My 5-page portfolio has just been printed in Digital Photogapher Magazine’s Issue 94.
Glistening beads of snow begin to fall as the frost bitten bride makes her entrance to the chapel, its 15 degrees below zero yet she walks defiantly in her off the shoulder angelic white dress, elegantly and effortlessly disguising the many layers of thermals and snug snow boots hidden beneath. The wedding photographer steps up, clothed in dozens of winter garments to stave off the biting cold long enough to be able to do his job, yet in his hands the camera he uses operates alone, challenging the dark and shooting without the comfort of flash.
But this is no ordinary camera, nor is this an ordinary wedding and the person capturing it all certainly is no ordinary photographer.
The event in question is the matrimonial union between James and Claire Bristow, a Buckinghamshire couple who decided to tie the knot at the famous Ice Hotel in Swedish Lapland. To photograph the once in a lifetime occasion the couple needed a top flight pro for the job and opted for none other than Uzair (Oz) Kharawala; self made business man, notable wedding and portrait photographer, photography instructor and Nikon Evangelist. Never the type to let an opportunity go by Oz relished his ambassadorship of the brand and offered to trial Nikon’s full frame DSLR magnum opus; the Nikon D3S, in the challenging conditions. The low light power house is famed for its revolutionary high ISO performance of 12800, expandable to 102400 equivalent (Hi 3) making shooting in low or no light scenarios a breeze – ideal then for a Lapland wedding in January, where the sun sets at a premature 2pm. “The whole handling of the camera is simply amazing.” Enthuses the Pakistan born photographer. “The D3S is not challenged by low light so I am shooting in the dark at ISO 8000 to 10000 like it is the norm, I wasn’t even thinking about it and the images are all perfectly usable at full size without any noticeable grain.” Most photographers would be committing career suicide should they discover they had captured a whole wedding at this high sensitivity but not with the D3S and not Oz.
Oz has cultivated an admirable reputation for himself in photography circles as an astute entrepreneur who at every step of development in the digital camera’s evolution, has been there to cash in before the masses catch on. Oz’s passion for photography began during his adolescences but back then it wasn’t models that inspired his creativity. “I was mainly shooting landscapes and I really enjoyed the practice of capturing a beautiful scene. Slowly I moved away from film and began a gradual transition into digital.” Shooting digitally for the best part of a decade, Oz was one of the first converts to the format and his ability to spot new trends and move on them didn’t stop there. “I just seemed to be in the right place at the right time.” He laughs modestly. “I saw great potential in this digital technology. The first time I witnessed it in action I was mesmerised. At the time this method of shooting was very unique and a huge fascination for clients who were amazed that the pictures were printing right there in front of them. Before this the practice of sending of your roll of film to a lab to be processed meant clients were waiting weeks for their pictures. By being able to print images straight away I was able to shoot at all kinds of places like: dinner dances, corporate events, gymkhanas, weddings, etc, print the image then and there and sell it to the client and that became the business.” Working with his wife and fellow photographer Farzana, Oz had tapped into an exciting gap in the market and one that reaped financial rewards and notoriety, so much so the couple had to take on employees to satisfy the demand. The ventures didn’t stop there as Oz soon discovered the simplicity and effectiveness of off camera flash, way ahead of the competition. “When I first started using wireless flash people thought I was crazy. They said you need all this expensive and heavy equipment to take well lit shots, but when I showed them the results I was getting, it soon became a different story and before I know it everyone was doing it.” Today things haven’t changed much as Oz still favours the style of shooting. “I believe in keeping lighting simple.” He reveals earnestly. “I just use a Lastolite lighting kit which is very portable to use and I just put on my Nikon SB900 or SB800 flash guns and that’s all I use.” True to form however Oz is set to be one step ahead of the game, endorsing the potential benefits DSLRs like the Nikon D3S will bring. “Throughout this wedding at the Ice Hotel I’ve mainly been able to use natural light because I know the D3S can cope with it and the images I can get are amazing.” He presents the LCD as testament to the device’s great capabilities. “Natural light is so powerful in terms of capturing the ambience of the environment. It’s been between minus 5 and minus 25 so I have to work very quickly, I can’t ask my clients to wait for me while I set up a little light stand – they’ll freeze, the energy will go and poses will look flat. With the D3S I’m up and running straight away. The batteries can withstand the cold too as I’ve not had to change the battery once today, this is rare as below zero temperatures zap battery life much quicker than in moderate climates.”
