The Hateful 8

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!

8 NEW DESIGNS

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. 

JOHN McMURTRIE PRINT SHOP

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. 

https://www.emek.net/index.html

http://411posters.com/tag/justin-hampton/

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.

McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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.

McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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.

McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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!

GET YOURS NOW!

McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

JOHN McMURTRIE PRINT SHOP

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Where do we go from here?

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’!

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‘WORK FROM HOME!’

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.

Archie McMurtrie

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.

Miles ‘Milo’ McMurtrie

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.

John (the author) & Archie McMurtrie

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

McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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

McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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

McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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

700McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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

McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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

McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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

McMURTRIE 2020 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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.

ALL THINGS JOHN McMURTRIE

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NIKON. An insider story.

A brief history of Nikon cameras and how their new flagship D6 Professional DSLR has fallen way short!

For those of you who didn’t know, I used to work for Nikon cameras. From 1995-1999 I was Nikon UK’s Senior Photographic Advisor. Basically my job was to be the guy in the building who knew what a camera was for! The job was the best for a while and I got to work with and meet many talented people. I also got to use and borrow the kit which helped me establish my career in photography. It has been 20 years since I left and many of the staff (past and present) are still good friends to this day. Although I no longer work for the company I do however still use their products. I had a unique and privileged insider view of how the business worked and my lasting memory was one of honour and total respect to the photographer. Not a great surprise to learn a Japanese company operating with such grace but impressive when you factor how big the corporation was internationally.

Back then it was run by the brilliant Harry Collins who had founded the UK branch of Nikon from his roots at the Rank Organisation in the late 60’s. Harry had a passion for cameras and understood photography, which the professional photographers and staff respected. Uniquely the company was co-managed by Harry and a designated director from Nikon Tokyo who oversaw things were done the ‘Nikon way’. When I was there it was all about the heritage of their legendary ‘F’ range of SLR 35mm film cameras. The Nikon F launched in 1959 had become the work horse camera for the world’s photo press. Every decade or so a new flagship ‘F’ camera would be launched. 1972 the Nikon F2, 1980 the F3 and 1988 the F4. Each new camera had an astonishing amount of research and development put into them – taking recommendations directly from the working professional photographers – resulting in a formidable camera, each one better than the next. I often likened the Fleet Street press pack of photographers to racing car drivers. They were the ones on the track, taking chances and using the product to its limits. Their input and recommendations were invaluable and we often fed back ideas and complaints back to Tokyo. After all it isn’t the mechanic in the garage that knows what works best on a racing car. The USP to these cameras was the F-mount which enabled every lens since 1959 to be used on each and every camera (which is still true to this day) . Canon scrapped their original lens mount and alienated a large sector of their followers when they changed the mount -giving Nikon the market share of working pro’s.

Picture credit: Tony Hurst

When I started working at Nikon I was asked every day ‘when is the F5 coming out?’. I had no idea, but we did have a Japanese liaison officer called Masa Toro who knew. ‘Yes’ was his standard reply for anything I ever asked him. Even if the answer should have been ‘No’ it was always ‘Yes’. The word ‘No’ and it’s negative connotations isn’t one used often in the Japanese vocabulary! Masa Toro knew when the camera was coming and he often hinted to me we needed a camera with a faster motor drive, brighter viewfinder and we need an intelligent exposure metering system, but would never let me know when. ‘When it is ready. Yes?’ was always his final word on the matter. The legacy of the ‘F’ series cameras was everything to the company back then. The business logic was whatever camera the professionals used would be followed by the masses, buying the point and shoot compact cameras and entry level SLR cameras favoured by enthusiasts. This business model worked well and many of the big sporting events were sponsored by Nikon to ensure every professional was holding a black Nikon lens on international TV.

One of my best days at work was when Masa Toro calmly walked into my office with a huge un-marked camera and announced ‘Yes, the F5!’. I nervously picked it up and held the camera to my eye. I will never forget the feeling as I depressed the shutter release and the camera fired continuously at 8 frames per second like a train passing through a station. The autofocus was like no other I had ever used with 5 points of focus controllable with a thumb dial on the back. It was fast and accurate, even in low light. The camera was cast from a solid aluminium alloy and felt so good to hold. It was a beast and like no other before it! Several months later the camera was launched and went on to be a game changer in the photographic industry. A camera made from 40 years of evolution!

This was the last major film camera launched before the digital revolution began. It was in my final year at Nikon I was lucky enough to be involved with the launch of the Nikon D1 which was virtually identical to a Nikon F5 allowing a seamless transition from film to digital. Nikon went on to launch one more F-series camera the F6, but by then the world had moved on and film was over. The D1 was such a phenomenal success that Nikon had back orders for over 2 years and was the leading manufacturer in photography! I left Nikon in 1999 and ironically continued shooting with film cameras for a further 6 years before fully switching to digital in 2006.

