In the past eleven years, I have worked as a photographer in a number of prisons and I have taught a number of workshops, but I have never combined the two – teaching a workshop in a prison… until recently.
In a unique collaboration between Young in Prison, a Dutch NGO which provides juveniles with creative projects designed to enhance the future prospects of youth in prison worldwide, and Nikon, that provided a number of COOLPIX cameras, I was provided with the chance to teach photography to juveniles in Mzuzu Prison, Malawi.
Impressions of Mzuzu
Mzuzu Prison is situated in the city of Mzuzu, in the north of Malawi. The prison was built in the early 60s by the British. It was originally built to house 50 inmates. Today, the prison houses 450 prisoners of which 60 are juveniles.
Although the prison is one of the most overcrowded I’d ever seen, the atmosphere was not aggressive, at least not toward me. This was surprising considering the fact that no one could actually lie down to sleep – they slept sitting between each other’s legs. I guess exercising a level of tolerance towards each other is necessary when living in such crowded conditions. All the same, and needless to say, there was a level of tension in the air and fights were not uncommon.
My week in Mzuzu
The prison authorities had allowed me to work in the prison for more than a week. I was permitted to shoot stills myself, but for me the most important prospect was to teach the basics of photography to the kids.
During that week, I would come into the prison every day around 9am. The juveniles would then be called in from the courtyard, all of them wearing white prison uniforms. I recall one had scribbled ‘Dad no more trouble’ on his shirt.
We would all sit in a classroom, which had been set up by the prison director for me and my ‘students’. There were nine boys in total and although they’d been selected based on their (basic) knowledge of English, we still needed a translator to communicate.
The boys seemed nice. They’d given me a warm welcome, I guess partly because this was to be a week that would be different than any other week they’d spent in prison.
On the first day, I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable when each student introduced himself to me. Each shared a little about what they had been sentenced for and, as I understood it, many of them had been condemned to unbelievably long sentences for what some people would consider minor crimes. It did not take long for the tension to subside, especially once they received their cameras.
Every one received a Nikon COOLPIX. For ten of them, it was the very first time they’d touched a camera. I began by teaching them the basics of composition, light and being ‘invisible’. I didn’t go into aperture, shutter speed and other technicalities – as that wasn’t what this workshop was to be about.
Naturally, they were all very curious. More than once, I saw them experiment with the settings and although I told them not to shoot video, to save space on the cards, they obviously did and I must admit, some amazing stuff came out. I was also amazed how quickly they understood the camera and what it could do.
When it came to taking photographs, the results on day one were to be expected. The youngsters posed for each other, made funny faces and showed off their muscles and acting cool.
John Wright is one of the UK’s leading fashion, portrait and advertising photographers. His award winning images are the product of his varied career working closely with major editorial, fashion and advertising clients. As the digital era evolves, John has moved with the industry which has seen him direct and produce sophisticated fashion films commissioned by clients including Dior, Louis Vuitton, Elie Saab and of course, Nikon. John along with five other photographers (Including Mark SeymourMark Pain & Ross Hoddinott) also represents Nikon UK as one of their esteemed Ambassadors.
John’s success reflects his consistency in creating engaging and exceptional work ranging from fashion editorials and celebrity portraits to short films. We spoke with John to find out which indispensable items of kit help bring his creative vision to life.
“When choosing kit – whether it’s buying equipment or choosing what to shoot with, your priority should always be your lenses! Buy and choose to use the best lenses you can. Good fast lenses make even the most basic entry level camera deliver its best results and conversely, more basic lenses will handicap the most glamorous camera body (good lenses hold their value too!). Your priority should always be the best lenses.”
“My goal as an artist is to be true to who I am, and aim to create art that will stay around for its good cause.” – Christoffer Relander
As an experimental fine art photographer, Christoffer Relander applies a technique inspired by multiple exposure to create ‘We Are Nature’: a series of dreamy, surreal images based on the ambiguous relationship between man and nature. Christoffer uses his camera as a tool that can help him create surreal, dreamy images with a few clicks – a tool he chooses over pencils or brushes.
“Using a different tool should not necessarily change my work from being classified as art. A common argument is that anybody can take a photograph but, actually, anybody can learn to paint as well. It’s all about how you use your instrument.”
