Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tag yourself

What tags would apply to you as a photographer? It's a fascinating question. In a sense the tags are your photographic DNA, or in marketing speak your brand.

People who know how diverse my work is may wonder what tags would apply to me as a photographer. I wonder too. Different editors and art directors will no doubt have their individual set of tags depending on what they use my work for and how they perceive it. I don't think that I can be easily pigeon holed. But maybe I'm missing something.

There's a very interesting article on one of my favourite blogs which you should read if you're interested in how photographers are perceived by photo editors.

I've had a go at picking my own tags:
  • color
  • black & white
  • digital
  • available light
  • location
  • portrait
  • photojournalist
  • fine art
  • captured moment
  • quirky
  • real people
I'm curious to know how you would tag my photographic work. Please leave a comment or send me an email.

Many thanks,


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The expressive moment in street photography

She suddenly realised.


Out on the streets with my camera I find that I am often hunting for something which I call "the expressive moment".

The expressive moment is not the same as HCB's decisive moment. I also do not use it in the context of the writings about the expressionists. To me it is simply the moment captured through the lens when there is a clear expression of mood, emotion and feeling which can be easily read by the viewer looking at the image.

In contrast the decisive moment can be an image which captures something which is simply visually in perfect balance and harmony but does not have a powerful inherent emotion.

I see a lot of street photography which to me looks haphazard and I can't help wondering why the shot was taken as there's nothing special about it.

The two images above capture the expressive moment for me. The emotion, feeling and mood are clear. To use another phrase: the images speak to the viewer. And that is what I value most, and seek in my photography.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A career as a professional photographer

Boys playing on a sea-saw in South Africa. This shot has been in my portfolio for a long time. It has won numerous awards and been in exhibitions all over the world. So now as I glance back over my shoulder at where I've come from it seems an opportune time to show it here.

Best Viewed On Black

EPUK has published a great article which ties in with my previous blog. The article asks ten top photographers, "What do you wish you'd known when you started out ?"

I wish I'd known that things are not always fair and that taking good images is not enough. I also wish I had known how kind and wonderful people are all over the world. It seems the less people have the more generous they are, and often happier. I also wish I had known that I didn't need to buy most of the cameras and lenses that are sitting in my studio. I would have saved a fortune.

I highly recommend reading this article.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Is professional photography still a viable career?

I am not against amateurs and semi-professionals selling their photography. It's a great way to earn some extra cash. However I am concerned about the level of high quality published work and the standards that clients and the public accept these days.

It seems that just about everyone is a photographer. The line between amateur enthusiast and professional is fuzzy to say the least.

Photography enthusiasts are selling their images through stock libraries and microstock websites, directly to magazines or through their own and third party sites. They're accepting commissions to shoot weddings, being hired to shoot for magazines and selling fine art prints from their websites. They're teaching photography on the weekend and guiding photographic holidays and safaris.

Photography became accessible to the masses with the first non-expert cameras and the famous Kodak slogan"You press the button, we do the rest." The digital camera age has taken the whole thing to a new level of democratisation. Automation and user-friendly, so called idiot proof modes mean that photographers can get decent looking results under most circumstances.

Companies and organisations that previously employed professional photographers to shoot their brochures, directors' portraits for annual reports and images for corporate magazines now increasingly rely on the ubiquitous staff member who is a photography enthusiast, a dab hand in Photoshop and has the latest digital SLR.

Inevitably the results are not that great. But does it matter? I work with a few of the leading business communication agencies in the UK and despite the protestations of the graphic designers the clients say they've not got the budget for professional photography. The poor quality snap by the staff member will have to do.

What happens is that the photographic content often becomes a mixture between, staff generated images and a perhaps one or two features shot by a professional.

The quality of photography in corporate brochures and magazines is often appalling and the trade press is not much better. To keep costs down they often rely on advertisers and PRs to provide images. Out come the company photo enthusiast's pictures again. And nobody seems to notice or mind.

This goes through to the serious press as well. The reputation for superb photography once held by the UK broadsheets is more than a little tarnished. The glory days of great photojournalism are over. Now newspapers are sending out journalists with HD video cameras and extracting stills for print. They're also increasingly asking journalists to take their own pictures.

On the subject of image quality. I recently read about a stock library that closed its doors after more than 20 years of trading. The reason. They couldn't get a fair price for the high quality images they stocked. The Managing Director said that clients just didn't value quality anymore and their commercial model appeared to no longer be viable.

I've seen agencies at work and know first hand that if they can buy an image for a dollar on a microstock site they are going to put up with lower quality, the client doesn't seem to mind (tight budgets), and they're not going to hunt for a top quality rights managed image.

A professional photographer in the UK earns an average of £19K per year. I've just had a look on some job websites and seen adverts for photographers at a national chain of portrait studios. The advertised salary, £12K per year ie not that much above minimum wage.

Professional photographers rates have not really increased much over the last years. But they're working harder than ever. Long hours, that they cannot charge a decent rate for, spent at the computer processing images diminish their time available for administration, marketing, sales and photography. Actually professional photographers spend very little of their day taking pictures. Most of the time they're in front of screens now just like any corporate worker.

How about social photography. Let's take a look at the traditional portrait studios. The high streets are now dotted with chain stores where portraits are churned out using a standard formula. The pictures all look the same with bright white backgrounds and here and there a bit of tarting up with a Photoshop effect. There is no individuality or creative vision. They seem to be giving the public what they want though.

