Thursday, 11 April 2013

Working with youth...

Had a great opportunity to assist a film-maker (James from Foto Plus) yesterday, on a mission to check-out and document some skate parks in Dorchester and Portland. The idea was set up by Plymouth City Council, local youth workers and youth to push for a skate park in Plymouth. The day's work was a mixture of video interviews, wide angle shots and documentary video work. I worked with a Canon DSLR with a manual lens to create the video interviews while James did the sound and the interviews.
This was my first attempt at this style of work, and I'm really looking forward to James' final edit.

Of course I took my camera to capture some stills...

The still images will be integrated into the video as a slide show at the end of the documentary with the end credits and presented to Southway Youth. I'll post a link to the work when it's completed.

©2013 Matt Elliott

Monday, 8 April 2013

New School.

I have been recently asked by the college to document the new Plymouth School of Creative Arts which is in the early stages of development. I jumped at the chance for several reasons, as it's rare to be able to document something which is so unique and close to my heart. While serving in the Marines I was based at Stonehouse Barracks for several years, and I think it's a fair to say the area was in need of a facelift back then. Millbay is known for it's red light district, ask any local and they'll tell you it's no secret.
After a meeting with the new head I had planned for several ways which I saw fit to document the new build from scratch.

  • Time lapse video. I aim to set a small camera in place and take images for 15 months (or however long it takes) This is no easy task as I will have to find a stable location for the camera and make sure it's working. 
  • 360 degree footage with hour long exposures.
  • Still images from several viewpoints.
  • Portraits of those involved at any level.
  • Pin hole long exposures. I haven't had much, if any, experience with this, but would like to experiment with some long exposure work.
The area is a blank canvas and they are due to start building in July. From the off I explained I wouldn't be doing this for free and would need equipment to work with. We have an extensive store at college, but I knew I wouldn't be able to book equipment out over such a long period of time. I also expect to visit the site at least once if not twice a week so I would need my transport costs covering. With regards to work hours I see this taking around 400 hours of my time. If I were working on minimum wage that would be around £2600. I am doing this for nothing, and although I'm more than happy to be involved; and was happy for my name to be put forward, my days of working for nothing are running very thin. Photography is being devalued enough as it it and credit/exposure doesn't pay the bills.

I am looking forward to being part of history in the making, the thought of my images being viewed in years to come is possibly the main reason why I got involved with image making in the first place.

All images ©Matt Elliott 2013  

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Shooting for fun?

It's seems like ages ago since I agreed to take on Plymouth Raiders and document their home games, alongside Foto+. Several people showed an interest in this and I'm going to be honest here, it doesn't matter how good or bad you think you are as a photographer; it doesn't matter what equipment you have or haven't got, it's all down to experience and shooting for the love of it. After evaluating what I've done (and the huge amount of hardware space I've used) I'm really happy with the results.
So far I've worked on 16 games and I would have to say before working with the Raiders I wasn't a massive basketball fan. I had to learn about the game and dynamics of the sport and understand the event as a whole.
Foxy ©Matt Elliott 2013

Anyone who goes to a game will tell you how fast paced it is. Crowd participation is key, the cheerleaders, the mascot (Foxy) and the whole community feel makes for a busy time for any documentary photographer. Alongside myself there are other photographers, the one for the local press, who is after a couple of shots for the paper generally shoots for half of a game but is only looking for a commercial piece to fit alongside the game report. If there is one thing I am lacking now is a long range lens of at least 70-200 ƒ2.8. I tend to favour my 85mm prime now as it eats the light but is unforgiving, you get the shot or you don't.

I also love to work in black and white but this isn't really possible unless the raiders are being filmed for the TV and they have the house lights on. This then enables me to capture more of a dynamic range. I also love the fact I can focus on the cheerleaders as normally it's near impossible to capture them during a game.

Although I don't supply the Raiders with my black and white photography if I see an image which is suitable to convert I'll always take advantage of it. Working commercially also takes a fair amount of discipline. It's no good leaving your files sat on your memory card, and having a well organised workflow is essential...

