Last week I got an assignment for the PXL University College. Having worked with them many times before I was really curious on what new challenge they had for me, and it was a fun, yet complicated one!
Their iSpace project needed some campaign images. Part of their IT department, it takes cutting edge technology, and finds new implementations. But the problem with IT is that you are almost always dependent on screens.
The ‘easiest’ photo was the Karting. Through a Microsoft HoloLens you can upgrade your karting experience with augmented reality by completing additional checkpoints.
While I could have make things easy for me and use a long lens to shoot the driver on a field and pan along, I really wanted to have the in-your-face feeling of a wide-angle lens, and the thrill of the game.
So I mounted a Nikon D5 with a 24 mm f/1.4 and a 1/2CTO Gelled Profoto B2 to the kart with some clamps and Manfrotto Magic Arms. Obviously I had to test my contraption myself first, to make sure that everything was secure. I mean, just a few laps, you know. For science!
Since we are in Belgium I was counting on overcast weather, meaning we could have a slow shutter speed of several second and be able to just drive slowly and stable for the best picture. But for once we were blessed with a full blown morning sun, and the best we could get was a 60th of a second. So going full speed in the corner with the trees as background made for the best shot with the most motion blur.
With the sun backlighting him, the strobe illuminates his face and makes it as sharp as possible (we can even see the individual strands of fabric of his hood), while the overal is more blurred because of the sun. It only adds to the speed feeling of the picture, and we nailed it on the fourth run.
The other images had their own challenges. While I didn’t want to go too dramatic, additional splashes of color were made to add some life to the older buildings their IT department is currently residing in. In the Vive image on top I enhanced the splash of red that their ASUS computer was casting, and I used a 1/2 CTO for the key light in a huge umbrella, and a 1/2 CTB in a gridded strip-light for the fill light. This creates a very natural feeling image, but still 100% lit.
The above image shows off a team building code for some robots. The first idea of hands-on work on the robot was kindly declined, since they really wanted to show what they were really working on. Roll in the TV!
Same for this image. Since I wanted the contributing factor of their project front and center, I figured some whiteboards would be nice. Add that with a projector, some cool blue light and a robot for a prop, and you get this image.
It’s Christmas time, and it’s my favourite time of year. Since I work for theme parks and media, it all starts just in the end of October with the carols and lights, but there is a whole lot more to it than that.
First of all, lets look at the most practical thing: timing. What many people don’t realise, is that for Christmas photos its best to plan a year ahead and shoot image during the actual Christmas period. It’s a lot simpler to have people in warm coats looking at nice lights and decked out windows when they are actually there, instead of having to fake everything.
So, what is Christmas? It’s a time of love, peace, people getting together and exchanging gifts. The Christmas holidays even transcend religions and believes. It is so big, that it will enhance feelings people have of it. Happy people will be happier around the holidays, people feeling lonely will become even more lonely. It’s that effective.
It might even be the one holiday that commerce still mostly experiences as ‘real’. Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is big business, and cynical people having seen Mad Men will know the feeling of happiness comes from advertisement agencies, but those same agencies have Christmas decorations in the office and Christmas parties. In fact, I know that people who have to create Christmas experiences for a living will still put on the carols, and hang up the tinsels.
“But Kris”, you say, “we’re here because you make pretty pictures, why all this deep thought on a holiday?”. I know, bear with me.
But, what do we experience as quintessential Christmas? A white blanket of snow and Christmas carols sounding on the streets. We can trace a whole lot of traditions back to Dickens, including the idea of a white Christmas, despite it being as rare then as it is now. And just as XKCD explains here, we keep going back to the youth of the baby boomers.
It’s easy to be disappointed by Christmas these days, since we are nostalgic for a time we never experienced ourselves. Quintessential Christmas Movies like Home Alone and Muppets Christmas Carol only deepen that feeling, but, there is a spark to capture there.
And that spark is what is needed to create something that feels warm, believable and most of all, Christmas. It’s easy to put some models on a street, photoshop some snow, but that doesn’t mean it feels right. It needs wonder. So, each Christmas for the past years I’ve been on the street, creating and photographing those moments. I’m not creating these images with the idea of selling something in the back of my mind, but on how to bring out that feeling that resides inside of us. It should feel like there’s a snowstorm raging outside, but it’s cosy with the fire. Every one of these images contain small details that can be traced back to those feelings of yore.
