A Meticulous Craft

The story behind ONE OF MY FAVOURITE workS, "Bonjour Akaroa"

It was April 2012, I was on my annual autumn south island photo shoot & had the company of my friend Siedel along for the trip. We were in Blenheim & after capturing some autumn vineyard scenes, couldn’t decide where to head next. Over eggs & coffee, I said, “Lets try Akaroa”. We were off. Arriving minutes too late for sunset that evening, we scoured the French settlement for any interesting spots that might deliver an image at sunrise & discovered this pier, Daly's Wharf. Immediately sensing the potential composition, I booked us in for another early start!

Next morning when we arrived, I was excited to see these seagulls lined up along the railing, “perfect”. But the light was still a long way off reaching the water. Time to get cunning & use our secret weapon: we had just 4 chocolate chip cookies left (Siedel’s mum bakes the best, so the sacrifice was huge!) I set up my equipment whilst Siedel was duly appointed “Chief Crumb Spreader” & rationed our bait along the railing. Of course there’s always one bossy seagull...he was a real pain & almost killed the show. During this time, a local said “gidday” as he rowed his dinghy out & we perservered with the gulls...at precisely 8:00:36am the sun’s rays hit the bottom of the peninsula & the seagulls finally settled down for what seemed like a second. I quickly siezed 3 frames from left to right in order to capture this wide view & I don’t even remember seeing the man returning in his dinghy, but the timing was perfect. Minutes later, the sun reached the pier & the golden reflections disappeared. Job done, time for coffee!

Siedel taming the wildlife...

Seagulls finally in position...

Minutes later & the show's over!

Capturing the scene is only a small part of the whole process. Once home, I download each file & then begin the all-consuming task of editing...this is not a quick process & is very involved. I guess I am my own biggest critic & only what I consider to be my best images, ever see the light of day. After capturing hundreds of images over 2 weeks away, I might only release 2 or 3 images to my collection. Less is more!

The task of dodging & burning an image’s hightlights & shadows is a critical part. Despite using very advanced photographic equipment (a Mamiya 645 AFD coupled to a Phase One P65+ 60Mp digital back or a Nikon D810 36Mp), no camera can match the dynamic range that we enjoy with our human eyes. This process is no different from the time honoured task I used to perform in the darkroom, except without the nasty chemicals! Photoshop is an essential tool I use to achieve this, but in no way is this quick or automated, I simply strive to recreate the same exposure that I witnessed at capture. Sometimes I can spend weeks on an image, revisiting it numerous times with fresh eyes, until I am finally satisfied that I have restored the exposure to the best of my ability.

(The funny side to this particular image was the fact that when I joined all 3 frames together, the bossy seagull seen here ↓ got eliminated by the stitching software. Divine justice!)

Processing the raw files & editing

1 of the 2 ink-stations of the HP Vivera
12 colour archival pigment ink system

Print Permanence

I produce all of my work as gicle´e prints, the preferred choice for fine art reproduction by the world's finest artists, galleries & museums. Reknown for their superior quality & permanence, each print is individually created (vs the mass production of a lithograph on a commercial press.) Only the highest quality materials are used, starting with HP Vivera inks - archival pigment, rated for 250 years indoors by American research company Willhem Research Institute, to my fine art paper (100% cotton-rag), archival canvas & varnish, all supplied by Breathing Color, an American company dedicated to producing the most advanced inkjet media in the world. This gives me the confidence to state that my work will endure for many generations.

Signing the finished print

Archival Certificates

Print Certificate

First, I test the image on my printer, an HP Z3200PS. Sometimes I'll print a small piece, but often I’ll produce a whole canvas to better judge the whole scene. Seldom do I get it right first time, I carry out numerous tweaks, each one small, but collectively they can make a significant difference to the final print. I insist on doing all my own printing, varnishing & stretching of canvas. It’s the only way to ensure complete quality control including the material’s origin. Personally, I struggle to appreciate the intergrity of a photographer’s art, if a commercial lab has done all the hard work!

Coating the canvas with a U.V.
inhibiting varnish, a critical process

Stretching the canvas over the pine "stretcher frame"

My initials & edition number

By definition, a “limited edition” is a strictly limited, numbered edition. Deciding on this number can be difficult, my aim being to keep the total number modest in respect of our (small) market. Some prints will always prove more popular than others, sometimes selling out in under a year (bugger, I should have done more of those!) Artist Proofs are printed when testing any new images or new media & I retain only a small number of these (never more than 10% of an edition's number of prints are A.P's.) They represent the last opportunity to invest in that particular print & are released once the edition is sold out. Overseas, the trend is for some of my contemporaries to have editions of almost 1000 prints & up to 5% of these again as Artist Proofs! I try to keep my work affordable so as many people as possible may access them, no one can afford to be greedy, but I do have to balance what I need to earn from my work as a full-time artist. I constantly invest as much as I can into searching new locations & producing new pieces, keeping my galleries topped up with the latest & greatest. It’s very costly to travel about & search out these images in the first place, equipment costs are massive & I insist on using only the finest materials available.

Finally, my finished work “Bonjour Akaroa”:

300mm x 1400mm framed print
under U.V. glass, 550mm x 1650mm

606mm x 2440mm framed canvas

Bronze Award, Epson 2014 International Pano Awards

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