Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Nikon’

Bb: LowePro Ambassador

I will admit right now, every time I write a title like this or the Nikon, or Maurice Lacroix ambassador one, I sit back and think…. “you know, people are going to stop asking me to grab a beer with them if I keep this stuff up.”

Please know that, like the other endorsements, it means the world to me to have a company that I know and trust show such support. I can’t say much, but will say this… there are some VERY exciting things that will come out of this relationship. When LowePro approached me about becoming a LoweProfessional, one aspect that was discussed at length was, “how can we use this partnership to help people out?” From raising money for charities to helping educate photographers on how I go about my work, I wanted to make sure it was a contract that helped me give back to the community above all. Blair_Bunting_Bio_main

It’s an odd reality to be a part of and I find myself honored to experience it, but also missing what things were like before. To be honest, some of my favorite shoots I have ever done were the small editorial gigs where I didn’t make all that much and came home tired. Unfortunately, the calls for those go away when photo editors fear that they are wasting my time calling, and so such sponsorships have an averse affect.

It’s a part of this career that I never saw coming. I used to sit on the internet looking at who was with what company and think, “damn it would be awesome to be in his or her place.” However, it was impossible to see that said achievement would make people hesitate to reach out and ask for advice like, how I lit a specific photo or what gear I used.

To have fun and try to pay it back to you (my readers/friends) I have started calling random Twitter and Facebook followers every week to say “hi” and ask if they had any questions… (on a side note, the calls have been freaking awesome and I plan to keep on doing them when I have breaks in my schedule).

You guys are the reason great companies like LowePro have reached out to me, and I want to say not only thank you, but please don’t ever feel that I am in a different league and therefore am inaccessible… I am one of you and always will be. So whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Smoke Signal (the OG social media), please feel free to ask advice on cameras, watches, bags… heck, ask what I had for dinner, I really don’t mind.

How to Light a Football Player

Firstly, I want to thank those that sent over emails or messaged me on FB and Twitter about the new ASU campaign. It was a ton of fun to produce, and when my readers enjoy the shots, it is icing on the cake.

As happens a lot, many of the emails had the age old question, “how did you light it?” buried in there somewhere (often thinly veiled as an “oh, BTW”). So today I thought I would take a bit of time to talk about that, some lighting theory and show some RAW files from that and other shoots because I think this sort of thing needs to happen more often.

To be honest, this idea has been in the making for some time now. I have had the good fortune of meeting with quite a few agencies lately and have begun to see two very distinct approaches to photography emerging. The first approach contains a lot of lighting and a technical appreciation of what a purist would consider painting with light. The second one concerns me, it is an approach that more or less says flat light everything and …. (my most despised line) “fix it in post.”

I enjoy the approach of fixing things in post as much as I love listening to heavily auto-tuned music. Then again, for me auto-tune might make my singing voice a bit more angelic, but I digress…

Today I want to talk about a return to lighting because our clients deserve it, our medium deserves it, and we deserve it. Now there will always be things that can’t be done in camera, perhaps due to a location that makes it impossible to travel the subject to, or an action that endangers the subject or crew, and for this there will always be comping, and for those reasons there is nothing wrong with that approach.

So let’s talk about lighting, specifically for mood.

The first place that I went to develop my approach towards lighting theory was not a photo book, but rather my psychology courses in college. It was a common theme that as humans we feel comfortable when we know what is around or in front of us. A quick Shark Week analogy… I went for a swim last Saturday during the day. It was at my neighbor’s house, the pool was clear, I knew what existed because I could see it. Now put me in that same pool at night and we have a different situation. Even though all logic tells me, “Blair, you are in a pool,” I still am 99% sure that Megalodon has come back from extinction and will be remaking the beginning of Jaws with me any second.

Sharks aside, lighting is much the same way. The eye finds discomfort and intimidation in the unknown, and the unknown is where the light is not. The approach to making a subject intimidating should not be a mass of lights cranked to 11, but a single focus of direction where one light dominates and the remaining support the fear. An example of this that I shot a while back is this portrait of a football player.

bigpic

As I promised in the beginning, here is the RAW image from the shot to show where we take it on set before it goes into good ole Photoshop.