Many professional photographers supplement their income with other work, for example shooting video, writing, giving seminars and coaching amateurs. Competition is fierce, not only from other pros but also from amateurs and students who are prepared to work for next to nothing.

Yes you can still make good money as a photographer if you find the right niche. Only a very, very few will get rich. Still, when surveyed most photographers said they wouldn't want to change their job. I suppose photography is a bit like the priesthood. It's a calling and a lifestyle more than a career.

Many of the professional photographers that I admire are more interested in what they can achieve through using the medium to communicate than in photography itself. People like Yann Athrus-Bertrand and Jim Nachtwey want to communicate with us about the state our planet and humanity.

I think professional photography is still a viable career if you do it for the love of the work. On the other hand the daily grind may well kill your passion for the medium. I know of a few photographers who are now enjoying photography for the first time in a long while after giving it up as a profession.

So if like many of my friends you get that far away look in your eye when you say the words "professional photographer" and you harbour romantic notions of the lifestyle then I would suggest taking a deep breath and having a good think about it. Of course most people who say they would like to turn pro will never actually take the step.

What are the differences between an enthusiast and a pro? The enthusiast takes pictures because they want to and they like it. The pro takes photographs to put food on the table. That sharpens up their instincts and they try harder to produce excellent images. The good professional photographers produce work is way ahead of what amateurs do. That's a fact. If you don't believe me visit a few pro sites or agencies and then afterwards trawl through the pages on Flickr. It's two different worlds, photographically speaking and to be fair the people who upload their images on photo-sharing sites have no pretensions about their images. They are just sharing their photography for everyone's enjoyment.

What about me? Well I've not done too badly. Every day is a challenge and I'm hungry to improve my photography. This article is an attempt to share some of my experience and present a frank appraisal of professional photography as a career. You'll have to forgive me if I gently raise an eyebrow if we meet in the street and you gush about wanting to be a professional.

I'd be delighted to read your comments.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A site for professionals

Have you got 20 minutes, well better make that a few hours? Take a look at a relatively new site ( that features the work of many top professional photographers.

Anyone can sign up. You don't have to submit your own work, you can vote for the photographers who have submitted their portfolios or act as a photo editor and submit your own favourite professional photographers.

I've submitted a portfolio of my "most interesting" images on Flickr and I will be submitting my website once it's had a revamp, which it definitely needs again. Got to keep things fresh in this fast moving world.

So go on, check it out and have fun.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Design in photography #3

A canal near Damme, in Belgium, provides the perfect landscape to create a strong design statement in photography.

I've written two articles on using design in photography, here and here, and I said I would be adding to the series. Unfortunately I never got round to writing more but I hope this image illustrates several of the points I made in the earlier articles.

There's a rather strange phenomenon that happens. I look back at what I've written some time ago and somehow it seems fresh and I discover things that I'd not thought about for a while. This is exactly what happened when I re-read my articles on design in photography this evening.

As the readership of this blog keeps growing, at a quite phenomenal rate, I'm sure that some of you will not have read these articles and hopefully you will discover something of value in them that can be applied to your own photography.

So in the best tradition of TV re-runs here they are once again:
Design in photography 1
Design in photography 2

By the way you can catch up with some of my other new work on my Flickr account.


Monday, November 05, 2007

A day in the life of a portrait photographer

This couple came to our studio for a portrait and I just knew something special was going to happen.

She was very bossy. If you've ever seen the English TV sitcom Hyacinth Bucket, well that's exactly how she was. The real Hyacinth. Everything had to be the best and most expensive.

Eventually she fell under the spell of my irresistible wit and cracked up with laughter, and I got my shot. Actually come to think of it it was probably Magda's wit as I tend to go fairly quiet during photo-shoots.

Her dress was very expensive but didn't quite fit, which she was really annoyed about. So Magda used washing pegs on the back of the dress to make it fit, an old fashion photographers' trick.

Oh by the way the flower thing was 'Hyacinth's' idea. Credit where credit is due...

Hope the image makes you smile.


Saturday, November 03, 2007

My 20 most interesting on Flickr

Flickr uses links, tags, who's commented and made your image a favourite to rank images according to interestingness. These are my 20 most interesting images according to Flickr, of the pictures I've uploaded so far.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Do photo 'enthusiasts' really want to learn?

"I don't have an expensive cameras and software to manipulate my images," says one photography enthusiast in reply to a critique of their image. The faults I spotted were basic exposure and framing. Things you could get right on the most simple of cameras with a bit of care and attention.

But many amateurs snap away, upload their pictures to the net and then expect to have plaudits heaped on them for their fantastic images. And they do get lots of awards and praise for the most appalling rubbish. Social networking can do that for you. Praise enough people and they will come back and praise you. It would seem that many have a desperate need for applause no matter how hollow and empty.

Either that or a good deal of the online photo community is on happy pills or delusional. So what happens when a photographer with a bit of experience, who has suffered the stinging critiques of editors, curators and other far better photographers writes a simple honest critique on a photo enthusiast's picture? The response is defensive. The enthusiast blames his equipment, lack of time, experience, knowledge...any excuse will do.

The truth is that we all make crap pictures from time to time. But if you choose to show your picture to the world and ask for an honest opinion, write that you want to learn and that you are passionate about photography; then when somebody does take the time to offer a positive critique have the grace to take it on the chin. It's not always pleasant but most of those who dare to offer an honest opinion are actually trying to help. A far better endeavor I would think than someone patting your back in the hope you will pat theirs.