  • Capture in camera! There's no point shooting on rapid fire and having thousands of files to sort through.
  • Delete on the go. If you get the chance delete as you go.
  • Upload some, not all. Working with RAW and a full frame 24.4mp camera takes up a lot of space. I've just filled 1tb (again) and it's not cheap.
  • Flag the images you're going to edit and work with a pre-set if you can. I now have three pre-sets for the Raiders.
  • Save and send. If you have a client waiting...don't make them wait. You'll only get a bad name.
  • Back-up. Back-up your RAW and saved images. Things break.
I've had the opportunity to network while working for the club and now have a large portfolio. I have tried to create my own signature style and not to be overly commercial. The downside for me has only been the perspective and viewpoints. I have tried laying on the floor, going to the back, getting close and everything else you could possibly think of. There is a walkway which goes above the arena, but due to health and safety it was no go! Pity really as this would have given me a birds eye view.

Once I tried shooting with my camera on a monopod with a remote release cable. This wasn't easy as I was shooting blind and is a case of hit and miss...I didn't want to drop my camera too.

How much do I get paid for this...this is something I get asked a lot, well if I do a rough calculation about -£90. I've done this for nothing and paid my own transport costs. This doesn't include the use of all my equipment, batteries, electric and countless hours of time ( well about 98 hours). The fact is I've done it for the love of photography, the game (which I now love) and the experience. 

I now know my equipments capabilities, under these conditions, and what I would want on my wish list if I were to take this genre up professionally. There's not much of the season left but I'm sure I'll be back for 2013/14.....
Thanks to all at Plymouth Raiders, Foto+ and of course Foxy.

All images ©Matt Elliott 2013

Saturday, 6 April 2013


When I'm asked to work on event style photography I jump at the chance. I was contacted by the PR Officer of Plymouth University to cover their Freshers events held on Plymouth Hoe at the beginning of the academic year. As with all event photography it's worked on in a documentary style. The advent of digital has given the photographer a wider scope and is far more forgiving than film.

©Matt Elliott 2013

This isn't to say you should shoot wildly. Personally I like to compose and capture in camera. This only goes to help with the quality of the work and saves from viewing hundreds of files in post process. I believe quality control is something which takes a long time to learn, but once you've got it, it makes life a lot easier!

The location was a marque on Plymouth Hoe which had low sloping material, ideal to bounce flash from! I was asked in the brief to capture the event, people, entertainers and speeches without focusing too much on the drinking aspect. Not that easy as most of the guests had a drink in their hands.

©Matt Elliott 2013

The atmosphere was a happy one with the majority of people happy to have their picture taken, and of course I was asked ''will these be on Facebook?'' all the time. As I was working for a client these images were still under my © however during post-process I had to add the University logo which is easy to do in Lightroom.

©Matt Elliott 2013

After evaluating the evening I was happy with the work I produced and got great feedback from the client. I now have my business up and running and looking back at the opportunities I am going to research a new potential market regarding new students in Plymouth, one to keep quiet for the minute though.

©Matt Elliott 2013 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Event work...value you work.

I recently picked up work from the College job board requiring event photography for the Law and Criminal Justice Society. As I previously stated on my blog I don't work for free now and expect my expenses and transport to be covered. It's always best to be upfront with any potential client and explain your situation. If you're not an overly confident practitioner and are looking for experience and work to add to your portfolio it's better to explain this too.
The second event was held at the Duke of Cornwall Hotel in Plymouth, their annual ball. I was given the use of the writing room which I turned into a small studio with two lights both with soft boxes. Making sure I had plenty of time to set up and take a few test shots I was able to leave this in place for the entire evening, which made my job a lot easier.
©Matt Elliott 2013
As guest arrived I asked them if they would like group/individual images. I thought this would be the best time as not to disturb their meal, drinking and any other entertainment they had lined-up for the evening. Although a fair amount of people wanted their picture taken, a lot bluntly refused, not everyone is happy about having their picture polite. 
For the rest of the evening I took candid style work and was asked a lot to take pictures of various groups. For this I used a bounce flash and knew I would be able to adjust my white balance in post production. 
                                                            © Matt Elliott 2013
The evening went well with a raffle and speeches but I did not take any close-up shots while guests were eating. When covering this genre of work I find it best to cover in a documentary style to give a feel for the evening. It's always good to shoot with a range of lenses but I prefer to use a 24-70 to give some scope. I do use a 135mm prime, but having only one camera body if someone asks you to take their picture it's a bit awkward moving a big distance away from them or to keep changing your lens.