Another testament to Oz’s foresight was his prediction four years ago that the photo industry would see a huge increase competition. “There are more and more individuals turning pro and it’s not surprising with the affordability of kit.” Rather than be usurped by new talent or become demotivated by the threat of change, Oz as always, turned the trend to his advantage; producing and retailing software that enables photographers to help their business grow. “Along with Farzana, I run a photography business called SF Digital. Our photography business was growing rapidly and keeping track of things was becoming a nightmare. We were using different software packages and dozens of spreadsheets to keep on top of things but what we needed was a database but could not find any off-the-shelf product or software which would meet our specific requirements as photographers.” Inspired out of sheer frustration, Oz decided to build a software product from the ground up. “It was a daunting prospect, but I knew that with my technical skills and experience running a photography studio, if I stuck to my task I could create an invaluable tool for anyone in the industry. I spent many years researching and developing my system and I’m very excited about the result; Foto SF. This is not another accounting package or sales presentation software, but a dedicated studio management app that can be deployed quickly and tailored to suit the requirements of the photography business exactly.” Oz now sells the software solution at £60 and is available via download from SF Photo School , with a pro version expected in the coming months. In tandem with this Oz’s SF Photo School site is now up and running, which is designed to guide and teach budding photographers tricks and techniques for perfecting their passion – a skill he has perfected whilst lecturing on a variety of course including many for Nikon UK . “Don’t give up, never ever.” Advises the pro. “Things are very tough out there these days everybody wants to be a photographer. There is so much competition out there that you will get some bad days, weeks or months but my advice would be to keep going and never ever give up.” With that, and true to his word, Oz continues shooting Claire and James in the frozen igloo fresh from a respite in the warmth of a nearby cabin. As he powers out seamless shot after shot on the D3S, you can bet Oz is already conjuring up his next big idea. To keep up to date with all of his products, courses and inspirational ideas visit SF Photo School .
You can download the PDF for you perusal here . Hope you enjoy the article. Thank you to Natalie Johnson & the Digital Photographer team for the article. Digital Photogapher is available at all good newsagents, WHSmith & other major book stores.
Multi-award winning photographer Uzair Kharawala returns at the flagship Apple Store, Regent Street on 12 April 2010 at 7.00pm to share his incredible experience and images from his recent trip 250km above the Arctic Circle.
The free event will feature how Uzair photographed the Northern Lights in extreme temperatures of as low as -29ºC with the Nikon D3s, shooting as high as 12,800 ISO to capture the Lights, how he photographed a wedding at the world famous Ice Hotel without using on-camera flash. He’ll also discuss the use of video on a dslr and how the fusion between video and stills is creating a new market for photographers.
The Apple Store is located at 235 Regent Street, London, W1B 2EL, 020 7153 9000. The nearest tube station is Oxford Circus.
Please arrive early as this Event has been ‘standing only’ in the past.
Here is my double-page spread article printed in this month’s Photo Pro Magazine. Enjoy.
Oz Kharawala has just returned from a wedding shoot to remember which involved him making a trip to one of the world’s craziest locations, the famous Ice Hotel in Swedish Lapland
The trend for finding unusual venues for weddings has accelerated in recent years, with many brides and grooms determined to find a place to tie the knot that will stick in the minds of guests for years to come. Alongside the more traditional churches and registry offices, wedding photographers have found themselves visiting castles, stately homes, football grounds and even theme parks on a fairly regular basis, but Uzair Kharawala, known universally as Oz, has just had an assignment that has probably topped the lot: a commission to photograph a wedding taking place in the amazing Ice Hotel in Swedish Lapland.
“I had heard about this place but have never been there before,” says Oz, “and when I was contacted by a couple who were getting married there, who had come across me through the fact that I’m on the PSL ‘Preferred Supplier List’ for the Woburn Abbey Sculpture Gallery, I was excited by the chance of photographing a wedding there. I knew that there would be a few extra challenges thanks to the low light I would be encountering, the extreme temperatures and the fact that the ice walls of the hotel would reflect direct flash, but I was confident that I would be able to cope and I knew it would be an incredible experience.”
The booking for the shoot, which was due to take place in January, came through in October last year just at the time when the Nikon D3s was being unveiled, and Oz realised that the enhanced ISO capabilities of the new camera would make it an ideal companion for his assignment. “I figured that it would be well up to the light levels that I would be encountering, but was still a little worried about what effect the extremely low temperatures might have on battery performance.
“Before I set off I checked this with James Banfield, who provides Professional Support and Training for Nikon UK, and he assured me that it should be able to cope with anything that the Lapland environment might throw at it, and ultimately he was right. I just worked normally without any extra protection for the camera and achieved normal performance from it even though the temperatures were below freezing most of the time and up to -29C.”
The Ice Hotel itself, located in the little village of Jukkasjärvi some 200km north of the Arctic Circle, is spectacular and exists only from December to early spring. It has to be created from scratch each year using blocks of ice hewn from the adjacent Thorne River, and the translucent nature of the material is utilised to the full and highlighted from behind by constantly changing coloured lighting to create an amazing experience. The hotel is also home to a wide range of artworks that are produced afresh each winter by a team of artists using ice and snow as their raw materials.