My conclusion is that there are photo enthusiasts who genuinely want to learn and there are those that do not seek knowledge, who do not really want to improve. If you're reading this you probably belong to that minority that does want to learn and I'm preaching to the converted again. Never mind. I feel better for getting this off my chest and so should you. The competition to be a really good photographer is far less than you thought.


Saturday, October 27, 2007


View from the ferry leaving Calais in France.

You probably thought I'd disappeared. Yep, it's been a while since I updated my blog. Longer than a week anyway, which is a record for me.

So what have I been up to? Well the usual pressures of work but I've also got ever so slightly addicted to Flickr. You can check out my profile here.

Magda (wife and fellow photographer) and I have launched a group too which within 48 hours had over 165 members, which I think is pretty good. Best of all it's a great bunch of people. The launch has proved time consuming though but well worthwhile.

I keep encountering friends and acquaintances on Flickr. It seems the whole world is on there! I'm amazed. I've tried several other upload and photo sharing sites in my time but none have had the scope of Flickr.

There are critics of the site. Typically the problems revolve around censorship and images being stolen by unscrupulous people and companies. Ah nothing is plain sailing unfortunately.

I am thoroughly enjoying the Flickr experience so I'll keep posting and commenting there. Feel free to come and join our group.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Advice for street photographers

This gentleman agreed to pose for me. He wanted to know whether my camera was digital or film. He said he would pose if it was digital but not if it was film. I am not sure exactly what his reasons were.

He was patient and followed my directions on where to stand. Several photographers have asked me how I get people to pose for me. Rather than repeating myself I'd like to refer you to an article I wrote back in May 2005.

I hope it helps you and as always your comments are gratefully received.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Street portrait project

This image of a young lady, taken in Leeds, UK, is from a series of street portraits which I'm working on at the moment.

The aim is to produce a series of powerful street portraits that immediately connect with the viewer's emotions on a deeper level.

I'm continually amazed by how generous people are with their time, agreeing to pose for me on the street. This young lady was no exception.



Thursday, October 11, 2007

The portrait photographer

The above images are from my gull portraits series. Both images have a strong sense of eye contact with the photographer (me). The gulls hung around and I had a sense of connecting to them. They were definitely aware of me and as they hovered in the breeze I had a sense they were posing (yeah I know it sounds weird ).

I've come to realise that in a sense all of my photography is about making portraits.

The strict definition is a likeness of a person. But the Roget's Thesaurus expands on this:
Main Entry: portrait
Part of Speech: noun
Definition: representation
Synonyms: account, characterization, depiction, description, figure, image, likeness, model, painting, photograph, picture, portraiture, portrayal, profile, silhouette, simulacrum, sketch, snapshot, vignette
(Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition)

Most of my images are portraits, in other words a representation, depiction, description, account or characterisation of the subject.

I suppose what it comes down to is trying to capture the essence of the subject on a deeper level and show a relationship between me and what I photograph. Does my use of the word portrait have any validity or is it just semantics?

I've always had a problem with putting photographers in little boxes like landscape, still life etc.

However I do think portraiture is associated with a certain approach to subject matter, which distinguishes it:
  • You want to show the unique nature of your subject
  • You want to reveal the truth and make an honest photograph
  • You are focused on the individual and what makes that individual special
  • You have a definite subject of which you are making the portrait
Can you make a portrait of a landscape or a city? I don't think you can really. However, a series of photographs could perhaps form a sort of portrait of an area or a town. I think that's stretching it a bit though. You also can't make a portrait of something generic like a perfume bottle or car.

You can make portraits of a specific flower, an animal and of course people. I suppose simply put portraits are about capturing the unique identity of the subject and that is certainly what most of my photography is about.

I'd welcome hearing your thoughts on this.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Great images may be technically flawed

If you look at the great masters of photography and their images, many of which have become iconic, you see that there is a distinct gap between text book perfection and what they've produced.

Most great pictures that touch our hearts have technical flaws. The technically perfect advertising shots will never have this kind of power and impact on humanity. There are so many examples I don't know where to begin. Look at Robert Capa's shots of the Normandy landing. Grainy, blurred, scratched (the negatives were trodden on in the darkroom during development) and yet all of that somehow contributes to their impact.

Even top modern photographers like the legendary Annie Liebowitz get away with publishing pictures which would be severely criticised or ignored by the masses of photographers critiquing each other's work on the Internet. For example in Annie's book, Woman, there are a number of portraits which are not perfectly sharp (the greatest sin that can be committed according to the hoards in pursuit of textbook perfection).

In many of the most highly regarded photographers work you will see errors like fingers that are cropped, blown highlights, lack of shadow detail, slightly out of focus, heavy grain, a composition that's a bit tight on room in one or other quadrant, a skew horizon and the list goes on.

But it doesn't matter because there's so much emotion and power in their images. People with an uncritical eye, who look and see like a child, who open their heart and mind to understand the image and what the photographer is trying to communicate, for those people the image is pure joy and rewards them with the feeling, "I understand, I feel, I see."

So here's the moral of my story. When you take pictures, take them with your heart, soul and mind. Try your hardest to get all the technical things right but know that at the end of the day an image that is really meaningful, that will touch people need not be technically perfect. If you have images like this and you've discarded them because some pedantic prick has said it is no good due to some minor technical flaw, then it is time to retrieve that image and show it with pride.

