Three completely new unseen portraits from the ‘3D Glass Smash’ METAL HAMMER cover shoot.
The last few Limited Edition print runs I have done of MOA, SU, and YUI sold out in record time and I regularly receive emails asking for more – especially YUI! I only decided to release these portraits because they have never been seen before and the eye contact and poses in each portrait work so well. After producing the Hateful 8 series of prints featuring OZZY, SLASH, GHOST, A7X, METALLICA, TONY IOMMI, AC/DC, I have been working on a few other portraits from my archive just for printing. These 3 prints came about after I was experimenting with the Tokyo Dot effect on a portrait of Dave Grohl. It looked stunning but the colour scheme just didn’t look right on the Foo Fighters frontman. BABYMETAL was the obvious choice. Unfortunately what I thought would be simple took over 3 days to reverse engineer from the Grohl portrait. The effect involves stripping the image down to separate tonal layers and preserving a master layer. I then replicate the background multiple times and overlay the Dot Screen. The process sounds simple but the effect is tailored to the specific image and what may work for one needs a different approach for another. The background layers are then multiplied and using ‘COLOUR DODGE’ and ‘SCREEN’ overlays, the background dot screen colours take on a life of their own depending on the tone and shading they are placed over. I then re-introduce the master image by using a layer mask to reveal the original beautiful portrait but preserving the background effects. The next step is to convert the image into the CMYK colour space and prepare the image for an 8 ink printing process.
These are made 100% with the print in mind and the images aren’t designed to be displayed on a computer screen. They come alive once printed and these 3 prints look so beautiful when admired on display. They are 20″x16′ (500mm x 400mm) and printed on the finest 100% cotton, heavyweight 330g paper. They are totally unique and I hope you are lucky enough to get one! At the time of writing this there are only 9 prints of each still available.
This print started life as a B&W shot. It was taken from AC/DC’s show at the London O2 in 2009 during the Black Ice tour. Although the B&W test print looked sensational I felt colour would bring it alive but the colours of the original lacked a little punch. Taking the B&W artwork I painstakingly hand tinted the image using a graphics tablet. Matching flesh tones and clothing colour from the original. I then applied a dot mesh to the background and airbrushed the red to blue effect behind. To create the ‘Tokyo Dot’ effect I knocked the red channel slightly out of register giving the dot ghosting to the background. This print has so much atmosphere and is a great portrait of Angus in action! Printed on the heavyweight 330g cotton paper really adds so much to the look and feel. It is a 20×16″ large print and limited to only 50. Each one is numbered and hand signed in pencil.
OK where do I start? I have been on a mission for the last decade to create poster art from my photography. Finally I am getting close!
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I am trying to compensate for something lacking in my pictures, I just think regular photo prints can look a little uninspiring when out of context. I am creating artworks using some of my best shots, but combining them with some of the techniques and effects used in the silk screen printing process. The idea is to produce alternative photo art that looks great hung on the wall.
I am a fan of the poster art of Emek and Justin Hampton and have several of their artworks framed at home. It is so visually arresting, colourful and look so good on the wall. I love the saturation of their colours and the slight imperfections of out of register print. If I could apply those elements into a photographic print then I was convinced I could make something more desirable.
First I tried screen printing my photographs which although the colours and effects looked stunning, I just ended up ruining the photography. With screen printing you lose all the subtleties a photograph has. Even the tiniest silk screen mesh can’t display a good tonal range that is anywhere near the original photo. That said the results were good but they didn’t exactly represent me as a photographer. They looked more like a Black Flag gig flyer! What I did love was the vibrancy to the inks and the imperfections that you get from separating layers and printing tone using a dot mesh. Next I tried using some poor ‘one click’ off the shelf effects in Photoshop that just made good photography look bad. I then tried experimenting with taking each individual property within an image apart and then reconstructing the image using multiple tonal layers and colours within the RGB spectrum. On reconstruction I added half-tone to certain layers and slightly moved layers out of register. I had great results with some individual portraits of BABYMETAL which sold out incredibly fast. The feedback was unanimous and the overall poster art effect proved very popular. I named the effect ‘Tokyo Dot’ in honour of the Japanese trio and have now perfected the technique using it in various guises on some of my portraits.