HerringRAW

And the lighting scheme: (notice that the powers of the support lights never go above the singular direction of the key, if we broke that rule, the eye would become comfortable)

topview

On the most recent shoot we approached things with the same idea, but incorporated action, so the singular direction source had to be broadened, but still contained. There are many people that approach lighting or even teach the one light approach, which I enjoy for it’s simplicity. However, if I may add an addendum; I think that it should be more of a single direction source approach (doesn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly). Remember, as photographers, we are telling a story, not just telling our viewer that our subject exists.

The final with smoke and plate:

ASU TRY2

The RAW test before smoke. This shot is actually a prep shot for the main image that involved smoke from a machine (camera left), but shows lining of subject and a disregard for any details that I don’t want my viewers to see:

pre smoke RAW

Believe it or not, one of the most important parts of lighting is the camera, and your knowledge of it. To best light a subject where you want to play dangersouly with shadows, you have to know and trust the sensor that lies at the heart of your camera. I was shooting on a Nikon D3x which lets me shoot more contrast out of camera with the safety that my shadows will exist when I open the file. I only know how far I can stretch the contrast ratio with my camera from practice. There will always be those that measure the heck out of a camera and it’s sensor, but to push one on set with a job on the line is an act of trust in the equipment you are using.

As with the need for consistent sensor performance is the need for consistent lights. For campaigns, I trust Profoto 8’s with my livelihood. The power is always sufficient to close down and delivery is quick enough to avoid blur. From there the rest comes down to build, reliability and standards that make it easy for me to tell an assistant what is needed, even when they speak a different language.

With an approach to technical lighting, and equipment that can deliver you will actually become more financially efficient. In what might take you five minutes on set to put up a light, you will save yourself hours if not days in post trying to create a texture that doesn’t exist because the photo wasn’t lit correctly. As photographers, we should crave perfection and do everything in our ability to create it. These are details that your clients deserve, and that will make you proud of your work.

ASU Football : 2014 Photoshoot

Photoshoots are not made by a photographer alone, they are a result of everyone that set foot in the studio that day and sat on the endless preproduction phone calls the weeks prior. When the campaign is released, it will carry the name of the photographer, but I would give anything for it to carry the names of everyone that stood behind and alongside us as we create.

Today’s blog will be a bit different that others as I want to talk about what others did to make a shoot possible, rather than ramble on about how I did this or that to make an image…

ASU TRY2

For the ASU campaign, the images start at the beginning of our working relationship when I was just a teenager. An ASU new hire named Becky trusted me to create imagery of athletes when I definitely had not earned such trust. Over the years she rose to the position of director of marketing and I am grateful to continue producing campaigns together, often with the simple direction of, “make something awesome.”

ASU TRY1

The next person on the set is the Creative Director, Chris. He usually stands on my right side and tosses out ideas for images and it is between us that the imagery forms. Periodically we will take a couple moments to step into a side room and discuss if we want to steer the emotion of the athletes in a different direction or continue on the given path. I trust his opinion and he trusts mine, it is a relationship that must exist between the AD/CD and photographer that makes a campaign successful.

ASU Runner

My assistants Rob, Brian and Ramsey worked to make the vision exist in camera. Not that they don’t always work hard, but on this shoot they did their job, and so much more. The first day on set was actually the day that I was announced as an Ambassador to Nikon and I was trying my hardest to respond to emails, texts and phone requests, all while prepping lighting and shooting. I can’t tell you how impressed I am watching how hard they work, and am grateful to have them on the team.

ASU TRY 3

Last but not least the athletes. Awesome, just awesome. One thing to note is that they are not models, and for many this was their first photoshoot ever. It is easy to take being on set for granted, but for some of them (the rookies especially) it can be insanely intimidating. While it is my responsibility to give them direction in a way that gets the shot that my client and I want, it is still on their shoulders to deliver the level of intensity that I need, and they did.

I am very proud of this year’s campaign, and want to thank those that made it, and hope that you all enjoy the 2014 ASU Football campaign.

GO DEVILS!!!

