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The Light (Un)expected

I’ve always felt that the “beauty” of the subject is a heavily overrated part of the image.

Our world is full of beauty (sometimes entirely subjective and sometimes universal to us as a species) and we’re so privileged and lucky to be be able to observe it – to the point that it’s one of the very reasons we exist – to me that’s true and I’d sign under it every day. In fact, I do believe in Carl Sagan’s words entirely – “we’re the way of the Cosmos to know itself”.

Beauty is a part of the world, a part so powerful and magnetic that it has become the paramount subject of many an artist’s work.  But to me, it has always been more about the “wonder”. And wonder tends to be a vastly wider, much less defined category. Beauty may or may not be a part of it. I keep trying not to define my work strictly as “beautiful”. At times creating it would be necessary without question. But more often than not, focusing on just beauty itself seemes like an avoidance, a deception to me.

Sarah makes beautiful dresses for beautiful occasions and that seems like almost an universal truth. But whenever she calls me, I can always be sure there is something beyond that, something that could unite a beautiful vision and a concept in which beauty is just an ingredient of the whole. So when she called me to work on her new lookbook, I said “yes” without even thinking it through.

 

LE CYGNE / The Swan

model: Karina Ilieva / Ivet Fashion

make-up: Radmila Badova

hair: Suzan Al Hirsch

dress: Sarah Hirsch

The shoot was about mirrors. And it was to be made on relatively simple, minimalist terms.

I broke one of the mirrors on the way up to the studio, which was obviously not exactly a great beginning. Yet somehow I knew it was going to be fine.

 

When I entered the space, a sudden thought hit me – despite all of the simplicity I’d planned, there was this floral paper lampshade, which begged to be played with. But what was more – it had a rather distinct, sharp light coming out of its bulb, which played in such an interesting way with the mirrors’ edges, when they were placed on the floor – it created a thin, close to invisible reflection on the surface of the wall in an unusual, fragile, yet (once noticed) very engaging manner. It was an unexpected, but quite specific game of light, which occurred naturally and was quite easy to miss. But once I saw it, I thought – ok, Sarah’s dresses are both floral and geometric in nature. They are made of sharp, striking lines, but with a sense of finesse at the same time. I did have the ingredients to make something quite more different than the initial concept, more interesting visually, but what’s even better – still being entirely in the context of her work.

I didn’t even hesitate.

 

Thankfully, I’d brought some of my favourite lights – extremely harsh, direct cinematic sources. I never really planned on using them for this shoot beforehand, but the occasion really called for nothing else (with a very, very slight fill light from a small 5500K strobe).

 

What I managed to achieve through this setup was further enhancing what the environment had already presented me to work with, and the most beautiful part was that they were used not to create something entirely new and fictional (although the final images do have this feel, I guess), but to incorporate what was already there to begin with with and further empower it with artificial lighting, which worked, in my opinion, flawlessly for the shoot. It’s not really a typical lookbook, but “typical” would be an insult for these clothes nonetheless.

 

Sometimes the answers for us as light workers and light manipulators stand right there, just where we are. And sometimes simply “seeing” is more than enough. And no matter how much years one has spent working in this field, no matter what his general attitude towards photography is – I find this thought highly comforting and liberating at the same time.

 

 

To shoot a Beigbeder

photo: Ivaylo Petrov, post: Emanuela Belovarski

And there I had it – the call to ask me whether I’d want to work with Frederic Beigbeder. The famous writer, media personality, TV presenter (the last one please close the door!) was coming over to host a lecture in the city of Varna and, understandably, a number of interviews would be given in-between.

When I discussed the details with Thea, who was our direct contact with the man, the harsh reality came up fast as expected – I’d have between 30 and 45minutes at most (depending on how the interview before the photoshoot went). I’d basically be free to do whatever I wanted, as long as we stuck to the timeframe and the location. It was a beach bar in the heart of the city, on the verge of the sea – one of the hottest places around and that’s basically all I could dig up as preproduction information.

At this point I could sum up this assignment up pretty well:

-I was to shoot Beigbeder in a place I knew little about, have less than an hour to do whatever I want, as long as it results in usable images and then be back the very next day, having driven a 1000km total.

I was basically like…

“Fuck!

…LET’S GO!”

And then, as usual, I started thinking it through (better late than never!).

Most of my work requires time to be properly set up and time to be properly executed. It’s about achieving a result, which has been previously thought-through and defined down to the little details.
Then built on the actual set.
And then be shot until.it.works.out.
Working with my team could speed things up a lot (not to mention how much better it is to have professionals on your side for different parts of the production). But due to the very nature of this assignment, having a large team was obviously not an option.

