On Location in Johannesburg & Cape Town 2016

Following on from our previous trip to South Africa, for our client Virgin Limited Edition, we were commissioned to make a return trip for them in 2016. This time we were to return to their game reserve in Sabi Sands next to Kruger National Park, near Johannesburg and then fly onto their brand new Manor House property at their luxury vineyard near Cape Town. Tom and I would be working together on this project along with Josephine from Virgin Limited Edition as our fixer and boss!

Part One. Ulusaba, Sabi Sands

After the eleven hour night flight down to Johannesburg we were scheduled to take a small six seater plane on the relatively short connecting flight into the bush and the airstrip at Ulusaba, the lodge we would be staying at and photographing for the next few days. This is when the ‘fun’ began as it soon became obvious that none of our checked luggage, which contained all of our camera and lighting equipment, had made the flight and as far as we could tell was all still back in London! The implications of this were significant as there were only a few hours until our connecting flight, which meant we were about to depart for the bush without any equipment. Thankfully, after a few heated discussions at the BA customer service desk we established that all six of our bags had actually been put on another flight which was due to arrive in Johannesburg a couple of hours later. Hoping that they would arrive as promised we then spent a very anxious couple of hours, eating Haribo’s to pass the time, in the baggage hall waiting for the later flight to arrive. Sure enough, all the bags arrived on the next flight, which meant we now had just enough time to get the bus across to the smaller terminal for our connecting flight. Phewww!

A short while later as we arrived at the terminal to check in for our next flight, we were soon having further luggage issues. Despite making numerous detailed prior arrangements, getting all of our heavy equipment onboard the tiny plane was going to be an issue. The potential of flying without all of our gear was a real concern as the alternative was to take it by road which is an eight hour trip using a 4x4 and we needed the equipment to get the photography started that afternoon. Luckily, after much bag weighing, head scratching and a little bit of negotiating with the pilot we managed to get everything onboard, just! It was a hell of squeeze and more weight than we should have really have been allowed to fly with. Once up in the air it was time to relax and enjoy the views from the plane as we crossed the Blyde River Canyon, which were simply breathtaking!

Two hours later and after some interesting flying we landed safely on the airstrip without falling out of the sky, which was a relief. Once all of the gear was unloaded and put onto a 4x4, ready to be driven to the lodge, we were greeted by Franci, the interior designer and also by the lodge manager, Karl. He seemed very pleased to welcome us back and was looking forward to getting some updated photography underway.

So much so that within an hour of landing we were starting our first shot, one of the Elephant bedrooms down at Safari Lodge. We had about two hours of daylight available to get three shots finished in order for the following few days schedule to be manageable. It was a bit of mad rush but we managed the bedroom shot, a sunset shot of a private dinning set up and also a shot of the wine cellar.

Finally, after over 24 hours of travelling and working we retreated to our bedrooms in Cliff Lodge. This luxurious accommodation is reached via the wooden walk ways right up on the top of Rock Lodge and is well worth the extra five minute walk to reach its’ remote location.

The following three days were the usual hectic mix of flat out work punctuated with lovely food and as much rest as we could manage between the numerous shots that usually started off at dawn and went through to dusk most days. Although most of the shots required on this visit were interiors, there was also a need to update some exterior imagery of Safari Lodge from across the water. We set off on a recce one afternoon to try and establish the best vantage point and soon realised that this was far more dangerous than we had thought. Luckily we had our ranger and guide, Zianca, with us to keep us out of danger, which turned out to be more useful than we expected. Due to the recent low rain fall and dry weather the level of the watering hole was unseasonally low which meant the hippo’s that live there were a little more protective than usual, hippo’s have been known to charge towards people if they feel threatened. In fact when I suggested moving to a small rocky peninsula in order to find the best position for the following days shot it was decided that it was too dangerous and the shot had to be canned, perhaps something to return to for another time.

