Catalan Castellers

We were commissioned to shoot a 360 of the "Human Towers" in Catalonia for the Telegraph Witness the incredible tradition of the Human Towers in this breath taking and emotional 360 still and video. 600 people of all ages take part in an attempt to create one of the most difficult towers not successfully achieved since 1881. A masterpiece of solidarity and cohesion.

In 2010 UNESCO declared the tradition ‘A Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.

The video is best viewed on a smartphone or tablet using the Youtube app. Alternatively use Chrome or Firefox.

[pano file="/panoramas/castellers_360month/catalan_castellers.html" width="650" height="350"]

360 VR of Crossrail excavations of the Bethlem burial ground

360 Virtual Reality experiences are frequently associated with high action situations such as motorsport or aviation stunt experiences but they can be a valuable tool for telling stories and giving the viewer access to places they simply would not be able to go - such as an archeological dig. Last week we were commissioned by Crossrail (the biggest civil engineering project in Europe) to shoot a 360 video project with a difference. Close to London’s Liverpool Street station Crossrail archaeologists have uncovered a mass burial, suspected to be victims of The Great Plague in 1665. Our job was to capture this unique place and give viewers an immersive 360˚ experience.Anyone who spends anytime in London at all will have seen the scale of the construction work, and any construction project of this scale in a major city with a remarkable historic past will inevitably uncover tantalising traces of the past.Thousands of commuters pass through Liverpool street station every day and I'm sure very few of them are aware of the history just feet away from them. Close to Liverpool street station stood Bethlem hospital which dates back to 1247 and was immortalised in 'A Rakes Progress' by William Hogarth in 1733.Here is the resulting video please note it works very well on a smart phone or tablet running the YouTube App and on a desktop running Firefox or Chrome at the moment Youtube does not yet support full 360 navigation for Safari

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHSLW2K8ZjM&feature=youtu.be

It was quite an experience and we could not help but wonder who the victims were and what sort of lives they led. The 360 VR experience we created for Crossrail will give an insight as to what it is like to actually be on an archaeological dig letting many more viewers than just the passers by who where lucky enough to catch a glimpse from the viewing platform.

I mentioned earlier that 360 VR is frequently associated with high action situations - stay tuned, as soon we will be sharing an experience which has taken 360 VR experience creation to new heights.

 

 

 

 

 

The Montlouis Caves des Producteurs

We recently had the opportunity to photograph one of the Montlouis Caves des Producteurs, near Tours in France, where they mature wine in large caves deep in the hillside. This particular cave holds around 200,000 bottles of sparkling white wine. [pano file="/panoramas/montlouis/montlouiscave.html" width="650" height="325"]

That's me kneeling on top of the stack. It's surprisingly uncomfortable sitting on top of that many bottles!

4k, 6k, 8k - The race for resolution that few will ever see.

It is interesting at the moment to see camera manufacturers chasing ever higher resolution. In some ways you cannot really blame them.

After all how do you justify a higher price tag and keep out selling the competition?

Red seem to be leading the way with resolution in the shape of the Dragon which made a big deal of 6k and the Weapon (don't get me started on THAT name..) which sports 8k resolution.

Never mind 6k and 8k, I have to admit I had been sceptical about 4K until I shot the Sony A7S promo video with Den Lennie, that experience did convince me however that 4K is here, right now and it gives remarkable quality.

But what advantage does venturing North of 4K give the viewer?

I took a trip to John Lewis with my son Sam the other day and we marvelled at the output on some of the massive TV screens, I don't really watch much television but it made me want to buy a new 4k TV.

As Sam and I wandered round the corner from the amazing array of televisions running specially shot 4k trailers I saw a coupe of big name TVs showing daytime TV put out by terrestrial broadcasters.

The down sampled output on a 4K TV was erm.....less than good and the reality of what most of us would end up actually seeing was disappoints to say the least.

Which brings me onto the big screen.

Think 8K, 6K or even 4k will bring you a boost in quality when you head down your local multiplex?