Due to sensor technology evolving so quickly the periods between a major ‘D’ series launch were much shorter than that of the film cameras, but each flagship was a big deal and always a major step forward in innovation. The D2H was launched in 2003 with double the resolution of its predecessor, 4 frames per second and a much improved TTL flash metering system. 2 years later the D2H ‘S’ was introduced with an improved internal processor giving a staggering (for the time) 8 frames per second image write speed. Other variants of the D2 were introduced in a cat and mouse game of catch-up with Canon to be the leader in market share. It wasn’t until 2007 that the phenomenal D3 was unveiled which (for me) changed photography forever. The D3 was equipped with a 12mp sensor which would at last allow large format printing and had a sensor that was finally better than film. The low light capabilities of this camera were second to known and once again Nikon was the market leader. By now there was a tradition to introduce an ‘S’ update to each ‘D’ series camera when the technology was available. The D3s was introduced in 2009 and had a better sensor in low light, slightly higher resolution and much faster internal processor.

The Nikon D4 followed in 2012 in time for the London Olympics and was billed as the best sports camera ever manufactured – 9FPS and 16mp. As is the tradition, two years later came the D4s with an improved sensor and faster processing. By now I think the professional consumer had cottoned on to Nikon’s camera game and it would appear that from a common sense perspective the singular ‘D’ series camera should be avoided at all costs and wait for the improved ‘s’ version to appear. Especially as each new camera was getting more and more expensive. The Nikon D4s was £5199 body only! When the D5 was launched in 2016 I decided to hang on to my D4s cameras and wait for the D5s. By 2018 I eagerly awaited the announcement that never came. I was faced with a dilemma, wait for the D5s or invest in a D5 with 2 year old technology. Although the D4s 16mp is a good size sensor in print publishing, it doesn’t allow a lot of cropping space for a full double page spread so the D5 with 20mp was essential to my work. I got some inside information from my friends at Nikon UK who confirmed there was definitely no D5s coming. I reluctantly purchased one D5 and then a second shortly after. It is a fabulous camera which shoots incredible RAW files in low light and has a 20mp sensor giving plenty of room for cropping. Current sensor technology above 20mp produces poor low light results above 3200 ISO so this sensor is perfect for all my needs. I love my D5!

But…

It’s February 12th 2020 and this morning Nikon announced the new Nikon D6 in time for the Tokyo Olympics. Yes I know I said I am very happy with my D5 cameras but come on it’s a new flag ship camera! I gotta have it!

As I poured a large cup of coffee, put my phone on silent and got comfortable, I started to imagine how good this camera was going to be. Each new flagship camera has always been the latest in innovation and design. There have been rumours of in-camera stabilisation, 20 frames per second and a whole host of new tech that is in the new mirrorless systems. I am genuinely excited! As I open the press release the picture of the D6 looks very familiar to the D5. Slightly bigger view finder top plate. Maybe it has a hybrid optical/mirrorless viewfinder?

1.The most powerful AF system in Nikon history with 105 densely packed cross-type focus points. OK. I thought the D5 had 155 sensors! Apparently the sensors are grouped differently. Have they moved the sensors to cover the entire frame like the mirrorless cameras? Nope! They are still just in the centre. D5 has incredibly fast Autofocus and is accurate down to -4 EV so strange to have AF speed at the top of the list. This is very underwhelming so far. I read on.

2. Equipped with a variety of functions that make for a more efficient post-shooting workflow. Post shooting? What about all the cool stuff that helps with the shooting? Apparently you can put Wi-Fi in a solid aluminium body after all! Nikon repeatedly declared it was not possible with the D5 forcing me to purchase a £700 WT-5 add-on. I am seriously underwhelmed.

3.Superior image quality and reliability that allow users to concentrate on shooting. Hang-on this has to be an early April fools joke or am I missing something? It has an identical image sensor to the D5. What is it superior to then?

I scroll to the end of page one and am sure that page 2 is where all the cool stuff will be. There is no page 2! That is it? No faster shooting rate, no in-camera image stabilisation, no eye focusing, no improved sensor, no off the wall crazy innovation that I hadn’t even thought of yet! How is this a flag ship camera? This is barely a D5s let alone a D6. All this for just £6299! This has to be the most dishonourable thing I have ever witnessed from Nikon. Why would I buy this camera? I don’t need to because I already have it, it is called the D5! Thinking back to Nikon’s legacy of flagship ‘F’ and ‘D’ series cameras you can’t blame me for feeling totally under-whelmed and disappointed by today’s announcement. Most of these ‘improvements’ could and should be available as a firmware update. If they had called it a D5s it probably would make some sense, but to call this a D6 and charge over £6000 for 2016 technology is just an insult to all the professional photographers who have stayed loyal to the brand over the years. They had to produce something professional for the Tokyo Olympics and this is it?

I think Nikon’s brilliant research and development team are working flat out on producing a mirrorless system to rival Sony and Canon. It is all about market share and Nikon are losing the race so everything is being put into this one area. This personally is a bitter pill to swallow because I just don’t like using an electronic viewfinder. I can see shape, colour, depth of field and composition easier with an optical viewfinder and I find the EVF’s give a false preview of the final image. Also the lenses are diabolical in design.