So I’d have to take my second best guess.

BE. PREPARED. (not that one shouldn’t always be!)

Obviously, I hadn’t met Beigbeder before. So the general approach towards the photoshoot and ideas I’d gathered were to come from impressions from his books, quotations and public stories.

In a way I feel they’d be appropriate for him, of course.

So (in-between the unsung horror of two different business photosessions few days before it), I managed to come up with at least 4 or 5 different concepts, spent more than 30 hours of building CGI backgrounds (again, due to the location requirements I felt those were needed for at least two of the images I wanted to create) and adjusted my lighting set-ups in a way to make them look homogeneous with the environments.

Or, to put it simple – I wanted to know exactly what each of the images would look like before I’ve even picked my camera up, before I even left the city for the shoot. I wanted to build each of the set ups in my head, play it through a number of times, see how it’d fail under different circumstances (since the location was, as I said, more of a mystery to me with only generic guidelines available).

These are some very early cgi setups

Еach of the items was to be shot in accordance with the final renders. That was my way of feeling prepared.

Lighting gear took a little to optimize, and due to these specific parameters I opted for a light-weight mobile kit, powered by batteries and two continuous sources just in case the opportunity to use them indoors arose.

And off I drove on early morning before July morning. Just before I stepped in my car, another car lost control and crashed in the pub down the street, missing me just barely. “Such an optimistic start”, I thought. And then I pressed the gas pedal .

Almost six hours and the whole country later we were in the place. Heat was as unspeakable as expected. I called Thea to say we’d arrived and we’ll be setting up the gear. She told me that Beigbeder wasn’t to wear the suit I’d asked for a few days before due to the heat. When we actually walked into the bar itself, I saw that the space we’d have wouldn’t allow to make precision lighting without significantly rethinking the setup. So rethinking began, since I didn’t want to give up so easily and since there’d be no suit, then there might be no clothes at all, I thought!

We were almost finished, all the lights set, when the man showed up with Thea and the guys from Colibri Publishers.

He asked for a quick swim before all else, which he enjoyed and we got to chat a little.  I listened to him chat with the other guys on the set. And then he swam, and then he came back and the interview started.

And as I listened the conversation unfold, I got this feeling that almost none of these predefined, structured ideas that I’d built for all of these hours of thinking were suiting his mood now, nor the place, nor the general attitude a person could feel from hearing him speak live. They were images I’d crafted in my head for a person I knew only through the things I’ve read, but as he spoke with the interviewer they started to just feel “not right”.

And I was to make a call and make it fast – should I simply leave everything I’d prepared for and go with the flow or should I push harder for the initial plan, knowing that even if I’m lucky, I’d get two successful images at most. Beigbeder’s general attitude was so down-to-Earth and yet the things he was talking about ringed true to me throughout the whole interview, that I knew that had I pushed him to go for the suit and stick to the original concepts, he would probably agree, but

..did I really feel it was right?

 

I left them all.

There was a necktie in my photography backpack, which I purchased for a special wedding last year.

 

I asked him to bite it.

There was a random typewriter right next to our table in the bar. (Why is there a typewriter on a beach bar, which screams “sun, sand, sea, alcohol”?). I guess if I was a writer I’d know?

I was cautious, but Mira reassured me it was a good thing to do. It seemed like a good thing to do. So we picked it up and I asked him to go back to the beach.

Then lie down on it, despite the hundreds of people around and pretend there was nobody here – just him, his thoughts and the ocean eternal. He did it as if he was doing it every day before breakfast. Or supper. Or whatever.

photo: Ivaylo Petrov, post: Emanuela Belovarski

Obviously, the whole thing became the beach’s local attraction.

I tried really.hard.to.make.it.look.casual, as if that’s what happens on every other shoot.

Not that I really had to, since Frederic was so all in and welcoming the ideas, that I could’ve as well just shut up (which would have been a really nice idea, looking back to it).

 

А part of being professional is, I believe, not.to.screw.up! No matter what time it is. No matter the place. Once you’ve said “I will”, you’d better make sure that you do. Such an attitude could lead, I believe, to a better world for everyone else. But what if not screwing up sometimes means to just go with the flow, rather than try to direct it to where you think it’s necessary?

Might it be a part of the “growing up” – the ever elusive thing, which is almost impossible to synthesize in a few words, but, when it happens, no one needs words either way, because it’s felt down to the smallest particle of being human.

