Kentucky Legends

Recently the workload has been hectic, both Sue and I have been really busy everyday, out shooting, editing and setting shoots up. Recently we’ve only been getting 2-4 hour sleep a night and just working solidly, but today we didn’t have to go and shoot anywhere and we had a nice 9 hour sleep, it felt so good. The simple things in life are sometimes the best.

Anyway, the workload has made it hard for getting time to blog, so I’m just going to blog about a recent job for Whisky Magazine Japan (most of our work of late has been with them and it’s been great). In the last 6 days we have had 6 assignments with them, the first was to photograph Wild Turkey’s legendary distiller, Jimmy Russell. Jimmy has been at the helm of distilling in Kentucky for Wild Turkey for more than 50 years now and he was in town with his son Eddie for Whisky Live 2011 (where I photographed him again during is masterclass tasting session). I went down to K’s bar bourbon street in Yokohama to meet Jimmy with Whisky Magazine Japan assistant editor/writer Nick Coldicott to take some shots as Nick was conducting the interview. We arrived early as usual, had a Wild Turkey to get into the right mind frame and had a chat with the bar owner and some of the customers. Jimmy was running a little late, so that gave me time to get some bottle shots inside to add to the article. I tried to set up some stands with speedlites to help out, I put my softbox on and it was just too big for the narrow bar, with people coming and going it was just too much in the way, so I just had to settle for the speedlite 580EXII mounted on my camera and bouncing it as best I could off the walls, but again with people walking past or standing behind me it wasn’t as effective as could be. Still, it worked out OK.

After a little while Jimmy and Eddie arrived and Nick got down to work and I so did I. I moved around, positioned some speedlites off camera to get a bit more interesting lighting when I could. All the time I basically shot with my 50mm f1.2L lens, perfect for the low lights in the bar. I’m loving the lens more and more each time I use it, sometimes I’m tempted to get some more primes, so I’m keeping an eye out for some good deals. In really narrow places like bars in Japan a 35mm prime would be good. Here are some of the cuts.

The owner of the bar was a big fan of Jimmy, he has been to America a few times to meet the Russells and has a bar stocked with Wild Turkey. He took a few photos for his blog of me at work as well as a lot of Jimmy. He asked a favour of me, would I take a shot of Jimmy with everyone in the bar who had come to meet him? It was actually getting close to my last train time, but I wanted to help out. Inside wasn’t possible as it was so crammed and I didn’t have much scope to control the light as well as I would like, so I opted to shoot outside. It was very dark, and raining, and I had to set up for the shot on a backstreet where cars would pass every 30 seconds or so, so time was off the essence. Luckily I had my speedlite stands etc, so all I had to do was set them up, get my settings right and then get everyone out and ready.

First up, take a shot to see what the light was like. First I want to find out what the ambient light is like, so I shoot in TV. I didn’t want too slow a shutter speed, so I went for 1/15th of a second at f4 to keep a decent DOF. The ISO was at 640 and I had been underexposing 1/3 of a stop inside and the camera settings were left there. It’s just setting up, so I don’t care about shake and I am hand holding. The ambient light was too dark.

Next, I dial down the TV to 1/6th of a second and overexposed by 1/3. Now I liked the ambient, but I know the people outside are going to be dark in front of the store.

Now I am happy with the ambient, so I keep the settings as they are and add in speedlites on stands to the left and right of camera. See how the buildings at the side are even lit up now.

Finally, get everyone outside and lined up. This time I am mounting the camera on the tripod to avoid shake. Twice had to jump off the road with the tripod and get Nick to grab the speedlites as cars were zooming down the street. Finally, I managed to fire off about 5 frames before I spared everyone from standing in the rain and they could get back inside. In teh first 4 frames there was a bit too much movement or eyes closed in one person, but the last turned out well. It pays not to rely on the one photo.

I’ve sent off the pics to the mag already, also I sent a few small photos to the bar owner as promised. If you don’t keep your word you do damage to your own reputation and more importantly that of your client.

Damon Coulter - Fantastic portraits and bottle shots, very warm and cozy feel. Love the tutorial on lighting, good advise on shooting in Tv for trialling the light, not thought of that as I tend to work off the aperture first and foremost. good idea though will run it through my camera when i have time to try. Always keep promises!! even better advise. As you’re obviously a whiskey/ whisky expert by now (aside from being Scottish of course in which the knowledge is at some genetic level probably) we`ll have to keep that promise we made to go out and educate ourselves on the stuff. Okay i mean educate myself as a Christmas Bells never did cut it for connoisseur credentials anyways.
Glad you’re keeping busy. Enjoy the rest though, you’ve earned it.

Will - Hey Damon,

Last night was the rest. After 1am and still editing, got my schedule of what I have to do to get through everything this week and have to work each night/morning until it’s done. All good though.

Technical note for using flash. Shutter speed controls how much ambient light you get in, aperture controls how much light gets in from your flash. Your speedlites/flash for a set time, how much light gets in depends on how your aperture is set. Try to run through it, it really helps a lot I find, make things much quicker to set up.

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