Friday, February 9, 2018

Corporate Photography - CCNM's 40th Anniversary Annual Report

Cover of CCNM's Report to the Community (AR) 2017

As the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine approached an important milestone this year, it followed that their annual report (aka Report to the Community) would be a special one. Designed by Bhandari + Plater, it was an ambitious undertaking that ultimately affirmed the value of planning, 110% effort by all players on the team (clients, designers and photographers and subjects/contributors), and client commitment to a design concept that might have required a little more money, time and effort, but which succeeds resoundingly in its resulting strength, attractiveness, clarity and cohesiveness.

By its nature this project required some especially tricky and precise planning on the part of the college. We needed to create three (plus) main sets of images: 1) the cover portraits, 2) executive committee and leadership team portraits,  3) environmental portraits of important subjects (such as graduates, donors, and partners) holding 'signs' on which key pieces of information would be imposed, and the 'plus' -- similar portraits of these subjects not holding signs. In total over forty portraits of twenty-five different subjects (a number of whom do not work at the college or even live in Toronto) in multiple set-ups.

The first thing we needed to do was decide exactly where each environmental portrait would take place. So, prior to shooting, we spent several hours going around the college photographing stand-ins (assistant Lindsay, and client liaison, communications and marketing specialist Sana) in proposed locations based on rough, initial layouts and collaboration with the designer, Lindsay taking notes and pictures regarding camera and subject positions. Once the selects were made these pictures were placed into precise layouts, subject to notes from the designer, which we would use as templates for the final shots. 

Left: Layout page made from snapshot of assistant Lindsay taken during location scouting. Middle: the final image in the AR. Right: an alternate shot, sans sign, for future possible uses.

While Sana booked all the spaces where we'd be shooting, one thing we could not do was block them off during the shoots, so if there were students etc. about we would have to work around them. Mostly this just meant we'd have to wait a few seconds now and then for student 'traffic' to clear. I admit, we were slightly flummoxed, though, when we did try to block off one small area to save students being exposed to a bright flash, only to have the odd few walk right through the barrier (right next to the flash unit) instead of around it. Clearly they were extremely focused on getting to their classroom using the shortest,  straightest route possible.

While most subjects to be photographed were able to make the trek to CCNM, others were not. And even the ones who could were not all, of course, available per our proposed schedule. Furthermore it was exam time at the college meaning classrooms (where we'd be shooting the head and shoulders portraits) were reserved whether they were needed or not. Thus we found ourselves setting up in one classroom, then having to re-set-up the same set the next day in a different room, and finally at one point resorting to shooting in the lobby. Thankfully the whole front entrance of the college was under heavy construction, so we were able to create a mini-studio right in front of what would normally be the front doors. What was a significant source of frustration for the school became a boon for us. 

Knowing we were going to have to recreate sets multiple times we were careful to diagram and photograph them. Also, at the behest of the designer, we made sure we did "plate shots" of the backgrounds.

Cover portrait background 'plate shot'

 And good thing we did, because thanks to forces beyond our control, two of the four portraits we shot specifically for the cover ended up being replaced by portraits we had shot on a slightly different gray backdrop, and with slightly different lighting (eg. no hair light) and different parameters in terms of subjects' expressions, for the interior pages of the report. We couldn't fix the hair light situation during post-production, or make the expressions 'bigger', but we were able, at least, to digitally composite in the correct background during post-production to create more consistency between the four cover shots, which helped a lot. (It would not have been easier to simulate this particular kind of graduated background in Photoshop.)

Continuing with the topic of scheduling, as it happened we had to shoot in the cafeteria, on two different occasions, at lunch time. While we actually found the background looked great filled with students, we did have to wait occasionally (again) while students moved in and out of frame, and ask the odd person to reposition themselves slightly, or move a big winter jacket or other distracting item out of frame. The biggest challenge was communication with the subjects and each other over the din of the students chatting. I had to resort to hand signals and to running back and forth from the subject to the camera when I had anything remotely complex to convey.