Beigbeder has, not even knowing, given me an unexpected food for thought, which transcends far beyond this particular assignment and into the vast frontier of knowing oneself.

And I will remember.

With special thanks to everyone involved.

 

I.

The Flight of Icarus

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This is such a special image to me.

(The creative part)

The thought of it came so spontaneously, I can’t even recall really thinking it through afterwards. It simply was there, a modernistic take on a classical myth, which seemed to me a very convenient way to make a point about society. It was one of those rare cases (and trust me, when your life is centered around making pictures, they do feel rare indeed), when an idea comes through from somewhere (different people would probably use a different name for this “somewhere”), but it’s also a representation of who I really am. An honest take on thoughts and ideas, which have troubled me ever since my later teenage years.

And when something like this appears in your mind you only have one choice.

YOU GO OUT THERE AND MAKE IT HAPPEN.

No ifs. No excuses. You owe this to yourself, for it’s not an obligation, but a privilege given to few and this simple observation makes it, to me, a mandatory effort for those who consider their job somehow “creative”.

And as this realization came to my mind (as many times before, actually), I instantly knew who should I call.

Emmy said yes instantly , for her own personal reasons. It’s a rare honor to have such a creative person, who “clicks” in a way so similar to yours and when she says it’s an idea worth doing, well.. I knew it’s an idea worth doing. Her art direction and postproduction simply brought the image to another level.

(the production part)

But how do you make a hill of 15 living bodies and engage one of the most well-known young actors in your country?

Be honest. It’s the first, foremost and most viable advice I could ever give to anyone. People feel it. If you’re sincere – they feel it. If you truly care about your work and this particular image – they feel it. If you suck – they feel it. If you don’t really believe in it – they feel it.  Hit them with what you have and take whatever comes of it. If you’re true to yourself, it usually works and they do respond accordingly.

Leonid accepted the moment I called him and described what me and Emmy were up to. And so did everyone else.

 

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There are times when one should really put a significant, tiresome effort in bringing together the various pieces of what he needs for his idea – that’s when character comes into play. And there are times when it just seems like his effort was meant to be and everything comes together so seamlessly and effortlessly that it feels almost spiritual. To me, they are both sides of the same coin. This happened to be the almost spiritual one.

Since I knew there would be more than 15 people on the set, I decided to make the shoot in one of the largest photography studios currently available. I also needed most of the top-end lighting there, because the relative simplicity of my scheme here called for a really high quality of light.

 

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I knew I wanted to emulate, for the most part, a classical, Renaissance “feel” for the image, which is usually not that complicated of an effort to take in terms of contemporary imagery. Basic photography tools and understanding of the inverse square law will more than likely get you there. Theoretically.

The total amount of lighting is, I believe,

2xProfoto B1 500J

1xProfoto D4 + 4 heads

Profoto Deep Umbrella XL

2x Profoto Magnum + grids

1x RFi 4′Octa + grid

1x HR Lantern

 

 

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After all, those are just tools. They do matter up to a point. Beyond that point were a number of people, who chose to believe in someone else’s vision (in this case – my own). People, who trusted me enough to spare a few hours of their time оn a day of my choosing, get half-naked in late winter and hope that something good will come of this. What more could an artist ask for, honestly?

 

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The whole process – from welcoming everyone on our set to the final wrap took a few hours, because when you increase the number of people in your shoot, things get increasingly difficult in a geometric progression. At this point, communication is paramount, because directing a larger group of people is definitely easier said than done.

Everyone did amazingly well. This is the point where it truly shows how much you have done even before setting foot in your studio – because every doubt, every inconsistency – it’s bound to show and be felt by everyone. And when you’d been granted with the trust and patience of so many people, this is simply something you are not allowed to display. No fiddling with the camera, not too many obvious doubts about lighting, no compromises. Getting (and keeping!) the attention of a larger group of people, especially when they are put in a situation, which most of them are not accustomed to requires a strong mental effort, which, in turn, means that you can’t spare all of your thought potential on the technical part.

Photography is usually a constant juggling between left brain/right brain decisions, which is not a simple feat even on its own. When you know beforehand that you’ll have to invest a decent part of your mental strength and energy in simply running things smoothly, you’d better know really well what you are doing. Trust me, it would be beneficial to everyone.

We got the shot.

After that, it was me having to finish the CGI part for our wings (which happened to be a mixture of the hydraulics of a robot grasshopper’s rear leg, combined with some blades for the feathers of our modernistic wings).

wingsWIP1

 

And cables.