And to the viewers of images my plea is: look beyond the mere technical aspects. Open your heart and mind to the essence of the image. You will enjoy looking at photographs far more.

But also please be aware that what I write here is not to be taken as an excuse for shoddy craftsmanship. The great images that have technical flaws are still great images because they are powerful and capture something special. There is nothing worse than a technically bad image which has nothing to say.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Legal issues of street photography in the UK

Spotted by Magda and friend Marleen who became aware of me taking a candid shot of them as they as were chatting in the street.

David Toyne has written an informative piece on the recent verdict in the British courts which supports the freedom of street photographers to take candid pictures of people in public places.

Read the full story here.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Doorway to great photography

This doorway on a cross channel ferry caught my eye because of it's graphic qualities. I think it's quite appropriate to show a doorway as I hope to open one for you to thousands of wonderful images and hundreds of talented photographers.

When you've been around as long as I have (well it's not all that long I suppose, being in my early 40s), anyway, you get to know things, like which are the best photographic agencies around the world.

I thought tonight, why not share these links with everyone? So without further ado here are my list of top photography agencies.


I've put more links on my website. These include links to publications and photography festivals and fairs.

I'm human, so I'm sure I've missed a few important links along the way. If you would like to send me any you think may be of interest which I can add to my growing list, please don't be shy. Either make a comment, send an email or fill in the form on our website.

Many thanks.

All the best,

Friday, September 28, 2007

1980's Hasselblad better than latest Pro DSLR

It may be time to dust off your old medium format gear and give it a new lease of life with a digital back. The results are stunning, better than the latest Canon Pro DSLRs and cheaper!

Prices of digital backs have come down and you can now get one for around £5,000 in the UK, even cheaper second hand.

Comparing the results between a 16mp digital back on an old 1980's Hasselblad C/M and a new pro full frame Canon DSLR is an eye opener. The quality from the Hasselblad is better. Images are super sharp, files stand up to interpolation better, there's more shadow and highlight detail, colours are spot on and the files are true 16bit from RAW. DSLRs don't actually generate true 16 bit RAW images.

One way to try a digital back on your medium format or for that matter large format camera is to hire the appropriate back. It's not cheap but if you incorporate it in your costs for the shoot on the day then the extra quality could well benefit your work and give you an edge that clients will appreciate (if you're a pro).

Working with medium format is slower. My old Hasselblad C/M doesn't have a lightmeter, no autofocus, everything is manual. I don't even use a pentaprism so the viewfinder image is reversed. This means taking a more considered and slower approach which is not a bad thing at all.

Coincidentally a professional photography magazine in the UK has just done an article on the same subject and their writers were raving about the results. They hired a back from the Pro Centre in London. The magazine remarked that for faster work pro photographers could settle for a D300 or a D40, to save some cash and use the digital back solution for super high quality stuff in the studio and outdoors.

No doubt prices will continue to fall as many pro photographers move up to the larger mp backs available today.

One thing to bear in mind is that there is a crop factor so for example the Hasselblad's standard 80mm lens becomes a 120mm. If you like shooting very wide angle then you will have to consider the implications.

I'm glad I hung onto my old Hasselblad gear now and I may dust off the Mamiya Pro 645 too. We'll see.



Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pictures that pose questions

This images symbolises the way our childhood seems to pass so quickly. Childhood now seems to be a little like a dream, like someone else lived it, although inside I am still that small kid sometimes.

The telephone wires and the road perhaps signify the journey we travel and how we are linked through our ability to communicate.

Then again perhaps it is just an out of focus picture of a little girl running along a road. The joy of photography is that I can present you with an image. You have to also do some of the work in interpreting it. All I can say is the photograph was meant to be and I chose it.

I think photographs should get people to think and to ask questions.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Exploring the subject

The four images above were taken within a few minutes of each other. The subject is the side of a railcar. The aim was a series of images which explore a single subject with the emphasis on strong graphic compositions.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Popularity is not a measure of artistic merit

This bit of industrial design/architecture resides in the far corner of a supermarket parking lot in Belgium. At first it looks like and incredibly straightforward image but the more you look the more you discover. Click on the image to see the larger version.

It never ceases to amaze me how diverse audiences respond to different images. Some images have broad appeal while others have a much smaller appeal but are liked with a passion.

A word of caution to my colleagues out there. Popularity is not a measure of artistic value. If it were then most of the modern art museums would have to throw their exhibits in a skip.

So what is an appropriate measure of artistic value. That's a tough question. I don't know the answer but what I do know is that if a few people respond passionately to an image I've made, it makes me happy.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Foundations for successful professional photographers

Descriptions about what it takes to be a professional photographer are often quite fluffy and insubstantial. So with my best analytical cap on I've decided look at what it takes to be successful professional photographer.

Let's first clear a few things up. You don't need to own a camera, any camera at all, you don't need lights, you don't a studio and you don't need official qualifications. You can hire everything you need from cameras to studio managers and digital artists. You certainly need knowledge and skill but not necessarily a diploma to hang on the wall.

To be a successful professional photographer you will have to develop four key foundations besides being able to make brilliant photographs and the traditional business skills which apply to everyone running their own company.

