Ben Grubb | Photography

Half The World Away…

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This year has been an incredibly busy one for me. I like this fact, but it is amazing and slightly worrying how fast the year is disappearing. It’s July now! Yikes. Despite this huge time rift, I am, by-and-large, getting a lot done which is great. I’ve managed to tick off a few things that I was working on or wanted to do, but it seems that every time I put one project to bed, two more are already waiting for my attention. I’m not sure if this is a good way to handle things (am I spreading myself too thin?) – who knows, but for now, I’m going to keep pushing myself hard to produce better and better work like I always have done.

Anyway, this naval gazing preamble is a long winded way of saying that I’ve finished another video. It is my first full (more or less) timelapse based short film. Aside from just getting away from everything and having a thoroughly relaxing time on honeymoon, I really wanted to try and capture some really nice timelapses of the stunning landscapes of New Zealand and Australia. This mini-project, unsurprisingly, dictated a lot of how we went about travelling round. Fortunately for me, my wonderful wife had already factored this into the itinerary so we had plenty of time to make the more picturesque journeys. Also, fortunately for me, my wonderful wife was (or at least did a good impression of) happy to sit in the car by the side of of several roads (and in a couple of cases, in the pitch dark) and read her book while my camera(s) clicked away. To be honest, I personally think it made the trip more pleasurable; made us slow down and when we did stop, we stopped for a good chunk of time with some incredible scenery to enjoy. I felt like we actually *saw* a lot of the country(s) properly instead of just grabbing a quick snap while with the engine still running. At a timelapse seminar by Philip Bloom I went to last year, he equated shooting timelapses as “the modern day fishing”, which is totally spot on. So, sticking with that analogy, here’s the fish that I caught. Or something. I hope you like it.

I’m very pleased with how it came out. It’s not perfect (but it’s mine – to quote Tim Minchin) but I think it’s rather nice few minutes of footage. It wasn’t without it’s pressures and frustrations, however. Weather was a (slightly) limiting factor, but probably not in the way you’re thinking. In the South island of New Zealand especially we were treated to some unseasonal (apparently) warmth and sunshine! These crystal clear, blue skies were great – but didn’t really make some the most interesting sequences. Obviously, I had no control over this, but I ended up with plenty of footage for what I needed.

The bulk of this was shot with my Canon EOS 5D-MkII and my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM lens. I also experimented with shooting some sequences with my iPhone 4S (with the ‘Timelapse’ app) which actually produced some pretty impressive results, and meant that I could double my output from each location. It’s pretty amazing that it’s now possible to shoot really nice video sequences with a phone. The camera on the iPhone 4S really is great!

Post production wise, all of the sequences (along with colour correction and grading) were assembled in Adobe After Effects CS5.5 (many of them on the fly while we travelled round) and the final film was then cut together in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5. I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable and confident with both of these packages now, and they really are a joy to use. I think that the Warp Stabiliser tool in After Effects (and also directly in Premiere Pro CS6 now, I believe) has to be one of my favourite things ever! It’s come in incredibly handy for taking out those little bits of annoying movement from the timelapses, and smoothing out some of the handheld video footage that I used in the film too.

This project was a really good learning experience for me, and I’m really pleased with the result – The astrolapse sequences especially. Although it was frustrating at times that I couldn’t necessarily get all the shots I wanted or that the weather wouldn’t quite play ball, having to work within a very strict time frame kept me motivated and actually made me shoot more. I think part of the reason that my London film has taken so long is that it’s too easy for me to wait for the conditions to be “perfect” and procrastinate instead of just getting out there and getting on with it. I will rectify this! Any comments or feedback would be very welcome!

You Can Have It All…

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Last weekend me, Snoo and my good friend James went up to (the now local) Alexandra Palace for the first day of the 2012 Red Bull Empire of Dirt* event. James (or Speedie as he’s more commonly known to me) stumbled across it a few weeks ago, and mentioned that he was thinking of coming down to Manchester for it and did we want to go. Seen as it was only up the road for us, and sounded fun we went for it. It was a really fun day with some truly incredible riding from the 30+ riders competing that day.

The course, which ran down the hill from the Palace itself, and apparently took around 4,200 tons for dirt to build, featured a really varied selection of ramps, jumps, quarter pipes and berms to make for very exciting runs. The design of the course was, as you’d expect, very spectator friendly and there were lots of opportunities to get some decent views and photos. We entered the event up near the start of the course and slowly worked our way down the length of the course until we settled on a really great spot on the last corner. From here you got an almost 180° view of the last half of the course, a fairly good view of the big “jumbo-tron” screen at the finish line and with the added bonus of being situated at the top of the final straight which featured three big kickers in a line which many of the riders used to full effect. The bulk of the photos below were taken along this last stretch of the course…

 

 

The weather and the light weren’t especially great in the end, although they could have been worse and overall I’m pleased with the selection of shots that I got (through a pretty even ratio of luck and judgement). It may have been overcast, but there was still plenty of light to play with, which meant that I could keep the aperture relatively small (around f/8 for most of the day for a nice long depth or field) and the shutter speed fast (usually around 1/500th or faster). Unsurprisingly there were plenty of photographers there, ranging from amateurs to full on pros with a whole host of lights. If I’d have had the foresight, and known a bit more about the arrangement of the day and the layout of the course I could have taken my speedlights along, although I’m not entirely sure if the would have done much good. I do need to look into getting higher synch speeds with them, as I’m currently maxing out at around 1/200th which would have been too slow for what I wanted.

