Sunday, October 29, 2006

Get feedback from a wide audience

Here's a thought for today: It's interesting showing work to non-photographers because their reactions are purely about emotion and content. If you only show your work to other photographers and imaging professionals you may be missing out on important feedback.

The greatest reward is when the audience you took the picture for likes what you've done. If you take pictures to show them on image sharing sites then that is your audience - mostly amateur photographers. If you take pictures to sell them then your audience are your clients or the consumers of the published material.


List of articles updated for your convenience

I've just update the index of my most useful articles and strongest opinion pieces .


Outdoors social portrait photography

She absolutely loved this portrait. So does her husband. I was a little concerned about the strand of hair that blew across her eye but she felt it gave a more carefree and natural feel to the image. This was her favourite expression of the set of six I took in this pose.

Portrait photography, at least in the UK, seems to be moving increasingly out of the studio.

Instead of the stiff formal portraits with people dressed up in their best outfits, clients are now asking for informal reportage style images in a natural environment. The emphasis is on spontaneous and fun images which them at play and sometimes at work.

Some photographers may think this makes things easier because you're out of the confines of the studio, probably working without a tripod but if anything it's even harder to master this style than studio work. In the studio you can control the lighting, there's no variable weather to contend with, no curious passers-by and basically anything can happen.

So what qualities does the successful modern social portrait photographer need to possess?
As with all photography preperation is incredibly important. This includes scouting locations, considering options dependent on weather and studying when the light will be best to give the image that extra special something.

You have to be able to think on your feet, to be creative on the spot because no matter how well you are prepared things change and when they do you have to be able to turn potential disaster into wonderful opportunity.

The roles change subtly when you're outside the controlled environment of the studio. The photographer has to be more firm,assertive and in control, heading-off distractions and getting the best out of their subjects. If you're photographing people in their own home it's a little bit more challenging to direct them than when they are in your studio so you've got to confident and strong.

You need to have an eye for detail and tremendous awareness of everything around you. Backgrounds are constantly changing, the light is shifting and because your subjects move around a lot clothing can be in dissaray.You have to check everything all the time. Some classic examples of where an eye for detail counts are a gentleman’s tie slipping down a bit to reveal his top shirt button, a lady’s bra-strap showing, an unflattering or revealing bit of skin bulging out etc.

To photojournalists and fashion photographers used to working out and about a lot of the above is second nature and terribly obvious, but I think that there are many social portrait photographers, who want to work outside of their studios, who may underestimate the challenges.

Something else that adds to the difficulty of doing an exceptional job outside of the studio is that the images at first glance may look easy to accomplish. After all photographs of family and friends in natural environments are commonplace so the portrait photographer’s images will be compared to and have to compete with the everyday snapshot.

So how do you make your images really stand out? For me the answer goes beyond getting all the technical stuff right. You have to show real emotion, something that your subjects recognise as penetrating a deeper level. When they see your pictures they have to say, “Yes, that’s me. That is how I want the world to see me.”

As always I would be delighted to hear your thoughts and to learn from you.

Paul Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 23, 2006

The cast

A young fisherman casts his line from Scarborough's harbour wall.

I thought it best to upload a quick image to let you all know that I'm still alive and well. Working on a photographic project 24/7 at the moment so I've got very little time to go online.

Lots of exciting things are in the pipeline and I'll keep you posted. In the meantime I hope you enjoy this image.

Paul Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Steve Bloom's Spirit of the Wild exhibition

"Steve Bloom’s Spirit of the Wild open air photography exhibition runs from 27 September to 15 November in Millennium Square, Leeds, UK.

The exhibition was seen by an estimated three million people in Birmingham and Copenhagen.

  • A free outdoor photography exhibition of 100 giant floodlit pictures, open 24 hours
  • World facts and data of environmental importance.
  • A short documentary about Spirit of the Wild showing Steve Bloom at work. The film runs continuously in the exhibition shop and information centre.
Steve Bloom brings to us these breathtaking photographs showing the diversity of life from many places in the world; from the depths of the rainforest to the open expanse of the Arctic Circle. He shares his desire to capture the spirit and the beauty of the world’s wildlife and to engage the viewer with these images, but at the same time, show that this world is a fragile place that needs to be protected if these animals are to survive in the future. "
-From the press release on Steve's website.

The thing that struck me about the exhibition, which I highly recommend (and failing that check out his website) is the empathy that Steve creates in the viewer. Everything works together; subject matter, lighting, composition - all deliver emotion which gets us to identify with the animals. There are lots of good wild life photographers but few that can achieve the same sense of being in the animal's presence that Steve manages to create.

I think Jane Goodall's sums it up best for me too. She said, "Steve Bloom's photographs speak directly to the heart." They certainly do and they will send your heart racing.

Do try to see the exhibition. Nothing on a computer monitor can rival the sheer impact of those huge outdoor prints.


