shooting, that extra 2 seconds it saves compared with pulling a camera out of the belt case makes all the difference!
My re-touch studio is, as of today, one step closer to the ultimate Digital Imaging Darkroom. Hurrah!
So far this means:
Full window blackout, of course
Full digital control of ambient light levels in the studio. (I can control exact dimmer settings for uplight and downlight – either independently or in tandem – from both the iPhone and the command line. How cool is that?)
Light bulbs with 6500k colour temperature and pure white walls
Brand spanking new IPS display, custom calibrated to my chosen ambient light level and temperature in the room (re-calibrated every 5 minutes, not that it needs it)
Wacom Intuos, of course
Little fake electric candles for ambiance (calibrated into the ambient light reading as well!)
Dedicated remote controls for light and music database, speakers mounted nicely for desk position
In the heart of Buckinghamshire lies a tiny little village called Long Crendon. Nestled in the rolling hills is the picturesque Notley Tythe Barn, my wedding photography destination for Carly and Nick’s wedding. Having grown-up in Bucks you’d think I would have had an inkling as to where on earth this village was, alas it is such a hidden gem that I did resort to TomTom to direct me through the winding lanes of deepest rural England to photograph their Buckinghamshire wedding.
To set the scene: an ecstatic Carly who woke up to the sound of dad starting the rustic engine of Carly’s wedding surprise – her wedding carriage – a resplendent baby-blue VW Camper Van. A seriously talented mum who made not one but three impressive wedding cakes.
I’m such a sucker for the sunset portrait, I cannot resist…
The wedding of Kathryn and Phil last week was truly within the sound of the Bow Bells. In fact it was deafening, and most certainly a challenge for a photographer trying to gather everyone for the all-important confetti shot outside the church. I’ve never heard bells like them!
I was apparently born within the sound of the Bow Bells which technically makes me cockney. I’ve done my best to lose the accent… #homecountiesupbringing
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