Despite doing a lot of Mountain Biking in my youth (with Speedie more often that not) and being really fascinated by these incredible riders, I’ve not really done much Mountain Biking or BMX photography. It’s definitely something I’d like to do more. I really enjoy watching (the wealth) of BMX videos on Vimeo too, and would love to try my hand at BMX video project as well. If anyone reading this knows any talented riders that would be interested in doing a joint project, let me know!

All in all, a very fun day was had. I hope it becomes and annual event.

*Ever since Speedie mentioned this to me, I’ve had ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch Nails in my head, hence the title…

The Land(s) Down Under…

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It’s been a little while since my last post here, and it’s fair to say that a lot has happened. I am now a happily married man, and my wife and I have recently moved to north London. Thankfully it’s been over ten years since I had to take my driving test otherwise I could have been on course for the hat trick of the most stressful things you can do in your life!…

Actually, that’s not totally fair. The organisation of the wedding, by the end, was getting pretty stressful, but the day itself was amazing! I always slightly suspected that the whole “greatest-day-of-your-life” thing was a bit of a cliche, and something people just thought they had to say, but after doing it myself, I have to say that it is totally true! Simply the greatest party ever with all your friends, family and loved ones in the same room – you can’t go too far wrong really. Everything went to plan and all the guests seemed to enjoy themselves. I definitely felt that I could have done with another six hours or so to get round and properly speak to everyone, but come 3am when I finally went to bed, I was totally exhausted.

The fun wasn’t over then though, oh no! We still had the honeymoon to look forward to. A honeymoon that would take my new wife and I pretty much as far as it is possible to travel before you start coming back on yourself. Yep, we were off to explore Australia and New Zealand! The honeymoon destination was one of the first things we decided on (after the photographer: my friend Amy Murrell who did an amazing job). Snoo is very well travelled, far more so than me, however New Zealand was one of the places she’d never visited so it seemed like the perfect once-in-a-lifetime destination for us.

We’d booked to be away for three weeks, but when you factor in that it takes a day to travel each way, we decided that we’d need to head off the day after the wedding. It took a little mental preparation on my part for the flight, but it turned out to be not as bad as I was expecting. I’m sure the Premium Economy seats (check us out!) helped a lot, but I think after such a hectic build up to the wedding, it was nice to just have some downtime with nothing to do other than relax, watch films and pretend to sleep. Despite the length of the flight, the jet lag wasn’t too bad, and after accidentally falling asleep at 5pm on the first night, we got ourselves onto Antipodean time fairly quickly. We were still getting up early, but it’s always so much easier on holiday, isn’t it? We also used the early mornings to get out and shoot photos and timelapses around the city, and explore parts of Sydney in relative quiet. It was exciting.

This trip would be unusual for us, as it comprised of almost no climbing and a lot of “touristy” stuff. During our time in Sydney (which book-ended the trip) we would take a tour of the Sydney Opera House (I became pretty obsessed with it. Not only is it an incredibly iconic and beautiful building, but it has a fascinating history too), go up the Sky Tower, visit a friend in Manly and visit the world famous Taronga Zoo…

After a few days recovering and sight seeing, it was back to the airport and onto New Zealand. The scale of Australia is hard to take in, and where as I thought that the flight to New Zealand would be a short hope over the water, like travelling to France from the UK, it’s actually a good three hour flight. We were both very excited to visit a new country though and after a night spent with friends in Auckland it was good to stretch our legs (so to speak) and do a bit of driving. We only had a few days in the North Island but we managed to fit a lot in. We covered a lot of ground in our little hire car, and saw a good chunk of the island. Starting in Auckland we drove down to Waitomo (where we went Black Water Rafting – which I enjoyed a lot more than I was expecting) onto Ohkune, and along the Whanganui river road finally ending up in Palmerston North where we’d take a flight to the South Island. During this time I, and my already long suffering wife, shot a lot of photos and timelapses of the landscape. During a seminar by legendary film maker Philip Bloom which I attended last year about timelapse photography, he described it as the modern day equivalent to course fishing, and I think that is a great analogy. You set up somewhere, often very picturesque, and sit and wait for your camera(s) to finish doing it’s thing. This ended up being perfect for our trip. It slowed the pace down, and we’d often stop for an hour at a time at a stunning vista point and really, properly enjoy the view. It’s made for a very different experience to just pulling the car over, grabbing a quick wish-you-were-here snap and carrying on with your journey. Again, after the very hectic months previously, it was a welcome spot of relaxation. I really felt like we *saw* New Zealand…

From Palmerston North, we boarded a tiny little plane, through an equally tiny airport to fly to Queenstown. Even this internal flight (with a change in Christchurch) the flight to the South Island was longer than expected. It has to be said though, it was one of the most incredible flights ever. I thought that the North Island was beautiful, but the South is something else again! Flying over it felt like being in a huge Lord of the Rings establishing shot. It’s clear to see why they shot those films there as it does look like a fantasy world!

Queenstown was/is definitely my kind of place. It’s location at the foot of some impressive mountains makes it a hot bed for mountain biking, skiing and surfing, and as such, has the sort of vibe you’d expect. Like a cross between Boulder, CO and Newquay. Very relaxed and friendly, and bathed in plenty of apparently unseasonable sunshine. It even has a Disc Golf course which was great fun. Queenstown is also the home to the first ever Bungy Jump location (the Kawarau Bridge bungy), and seeing as we’d come all this way, it seemed wrong not to throw ourselves off a bridge with a glorified elastic band tied to our feet! I think that counts as my ‘do something I’ve never done before’ for 2012! It was over in literally a matter of seconds but it was amazing!