Think again.

At BVE I was talking to a very well informed industry expert who explained exactly where you need to sit to get the best image quality down your local cinema.

Most cinemas he explained do not run 4K, and to get the best image quality you need to sit in the middle of the auditorium.

With 4K he explained, you would see a more quality but you would have to sit in the front 4 rows.

Food for thought.

All too often we shoot massive files without truly considering the output.

I'm shooting a ton of 360 videos at the moment and an output at full res will turn all but the most powerful computer into custard if you try to play it back.

I only possess one computer, a MacPro with more RAM and high powered graphics cards than you can shake a stick at, which will run 360 video and how many punters, or even media organisations out there have one of those?

We will get there with devices which run super high res videos but we have a little way to go before we are there.

Its all right having the resolution but it can be a little frustrating if few can see it.

 

Its Showtime!

Its that time of year again and I'm getting ready for the Photography Show, its going to be another packed event with lots happening this year not just for me personally but also in the wider world of photography. Come and see me on the Zeiss stand where I will be demonstrating their new and amazing Zeiss VR One headsets. I'm also hoping to be able to try out the incredible Otus lenses combined with the Canon 5DS. I'll be talking about the potential these remarkable lenses unlock from your digital 35mm SLR which funnily enough is the title of the talk I will be giving. Furthermore I'll be on the Manfrotto Stand where you can join me for my '5 Minute Portraits' demo. I'll be sharing some of my favourite techniques for those super fast shoots where your subject has less than no time. Enhancing your knowledge and giving you some invaluable tools to pull if off and come away with something you are proud of. If you're anywhere near the main stage on Monday afternoon come by and join me for my talk on 'Meeting The Mona Lisa' the documentary I produced and directed as part of my Descendants series, recreating the most famous painting in the world with her direct descendants - two Italian princesses. It could hardly be more action packed.

I'm looking forward to it.

Jeremy Clarkson and the American Immigration Officer

I'm in transit to SXSW being held in Austin,Texas where I'm speaking on a panel about 360 VR film making. When travelling to the USA I'm rightly or wrongly a little apprehensive about the immigration desk moment which greets media types as they enter the country, I mean we have all heard the horror stories of being turned back after being refused entry, right?

So the immigration officer asks me a few questions, it goes something like this:

Immigration Officer: What is your purpose of travel? Me: I'm a film maker traveling to SXSW.

Immigration officer: As you're a film maker you know what I'm going to ask you next, right?

Me:You are going to ask me if I'm going to be working while I'm in the USA?

Immigration Officer: No.

Me: Quizzical smile

Immigration officer: What is going on with Jeremy Clarkson, he didn't really hit anyone did he? I hope they don't take Top Gear off air.....

Love him or loathe him, it would seem that Jeremy Clarkson the most famous living Englishman at the moment.

I will keep you updated on my experiences at SXSW.

The Forge of Avalon - The 240fps with the versatile Zeiss Loxia

Sword makers or to use the correct name sword smiths, are not exactly thick on the ground. So when you get the opportunity to make a short film about one it is a memorable occasion. Particularly when the swordsmith in question Richard Hoecker is based in Glastonbury in the shadow of the Tor, how much more 'Arthurian' can you get?

What to shoot it with? Well the first thing I knew I was going to need was some affordable slow motion. The budget didn't stretch to a Phantom so I used a Sony FS-700, its slow motion capabilities proved perfect for shooting the slow motion sequences of the hammering of the blade and the quenching process.

I decided to use the excellent Sony A7S for everything else in the project as I wanted to try out the new Zeiss Loxia 35mm and Zeiss Loxia 50mm lenses, remember due to their diminutive size and feather weight they fit the character of the A7S perfectly. De-Clicking the lenses did not really come into play so much as I mostly shot at F2.0, quite a bit wider open than I normally like to shoot for video but they performed admirably.