The effect used is definitely a manual technique and involves multiple hours of trial and error before an artwork is ready for print, but I adore how the artworks look. They are unique and not like anything I have seen anywhere else. They look like Silk Screen prints but don’t detract from the original photograph. They look amazing framed and stand up well as art and still have that original photograph on the wall feel.
The Ozzy Osbourne Limited Edition print was taken from an out-take from a front cover portrait shoot I did for classic Rock. It was shot in London in 2004 and my direction that day was to shoot a more under-stated Ozzy. I think the editorial angle was suggesting Ozzy was apologising for the reality TV years!
Ozzy doesn’t exactly do under-stated and he is a dream to shoot, like a professional model giving you pose after pose! It was all shot on 6x7cm medium format film and all the crazy shots were cast aside in favour for a more sedate Ozzy on the cover. I recently came across the over-looked frames in my archive that contained all these amazing portraits and I knew I had to make a print.
The first step was to make a high-resolution quality digital scan from the original transparency. I then separated the image into multiple layers. Shadow detail, highlights, lowlights, Blacks are all isolated and then multiple layers are made of the RGB colours. A master layer is preserved throughout to be used to bring back detail when something is unintentionally lost. Adding a mesh dot to an isolated colour and then knocked slightly out of register creates a vibrant ghost effect when combined with the original image. I did this effect to the Red and Blue channels and added a circular mesh to the background. Areas where the integrity of the photography were compromised I painstakingly removed by hand using a pen and graphics tablet. I then re-combined the original image with the background effects and added a Sabbath inspired Purple hue. The original photograph has a lot of animation to it and Ozzy’s hands reaching out make it almost 3D. I thought it would be fun to have Ozzy overlapping the framing just to add some exaggeration to the image. The red glow in Ozzy’s eyes came from an accidental mistake whilst knocking the red channel out of register. I kept the eyes like it but preserved the tone on his face.
In all, there were 35 different saved versions before the finished artwork was complete and in total this took 5 days. If you asked me to do exactly the same effect again from scratch I probably couldn’t, it is that organic.
Although satisfying to complete, the next step is the laborious task of transferring what is on screen to paper. I only use 300g heavyweight 100% cotton paper for all my prints because it is the best material for printed art. The printing is GICLEE fully archival and won’t fade. The material is more like water colour paper and nothing like a normal glossy photo print. The Professional Printer I use knows me well and knows exactly the finish I want to produce. With over 30 years of experience in photo display printing [email protected] brings a wealth of knowledge and good advise each time we produce a Limited Edition print together. Firstly the screen RGB original is converted into a CMYK file that matches the printers profile. This is a delicate stage which often requires adjustment to each individual colour to create the vibrance found in Silk Screen printing. 8 inks are used in the printing process. Several small versions are run off at different settings and once approved a large format 20”x16” is made which I then take away to check in different light conditions. Often a print under the bright daylight illumination of the studio can look very different when viewed in tungsten or low light. Normally a few changes are made to the density and saturation of the first print and then the A/P (artist proof) print is made and this is what is used as reference for the run of 50 Limited Edition prints. Once happy and everything is approved the studio then begin the print run and each print is trimmed by hand. I then personally sign and number each print and they are placed between acid free tissue paper. Each print goes out with a simple Certificate of Authenticity detailing the individual number in the edition and its prominence. From start to finish the Ozzy Osbourne Edition has taken nearly a whole month of design and printing.
All the prints are part of a strictly Limited Edition of 50. The print run is independently verified, all prints are hand signed and numbered by John McMurtrie. Once gone, they are gone!