After a couple of days in Queenstown we headed north and west towards Franz Josef which delivered a Helicopter ride to the top of the Franz Josef glacier and some beautifully clear nights, perfect for some astrolapse photography (below is a stacked, single image of one of the timelapse sequences I shot in Franz Josef)…

…And a few more from Franz Josef:

 

Although this was not a climbing trip as such, we still managed to sneak in a cheeky day of bouldering at Castle Hill on our way to Christchurch. The Castle Hill area delivered more amazing scenery and an incredible climbing spot. We only visited Spittle Hill, which apparently is one of the areas which is a little thin on holds. Well, to our eyes at least. Similar to Fontainebleau, you have to look at things a little differently and get creative with what you can use to get yourself up the boulders. We did spend a frustrating couple of hours at the start trying to get our bearings as well as getting into the Castle Hill way of climbing. Being a rather friction dependant area, the fact it was in the mid to high 20′s didn’t really help but we found a few shady problems and get a few things ticked.

Christchurch was the last stop on our whistle stop tour of New Zealand, and it certainly left an impression. Christchurch is definitely a very beautiful city, especially when wandering through it’s vast and beautiful parks in the autumn sun. The fact that the city was struck by two huge earthquakes within a matter of months of each other, and seeing the devastation they cased is incredibly sobering. The bulk of the city centre is cordoned off while many buildings (including, potentially, the cathedral) have to be demolished and rebuilt. Looking over the barriers surrounding this portion of the city at the empty streets is like looking to some kind of post-apocalyptic landscape. I can’t imagine what it must have been, and still be, like to have to deal with something like that. The destruction wasn’t the only thing about Christchurch that left a lasting impression though. Since many of the shops in the city were either destroyed or closed, many have reopened in the form a small shipping container mall. When I heard about this, I thought it would be more like a market with containers instead of stalls. I clearly grossly underestimated the people of Christchurch! No, these were proper, fully finished shops and cafes with floor to ceiling windows and everything you’d expect from a more conventional brick and concrete store, but all contained within brightly painted steel. It was definitely a superb thing to witness first hand. A few random shots from Christchurch…

So, that was it for New Zealand, but we still had another week to look forward as we boarded a plane bound for Cairns in northern Australia. After a couple of weeks of pretty full on driving and moving from place to place we slowed things down a little with a four night stay in Cairns. We had planned to just spend some time sitting by the pool and on the beach, but we soon got twitchy after a morning of that, so on the second day we rented a car and did a big, looping drive around the area. The most exciting part being able to see some Koalas up close which was great! I didn’t feel like I could leave Australia without seeing them, and they didn’t let me down. Snoo pretty much melted at the sight of them which was entertaining to watch. They are very cute! This is Gina who we got to hold for a few minutes…

A day of snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef followed which was yet another incredible experience, and luckily for me we chose a warm, sunny and most importantly calm day to head out on the ocean waves. It was a very long day (leaving at 8:30am and getting back around 5pm) and I think everyone on the boat had a great time, with the exception of a young girl of about ten or eleven who more or less spent the entire eight hours sat on the stairs outside with her face buried in a paper bag. I really felt really bad for her, but also thankfully that it wasn’t me, which it could well have been. As it turned out, we had a great time swimming with the fishes (not like that), even if we didn’t get to see everything we want (namely “Nemo’s” and Turtles).

We flew back from Cairns to Sydney, and that was that. We finished things off with a trip to the zoo and over to Manly, more delicious and very fresh seafood and a few finally timelapses for the road before it was time to fly home. I don’t think we could have asked for a better honeymoon! Pretty much everyone we came into contact with when we were there were very quick to tell us how fortunate we’d been with the weather, and how terrible the summer had been, and indeed we were fortunate. In lots of ways. I don’t know if or when we’ll ever make it back to that part of the world, but I certainly hope we do. There’s still plenty more to see!

I’m not doing it in Economy class though. Just so you know.

If you made it this far through this post, I am very impressed. Apologies for the bombardment of holiday snaps (I know how tedious they can be!). Thanks for reading!

 

 

Hanna

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As the weather’s been improving and as I’ve started to have *slightly* more time to do things, I decided I really needed to get out and shoot some more portraits. I’d found a small but cool location in East London that I wanted to try out, and needed just the right person to fill it. That person came in the shape of my friend Hanna (who I have photographed before). It had been a while since we did our last shoot, and she has since changed her hair quite dramatically. These things, coupled with wanting to reshoot her anyway, all seemed to come together perfectly. I floated the idea past her and she seemed keen. After a little to-ing and fro-ing we finally managed to get a date set.

She arrived in London on very warm and sunny Thursday morning, and we headed east to the location, a small, church yard in the heart of the city, chatting and catching up over coffee. Luck seemed to be on our side that day, and as we arrived, the sun was streaming through the trees and arches of the old church and we found a nice, quiet little spot to start shooting. I quickly set up a couple of lights and started firing away. A few tweaks here and there later, and we were already getting some great shots. Here’s a small selection…

 

Aside from being really photogenic, Hanna is really easy and fun to shoot. She’s really easy going and we always seem to have a lot to chat about which is nice, and means that there are no potentially awkward silences to fill. She’s also really relaxed in front of the camera, and instinctively seems to change and adjust positions and poses with little to no direction needed from me. It’s because of these things that we managed to get so many great shots in the bag in a relatively short space of time.