Subject photographed in the busy cafeteria at lunch time

The cafeteria wasn't the only place we couldn't readily communicate with the subject or each other. One of the shoots was in the library where students were studying for exams. Here we were limited entirely to sign language. And we really had to be as unobtrusive and quiet as possible. Working in our favour was our desire to make the lighting look somewhat natural, so in most cases we used only one indirect light, cutting down on set-up and related noise and disruption.

Left: Sunlight, room light and one indirect flash combine to light this portrait.

Another stumbling block was encountered when it turned out that the doctor in Ottawa who we were hoping was coming to Toronto, wasn't. CCNM could have hired a photographer in Ottawa, but the consistency between images would have been compromised and I really wanted the designers' vision to be realized as near-perfectly as possible, so I offered to visit a friend (in Ottawa) and do the shoot there. In Ottawa my assistant (a local) met me at the location. As we had diagrammed our portrait sets in Toronto, it was no trouble to set up a similar set in Ottawa. Thankfully there was just enough room in one of the offices. It also turned out that another subject whose portrait was needed was in Ottawa, so we were able to photograph her, too.

On set in Ottawa ©DarrenBrown

If there was any drawback at all to the sign holding concept it was that previously shot photos, no matter how great the images, would not work for the feature pages because the designers needed to be able to put a sign in the subject's hands. Thus, in the case of this busy ND (naturopacthic doctor), who we had photographed some months ago, we found ourselves shooting his background (ie. the location we had designated for his shot) at CCNM without him in it, then driving up to his clinic in Maple, setting up as quickly as possible out of the way of patients in an upstairs hallway, and grabbing the necessary 'sign holding' shot. (Note: We couldn't have done these two shoots at the same time, in any case; by the time we did the AR shoot winter had set in, there was snow on the ground and the trees were leafless.)

Upper left: an image from a previous shoot at the clinic which took place on a beautiful fall day. Right: final composited environmental 'sign holding' portrait for the AR.
The two photographs that, combined, made up the final image above.

Page from the AR showing the value of shooting consistent looking portraits. This page looks so nice!

One of six spreads throughout the AR featuring subjects holding a sign 

Before I wrap up, just a couple of observations I wanted to fit in here somewhere in an attempt to recognize the humour that can sometimes seem less accessible in the moment:
1) December 2017 saw an unusual number of very cold but very dry days resulting in some crazy static-y hair antics. Thank goodness I carry hair spray. We needed it! And 2) No matter how diligently subjects attempt to follow my helpful hints and arrive in wrinkle free clothing for their 'close-ups', there are times when, really, it may be better to just go with a knit. :)

If you'd like to see the whole report here's a link to CCNM's publications: This one was so worth the extra effort, and I trust I'm not the only one who thinks so. Way to go team!

Thanks for reading. If anyone involved in this project can help you with your next project let me know!  

Monday, January 22, 2018

Flower Photo-Paintings: My 2018 Calendar

Dinner Plate Dahlias

Henri Matisse apparently said "There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted." This is what confronts me every time I feel drawn to photograph one of the world's most drawn, painted and photographed subjects, not to mention the fact that it always feels a bit like cheating to photograph a flower, because really, how far wrong can you go?

Still, à propos Henri Matisse, the imperative is to come at it with, hopefully, a somewhat fresh perspective. I've posted before about my erstwhile desire to be a painter, not unheard of for a photographer. Combining painting with photography gives those of us who do it the chance to dabble in that other world, while creating truly painterly photographs.

For these images, I painted one small backdrop for each shot. When choosing the foliage and painting the backdrops it was all about the colour and shape of the flowers or plants and what colours and textures in a background would 1) overlap themselves to create a pleasing effect, and 2) complement the flowers, while overlapping and combining with them. There were some missteps.

To expand a little on the technique, the foliage was arranged either directly on the backdrop or on a piece of glass above the backdrop. Once the first exposure was made there were generally either one or two more exposures made after rotating the backdrop (90 degrees each time) and repositioning the foliage. The foliage had to be positioned so that the stems came consistently from one direction within the frame, to avoid a messy, and weird starfish kind of look. 