 

WipScreenCables Capture1

After that, it was Emmy doing her magic. That is beyond me and probably worth a separate post entirely.

And then it was finished. A project like this incorporates thoughts, fears and opportunities, that are so diverse and complicated, that it’s a bliss to have the chance to work on them every once in a while.

After all, how else could one grow?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Co:Libri Project

I was recently contacted by the marvelous people from Colibri Publishers with a very interesting and, from a creative professional’s point of view, quite a rare assignment request.

The company was to celebrate its 25th birthday and in order to do so, they had a large-scale campaign in mind, which encompassed a number of different events the biggest ones being a cinematic festival (which included only movies, that are based on books) and a photographic exhibition, which included portraits of some of the Publishers’ authors or Bulgarian celebrities, all holding a book of their choosing in the picture.

This was a relatively simple assignment at a first glance, but since they’d decided to book me to execute a number of different images, I felt that I need to take it a step further in order to truly create something memorable, something worthy of the soul and dedication this publishing house seems to put in every single one of their projects.

After a short brainstorming with their team and spending some time to think about it myself, we came to an agreement, that it could be interesting to portray these people not only holding a book, but to also make them somehow being “a part” of the book, or the epoch it represents.

The problem was that it was 15 images we were talking about and I had this uplifting deadline of just a little more than three weeks to set up the whole production, shoot these very busy people and leave the amazing post production artists I have the pleasure to work with enough time, so that they could do their thing and do it with minimum stress possible. I decided to open a beer.

TheOldManFinalIcko Finci as “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson, photography by Ivaylo Petrov

style by Silvia Vladimirova

post-production by Zlatina Zareva

This job not being one, which comes through a traditional advertising agency, I had to literally take on such an agency’s responsibilities and act as a mediator between my client from one side and my team from another. Luckily for me, the client was as open to creative suggestions as it gets, and my team was top-notch amazing. I really can’t stress enough the importance to have people you could consistently rely on in such cases. A photographer might probably be the most important figure on the set, because, in the end, he is the one who makes it all “blend together” when it comes to the day of the shoot, but honestly – the outcome of a successful photosession is determined by two major factors – how good you are as this photographer and how much work you have done before you even set foot in your studio. To me, while the first part is a matter of a constant personal development, a passion, a lifestyle, an ability to truly blend your experience from different and possibly even unrelated sides of your life in your work, the second part is where you are absolutely dependent on your team, these extremely rare cases when you know you’d call someone and he’d “click” in a way, not unlike yours. I felt so privileged to have such people on my side that a second beer was the logical choice.

TSUKURUwebYosif Shamli as “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami, photographed by Ivaylo Petrov

creative and post-production by Emmanuela Belovarski

make-up by Marina Mladenova

style by Silvia Vladimirova

Long story short – we did it.

I believe we did it well.

It took a few almost sleepless nights. It took a missing car an hour before the beginning of the first shooting day (incidentally full of clothes for the very same occasion). It took me acting as a creative, a coordinator, an account manager, a delivery guy, a photographer and a person who doesn’t posses quite a short temper (the last part was the hardest. Beer helped.) It took working in one of the best studios I could think of. It took working in one of the worst locations I could dream of. It took a very think neck. It took a broken lamp.

But we did it.

The-girl-with-theDragonTattoo

Jacueline Wagenstein as “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” by David Lagercrantz, photographed by Ivaylo Petrov

post-production by Zlatina Zareva

style by Silvia Vladimirova

make-up by Marina Mladenova

hair by Yordan Alexandrov

This project takes a special place in my heart.

Apart from its exhausting nature (on a number of different levels), it gave me a certain determination, because it was so out of the usual bounds. It was a test to both me and the people I trust and it was a test taken well enough.

When it comes to photography, there are few pleasures I can think of, which are greater than seeing an idea come to fruition in its raw state. I feel so very thankful that, from time to time, I get the call from someone, initially a client, oftentimes  later a friend, who would entrust his campaign on my creative judgement.

After all, isn’t it one of the biggest things a photographer could hope for?

DragоDrago Simeonov by Ivaylo Petrov from Ian McEwan’s “The Innocent”, style by Silvia Vladimirova

MayaBezhanskaMaya Bezhanska by Ivaylo Petrov, portrayed as Amelie Nothomb, style by Silvia Vladimirova, make-up by Marina Mladenova, hair by Yordan Alexandrov

 

Irmena Irmena Chichikova as melancholic Verginia Woolfe, style by Silvia Vladimirova, make-up by Marina Mladenova

 

 

Don Quixote: Making

I was recently approached by the talented and enthusiastic The Irstress with a question about a possible steampunk shoot. She had a number of clothes she’d made herself and given the fact that I.love.steampunk, it was a hard to resist opportunity. There was no initial concept involved, so I had complete freedom to choose the underlying theme and what could be done. She also has a horse, just to be thrown in the mix. An amazing one, as it turned out later.

