Over a barrel … and in the Doghouse again …


Monday 28th January 2013


I’ve worked with Jon Saxon the Editor of Doghouse – the British Pub Magazine for over 18 months now, and every shoot we undertake together has always been enjoyable and varied, offering results – that once on the printed page – look great. Certainly Jon has an astute eye for creative design. Each edition has a key editorial feature within it – a brewery or a journey along a specific route visiting various pubs on the way for example – but the edition we were working on was going to feature an in-depth article on one of the country’s beer cask manufacturers – Hereford Casks.

This offered all the potential of a diverse shoot, on location in the quiet backwaters of Herefordshire – and on a damp and cool Monday morning in late January Jon and I set off to illustrate the story.

Hereford Casks Ltd was set up by Chris Strange to continue production of the 9-gallon cask – plus the company’s uniquely-designed 4½ gallon pin – and to offer a cask refurbishment facility whilst providing other cask-related services to the brewing industry.

Located in an old industrial style shed, the fabrication process is all undertaken beneath one roof, with workstations placed around the shop floor where skilled craftsmen go about each stage of manufacturing the barrels.

Jon wanted to capture each aspect of the barrel’s journey – from a sheet of aluminium to the completed barrel, as it was pressure tested for leaks, cleaned and finally stamped with the brewery’s name that would use the barrel for their beer.

Working within industrial areas is always a challenge. Often lighting is limited – most certainly ambient light levels can be low at best, and certain work areas can be particularly dark. Industrial workshops (by the very nature of what they do) are often dirty, with sparks flying, grease & grime on every surface you touch, with fork lift trucks bombing about the factory floor and the ever present threat of liquids or spillages potentially being damaging to photographic kit. When working within such places you need eyes in the back of your head!

When working in such industrial areas I tend to keep the kit I use to a minimum – one small camera bag and the minimal amount of lighting kit unpacked at anyone time. It just makes everything that much easier to keep an eye on.

On this occasion I used three light stands, each with a Canon Speedlite (a ‘traditional’ camera flash gun) mounted on top, set in a hot shoe. The respective hot shoe was linked to a wireless radio transmitter, which in turn was fired (wirelessly) by a trigger mounted on the camera’s own hot shoe. An external battery pack plugged into the flash guns help with recycling times and greatly increases the number of flashes you’ll get prior to having to change the batteries. This is a lightweight and very workable way of adding light to images, without the need for larger monobloc flash heads to be used on this occasion, which would have required the need for cables to have been run around the place.

By cleverly locating the flash guns – something that comes with experience alone – you can light many areas of a subject and work efficiently & quickly using flash to enhance (as well as light) set ups without the hassle of large amounts of kit.

Thankfully the casks were reflective, being aluminum, and this helped in many areas, allowing light to be bounced around the subject’s area and reflect off the shiny surfaces.

Here is a sample of images from the shoot.


Using stacks of casks to create a focal point

Using stacks of casks to create a focal point


When undertaking such a shoot it is hugely important to ‘pace’ the pictures. If you have too may taken on the same focal length or from the same height for example, once laid out on the page all the images will look too similar and the page just won’t work.


The theme of circles was used throughout this shoot to link the images

The theme of circles was used throughout this shoot to link the images


I try to mix detailed and busy shots with less detailed and busy shots. I try to photograph people at work in different ways – framing them through the equipment or the product they are manufacturing for example.


Using casks to reflect light and craete patterns

Using casks to reflect light and create patterns


It’s good to add a few portraits too, as well as people moving around the factory floor – some were shot on a slower shutter speed to capture some movement blur.


Framing the subject through a cask adds a frame within a frame.

Framing the subject through a cask creates a frame within a frame


It soon became clear that a theme of circles could help tie the entire shoot together.


Closer detailed shots help pace the page and offer choices to the editor

Closer detailed shots help pace the page and offer choices to the editor


Offering different focal lengths and view points create interesting compositions.


Using movement blur creates pace to pictures

Using movement blur creates pace to pictures


Such shoots take a lot of time, and a large part of this time is in observing what people are doing, and only then trying to capture it – perhaps carefully restaging a movement or process, keeping it authentic, but watching what is happening in the background of the picture too. ‘Clutter’ can spoil a well composed shot.

I am always asking myself questions: ‘would this be better from a different angle?’ ‘Is that rail in the background going to catch the light and distract from the foreground?’ ‘Can I add another light to this image to raise the shadow detail?’

Attention to detail is key.

I always work together with Jon when on location like this. It is Jon who will be telling the story of the manufacturing process in his words, and it is my job to illustrate those words. Teamwork is important.

We often bounce ideas off one another too, and if a shot isn’t quite working we move on to the next and don’t worry too much about it – time is important when working on location and often experience tells you that a particular shot – that you discussed or envisaged – simply won’t work when you physically go ahead and try it.

With a vast number of images in the bag, a good three hour shoot in total, we left the premises.

I ran a tighter edit past Jon for him to look at and from this Jon chose enough images that would work on the page layouts. As the design came together, Jon asked for a few more images here and there to fill certain areas of the page and to swap around so that the ‘pace’ of the piece was right.

Having a diverse range of images available to edit from helps with this process. Like all great movies, not all the scenes, scenarios and set ups that I completed made the final cut of the printed page, but by having them available to swap in and out of the page design helps ensure that the best are chosen and work together as a final feature.

Here is the finished article / feature as laid out in Doghouse magazine:


My thanks go to Chris and his team at Hereford Casks for being so accommodating with us on the day, and to Jon for the shoot.

Now, I really must locate a local hostelry that has a few of Chris’s casks lurking out of sight in the cellar … just to check the craftsmanship of course!