River Monsters

:   With all the recognition that this image has received lately, between the CA Photo Annual and Archive’s Top 200 Ad Photographers, I figured I would re-share the story that was the River Monster’s shoot   :

Lighting as a thought process is fundamentally easy to apply to schemata, water is not. Sure there are the physics that govern the drops via gravity and pull them back to Earth properly, but the abstract way that this is done is a logistical nightmare when combined with good ole electrons. Sure water makes for dynamic imagery when lit well, but what doesn’t get seen is the grey hair that the photographer grows as a result of the set.

When the call came from Discovery to shoot the ad campaign for their show River Monsters, I was thrilled. The concept was strong and the comps that we were to key off made visualizing the final image easy. However, creative potential and potentially dangerous walked hand in hand on this campaign. The idea was to have the show’s host Jeremy Wade wrestling a giant fish in the shallow waters near South Beach, Florida. Now by giant, I mean the kind fish that hangs out with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man on the weekends… probably having a glass of wine with its flippers and talking about the delicacies of krill. Where things get complicated is that we wanted to have Jeremy and mega fish in the water thrashing around…. lit. Obviously we didn’t want a bathtub with a toaster situation, so safety would come first, creativity second, after all electrocuting an actor is not a good way to land another job (the industry tends to look down on this).

River Monsters photographed by Blair Bunting

 

Knowing that this set would be determined by the quality and work ethic of the people on it, I flew assistants in that I had worked with on previous shoots. We approached the lighting situation with Photoflex Tritons, for their safety, weight, and flash duration (we would be freezing splashing water). We had a scout look for beaches with long gradations to the shore line and went to multiple locals just to walk into the water to his waste level. Background would not be important, as we would fade to black behind the subject. For cameras, I brought both the Nikon D3x and D3s to back it up.  Never on a shoot had I expected to destroy a camera more than this, so redundancy would play key to making sure I came home with the shot, even if the camera was a paperweight.

With lighting, safety and concept behind us, it was up to Jeremy to make the action, and he did it masterfully. Often he would bring advice and reality to the table that we could not have thought of in our wildest dreams… mostly because I have yet to catch a 350 lbs. grouper, and also because I don’t fish. However, one comment amongst all the others stood out to me… All of us (7 people, 1 fish) were waist deep in the water at night in the Florida ocean and Jeremy looked up at me and said, “you know, these are perfect conditions for a Bull Shark….” to which I replied, “haha, and when’s the last time you caught a Bull Shark?!?!”…. he replied, “I caught one here….. last night”. At that point, without any direction from me, the entire set moved about 10 feet closer to shore.

We shot for only a couple hours, not due to a time crunch, but because Jeremy, the creative director, and rest of the crew worked so well together that in two hours we had a solid 30 images that would work for the ad. Since we were in the ocean, laptop previewing would be impossible, but seeing the shots out of the back of the D3x, the CD was able to see that we had the shot directly out of the camera. Although this image was not the final one chosen because of the main subject’s address to the fish, it shows the strength of a RAW file, and gives an idea to the situation around us:

Jeremy Wade

Also, here is a short video to show how the prep work went. We had originally wanted to have a complete behind the scenes of the shoot, but with the dangers at hand (be it lights, sharks, groupies, sea turtles) we decided that everyone would contribute to make the shot. My assistant Matthew Coughlin made this video of the prep, and may I warn you, once you have seen this skinny, pale photographer without his shirt on, you might wish you had never watched it…

[UPDATE: Unfortunately the video offended some animal rights groups and out of respect has been removed]

I wish I could take 100% credit for this shoot, but, as in every shot, it is the quality of the people around you that make the image. So, Jeremy, Mike, Linas, Bryan, Matt, Grant, Paul and Lisa, here is your shot and thank you.

 

The Nikon D810

A camera lives a life to do one thing, capture the information that lies before it… nothing more, nothing less.

Manipulated by man, there exists no two cameras that will live the same life, for we as photographers make them unique. Be it our style, our situation, life… there will be outer influences on our camera. However, it is as unaffected as it’s meter is colorblind, for its job remains the same, to show us what light went through it’s lens to its sensor the moment you chose to press the shutter.