So, while the clothes were pushing the general direction towards a definite steampunk approach, it was really Chris (the horse), who made me think “Ok, we have the style of clothing set and this four-legged friend, what could be done with that?”. So basically the first thing that came to mind was one of the most notable horse-riding characters in literature. And I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if I gave him a flamethrower instead of a spear, just to help him set those nasty windmills on fire.

My idea was taken really well, for which I’m thankful and there were no modifications requested about it (which actually doesn’t happen all that often).

Since I basically have two left hands when it comes to drawing, the best initial sketch I could come up with was this:

CAM00654

Still here after that abomination? Great, I promise it gets better on.

With the basic plan of the shoot now set, it was time for the execution. Due to logistic reasons, we had to photograph the image on location – the stable, where Chris lives. I was initially thinking of bringing a portable studio backdrop for an easier background separation, but after I visited the location, I decided that it wouldn’t be necessary in this particular case.

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I had planned all of the lighting beforehand, which was to be in accordance with the initial layout, a total of five lamps were used, some of them with warming filters, so that they could be logical against the “flaming” backdrop with the windmills.

The specific part of this shoot from a photographic standpoint was that even though Chris is a wonderful fella, he gets kind of impatient when he’s literally overwhelmed by electronic flashes and is expected to stay in the middle of them all, so we didn’t really get as much of shooting time as we wished. That being said, he stood beautiful and proud for even more than it was polite of us to be asking, so with a few short walks between the exposures, he gave us more than enough successful frames. This relatively not complicated (from a lighting point of view) shoot wouldn’t actually be possible if I hadn’t brought two assistants to help with the grip and all else, it was exactly one of those cases that even a careful planning wouldn’t suffice without a good team to support it with effortless execution.

After the images were taken, it was time for the CGI work, that I had planned in my mind for this piece.

The windmills basically consist of two parts – a rotary aircraft GNOME engine from WWI was their “heart”.

Capture

And the base was a NASA satellite, which was rather simplified, so that the windmills don’t become way too active in the background:

Capture1

After quite a lot of postwork I did in the 3d software, the finished windmills looked like this:

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Next in line was the flamethrower – it basically consists of a sniper rifle, heavy machine gun and the base of a handgun and at some (relatively) finished state looked like this:

Flamethrowerweb

And things were ready to burn, but there was something still missing, what good could a firestarter be without his short and and round partner in crime. I decided that a donkey would be too much, though, so we gave him a self-propelling mechanism and a set of his own wheels:

Snap_2015.08.11 22.16.45_004

But he was still way too shiny for a guy, who hangs out around the relative danger of flamethrowers and someone of an.. unstable temper who wields them all the time, so circumstances demanded that he’d have to be a little beaten up, thus enhancing his charm when put in the battlefield:

Snachoweb

With all the various pieces of the composition now finished, it was time for the amazing Zlatina Zareva – a magnificent visual artist and a friend to take over – she has the talent to really bring together even something relatively heavy in terms of various elements and she truly managed to set the initial concept on fire with her execution in the postproduction:

Overall, this piece required quite a lot of initial planning and consideration of tiny details, good coordination and most notably – people who really believed in the final result, but, in my eyes, it’s exactly projects like these that help an artist grow – by treading the roads he never ventured.

Character: Cinematic Thoughts

I had the great pleasure to be chosen for a short movie production’s DP, which also happened to be situated in the 30’s of the past century. It’s called “The Patient” and is based on a classic short story, written around the same period. It was, in my opinion, one of those cases, in which the subject of the movie (or it could very well be the photograph, in that sense) demanded and, to some extent, dictated the approach for its visual execution.

 

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I chose to shoot practically every scene of the movie with a very “raw”, “back to the roots” approach, loosely based on the classic tools, used in that period of the cinema history, but consciously omitting some of the paramount workhorses of the era in terms of lights and their contribution to the scene, thus giving it a bit more “edgy”, temporary look, yet still falling into a similar visual style.