The foundations are creativity, professionalism, knowledge and skill sets. Although this article is written for advertising and editorial photographers I am sure you will see how the principles can easily apply to other branches of professional photography too.

As professional photographers we need to see ourselves through the eyes of our clients. What are they looking for and what are they really buying? Why would they choose one photographer rather than another?


Saying that creativity is not enough to be successful will probably sound familiar to you. This is often qualified by saying that you have to give the client what they're after and tailor your creativity to suit the campaign or publication you're working on. All sound advice and true enough. But for me this does not go far enough.

To differentiate yourself from the masses of professional photographers you have to demonstrate your creativity is making a positive contribution and helping your client achieve their aims. If your client is not aware of how important your creativity is to the success of their campaign or brochure then they are not going to properly value your input.

So we come to the concept of managing your creativity. As a professional you are not expected to have off days. Clients want you to produce results on demand. You have to see your creativity as a resource not as some strange form of inspiration that floats down from the ether. It’s inside you and there are techniques for accessing it at will (perhaps the subject of a future article).

As a professional photographer you have to generate ideas and learn to leave bad ones behind. Don’t defend an idea to death. If the client doesn’t like it move on or adapt.

This brings me to innovation. You have to keep innovating to stay ahead of the game.

Creativity is about challenging the status quo, asking questions, changing things, destroying and rebuilding, finding new approaches and new answers.

But remember the context. The ideas you generate, the concepts, the innovations all have to be within the parameters of what your client expects and wants. It has to have substance. Your images are visual communications and your clients are looking to inform and persuade readers. Substance will always trump flashy style. I firmly believe form must follow function.


When it comes to being professional you have to follow best practice. Learn from the experience of your colleagues.

Some of the aspects to consider are your:

  • Values – ethics, environmental considerations, sustainability, conduct
  • Process – the methodology you apply to your work
  • Communication – written, oral, inter-personal – all have to be professional toward your clients, suppliers and colleagues
  • Administration – keeping to regulations, meeting legal requirements


You have to know your craft and keep up to date with the latest developments. The world of professional photography is fast moving and clients want solutions that work for them and integrate with their systems and ways of doing things.

If they have to choose between a photographer who can shoot on location and instantly transfer print ready images to their network or someone who has to have a film developed and scanned, who do you think they are going to choose (given that the two photographers are equally capable)?

Knowledge goes further than just your own craft though. Increasingly photographers have to demonstrate knowledge of their client’s organization and strategic goals. Clients want to work with photographers who understand their brand and can interpret their brief intelligently.

Knowledge is about getting education, training, understanding theoretical aspects. It is also gained through experience. You need both academic knowledge and practical knowledge gained through working in different environments. You need knowledge of business, people, customs, geography, products … you need to know everything about everything.

Skill sets

A skill is knowledge translated into ability and action. Knowing something in theory is not enough. You have to be able to do it and that takes practice.

To acquire a skill you have to work on your techniques. It takes self discipline, effort and determination to succeed. Steadily you build up a portfolio of skill sets which can be applied to meet different challenges, each one another arrow in your quiver.

I hope the above has given you food for thought. Creativity, professionalism, knowledge and skill sets are the four foundations you have to work on to ensure a solid and successful career as a professional photographer.

If you are interested in publishing a more in depth article in print please contact me. In the meantime I would be delighted to receive comments on this overview article.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Sensitivity and respect in your comments

Many photographers upload pictures of people for comment on photo sharing websites. I think it is important to point out that comments made on a picture are often read by the person in the picture.

On the whole I think that most people commenting on a picture do show respect and awareness of the subject's feelings and emotions. However sometimes a comment is made that reveals a lack of regard for the person in the image.

Classic examples are comments which turn an attractive woman or man into a sexual object, or mock, trivialise or patronise the subject.

Even if the person in the photograph will almost certainly never see the comments made on their image, I believe it is of fundamental importance that comments are respectful and that you only say what you would be prepared to say looking that person straight in the eye.

The internet is vast and people on your screen can appear somewhat abstract and removed from the real human being, but each person you see in a photograph has a life, aspirations, hopes, fears, relationships, experiences and feelings just like you or I.

Of course the respect for a person's feelings and dignity does not only apply to commenting on pictures of people, it is also fundamental to the ethics of photography. When we lift our cameras to take a picture of another person we have to be aware of their humanity, the ethics of what we are doing and our subject's right to dignity and respect.

I'm sure the people reading this share my feelings and as usual I'm preaching to the converted, but hope that you will appreciate me putting the focus on this subject, which is not often touched upon in blogs and articles.



indigo 2 photography

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Meet Willem Vermandere

Flemish sculptor, painter, artist and folk musician, Willem Vermandere sings from the heart during a visit to his house in West Flanders.

Magda Indigo arranged a visit for us the last time we were in Belgium. Willem only performs in Flemish so his work is not well known outside Belgium and Holland although he has performed in the UK. Recently South African academics have also shown an interest in his poetic texts and his work is being translated into and performed in Afrikaans.

Willem is a kind, warm, generous man who has tremendous humility. He is a legend in Belgium. It was a priviledge to meet him.

I wanted to capture something of his spirit here.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

From enthusiast to professional photographer

A surprising number of photography enthusiasts do not have a clue about the absolute basics. Some of them are taking on commercial work and thinking of becoming professional. It's frightening.