                                                                   © Matt Elliott 2013

In total I provided the client with over 150 high quality images on disc, in both high and low resolution. It had previously agreed they would be able to share the low res images on social network sites without any manipulation. Sadly I found someone had badly edited my images with added layers to give a shallow depth of field and added sepia tones. I politely asked that the images were removed and explained the situation. If there's one thing I have learnt with photography, recently, it's 'value your work'. Photographers really need to start taking a stand against their intellectual property being de-valued of taken for -granted. For me, personally, I have put a lot of time, effort and finance to get where I am; and I am nowhere near where I want to be yet. I do feel it's a case of people thinking you just turn up, take a few 'snaps' then stick them on a disc. How wrong can they be......another lesson learnt.

                                                                   ©Matt Elliott 2013

Monday, 1 April 2013

Three songs, no flash...

After contacting the Western Morning News I was lucky enough for them to do a spread on my work 'Puddle Paintings' (will post about that later). I contacted them via a phone call as one of the things I am learning, and learning fast, is how the use of e-mail seems to get no where these days. I can fully understand how busy people are these days, and I'm sure some receive a vast amount of messages but in my personal opinion if someone genuine takes the time to send you a message with a well thought out proposal, you should at least dignify them with a reply...rant over.
Phones calls and face to face conversations can't be surpassed in my opinion. With text you lose any real passion and no amount of punctuation will cover it!!!

After talking with the editor and forwarding her some links to my work she was keen to tell me about an opportunity to work covering local events, mainly at Plymouth Pavilions...I jumped at the chance. I have already worked with small local bands and as anyone will tell you if you want to get into this style of work you NEED to start small and local. Regarding my style I think one of the most valuable lessons I have learnt comes fro Robert Capa, one of my inspirations 'If your images aren't good enough, you're not close enough'. I look at this on two levels, the physical and the inside knowledge. When you have no real restrictions and don't require a photo pass, get to know the band you want to work with. It's a two way deal, you get work for your portfolio and they get promotional material. I've had people moan at me in the past about how close I get and then ask for the very same images captured to be used for whatever. It's a good idea to work with the photographer too, don't forget they have a job to do.

Stereophonics ©Matt Elliott 2013

With regards to working professionally this makes life much easier with regards to space to work in, even if you are under a certain amount of pressure. The norm is to shoot the first three songs without the use of flash. This fills some photographers with dread knowing the light will be low, however I can't see why you would want to use flash anyway as it does very little and only take away from the atmosphere.
                                                      Paloma Faith ©Matt Elliott 2013

The one downside I have found with only being allowed to work on the first three songs is the band will come on fresh-faced and start on a fairly low tempo. I always make sure I focus on the frontman/ woman first as that's what the paper will want. If you can capture some wide angle shots of the stage then all the better, but make sure you cover you back first.

                                                       Plan B ©Matt Elliott 2013

From what I have learnt in a small space of time....
  • Arrive early and shoot the support act(s) first. You'll get a feel for the venue and some images for your portfolio.
  • Talk to seasonal professionals, they'll be in the know. Some will look down their nose at you and only see you as competition, that's no bad thing. However they act remain friendly.
  • Be wary of your surroundings while shooting. You can easily get lost while looking through a viewfinder and miss things or knock into other photographers.
  • Shoot on manual or shutter priority. You'll probably need to push your ISO and clean that up later. It's better to have an image with grain rather than a blurry clean image. I tend to shoot using an 85mm prime at ƒ1.4. It's unforgiving but you'll know when you've nailed it.
  • Security can be a nuisance, but smile and let them know they aren't the only ones with a job to do.
  • Try different angles but don't waste time moving around too much. Three songs isn't a long time!
  • Don't forget the crowd, they love have their picture taken and they are part of the event. Don't stand in peoples way too, they've paid to be there.
  • Be nice and treat people how you would want to be treated.
  • Upload your images and back them up as soon as you can. If you are working for the paper they have tight deadlines.
  • Have fun! I love photography and am happy when I have a camera in my hands, if you're enjoying your work it will show.
                                                   Stereophonics ©Matt Elliott 2013

You can see more of my work here....

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Working at speed...