 

Atanas Atanassov

 

The greatest percentage of this film was shot using a relatively low-powered units, a mixture between ARRI’s 650/1000W and the smallest Dedolights – the almighty 150s. This was made possible partly because of the amazing high ISO performance of modern cameras, which is, in my opinion, a tool that gives creative freedom that wasn’t possible ever before to the photographer/cinematographer of our modern age.

Their low wattage allowed me to mix their power (and the DEDOs also have a variable one, did I mention that I LOVE those little guys) with every other light source in my frame – including some gas lamps, as old as the movie’s setting itself. This made it easy for me to achieve the classic, simplistic yet quite strong, natural look as if the scene was lit by the visible sources in the frame, that I was looking for for this piece. In fact, very often I actually placed additional NDs on the ARRIs, so that I could bring their power even LOWER than their already not-that-high one. In terms of photography, the general rule of the thumb is that the brighter light is almost always the better light, but in recent years I honestly get the impression that power requirements for a successful picture have dropped by A LOT (excluding, of course, those cases in which overpowering another powerful light source is required).

 

Ivan Panayotov as a Young Doctor

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The Clock Tower

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This is a very short series of personal work I happened to finish around one of the coziest and most contemplative times of the year – Christmas and they somehow fit perfectly well for the atmosphere of this holiday, a celebration of faith and love.

Nikolay, 79, takes care of a very special clock, which is found in the second largest Bulgarian Orthodox Church – “St. Dimiter” in Vidin. The church was built by the design of Italian architect Bachnani and after it was finished in 1899, a decision was made for a clock mechanism to be installed, which was, at that time, unique not only to the town, but to the whole country. The mechanism was a German build, designed by Johan Mannhardt, which costed 10000 golden leva, but since the people of the city only had 8500, after short negotiations, the price was settled and the machine was to be delivered by the town’s port on the river Danube.

The clock was installed in the church’s tower in 1900. Its construction is one of a kind for its time, employing a mechanical principle, which allows the whole mechanism to be strained for a very short time, being perfectly at rest for the majority of his operation, resulting in a very prolonged life expectancy. It has been working for 114 years, has 4 faces and is connected to the church’s large bells, which announce the time every 15 minutes.

 

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Nikolay is a retired engineer, he has been taking care of the clock for 16 years, doing it completely for free for most of this time, oftentimes purchasing basic maintenance tools with part of his own pension. The mechanism requires occasional wind-up, which is done with a crank he made himself and even though serious physical effort is needed, he does that every 5 days. He is one of the most cordial people I have ever had the pleasure to shoot and the only thing he sounded worried about was that he didn’t know what is going to happen to the clock after him and will there be someone to keep taking care of it.

 

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This place is one of those rare ones, in which a fortunate photographer could end up every now and then. A place that holds a spirit and a story on its own. But I believe those remain in such places after the extraordinary people who leave a part of their spirit, will and faith, and true dedication to something. And, for the most part, getting the chance to touch such a place and a person is a reward enough all on its own.

My macro In-Depth | an article for AdvancedCreation

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I was recently asked by an editor of AdvencedCreation‘s printed magazine to write an article about my approach to macro work in a simple way, yet talking about the technical side of things. So since the issue is already out, I decided to share it here as well. 

Even though shooting macro tends to be, in my opinion, a bit more on the technical side and requires some specific knowledge in order to achieve great results, which makes it less accessible than other types of photography, I’ll try and keep terms and explanations here as simple as possible. I chose the image above for two reasons – first – it’s one of my favorite macro shots and second – it is such not because I haven’t shot better or harder to execute, but because I took it a few years back, when I was just beginning serious photography and the tools I had at my disposal were very limited at that time (and most of them I still use, which shows that even more extreme macro doesn’t have to be very expensive or totally out of reach for any enthusiast).

I’d like to make another clarification as well – there are a few different ways a person can achieve magnification ratios higher than 1:1 and the solution I’ll be describing is not necessarily the best one and does not necessarily yield the absolute highest image quality, but comparing all of the methods is a subject of a different article entirely. Also, I will accept that you’re familiar with the term magnification, and If not – there a number of good articles on the subject, one of them you can read here: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/6519974919/macro-photography-understanding-magnification

 

 

  1. Lens choice.

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For most of my work I used (and sometimes I still do) an old m42 lens, made by Pentax – the Macro Takumar 50/4 (first version). The reason it’s a macro lens is that these are designed to give maximum sharpness at all apertures, especially when focused on a very close subject and pushing the limits of lens of such type (in step II) will usually give better results, compared to an ordinary 50mm (in this case). And the reason it’s an m42 lens is that an old and used specialty lens was the utmost I could afford as a first year student and honestly – I have never regretted it – it’s a gem in terms of sharpness and build quality, while also being completely system independent – my macro setup has remained the same, while switching four different camera bodies from two manufacturers, everything via appropriate adapters.