Double exposure resulting in a two armed "starfish"

The trickiest thing was to try to visualize how it would all actually combine, since I couldn't see the result until the final exposure was made and the frames combined, whether in camera (using the multiple exposure setting) or later in Photoshop. So there were quite a few do-overs and a lot of concentration required as I figured out what worked and what didn't through trial and error, a process which had to be somewhat limited given the delicacy of the subject matter. I was reminded again of the days of film photography when you never really knew for sure what you had until you got your film back from the lab, and there was always the possibility that you'd get a delightful surprise (or not).

The first shot I tried was the hydrangea, and once I realized the bit about the orientation of the stems I got my first and possibly favourite shot of the bunch surprisingly quickly:

Hydrangea Overlap, the first and one of my favourites of the series

Unfortunately, not all five subsequent shots were as easy, as I suggested above. Ultimately some of the double and triple exposures just did not work on their own, or at all, so I had to succumb to using a little, and in some cases a lot of digital editing. The Dinner Plate Dahlias (top of this post) were hopeless in camera. Most of the overlapping had to be done on the computer.

As always with my annual mini-calendar shoots, it was imperative that the images work as little, tiny pictures less than three inches across. And again, as always, this meant some lovely little image details became tough to appreciate once the images were sized, and published in the calendar. 

I like this image of these unidentified green plants, but...

...I love this detail

Here is another one with subtle textures and details that are easier to experience close up.

Detail from image above

And finally, the one we chose for the calendar cover: 

Mostly done in camera with a tiny bit of Photoshop. I didn't even mind the "starfishy" stems at the top.

I have included a few of these images on my website where you can see them more clearly. There are also fine art prints available for purchase. 

I owe a huge thanks once again to Martin Finesilver and Mark Smith of Finesilver Design, without whom these calendars wouldn't exist. I can't wait to get started on next year's!

In the meantime, if you'd like one please give me a call or drop me an e-mail. And if you have something you need photographed creatively, please reach out.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Portrait of The Sandalman

Final composited image of Cory Bernatt, the Sandalman, and his shop 
Many years ago my husband bought me a beautiful Bree leather purse. I used it relentlessly until it was a worn out shadow of its former glory. I put it away. Cut to 2017. A couple of months ago I came across my lovely purse in a storage box and felt it was time to see about resurrecting it, so I went online and found The Sandalman.  Funnily enough, it turns out I could have asked almost anyone if they knew a good leather repair shop because everyone seems to know this guy (AKA "a guy in a store that fixes leather").

Off I went to find his Davenport Avenue shop, and the second I walked in I knew I had to photograph it. Established over thirty years ago, in 1982, the store is a treasure trove of leather making tools and materials. It's the kind of space I love, filled with fascinating bits and pieces in various nooks and crannies. In its native light, a bit cluttered looking, but poised to become a rich and textured light painting, lit my way.

The shop sans any special lighting

Thankfully Cory Bernatt, an alumnus of Central Tech's art program (which looks amazing) was willing to indulge a fellow artist. So he stayed after work one day sacrificing his evening to my process which involves making multiple exposures of different parts of the person and space and then compositing them together later (and which I've explained before in previous posts like this one about my series of portraits of creative people in their spaces: ). The trick is that nothing can move during the process, including the person, at least while their section of the image is being captured. I used three different images to complete Cory himself. It's a lot to ask of someone you barely know when you're not even paying them, so I always hope the artists I photograph for these personal projects get at least a little bit of extra exposure, and some enjoyment out of the final images. And I hugely appreciate their willingness to participate in my work.

The Sandalman composite comprises parts of about thirteen distinct images, plus some repeated layers re-processed to different specs, as well as some nominal retouching. Here is an example of a frame, this one exposed specifically for the front of the desk.

One exposure made just for the front of the desk

Chronologically, it's actually, usually, the person section of the image I shoot first. Their placement in the image composition is critical, so I can't start exposing anything until I have them positioned and posed. Once they're set, since they can't move, it behooves me to get them them through the process as efficiently as possible so they can then relax and carefully extricate themselves from the set while I complete the rest of the exposures. 

Regarding the lighting, I use a fairly hard light source, which makes for some pretty dark and dramatic shadows. Anyone familiar with classic Hollywood portrait lighting from the golden age may have noticed that sometimes the light, while beautiful on most of the face, can create potentially objectionable shadows under the nose.