Make no mistake if you are shooting a lightweight shoot leaning towards 'run and gun' the Loxia/Sony A7S pairing is formidable, greatly enjoyable too, working excellently with my Kessler Crane slider as there is so little weight on the rails, it gave extra smooth moves.

I'm particularly pleased with the blade quenching shot (quenched in oil), 240fps on the Sony FS-700 using the Zeiss Loxia 50mm.

https://vimeo.com/121010769

As you can see from this BTS still, it does look overkill, you can barely see the lens, dwarfed by the camera.

IMG_0667

I'm very pleased with the results though.

Lighting was a bit of a challenge, we spent quite a bit of time blacking out the forge worship so we could control the lighting.

We used Chimera Triolet tungsten lights with Chimera soft boxes and Dedo lights, a versatile combo, with the excellent Manfrotto Spectra 1x1s getting into those hard to rig places.

We had a great day with Richard and Kate at 'The Forge of Avalon' and things went pretty much according to plan.

The score was going to be vital to lift the project to another level, as director David Lynch says 'Films are 50 percent sound, sometimes sound even overplays the visual'

We turned to multi talented composer Jonathan Dadley to come up with something special and he did not disappoint with this beautiful timed piece.

It was a real pleasure to show the film for the first time on the Zeiss stand at BVE 2015.

 

BVE 2015 with Zeiss

Next week from the 24th to the 26th February I will be presenting twice daily for Zeiss, purveyors of fine lenses, at the BVE show at the Excel centre in London. I will be speaking about avoiding documentary apocalypse(or how not to self produce a documentary) and I will also be speaking about the acclaimed Zeiss VR One headsets which are taking the market by storm, and discussing what Virtual reality will mean to all of us. We will have some demo Zeiss VR One headsets there for delegates to try out too.

If all of this wasn't enough I will also be showing 'The Forge of Avalon'  a new short we recently shot the story of a traditional sword maker in Glastonbury, Somerset.

The diminutive Zeiss Loxia on the Sony FS700, ready for some slow motion action

This project was shot on a Sony A7S and a Sony FS700, using the excellent new Zeiss Loxia lenses and the Zeiss 70-200mm compact zoom lens.

If you get time, do pop along and say hello.

Somerset Floods-One year on

This time last year the Somerset levels were completely flooded. We were commissioned to record the extent of the floods and found it difficult to take in the sheer scale of the floods around the village of Moorland where there was water as far as the eye could see, and the only way to use the roads was with a boat. Shot with a Carl Zeiss 15mm lens on a Canon 6D[pano file="/panoramas/floods/floods.html" width="650" height="325"]

5 things you will need when you buy a Canon 5DS


So the Canon 5DS is here. Delivering just over 50 mega pixels in a DSLR, with rumours that Sony are set to launch a 46 mega pixel A series camera soon too.

For some photographers perhaps this result of the megapixel race is irrelevant, though the success of the Sony A7R would seem to indicate that photographers do appreciate the possibility of extra detail.

Possibility? Yes you read right, possibility.

I have been shooting with large sensor, high megapixel cameras in the shape of Phase One cameras for some years now and getting the best quality from them, or any other big sensor high megapixel camera is not a given.

Let me explain, when you have a sensor which can deliver such detail you really have to modify your technique, being meticulous when it comes to focus and being very sure you have the camera as stable as possible.

In fact if you have been shooting on the current crop of DSLR cameras of around the 20 megapixel mark and you think you want to venture into the brave new world of 50 ish megapixels these are the 5 things you will need to get the most out of your camera, and believe me it isn't going to be cheap.

1.Superb lenses. If your glass is not up to the job you simply will not see anything like the resolution or potential from your new acquisition that it is capable of. Establish which lenses you use most often and seriously consider upgrading these to the very best. I'm looking forward to trying out the Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4 and Otus 85mm F1.4 on a Canon 5DS. You might recall the mini test I did with them on my 6D with a mere 20 megapixels - the results were pretty staggering. With 50 megapixels the results will be out of this world.