These days it seems like just about everyone wants to become a professional photographer. Thanks to outstanding modern Digital SLR technology, the ability to delete poor images and 'fix' others in Photoshop many enthusiasts believe they can produce professional results without having to learn and understand basic concepts.

What's more the Internet provides a ready made audience of their peers and upload and share community websites ensure they receive a steady stream of praise for their efforts.

All of this helps give them a false sense of confidence in their ability to be a professional photographer. I'm not saying the enthusiast without basic knowledge can't take a good picture but there's a world of difference between going out and capturing something on your own terms, and producing consistent high quality commercial work – day in and day out.

Here are some of the basics all serious photographers should know:

  • What is the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO?
  • What is mid-grey, what does it look like and why is it important for measuring exposure?
  • What is depth of field and how do you control it?
  • How do you quickly work out the shutter speed that is safe for hand held photography? (Don't say when you see the little white hand on the LCD display!)
  • How do you set the hyperfocal distance on your lens? What is it used for?
  • What are the shutter speeds you need to set on your camera with different lenses and different distances to subject to either stop or show subject movement?
  • What is over exposure and what is underexposure and what do they look like?
  • What size file do you need to be able to print different size images at a high enough quality?
  • What is DPI and how does it affect print quality?

There are many basic things you need to know. The above is just an indication. If you can't answer any of the above questions then I recommend finding out as soon as possible. There are thousands of books and websites that can give you the answers, so there's no point in me spelling it all out again here.

Most people have an intuitive grasp of composition but you need to know a lot more than that and it doesn't stop with just knowing the rule of thirds either.

Professional photography is a craft. It has to be learned. A photography enthusiast takes pictures that please themselves, their family, a tame audience on a photo sharing website and they may even sell to the odd magazine editor. However to be a professional photographer you need to take pictures for your customers, when they want them, how they want with a zillion things to take into consideration, from format to where text will be placed, following branding guidelines etc. Nothing is left to chance. Every element and aspect has to be carefully considered and controlled to ensure the image communicates with the audience.

The professional social photographer, doing portraits and weddings may not have to achieve as much technically (the layman is generally more easily satisfied than the professional photography buyer). But in my opinion being entrusted to capture an image which has emotional importance for your customer is a huge responsibility. Being paid and trusted to document important moments in people's lives should not be taken lightly. If you do not know your craft inside out, never mind just grasping the basics, allowing someone to hire you as a professional photographer is reckless and unethical.

I work mostly in corporate communications and besides professional photography I also provide consultancy on photography, hire photographers and buy images from stock libraries. So I operate on both sides, buying and selling photography. Believe me it is hard enough to find a really good professional photographer. It's also difficult to find an image that fits perfectly with a company's brand and communication requirements – yes even though there are billions of images to choose from.

As in any profession commercial photographers vary from poor, to mediocre to brilliant. If photography is your passion and you want to turn pro then I presume you would want to be up there on the higher end of the scale. Compare your work to the very best commercial and social photographers – the adverts you see in glossy magazines, fashion pictures, photography books and the images by recognised masters of photography. Be honest. Can you compete? Do you really want to compete on that level? Do you think you could get the same result, not just once in a while but every working day?

So before the enthusiast thinks of turning pro they had better take a long hard look at the mountain that needs to be climbed; the hard work, the dedication, the knowledge, the talent, the ethics, organisational ability, attention to detail, dedication, communication skills and drive that it will take to be a photographer worthy of being called professional.



Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hold your horses

A horse mane makes an interesting subject for a minimalist composition. I like textures so this was a great subject.

Working flat out at the moment on several major projects. Just not enough hours in the day to get it all done. So hold your horses, I've got loads of ideas for blog articles, but in the meantime just wanted to let everyone know that I'm still about.

Thanks for your visit to my blog. There's plenty of stuff to read on here, check out the archives or do a search for something of interest.

I'll try to add a new article this weekend.



Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Street Portrait

I spotted her in the crowd and she saw me. We looked at each other, communicated with a few gestures and as a final shot in the sequence she treated me to this one. Classic attitude.

I wanted a bright colourful image, celebrating an individual's right to self expression.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Highly recommended blog

If you're looking for more than tips on how to take pictures and what equipment to use and you'd like to find out about the soul of truly creative photographer then take a look at Magda Indigo's blog. She's known almost as well for her well researched and informative writing as she is for her photography.

And yes she is my wife, I love her very much and I consider it a privilege to share my life with someone as talented as she is, so if you've not discovered her work yet what are you waiting for?


Thursday, August 16, 2007

The joys of wedding photography

These two little bridesmaids decided they'd had enough of being photographed.

The family watched, highly amused as I battled to get these two little devils to pose. I got the shot later after giving it a few minutes break.

I don't do weddings anymore, mostly corporate and advertising work now, but this wedding could not be refused.

The reportage went brilliantly, the couple are thrilled, and they want this shot too. I find that people often like the off-beat moments. The days of the stiff formal, traditional wedding shoot seem far away, certainly in my neck of the woods. People want photography that reflects real life and has emotion. So although at the time it may seem a challenge that the child bridesmaids don't want to be photographed it is in fact a great opportunity to make a shot that's a bit different.

The picture sums up my attitude to photography and life. Every hurdle and challenge is in fact a great opportunity to make something special. The best stuff in life usually happens when we're well out of our comfort zone.

Ah the joys of wedding photography.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Laura Lippman bestselling author

Best selling American author Laura Lippman.