The remainder of the shoot was pretty much smooth running and trouble free until the final evening when we had planned to do a night shot of the telescope and star gazing facility out in the bush. After dinner we set off, again with Zianca to guide us and keep us safe, to set up the cameras and lighting for what we already knew was going to be a tricky shot as we’d recceed it earlier that day. After a short drive from the lodge we arrived at the telescope star gazing facility and started to arrange our equipment to the sounds of various roars and growls that didn’t sound too far away. The bush is a very different place at night and I know we were all, apart form Zianca, a little anxious about the close proximity of the sounds we were hearing around us. Zianca reassured us that there was nothing to fear as the lions would unlikely come too close, as they would be nervous of the lights inside the telescope facility. This was fine right up until the point when after one flash discharge of our Elinchrom lights the solar powered mains failed and threw us all into complete darkness. This presented two significant problems. One, we now had no power so we couldn’t use our mains powered lights. Two, the light that was previously protecting us from the lions and their hungry bush mates was now non-existent… It’s funny how those roars in the distance suddenly sounded much closer once the ‘safety’ of our lights were no longer available to protect us. I could sense Jo was beginning to panic a little and Zianca was keen to get finished as soon as possible. We decided to do the best we could without the mains power and resorted to using a single Metz CL45 to light the whole scene, which we had previously planned to do with four Elinchrom mains powered lights. I’ve always thrived on working under pressure, especially when doing multiple exposure night shots, but this time the pressure intensified to a whole new level; would we get the shot or would we receive a visit from those lions before we were done? Well, we lived to tell the tale and as things turned out created quite a pleasing image.

I’ve always been careful about critising other peoples photography as you never fully know the brief behind their work or the circumstances that were available to the photographer on the day of the shoot. This is a great example of what looks like a straightforward image but the circumstances behind it were as challenging as I can remember.

The following day was a busy one with a couple of final shots to do in the morning before packing up our equipment, saying our good byes and getting down to the airstrip for our 11am departure back to Johannesburg and onto Cape Town for the second part of our trip.

Part Two. Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek

We were greeted off the flight at Cape Town by the cheery Wilfred, who was to be our driver to the new Manor House at Mont Rochelle in Franschhoek. The drive from the airport to the vineyard was enlightening as we drove through various housing settlements and observed a fairly high disregard for driving etiquette by other road users. 

By the time we arrived at the recently refurbished Manor House it was getting late but it was immediately obvious that this would be a very different working environment to the wilderness of the bush that we had left behind. We were greeted by the Mont Rochelle property manager, Eve and also the manager of the Manor House, Sam, who we would be working with in the coming days. Some Elinchrom rental equipment had also arrived for us as we’d broken a few lights during the previous days’ work. After some much needed grub and an early night we were all set to get going again the following morning.

After a relatively leisurely breakfast it was time to get stuck into the photography. The first few shots were of the dining area and the outside space at the rear of the property. All went pretty much to plan as we worked around the changeable weather conditions. Sam was kept busy setting the dining tables and keeping on top the general mess we were making whilst shifting furniture around to get the best shots. This was essentially photography of a new house, all be it a rather large one, which meant the logistics were far more straight forward than they had been during the previous days work out in the bush, what a contrast! With no guests to work around and no lions to concern ourselves with, spirits were up, the music was on and silly hats were being worn. After a couple of night shots as the sun began to set, it was time for a game of pool, I think Tom won - just, whilst planning the following days schedule.

