March 2012

Daniel Novela – Photographing Oil Paintings

<a href=””><img class=”size-medium wp-image-207″ title=”Daniel Novela” src=”×300.jpg” alt=”Daniel Novela” width=”199″ height=”300″ /></a> Daniel Novela

Today I was asked by <a title=”Daniel Novela” href=”http://” target=”_blank”>Daniel Novela</a> to photograph 5 of his newest oil paintings for his online gallery at his website.  He was referred to me by a previous artist customer.

Daniel Novela is a well known artist not only in the community of Stilfontein but all over South Africa.  He has also sold artworks in New York and Belgium.  Daniel recently featured in an article in the popular SABC Entertainment Program, <a title=”Pasella” href=”″ target=”_blank”>Pasella</a>.

The artworks I was given to photograph ranged from fairly small artworks of about 20cm x 15cm to two larger items of about 60cm x 45cm.  He needed photos that also captured the textures in the oil paintings.  He said that a number of photographers had tried to photograph his work but that he was not satisfied as the texture of the brush strokes was lost in many of the photos.  Losing the texture in an oil painting loses the dimension and identity of the artist.

Since I have done photography of oil paintings before and know how important the texture is to the artist.  I was able to provide him with photographic images that showed the texture and gave a feeling of depth to the images.  The technique is simple once you study light and how shadows form on textured surfaces.  The trick is to balance light and shadow so that shadow is not dominant.

<img class=”size-medium wp-image-208 ” title=”Daniel Novela Art” src=”×300.jpg” alt=”Daniel Novela Art” width=”227″ height=”300″ /> Daniel Novela Art

In many oil paintings the artists’ technique and identity is captured in the way they apply the paint to the canvas.  The type, angle and feel of every brush stroke is unique to every artist.  This is also why an artists painting is not easily copied since these brush strokes are similar to ones handwriting, which is unique to every person.  Knowing this, one can think that the texture of the oil painting then becomes quite important as an oil painting without its texture becomes just another pretty picture without an identity.  Imagine a hand written letter versus a printed letter.  A printed letter has no identity and could have been written by anyone, but a hand written letter is identifiable by the handwriting style.

<strong>The Method</strong>

If you simply use an on-board flash from even the most expensive dSLR camera, the flash would flatten the image by filling every shadow which effectively destroys the texture.  To capture the texture you need two light sources to either side of the image to purposefully create a slight shadow.  This can be achieved with diffused studio lights or strobe/flash units and/or bounce cards.  The first light source to the left would create shadows where the textures of the oil painting is lifted depending on the angle relative to the camera.  You do not want deep shadows, so the angle should not be too sharp.  But this single light source alone would leave behind harsh shadows which may become unappealing.  A second, slightly lower powered, light source to the right was used to lift the shadows without lighting them up too much.  When applied correctly the oil painting has a “glisten” to it which shows just a slight shadow and reveals the texture!

<a href=””><img class=”size-medium wp-image-209 ” title=”Daniel Novel Texture Sample” src=”×300.jpg” alt=”Daniel Novel Texture Sample” width=”227″ height=”300″ /></a> Daniel Novel Texture Sample

You can click on the texture sample image for a larger view of how the texture shows on the oil painting.  There are slight shadows which just lift the texture to make it visible, but the second light source lifts the shadows with just enough light to fade the shadow without killing the texture effect.

This same lighting technique has been used to photograph works for other artists who need to see the texture in the oil paintings, but can be applied to other textured surfaces as well.  For some artists who include greater textures into their paintings with hard lifting ridges the texture is vital, so knowing how to capture the texture using light is important.  You will need to adjust the angle of the primary light source to a shallower angle when the textures are very pronounced to prevent the shadows from becoming too deep.

You can find out more about Danial Novela, his art and his life as an artist from his website at <a title=”” href=”” target=”_blank”></a>

Miss Matlosana 2012 Pageant

On 10 March 2012 I was contracted to do photography at the annual Miss Matlosana 2012 pageant held at Rio Casino in Klerksdorp. The event was organised by Talent Africa with proceeds going to Cancer Research in South Africa in remembrance of the late Joubert Barnard of the Your City Newspaper. The event was held in The Barnyard Theatre at Rio Casino.

The Barnyard theatre is high ceilinged theatre with high stage lighting which is mostly set up for lighting the stage, not ramps where the contestants would be walking. The front T-section of the ramp had more back lighting than front which, from a photography point of view, would require fill flash to light up the contestants properly. Since I did not really want to use on camera flash since it would cast nasty background shadows, I opted for twin flashes on high stands on either sides of the judges. The flashes were set to 1/4 power which would be enough to light up the contestants at f/4, ISO400 with a shutter speed of 1/80-1/125 without filling up the ambient light. At the back of the stage the lighting was still poor and reaching that far with the flashes meant killing the ambient light, so I pretty much avoided long range shots.