Once I felt like we’d got everything I wanted from this location, we went off in search of lunch. We both had a hankering for noodles, which surprisingly, was harder craving to fill than expected. It was after 2pm by the time we’d finished and everywhere we found seemed to have been already raided by a hoard of city working locusts. Undeterred, and in no real rush, we wandered over the bridge to the Borough Market area and managed to find somewhere. Once we’d eaten, and with a surplus of time, I suggested heading to another spot I’d wanted to use for a while to do some more shots. Hanna was keen, so we headed off to Vauxhall and on to Battersea Park.

There’s a really amazing looking Pagoda in Battersea Park, and this is what I wanted to use. It had, however, been a couple of years since I’d been there in person, and I have to admit that the distance between it, and Vauxhall station had been somewhat skewed in my memory. I think Hanna began to realise this after we’d been walking for twenty minutes and still didn’t seem to be any nearer to our destination. We stuck to our guns however, and eventually we arrived. Luckily for me, Hanna was suitably impressed and after she’d had a chance to sit with her shoes off for a while as I set up the lights, I think she was glad we made the trek. I certainly was.

I went for a slightly different lighting setup here as there was some really beautiful sunlight hitting the west side of the Pagoda, I set up a couple of bare 580ex-II Speedlights either side and behind Hanna to give some rim light and to try and lift her from the background (I couldn’t really shoot with as wide an aperture as I would have liked due to the ambient sunlight being so bright). I also used my 430ex-II Speedlight with a Lightsphere diffuser to add a bit of fill light onto her face. Again, shooting didn’t take long, but I was very pleased with the outcome.

 

…And to wrap up the day, I shot some quick portraits the other way (looking back over the park) with a single light in my Westcott Apollo Softbox (followed by a record pack down time so Hanna could get back to Brighton). I like this really simple, but I think very effective setup. I really love the quality of light from the soft box and catch lights that that thing gives!

All told, this was one of the most productive and enjoyable days I’ve had out shooting for a while. I found that my setting up times were getting shorter and was balancing the light a lot more easily which is good. It also felt really nice to get a whole load of shots done, and from a variety of set ups, even if it did mean that editing was a tricky as there was so many shots which I really liked! Huge thanks to Hanna for being so patient with me again and for such an enjoyable day! I feel like a photographic itch has been scratched. For now at least.

Oh, and while I’m here: Hanna, because she is sickeningly intelligent and multi-talented, has written a book (or at least, the first of a series of books). The first of the series ‘Something You Are‘ will be out in December through Peters, Fraser & Dunlop. You should buy it because it will be amazing. That is all.

 

On The Cover!

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2012 is only a mere three months old but already a lot of exciting stuff has happened. One thing in particular came about towards the end of January. I was approached, out of the blue, on Flickr by a girl called Lorna, asking if I wanted to do an interview for, and have some of my climbing photos featured in a copy of Photography Monthly  magazine. This isn’t the sort of thing that happens to me very often, and of course I was excited to be involved. Lorna and I exchanged a few emails; I answered some questions and pulled together a selection of shots for her to use, and that was that. I tried not to get too excited about the outcome, and kept the whole thing close to my chest. The following weeks passed quickly as I was up to my eyes in work, but a couple of days before the magazine was due to go on sale, I received a tweet saying that one of my shots had made the cover. I just assumed that it would be a small, supporting image, so you can imagine my excitement when I found a copy to see this shot of Ben in all it’s glossy, full bleed glory!

Photography Monthly - March 2012 Edition

Inside are two double page spreads of my shots (as well as a single page reprint of the cover shot) and an interview. It’s quite a surreal thing to see, but I’m incredibly proud and pleased with how the images have printed up, and my rambling answers to PM’s questions have been skilfully edited in to something much more readable. Hopefully I at least give the impression of knowing what I’m on about!

The whole thing has been very exciting, and I’m totally made up to have my first magazine cover. Even though it’s been on sale for a while now, it’s still exciting to see them on the shelves in newsagents all round London! I have developed a new hobby of whenever I’m passing a WH Smith’s or something I pop in and move any copies to the front of the shelf. It’s bit childish I know, but it makes me happy. Hopefully it won’t be the last time I’ll have a photo on the cover of a national magazine! I really have the taste for it now.

Like I said, it’s been a really good year so far, and I have a lot of ideas and plans to continue to push things forward. Excited as I am however, they’re going to have to wait fir a few weeks at least as I have the small matter of getting married to attend to first. Just over a week now! I can’t wait!

Phil Noir…

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So, despite my best efforts to keep my blog more up to date, it seems it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Wedding planning (two weeks to go!) has taken over somewhat and work has been pretty crazy too. I’m not complaining about either of these things; quite opposite in fact. However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that this blog has been neglected and I need to put that right…

To kick things off, I thought I’d share a few photos from a (not-really-all-that-recent-now) shoot I did with my mate Phil. I a concept idea that I wanted to try out which was inspired by some cool photos of David Lynch that I’d seen and as Phil was one of the few friends I had who smoked, he seemed like an obvious choice. However, he informed me shortly after I mentioned the idea to him that he was in the process of giving up smoking! He was using a stop smoking book written by Allen Carr which, luckily for me, tells you to continue to smoke while reading the book. He only had a couple of chapters to go, so I had to act fast! We managed to find a date in the diary which worked for the both of us, and set to work. Here’s what we produced…

The shot above was *the* shot I really wanted to get, and I’m pleased with how it came out. I wasn’t totally sure how I needed to light it to get the look I wanted, and as it turned out, I could have really done with another light. My 430ex-II which to begin with was camera left had to be moved to the right and behind Phil to light the smoke in the way I wanted, which then left me with nothing to lift the other side of Phil’s body and face. I currently only have two Speedlight flashes, and because of the short notice of the shoot, I didn’t have time to hire one. Annoying, but not the end of the world. All part of the learning process, I guess.

