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Photography

Gallery – Portraits of Bulembu

Maria Portrait

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.

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Updates

Back Home

63 hours in transit coming home is enough to make me never want to fly again… OK maybe not :) This trip set my new record: 14 flights, including two aerial photography helicopters and six long-haul legs.

I’m so very glad to be back on firm soil in the cold Vancouver air. (Just in time to travel a bit more up to Silverstar :)

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Photography

Wallpaper – Bulembu Moonrise

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

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Updates

Heading Back from Bulembu

7 days, 4000 photos, 8 more flights and many interesting stories later, I’m headed back to Vancouver. I think I’d call the trip to Bulembu, Swaziland a photographic success. I feel like I was able to get to know the story and the people, and capture them well.

The photographs are destined primarily for a calendar, which is a unique challenge. I was trying to capture multiple layers in each shot: the images need to be beautiful and truthful, and they need to be something people will hang on their wall. Bulembu is a broken community in the midst of redefining itself. There is extensive history as well as big ambitions for the future, with a lot of problems to overcome. The challenge is for each image to tell all that while being something you can look at for a month.

I’ve posted a wallpaper of one shot that I like. I’ve also got two galleries ready to go… at the moment I’m in Nairobi, where the bandwidth is minimal. I’ll upload them when I’m back in Vancouver.

Just two more long flights, and then a little R&R before diving into the todos that have been piling up for six weeks…

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Photography

Photo – The Chirwa’s

The Chirwa's

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…

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Updates

In Bulembu

Just a few minutes to make a quick post… Kelly and I have arrived safely into Bulembu. I’ve been busy shooting since then… we’re now about to begin photography day 3. This place presents some unique photographic challenges – the usual transport and scheduling issues, the spread out nature of the town, and the high grade of image required for a calendar.

I’ll post more as I can, and perhaps a gallery of images shot so far. (Internet is faster here, but only available during the day when I’m working.) For now here’s a photo from the night we arrived.

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Photography

Photo – Bulembu Hills

Photographed these hills the night we arrived into Bulembu… what a beautiful setting for a town.

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Updates

Shake & Rattle

This morning around 9:30, and again this afternoon, two earthquakes hit Rwanda. In Kigali they were minor… I noticed the first because the ceiling fan began to dance. Jeff & Jodi were outside and didn’t even feel it.

The second (and its aftershocks) were a little more noticeable because of the hanging tiles in the Kigali airport. I was wondering for a bit if I should make a dash for an early departure… but, no harm done. Apparently some other areas took it a bit harder.

In Nairobi now, catching some free wifi in the transit lounge before my flight to Joburg in a few hours…

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Updates

That’s a Wrap – Let the Show Begin

Bags are packed, gear checked, batteries charged, hard drives backed up (twice)… and with that Rwanda: Hope Rises is a wrap. I’ll sum up a few of the challenges and successes in a little while… It was a very difficult trip, but ultimately we came away with some incredible stories and images of Rwanda, pieces that I hope will do this place justice.

And with that, I’m on to my next big assignment – a calendar photo shoot in Swaziland. I’ll be taking photos in Bulembu, an ex-mining town for Teldon Community Foundation. I’ll post more as I go… but for now it’s time to get me, and all my gear, checked through via Nairobi and Johannesburg…

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Articles Photography

A Second Sun

24-70 f2.8L detail

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:

Flash Device
It’s a wireless handheld flash contraption, in case you’re wondering.

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:

Rwandan Kids in Field 1Rwandan Kids in Field 2

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:

Strobist Kit 1Strobist Kit 2
Strobist Kit 3Trev in 24