2.A first grade tripod and head. If your camera is not rock steady once again you will not be getting anything like the resolution you could from a 50 megapixel camera. My go to tripod of choice is the brilliant Gitzo 5562LTS which is rock solid and yet fits in a back pack with a GH5381SQR it is perfect for long lens work.


3.A lens specific focusing screen. When you have this much detail it will show up any poor focus  mercilessly. Autofocus is not always the answer and autofocus is not always as accurate as it might be when it comes to fine focus. This is one very big advantage I expect the forthcoming Sony to have, with its option of in viewfinder magnification, over the Canon 5DS. Canon missed a trick when they only made it possible to switch out the focusing screen on the 6D for the fast lens specific Canon Eg-S focusing screen and but bafflingly not the 5D MkIII. Let's hope you can switch screens on the 5DS.


4.A faster computer. Be it a Mac Pro, an iMac with a i7 processor or some tricked out PC you will NEED a computer capable of processing raw images efficiently. Your current computer might be OK when it comes to processing speeds but when you start dealing with these monster size files your computer could turn to something like custard.


5.Storage. It goes without saying but your storage needs are going to go through the roof....possibly even doubling. Storage has never been more affordable but I believe if your storage needs are increasing you will be best advised to look at a server of some kind. I use the excellent QNAP TS859 in Raid 10 array for speed and redundancy.

So there you have it.

If you want to get the quality which 50 megapixels promise from a high megapixel Canon or Sony buying the camera will be the tip of the expense iceberg.

The iPad Air 2, more stuff to buy that you don't need, right?

ipad air 2Followers of this blog will perhaps know that I have an iPad 3. Always looking to not buy stuff that I don't need, I decided to skip any notions of an update.

I mean how different could an iPad be, where is the innovation?

Then my iPad 3 starters to behave very erratically, turning itself off(very annoying when watching a movie) and then being reluctant to switch on again, and generally being a bit slow.

So I decided with very little enthusiasm I had to press the button on a new iPad, so why not go for an iPad Air 2.

It arrived and I was pretty impressed by its weight or lack of it, and that it is markedly physically smaller than my iPad, Apple achieved this by making the bezel round the screen smaller.

Then I started to use it and noticed it was very zippy to use, the fingerprint recognition is more than useful, and for some reason it downloads media twice as fast as my old iPad too. if I were not so silly busy I would (perhaps) like to run some more comparisons with my old iPad but I'm not exactly sure where it is these days, that's how redundant it is.

The clever thing that Apple has done is to improve on something which I thought really did not need improving.

Another improvement over the my missing in action iPad 3 is battery life and charge time both of which make it a much more practical device.

For me it is yet another lesson in how fast technology is moving and how things are becoming dated much more quickly.

I saw a stat somewhere that the iPad Air 2 is as fast or faster than an Apple laptop from 2009.

I can well believe it.

Time marches on and I'm not suggesting that everyone goes out and buys the latest and greatest as soon as it comes out, but be aware that technology is moving at breakneck speed with photography becoming a key beneficiary from this, and as in any business it pays to keep your finger on the pulse so you don't get left behind.

Now where is that iPad 3?

Forced Rhubarb timelapse

I love a challenge, and one certainly came my way when I decided to shoot a time-lapse of forced rhubarb growing. Easy, I thought, in the days of super high ISO, all you need is a hint of light and away you go. Forced rhubarb is rhubarb that is grown out of season and is 'tricked' into 'thinking' it is Spring time. This is done by creating a Spring like temperature and depriving them of light. Forced Rhubarb is grown in complete darkness. What to do? If I shot the time-lapse on location in the infamous Yorkshire Rhubarb triangle it would mean driving up from the M25 a couple of time a week and risk getting the whole set up destroyed by the sprinklers. So thanks to the very kind generosity of Jonathan Westwood a 6th generation rhubarb grower,from Wakefield in Yorkshire, that we were able to make the shoot happen over a 5 week period in Hertfordshire when he donated a rhubarb root. So I had my root now what? Forced rhubarb is more tended and has a sweeter taste, with a characteristic light pink stem and small yellow leaves. I needed complete darkness, so I bought a 'festival black out tent' on eBay for £25 and for then good measure I covered it in a heavy black out curtain.