  1. Taking it further

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Very few lenses were produced, which are able to achieve magnification higher than 1:1 only by themselves and I believe there’s only a single one in production and readily available, made by Canon – the MP-E 65 (with a maximum of 5:1). While this lens is amazing in almost all regards, its price is also quite high and a lot of people may not want or be able to afford an investment this big for an extremely specialized thing, which will not even focus on anything less than 1:1. So the price-conscious decision I made was to use the so-called macro bellows, which is, very simply put, a completely light-isolated tunnel with variable extension, with two bayonets (or in this case – screw-mounts) at both ends, which allows the lens to be attached to the front side and the bellows itself – on the camera bayonet. There are no additional lenses or anything inside it – but by varying the bellows in length, achieving a lot higher magnification becomes possible with any lens, mounted in front of it. Different bellows may offer additional features and benefits, but the very basic job they all do is the same – providing means of reaching higher magnification. An important note is that some bellows may not transfer any information to modern cameras, even if the lens you mount is capable of this and thus, making it impossible to control the aperture from the body, so if you opt for a cheap or third-party bellows, using a lens with a physical aperture control ring is very recommended. On the picture is the bellows I use, which is a very old and not-that-precise piece of Russian engineering.

      1. Putting it all together

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And the two images above represent the setup we have so far – which probably won’t win any aesthetic contests, but allows for quite impressive results with a very reasonable investment. The whole macro system is mounted on a Canon EOS body via a m42-EOS adapter. I can’t stress enough how important a quality tripod is for macro, though, pictured is a Manfrotto 055 legs with a Manfrotto 3030 Three-way head, which allows for a relatively easy positioning, even when speaking in terms of high magnification. Also note that the quick release plate is mounted on the bottom of the bellows and not the camera itself, leaving it in the back and thus achieving a lot more stable results, because even very slight vibrations are really apparent when venturing into more extreme macro.

      1. Taking the shot itself

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And thus we finally have the camera set in some (preferably stable) way and are eager to take the photo of whatever thing we put in front of it. I tried to recreate the way I actually took the image of the fly back then, and it’s really humble in terms of lighting. Since I didn’t have any flashes at my disposal, I used my reading lamp, positioned to the right and slightly behind the subject. The exposure was judged by its light output and it was 2sec at f16. I also used mirror lockup, in combination with the 2sec self-timer function, to minimize any possible camera shake from physical movement from pressing the shutter button or the mirror mechanism.

The first try was ok, but I felt that something was lacking with just the light, coming form the lamp and remembered that my phone has a flashlight function, so I turned it on and tried painting with its light for the duration of these two seconds and from the left. The light, coming from it, was a lot colder than the light from the lamp (which I would guess was around 2900K, probably even lower than that). This way the right part of the image was warm and the left and was cold, thus making it a bit more interesting visually.

And that was about it.

For work like this, using compact flashes is generally a better decision, due to the fact, that if you shoot in a light-isolated environment, the length of their very short impulse will help to increase the sharpness of the image if minimal residual shake is still present.

      1. RAW CORRECTIONS

Having the precious shot on our cards, it’s time to decide what to do next. Like everything, concerning digital photography, some further corrections are almost always appropriate, although when it comes to macro work, I personally prefer them to be minimal.

As with any other type of photography, shooting macro in RAW is very highly recommended, so the first step is to load our image in a macro convertor. Most of the time I use the Adobe CameraRaw plugin for its great integration with Photoshop and ease of use, newer versions of it also produce a very good image quality with Canon cameras.

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Here is a summary of the initial image and the basic corrections applied. In this case they are really basic, just a slight correction of the exposure and the white balance, pumping up the clarity and the vibrance sliders, leaving everything else pretty much as it is, in this case.

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Here on the next tab, the tone curves, I make sure that the graph is set to linear, as in most cases it’s better to leave the contrast in the convertor low and the image looking a bit “flat”, but to have more tonal detail to work on later in Photoshop itself.

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And last but not least – in the Detail tab of ACR – make sure that both Sharpening and Noise Reduction sliders are turned off. We don’t need them at all now, since we want to preserve maximum detail in our file on this step, which is exactly the opposite of what Noise Reduction does, and Sharpening is the very last step of the processing of any image. And then we open the image in the image editor.

