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The making of A Reflective View of London

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At BIAFF 2015 Graham Ralls won a Diamond Award and the Best Photography prize with A Reflective View of London.
In the still images here we cannot do the film full justice ...

A still from 'A Reflective View of London'.

It is still a constantly evolving project as I come across stronger images.

As a still photographer I have always been fascinated with the distorted images and subtle colours you get on modern buildings clad in mirror glass.

The project originally started about 3 years  ago in 2012 when I started doing AVs, to produce a picture to music sequence. After several false starts that did not work, I eventually found a suitable piece of music, even so it took a considerable time, whilst out on other photo trips, to collate enough images to make the AV.

I knew what I wanted, finding them was something else.  Once built into a presentation I felt it lacked something to give it that real punch that the subject material really needed to make it work, so it was sidelined in preference to other more documentary type projects.

A still from  'A Reflective View of London'.I joined Spring Park Film Makers club and moved more into film as against still image AVs during 2014

March 2014 I bought my first video camera, a Canon HF G30 to record the grandkids growing up as the quality of image from my SLR video capability left a bit to be desired. Then I realised it was that movement of image that was missing on the old reflections project to maybe take it to the next level. So I set about rebuilding the presentation using video clips, but of course every clip now had to contain movement within it somewhere, as much as anything to prove it was a video as against a still image, videoing a static subject was no different to using a still image.

I knew where most of the photo opportunities were that I had already collected, mind the rate of building in London, meant many of the previous viewpoints were by now obscured, but I had to where I could,  get a reflected movement video from them. Gradually over the year, along with new material and places I came across (thank goodness for the freedom pass*), I was able to build it into a moving image version of my earlier project. It is still a constantly evolving project as I come across stronger images. It is as you will understand, still a bit of a hybrid with a mix of still and video images, but given time the current still images will be replaced by video.

I really only entered the project into the competition to see what the judges would make of a pictures to music presentation as against a story based or documentary type of film, little did I expect the response it did get.

Still from 'A Reflective View of London'. Still from 'A Reflective View of London'.

My old AV software albeit brilliant for still images, struggled somewhat with multiple HD quality video clips as did my trusty old laptop with the HD file sizes, so bought a purpose made laptop for my hobby and then set about the learning curve of new software, this all happened in December 2014 so time was tight for an entry into the BIAFF competition.

Editing due to the different time exposures to match the sway or timing of the music did cause a few problems as not all action videos would fit the allocated time slots or match or be led in by the previous video clip, so it was more of a trial and see how it works at each stage, some transitions were easy and some took quite a bit of improvisation, as until or when appropriate video clips become available.

My AV software is/was ProShow Gold, it's so precise and it can be set up to accept  numerical inputs  re X Y positioning  down to 0.001  even 0.001 deg regards rotation and 3D effects, getting overlays or layers to line up with this software is so easy, even colour,  contrast, light or dark, blurring  etc can all be  numerically controlled

After trying several  manufactures film editing software, I settled for Adobe's Premiere Elements 12 as I am already familiar with their Photoshop and Auditions 3. The slider type controls took some getting used to by comparison to the exact numerical ability of PSG.

My first film projects were in actual fact voice over documentaries of various parts of the London Docklands and their history. I had previously done some of them as AVs so it seemed a good learning exercise to transfer these to films, they were so much more impressive than the still image versions. These I did with PSG but ran into the 30 as against 25FPS problem of American software played on European equipment. It causes no problems with still images but quickly reared its ugly head once I introduced video. Computing power at the same time helped to confuse the issue, but eventually members of SPFM helped me to understand and get on top of the problems.

Voice over projects take a considerable time to research, produce a rough story board or list of requirements; throw together a quick prototype, as it is surprising once out in the field, how much other material normally turns up;  then get the final choice of video clips along with re-doing the voice-over. Finally watch and tweak, watch and tweak it over the next few weeks until you can see no more errors. Normally when I get up in the mornings, it's kettle and PC on and then watch the work whilst enjoying my first cup of tea, quick adjustments then get on with my day. As I started saying, V/O pieces do take a long time, so in-between I do images to music type projects and family based projects/requests, so I always have something to work on.

Still from  'A Reflective View of London'.Licences in London to photograph or video in lots of areas (classed as private property, ie Canary Wharf, most of the South Bank, St Catherine's Dock etc) are very hard or expensive to come by ...

... so much of the subject matter was first seen, then I moved away, set up the video camera on a tripod etc, moved in and got the image as quickly as possible, before being moved on.

A lot on my video clips end up with a security guard standing in front of the camera, so they obviously monitor photographers with reasonable equipment, whereas a tourist stood alongside you can record what they like on  iPhones, mobiles etc without any problems at all. Before you ask I do carry third party insurance in case somebody falls/dives over my tripod etc.

It's a game of cat and mouse, some you win, some end up as quality videos of forceful or jobs-worth security guards that end up in the trash bin. But that is photography in a lot of London these days: you seemed to be judged by the quality of your photographic equipment rather than what you are photographing.

As an overweight 70 year old, one just smiles, apologises, moves on ... and then comes back the next day at a different time and tries again!

- Graham Ralls

Still from 'A Reflective View of London'.

* The Freedom Pass is a travel card scheme granting free travel on public transport across London and  free local bus journeys across England.

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