Here's an extract from her official bio:

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working fulltime and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards. She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett
and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association.

Baltimore Blues* (1997, nominated for the Shamus Award for best first PI novel.)
Charm City* (1997, winner of the Eddgar ® and Shamus awards for best
paperback original, nominated for the Anthony Award.)
Butchers Hill* (1998, winner of the Agatha Award for best novel, winner of the
Anthony Award for best paperback original, nominated for the
Edgar ®, Shamus and Macavity awards.)
In Big Trouble* (1999, winner of the Anthony and Shamus awards, nominated for
an Edgar ® and Agatha.)
The Sugar House* (2000, winner of the Nero Wolfe Award.)
In a Strange City *(2001, a New York Times Notable Book.)
The Last Place* (2002, nominated for the Shamus Award.)
Every Secret Thing (2003, winner of the Anthony and Barry Awards, nominated
for the Hammett.)
By a Spider’s Thread* (2004, nominated for the Edgar, Agatha and Anthony
awards, winner of the Romantic Times Award for Best PI Novel.)
To the Power of Three (2005.) (winner of the Gumshoe Award for Best Novel.)
No Good Deeds* (2006.)
*Denotes a Tess Monaghan title.

I really enjoyed making this portrait of her. She's a charming witty lady who has great patience with her photographer, yours truly.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Don't use your camera on manual settings

Antwerp successfully preserves a sense of tradition and history, here with the horse drawn carriage and the famous Cathedral in the background, making it attractive to tourists, while at the same time boasting some beautiful modern architecture.

The picture above was a split second grab shot. As usual my Canon EOS 5D was set to AV (aperture priority) and I trusted my light meter to give me the correct exposure. As it happened the background sky was extremely bright and the foreground in deep shadow, so the background was a bit overexposed. Using the RAW file's information I was able to retrieve detail everywhere important.

Read any guide to improving your photography, listen to photographers advice and you'll be told to set your camera to manual. Using program mode is strictly for amateurs we're told. Well I beg to differ and respected photography tutor John Wade shares my viewpoint.

Camera design these days has advanced tremendously and automatic metering has become reliable and accurate 99% of the time. If you used your modern Digital SLR on manual and took the same shot on program mode you wouldn't see any difference. John, in a recent article suggests looking at magazine pictures and asking yourself how many of the images would have required a setting different to the one the camera would have given the photographer if the camera was set to automatic program mode? Very few.

Letting the camera do the technical work frees you up to be creative and concentrate on the important part, taking pictures.

I can just see the die-hards shaking their heads at this blasphemy. Camera on program mode indeed.

So when do you use the camera on manual. Well in my case virtually never. The most important element for me to control is depth of field, so I work in AV (aperture priority). I keep a close eye on my shutter speed to see that it is not going too low, risking camera shake. If I see that there is a risk of camera shake, I up the ISO. I'm continually riding the ISO and changing apertures. The low noise handling of the 5D means I can shoot in very low light. When I do want maximum depth of field and a silky smooth images at 50 or 100 ISO, and the shutter speed would be too slow to hand hold I use a tripod or flash.

On the other hand when I want to control the creative effects I get by using the appropriate shutter speed, for example to blur water in a waterfall or stop sports action, I switch the camera to shutter priority.

But what about situations where traditionally the light meter would be fooled for example a very dark or very bright background? Here I rely on checking the histogram and then using the exposure compensation settings. This solves everything 99% of the time.

Our modern Digital SLRs are fantastic pieces of technology. They're designed to make taking pictures easier and to deliver reliable, high quality results. So my advice is: don't handicap yourself by using your camera on fully manual. Choose program mode for fast convenient results, aperture priority to control depth of field creatively and shutter priority to stop action or allow motion to be visible in your image.

Focus your energy on taking creative pictures not camera settings.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Holiday portraits

Three holiday makers on a bench in Ostend in Belgium. The couple on the right didn't know the gentleman on the left.

I love taking spontaneous portraits of people on the street. The couple didn't know this other chap on the left but by asking to take a portrait of them I brought this little group together for a few minutes. It was great fun. Several hours later I passed the couple in the street and we waved a cheery greeting to each other like old friends.

One of the wonderful things about being a photographer is that it enables you to meet all sorts of people, not only the famous but also folk like you and me and the people in this picture.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Back from holidays

Peace. Scarborough, Yorkshire, UK.

I'm back from my visit to the continent and I've got thousands of images to process with hopefully a few real gems. It's been an incredibly busy time but wonderfully refreshing.

I've also got ideas for quite a few new blogs. Watch this space.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Some advice on being a creative photographer

I recently had the great priviledge of spending time with a few of the world's best selling authors, including Lee Child and Harlan Coben. Many of the things they said struck a cord, an affirmation of the ideas that I've held for a long time. You'll probably recognise these ideas too but just like me I'm sure you won't mind hearing them again.

There are many things which apply across all creative endeavours.

Integrity to your art and vision is everything. You write a book, or in our case take a photograph, because it expresses something essential in yourself. It is your vision, your voice. If you're not true to your vision, your inner voice, you will never achieve your full potential. Do not copy others. It's got to come from inside you. This is true even when we're working for clients, to a brief.

The client has chosen you because of who you are, your vision, the injection of that special something which is uniquely yours.

If you see a band wagon then it is already too late to jump on it. Don't emulate the style that is in fashion. You'll just be following on. You're better off doing your own thing and deliberately going against popular trends and cliches. If what you do is good, then it will be recognised as such, no matter what the current trend. Logically you can't ever set trends if you're always following them.