Over 100 couples a year head to the hotel to get married in this unique venue’s Ice Chapel, subsequently toasting their nuptials with their guests in the Absolut Icebar. Following this they then move to a warm bar in the building and then to a reception held in a separate venue that enjoys all the facilities you would expect at a conventional wedding reception.
“The temperature outside the hotel is usually somewhere around minus 25 degrees,” says Oz, “but inside it’s a balmy minus five and actually feels quite comfortable if you’ve just walked in. However, the cold soon gets to you and as a result everything has to be done quite quickly. The wedding ceremony itself usually takes around half an hour and then you move on to the Icebar for a celebratory drink and then to the warm bar, which is more comfortable. The wedding party would probably spend no more than two hours in the Ice Hotel itself and everyone is warned to wear plenty of warm layers. Even so there were some of the couple’s 14 guests who got pretty cold during the event
“The fact that everything, by necessity, was on a tight schedule meant that I had to work fast and to be really organised. I had looked at pictures taken in the Ice Hotel before I went out there and what struck me was the fact that those that had been taken using direct on-camera flash ended up looking really flat and lifeless and I was determined that my shots would capture more of the atmosphere of the hotel. I decided I would shoot using a mixture of ambient light, utilising the D3s’ high ISO capabilities, and also with an off-camera Nikon SB900 flash, mounted inside an 80x80cm Lastolite Ezybox. When I used the flash I took care to underexpose the ambient light by a stop to enable me to get some detail in the floors and the walls, which obviously were reflecting the light much more than conventional materials would have.”
Most of the flash pictures were group formals that were set up in the chapel or around the hotel, while in the Icebar Oz decided to push up his ISO speed and to shoot in a more reportage style. “It would have just been uncomfortable for everyone had I tried to set things up,” he says. “I knew the light would be low and so I took some fast lenses with me, such as an 85mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/2, while I also packed a 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8 and the new 70-200mm f/2.8, and these allowed me to reach some usable shutter speeds. I was also confident that the new D3s I was using would be able to give me very good high ISO performance, and it certainly delivered. I was using an ISO of 5000 and the results are excellent, which is what I expected: in the UK I’ve covered weddings with the D3 with the ISO as high as 6400 with no quality issues, while the D3s is giving me files that have even less noise.”
The intense cold ensured that Oz needed to wrap up warm and he wore several layers along with a hat and gloves. “It was important that I kept warm but could still feel the controls of the camera,” he says, “and so I wore thin silk gloves and then fingerless gloves on top of those. This arrangement worked really well, although when I was shooting outside later on I needed to put on some proper snow gloves.”
Once he had completed his assignment Oz decided to make the most of his opportunity and to stay on for a few days to shoot some more pictures around the hotel for his own use and then to take an expedition to see and photograph the Northern Lights. He also decided to join the band of hardy souls who have actually stayed in one of the Ice Hotel’s rooms overnight, receiving a diploma in the morning to certify that he had survived the experience!
“It’s not as bad as you might think,” he says. “You’re not allowed to take anything in with you apart from the clothes you are sleeping in, because something like an alarm clock or a mobile phone would simply freeze solid. I slept in a heavy duty sleeping bag on an ice bed wearing three to four layers – which included a couple of layers on my head – and was woken in the morning at 7.30am by the hotel staff with a warm lingonbury drink. Although I trusted the weather resistant qualities of my D3s I didn’t risk it: this stayed in my conventional hotel room just down the road from the Ice Hotel!”
You might think that a wedding in a venue such as this would be the most unusual one Oz had ever done but, on reflection, he does think he can cap it. “I would say the strangest one I’ve ever done was at an indoor skydiving facility,” he says. “The couple getting married were fanatical about skydiving and instead of a first dance they decided to hire out this place where a giant propeller would blast air at them at high speed to create the feel of a genuine skydiving experience. My job was to get in there with them and to record the moment when they were suspended in mid air, and that was a shoot that I’ll never forget!”
Words by Terry Hope.
Wex Blog has uploaded the feature ‘Arctic Adventures with the D3s’ on their blog.
One of the most exciting & challenging shoots I’ve ever done was during my trip to Lapland, Arctic (well about 250kms north) in Sweden. The trip came about when I was booked to photograph a wedding at the world famous Ice Hotel in Sweden. This was roughly the same time when the Nikon D3s was launched and was the perfect opportunity to test the camera for its high ISO capabilities in such low light and extreme conditions of as low as -30C.
Full story here .
One of the most exciting & challenging shoot I’ve ever done was during my trip to the Lapland, Arctic (well about 250kms north) in Sweden. The trip came about when I was booked to photograph a wedding at the world famous Ice Hotel in Sweden. This was roughly the same time when the Nikon D3s was launched and was the perfect opportunity to test the camera for its high ISO capabilities in such low light and extreme conditions of as low as -30C.