Day two was all about the exteriors and trying to show the house off in its' setting amongst the vineyards. The weather was not ideal, so we were gambling with the best time to do certain shots knowing that we might not get another clear spell of weather before our departure. This is always a time consuming dilemma as much time can be lost waiting for the weather to break for a few vital seconds, which if it were clear the photography would take significantly less time. When faced with this scenario we have to be patient as there is a real chance of coming away from the job without suitable exterior images, which would be a disaster. In the end, our patience paid off and we managed to capture a cracking set of exteriors with clear skies and a good sense of the stunning location. However, no sooner had we finished the exteriors the heavens opened and a group of visiting holiday agents took emergency shelter in the Manor House as their planned luncheon out on by the lake was now a wash out. No real problem but seeing a good dozen agents lounging around in ‘our’ Manor House on the perfectly arranged sofas, eating lunch, sipping wine and having a cheeky afternoon nap was amusing but a bit of set back to the schedule. An hour or two later we were back up to speed and finishing off the day with a few bedroom shots which involved our task master Jo putting us to work making sure the bed linen was perfect. Our bed making skills are legendary (a slight exaggeration, but we are very good at it and it’s a key part of making the perfect bedroom image), with a good steam iron being our tool of choice. We gave Jo a go at the ironing, she did pretty well but it was clear that this was mans work so we politely took over to make sure it was all ship shape.

Day three was free of drama but pretty hectic as we had to make sure all the final shots were in the can before packing up for our return to the UK. Once the final images were finished, it was time to back up all the camera data and begin packing the equipment. With eight non-stop days now complete we breathed a sign of relief knowing that we had produced a great set of images and made the very best of our time and the weather conditions. With everything packed away we headed in to the town of Franschhoek for a change of scene and some dinner, followed by a few drinks in one of the towns bars. We were having a fun time until it was cut short by one of the vineyards drivers arriving at the bar insisting that it was time for him to take us back to the Manor House. Now you may think it was getting late or we’d had enough to drink but neither of these were the case, it was simply that Abbie had decided to come and get us as his work shift was soon to finish and he wanted to make sure we were back at the Manor House before he went home. It’s fair to say we had a chuckle and felt like naughty school kids but avoiding a late night was a good plan as we were off early the following morning for a sight seeing day around Cape Town before catching our flight home. 

After being dropped off at the Waterfront in Cape Town, the following morning, we headed straight to the Cape Grace Hotel for a very leisurely breakfast where we were able to recharge our batteries, breath a sigh of relieve knowing that we had achieved everything in the brief and hopefully would soon be delivering some stunning images to the client once we were back in the UK. Breakfast finished, we hoped on a sight seeing bus and took in the sites of Cape Town before catching our flight home.

Mission accomplished!

 

A behind the scenes video of our work at Ulusdaba.

A behind the scenes video of our work at Mont Rochelle.

Behind the scenes images

The images can be seen here for Ulusaba and here for Mont Rochelle on the Virgin Limited Edition website

On Location at Moskito Island

Back in July this year we were commissioned by Virgin Limited Edition to photograph another one of their stunning luxury holiday locations. This time it was Moskito Island which is a new destination situated in the BVI and has been secretly under construction for the last few years. It is located just a mile across the water from their existing and currently more infamous Necker Island, where Richard Branson lives. In addition to a club house with an infinity pool, bar, restaurant and various sports facilities they have built three beautifully appointed villas. It was these villas that we were to photograph, along with their various guest rooms, swimming pools and beach’s. 

However, things didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts. After numerous delayed internal flights from Barbados we got oh so close to our final destination at Tortola Island only to be flown back to Antigua for an unexpected overnight delay due to staffing issues with our carrier LIAT Air (now known as ‘Leave Island Any Time’). Sixteen hours later and a further two flights, a boat ride we finally arrived on Moskito Island at 2pm. This was one day one of a five day shoot, not the best of starts and now only a few hours of daylight left to get a few shots in the bag before day two.

The following day started bright and early as we were now in catch up mode and by the end of the day we were pretty much back on schedule, give or take the odd shot or two. Each of the shots required us to show the relationship between the inside and outside space which needed carefully controlled flash lighting for the interiors, with our usual light painting technique, and various exposures to balance the exterior views. Under normal circumstances this is a pretty straight forward process, however the strong winds we encountered during the shoot made this more difficult as the palm trees were often bent double right outside the windows and balcony’s. We made sure we had enough variations with the shots and knew that we could manage to make it all look perfect once the post production work was underway back in the UK.