Harlan Coben said he sees himself as an artisan. He is working at his craft. The moment you see yourself as an 'artist' with airs, you're dead in the water. Any creative worth their salt is a hard worker striving continually to improve their technique and refine the way they express themselves. Harlan said sometimes he feels the muse is with him and he's writing brilliant stuff but mostly it's hard work and just getting each word on the page is like having unbelievable constipation. Now here's the key. He said when he looks back at his writing he can't tell which parts he wrote when his artistic muse was with him and the rest.

For all of us creatives getting the job done requires effort, sweat, sheer hard painstaking work and attention to detail. The force that drives many creatives is a strong fear of failure.

If you think you're just writing or taking pictures for yourself and it doesn't matter what your audience think then you're deluding yourself. Laura Lippman compared the attitude, 'I'm only doing it to please myself', to another self pleasing solo activity. Pretty good comparison.

The truth is you want to please your audience and you're writing or photographing to get a reaction from them, an emotion and give them a fresh insight into the world. This by the way is a far more powerful motivation than money. We all need to earn a living but ultimately the reward we seek is audience approval and the feeling that we've given them something worthwhile which will enrich their lives.

On that note, I hope my few words here have given you something worthwhile. There's certainly no financial gain for me in writing this blog. I just hope that you find it useful and it spurs you on to be true to your vision, to recognise that other creatives share your concerns and experiences and to go out there and do it.



Sunday, July 22, 2007

Portrait of Harlan Coben

Best selling crime writer, Harlan Coben, is a gentle, witty, charming, intelligent guy. Chatting to him you can't help wondering how he can come up with such brutal and murderous characters.

He says, maybe it's therapy. Gets it out of the system, which is why crime writers are such gentle folk.

If you've not read any of his books then you're really missing something. Check out his website (

I'm working on a portrait project. Will keep you posted.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lee Child interviewed by Paul Blezard

Paul Blezard and Lee Child field a question from the audience during an interview with the best selling author at the Crime Writing festival in Harrogate, 20 July 2007. Lee told many entertaining stories and spoke about his writing and the creation of his famous character, Jack Reacher.

It was great meeting them and chatting to them after the show. If you get a chance to go along to one of Lee Child's talks I can highly recommend it. More pictures here.

His books are fantastic. Check out (



Saturday, July 14, 2007

It's about photography

Magda floats down for a photo shoot on a rainy summer day along the British coast.

I've had numerous emails from people wanting to see more of my photography and asking about buying images. As you know I do respond to every email but to make things a bit easier here's where you can find my work.

I also have portfolios on numerous photography community websites. I plan to do a review in the near future on these websites and my experiences, which have not always been positive. Having said that I've made friends with wonderful photographers across the globe. Hi guys!

I also sell Rights Managed and Royalty Free images for editorial and advertising. Please contact me for more information on the licenses available for the particular image you have chosen.

I am available for photography and writing commissions, and work mostly in the UK and Western Europe. Happy to discuss any proposals.

Hopefully this covers some of the FAQs. You can find out more about me here if you are so inclined.

And please remember, all photographs belong to someone and are automatically copyright. Before you use an image you have to get the author's permission. In my case all of my images are "All rights reserved" and may only be used if I have given permission in writing.

Well that's more than enough about my stuff. Thank you for your interest in my photography.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Another image stolen, by the same guy

Stephen Baker, the same member of the Fuji website has stolen yet another photo from Trekearth and used it in the current Fuji competition. I believe Fuji are dealing with the issue.

Fuji have now removed the image from the competition website and replaced it with another winner. See my previous post. This story is being picked up all over the net. We have to do something to increase awareness about copyright infringement.

Thanks to everyone that emailed Fuji about this and it's good to see they've responded promptly.



Thursday, July 12, 2007

Stolen image wins £200 in Fujifilm competition

Click on the image above to see the large version. This shot was stolen from here and used to win second place in a Fujifilm competition.

We all know that images get stolen from the Internet but two recent examples really take the cake. A certain Stephen Baker from Essex appears to have stolen an image, taken by Pamela DG, from a popular photo-sharing site and used it to win second place in a Fujifilm online competition. The prize money he is accused of fraudulently obtaining is £200 pounds.

It is unbelievable that people think they can steal photographer's images from the Internet and use them for their own purposes.

Another much publicised case revolves around images plagiarised from a popular flickr photographer. The company that allegedly stole them produced canvas prints and sold them for a healthy profit without the photographer knowing anything about it. The whole thing erupted into a bit of a dispute with flickr but that has all settled down now.

The heart of the issue remains that as a photographer we unfortunately expose ourselves to the theft of our work every time it gets uploaded, even relatively small low resolution versions. It's not the first time that I've heard of supposedly respectable companies riding rough-shod over copyright laws.

I hope the thieves get their just deserts and Fujifilm should certainly retrieve their prize money and take whatever action they can to discourage this kind of thing in the future. Condoning it will hardly do their brand much good amongst us photographers.

I'll keep you posted if I hear anything else. I happen to know the photographer's mother who brought this incident to our attention on a forum.

Stay safe, and please if you come across any images you think have been plagiarised let the photographer in question know and drop me a line too.

UPDATE: He's stolen another image! See here. But Fuji have now reacted.