Friday, October 18, 2013

Thank You, Amanda

Amy, Dee, Rosa and Samantha

The question rings in my ears and I take a deep breath as I prepare myself for the explanation, which will inevitably be followed by bursts of confusion, opinions and a myriad of YouTube videos.
"Amanda Palmer," I reply, and am met with a blank stare that begs for something more.

I can't really blame them for their ignorance, as much as I would like to. If someone had mentioned the name to me as little as two years ago, my response would have been similarly indifferent. I did not understand the significance of the name then, just as they do not understand it now. It's my job to try and educate them, though it is not an easy task.

My education happened slowly, progressively. It started with a single video and a song that echoed in my head and my heart, its message resonating through me for a brief period, only to be forgotten in the everyday chaos that is life. Still, the message and vague memory remained along with a statement of:

"Fuck yes! I am exactly the person that I want to be!" 

If I believed in signs, I would have said that this was one. It had come to me at the time when I had only just begun to realise that the sadness that had been trying to drown me for more than two years was, in fact, more than just sadness and a feeling of having a few down days; that it was depression and that I needed help to keep myself afloat.

Had I come across the song a month, a year, a lifetime earlier, had I been exposed to Amanda in another way, had I had a different introduction, I am fairly certain that our relationship (or, should I say, my relationship with her music) would have been entirely different. Instead, when my boyfriend showed me a Dresden Dolls video weeks later, the image that sprang to mind was of a beautifully imperfect Palmer posed on a stool with a skirt falling in waterfalls around her and speaking to me, just me, from her podium.

From there, my love for the music and the person behind it blossomed to the point where, on finding a group intent on bringing her to South Africa for a performance, I knew that I had to get involved somehow. I had to show my support and thanks for this beautiful person and what she stands for. And what better way to do so than to use the skills available to me? With that in mind, I gathered as many like-minded people as I could find on a Saturday afternoon and hosted an Amanda Palmer photo shoot in my small garage studio.

Our joint passion for the town and the idea of a Palmer Arts Festival performance led to the decision of a Grahamstown specific effort rather than a general plea for a South African tour. Stationing myself behind the camera, where I am most comfortable, I was able to capture our messages, our interpretations of her music, portrayed in a way that we hoped would capture the attention of the woman herself.

Regardless of whether she ends up in Grahamstown/Cape Town/Johannesburg or not, I felt that the messages and the love behind them remain true - Amanda Palmer remains in my (and our) mind(s) and we love her for the person she is, the songs she sings and the difference that she makes in our lives.

Thank you for that, Amanda, and keep doing what you do!

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Part of Their Story

Michael Marabini and Vicky Heideman

"Hey, Mike."
Grant moves his chair away from the desk as he answers the call - never the world's best multi-tasker - and begins to pace around the house. Into a room one minute, out the next, up and down the hall - his typical phone call routine, but this is no typical phone call.
"You want me to do what?"
I motion with my arms trying to catch his attention and involve him in a game of charades so that I can figure out what's going on.
"Yes, she is."
He catches my eye, but refuses to participate any further than that.
"Yes, she does."
I narrow my eyes now, wondering what exactly it is that I "do".
"Okay, bud. Meet you there."
He hangs up the phone and sidles back in front of his computer, ignoring the glares that I am sending in his direction.
"What's going on?" I finally shout, giving in to my frustration and curiosity.
"Oh," he says as though he's just realised that I'm there. "We're meeting Mike and Vicky at Home Affairs in half an hour."
He turns back to the PC.
"Uh... why?"
"Just as witnesses."
"Their marriage."

Fast forward three years, and there I am, my camera in hand, snapping shots of Mike and Vicky. They're fresh from their honeymoon and standing before friends and family in full wedding attire saying, "I do." It's an anniversary party, really - a reason to celebrate three years of happy marriage with those that they love most. And once again, I am a part of their happy moment. I'll also be the one to remind them of their anniversary a year down the line.

A year and a half later, and Mike and Vicky stand in my studio under the harsh, bright lights. I like to think of the pictures that I take as family photographs - a monument to the life that the two have built for themselves around each other, and a testament to the love that they share. They laugh and make fun of each other, they tease and taunt and compliment. They try to stay serious, but they just can't do it for more than a few seconds at a time - can never take themselves too seriously. It's just not who they are. Five years in and Mike and Vicky are just as in love as the day they got married. It's not something that can be said for every couple, not even for most. But I look at them, and I think to myself that I can see them being just as happy in five, ten or twenty years to come.