But, danger lurks everywhere. It’s a very delicate balance between a soulless commercial image and something extremely camp and corny. A dark blue sky feels cozy, while a purely black sky can feel just wintery and cold. You don’t want a snowstorm in every image, but a small dusting can make a difference.
If you’re going to add snow in post, your lighting should match the lighting of the snow plates. Not just that, it’s not about perfectly lighting a photo, it’s knowing when to imperfectly light your models, and make sure your light has a reason to exist. And most importantly, to keep it going from where it shouldn’t go.
Don’t forget colours. Everyone thinks green and reds are the Christmas colours, but those colours in light look very threatening and hostile. Warm oranges and cold blues, with a hint of those others work best.
A few weeks ago I was in Brussels for a shoot with one of my clients, Agentschap Wegen & Verkeer; the regulatory agency for roads in Flanders. There they showed me the plans for an exhibition booth replicating a road, including grass and a traffic sign. The background however was to be a picture of a road, and I was the one to create that photo. Alright!
With the short briefing and a few stipulations, I started to plan and do research. Find a nice road, the right time, and most importantly, have it be of a good enough quality to print.
My idea came not only to show off a road that popped with beautiful weather, but also show the people doing their job. The agency is so diverse in what they do, that I wanted to show people doing their jobs in a cinematic way. More a cover for Vogue than your typical road works picture. So, I created a sketch. Or as one of my clients so nicely put it, a nice children’s drawing. 😂
A few practical things immediately popped into my head. The print size would be 6 meters wide and 2.5 meters high. The print density would be 125 DPI, which meant I had to create a picture capable of filling 29528 x 12303 pixels, or a 363 megapixel image. A very far cry from the 20.8 megapixel my Nikon D5 holds. Even the brand new D850 (which wasn’t available yet at the time of the shoot) wouldn’t be nearly enough with its 45.7 megapixel, so the choice quickly went to the Hasselblad H6D-100C.
With the highest medium format megapixel sensor on the market at our disposal, we still hadn’t enough resolution to deliver the quality that I wanted it to. Though the Hasselblad files have enough quality to be nearly doubled in size, I knew that I wanted to do this correct, and create something special. Meaning, we were going to do a panorama, giving us enough flexibility in post to create a commercial grade image that can be used for years to come. This would be the best way for the picture to get the native resolution required. I’m a man who likes to do things as practical as possible, so the idea of having to composite every single thing required a lot of extra planning to get all the elements we needed for a final. Since most of my photos never leave Lightroom, I’ve chosen to share my entire process, including the retouching in Photoshop.
A few other factors we had to consider are the complicated Belgian weather, and the fact that we did not hire professional models, but real life agency employees, doing what they do best, which isn’t posing for pictures. So, timing had to be somewhere near the daily operating hours. So a sunset shoot was out of the question.
With most of the week before the deadline of Monday being predicted with nothing but rainstorms, a byproduct of the hurricanes on the other side of the globe, we settled on Friday to create the image. The location was also settled: the E313, one of Belgium’s most important highways, which was partly closed down near Hasselt for extensive refurbishing. An ideal location, especially if you try to imagine the shitstorm we would create if we were to close down an actual highway for a photoshoot.
So, we had our location, people, and after scouring the depot, we whole lot of props, ranging from traffic cones to a full blown signalisation truck. You can be professional all you want, but these kind of assignments take you back to when you were a kid playing with toy trucks of LEGO and Playmobil. These toys are just a bit bigger and more expensive.
After setting up the basecamp, trucks and props, it was time to pose the models to coincide with the sketch. After everything was as we wanted, I created a base panorama. Shooting a series of images with the trucks and props in the exact postion, it would become our base layer of the photo. Everything else became an element that had to be cut out and positioned on the layer, interacting with the props. A positive thing of shooting everyone separately, is that we had a lot more control of the lights, bringing them in closer and getting a better and more consistent quality of light. The main light on each subject was a Profoto B2 in a huge umbrella with diffusion panel, with a CTO gelled B2 shooting through the new Magnum Reflector from the back, giving them a warm edge, to coincide with the sunset feeling I was creating later on.