      1. Removing Unwanted Details

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Now in our image editing software, in this case – Photoshop, it’s time to get rid of some of the unwanted details that may spoil to some extent the image, which has its main focus on the striking symmetry and fine detail of the facet eyes. First of all, I duplicated the background layer, so that everything I chose to correct is on a separate layer, allowing a great flexibility in the workflow. Then, I started using the clone stamp and the healing brush tools from the panel on the left, carefully picking the sampling points for both instruments. In this particular case it’s a little tricky, because of the color gradients and the really fine details with a repeating texture, so not everything happened with the first click, but in about 10minutes I was able to clean the eyes up well enough.

      1. Color Corrections

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 With the small, distracting details out of the way, it’s finally time to make the image really “pop”. When photographing things that are not very commonly seen, working with color is, in my opinion, relatively easy, because you are not dealing with specific colors, that are regular objects for our perception every single day – like the sky, skin color, grass and so on that may present certain limits when manipulating their color. With this particular image, I used some loosely drawn masks to add saturation and contrast, especially in the facet region, again, using a non-destructive method with everything being on a separate correction layer.

      1. Cropping and Sharpening

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I was vaguely aware that I wanted this shot to be square or very close to square by the time of the shooting, but when I actually cropped it, I decided definitely to stick to this proportion. And the last thing that had to be done was sharpening of the final image, which in this case was pretty strong – around 300/0,3, if I remember correctly. Sharpening like this is not uncommon when dealing with higher magnification, but the actual numbers may vary significantly, depending on a number of factors, including the camera body you are currently using and the details you want to strengthen.

With all said and done, the image looks like this:

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Through a Mall, Darkly

These days I’ve been feeling kind of strange and yet I’ve had this small project оn my mind for quite some time – to “kill” the people in a really populated place and make it look empty and lonely. So it was probably the perfect time to begin this personal work and I managed to get a shooting permission in the first Mall here in Sofia.

IMG_9225sm IMG_9231sm Mall Emptiness

All photographs are taken with a 10 stop ND filter (a.k.a nd1000), exposure times are between 4 and 8 minutes each, resulting in these empty spaces during one of the busiest parts of the day. I tried to wipe the people out not only with my camera, but there, within my mind as well and it’s really interesting how alone a person can feel even in the midst of all the midday shopping chaos. These are not really typical images for me, but I highly value the time I manage to spend contemplating, even at unusual places, so I decided to share them. They turned out to be, in a way, kind of a self portrait of who I am these days.

 

“Klas”

Chance can be a strange thing sometimes. Never have I imagined that the first post to write here will be about one of the most precious shoots for me as a person, that I was lucky enough to happen to me in quite a while. There are these peculiar times in one’s life and there are those experiences or just.. impressions that he gets while flying through them. For me the music that I associate with such times happens to have a special place in my mind for years and years after. “Klas” were a part of the soundtrack of quite a big period of my life a few years back, in the high school. They are a cult Bulgarian band from the New Wave in the late ’80s and the moment I first heard them, they had already gone inactive a long time ago. But chance, as I saw, is a strange thing and about 6 months ago they appeared out of the blue as part of a live tribute to Dimitar Voev – probably the most revered figure for this whole movement. That night I managed to sneak behind the scenes and met their singer – Boyko and made him this offer he couldn’t refuse. It turned out that their reappearance – after almost 19 years without being in front of the people, was not very well planned and prepared at all, but the reaction from the crowd was astonishing. So they got inspired to do a single live show, which will probably be their last one as well and around their really busy schedule we managed to make some photographs of them – almost two decades later. I do usually try to be calm (with a varied success)  when I work, but this time I don’t really know if I managed to achieve it – to me it’s definitely a lot harder to take a picture of someone I’m emotionally attached to in certain aspects and this time I really wanted it all to work out together – the location I chose was coherent with the overall mood and atmosphere that I associate their music with and I was really hoping for a moody weather, which happened to be (semi) benevolent on this day.

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Klas  Klas

For the first image I’d like to thank a lot of people, who made it possible – Annie, for her amazing involvement with this project, without her it wouldn’t be possible to do it, Ralitsa from Стая № 5, for her great cooperation and understanding, Vera Tinkova from Tango & Pepper Studio for the amazing and rare 100-year-old gramophone, the guys from Ermenegildo Zegna Bulgaria and Zlatina Zareva – for being the PS wizard I wish I could be (:

And part of the shooting process, thanks to Annie for the pics.

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And a song I wish I didn’t have to post. One of their less popular, but to me – still amazing. These days I’ve been listening to it quite a lot.