Thank you, Mike and Vicky, for allowing me to be a small part of your story.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Revisiting Editing

Two years ago, I took a gig that I was completely unprepared for. I knew absolutely zero about wedding photography, but when two of my friends asked me to take their wedding photographs, I accepted the challenge.

You can read more about the challenges that I faced during the event itself in my blog from the day, and you can read more about the couple in the post that I intend to write later this week, but this is not what this post is about. This post is about how I have changed in the last two years as a photographer - how my process has changed and, more importantly, how my outlook has changed.

About two months back, I decided that I needed to include more of the wedding photography from this first shoot on my website, and I started going through my photographs to try and find some more of the shots to add. And, I am not sure how it happened, but all of the edited photographs were gone with the exception of the few that I had already put up of the wedding. The originals (all 700 odd of them) still lay in a folder on my laptop, taunting me. And, after a long while, I decided that it was time to re-edit the photographs. Without any guidance in terms of how I had originally edited them, I was left to my own devices and, looking back on it now, I think that was the right way to go about the re-editing process. I didn't bother comparing the original edits with the final cuts until everything was done, and I ended up with a complete set of photographs rather than one that feels disjointed. In my mind anyway.

Some of the photographs ended up looking fairly similar with just small changes, but some looked entirely different. So I thought that I would put together some comparisons and see what other people think.

From left to right, this picture shows the original image, the first edit and the second edit. I have focussed on the bride's face throughout, though the second edit does show the full photograph.

Once again, I found that the biggest difference was with the skin tone that came out in a far more flattering manner in my second edit. The white balance was also more appropriate and the whole image felt more natural and less edited than my initial edit.

The picture above shows (going clockwise from the top left) the original photograph, the first edit, an edit with a Lightroom Aged Photo preset and the second edit without any presets. I added the Aged Photo preset to a number of the shots to form a separate collection as I felt that it worked well with the style of the wedding,

I felt that the most noticable changes in the second edit were with the colour of the dress and the skin tones which I felt ended up being more flattering.

This comparison has the same structure as above (original, initial edit, Aged Photo, second edit), and while I feel that the colour in the second edit is better in terms of the dress and the skin tones, it did lead to the sky being washed out more than I would have been happy with.

As with the first picture, this one shows a portion from the original, the first edit and the second edit. In this edit, the dress and the sky show the most significant change. For the second edit I chose to use a graduated filter which I felt brought out the storminess of the clouds providing a nice contrast to the image. But, at the same time, I'm not sure if it worked in the way that I had hoped.

Finally, we come to the images from the ceremony. I had the biggest pain with the ceremony because it was outdoors on a shady day under the cover of trees with no way to get the proper flash lighting that I would have hoped for. So, when it came to editing the ceremony photographs, I was underwhelmed with what came out of it and ended up providing the couple with few photos of the ceremony itself. With the second edit, I adjusted the clarity which I felt worked better for the situation, as did the Aged Photo look (in my mind anyway). So the above picture is a comparison of (from top left going clockwise) the original, the first edit, the second edit and the Aged Photo preset.

So these are just a couple of comparisons that I put together. All in all, though 738 photographs were taken on the day of the event itself, I ended up with 956 photographs including the preset edits, which I thought was a nice haul.

What do you think of the edits? Would you have done anything differently?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dum Di Dee Dum

Dee Ellis

By far the best photography sessions that I have done have always been those were the subjects are having fun. And by a long way, the person who's had the most fun in front of my camera (with Mike & Vicky coming a close joint second) has been Dee.

Someone who is far from shy, Dee lit up underneath the lights in more ways than one. From the first click of the shutter, it was fun and giggling, funny faces and rock star poses. I was head banging and Gangnam-Styling and non-stop smiling from start to finish. Even the attempts at serious poses were short-lived, and the photos came out all the better for it. Looking at them brings a smile to my face, and hopefully to those of others.

And the studio session was just the beginning. It was quickly followed by drinking games galore as the fun and laughter spilled over into the rest of the house, truly making it an evening to remember (or forget, depending on one's alcohol tolerance.)

So I want to say a giant THANK YOU to Dee this time around for helping me have a most memorable photo shoot and a fantastic Saturday night.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Flashes and Flashbacks

Amy van Wyk

A bright flash lights up the darkness, and I'm pretty sure that the neighbours must be getting more than a little concerned about the lightning that appears to the eminating from the garage. The fact that it is followed by thunderclaps of giggling fits can't be helping much. But if I'm being honest, I'm not too concerned by what the neighbours might think. I'm too busy having a blast with Amy

Since unwrapping the gift on the morning of my birthday, I've been dying to test out the new lighting for my studio and have been looking for any good reason to play around. And what better reason could there be than an eager volunteer and a good catch-up session.