So the brilliant ADOBE PORTFOLIO app allowed me to build a new website very easily. I still need to tinker with a few sections and want to add a ‘GUITARIST’ gallery, AVENGED SEVENFOLD gallery and of course an IRON MAIDEN dedicated section (I have a few good ideas for this area). Pulling out all the shots I like (and have good memories shooting) has left me with mixed feelings right now. Seeing 50,000 Maiden fans screaming at the top of their lungs makes me smile but of course I am missing it – like everyone else is. I have always kept a good control of my career and where I am heading, but for the first time in my life I don’t know what to expect next? In theory a vaccination or a cure or successful treatment could change everything overnight, but I think this Pandemic is going to be with us for some time to come! My strength has always been my ability to be dropped anywhere on the planet and ‘get the shot’, whether that is by building a mobile studio or carefully persuading an artist to come to a great location. Not always easy or possible (**Volbeat** cough cough). Suddenly all bands movements have been frozen and no one is touring, playing or promoting, so I am very suddenly out of work. It isn’t just me I am feeling sorry for, but I think all freelancer’s and creatives who have carefully carved a career for themselves are now unceremoniously out of a job. Let’s just hope things change soon or this website will become my ‘greatest hits’!
Don’t worry, this isn’t a poor me post! Every single one of us have been affected by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Being out of work pales into insignificance compared to the demands being asked of the NHS medical staff in the UK right now. Seeing as I now have time on my hands this is just my personal experience as a Music, Stage & Tour Photographer in lockdown.
Right now I should have been in some far-flung place shooting Heavy Metal in an enormo-dome somewhere or other. Obviously that got cancelled and so has everything else for the foreseeable future. Maintaining an income as a freelance photographer was difficult before the pandemic so it is hard to imagine what will happen down the line, especially for a Music Photographer? I have been getting away with it on a full-time basis since 1999 so this immediate STOP has been as unique and as unexpected as it is for everyone else. Music gatherings will be one of the last activities to come out of lockdown and the music world has ground to a standstill. Not just musicians but the techs, sound people, lighting, truck drivers, security and the thousands of people all involved in the industry have suddenly found themselves in alien surroundings, home and out of work. Personally I enjoyed the first few weeks of lock down. Suddenly all the stress from work evaporated and my world has been busy keeping my kids entertained and home schooled. We even made a bird table with the off-cuts from my attempt at tree surgery.
The government just announced ‘People can go to work if they cannot do their work at home’ which sounds great but there are no touring musicians on the circuit to photograph. To quell the boredom and to satisfy my creative needs I decided to illustrate the Pandemic using the only willing subjects available to me, my two sons Milo 14 and Archie 11.
We came up with different scenarios to photograph that illustrate the current situation; from washing hands, panic buying, shopping, kids climbing the walls and isolation. Each subject normally agreed over breakfast gave me an outlet to plan each shoot and pacified my creative needs. Each shoot was done on ‘photo shoot Friday’ usually in the garden after dark and gave us a bit of fun. Most of the shots are genuinely shot in camera with minor enhancement and clean-up in photoshop.
In the same way I would approach a music cover shoot I spent a few days planning what I was going to illustrate and set everything up so my ‘artist’s’ could just walk on set (usually our garden) with the minimum of fuss . With just the briefest of briefings we could nail ‘the shoot’ within a few minutes.
Week 1 – PANIC BUYING
This one is self-explanatory really. At the beginning, normal rational people were behaving like it was the apocalypse in the supermarkets, so this one came easy. A smoke machine and an orange gelled single light creates an instant fireball effect when back-lit. Combined with my kids jumping off a chair reaching for a toilet roll – hanging on fishing wire illustrated the madness. This was shot in just 5 takes and neatened up in photo shop. It made us giggle and the post production felt like work (which is a good thing). Shrapnel flying through the air was overlaid to complete the effect.