Because of its build, size and 36.3 megapixels, and a preference to the E-model as it caters to photographers who like razor-sharp, high-resolution images, Christoffer’s go-to choice is the Nikon D800E
Christoffer first discovered photography while serving in the Finish Marines in 2008 and has been hooked ever since he purchases his first camera in 2009.
“I literally photographed everything I could think of, I never left my camera at home. It wasn’t just what I photographed that was so enticing. I also enjoyed experimenting with different kinds of techniques, as well as exploring the various characteristics of the NIKKOR lenses and cameras I used.”
For his “We Are Nature” series, Christoffer began experimenting with this technique back in 2010 while shooting spontaneous portraits. The series, as the title suggests, revolves around the ambiguity of the relationship between man and nature. Some people might argue that man is an integral part of nature – much like nature is an integral part of Christoffer’s work. “If there is a possibility to create productively with a technique that fascinates you, I couldn’t be more satisfied.”
“The series is not about any specific individual; it is about man and nature itself. By keeping the identities of my models anonymous, it leaves space for the viewer’s own perception. Our perception is subjective.”
At the initial stage, Christoffer scouted for overexposed settings to shoot in to mask his subjects, which he placed in darker areas, from their background. The portraiture images, as well as the texture images, needed to be shot against bright backgrounds. He didn’t like too many peripheral objects distracting his focus and he prefered hills with adjacent trees as the backdrop. Then, once he located the scene, he creates the portrait image by visualizing how the shapes will overlay and blend with the nature.
“It’s important to keep in mind that each exposure will only add light on the next one – light areas cannot get darker even if you multiple exposed a completely dark image on top of the previous one. It is similar to film; the sensor only registers light.”
Shooting in RAW format, Christoffer draws the basic s-curves in post-production to add contrast. In turn, he also uses it to lower the output so as to make the whitest white slightly toned. He does not feel that plain white appears natural which, essentially, is the core of his “We Are Nature” series.
Pet photographer, Carli Davidson, has published her new book, SHAKE: a collection of adorable portraits of dogs captured mid-shake, completely transformed with jowls flapping and fur flying. Carli created this brilliant photo series by shooting at the highest frame rate the Nikon D4 offers.
We spoke to Carli to find out how she created the SHAKE book, what inspires her photography, and her tips on how to create beautiful images of our furry friends.
How did you get into pet photography?
I’d always been interested in photography. Growing up we used to live off the beaten track – we had three dogs a couple of cats, a few lizards and snakes, a bird, and some intermittent rescues and they became my models. Animals had always been a part of the family and I just felt comfortable with them.
What inspires your passion?
I find it really exciting to portray animals in their most positive light. Sometimes I go to the rescue center and photograph dogs that have been abused or born with birth defects, but this doesn’t stop them enjoying their life. They still have so much to offer and it’s a privilege to be able to capture their spark and personality.
Then there are the animals that people don’t tend to like. I recently shot a baby skunk which I thought was so sweet and curious, but they’re negatively perceived as ‘the animal that sprays dogs’. In fact, they are highly intelligent creatures and I like to be able to give them a voice. I also love reptiles for that same reason – sometimes people can be fearful of them, but I get to show them in a way that’s beautiful. I like to think I can do a little bit of good with my photography.
Tell us about your latest project, SHAKE?
SHAKE is a project I’ve been working on since 2011. It started out of curiosity and has evolved into a book of entertaining and playful images of dogs. It captures them in a way they haven’t been seen before – shaking their heads with their faces flapping around.
I’m always on the lookout for something that grabs me personally, I like to capture an animal’s expression that a human can respond to. One day, I was cleaning my own dog’s spit off the wall and I had that “ah ha!” moment, thinking about him shaking his big jowls gave me the inspiration. I took a few shots to experiment with the idea and when I looked at the images I knew that this was going to be a project I’d be proud of.
However, I had no idea just how amazing the reaction would be. The moment I shared some of the images online they went viral. I get fan letters from people all over the world thanking me for making them smile. The excitement and the positive energy the images generated eventually led to a book deal.
How did you find all the dogs?