2013-02-18 06.52.33

I placed the rhubarb root in an upturned dustbin lid(it does not need any kind of earth or soil) and worked out a watering regime(twice a day with a fine mist spray) and waited. I nearly forgot to tell you about the lighting, the tricky part.

It was going to be a time-lapse with flash, so I used a single Elinchrom style 600 head and bounced the light back towards the growing rhubarb with really fabulous Chimera wire framed light shapers.reflectors

 

I shot the time-lapse with a Canon 5D Mk1(if I was going to wear a shutter out it was not going to be on one of my 'everyday' cameras) and a Zeiss 25mm F2.0. I set the Canon intervalometer TC80-N3 to take a photo every 20 minutes and shot raw. I Edited the frames in a combination of Quicktime and FCPX 5 weeks later this was the result.   Forced Rhubarb Timelapse from Gardner Creative on Vimeo.

Going Underground with Crossrail

Right under the feet Londoners 24 hours a day 7 days a week one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Europe it taking place - though many people don't realise it. Crossrail is the new high frequency, 73 mile long capacity railway for London and the South East which will open in 2018. This panorama is the perfect way to the public what is happening 30 meters underground. What I like about this 360 at the Finsbury Circus site is that it at first sight appears to be a relatively ordinary 360 panorama on a construction site and then you tilt up and you see just how far underground all this is going on.

I shot this with the stunning Carl Zeiss 15mm F2.8 on a Canon 6D.

[pano file="panoramas/crossrailshaft/crossrailshaft.html" width="650" height="325"]

 

Photographers of the year 2014

After my 'Gear of the year 2014' last week I thought I would turn my attention to the best photographers of 2014. Again, about as scientific a process I used to decide the best gear of 2014 - not very, in-fact should be called photographers who I met or know who impressed me.

Firstly let me rewind a little.

I am contacted by an increasing number of would be pro shooters every year. More often than not, they are unhappy in their chosen careers and would like to give photography a shot. Often they have received very positive feedback from colleagues and friends, complimenting them on their photography.

It is a hard fact that if you drop a couple of grand on a camera these days buying a top line Canon, Nikon or Sony, providing you take the lens cap off the image quality is going to be fine.

Just one problem with this, the world and his wife has cottoned onto this and the photographic industry has been turned on its head, with supply of photography outstripping demand, and if we look at the price of oil, we all know what happens to any industry where supply outstrips demand.

This means more and more photographers are chasing less and less work, which pays less and less.

What has this got to do with my 'photographers of the year' I hear some of you ask.

Everything.

Both 'winners' have followed the rule which is that is everyone else is running in one direction, you might be best advised to run the other way and carve your own niche.

I met Maya Almeida at the Shanghai Photography festival where we both exhibiting.

I chatted to her at length before seeing her work and she told me what kind of thing she shot 'underwater dance'  was one of the subjects she told me about, which on the face of it sounds very niche and erm a bit of unlikely career path to take.

And then I saw her work, motion, poise and beguiling beauty which is world class.

maya 1

maya 2

Maya is a former dancer and also is something of a 'water baby' and she has bought the two together.

Her work is really quite brilliant and it goes someway to explain how when I met her she no representation at all and 4 or so weeks later she had 2 or 3 agents representing her all over the globe.

With thousands of photographers banging on the doors of under pressure agents this is no mean feat

I see great things ahead for Maya and believe she will go far.

The second 'winner' is my old friend Jarek Wieczorkiewicz

Who has been working with liquid for some years now with remarkable world class results.

Here is a shot from his calendar which if you hurry you may just catch one before they sell out, a collectors Item too I reckon....

jarek calendar

What is more he was picked up by Coca-Cola for to launch their 'Fairlife' milk product.

jarek milk

Jarek came up with a brilliant idea, shot it amazingly, and promoted it very well too.

