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

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ill-Fated Attempt at Aerial Photo of Downtown Toronto

Toronto at dusk October 2014

Thanks to one client in particular I have been challenged a number of years in a row with coming up with a new view of Toronto that includes the CN Tower. Two years ago I had the brilliant idea of taking a helicopter tour during the fall season to try and get a lovely view of the city from above, enhanced by the beauty of the fall foliage. Because I was doing this on spec I had no budget and no official mandate with which to impress the tour operators, so I quickly realized I wasn't going to get any special treatment.

The weather in Ontario being what it is in the fall, that is, fairly unstable and unpredictable from day to day let alone long term (we just endured this irritating reality on a job that had us getting up at 5:00 a.m. multiple days in a row to be faced with forecasts that had changed overnight, and skies that changed even as we drove to the locations), I had a difficult choice to make: either book a flight well in advance at the risk of unphotogenic weather, but at a somewhat guaranteed time, or wait until a good looking day and hope for an available last minute spot at a decent time. I decided on the latter. (Again, on the actual job we just did, we knew from location scouting exactly what times would be best and we committed to them. I have to admit I was a little/way off when I booked the helicopter tour.)

As it turned out, after cancelling one 2:00 p.m. flight, the earliest afternoon flight I could get on the next decent looking day was at 5:30. Way too late if I'd been paying attention. However, as per my usual MO, I arrived super early for my flight in case there was any way I could get on an earlier one. As I waited, I watched anxiously as the sky got cloudier and cloudier and darker and darker until there was almost nobody left in the waiting room except me. Every flight had to have three passengers, and apparently the couple that was booked to fly with me had got lost, or something. I don't know. Regardless of the reason, they showed up at about 6:15 just as the sun was setting. I was beside myself. 

The light was actually incredibly dramatic, and I was not unaware of the irony that a lot of people would have been thrilled at the vivid orange sunset and stormy sky. I hated it. And I was so disappointed I never even showed the photos to the client. And after leaving the raw files untouched on my working hard drive for two years (!) I was finally archiving them, possibly never to be seen again, when I thought I'd just have one last look. Stepping away had maybe given me a chance to return with a fresh perspective, but even after more than 700 days, they still looked grainy, dark and way too sunsetty. However this time I decided to give one of the least awful frames one last try, so I blasted it with some extreme processing, and lo and behold, got a result that actually doesn't look that bad, at this size on a computer monitor (no way would I print it). I'm still not going to show the client. It's not the right picture at all, and it's just not good enough. But before I put the files away forever, I thought I'd share this one picture, now that I've had almost enough time to get over it. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Underwater Photo Fun in Turks and Caicos

Hi there,

It's been a while since I posted here as I got totally derailed this summer by a combination of lots of work (thank-you!), followed by a pressing family situation back in Vancouver (my hometown). All this time I struggled with whether it would be better to delay posting entirely, or share something current, interesting and available but "off brand."

At this point, I've come down on the side of abandoning strategy, and throwing consistency to the wind, so I'm going to write about a holiday, with, of course, a slight emphasis on the photo part of it. Two summers ago our son joined his already certified parents in becoming a PADI certified scuba diver, so this July we booked a one week trip to a dive resort called Bohio, on the island of Grand Turk. Bohio is run by Tom and Ginny Allan, a lovely, friendly Canadian couple, along with their son Scott and daughter Emily. We loved it there so much we are already booked to go back next year. 

The beach at Bohio, Grand Turk, TCI

With the package we booked, you (can if you want) get up every day for breakfast, do two dives before lunch and then spend the afternoons doing whatever you want, or working (if you are far too important to go offline for a whole week at a time ;)...

My ulterior interest with the diving part is always, of course, getting the opportunity to do some photography. Unfortunately, although I own a full sized DSLR underwater camera housing system, we haven't dived much since our son was born (that's changing now!) so my set-up is no longer anywhere near state of the art, not to mention huge and cumbersome (requiring its own large, rigid case). As a result, for this trip I borrowed a much smaller four thirds format camera with a much smaller underwater housing. And I hoped I wouldn't be too disappointed with the image quality from the smaller sensor.

As it turned out, I was kind of disappointed. But I kind of liken the experience and the results to using my old smart phone camera with a funky software filter to take fairly low res but fun pictures (which I sometimes do). And now I know that next time I want to take serious underwater pictures I will need to buy a new Aquatica housing for my full frame Nikon and suck it up and lug the big case.

