Neil Buchan-Grant: Irina, Queen Mary Liner

The Image

Neil Buchan-Grant

Queen Mary Liner, Atlantic Ocean

Time / Date:
17:30/ 17/12/2013

The Technical

Camera Body: Olympus OMD-EM1
Lens: Olympus 45mm f/1.8

Camera Settings:

Shutter Speed: 1/80s
Aperture: f/1.8
ISO: 3200
Focal Length: 45mm

The Story


I am a travel and portrait photographer based in Winchester, England. The image was made as part of a photo shoot commissioned by the UK marketing department of the camera manufacturer, Olympus. The shoot involved travelling from Southampton, England on the Queen Mary 2 liner to New York where we continued to shoot for another few days. While on the ship we searched for quiet areas with good light, often using a small reflector. I wanted to capture the beauty of the model and to demonstrate the quality of the equipment being used.

The Scene: 

The crossing was very rough, we were both quite unwell on the 2nd day and this shot was made on the 3rd day of the crossing so Irina, the model was still not feeling particularly great. Regardless, she was keen to spend the day looking for that special light. This place, the upper level of the main restaurant (before and after dining times), became our firm favourite for the quality of the light from the large windows and the added fill from the white tablecloths. The backgrounds were quite classy too with lavish drapes and lots of wood panelling.


The camera used for the shoot was the Olympus OMD-EM1, a mirror less compact system camera which uses a micro four thirds sensor. The camera and lenses are smaller than most DSLR systems and as such are often considered inferior by traditional 35mm users. I am one of a small group of photographers in the UK called Olympus Ambassadors and our task is to confound such preconceptions by producing quality imagery. I am a very willing evangelist having ditched full frame Canon and Leica digital systems in favour of the Olympus flagship camera. The lens used here is one of the least expensive Olympus make, the diminutive 45 mm (equivalent to a 90mm).

Making the Shot:

In making this photograph, I shot many before and after, slowly working though different positions and looks, using a few accessories and jackets we brought along. The light, although lovely and soft in quality, was disappearing fast and even shooting at f1.8 and 1/80s I was already forced to shoot at a high sensitivity of ISO 3200. To say what you are aiming for is not easy to put into words, its just a look, a connection which is not too forced or unnatural whilst at the same time something which shows off the lovely rendering of this lens. Many of my portraits use this type composition which essentially adheres to the rule of thirds. I’m always very mindful of the position and look of the backgrounds, trying to include some variety of light and shade which looks pleasing out of focus.

Editing & Processing:

My editing process begins opening the Raw file in Lightroom. I usually lift the darks a little to give me plenty of detail to work with. I apply no sharpening other than the minimal default which Lightroom applies. I then transfer to Photoshop CC where I do a fairly painstaking small brush spotting to retain the original texture and avoid that ‘plastic’ look as much as possible. I usually do a 3% dodge on the eyes and a 3% burn on parts of the eyes then I apply a slight 4% sharpen to the highlights in the eyes and lips. I then return to Lightroom and usually apply a very subtle vignette, preserving the highlights. I then edit the colour file in Siver Efex Pro 2 where I improve the contrast and vary the colours to give the punchy black and white I am looking for. I like a good belt of contrast without going over the top.

Looking Back:

I chose this image because it is quite representative of my style, which I see as showing beauty but with a strong connection through good eye contact and hopefully capturing slight mystery through an intriguing expression.


If you want to recreate a shot like this, the first thing to look for is an indoor space with a large window or doorway. Low light can be a great asset for shots like this so seek out the shady areas and work from there to find the subtle light. If you have been shooting mostly friends and family for years and you want to take your portraiture to the next level, visit modeling portals such as Model Mayhem to find great new faces.


I am really just trying to make pictures which have drama, beauty and impact. I’m influenced by work from great past photographers such as Blumenfeld, Penn and Avedon. However I am also inspired by the work of many current photographers such as Sam Jones, Robert J Wilson and Richard Phibbs to name just a few. Although my background is in travel and landscape, I am increasingly motivated to shoot faces whether found on the street or arranged in advance. I am starting to move from shooting models to working with actors, I find their character and skill set often results in a more enigmatic photograph.



About the Photographer

I am a travel and portrait photographer and currently the British Travel Press photographer of the year. As well as shooting travel guidebooks and advertising commissions, I run international training workshops for Olympus UK, my travel trade partners and for my own clients

Twitter: @buchangrant

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