By the end of day three we were fully back on track to get everything done on time so we were asked to make a trip across to Necker Island as the client had some requirements for some update photography of the spa facilities there. So we packed up the necessary equipment and took the short, but somewhat wet, trip across to Necker.  After a quick check of our gear we had a whistle stop tour of the island and then got stuck into some photography before returning to Moskito for another night shot.  

We were hoping for an ‘off’ day before flying home but some last minute editions to the shot list meant we worked most of the final day. However, by mid afternoon and after days of looking at the emerald green Caribbean we finally downed tools and took a well earned dip in the sea followed by a beer by one of the pools. Just for a minute we felt like the millionaire guests that will soon be making their way to this stunning island for their holidays. It didn’t last long as our return boat trip to the airport was due at 5am the following day and the start of long return journey.

We have been unable to share this blog or the final images until now as although we shot the work a few months ago it has been kept under wraps until now. However, the client has now released the images to the media and the they are taking bookings from January 2016.

You can see the images on the Virgin Limited Edition website here:

http://www.virginlimitededition.com/en/moskito-island

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Post Production

Post-production is an important and unavoidable part of today's digital photography process. Whether it be simple cropping, colour management or extensive retouching it requires a skill set on a par with the capture phase of a professional photography shoot that can only be obtained after years of working with digital photography.

Over the extensive time we have worked in architectural photography we’ve developed a style that employs a complex post-production technique that is suitable for all types of interiors from grand dining halls to bijou bedrooms. The process is a marriage of two halves: intricate lighting methods on location and crucially, well managed post-production back in the studio.

The process always starts with carefully considered composition and lighting. By balancing our static flash lighting with the available light in a space we create our base exposure. This forms the starting point for the final image. Once we’re satisfied we have the correct balance we move on to lighting the key elements of the image individually, capturing a separate file for each of these. This involves hand holding flash heads whilst standing in the shot to give maximum creativity. By manually manipulating the flash head we ensure we have complete control over the strength and direction of the light resulting in a more accurate final image. The second phase is the post-production process, where we manage the various RAW files. We employ a layering technique to assemble the numerous images. Starting with the base exposure we blend in the individually lit sections, gradually building up the final image as a composite. The results of this controlled technique are beautifully lit and balanced photographs, which deliver an enhanced feel to the space and the interior design of the subject. This technique can also be used with exteriors where the scene is continually changing and we need to capture the best elements of an otherwise impossible to create image.

This short film demonstrates our technique in action. We are always proud of the final images we produce but it is the process of creating them that is often unrecognised and not always valued as part of the whole production. We hope this short insight into our technique will reveal a little more of what’s required behind the camera once we’ve finished on location. 

A brief insight into our intricate post production process showing how we complete our stunning images once we've finished on location.

The above two images show how the same fundamental technique was used for a hotel exterior where it was impossible to capture the scene without any traffic. The solution is a number of exposures with the traffic in different places allowing enough options to create a final image clear of traffic. 

On Location in South Africa

Working on location for Virgin Limited Edition at their exclusive safari lodge, Ulusaba in South Africa. We were commissioned to spend a week photographing various refurbished areas of the luxury resort for their updated website and marketing collateral. It was a busy shoot with a mixture of interiors, exteriors, wildlife and food photography. We worked long days starting with game drive at sunrise and dinning set ups at sunset with numerous other shots during the day. We encountered elephants blocking the road, leopards taking a morning stroll and cheeky monkeys trying to steel the food we were photographing.

Here's a short film of what we got up to.

Behind the scenes images on location in Ulusaba.

You can see a selection of the finished images here: Image Gallery

And also on Virgin Limited Edition's website here: Virgin Limited Edition website (scroll down)