I was specially excited about the use of the video on the dslr. Initially, I wasn’t too keen about the video on the dslr when they were first introduced, however, I now love it and starting to enjoy it more and more. Prior to my visit to Sweden, I did photograph a wedding here in the UK with the D3s and the image quality at ISO 10,000 and 12,800 were stunning. So I wasn’t too concerned about the low light situation over there.
The trip involved photographing the a pre-wedding shoot and the wedding, a dog sledding tour on a frozen river and through the wilderness around Jukkasjarvi and a 4-hour Northern Light tour on snow mobiles and staying in the ‘cold accommodation for 1-night at the Ice Hotel. Yes I did sleep in a cold room at The Ice Hotel at -5C and still here to tell the story. In fact, you get a diploma if you wake up alive in the morning!!! A fairly packed schedule within a 4-day trip to say the least.
The wedding took place in the Ice Chapel which was a traditional Swedish ceremony and took about 30 minutes or so. The warmest temperature inside the chapel and the Ice Hotel is no warmer than -5C which is considerably warmer than the temperature outside. The coldest I experienced during this trip was -29C. The wedding party then head off to the Ice bar for some drinks, then the family group shots, after the guests have headed off to the ‘warm bar’ the shots of the couple and then the wedding breakfast. The whole wedding takes no longer than about 2 hours or so. Unlike a traditional wedding of say 8 hours their is even more pressure on being organised and getting the shots which I’ve been paid for.
My biggest concern were the batteries in the camera and I’ve got to say that I did not need to change the batteries once during any shoot we went out to do. They pretty much lasted all day long.
Photographing inside the Ice Hotel was extremely challenging. The easy way would have been to put the flash on the hot shoe and fire away all day long. But that’s not what I did. I do use the flash a lot but not on the hot-shoe of the camera. Flash is one of the most creative pieces of kit you have in your camera bag. Use it correctly and you’ll get some amazing results. I place it on a light stand and either use an umbrella or a Lastolite Ezybox. These are easy to carry and go with me everywhere. I had the new 80x80cm Ezybox which I used for the group shots with the SB900 flashgun. Balancing the ambient light with flash is the key to getting really good shots.
I was shooting on average around 3200-5000 ISO inside the Ice Hotel with a few fast prime lenses, the 85mm f/1.4, 35mm f/2 and the 50mm f/1.4. I shot the ceremony with available light only even though I was given permission to use the flash. Using flash would have ‘killed’ the whole ambience of the beautiful and unique setting. So don’t be scared of shooting at high ISO if your camera body allows you to. Coming back to the group shots, my lighting kit is extremely portable, quick to set up and easy to use. I’m pretty much up & running in under 2 minutes. Specially in such a cold place where you don’t want the guests hanging around and getting cold while you take your time setting up the lighting gear.
After the group shots, I spent about 10-15 minutes with the couple and we went around the hotel and took their shots. Then we went to the ‘warm bar’ and shortly afterward the wedding breakfast and the day is over. I was pretty exhausted by the hectic activity and the cold conditions but it was worth every penny!!! I absolutely thoroughly enjoyed the wedding and is amongst one of my faves.
On a bitterly cold evening, our Northern Lights tour was arranged. But what, exactly, are the Northern Lights ? The Northern Lights, Aurora Borealise, appear in a clear night sky as swirling rivers of greenish-blue light. They move and dance unpredictably; sometimes barely perceptible, then suddenly growing vivid. In simple terms, the auroras can be explained as an interaction of the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. The phenomenon occurs when the particles collid with atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere, transforming kinetic energy into visible light. The most intensive auroras occur at a height of about 100km and can be 10 to 30 km high.
Normally the Northern Lights can be seen virtually every clear night at high latitudes. We had to travel about 45kms on the snow mobiles from the hotel to be able to see the lights. The experience of driving a snow mobile through the wilderness was pretty incredible. I was wearing 4 layers of thermals & fleeces, a jacket and then a snow suit, 3 layers of socks with snow boots and I was still freezing!!
Setting up and photographing in complete darkness with gloves on was not ideal. There is no way the autofocus will work on any camera as it is so dark, the focus has to be set on Manual mode and then you set the exposure from experience. I was able to set the shutter at around only 6-8 seconds (10,000 – 12,800 ISO) and capture some amazing shots of the lights. I was pretty lucky that I managed to see them first time around.
Speaking about the Nikon D3s, the camera handled perfectly in such extreme and cold conditions. Love the high ISO performance, the 12.1MP is ideal for the kind of work I photograph. The ‘D-Movie’ adds a new dimension of creativity with HD quality. External microphone can be attached for stereo recording. Using shallow depth-of-field provides beautiful blur on the background. All in all, an incredible experience of a lifetime with the best dslr camera around at the moment.