There were four categories with age groups ranging from 5-7, 8-12, 13-15 and 16+. When you are a spectator at such a pageant it seems as if things flow along at a fairly slow pace, but when you are there to do photography time seems to speed up. You know you need to get a number of great shots for the contestants and the parents and the pressure is high. Getting good photos which are in focus with no blur and correctly lit and exposed becomes a challenge with the constant motion of the contestants. If you have done photography at such an event where the lighting is very subdued you will understand how hard this becomes! It seems at times as if the contestants rush onto the ramp and rush off and you always wonder if you got enough shots.

Even with a shutter speed of 1/80 there is so much “slow” light which may be caused by strong back lighting that blurring on the edges of you subject is inevitable on some shots. “Slow” light is light which is equivalent to or stronger than the light produced by your flashes. When you have slow light motion at a slower shutter speeds (slower than 1/160) tends to add a blurring on the edges of your subjects. Since the object was to get some ambient light into the scenes the shutter speed could not be raised too high as the backgrounds would fade to black. The alternative of using the flash on the camera is unappealing as this would effectively destroy the ambient light and light up ugly backgrounds and cause strange harsh shadows in the far background.

Since the contestants are in virtual constant motion you need to keep an eye on background for “slow” lighting caused by stage lights and know where your flashe “sweet spots” are (points on the ramp or stage where your flashes fill up the light without having to compete with other light sources) and time your shots accordingly. Even with hair and dresses flowing I managed to catch great shots by timing the shots to fall within the flash sweet spots. If you are are a photographer planning on doing a ramp shoot with subdued ambient lighting then it is strongly advised you practice this with a photographer who has done it before so you can learn how the contestants move and what settings work best for your camera model. It is also advised that you use a “fast” lens.

Using an on-camera flash is an option, but this kind of photography can be done by anyone with a newer generation dSLR camera, and really flattens the look and adds harsh background shadows. Invest in a set of wireless transmitters for your flash or flashes and a set of stands to put them on and a good “fast” lens and you will soon discover the joy of light and how you can capture a scene in a whole new way.

Once you learn how to combine ambient and artificial lighting (from your flash units) you discover what photography is really all about.

Equipment used:

  • Sony A55 body with Sony 28-75 f/2.8 SAM lens
  • Sony a230 body with Minolta 50mm Prime f/1.7 lens
  • 2 x GN42 flash units with remote flash triggers

COSATU Strike & Protest March – Klerksdorp

COSATUS Strike and Protest March - Klerksdorp

COSATU Strike and Protest March – Klerksdorp

On Wednesday, 7 March 2012, I took to the streets with my camera to capture a few photos of the COSATU Strike and Protest march in Klerksdorp. I arrived at the starting point of the protest march at around 9am and took a few shots of the rapidly growing crowd. By 10:30 when they started their march into the Klerksdorp City centre along Oliver Tambo street the crowd had grown to between 2000 and 3000 people. This is quite a crowd for Klerksdorp!

Though there was a strong police presence to watch over the protesters, no incidents of violence or unruly behaviour was noted.

COSATU Strike and Protest March - Klerksdorp

White COSATU members supported the protest march

Considering the nature of the protest march one would expect some angry faces and rebellious behaviour, but the crowd was actually very friendly and well behaved. A first for me was also the presence of a number of white people supporting the protest march and even wearing COSATU support T-Shirts. Before the march started there were a few short speeches and announcements by the marshals explaining the purpose of the protest march and asking the crowd to adhere to the instructions of the marshals. When the protest march got under way the large crowd was split into 4 smaller groups by the marshals with a gap of about 50 metres between them. This served to prevent pushing and shoving and reduce tension as a whole. Since the marshals also had these smaller groups to control things moved along much more easily and without incident Credit should be given to the COSATU marshals who also kept the protesters away from side-walks and cars to prevent damage and disruption to businesses. Many businesses had closed their doors before the protesters arrived, but by the time the first groups had passed many re-opened their doors when they noticed that the crowd was behaving themselves.

COSATU Strike and Protest March - Klerksdorp

A protester with poster near end of the march

Other than traffic disruption, which was well managed by the traffic department and police, the crowd of protesters moved smoothly through the town. The pace was kept intentionally slow, not to purposefully disrupt traffic, but as a show of force to the “powers that be” that they felt strongly for the issues at hand.

Though the main reason for the protest march was to protest the implementation of the e-Tolling system in Gauteng, the main focus in the Klerksdorp area was the protest against the use of Labour Brokering. Some protesters did brandish posters against the e-Tolling system, but the majority carried anti-Labour Brokering placards.