All the dogs in the book were sourced locally in Portland and I relied heavily on the animal community. I used Facebook to find some of the models and Panda Paws rescue was a massive help – we had to photograph about 70 per cent of the animals in just three weeks. It was important to me to have the dogs’ owners and veterinary technicians on set to make sure they felt comfortable and that we were setting them up to succeed. I was so appreciative of all the people that came together to make it work.
How did you capture the images?
I shot the book using the Nikon D4. Shooting 10 frames per second is very fast and the focus is phenomenal with the movement. It meant that I could go back through my shots and find the exact moment where the dog looks most bizarre. I also used high speed lights in the studio to avoid motion blur.
This technology used to cater to sports photography as it was able to capture rapid motion with high shutter speeds. However, the development of that field has leant itself incredibly well to animal photography because you have to shoot something whose movements you can’t predict. The camera has allowed us to do something very cool.
What do you use when you’re outside the studio?
I’ve started using the Nikon D5300 when I take my own dog, Norbert, out hiking. It’s really easy to use – I can just throw it in my bag and take it anywhere I go. It’s a light and compact but solid DSLR.
It is great at getting a quick focus, which is ideal for taking shots of animals, and it has a rapid frame rate so I can capture Norbert when he’s running or playing. I find its vary angle monitor a helpful feature as I’m always rolling around on the ground – it saves me bending my knees and back all the time. Also, as it’s Wi-Fi enabled, I can upload my images to a smart device and post them directly on social media so I can show my fans what I’m doing and get instant feedback.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My work now is completely unpredictable, but I like it that way, I’d be bored in a 9am – 5pm job. One day I might be working at Oregon Zoo in Portland taking photos of a baby elephant for their website. The next, I could be in my studio working on commercial or personal projects, like SHAKE. I’m always looking to try something that I haven’t done before.
How can we create our own successful pet shoot?
The one thing you absolutely have to do is make sure your pet feels comfortable with the camera. A lot of people tell me that their pet is afraid of it, so I advise them to make the camera seem like a reward. Try putting it on the ground next to their food so they start to realise that when the camera is there, they’ll get a treat.
If they’re still nervous, try putting on some classical music or create a corner with all their toys and lots of treats so they can relax. Also, avoid approaching the animal, let them come to you – if they feel they are the ones making the decision, they’ll feel more in control and be easier to work with.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you need patience. Remember that they don’t know what they’re doing, so you can’t get cross with them if it’s not what you want. If you find things fizzle out then take a break, put the camera down and play with your pet so you get out of the photography space and back into the “I love my dog” mentality.
Once we’ve got our pet’s attention how can we make sure we get a good shot?
I know it can be quite difficult to capture good images of a moving target, but try to focus your shot on the animal’s eye. Setting the f-stop low will give you a nice soft background, but be aware of how long an animals face can be to get a good focus. You can always practice while they’re asleep to give you time to work on creating the right depth of field.
If you want to make your shots more creative, try using peanut butter or honey on their teeth as you’ll get some amazing expressions when they try to lick it off. You could even challenge yourself and start throwing a ball for your pet to catch – it might take a bit of practice throwing it in one hand while holding the camera in the other, but it’ll be worth it when you get the shot of them jumping in the air.
Finally, make sure you always have treats to hand to reward them and try not to shoot for more than a few minutes without a break, it can be difficult holding their attention for any longer.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to take their hobby to the next level?
You need to get as much experience as possible shooting different animals in all sorts of environments. Because I’ve spent so much time with animals I can read them pretty well and I normally get them to perform the way I want them to, eventually, but that takes time. Try volunteering at a local rescue center and get used to working with other animals, not just your own. I’m sure the rescue would appreciate any support you could give them.
Carli’s book, SHAKE is now available on Amazon. Watch the video to learn how the Nikon D4 helped Carli capture the much loved images in her book.
Jeremy Walker became the first photographer in the UK to put the new retro-styled FX-format Nikon Df through its paces when he was chosen to shoot the brochure and website images. Not only did he like it, he liked it so much that he bought it. So we got Jeremy on the phone to ask why the Nikon Df had impressed him so much.
How extensively did you trial the Nikon Df?
I did an initial 11-day shoot up in Scotland with Nikon and the ad agency, who both wanted some very specific pictures, including a lot of portraits, and then I had a further eight days taking Scottish landscapes (to view some of these images head to our Nikon Df photo set on Flickr).