In any case, one of the trickiest things I recall about underwater photography (and I did not miraculously get better at this after not practicing for an extended period) is balancing the output of the flash with the ambient light, something I do (very well) literally all the time on land. I think part of the problem is that I can't seem to judge distance underwater to save my life (I'm not the only one...the visual distortion caused by the water makes judging size and distance underwater challenging), and unlike shooting a job (I've shot the odd underwater job in the past), when on holiday in the underwater wild, one does not have the opportunity to make the subject "do it again!"

Anyway, partly thanks to the miracle of processing software, I was able to capture/create a few fun images, and some of them I wouldn't have been able to light anyway, so here goes:

Our son rides side saddle on his father

Here's a (not) fun fact we learned the day we watched our divemaster spear a lionfish and feed it to Jorge the mutton snapper, a friendly fish who turned up on 80% of the dives we did. As explained in an article in Scientific American magazine: " Lionfish arrived in the South Atlantic in 1985, most likely released by private aquarium owners,  and have caused native fish populations there to decline by up to 80 percent. In the Bahamas between 2008 and 2010 they reduced biomass of 42 other fishes by an average of 65 percent." And further "The invasion may be “one of the greatest threats of this century to warm temperate and tropical Atlantic reefs and associated habitats,” wrote National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist James A. Morris, Jr., in Invasive Lionfish: A Guide to Control and Management (pdf)." Apparently another successful predator of lionfish is the grouper. So if  resorts, cruise boats, hotels and restaurants stop overfishing grouper and serve lionfish instead there may be hope.

L - Jorge the friendly mutton snapper, R - Divemaster spearing lionfish for Jorge (yes, I know you can't really see what's happening in this little picture, but an overview is what I was able to shoot. No do-overs, remember?)

On a happier note, I got to see and photograph several of my favourite underwater creatures, as well as some pretty scenes

Southern stingray
Stingrays at Gibb's Cay
Ray with fish companions
An elusive spotted eagle ray
Hawksbill turtle

Although being and breathing underwater is rewarding in itself, and visually it's always interesting inasmuch as it differs so much from our terrestrial experience, it thrills my heart to be in the presence of turtles, rays and sharks. (Not a lot of sharks around on this trip.) Still, even a mutton snapper can make pretty art:

At the end of every day, we had the great pleasure of sitting down to dine at Bohio's lovely Guanahani Restaurant. Executive chef Jorika Mhende's reputation is richly deserved: it's not surprising that visitors come from other dive resorts to enjoy her culinary creations. Bohio's website even publishes their wine list which is not that usual for a dive resort, and was a huge selling point for someone in my family. 

Guanahani Restaurant and the view at dinner

As always, thanks for reading and if you need photography of anything in southern Ontario, please contact me at

Saturday, March 5, 2016

An African Pygmy Hedgehog in the Garden

Khaleesi in the "garden"
Click here to see this image bigger.

In April of 2015 we adopted my son's class hedgehog as he had pretty much been elected her primary caretaker, being the only kid who could confidently handle this grumpy little ball of spikes. Since then I have often wondered what her life would have been like out in the wild, and I like to imagine her scuttling about in an English garden at dusk, even though, it turns out, she is actually an African Pygmy hedgehog, not a European. Regardless, I envisioned a beautiful hedgehog portrait/still life: somewhat along the lines of an Old Master painting (a common theme in my personal work).

I thought we should give her lots of time to get used to her new home before we subjected her to modelling in a photo shoot. I also worried about the flash possibly stressing her out and/or bothering her small nocturnally optimized eyes. But after a significant period of observation and familiarization, I decided to give it a go, with my son's blessing and commitment to wrangle.

I constructed the basic set a week ahead of time to give myself the chance to be with the foundation of the image. And I made sure our schedule could accommodate a flower sourcing expedition the day before a few hour long period the following day during which we would shoot. So the day before the shoot I headed over to flower shop central: Toronto's "Ave. and Dav." and bought a pile of flowers, not, unfortunately, including peonies which I really wanted, because I gather they are not in season.

Once I got back to the studio I did an initial stem trim and staged all the flowers in vases so they could breathe and hopefully bloom a bit more overnight. Weirdly and disappointingly two hydrangeas I had chosen specifically for their unusual colour died shortly after I got them to the studio even though I trimmed and "smashed" the bottoms of the stems as instructed. So I had to go out again, and quickly hunt down new hydrangeas. I wasn't about to to drive all the way across town again, either to complain about the dying flowers I'd bought or buy replacement potentially also doomed ones, so I settled for more standard coloured blooms from a local shop. Ironically these lasted for days. Kind of disappointing...I wish I could remember which shop I got the dead ones from so I could be sure never to go back there!