On many occasions I have been asked what I wanted in a camera. Many times the person asking the question may have expected a life changing attribute that would make an ad out of every shot.… this is just not the case.

I want one thing out of a camera… a clean file.

Enter the Nikon D810

Nikon D810 side

Being the first camera that has been released since I joined Nikon as an Ambassador, I have much pride behind it and in the direction that we are going. In a step that very much resembles my all time favorite camera, the D3, Nikon chose not to cram more megapixels into the chip, but to refine the pixels that already existed. At the end of the day all that matters is the file.

As photographers, we crave detail as much as we crave the possibility to destroy it. To the audience, proof of existence is in the hands of the creator, and by his or her title of artist, existence is also to their subjection. We can take away what doesn’t attract the eye, and the image still occurred, but we cannot add, for that reality never existed. It is for this reason that the ability of the camera to create the clearest image is the most important of all of it’s functions.

The D810 serves one purpose… to show the world what the photographer truly wanted them to see.

I just hope we’re ready

When Nikon took back the Night

Living in Arizona, the idea of walking around during a hot summer’s day to take photos is not what I’d call enjoyable. Between the heat, the insanely harsh light and the heat again, it is hard to find any inspiration to shoot. On the opposite side of the coin, the nights in this desert are beautiful. With little city light to overwhelm the sky you can see what civilizations saw before us, the night.

For so long, I would walk around after the sun went down wanting to photograph the world I saw. However, the casual walk and shoot was impossible, for high ISO’s were an abstract painting at best and even the fastest prime lens would barely let you handhold a sharp image. Enter the Nikon D3.

midnight

By all outward appearances, this camera was like most other pro camera bodies, built strong and incredibly comfortable to use. Heavy? Maybe. However, it is a weight that I have become accustomed to and prefer (it’s still a feather compared to medium format bodies). Aesthetics aside, this camera had a monster inside.

_dsc7068small

A sensor that put quality of the pixel above quantity of pixels. I bought the camera as a complete skeptic, wanting to shoot with it a bit so that I could educatedly say that it was not up to par with all the other high megapixel cameras. This was not the case. I quickly found the files were so clear that upresing them to match other camera’s chips left them just as clean, if not better. Pixel structure was film like and turning the ISO dial was no longer dangerous, it was encouraged.

_dsc7148small

For too long, history was made at night and documented once the sun rose. Only now in our existence we are starting to find the reality that light had hidden for so long. The idea of ISO’s above 800 was obscure and only used when all other options were exhausted. If you want an example of this just look back at Olympic photography. Our technological achievements in photography become very evident as they now grace every sports magazine or website.

_dsc7129small

However, for me, the D3 has an extra significance to my career. It is the camera that got me through the time when work had left. This is an area that no photographer wants to talk about. It is our job to always sound busy, and we fear that not being busy is not being relevant. You as my readers and friends deserve honesty, so…

From January 2009 to January 25th, 2010 I didn’t work. The phone didn’t ring, the emails didn’t show up in my inbox, the economy had collapsed. I was getting emails from some of my best friends in the industry that were clients, telling me that they had been let go and wondering if I had connections to get them a new job. It was the first time that I had to question the notion of being a professional photographer. While I have always said that I chose my college degrees (business and sociology) to be a backup in case the photography thing didn’t work out, when I got to the reality, I didn’t want to do anything else. Every day I would wake up early (5am) just in case I had a new client on the east coast that called early, I wanted to be alert. All for nothing.

midnight7

At first it was a vacation, then it turned into boredom, then desperation and finally acceptance. Acceptance that this dream was over. All the while I wasn’t shooting, not for work, not for practice, not for fun. One day, my wife came to me and said, “let’s take the dog for a walk… and why don’t you bring your camera.” When I questioned the idea, she told me that before photography was a job, it was my passion, and just because the job part doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean that the passion shouldn’t.

I picked up the D3 and went for a walk around the neighborhood with her and our dog.