Royalty free portraits I've borrowed to illustrate harsh nose shadows in old Hollywood portraits

On this shoot, while I achieved exactly the shaping I wanted on Cory's face, neither one of us loved that the shadow cast under his nose made it look as if he had a mustache reminiscent of a certain World War Two leader. So during post-production, I combined a tiny section of a much more flatly lit frame of his face, with some additional retouching, to reign in the shadow and kill the offending mustache. 

Dull, flat-ish light (left), dramatic light (middle), corrected nose shadow (right)

It's always my goal to do as much as I can in camera, to get what I need, so I'm not creating a pile of tedious Photoshop work for myself (beyond the layering of the multiple images). But some issues, like this nose shadow, couldn't be avoided without compromising the overall look of the subject. The only other really extra Photoshoppy thing I had to do was draw in a section of the thread Cory is holding, as it was thin enough, and small enough in the overall image that it didn't entirely show up well on its own. It's not even visible in the final image at the top of this post, but you can see it (just) if you look at the image on my website.

That's about it for now. Thank-you for reading! I'll just wrap up with a few gentle requests:

If you are one of the many people who already know Cory (who currently has ads running on sixty TTC buses and caters to a cabal of famous customers, as well as, apparently, many of my less famous friends), please say hello for me next time you see him. And, if you are one of the few who don't know him and want to know more click here to go to his website, and check out the Media section (especially the "Man who helped deliver baby in Toyota..." story). 

If you know any creative people who work in small, interesting, even cluttered spaces, and you think they might be willing to entertain the idea of being photographed by me, please let me know. I'm always looking for my next subject. I promise I will make the person and the space look pretty!  

And, as always, if you or someone you know needs to look really good, please get in touch.

Kathryn Hollinrake ~ Making people and things look pretty ~

Monday, February 27, 2017

Sailing and Scuba Diving in the Bay Islands: Roatan, Guanaja, and Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

Leaving the harbour at Parrot Tree Beach Resort, Roatan, aboard Zeppelin, towing the dive tender

In 2009 Wayne and Elly Smith of Vancouver, B.C. decided to take Zeppelin, their beautiful custom built fifty foot sailboat and home for the past decade, on an adventure, which culminated in their launching their Roatan-based liveaboard business: Zeppelin Dive and Sail. (For non-divers, liveaboards are dive boats on which guests live for the duration of their dive holiday.)

Zeppelin with her kayak (mounted on the boat when in transit)

While my husband and I had stayed and dived on liveaboards, our twelve year old son had not, yet, and none of us had ever lived on a sailboat, so we were really excited about this trip. Oddly enough, even weeks after returning from the trip, all I have to do is look at all my photos to start feeling the constant sway of the boat beneath my feet. So weird.

It was my intention this trip to focus on above-water photography (in light of my lack of a decent underwater system, happily solved in time for the next trip -- stay tuned!), so not a lot of underwater pics to share here. And not a lot of words, this time, either, as I would be hard pressed to do justice to the trip by writing about it. I am going to let the pictures tell the story. (How original, for a photographer!)

We started off at the marina at Parrot Tree Beach Resort (see above), Roatan, where Zeppelin moors between expeditions, and spent the next week sailing around the Bay islands, mooring at the islands of Guanaja, Cayos Cochinos and finally back at Roatan.

Elly captaining Zeppelin

Father and son almost Titanic moment

This expedition represented the initial training voyage for experienced divemaster but new to Zeppelin, Cristina, originally from France but most recently from Nicaragua. 

Wayne teaches Zeppelin's newest crew member, divemaster Cristina, to sail

Once Zeppelin was moored we would take the dive tender to the various dive and snorkel sites. 

Zeppelin's dive tender

Diving at Guanaja. Wayne and Elly take photos throughout the week and give them to their guests at the end. I am finally, actually, in some family trip photos thanks to them! 

Fish, coral, and another family photo, bottom right, compliments of Wayne and Elly.

Wayne expounding (left). Post-dive pre-dinner snacks (right).

