Over the last few weeks I’ve been scanning in old film negs… a fun reminisce for me, relationally and photographically. I started with a Pentax point & shoot and Costco bulk film. Then along came my first SLR, a Canon Elan II. Soon after I started shooting on professional film (Fuji NPC) and using a better lab. Can you spot which is which, and where things changed? Have a look: “2002: First Shots“
I’m finally getting around to scanning the pile of negs & slides sitting beside my desk. (I’ve been wanting to do this since… well, for-freakin-ever.) Some of this stuff goes waaaaay back, before I even considered myself a photographer. It’s fun to look through… see where I’ve come from, where my visual side got its start.
Bulembu went from a sleepy hollow of Swazi homesteads to a major mining operation – producing one-third of Swaziland’s GDP – to a near-ghost town in the space of several decades. Now it’s in the midst of another transformation. To tell the story, I’ve put together a photo essay from my recent assignment: “The Bulembu Story” (There are a few dozen photos, so it may take a minute or two to load).
My recent assignment in Swaziland was a 2009 calendar on Bulembu. The concept was to photograph people involved in transformation, telling their story in a single frame. I approached this primarily through wide-angle portraits of the characters in context, attempting to include hints of past, present, and future as much as possible. I made extensive use of my new lighting rig to control tone and contrast.
Click the image to view a few selects from my portraits in Bulembu.
N.B. I’ll be posting a photo essay about the town after I get back from some R&R on the mountain this weekend.
I took this photo a few nights ago, waiting for dinner out on the lodge porch. The clouds were billowing over a nearby hillside. When the crescent moon began to peek over the horizon, I grabbed my camera, tripod and telephoto and snapped this long exposure. I’ve created it as a wallpaper for you to enjoy (right-click to save): Bulembu Moonrise Wallpaper
Edison Chirwa emigrated from Malawi looking for work in 1949. He started working for the mine a few days later. He’s lived here with Leah ever since…
Photographed these hills the night we arrived into Bulembu… what a beautiful setting for a town.
Over time I’ve developed a kit of photo gear that I’m very happy with. On my shoulders is a sling bag holding my trusty 70-200 f/2.8L IS, spare batteries, angle finder, 17-40 f/4L, a small nalgene for water & a clif bar for stocking up on energy. In one hand is usually my 5D & battery grip, loaded with a 24-70 f/2.8L.
On this trip, I have a new addition:
For the last while I’ve wanted to try carrying a small strobe with me, for practical and artistic reasons. Practically, a flash can help manage contrast in mid-day equatorial sunshine – shooting dark skin often results in excessive dynamic range, beyond what a digital sensor can capture. Artistically, a strobe allows creative control over contrast, giving me a second light source. I’m no longer at the mercy of the sun.
I’ve rigged together something portable that I can hold while shooting, or have someone else hold for me (human light stands are more flexible than metal ones). It consists of a post mounted onto a threaded handle (actually designed for shock-mounting a microphone), onto which tightens an umbrella angle bracket. I’m using Pocketwizard wireless flash releases, one on the camera, the other on a custom threaded mount (a screw welded onto a hose clamp, which tightens around the handle). On top of it all is a Vivitar 285HV flash.
The results are dramatic. Otherwise unshootable scenes transform into photographic frames with pop. My favorite technique is to cross-light, using the sun as fill and the flash as key light. Here are a couple examples from a recent gallery:
I’m very pleased with the results, and I’m looking forward to using this technique in Bulembu. The original idea for this combination came from conversations with Jesse and reading Strobist, a great online resource for photographic lighting.
Here’s a few photos of the kit all put together:
The last few days have been fun shooting days, mostly with with my 5D, a 24-70 f/2.8L and a wireless flash. This gallery is in two parts: yesterday, driving outside of town to a limestone quarry and a farm; and today, walking down some of Kigali’s dusty roads with Jeff-u (Jeffrey’s Rwandan name), my custom flash contraption in-hand. Click the pic to take a look. (Check out the Post Index if you’d like to see more galleries.)
Today was a relaxing day, spent mostly reading and researching for my upcoming trip to Bulembu, Swaziland, picking up some extra audio and doing some writing. I’ve also been practising my off-camera flash techniques with a new set of Pocketwizard wireless flash slaves.
Here’s a “mini gallery” of construction shots from around the compound (click the pic to view).