That said, it looks like the mirrorless cameras are here to stay, so lets hope Nikon have a final trick up their sleeve and produce something truly fantastic soon. I don’t care what it is called just remember your Legacy and heritage of brilliant cameras and try and find the ‘Nikon way’ again!

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MYRKUR

It seemed like a good idea at the time! Exploding 8 Kilograms of flour behind an artist I had never met, in a studio where I had never shot and attempting a technique I had never tried or tested! What possibly could go wrong?

MYRKUR 2019 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

MYRKUR is a solo female act from Copenhagen. In 2018 her debut album won the Golden God ‘Best Album’ accolade by Metal Hammer Magazine so it was little surprise Amalie would be asked to be on the front cover.

Being totally honest I knew very little about MYRKUR before being asked to do the shoot. My first source of research was Youtube and then some details were sent over from the record Label (Relapse Records). She lives in Copenhagen, has a new born son only 8 weeks old and her music is difficult to categorise – Sacandanavian traditional folk meets Black Metal would be a reasonable attempt. What first struck me was her angelic, ghost like calming vocals on top of a brutal Black Metal soundtrack. So the first thoughts were to try and create a portrait that captured her calmness and confidence, but with an element of chaos around her. I had long admired the beautiful Black & White images of ballet dancers with flour launched at them in mid flight. The images capture the grace of the dancer but illustrate their strength and agility. Although I didn’t want to shoot Amalie leaping around, I did think the effect would look sensational as a front cover. Hastily I put together a mood board to show the Art team at Hammer and also forwarded the idea to the Record Label, Management and Amalie. I then waited 48 hours before I received any feedback from anyone. Would a record label allow their artist to be pelted with heaps of flour and more importantly would Amalie want to be subjected to such punishment? Sometimes the silence is deafening.

The first to respond was the Art team at Hammer who really liked the idea but weren’t sure if Amalie would want to do it? Also in the back of my mind was how was I going to do it if the idea got the green light? The effect looks great but it makes a phenomenal mess and I wasn’t sure if my attempts would look anything like the mood board. Also a lot of youtube videos of ‘flour dancers’ I watched were very successful at making a mess but the final results looked poor.

MYRKUR 2019 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

I then got my reply from Amalie which meant we were committed to seeing this through. Her answer was YES, she loved the idea and was game if everyone else was? Because of maternity duties the shoot would have to happen in Copenhagen.

MYRKUR 2019 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

Although relieved we could proceed, it now meant I would have to deliver a portrait with everything I had promised. ‘The Lab’ photo studios in Copenhagen were very accommodating and helpful giving advise on shooting with Flour. A clean-up rate was also negotiated and a large room with good ventilation was chosen because of the minor fire risk with airborne powders. My usual assistant in the UK was out of the budget on this so I did a call out on Facebook for help and I recruited Bjorn to be in charge of the flour. We also had Yunah for hair & make-up and the brilliant Katherine Hogarth from 5B management to assist with bookings and to be there on the day.

BJORN 2019 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

The shoot

In the studio with Amalie. Bjorn is positioned just behind with the flour.
pic: Katherine Hogarth

The background for the shoot was a 9ft Black paper drop. I used Black reflector boards to cut-out any light bouncing around and also to reduce the spread of flour. I wanted to retain some contrast on this so used a small beauty dish with a grid to focus the light just on Amalie and used a softbox on the ground as a fill-in. Behind were 2 gridded lights aimed directly back at Amalie for some rim light and to back illuminate the flour. I purposely under-lit everything else as the flour was certain to reflect enough light without any extra help. We knew it would be an unpleasant experience being pelted with flour so I fitted a circular piece of poly board on a light stand positioned 10″ behind Amalie’s head. This meant when we launched the flour it would explode just behind her creating an airborne explosion. Well that was the plan. It turns out it isn’t easy to control the direction of flour, especially when you are launching a pound of the stuff at a time. Plastic sheeting was put over all work surfaces and all lights were bagged and covered. The first few ‘strikes’ were good but I needed Amalie looking as relaxed and still as possible. Not easy to do when you are getting literally coated in heaps of flour. The second attempt was a disaster!

MYRKUR 2019 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE
Direct hit
video: Katherine Hogarth

The video above produced a successful capture but the flour continued on past Amalie and square into my lens. The camera was absolutely covered but it was surprisingly quick to clean off with a blower. Originally I was shooting with a 70mm but decided after a few hits and near misses to change to a 120mm to allow more distance between me and the firing line. In between takes there would be a shake down and make-up would clean things up then we would go again.

MYRKUR 2019 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

This kind of shoot was always going to be a numbers game and I needed to bag a lot of takes to produce just a few perfect frames. I have to say Amalie was so patient and brilliant throughout. I would call out 3,2,1 and Bjorn would fire the flour, Amalie would ‘stare me out’ and I would click one frame just as the flour exploded.

MYRKUR 2019 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

So it was a great team effort creating something a little different that although very messy and a little unpleasant at times was hopefully worth it! Louise at METAL HAMMER did a great job laying out the cover and inside feature. I will be cleaning flour out of my equipment for years to come as a reminder of a good day at the office!

MYRKUR 2019 Photo copyright by JOHN McMURTRIE

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