Friday, October 13, 2006


A group of girls get into a street fight in Leeds city centre. A young man nearby spots me and imitates a photographer while on the other side a passerby looks on in consternation.
I was out doing some street photography when this scene unfurled in front of me and the old photojournalistic instincts kicked in. It's the second street fight I've seen in three weeks. This time no blood.

I think the chap imitating the photographer makes a good post-modern comment on the ubiquitous presence of the photographer and cameras in our society. That's why I chose this shot out of the sequence. I got a few other good ones with the 17mm wide angle on my Canon EOS 5D, inches away from the action.

I like the image because there's a kind of raw beauty about it. The onlookers help tell the story through their reactions to the fight.

Photojournalists are the witnesses of our society and their images are their testimony.

Paul Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Waiting, ISPs and the case for digital MF cameras

Ferry passengers stand at the railings admiring the sunset as the ship leaves Calais in France, headed for Dover, England.

At the moment we've got terrible problems with our internet connection - a fault on the line, which is making things difficult, like updating my blog. So apologies for the infrequent posts.

On a forum recently a photographer was asking about the business case for investing in medium format digital equipment. The costs talked about for the new Hasselblad H3D system were in the region of 25,000 GBP. Extras like computer equipment to handle the huge files and a full set of lenses were also raised.

I thought I'd share my thoughts on the forum with you here...

"If you need a camera for a particular job, but not on a day to day basis then hiring it is an obvious way to go. I know a pro in London who doesn't own a single camera. He hires whatever he needs and charges it on to the client, as you would any expense ( for eg. lunch, travel, lights, model, stylist etc).

Given your area of work (portraits and weddings mostly), I would think that DSLRs would do you fine and you'd only need a Hasselblad occassionally.

There is an aura around that brand name and I own two Hasselblads which have served me well over the years but I now really do prefer working with my Canon 5D. It's fast (compared to the Hasselblad), light, flexible and delivers files that will keep most clients happy. Just shot a billboard, bus shelter advertising campaign with the 5D and there're no complaints about the quality, on the contrary. So you if you can hire a Hasselblad, why tie capital up in an outright purchase?"

In the end the photographer asking the question was going to take a look at second-hand digital MF cameras, which would involve a much lower investment.

With the work I do my strategy is to shoot film if I need to deliver MF or large format for a client, or if digital is really needed then I'll hire what's required. My full frame Canon DSLR delivers the quality I need on a day to day basis. Personally I can't make the business case to tie up that much capital in a camera, especially at the rate that digital equipment is evolving (read devaluing).

Always happy to hear your views.


Paul Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 02, 2006

The edge

This young lady was actually walking along the sea-wall but it looked like she was heading for the edge because of the angle of view. I took the shot because I like the starkness and simple strong graphic appeal of the scene.

Although this was taken with a telephoto you may want to have a look at the article below which I've just written about using a standard lens.

Paul Posted by Picasa

The standard lens

Love it or hate it the standard prime lens has a very special role to play in photography - yes I think even today with all those superb quality zoom lenses out there.

The standard lens has a focal length about the same as the diagonal measurement of the film with which it is used. The angle of view with this lens-film size combination is roughly the same at a given distance as the angle that the human eye sees clearly. For a 35mm film camera (or a full frame DSLR), the 50mm lens is considered standard.

The standard lens used to sold with cameras and it was certainly the most used before the advent of cheaper consumer zoom lenses.

Four key things combine to differentiate the standard lens from all other lenses:
  • standard lenses are prime (fixed focal length),
  • they are usually extremely sharp,
  • they have a wide maximum aperture (f1.4 ), which means you can achieve shallow depth of field and handhold in extremely low light
  • they show minimal distortion and provide a 'natural' looking perspective, close to the way the human eye sees
Many of the great masters and world's best photographers used their standard lens extensively. One of the most famous is Henri Cartier Bresson. He shot more than 50% of his work using a standard lens on his famous Leica. Other photographers who worked a lot with the standard lens include, Helmut Newton, Robert Doisneau, David Bailey, Ralph Gibson and the list goes on...

The standard lens is great for street photography and works well for certain styles of portraiture and even fashion. Many of the Hasselblad masters made extensive use of their 80mm standard lens.

So don't forget that little lens in your bag. As it's a prime lens it will force you to move around your subject thinking hard about compositions rather than zooming in and out. I often think that when it comes to creative photography you've got to 'move it or lose it' ie keep looking for fresh points of view or lose a certain amount of your creative vision. Working with the standard lens forces you to work creatively. I think it was Ernst Haas who said something like the following about using his standard lens, "I do have a wide angle. I just step backwards."

I often find when it comes to communicating with people I want to photoraph on the street that shooting with the standard lens works well because it's not intimidating like a huge telephoto zoom, it allows you to work at a comfortable distance - the wide angle is very in your face ie requires you being sometimes uncomfortably close to the subject, while a telephoto zoom sometimes puts too much distance between you and the subject.

Go on give it a try. It worked for HCB.