Another reason we had to completely cut them out was the fact that the clouds were starting to get really dramatic. So dramatic we had to halt shooting for fifteen minutes because of falling rain. Those moments you wish you were shooting on a beach in Ibiza or something. Ah well.
After an hour of shooting individual shots and elements, we wrapped, and it was time to pack up and return the Hasselblad. But not before I took several panoramas of a gorgeous cloudy sunset for later compositing.
First up was merging the base layer of the panorama, so we could have a single layer to work on. Next up was placing all of the individual shot portraits on the base layers and masking out the backgrounds. Normally, it would be quite easy to just feather the backgrounds, since everything was locked off, but since the weather changed dramatically during shots from dramatic clouds, to apocalyptic clouds to slightly blueish sky, not to mention the dry and wet pavement, it was easier to just cut them out, keeping the parts where they interact in the mask.
Because of how we lit the scene and elements, all that was left to do was some slight color correction, sky replacement and some detail clean-up. That’s it.
The final file came out at 28836×15072 pixels, which has a roomy 434 megapixel, which is perfectly sized for printing with the additional artwork. So with the right preparation, work we managed to create an image that we can reproduce 1:1, which meant a happy client and a proud photographer.
These are the assignments that I love to sink my teeth in. Multi-day shooting a campaign at a high pace. When I got the call from Kenneth, of former Modemuseum fame, to come in for a meeting at the PXL university college in Hasselt, I was intrigued.
Giving me a huge folder of magazines, the briefing was clear:
“We want you to re-shoot these, but with your style, and showing the craziness that is this massive school. You can show that people have fun here, it can be edgy, a tad silly, as long as the feeling is there.
Say no more! In total we shot 28 different study courses, spread over eight departments, in four days. For each course, we shot three campaign images, always using real students, in a school setting.
Before we started shooting, I made some rules to create and maintain a certain style. First of all, no smart- or whiteboards and use as little laptops as possible. Since every course all get lessons on a laptop and use smart boards, there would be nothing that separates a music student from a business student, apart from the style of their clothes perhaps.
I insisted on using as many props as possible in a setting that would look natural. This again wasn’t the easiest of choices, because it’s easy to give a music student a guitar or keyboard, but where is the difference between someone studying fiscal management and someone studying to be a translator?
Another rule was that we would have a consistent feeling of light as well, meaning we would light everything with strobes. In total I used six Nikon SB-700 speed lights. I used a mix of a Walimex 180cm umbrella, two Lastilite 24″ Ezyboxes and small shoot through umbrellas, depending on the shot.
Camera wise, I used my trusted Nikon D5 and a Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4 and the Sigma Art 85mm f/1.4. A few shots were made with the Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 G
There are ‘some’ images that I want to talk to about specifically here, so, let’s go!
In the fall of 2015 I shot the entire campaign for Visit Hasselt in less than a month in the most horrible of weather conditions. Not just that, it was a breakneck paced shoot, visiting over fifty locations in just under three weeks.
Of course, as those things do, I was enjoying a rare moment of free time in the city. I didn’t carry my camera with me, I mean, why would I? I wouldn’t be shooting for another few hours. But just on that exact moment, the sun broke through, bathing the main shopping street with nice afternoon sunlight. It had people shopping, still some green on the trees. Precisely the kind of images the client needed.
So I followed Chase Jarvis‘ advice: “the best camera is the one that’s with you”. I didn’t hesitate, and shot the scene that was unfolding in front of my eyes with my iPhone 6 S. Just a few snaps. I hesitated for a second if I could run home and get my camera, but before I would even reach the end of the street, the clouds took over again, and wouldn’t show itself until the deadline of the assignment had passed.
But, I’ve had my shot.
The great thing is, they didn’t only run the image: today I found out they re-used it, and made it a full page picture. And it looks pretty damn great! No-one would ever guess this was a lucky moment, shot on a phone. Damn.
With RAW capabilities coming to iOS 10, I tested this out with my iPhone 6 S during a South African sunset, in the town of Graskop.
This is the RAW file, straight out of camera DNG. And remember, this isn’t cheating: RAW images are by nature flat and without details. It’s so they capture many more details than a regular JPG file. Just like a film negative has to be developed, burned and dodged until the artist is satisfied with the result.