Below are a couple of shots which taken with the original setup, which I think came out really nicely. We took all of these shots on Phil’s roof terrace out the back of his flat and it was DARK out there! This made focussing a real nightmare, so I also had to end up shooting everything on a tripod, getting the focus as close as I could with the small amount of light available and hoping for the best! After a couple of false starts though, we pretty much nailed it.

After getting the shot I wanted, we decided to flip the set up round and shoot a few more against the lovely exposed brickwork of Phil’s flat. Again, focussing was tricky, so these were again shot on a tripod with my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM giving me the luxury of being able to zoom in and pull out wide to get some different compositions…

 

Here’s a shot of the set up I was using for the second set of shots. The Westcott Apollo soft box I have on my 580ex-II has been on of the best recent purchases I’ve made. I love that thing, and the quality of light it gives out is beautiful. I’m toying with the idea of getting the 60″ version too…

So, that was it. After we finished up, we went and enjoyed a really nice dinner which Phil’s wife Stacey was preparing while we were outside messing about with cameras in the dark. Good photos; good food; good wine and great company: a pretty perfect evening as far as I’m concerned!

A New Dawn…

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So, it’s that time again. The start of another year. I have no idea where 2011 went, but it certainly went quick! At the end of 2010/start of 2011 I wrote a list of goals for the year and it was a very useful exercise. It was good to go into the new year with a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve for the following twelve months. I think they were all fairly achievable and fair. I didn’t get them all ticked off, but I think I did pretty well. Here’s how it went down…

  • Learn/Practice More Lighting Techniques:
    This was always going to be an open ended one, as I don’t think you ever, or should never, stop learning. I do feel that I did what I set out to do. I now feel a lot more confident with lighting. I continued to assist Steve throughout 2011 and continued to learn a huge amount from him (not just about photography either; I’m not pretty well versed in the stresses of owning a Dutch Barge…). I did a lot of shooting with both studio lights and Speedlight strobes, and I’m really starting to feel more confident with them and inspired to do more.
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  • Build up a portraiture portfolio:
    Again, it’s open ended as portfolios have to be kept regular and up-to-date but I do now have, thanks to a lot of very helpful and patient friends, a Portraiture portfolio that I am proud of. I’m hoping for it to get bigger in 2012!
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  • Upgrade camera/lenses:
    Yep. Through a mixture of working and saving pretty hard, I was able to upgrade a lot of equipment during 2011. I am now the proud owner of a Canon EOS 5D-MkII which I love, and a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM lens (which I also love!). I also managed to upgrade to a MacBook Pro, buy a new flash and various accessories and modifiers, a Wacom Intuos4 and upgrade a load of software! I now haz tha tools…
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  • Experiment with time-lapses and video:
    When I was thinking about this post, I actually surprised myself with how much video work I’ve done this year. There’s been One Week in Hueco which I worked on with Ben, and I think really upped the quality bar for us. I’m incredibly proud of this film, and very pleased by how it was received. We both got a lot of feedback from climbers and non-climbers alike about how they enjoyed it. It’s also (at the time of writing) had over 12,000 views on Vimeo which was much more than either of us where expecting. I also made my Day in the Life of the Castle Routesetters video which I think came out well (eventually) and of course The Rocklands Files (and subsequent Extras and A Short Film About Penguins). If you haven’t seen them, please have a look and let me know what you think. 

    My timelapse film, which I had hoped to have finished by the end of 2011, is still in progress but is coming together well and will hopefully be done in the next few months. It’s a time consuming thing to film, and I’m trying to keep the quality high so a lot of footage has been rejected. That aside, I’m giving myself a tick for this one!

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  • Get images on iStock:
    Arse. It was all going so well. Unfortunately, despite constant reminders, I still haven’t got my act together on this one. This shall roll over into 2012…
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  • Climb Font 7a in Font: Well, if you’re being pedantic, I didn’t technically do this one. I still haven’t climbed a 7a in Fontainebleau, but, during our trip in April I did manage to tick a (really beautiful) 7a+ (Mémoire d’Outre Tombe, if you’re interested. On the day after my birthday, too! What a great pressie!). I did also, later in the year, go on to climb a 7a and a 7b(!!) in Rocklands, as well as a V6 in Hueco Tanks (which is works out to about 6c+/7a in Font grades). I think I’m going to let myself have this one…
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  • Get strong(er):
    When I see the above written down, I think it goes to show that I must have gotten stronger over the last year. Obviously, it is a very subjective thing, and I definitely have good and bad sessions when it comes to climbing, but I can definitely see a marked improvement over the last year. Steps are in place to keep this going though!
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  • Visit/climb in a new country:
    As predicted, we did end up going to South Africa. Rocklands was everything we hoped for and more, and the trip was a great success in both sight seeing and climbing. I would definitely love to go back there one day, but, as I think this goal will continue into 2012, I’m not sure how likely that will be. Never say never, though…
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  • Design/Submit design(s) to Threadless:
    Well, this didn’t really pan out sadly. It was mainly down to a lack of ideas and time, but neither of those are a particularly good reason for not at least trying to push this forward. It’s still definitely something I’d like to try and do though. A friend of mine from uni has submitted a few designs over the last few months and that has gotten me inspired to have a crack at getting something submitted. Since buying my Wacom tablet I’ve been keen to (and have started to) produce more artwork. This one is staying on the list to hopefully spur me along.
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  • Do something I’ve never done before:
    This is a bit of a tricky one to call. I did get engaged in 2011 which was certainly a big, life changing event that I’d not done before. However, I did know in 2010 that I was going to propose (although, I didn’t know whether Snoo would accept it!), so it feels like a bit of a fix. I dunno really; I might give myself half a tick for this, and roll it on again into next year.
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    …So, 7 out of 10. Not bad. There’s definitely a few, ticked or otherwise, which I’ll continue into 2012 though. I’m viewing this as a general, on going personal development plan and necessarily just self contained things. The question is now: what else am I adding to the list for 2012?:

  • Promote my Photography more:
    I feel like I’ve come a long way, photographicaly speaking in 2011, and I now feel like I’m in a good position to start to market myself more. I have a clearer idea of where I’d like to take my career and have the skills, knowledge and gear to make it happen. I just need to find the right people to speak to! I hate promoting myself in that way. My fragile, artistic ego doesn’t fair too well under the pressure, but it’s a necessary evil if I want to progress; and I do. Steve has shown me that it’s not some impossible, impenatrable world, but, like a lot of things, it comes down to who you know. And there’s only one way to get to know them…
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  • Instagram 365 Project:
    During my time on Flickr, I’ve watched and marvelled and various users’ 365 projects (which involve taking, editing and uploading a photo a day for 365 days. Simple. On paper at least). The quality of a lot of them is truly staggering, and I’m impressed that so many people have the time to produce such great work on a such a regular basis. I’m not sure I could commit to a project like that, at least not to a standard that I’d be happy with so I’ve come up with a testing-the-water compromise. An Instagram 365. I use Instagram on my iPhone a lot and really enjoy it, so I thought that maybe a 365 project using Instagram could be the way forward. I always have my phone with me, so it doesn’t become such a chore to always have my camera with me, but I can still be creative with it. In fact, shooting within the iPhone’s limitations is also a good exercise in itself. As 2012 is going to be a bit of a milestone year for me, I thought it would be good to document it with a little visual diary, too. This one is already well underway, but still has a lot further to go. I’m logging my photo-a-day on a handy new Tumblr blog if you want to follow it. If, by December 31st, 2012 I have posted a photo every day to that blog then I can give myself a tick! I can’t guarantee that the photos will always be hugely interesting, but hopefully they’ll look nice. I like to shoot mundane things in interesting ways.
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  • Move house:
    I love our little south London flat, but “little” is the optimum word in that sentence. Snoo and I desperately need to find a bigger place, and I think it would be a really nice way to mark the start of the next chapter of our lives together. We did start looking around for somewhere new last year, and even came really close to buying somewhere, but it all fell through (in a very long and boring story which I’m not going to tell). Anyway, this is definitely something that has to happen in 2012.
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  • Finish my time-lapse film:
    I want to get stuck into some more video projects this year (and I already have some potential stuff lined up) but I really have to get this finished. I’m still excited by it, but I feel like it needs wrapping up fairly soon. I’m excited to show it to you!
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  • Draw/create more artwork:
    This ties in with the Threadless thing, but I want to try and get back into creating more artwork and drawing more (especially with the Wacom). I’ve been doing a lot of concept sketches in my little Moleskin book for the shoots I’ve been doing and it’s been a really satisfying experience. I want to continue this and start producing some new stuff. If I can work some of my photography into it too, then so much the better.
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  • Climb somewhere new (at 7a if possible!):
    Another fairly straight forward one. I want to visit another new climbing spot somewhere in the world. We’ve done a lot of long haul trips over the past year or so, and I think that time and money will prevent us for doing anything huge in the forseeable (honeymoon trip to New Zealand aside), but there are plenty of places in Europe which I’ve still yet to visit. Albarracín and Magic Woods are two that spring to mind. I think a few long weekends are in order…
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  • Read more:
    This’ll be an ongoing one I’m sure, but I really want to try and read more. There’s a load of books in the flat that I’d like to try and get through and I got the über-tomb that is the Steve Jobs biography to crack on with. I think I’m going to compile a reading list too to a) keep me motivated and b) track my progress. It might be interesting to list them all on here this time next year.
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    So, I think that’s about it. Not as many new additions this year, but enough to keep me busy (especially with the “roll overs” as well). I think they are all achievable, but I guess only time will tell. If you read all of the above self-indulgent ramblings then thanks. I appreciate it. I’d be interested to know what other people have planned for 2012. Let me know in the comments! Let’s make it a good year!

    New Year in Hueco!

    Posted by Ben by

    Climbing, Photography | 2 Comments

    Happy new year! I can’t quite believe it’s 2012 already. I hope everyone had a good festive period; I certainly did, and that’s what I want to talk about for my first post of the new year…

    Around about July-ish last year, we found out that some friends of ours (Matt and Jen, who we also went to South Africa with as well as some other people we know from The Castle) were going to be spending their Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Hueco Tanks. As many of you may know, I’ve been to Hueco Tanks before, and make no secret of my love for the place. I’d been pining to go back after our excellent week spent there in November 2010 and when I heard about Matt and Jen’s plans to head out there, Snoo and I decided, on a whim if I’m honest, that we would join them.