When the march reached its end at Voortrekker road the groups were combined again to create on large crowd in preparation for the keynote address and handing over of the memorandum. When the crowd started merging I looked out for a higher vantage point from where I could capture the “Sea of Red”. I spoke to a local business owner who had a balcony above his shop and I quickly got permission to go up the stairs to capture the crowd from above.

COSATU Strike and Protest March - Klerksdorp

COSATU Protesters from above looked like a Sea of Red

Much of the crowd had already started moving around the corner, but I did manage to capture a few shots. The crowd looked much more daunting from above, even in the smaller groups they had been broken up into.

Tips for Photographers

Doing this kind of photography requires some confidence as you need to move in and amongst the throng to capture good photos. Zoom or Telephoto lenses just never seem to capture the details as well as shorter lenses when you get in close. You need to read the crowd and decide for yourself if it is safe to move amongst them. At no point did I feel threatened or in any danger by this crowd, but you should be aware that a crowd can turn at any moment. In Rustenburg the march was going well until a careless driver struck one of the protesters with her car.

COSATU Strike and Protest March - Klerksdorp

COSATU Protesters Marching

Irrespective of who was at fault in the incident, it turned a crowd who were fairly organised and well-behaved into a violent group. If you decide to venture into this kind of photography you should also note that it is best to keep moving. You do not want to stick to a specific area or with a specific group of people. Some protesters enjoy being photographed and will often group together as they all want to be in the photo. This can cause crowding and tension and make the marshal’s job more difficult. As soon as people start thronging because of your camera and the desire to “be in the shot”, you as a photographer might become the result of violence when the protesters start stepping on each others toes! Get the shot of what is naturally happening, don’t force situations. Keeping focus on a group for too long can become dangerous to you and those around you if you have an emotionally charged crowd.

All photos shot with a SONY A55 and 28-75mm SAM Lens.

More photos can be found in my Facebook Album

Live on Stage – Nicholis Louw

Nicholis Louw

Last night, 29 February 2012, Maritza and I had the privilege to do photography at the live stage performance of Nicholis Louw at the Klerksdorp City Theatre. The show was opened by Megan Pereira, a young lady you should look out for in future! The show was great as can be expected by one of South Africa’s top Afrikaans artists. Nicholis sang most of his popular songs and threw in a couple of surprises as well, such as his rendition of the Gummy Bears theme song, which entertained the adults more than the crowd of young ones he had called forward to sit in front of the stage. Nicholis is a very energetic performer on stage and keeping up with him is hard work, from a photographers perspective. Nicholis has an amazing on stage personality and his audience interaction during songs and during pauses between songs really keeps everyone entertained.

Megan Pereira

Photography, as with any stage performance, was a challenge. The light setup was different from most other stage performances I have covered in the past. The lighting was set up close to the artist and only about shoulder height. Though this looks great for the audience it presents a photographer with rapidly varying lighting requiring virtually constant adjustment in camera. Since both Maritza, my second photographer, and I shoot in full manual we had to keep our finger rolling through settings all through the show. Any kind of automatic mode gives unpredictable results in stage photography. Aperture mode cannot keep up with the constant changes in lighting and Shutter mode usually bumps the aperture wide open, which is not desirable in all cases and makes focusing very difficult. I shot the performance using my Sony A55 and 28-75mm f/2.8 lens. Maritza used the Sony a230 and a Minolta 50mm Prime f/1.7 lens.

Nicholis Louw

Nicholis Louw

Stage photography is tricky at the best of times, and a fast lens is a must. For manual settings on the A55 I use f/4 on the 28-75mm lens with an ISO of 200-400 and shutter speed of 100-160 depending on how much light comes in. The noise on the A55, even at ISO 800 is very little so I can push the shutter speed up even further if need be. The odd thing with stage lighting, especially the modern moving lights, is that they can cause blurring on edges irrespective of shutter speed. I have shots taken at much higher shutter speeds that still show blurring where moving lights crossed the image. Many of these newer moving lights introduce another element of motion you need to contend with. The best advice I can give is to learn the motions of your artist. If you carefully watch them for a while you quickly notice patterns and you learn to anticipate pauses in their motion which is where you want to snap your shots. You also need to learn to pre-focus and wait for shots within your planned focus area. Often these don’t come through and you have to refocus for a new setup, but this is worth it when you start seeing results. The other problem is that you may get hundreds of great shots which are in focus, but then the lips, position of the head or other element may not fit into the image to make it a good photo. There are some photos I choose to publish which aren’t even perfectly in focus, but the composition makes up for the loss (but obviously the focus needs to be acceptable!).

More photos from the show can be found in the Facebook Album