Beginning this year I was photographing a student-party in Diepenbeek. Having spent a few years participating in a student organisation I made a lot of friends and gained a lot of contacts that proved to be important as a photographer. However, these days it’s a rarity to meet friends from back then in the active student-life, so it was a pleasant surprise to see Wim guiding the younger generation of his organisation. These days Wim works at Renotec, one of the countries’ biggest contractors specialising in renovating big and important projects.
One of those projects is Brussels biggest UNESCO world heritage site, the Grand Place. With buildings dating back to the 15th century it is one of the most visited places in Brussels, and perhaps even Belgium.
If you are going to cover up an entire side of the famous square for 190 construction days, you might as well do it in style, so that’s where I came into the picture. The question was simple: did I have the knowhow and gear to accurately reproduce the Grand Place in a way that it could be printed life-size? The answer: Yep.
Since Nikon’s D800 has the amazing 36 megapixel sensor, and I am always up for a challenge, I quickly accepted my mission, and headed down to Brussels. Taking 5 to 15 pictures of each building I made sure I had enough overlap to correctly create a large panorama.
Position wise I chose to stand in front of each building separately. This would give me more distortion on each sides, but would make everything look better once reproduced in print.
After taking a few hundred pictures of all buildings, it was time to enter a gruelling Photoshop batch, only to see it fail horrible. The merging gave really odd results, which gave me an extra challenge to overcome to correctly produce each building in a extremely high resolution picture. After merging each building individually, combined with the technical blueprints of the restoration it was time to create InDesign files with everything in the correct sizes. A week later, all printing was done by Blow-up Media, and the week-long process of putting up the pictures was done by the professional team at Renotec.
In the end, the complete picture was printed at 1050 square meters, and was a 2GB Photoshop file. The final megapixel count was 1200, making it a 1.2 Gigapixel image.
The past few weeks have been crazy, visiting many places and people to photograph for various occasions and clients. On thursday I crossed the city on a 25 meter high Manitou Telescopic Loader. Twelve hours later my feet where firmly rooted in the ground. That’s where this story happens. There are those moments where you have a only a small briefing for a few pictures, but the assignment leads itself to a lot more.
So, friday morning. In assignment for De Nette Krant / Limburg.net by communication firm RCA I was to photograph CSA Hoeve Het Blokhuis. For the city-folks among you, that’s Community-supported agriculture. The first real spring day of the year, surrounded by nature and fields, I really was glad to be a photographer and be out there when I could. The location and the people really gave meaning to the word ‘hospitality’, as they gladly helped, posed and told about their passion.
The quote of the day: “Farming really is Rock and Roll”.
Here are some of my favourites of the day. All of these are shot on a D800 with 70-200.
(7 Shot vertical Brenizer, Softboxed flash on left).
By the time I’m writing this, it’s already past midnight. So technically yesterday, I celebrated my tenth anniversary of photography. It was that day when I first deliberately took a camera somewhere and photograph something.
The day was a sunny school day in Februari 2004. It was exactly one day and two months since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was released in theatres. Just like any self-respected geek I was looking to do a creative project inspired by Tolkien’s masterpiece. The tiny town my school was located, Herk-de-Stad, had great potential. We had a park that could double as Hobbiton, the paths around it looked like Bree. The forest next to the park could double as a freaky Fangorn Forest. The grassy field next my school had potential for The Dead Marshes. I could go on and on, but it looked great. It went so far that my buddy from school ordered a working hobbit pipe to smoke in the breaks. In the end, the project was canned after a crazy idea to shoot fireworks in the park at night to see if Gandalf’s party in Herk-de-Stad would look as cool as it was shot by Peter Jackson. It didn’t.
The only thing remaining from that period are a lot of pictures from school and the surrounding nature.
They are my oldest pictures in my archive of over 120.000 images and I thought it would be fun to head back to the place I first took those snapshots with my dad’s Minolta DiMAGE S414 and capture what I wanted to shoot then now. So today I grabbed my bag with a D800, 14-24 and 85 1.8. Also, an iPad with the pictures of Day One. Some are exact revisions, some are things I encountered. Enjoy this rare bit of nostalgia!
PS: I’m sure you can see which pictures are the old ones and new ones. ;)