New Year's Eve 2016 aboard Zeppelin

Many of our meals were served on deck. Of course, on New Year's Eve we had champagne. This was actually before dinner. I don't think we ever stayed up anywhere near until midnight and New Year's Eve was no exception. Breakfasts (my favourite meal of the day) always started with fresh fruit, then a healthy home baked chocolate chip breakfast cookie and coffee, followed by a different restaurant-worthy dish each day made by Elly (with assistance from Cristina) in the galley.

Gourmet breakfast on board, by chef Elly

One of the few times we chose to set foot on land, we went out for dinner on the island of Guanaja at Mi Casa Too! nestled on a perch at the top of a long, steep-ish path from the harbour, but so worth the walk. Unlike our experience at the cute Cantina we ate at our first day on Roatan, the fish guy did show up here with his daily delivery so we all had delicious meals.

Mi Casa Too! on the island of Guanaja. On the porch, a Christmas tree made of wine bottles!
Owner Shawn takes our orders.

Next day it was back out on deck with a hook and line for our son. An avid fisherman, he was absolutely committed to catching the biggest fish possible during this trip. To this end Wayne had procured a reel and tackle for him to use. Every chance he got he had a line in the water, except at Cayos Cochinos which is a protected marine park. Unfortunately, the one really big one he hooked while trolling got away. Ultimately, he did catch one small grunt. And now we know why they're called grunts. (It grunted.)

Fishing from the deck (left), and heading off to snorkle (right)

In between dives, while Wayne was off getting tanks filled or taking care of other business, there were lots of opportunities to snorkle. Father and son have been known to snorkle for hours. On the occasion pictured above, they were gone so long that Wayne finally decided to retrieve them and the kayak with the dive tender. This was the day they were planning to do their first night dive of the trip (our son's first ever), and they needed to get to the site before the sun set. I found it surprising that they could be so absorbed in what they were doing that they didn't  notice the decreasing light, or their (I have to assume) decreasing temperatures.

Luckily they did get themselves sorted out just in time, and managed to get to the dive site with just enough light left to see what they were doing before they descended. 

Instructions from Wayne before first night dive ever

Heading off to the night dive site. They need to get there before the sun sets.

The tender approaches the night dive site at Cayos Cochinos

There is now apparently one thing our son likes even more than fishing, and that is night diving. He was positively vibrating upon his return to the mother ship where he declared that, going forward, he wants to dive only at night.

Most of the trip the weather was sunny and beautiful. But of course, as sailors, Wayne and Elly kept a constant eye on the forecast, and on the day pictured below it changed fairly drastically and quickly. As the wind picked up and dark clouds came rolling over the horizon we set sail for one of the other islands. It was very exciting, and was the one time even I, with a scopolamine  (anti-nausea) patch in place (behind my ear) since the beginning of the trip, started to feel a bit queasy on the rough water.

Very windy, choppy and cloudy as a squall approaches

Catching the wind on deck

Safe inside with the squall behind us

After the excitement as the sun sets

The one scary moment (of which we were blissfully unaware until afterwards) was when the tender suddenly surged forward and smashed one of the three windows to our bedroom (below right, you can see a dark space to the left of the window where there should be another window). It was amazing how quickly and efficiently Wayne acquired the materials to patch together a surprisingly neat and tidy makeshift window cover. I'm sure as I write this that there's once again a proper window in place. 

Inside Zeppelin: a rare indoor meal, (left) and our guest room (right)

Zeppelin's flag at sunset

So how was living on a sailboat? I think I can speak for my whole family when I say we loved it. Honestly, the only time I felt at all claustrophobic was when we were packing to leave. It was a hot, humid hot day with no breeze, we were wearing travel clothes (ie. long pants -- what was I thinking? -- next time I'll stick the pants in my carry on and wear shorts until the last possible moment like every other even slightly experienced traveller does), and I kept bumping my head on the low ceilings because I was stressing out, because I hate packing, and because the spectre of the long trip back away from this magical place was looming in an alarming (to me) way. The rest of the time it was all good.

I'm going to wrap up on a technical note. In case you're wondering, usually (ie. professionally), I would be loathe to succumb to using the high-contrast-image-rescuing technique of HDR (high dynamic range) photography which can make photos look very unnatural. However, in the case of holiday images that I will never be submitting for publication, and because I did not, of course, bring lighting with me, I decided HDR was the way to go. What the heck. It's kind of fake (at least the way I did it), but fun. So that's what's going on with some of the more unusual looking photos (above) that were taken of impossibly contrasty scenes.  