Amy was one of my first friends in Grahamstown, and during my first year of varsity we spent many a night staying up together, talking late into the night, drinking and wandering down streets singing our own renditions of Kelly Clarkson or Gnarls Barkley tunes at the top of our lungs. She introduced me to the wanders of varsity life and she was beside me every step of the way. So, when I heard that she was back in town, my heart jumped for joy. It couldn't have come at a better time either - barely a month after Kath left me to start on her Korean adventure.

Since her return, there has been a lot of catching up to do with Amy - finding our what's happened in the years that we missed out on and reminiscing about the good old days when the dawnie was the biggest problem that we faced. So, when I had the chance to photograph and spend time with Amy in amidst our two very busy scheduled, I jumped at the opportunity.

It was the first time that I was properly able to test out the lighting, and it certainly did take some getting used to. There was a lot of fumbling and more than a little hmming and haa'ing taking place, but the photos that came out of the session brought such a smile to my face.

I have never been happier with the photographs that I have taken in my studio, and I have Grant, Jono, Robert and Sharon to thank for the beautiful lights. But it would have all been for nothing without a subject. So I have got to thank Amy for the amazing experience.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sprinkling of Magic

Erica Wertlen

“You know you’re still shining, right?”

I turn to my housemate, confused for a few moments and he just stares at me, a giggle hidden behind his lips. For a minute I think he’s finally lost it, an evitability when residing in the same house as me. And then it all comes back to me as I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window, the small dots of glitter reflecting in the light.

How it didn’t dawn on me earlier, I don’t know. The stuff is everywhere – adorning my bedroom, my car and my camera bag; refusing to be contained by the laundry basket that houses my glitter-stained clothing. It only makes sense that a speck or two would have clung on harder than the rest despite my best efforts. After all, I’m practically sleeping in glitter-soaked bedding. If anything, I’m surprised there isn’t more of the stuff on me.

But what is a party without glitter? One that doesn’t doesn’t involve Erika, of that I’m fairly certain. Which is why it was felt by all involved that a party celebrating her growing a year older, a year wiser, and celebrating another year that we get to spend in her presence, HAD to involve glitter and tons of it.

So, when Erika arrived at her party expecting nothing more than a quiet night in with her friends, the surpise kicked off with a glitter bomb hidden above the door, with friends waiting behind it to welcome her into her latest year of life. Friends who were dressed to the nines for the carnival theme and friends who all wanted nothing more than to see the look of pure, unadulterated love, joy and awe on her face when she saw the gift that awaited her.

Being the presence of pole-dancing in this small town, it was felt that little could capture the essence of Erika more than giving her her very own pole to light up the stage with. Well, nothing material would have matched it in any case. The box filled with photographs and messages of love from all those around her came pretty close as well. But an evening spent with those that she cares about was the icing on top of the birthday cake of celebrations.

So, when I catch my reflection, the thoughts that come back to me are of an evening of fun, friends and freedom filled with beauty and dancing and sprinkled with the little bit of magic that glitter provides.

“Oh well,” I announce in response, and turn away, the glitter sparkling in the light and bringing a smile to my face.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Grad Ball 2013

An 8am wakeup call on a Saturday should never be the way that you start a weekend. But it is the way that mine started.

It was quickly followed by a 9am trip into town which lasted a lot longer than I expected, which in turn was followed by a rushed lunch before kissing Grant goodbye and making my way to the Monument for what was to be a very, very long day.

And yet, I soldiered on to the point where I found myself, without quite recalling how I got to be there, sitting behind a laptop at a desk, checking people into their Graduation Ball. The streams of people flew past me in a blur of glamour, beauty and alcohol as I assigned tables and passed along wine to those who were celebrating growing up while I was trying to slow down as fast as possible, my 25th birthday having just rolled around.

Once all were in, it was time to capture some of that magic, which I managed to do as best as I could without a flash and without the low-light saviour of my lens collection, which decided to give up the ghost when I needed it most.


I ended up experiencing my second graduation in a very different way to my first, from a behind the scenes vantage point. And it really made me see my own graduation in a different light. For once, I was seeing what went into making the night magical and spectacular rather than just accepting it as being that way. And so, even though I am not officially part of them, and probably because I am not, I think that the Round Table of Grahamstown deserves a giant THANK YOU for the effort that they put into making the night as special as it is for all of those involved, from helping out to taking part.

Thank you, on behalf of the year of 2009 who didn't have a chance to, and the year of 2013 who have yet to realise what it means.