I was trying out lots of different ideas and getting used to a brand new camera, so it was a pretty full-on experience. I was shooting both JPEG and RAW and took around 3000 images on the first shoot, plus 220-odd frames on the second. Because I was shooting on a pre-production model, Nikon wanted all the RAW images to go straight back to Japan, completely unretouched, so their engineers could check the picture quality to make sure the camera was performing to spec.
The first time I picked it up I was unsure of the ergonomics because I’m so used to very big cameras, but as soon as I fitted a prime lens and started shooting, those ergonomics really worked. It feels right in your hand and the mechanical control dials fit your fingers so well. The aperture wheel on the front of the camera below the logo is neat and easy to access; your finger just slides off the shutter release and straight to the wheel. It’s fantastic being able to set the shutter speed and ISO by clicking round a dial, so you can see at a glance what you’re shooting at, instead of having to look into the viewfinder.
The idea behind the Df is that you don’t need a tripod because you can use high ISOs and still get exceptional quality – it has the same CMOS sensor as the D4 – so it gives you a lot more flexibility to move around. I was handholding for all my shots so I set ISO 1600 as standard, and every image was crisp and clear. The results were still really great at ISO 6400, too. It certainly freed me up for portraits because, when you’re not tripod-based, you can shift your viewpoint around and keep on shooting throughout; it’s a much less static process than having the camera mounted on a tripod, and it’s far less intrusive for the people you’re photographing.
I love the fact Nikon has gone retro with the Df – it’s like the FM or FE in looks – but it’s still got the D4’s processor. And there are some great touches, like 1/3 stop settings on the shutter-speed dial so you can have D800-style shutter-speed selection, and a tiny LCD screen on the top plate. I also like the old-fashioned cable release that screws into the shutter release button, and the fact that it doesn’t have video – so much of the appeal of this camera is that it’s purely for taking pictures.
The build quality is great, too, and the weather-proofing is as good as my D800. Another good point is the battery. It’s very small, which keeps the weight down, and I had no problems with battery life; even though I was shooting dawn till dusk, it was very rare that I needed to change batteries during the day. And the battery charger plugs straight into the plug socket, so you don’t need a cable, making it lighter and more portable and just easier to use.
I think the biggest test when you’re reviewing equipment is to ask yourself if you’d spend your own money on it. And I’d buy the Df in a shot, especially in the chrome version…
At this point external circumstances lead to a ten-minute break in the phone interview – and when it resumed, Jeremy had the following news to share…
OK, while you’ve been away I’ve just ordered one from my Nikon dealer – that’s what I think about Df. And yes, I got the chrome one!
The Df is so light and portable, and it’s designed to be used without a tripod, so you’re carrying far less weight, giving you more freedom of movement to get more creative – and it means you don’t go home with aching shoulders after a day out shooting landscapes. I love my D3X and D800, but you do know when you’re carrying them both around… the Df certainly makes hiking up the Old Man of Storr much easier!
Last week, we shared some handy tips from award-winning sports photographer, Mark Pain, about the right equipment and simple technique tricks for great action and night photography during the winter.
In this blog, Mark continues with more tips and this time, it’s all about getting landscape and portraiture just right.
How to get the perfect LANDSCAPE shot
If you are serious about capturing a winter landscape shot that will impress, it’s worth thinking about a wide-angle lens rather than those that come as standard with most D-SLR cameras. Great choices include the NIKKOR DX 10-24mm and NIKKOR DX 12-24mm lenses.
There are some simple rules that will make your landscapes stand out:
Try to shoot at the beginning and the end of the day. The light will be far more dramatic, with softer hues and more variation.
Keep to the two thirds / one third rule of composition, where the horizon is about one third of the way up your picture.
Avoid having the horizon in the centre of your image.
Use a tripod or other steadying structure where possible to keep the camera as steady as possible so that you can have as small an aperture as possible. This will give you the maximum depth of field, which enables as much of your picture to be in focus as possible.
Take time to think about your composition and how the light is falling on your subject. Natural light will be softer and generally more suitable for portrait photography at the beginning and the end of the day. Avoid shooting in the middle of the day if you can.