Ever since I was asked to document Plymouth Raiders basketball the first thing I knew I would have to do is work at speed. If you have never been to a professional basketball game the first thing you'll probably notice is it's pretty much non-stop action. Apart from when the games are being televised the light conditions are tough, and with no flash being allowed you have to push your camera to the limits to achieve the best results.
I'm not a big fan of high ISO, although software has improved and Lightroom 4 has a decent amount of noise removal I like to keep as much detail in my images as possible. During the game I have found the best option, for me, is to shoot with an 85mm prime lens at ƒ1.4 S/S 1/320 to 1/400 at ISO 800. As this is fixed focus I have to move around a lot and try to concentrate on one player at a time. Most sports photographers seem to like 70-200 ƒ2.8 lenses which allows them more freedom, however I don't like to be fixed to one spot.

Mike Ojo Plymouth Raiders ©Matt Elliott 2013

One of my favourite players to focus on is Mike Ojo, he's quick, dynamic and has an aggressive style of play which shows with his competitive edge. He's not the easiest player to capture in camera due to his speed but when you get it right the results can speak volumes about the man. Raiders fans have asked asked for help to achieve better results with their pictures as they seem to get a lot of 'blur'. The fact is if you're shooting on your camera phone or pocket camera that's what's going to happen. I guess that throws the 'it's not the camera, it's the person behind it' quote out of the window. Yes, you have to know what you're doing; you do need to have the 'eye', but in certain situations you have to have the right tool for the right job.

Mike Ojo Plymouth Raiders ©Matt Elliott 2013

When game are televised the house lights are left on. Although this makes my job easier it does take away a lot of the atmosphere (ask the cheerleaders, they hate it). For me I like to covert to black and white with the added detail. Although the images I provide for the club are colour my preference is, and probably always will be, black and white. I also mange to capture the cheerleaders which isn't always possible as they, apart from a few strobes, are pretty much in darkness.

Raiders Cheerleaders (lights on) ©Matt Elliott ©2013

I would say to anyone wanting to improve their camera skills shooting something like the Raiders in low light conditions is the ideal opportunity...and a Hell of a lot of fun. I look forward to the next game and looking for new angles.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Low light challenge....

I recently agreed to cover to jobs for the Plymouth Criminal and Law Society which was advertised on the college Facebook page. It was apparent they wanted a student to do this job for their own portfolio and to gain experience at no cost to the Law Society.
After contacting the Law Society I agreed to cover the events, but at a minimal cost. I fully understand the process a student photographer has to go through to 'get their work out there' however I would say I have already gone through this and am a working photographer, I also believe in these situations travel and equipment costs should be covered.

The actual event, a cheese and wine evening, was held at Plymouth's aquarium. It was previously stated there would be no flash allowed at this event as to not disturb the fish. I always feel it best to be up-front with your client from the start, as not everything is possible. They wanted both candid and staged images using the large fish tank as a backdrop, but without the use of fill-flash I knew this would be a near impossible task.
©2012 Matt Elliott (no fill-flash)

As soon as I arrived, making sure I was early, I took some test shots for exposure readings and knew it was going to be a 'trying' event. I bought with me some continuous lighting (LED) which I thought would be useful for the staged images (speeches) and to be honest would have struggled without them.
My camera bag always contains several different lenses
  • Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70 2.8 
  • Sony 1.4 50mm
  • Sony Carl Zeiss 135mm 1.8
  • Sigma 12-24 wide angle.
My preference when working on events is my 24-70 2.8. it works well in low light, however at 6400 ISO (very noisy) ƒ2.8 I was still only getting 1/15- 1/20 th which is no good for motion. I showed this to the organiser and was allowed to use flash for a few images with my back to the fish tank.

©2012 Matt Elliott (with flash)

This was short lived as one of the staff then said one of the fish was becoming agitated and asked me not to use any more flash. As the organiser wanted some group/portrait shots I said it would be best if we found a useable area with some flash. I didn't want to disrupt the guests evening and asked for several people to come and have their picture taken.

For the remainder of the evening I shot at a distance using my 135mm prime at ƒ1.8. I took a high viewpoint to take advantage of available light and knew I would be removing noise in Lightroom 4 when post-proccessing my work. 

Overall, under the circumstances, I was more than happy with what I achieved. The client received 250 fully edited images and I was able to push the boundaries of low light photography to an acceptable standard. For future work I have been asked to cover their Ball at the Cornwall Hotel in March and to my relief I can use flash as much as I want, I will also ask for an assistant to help for their own experience.

If you are ever asked to do a job like this my advice would be don't do it unless you have the right equipment and are confident in these conditions. There's no point in over-streching yourself and getting a bad name in the long-term. However there are plenty of opportunities to practice.

All images ©Matt Elliott 2013