WEEK 2 – WASH YOUR HANDS
After toilet roll, Hand Sanitiser was the other commodity which was snatched off the shelves. I originally wanted to have them bathing or swimming in the stuff, but 1. that would be weird and 2. it wasn’t warm enough to set-up a pool outside. The next best thing was to have them being showered in it whilst using a grossly over sized container. It was also a good reminder to ensure we regularly washed our hands. I drilled 40 holes in a length of hose pipe and suspended it on a background support and backlit the shower of water. The splash was created by simply pouring a cup of water into Archie’s hands. The stream of water was re-routed to the bottle using photoshop. The original hand sanitiser bottle was a quarter of the size and enlarged also using PS.
WEEK 3 – LOCKDOWN
The boys crawling up the walls was a simple 3 image comp together but needed some mathematics to work out the camera angles. We also had to build fake walls for the boys to position themselves against. My wife in the foreground reading Catch 22 illustrated the awkwardness of having more time with the kids but with the impossibility of having to home school and keep them entertained. The room was lit with a single soft box facing the ceiling and enough bounce light to light the book without making it too well lit. The boys were lit the same but because of the angle change it created an under-lit horror effect making them look less approachable.
WEEK 4 – SHOPPING
Probably the easiest of all the shoots but maybe the most sinister. This shot illustrates exactly how I feel each time I go to the grocery store. I used a smoke machine to build up a haze and simply shot the boys in situation.
WEEK 5 – IMPRISONED
It really wasn’t like prison was it! Although they are being forced to stay at home the sentence isn’t really a difficult one! Snacks, chocolate and gaming! We had the fake chains in our dressing up box and the shadows of the bars are just 4 rectangles cut into an A2 piece of card with a light behind. A soft box was positioned with a blue filter giving the impression of a TV screen in front of them which gives the lighting an uncomfortable mood. We pumped in a bit of smog to add atmosphere. Milo is holding an X-Box controller and Archie is marking the days in lockdown.
WEEK 6 – TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER
OK, by this stage we really lost the plot! I was spending a lot of time scanning past film shoots and listening to the psychedelic band Gong and their infamous album ‘Flying Teapot’. While Boris Johnson was missing in action after catching the Coronavirus, the press were asking who was in charge of the country? This inspired the ‘Take me to your leader’ flying saucer image. This was more difficult than it looked and involved 2 shoots comped together. I made a cardboard flying teapot and shot that in silhouette with smoke. We then built a ramp in the garden and a doorway using drapes on a background support and shot the boys with guitars! Quite insane really but a lot of fun!
Week 7 – WE WILL NEVER SURRENDER
This was directed at those who were flouting the lockdown. What was being asked of us compared to those who gave their lives in the First and Second World War was easy in comparison. The hardship of having to stay at home and watch Netflix is laughable to the generation that actually had to go to war. The last push before we go over the top (although this is over the top!). Probably the last photo shoot for a while as this has more than pacified my need to move camera equipment around and my photoshop needs to cool down! This was in honour of VE day! Fairly complex to shoot we built 2 sets in the garden. The first (on the right) was an armchair on its side and instead of bomb shrapnel raining down it is popcorn. Archie is covering his ears because of Boris, not bombs! Milo is going over the top with a pair of barbwire cutters disconnecting the TV. The background is an artwork made from old royalty free World War One photographs and Australian bush fire images. The fences and barbwire were mostly hand drawn. The smoke was real and we used chocolate fingers to look like bullets in the ammo tin. Lastly the boys dressed in khaki uniform with boots and a real tin hat.
Shooting and planning these shoots has given me some purpose during these difficult weeks. I have also enjoyed the post production on each image without any outside distractions or urgency of a deadline. They also serve as a reminder of how crazy 2020 was! Looking forward to 2021.
ALL IMAGES AND TEXT COPYRIGHT JOHN McMURTRIE 2020.