    Excited as I was however, I couldn’t help feel a slight apprehension about the trip as it approached. I’m not entirely sure why, but for some reason it just felt slightly under planned which was making me feel slightly uneasy. Anyone who is familiar with Hueco Tanks will know that life isn’t made that easy for climbers there. For the last ten years or so, measures have been put in place in an effort to try and preserve the (relatively small) park from erosion and general wear-and-tear from visitors. There is only now a small section of the park (North Mountain) which open to the public to “self guide” and even that requires formal reservations (which can only be made three months in advance at the earliest) to be made in advance to ensure entry. The end of September came and went, and the batch of available North Mountain spots were snapped up, so when we finally got ourselves organised to try and book places we found they were all gone. Yikes. We knew that the Christmas period is peak season for Hueco, but we’d slightly under estimated quite how busy it was going to be. This wasn’t a total loss, as most of the problems we wanted to try were located in the “back country” (East Mountain, West Mountain and the East Spur) which are only accessible as part of a tour taken out by qualified guides. We did know a few guides who would potentially be able to take us out on tour, but judging by the fact that all of the North Mountain reservations had gone, surely guides would start to become a premium too?! We’d also be hearing conflicting reports about what the weather could be like over that period, which included potentially quite heavy snowfall(!) which would also stop any climbing. Granted this was entirely out of our control, but it was still another issue to add to the list. There was additional concern too that the Hueco Rock Ranch where we’ve stayed previously, and were planning to stay again, seemed to be having some managerial trouble and there was a worrying amount of radio silence from them during the summer months. Fortunately, having stayed there previously, we had some insider knowledge and we managed to get in touch with someone who reassured us that everything would be good to go by the time we arrived. The flights were paid for, so we were committed. There wasn’t really anything we could do other than head out there and hope. So, on Boxing day 2011 we set off on our (delayed) flight from London Heathrow with our fingers crossed that everything was going to be ok…

    I think the fact that you’re reading this post at all goes to show that the trip was (eventually) a success, but American Airlines did their best to persuade us otherwise. Our flight out was delayed due to reasons unknown (although the presence of lots of armed police and sniffer dogs at the airport showed that it was something potentially pretty serious). So, we took off late on a plane which looked like it had seen better days (it didn’t even have seat back TV’s! AA are living in the dark ages!*). To the credit of the pilot, we landed in Dallas only ten minutes late, despite being nearly an hour late taking off. However, endless queues at every step of the way through Dallas Fort Worth airport meant we missed our connecting flight to El Paso by a (galling) ten minutes. Our suitcases however, had made the flight. I was very happy for them. My apprehensions about the trip were becoming worryingly real, and as I lay on the floor of Dallas Fort Worth’s Terminal A, staring at the ceiling with my tired and reddened eyes, I was genuinely wishing I was back in London.

    Anyway, to cut (what is becoming) a long story short, we couldn’t get on any of the remaining flights to El Paso that day, and despite much stress, jetlag and seemingly going round in circles we managed to get a hotel for the night in Dallas with the promise of being on a flight the following morning. So, with no change of clothes or tolietries we grabbed a few fitful and surprisingly cold hours sleep before arriving back at the terminal at 7am to finish off our journey from hell. Thankfully, everything went well on our second try. By the following lunch time we were in El Paso, reunited with our bags and driving down Montana Avenue in the sunshine en route to Hueco Tanks.

    Things improved exponentially from then on. The Rock Ranch was open for business and we were made very welcome by Mogli and Nikias who are/were running the show. Nikias (who is a also a guide, and knows Hueco Tanks inside out) also went out of his way to help us with our not-having-any-reservations problems by taking us out on tours for four of the five climbing days we were there (the fifth day we had some more good fortune fall into our laps and managed to fill a couple of spare spaces on another tour. Thanks, Cat!), despite having a huge amount of work to do organising things for the massive New Years Eve party etc. Unsurprisingly, the tours (which can have a maximum of ten customers on each one) were filled up very quickly by people in a similar situation to us. Subsequently, through this serendipitous piece of good fortune, we got to meet and climb with a huge variety of people we may not otherwise have spent any time with which made the trip even more fun. Below are a few choice highlights from our time spent in the park…

    Sunrise over Hueco Tanks

    Outside the park...

    Mogli on 'El Burro' (V3) Corey on 'Left Donkey Show' (V5)

    Al on 'Crash Dummy' (V7)

    Al on 'Crash Dummy' (V7)

    Pete on 'Crash Dummy' (V7) Cat on 'Jigsaw Puzzle' (V5)

    Tedi on 'Tremors' (V6)

    Tedi on 'The Flop' (V6)

    Britney & Omar at Sunset on East Mountain

    Sunset

    Nikias on 'Dragonfly' (V5)

    Pete on 'The Fin' (V4) Gustavo on 'Full Service' (V10)

    Not only did we get a load of climbing in, but we also saw the new year in in style! The Rock Ranch’s New Year’s Eve parties are pretty legendary, and it was really fun to finally attend one. The centre piece, as always was huge bonfire which is possible the hottest thing I’ve ever encountered (not to mention good fun to photograph)! I’m not usually a massive fan of huge, blow out NYE parties but this had a nice, relaxed atmosphere while still being exciting and good way to see in 2012…

    Bonfire!

