In the company of heroes: Documenting

Article From Canon Professional Network published July 2015. Canon Explorer Clive Booth’s personal project documenting the culture and the people of the stunning Scottish island of Islay provided an ideal testing ground for the Canon EOS-1D X and EOS 5DS recently. CPN writer Ian Farrell takes up the story… In recent years Clive Booth has found success shooting high-profile advertising campaigns with a huge team of assistants and stylists. You will often find him backstage at London Fashion Week, or maybe even making a short film or directing a commercial. But he has long been a photographer used to much tougher adventures. Over the last 20 years Clive has also been shooting something far more personal: a special project, away from the glitz and glamour of the fashion industry. In 1994 Clive went to the Inner Hebridean Island of Islay in Scotland while making a documentary as a cameraman. The trip left a huge impression on him and it wasn’t long before he returned to document the people, landscape and culture of Islay as a photographer – a project that he’s still passionate about over 20 years later.


“I felt very emotional leaving Islay after that first visit,” Clive recalls. “I phoned up one of the guys I’d met there, a fisherman and coastguard station officer called Harold Hastie and said I wanted to come back. He said ‘no problem, you can come and stay with us’ and we’ve been great friends ever since.”


Clive has documented all manner of activities during his many trips to Islay, from fishing and sheep farming to charity rowing and sailing events that raised money for Macmillan and Children’s Hospice Scotland. “I’ve got to know so many people on the island – people in the distillery business, coastguard, airport, fire and rescue and RNLI. I think I know more people on Islay than at home,” he chuckles.

On the day of the exercise, Clive started out in a rigid inflatable boat (RIB) shooting exterior shots of the lifeboat and the Royal Navy Sea King – this time with an EOS 5DS R. “I took two lenses with me, the EF11-24mm f/4L USM and the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. Between them they covered exactly the range I needed,” he says. “The shots from the RIB looked great, with the lifeboat in the foreground and the helicopter in the background. I photographed the winch man and the medic coming down onto the deck as part of the exercise – they rehearse taking people on and off as they may have to pull people off the lifeboat or pluck them from the sea and put them on deck.”


For the latest chapter in his Islay project, Clive drew on his background in graphic design and developed the idea of producing a limited-edition book using large-format inkjet printer technology, and approached Canon for support. “I spoke to Canon Europe and suggested we create a really high-end art book, all printed on Canon iPF large format 12-colour printers, and maybe do an exhibition too. They were very keen, and last November said ‘yes, let’s do it.’” By February Clive had already been back to Islay to shoot for the book project, concentrating on the work of an RNLI lifeboat crew who operate from the island. At the same time Canon released the EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R, which caught Clive’s attention. “I was thinking: that 50 Megapixel resolution with the 12-ink printing process is going to give some fantastic results, “ he says. “I got the chance to borrow an early pre-production model of the cameras a few days after I got back from shooting, so I booked a ferry ticket and, 12 hours later, I got back in the car and went straight back to work.” On his return, severe gales in the area created havoc for Clive: “It was touch and go whether I’d be able to get across to the island, but in the end I made it, and actually those rough seas were a blessing. I went out with the lifeboat crew on exercise and managed to photograph the boat in big water, breaking through some impressive waves. I was shooting the action from a seven-metre RIB [rigid inflatable boat] with the EOS 5DS in a rain cover. When Canon Europe arranged for me to borrow the camera they said ‘please be careful with it – it’s the only one in Europe.’ I imagine they would have had a heart attack if they’d known what I was doing…” Clive’s sensational images of the Severn Class all-weather lifeboat breaking through the surf left him with a good impression of what the EOS 5DS can do. “It’s kind of like having a medium format camera in your hand but smaller, and far lighter. You can shoot 5fps and track these fast-moving objects with fantastic AF, all from a seven-metre RIB bobbing up and down at sea. Amazing!”


Clive’s next shoot with the island’s lifeboat crew saw him take to the skies with Navy 177 – a Royal Navy Sea King helicopter that provides search and rescue cover in the area. “It’s one of the last times someone will be able to take photos like this, as the Sea King is about to leave active service. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to shoot with them on exercise,” he says. With the RNLI crew safely on the Sea King, it was Clive’s turn to get winched. “I was concentrating so hard on taking pictures that I didn’t feel myself being pulled up into the air,” he says. “One moment I was on the deck, the next I’m sitting in the doorway of this Sea King helicopter. It was pretty amazing. Once I’d got myself settled we set off at some speed, circling the lifeboat. I asked if I could get a shot of the lifeboat from above and we went into a hovering position so it could pass right underneath us. Even though the EOS 5DS R shoots 50 Megapixel images, I could shoot bursts of them at 5fps as the lifeboat passed below, which is amazing when you think about how much data that is.” Over the duration of his stay Clive made sure he turned the EOS 5DS toward as many subjects as he could. “The project is called ‘Ileachs’ (pronounced ‘ee-lucks’), the name given to the people of Islay, because ultimately it’s about the people who live there, their way of life and their culture. So of course there were always going to be a lot of portraits to shoot. I decided to photograph the crew of the lifeboat with just available window light, using the same location for everyone and contrasting how each volunteer looked in their lifeboat gear with how they appeared in their day job.”