It was not a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination and only his sheer tenacity made it all happen.

That really is the secret.

Do something different to the vast majority of shooters, execute it brilliantly and you will be successful.

 

 

 

Best Kit of the year awards 2014

Welcome to the inaugural Kit of the year awards, or perhaps it should be named kit that I used this year that made a big impression on me. Sadly there are no trophies or certificates for the winners.

Best camera.

A tricky category. As a long time Canon user I should be applauding the arrival of the Canon 7D, and I don't doubt that for some 'sports' shooters and wildlife long lens shooters, the transformed high frame rate camera will be welcomed but I believe it represents much of what is wrong with the 'Big' two camera companies Canon and Nikon  who for so long have relied on evolving cameras of the same DSLR form factor and not adequately responding to a world where we are all shooting with much smaller devices.

Fuji are a company which has bucked this trend and 'went their own way' with the mould breaking  X series cameras, after some years in the wilderness with their 'S' series cameras which inspired little enthusiasm amongst users and even less enthusiasm at the cash register.

Fuji's new way of thinking should show the 'traditional' manufacturers just what is possible but so far they have been very slow to respond and this is hurting their sales big time. Which should realistically mean that the excellent Fuji X-T1 which I know has many fans who get some really great results with it, and in many ways should get the nod, but for me it doesn't.

The very Lovely Fuji X-T1

For me though the winner is the Sony A7R.

Yes, I know it was released a couple of years back now and yes, mutterings populate the Internet, shutter shock, poor battery life, lossy raw compression and I admit some of these concerns do have more validity than others.

The Sony A7R-One day all cameras will be like this, small but capable of remarkable image quality

But the fact remains a camera which is little bigger than the width of an iPhone(5) that with the right lens delivers quality that has to be seen to be believed, outperforming all comers, what is more you can easily use you old glass with adapters and can buy it on the high street at a very modest price.

One week of constant use of the Sony A7R on a very big high pressure job had me stunned by the image quality and sheer practicality

From various interviews with the heads of Sony, Canon and Nikon it would seem that 2015 will deliver a bumper crop of high megapixel cameras, around the 50mp mark I think(but don't know)

The reason for the win by Sony is this.

If a camera this good has been around for nearly two years what on earth will they release in 2015?

Best Lens

Only one contender in this category and that is the Carl Zeiss Otus 85mm, a winner by a mile.

The amazing Carl Zeiss Otus 85MM -If you think resolution is all about megapixels, think again

The margin of the win by the Carl Zeiss Otus 55mm F1.4 over the sometimes lacklustre 50mm lenses made by Canon and Nikon came as no great surprise, but the margin of the win by the new Carl Zeiss Otus 85mm over the long reigning 'King' of the short telephoto market the Canon 'L' series 85mm F1.2 has to be seen and experienced to be believed. The Canon was my portrait lens of choice for many years and I have sold it to make way for a Carl Zeiss Otus 85mm.

Can a prime lens of this price ever be justified? In some people's eyes perhaps not, but put simply this lens unlocks the potential in your camera which unless you use an Otus you will not be experiencing. It really is that good. Great glass has always been important but I feel it will have even greater importance when the raft of forthcoming high megapixel cameras are released in 2015.

Best Light

There were two contenders in this category, firstly the oh so very clever Elinchrom ELC Pro HD studio light with its multi modes and switching capacitors, enables the user to do most things they want to do, while not breaking the bank.

A versatile and affordable light from those clever folk in Switzerland.

If you want to lose all the cables the Profoto B1 is an unbeatable light for location work.

The winner though is the Profoto B1 500 AirTTL, a battery powered location light which really moves the game on to an entirely new place in that it is powered by a lightweight lithium ion pack which is located in head itself meaning you have no cables at all to worry about at all - you just pop the head onto the light stand and away you go. All of this in a really well constructed housing which Profoto users will be familiar with but at a rather un-Profoto price which allows shooters onto the Profoto ladder without breaking the bank. The one thing you do have to be careful of is what light modifier you mount on the B1 as it does have the battery, albeit compact and lightweight, in the head itself and with the addition of a weighty modifier you could be left with a set up that is a bit top heavy. Personally I would live with this, as the freedom you get from a completely cordless lighting setup is creatively liberating and so fast and convenient to use.

