Photographers favourite shoots are almost always from personal projects where there are few constraints and you can let your imagination run. I had planned various aspects of a more abstract shoot with Rebecca Tun, an experienced and creative model that i'd had the pleasure of working with many times before. I had considered garments but on seeing a Kimono that Becky had brought as a number of options I knew I wanted to work with that garment both conventionally and in a more abstract way.
I was recently most excited to be asked by the Honest agency to shoot for the new ACT Bracode Breast Cancer campaign. Some of the models were patients and had to all wear the same size bra to make the point that One size does not fit all which is the point behind the campaign and the research it will support for personal treatment. Its an overused cliché but it was a most uplifting day and an honour to shoot with these ladies.
To make a donation, visit act4addenbrookes.org.uk/bracode or call 01223 217757.
Why Havana? Well it's a unique environment with a particular history. Interesting mix of people, architecture and of course music, and it's one of the safest places in the Caribbean. Like many of my age I knew something of the Cuba missile crisis and how close we all came to an end, but I knew little of the Spanish colonisation and the original revolution long before Castro. There is masses of material on youtube if you want to do some research before you go.
First lets get some non photography practicalities out of the way.
I would recommend that you stay in or on the border of the old part of Havana. It's a world heritage site. We did see some larger hotels out on the newer side of the city and they looked awful and were too far from things interesting. This is somewhere you need to walk and the old town is built like many on a grid and mostly surrounded by the harbour and Malacon sea wall so it'd difficult to get lost. We did not use a guide.
Here is a rooftop snapshot of our hotel 'Telegrapho' with the Opera house/Theatre behind and the Capitolio building behind that. A great location. There is a smarter hotel across the road (Park Hotel) that would be good for a bigger budget or just reasonably good restaurant.
So for me taking a D800 was easy and it being so much lighter than the D3x was great. Of course I took extra batteries but I didn't need to take the spare out each day so I could have just got by without if I had charged each night. If it had been a paid job I would have taken the second camera but it wasn't.
I took a carbon fibre tripod which stayed in the hotel room most days.
Some will find the few best examples and shoot them as the complete subject but I prefer the slightly rougher ones that are either moving or at least in their classic Cuban street look environment. Also lots of photographers are not comfortable shooting people and certainly not if they are going to be noticed. Some photographers will stick to architecture and there is lots of old and often decaying beautiful architecture to be had.
In my experience, not speaking the local language is not a problem. All you need is a smile and a bit of a demonstration. While shooting a ballet dancer briefly who had a gummy grin I used my fingers to show my own face smiling to a more serious look and it works mostly. Maybe not completely if you have her fellow students behind you trying to get her to laugh though.
Of course you can look in the guide book and see the top 10 places to visit in Havana and surprise surprise they are mostly in the old part of the city apart from Revolution square which is best driven through without wasting too much time.
I generally avoid tours. We looked at them and they tended to take you around Havana to places you could easily walk to yourself and they were still expensive. Also I like to move at my own speed and take time shooting when I want and the tour does not help this. If you want to photograph is an official cigar factory then you can't. It's not allowed. There are factories for cigars and rum in town but you need to get into the countryside if you want to see this.
These three guys were happy to have thier photograph taken. I guess the rum they had been drinking kept them nice and relaxed. Cool. I saw them from a distance and had to run to head them off and ask them.
I had seen videos from photographers using DSLRs for video and stating the need for a viewfinder such as the Zakutio, Hoodman or Letus Hawk. Without this it's difficult to hold the camera properly, view properly and focus.
The Letus Hawk looked better to me but I could not find any UK distributor so I ordered the Zakutio. Having tried it I was disappointed. It slightly masked the viewfinder and was heavy with it's under camera base plate and fixings. I phoned the distributor about the masking of the screen and they said that they knew of this but since the video image does not cover the whole screen that it didn't matter. I didn't feel the same as menu items were certainly being cropped. This and the fact that it ads so much weight and difficult to attach in a hurry caused me to return it.
In the mean time I have not done much video and that was really frustrating. So when I saw on the Nikon Rumours web site that Kinotehnik were to release a new purpose built viewfinder that clips on like the screen protector it seems perfect. I ordered one from the company from their very good web site. The company is based in Estonia but my order came quickly and well packed.
The box had the hood, a clip on frame to the D800 viewfinder, a bag to keep the viewfinder in which is slightly too small and a very nice Sony eye-piece. Unfortunately the finder gives a slightly out of focus view. Holding it slightly away from the D800 screen causes the screen to come into sharp focus. I've emailed the company and I hope they can resolve the problem as it is otherwise a brilliant and simple lightweight design.
However, having made the move to Nikon D800s and now beginning to move much more out of the studio, I finally succumbed and having used it, without any regrets. I had read up the reports on just how sharp it would be if you really went for that minimum depth of field and all the testers and critiques seem to agree.
I'll looking forward now to doing a piece with images on some real results from a good shoot.
All it needs is the correct cable to connect your camera to a pocketwizard (hopefully you already have the pocketwizards) and the right switch set on the pocket wizard will mean that the shutter release press on one camera will fire the other camera simultaneously. If you are using flash then all will be sync'd light wise and your second camera can be on a standard or hybrid tripod. Cool.
So then we heard the rumours of the D800 with 36mp and thought that the speed and low light characteristics would be at least as bad as the D3x. It was a bit of a shock to find out that at least the low light shooting would be slightly better than the D700. I promptly sold my D700 and ordered a D800.
When the D800 arrived it was with trepidation that I shot it against the D3x. It was difficult to see the difference but it had the edge on the D3x with quality and detail plus of course it's small and lighter and has everything else the D3x was lacking, apart from shutter speed. I don't shoot sports so the shutter speed is of no great interest. 4 fps is quite fast enough.
The upshot of all that is that I ordered a second D800 and sold the D3x.