If you'd like to experience Zeppelin Dive and Sail just click on the hyperlink in the first paragraph to go to their website. Tell Wayne, Elly and Cristina we say hi! And if you need corporate, industrial, portrait or commercial photography drop me a line (not  fishing line...ha-ha).


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Fun with Focus Stacking

Cover image for my 2017 mini-calendar
comprising 25 exposures combined

When I set out to create this year's mini-calendar I didn't know exactly what I wanted to shoot, but I knew whatever it was would be small, because I had been waiting for an excuse to experiment with focus stacking, and this was it. Here was my chance to make some whimsical macro and close-up art. All that was required was the acquisition of some software -- I chose Helicon Focus, which, as they explain on their website, "selects focused areas from multiple source images and combines them into one perfectly focused image," -- and a sliding rail on which to mount my camera to facilitate taking a perfectly aligned series of pictures focused at progressively closer points. 

The first image I envisioned, and the one that became the calendar cover shot, was of a marble which would act sort of as its own fisheye lens. The two biggest challenges with this shot were 1) finding a clear marble, harder than you'd think now that schools don't allow these formerly (way back in my day) ubiquitous toys, and 2) dealing with the fact that not only did the bouquet of flowers placed behind the marble show up, as planned, but so did everything else around the bouquet -- everything! I couldn't even use the lighting I'd wanted to because the light itself was clearly reflected in the marble. Problem 1 was solved by rifling through my son's toys -- I knew I'd seen a clear marble in there somewhere -- and Problem 2 was solved by using available light and basically moving pieces of fabric around until everything that appeared in the marble worked.

The next challenge was aligning the capabilities of the software with my creative vision. Without really understanding how the software worked, I thought I might create something even more visually interesting by not only adjusting the focus in each exposure but also repositioning the bouquet of flowers for each exposure, thereby creating a kind of collage of flowers inside the marble instead of a straight image of them. Upon running the software, however, I realized when to my great surprise I got this

Screwed up attempt at focus stacking

that the software clearly relies upon perfectly repeated and properly aligned copies of all the elements in the overall image. So, so much for the collage idea. And, although I hadn't wanted, or anticipated needing to do much in the way of Photoshop work, no matter how much I adjusted the camera angle, a large portion of the marble was taken up by a reflection the dark bowl of the spoon,

The marble sitting right down in the spoon didn't work.

so I had to raise the marble out of the bowl by inserting a piece of Fun Tak underneath it, and this required retouching to remove it. (Note the limited depth of field in the image above, pre-focus-stacked.)

Fun Tak holding up the marble had to be retouched out.

None of the other calendar shots required as much fussing around as the marble shot did. 

The inspiration for this shot of a fly fishing lure was my fishing crazed son's growing collection of flies. Some of them are absolutely tiny. Big shout out to Drift Outfitters and Fly Shop, the ultimate resource for anglers, surprisingly within walking distance of the studio.

I collected the grasses by the alley outside and set this up in studio.

My husband brought me a few of these miniature clothes pegs he collected on an Austrian Airlines flight. They came with the evening meal to facilitate attaching the dinner napkin to a person's shirt. I used one to hang a small cluster of berries (I found in another alley nearby) on a tiny clothesline I fashioned in studio.

The miniature clothes peg is only about an inch long.

My son's gem collection provide me with the subject matter for this shot, along with a tiny matt I wove out of flowers and grasses and pieces of ribbon and wool. The matt worked as a background for this shot, thankfully, because I just couldn't make it work on its own as I'd originally planned.

The label for this crystal was lost so I don't know what it is, but I knew it would make a good picture.
My tiny hand woven matt.

Final thought: although I have long leaned towards a more selective focus aesthetic, I found it fun and refreshing to create sharper than naturally possible images of small objects using this new (for me) technique.

To see all my 2017 calendar images (and to see them bigger) click here.

And if you'd like me to create some sharp, close-up work for you, drop me a line at