    Chrissy Cartwheeling

    Mogli

    Considering I didn’t really shoot *that* many photos, I’m really pleased with the shots I got. I did think about shooting some more video, but I think it would have been much harder to do on this trip, especially on the guided tours. Anyway, it wouldn’t have been the same without Ben…

    Climbing wise, it wasn’t as successful as I’d have liked. The list of projects I created after the last trip remains largely unchanged and unticked. To be fair though, there was only a few of them that I actually got to try again (‘Dragonfly’, ‘Jigsaw Puzzle’ and ‘New Religion’) for a various reasons. The fact that three of the nine are on North Mountain which we couldn’t get on was a pain. I did however tick ‘The Fin’ which I was really happy about and it was as good as I had hoped, and I also made progress on ‘Dragonfly’ (and tore myself to shreds on it in the process)! Nikias also took us right to the end of East Spur on one tour and showed us a load of problems that aren’t in the guidebook. This included a really fun V6 called ‘Tremors’ that I also managed to do! Even if I didn’t get up everything I wanted to, I still had a lot of fun working problems and trying new stuff. I’ll just have to go back again…

    If you made it this far, well done you! Sorry for my ramblings, but it feels good to have documented my feelings on the trip, both good and bad (mainly good). Huge thanks to Snoo, Chrissy, Nikias, Tedi, Pete, Matt, Jen, Paul, Al, (Other) Matt, Ty, Mogli, Gustavo, Val, Cat, Tammy, Britney, Omar and everyone else we met, climbed with or just queued outside the park with during the week. It was definitely a new year to remember. I hope the rest of 2012 is as fun!

    ——-
    (*I do appreciate that this is an incredibly middle class, first world problem, but it was annoying none the less on a long haul flight.)

    The Rocklands Files…

    Posted by Ben by

    Climbing, Video | Leave a comment

    I’ve been very busy since the end of September, and our return from South Africa. Work has been coming in thick and fast which is amazing but somehow I still managed to sift my way through over 100GB of footage from our trip, and edit it down to something (hopefully) concise, watchable and entertaining. I mentioned previously that the project was close to completion and now I’m very happy to bring you the latest B2 Productions film: ‘The Rocklands Files’…

    Ben and I got a lot of very useful feedback from our Hueco video earlier this year, and I wanted the film to be pacey and enjoyable to climbers and non-climbers alike like that one was. We were in South Africa for twice as long as we were in Hueco however, and over that time I amassed a huge amount of footage. I tried to be ruthless with what I put in and what I left out, and because there was so many amazing problems there, at times it got really difficult. I decided that, once the edit was getting over the 20 minute mark, something had to give. So, I decided the only way round this particular problem was to have an additional “extras” film with a selection of the problems which weren’t necessarily visually as strong as some of the others, or didn’t quite fit the narrative of the main film. This still weighed in at just shy of seven minutes, which goes to show that I made the right choice! Enjoy!…

    I have to thank Ben for the loan of his Canon EOS 7D for this trip. It was a real shame that he couldn’t have come out with us, but the fact he was generous enough to let me take his camera to record the trip was much appreciated. Not having him around for the filming in South Africa really made me realise how much natural flair he has for this kind of thing. It’s useful for me to have someone else to bounce ideas and things off of and I think the two of us together make a really good team. I definitely missed his input in the edit too. I’m really happy with what I’ve produced but it would have been good to have had him there to give different ideas etc. I’m sure there will be plenty of other chances for us to work together on projects (at least, I certainly hope there will be)!

    Also, thanks to Steve for letting me borrow his GoPro too. It did come in very handy for getting some interesting angles which would otherwise have been very tricky to get.

    Despite the fact it took a long (relatively) long time, I think I’d managed to get the workflow a lot slicker than during the making of the Hueco video. To be fair, we spent a lot of time during the making of ‘One Week in Hueco’ figuring out Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects (not to mention the amount of time we spent waiting for things to render!). Ben and I have done a few video projects since then, and naturally the workings of the software and the general organisation of footage etc become more familiar. Obviously, I can see ways to still improve the workflow further, and I’m excited to get my teeth into something else next year (as well as finish my other project which is currently still in the works…).

    Stacey…

    Posted by Ben by

    Photography | Leave a comment

    It’s was becoming increasingly apparently that since returning home from South Africa, and subsequently working incredibly hard on the video, that my stills shooting hard taken a real back seat. Flickr and this blog especially were getting very neglected, and before too long I was starting to feel the urge to get shooting again. My portraiture project I’d been working on had also taken a back seat, and I was keen to get this going again. Among the list of potential victims models I had in mind was my friend Stacey. I’ve known Stacey for about four years now. She’s the wife of my good friend Phil (I even photographed their wedding) and I’ve been wanting to do a portrait session with her for a while. When I broached the subject with her she seemed really keen and after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing on both of our parts we finally managed to get a date nailed down to do it. I had a pretty cool concept idea for what I wanted to shoot with her, and I was really excited as the evening rolled around. Mother Nature however didn’t seem as keen as us though, and on the evening in question, we were treated to a steady downpour of rain. I was incredibly frustrated, but so excited to take some shots, we agreed to go with a contingency plan of doing some simpler portraits at Stacey’s flat. As it turned out, it was an incredibly successful evening! We did two or three different setups and I ended up with an abundance of shots which I was incredibly happy with (and which she was too!). Below are a few of my favourites from the evening…

    Stacey was, unsurprisingly, a joy to work with. Very enthusiastic to try different things and even more helpfully for me, incredibly patient. I’m really looking forward to doing another shoot with her soon, and actually being able to try out my initial idea. It was probably a little foolish on my part to plan a fairly complexed outdoor shoot for the middle of December, but hey, why make life easy for yourself, eh?…

    There wasn’t a huge amount of retouching to be done on these shots, but I after seeing a couple of other peoples before/after shots I thought it might be interesting to show a comparison of what I did do in Lightroom/Photoshop compared to a SOOC shot…

    More to come soon. Doing these shoots seems to be as much an exercise in time/people management and organisation as anything else, but it’s all good fun!