The EOS 5DS’s high resolution meant that Clive worked differently than usual in order to get the best image quality from his portraits. “I put the camera on a tripod and fired it with a remote release, just to make sure I avoided camera shake,” he says. “And in very low light I used Live View to make sure I absolutely nailed the focusing. I like working with shallow depth-of-field, but there’s very little margin of error when shooting in this way. I was typically working with apertures ranging from f/1.2 to f/4.” When shooting handheld, Clive usually reckons on using a shutter speed that’s double the focal length of his lens, for example 1/100sec for a 50mm lens, but he found himself being more cautious with the EOS 5DS. “I was shooting at 1/200sec or even 1/300sec with a 50mm lens just to eliminate any traces of shake that the camera’s high resolution sensor would pick up,” he reveals. “I was mindful that the pictures were for print, so I intentionally kept the ISO quite low. That said, when I was shooting other scenes I went up to ISO 1600 and the results were absolutely brilliant with very little noise.”


And when it comes to workflow, are there differences there too? “I’ve not changed too much,” he reveals. “You need bigger memory cards obviously – I’d recommend 32GB or 64GB – and large, fast drives to store the images. My MacBook Pro running Lightroom coped absolutely fine with the increased resolution. I have a 30-inch reference monitor back at home and the images looked completely amazing when I pulled them up on that.” He adds: “I think I worked in a more controlled and deliberate way than I do with my EOS-1D X. Not as slowly as you might with a medium format camera, because it’s a DSLR in terms of handling, but I knew that I was going to get results that would rival medium format. It’s the best of both worlds; a game-changer really.” Clive was also appreciative of the huge lens choice available to him. “I’m a prime lens person really, and my EF35mm f/1.4L USM, EF50mm f/1.2L USM and EF85mm f/1.2L II USM all performed superbly on the EOS 5DS. That said, I also had the chance to try the new EF11-24mm f/4L USM and EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM zooms, which were both amazing. The level of detail I got from the 11-24mm was extraordinary, and I really love the portability of the 100-400mm. I like the 400mm focal length a lot – the shallow depth of field and compressed perspective – but my EF400mm f/2.8 is huge and not always practical to take with me. I like to be able to put everything in one large camera bag or ruck-sac, and I can do that with the 100-400mm zoom. I know it doesn’t have the wide aperture of the prime lens, but the image quality is spot on – even at 50 Megapixel resolution.”


And how did the images look when Clive got back home and had chance to view them in detail? “Amazing!” he enthuses. “In the portraits you can see all this fantastic texture in the skin, hair, wrinkles and pores. I usually love shallow depth-of-field but when I saw the files on my big monitor I preferred the extra detail with increased depth-of-field. Prior to the [EOS] 5DS I have only ever seen detail like this from medium format cameras. It’s so good that it has changed the way I shoot, and for the first time with a DSLR I look in the frame and think that I can allow generous space around the subject, because even when cropped I’ll have more than enough data from which to make a print.” And the difference between the EOS 5DS and the EOS 5DS R? “I could see it sometimes – when you zoom right in on the flight suits of the helicopter crew in some of the portraits I shot, you can see absolutely every fibre in the material. That’s not to say the images from the EOS 5DS are lacking though – they are staggering too in the detail they capture.”


Clive’s background in design – and print in particular – explains his excitement at seeing his first printed images from the cameras. “Those prints exceeded my expectations – they look absolutely stunning. They have the look that medium format prints have when you see them from a distance, and then you move closer and closer and that detail is still there.The dynamic range is good too. In the past I’ve sometimes found myself underexposing a little, just in case I clip some highlights, but I’ve not had to do that so much with these files. Shadow recovery is excellent and the noise pattern is tidy and tight as well – it looks a bit like film grain, which is never a bad thing.” When it comes to post-production, Clive’s existing Adobe Lightroom-based workflow has only had minor adjustments to cope with the cameras’ increased resolution: “You have to have big memory cards when you’re shooting with these machines – on the helicopter exercise I used two 32GB CompactFlash cards and two 32GB SD cards. And with big cards come big drives, so I have this 4TB rugged Raid hard drive that I back up everything to.” It seems that the EOS 5DS and EOS 5DS R have found a fan in Clive Booth. “It’s the perfect camera for this job,” he says. “Everything is going to be printed at large sizes and we’ll be able to maximise the quality of the image because there is just so much data in it. You record images with the speed of a DSLR at a quality that I didn’t think was possible before now.The great thing about a project like this is that everyone can do it and it’s felt very liberating: just me, a camera and a bag of lenses,” Clive adds. “Equipment aside the most important thing is that you have a connection with the subject, and when it comes to Islay I really do. It’s unique in terms of subject matter. So rich and varied. And thanks to my friend Harold so many doors are open to me – this is a chance of a lifetime and I can’t wait to go back.”