Anyway, shoot day dawned and after collecting together a large set of much smaller glass vases and vessels to use in the arrangement, with some trepidation I set about the somewhat stressful business of building the "garden", stressful because trying to make flowers do what you want them to do is not easy...they are fragile and often uncooperative, as much as an inanimate object can be thought to cooperate or not, and you can break and kill them if you're not careful. When I do an arrangement like this I'm never totally sure I will "find the magic" I'm looking for, and on top of that we couldn't know if after all this flower arranging the hedgehog would even cooperate, as sometimes when she comes out of her cage she just curls up in a ball, puffs up her spikes and refuses to move.

We had actually sat her on the little pedestal bowl earlier in the week as a test and she seemed O.K. with being on it. I would love to have had her meandering though a more loosely arranged "garden" but because of her low profile and down-turned face I realized we wouldn't be able to see her properly if she was standing on the "ground". Furthermore, sometimes it actually helps to put animals on some kind of platform as it creates a bit of a psychological barrier to their just walking away. (I've used this technique with cats.)

Thankfully, she was in a  good mood, so after letting her run around, and pee and poo (which she does quite frequently and randomly when not in her cage) I got behind the camera, and my son gently placed her in the set, with the instructions not to let her crawl off the bowl, or to back-up (off the bowl), which she often does when she doesn't want to be picked up, because the set would not be able to withstand a rampaging hedgehog, or even a stiff breeze, really.

Khaleesi looking around

She sort of cooperated for a few frames, so we sort of had a shot, and my son figured we were done. We were not. While he's right that you don't ever want to cause an animal stress, and you can't make an untrained animal do anything she doesn't want to, it seemed to me, to my great relief, that she wasn't really bothered by the flash; she just wanted to explore. We think she liked the flowers. We just didn't want her to eat them for two reasons beyond the most obvious: 1) they might be poisonous to her, and 2) hedgehogs do this funny thing people refer to as self-anointing whereby they nibble on something and deposit a foamy substance onto their backs, presumably, some think, to blend in with their surroundings. It does not look good.

Once we had her back on set, after a few back-ups and attempted crawl-offs which E thwarted successfully, she finally stopped trying to leave and stood reasonably still for a bunch of frames. A great lesson for E regarding the value of patience and perseverance.

Because the flowers moved a bit whenever Khaleesi bumped them, I realized early on in the shoot that I was going to have to accept a little variation from frame to frame in terms of flower position. I could have shot a "plate" (the scene minus the subject) to facilitate later close-cutting (which would have involved painstakingly cutting around every single quill) and compositing the hedgehog into a perfectly arranged background frame, but I decided that as long as the set still looked good I'd let the slight variations happen, adjusting anything that moved too far as we shot. This project was supposed to be fun, not painful.

Ultimately I did do a few extra shots to capture elements for possible compositing, the main one featuring a rose in the left side of the bowl where I knew there would be empty space if we chose a shot in which she was off to one side, which she frequently was. It was impossible to shoot the rose in position while the hedgehog was in the bowl.

The whole time I was setting up and shooting I was conscious of the highly arranged look of the image I was creating. I have always, as a person and an artist, tended towards neatness and order, but the art that turns me on is often the antithesis of that...much more organic. So I have to fight against my nature to create work that surprises and delights me. Once we had the hedgehog shot "in the can", I gave myself permission to mess up the flowers, and paint with light (which doesn't work with moving subjects). Very quickly an image appeared that I really liked, looking much more like a moonlight dappled, more random and loosely composed "garden". 

As always, staring at the image later I started to notice things that bugged me, but I liken styling sets to styling hair, or baking, or some point when it feels pretty right you have to stop and walk away before you pass the point of no return and wreck it. As on-set prop stylists know, it really is an art to style a set to look random and accidental without creating a distractingly unbalanced mess or overcorrecting back towards too tidy.

Messed up set - I like it (click here to see it larger)

In the end, I have two different, stand-alone shots that I like, but that you can't view together because they look just different enough they actually clash. Interesting exercise. Bottom line, I pretty much always question the choices I've made in an image, and wonder what I might have done differently to make it better, but I am reasonably happy with these ones. And now I've added few more hours of practice to the 10,000+.