_dsc7049small

For all I knew, there would never be another client, and this art would be retired to a hobby. What struck me the most is that when the walk was done I didn’t care that the job aspect was gone, I just wanted to take pictures. So once the sun had set, I would walk around the neighborhood photographing everything from light poles to plants with the D3. It was the camera that let us photograph the darkness, and it was the camera that helped me escape it.

I wanted to write this for photographers, many in this situation and many that will someday face it. I want you to know that when the calls stop, don’t be disheartened. Your images are still strong. When you get to a point that you feel scorned by the industry, do not despair. Your images are still strong. Photography is not over the day the work ceases to exist, it is over the day you lose the passion. Find what inspires you to shoot, and photography will live on.

 

 

Bb: Nikon Ambassador

If you think there is a chance that I typed the title of this blog without laughing with excitement like a child, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Just reading it draws strong emotion… it is an honor, it is a privilege, it is not deserved and I will forever be humbled to announce that I have been chosen as an ambassador to Nikon. With all the composure I have to have on sets of great responsibility, I had none when I got the call with the formal request to be a part of the Nikon family. I was choked up in the brief conversation that proceeded, and after I hung up I just sat on the couch staring blankly out the window.

Being an ambassador to Nikon means so much more than having my name and picture on their site. It represents validity that what I am doing has been enjoyed by others, and for that I am grateful. Money removed, I would still do this job because it excites those around me, it gives us something to talk about. Recently I learned that the father of a man, for whom I have great respect, is going through a very tough health struggle. The father, in the hospital, asked that one of the photos I took be displayed above his bed. This man, is the reason why I create. He and the many of you like him are my pride and my inspiration.

It is for this reason that congratulations to you all is in order. For without you I would not be a Nikon Ambassador. This honor rests on the shoulders of you that wrote me an email, tweet, text and said you enjoyed a photo. It is because of the people that picked up a magazine that had my imagery on it or showed a friend my website because it had a cool car or famous person on it.

For all that you guys do, Thank You so much.

Le Mans: A Shoot that nearly Ended Me

Some photoshoots we love, and others we merely get by…..  this is one that I loved that almost ended me.

To say that racing is an important aspect of my life would be the equivalent of saying that I enjoy breathing air.  I love the speed, the sounds that the cars make at speed, and just for the intention of using the word “speed” in a sentence 4 times, speed.  This is why when a phone call came in with a photoshoot at the 24 heurs du Mans in France (better know as Le Mans), I decided that in no way would I turn it down.  With this said, I had already scheduled a week in the Caribbean that would get me home the day before I needed to fly to Paris.  On top of this I had a photograph in Texas two days after the race.  Most people in their right minds would cancel on one of these, or skip the race all together, sadly I am not like most in this regards.  In hoping to make life easier while in Le Mans I brought my assistant Mike with me to cover in parts where I needed a break, after all, the race we were to photograph is 24 hours long.

 Peugeot 908

After a great trip to the Caribbean I returned home, repacked, and went to bed, this is the last time I would sleep until I returned home………….

In the morning, Mike and I flew out to Philadelphia, excited, but already loathing the flight that would come next.  We both knew this would be a demanding photoshoot, but when tested, I always photographed better.  After about an hour in Phili we boarded the plane that would take us to Charles de Gaulle in France.  Now sitting on a plane for an extended period of time is bad, but when your seats are broken and don’t recline, and your in flight TV’s don’t work, and your laptop plugs are the wrong size…..well you see where this is going.  Needless to say, no sleep.

When we landed, it was 7:30am and a day later in France.  Wanting to have an idea of what we were getting into, I decided it would be best to go straight to the track from the TGV station in Le Mans (after sitting for so many hours, I needed to walk).  We checked in, got our credentials, and walked the track most of the day trying to think where we would photograph the coming morning.  Afterward we retired to the Novatel to rest, for a 24 hour long photoshoot awaited us.  Unfortunately with this rest came no sleep for someone (identity hidden for protection) has the ability to shake paintings off the wall with his snoring, impeding any chance that I had at sleeping.

dunlop

Then came race day, and for no sleep, I was surprisingly sprightly, it was though I was able to walk on adrenaline alone.  I felt the excitement building as the teams readied, and the track was cleared, and as expected, was photographing well.  As time went on, and the light fell I got a bit tired, but started a regiment of double shot cappuccinos to keep me awake.  I would say “alert” but in all honesty I was like a wired drunk that was very coherent, but not really comprehending much.  I could take a picture, but not much else, and thankfully my camera will not let the shutter fire without a memory card to write to, for I found this out once every hour or so.