*Next week I will talk about the photographers who caught my eye in 2015

'Lady with an Ermine' - Leonardo Da vinci and client interference

The great things about taking on an ambitious project like the Mona Lisa documentary is that you meet some really interesting people along the way.

Pascal Cotte of Lumiere technologies is one of the people who I really could not have done the Mona Lisa documentary without.

He shared with me the colour data he obtained from inside the Mona Lisa painting using his remarkable multi spectral scanner, which helped me recreate the colours of the Mona Lisa as faithfully as possible, as you might imagine the colours you see in the Mona Lisa today are a very long way from the colours Leonardo painted. Pascal was lucky enough to scan the Mona Lisa in the basement of the Louvre in the dead of night, can you imagine how exciting that would've been? In return I recreated one of the poses for his book with my good friend Jay Jessop. Pascal Cotte and Jay Jessop with a very dead Stone Martin

Having created such a remarkable machine Pascal and the team at Lumiere technology have made some remarkable discoveries about other masterpieces too. His latest multispectral analysis is of the Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Lady With an Ermine' a portrait of Cecilia Gallerini which dates back to 1490 and you can read about his discoveries in this excellent new book 'Lumiere on The Lady with an Ermine' 91tvy9PEWWL The analysis reveals many previous unknown secrets of the painting and even reveal Leonardo's Palm prints in the paintwork.

The portrait is titled 'Lady with an Ermine' and indeed Cecilia Gallerini was the 17 year old mistress of Ludvico Sforza, the Duke of Milan

Pascal made an interesting discovery about the animal she is holding, though it is called an Ermine (Mustela erminea) it has the features of a much larger member of the Mustelidae family - a Stone Martin (Martes foina)

Why? Well there are a few thoughts on this.

But I have my own.

Ludvico was a patron of Leonardo, and in addition to commissioning the Lady with an ermine he also commissioned Leonardo's 'Last Supper'

As well as being a great patron of the arts Ludovico Sfortza was also a tyrant and certainly not to be messed with.

You can see in Pascal's book that the Ermine did indeed start as a 'true to size' and scale Ermine but for some reason or another the Ermine was amended to look altogether more muscular, larger(characteristic of a Stone Martin) and something not to be messed with, a bit like the Duke.

It could be that Leonardo just decided to paint over the original Ermine because he felt like it, I however have my own theory.

The Duke commissioned Leonardo to paint a portrait of his new mistress with the all-important Ermine which has important allegorical significance, being an animal of purity and and peerless beauty.

This my friends, is the part that any fellow working photographer will know.

The Duke or some of his hangers on would've come along to check the progress of Leonardo's painting of his mistress, and I reckon they were more than little upset when I saw that the Ermine  was well a little bit small and weedy looking, in fact just like an Ermine looks.

I think the order came down on from on high we want something a little more stern, purposeful looking a little more aggressive a - change it.

So Leonardo did just that, accentuating some of the key features of the Ermine with those of the Stone Martin.

I could be completely wrong but having been the victim of client interference more times than I care to mention it feels like this is what happened.

After all he did not want to risk losing his next commission from the Duke or perhaps even more....

I have to stress I really speak with no knowledge regarding this interference of the Duke but it's the sort of thing I have been on the receiving end of many a few times myself,

Client    'What's that?'  

Me   'Exactly what you asked for, using the dress you supplied'

Client   'I don't like the colour of the dress'

Me   'It was signed off in the final pre production meeting, remember?'

Client  'reshoot it'

Even if you don't buy my theory do have a look at the book, settling down in front of the fire with this book is a fine way to while away a cold dark Winter's evening.