Silk Cut Jaguar

With the light returning in the morning after a long rainy night I thought the motivation to stay awake would also come back to me, and I was horribly wrong.  With only a couple hours left in the 24 hours race I started collapsing, quickly followed by the shakes, and then, cherry on top of this pile, throwing up.  My lack of French (even after 4 years of it in school) didn’t help, and my assistant and I decided it would be best if I got back to the hotel.  With only an hour left in the race, Mike acted as a crutch getting me to a cab and it was off to the Novatel, for my condition was getting worse quickly and walking the track wasn’t helping.  I can remember little of this time, but know that halfway back to the hotel I asked the driver to pull over so that I could be sick outside of the cab, and he did.  The next thing I remember was being woken up by the cab driver after being sick and passing out in a random rose garden in the front yard of someone’s house on the road home.

Fortunately I was able to keep some fluids in my body after a while and when the race was over, Mike and I headed back to the airport to return home.  Oddly I was genuinely happy, for it was like escaping a nightmare, the irony in this statement being that I would of course had to sleep to do so.  Nonetheless we made it back, with great images and a story to boot.  That evening I would retire at home for a good night’s sleep, in my bed, the last place I slept a few nights before.

Le Mans Pits

Midnight will Return

In the day since the announcement of the Nikon Df, I have given great thought to where the paths of photography and happiness cross. Being known for my lighting, it is profoundly ironic that some of my most relaxed time behind a camera is enjoying the absence of light, studying what little light exists at midnight. There is so much beauty in the light that a bright moon and low level clouds can offer you. Studios would give anything to have it, but it is one reserved for us to enjoy, not use.

The tradition started when I got my first Nikon D3 and has continued periodically throughout the years, usually when I pick up a new camera body. At first I just wanted to see what it would be like to photograph at ISO’s in excess of 6400, but I soon saw the artist merit to the imagery.

midnight

I don’t to it to try and land jobs or to decorate my walls, I do it to imagine. I think of those before me that have travelled on nights like these. Even before photography itself existed, the moonlight captivated man, whether it meant calm guidance or coming storms, for the moment that it existed, it meant beauty.

midnight7

This brings me to the age old question that photographers ask… Does the camera take the pictures, or the photographer, in short, can I shoot at midnight with any of my other camera bodies? Yes. Where the critics of camera gear often get a little lost is the heavier weight of the grander story being played out. I use the Nikon Df, not because I want to capture the night, I use it because I want to be moved by it.

PurePhotography: The Nikon DF

I can still remember taking my first photos…

It was a beautiful spring morning in Arizona and the light was coming down through some trees and hitting a little gathering of water from a previous day’s rain. A friend of mine was across from the water and the reflection, water and light struck me a beautifully symmetric. I held up my Nikon F and shot only one frame. Yet to this day I identify that image as one that began to steer my path into photography. There was no money involved, no fame to be had… it was Pure Photography.

nikon-df-camera

Ask any photographer their earliest memory of photography, every one of them will have a different yet impactful story. In all of our careers, there is a moment, not the one that deals with being a professional photographer, but one far more simplistic. It is the moment when we fall in love with photography.

Like any relationship, photography is a journey. There will be times when we struggle through the feelings that we have lost our creative visions. However, there is balance in times that we feel the clarity from producing imagery that matches your mind’s eye.

nikon-df-top

What Nikon has done by releasing the new Nikon DF has allowed us to step back in time. For me it is being able to approach subjects and life differently. They have given me the key to creating images, not as Blair Bunting the professional photographer, but as Blair Bunting that kid that thought the light looked nice.

Now there will be a lot of reviews of this camera that will nitpick it for technical details or price. But a word of advice if I may.

Don’t ask what this camera will do for your photography. Ask what the camera can do for your love of photography.