Sunday, December 27, 2015

Beauty of black and white

Black and white photography is powerful. Pick up a book and look at the grainy, high contrast images shot on Kodak Tri-X 400 film by masters like Cartier Bresson, Don McCullen and SebastiĆ£o Salgado, they've lost nothing of their impact.

Today's super high resolution, fantastic colour, high dynamic range digital cameras enable faithful, ultra-real reproduction of the world. This way of rendering reality in exquisite detail does not however add emotion, a sense of the moment and gesture to an image.

The gritty black and white images created by the masters abstract reality, distilling it into the essential ingredients that connect with us through the history of photography. They represent a way we have learned to read history. We subconsciously attribute a sense of authenticity to these images.

This is why a photographer like Salgado insists his prints, although shot on the best DSLRs available look like the were photographed on film. He is conscious of his aesthetic voice and the weight of history and authenticity behind that look. 

I learned photography using film, developing and printing in the darkroom. Having explored the joys of the highest quality that digital can bring I am now again ready to experiment and embrace the aesthetic of black and white and explore that visual essence that the traditional look of film brings to an image.

Hope you enjoy the latest images.

Have a wonderful New Year.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

National Geographic photographer tells it like it is

One of my favourite National Geographic photographers, William Albert Allard, tells it like it is in this video. Watch and learn.

Till soon,

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The gift

He was sitting in a wheelchair next to the yacht basin in Oostende. With his peaked cap, pipe in hand and white beard he looked quite nautical. 

After a brief chat I asked if he would mind me making a portrait. A nod of agreement. 

I shot a few frames and he stared out from behind his glasses with a look that tells his story. 

It's such a gift when people open up to us photographers and give their time and their faces to share with the world.

Till soon,

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A photographic moment

We walked into the cafe at Salts Mill and immediately I spotted this gentleman reading his paper. It felt like an electric current had been switched on in my blood. Light, colour and gesture, the three key elements of a good image, all resonated together. When these elements come together they are a serendipitous gift to the alert photographer.
Man reading paper
With a tingling feeling running from the back of my neck to the tips of my fingers I carefully chose a seat at an adjoining table, hoping that he would continue to read his paper and not change his body position. I quickly composed the shot and pressed the shutter. If I had approached him before taking the shot I am sure this unselfconscious moment would have been lost.

See how the colours of his pocket handkerchief, his shirt, t-shirt and hat are echoed in the environment around him. The light is lovely, etching him out of the background.  His relaxed natural pose fills the frame with dynamic angles. A man reading his paper.

Salts Mill houses one of the largest collections of David Hockney paintings in the world and a series of his portraits hang in the cafeteria. One of them is of a man sitting in a chair, different pose but a similar dynamic. I'd like to think that if Mr Hockney saw this image it would make him smile too.

Till soon,

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why are there so many bad photographers?

Browsing social photography websites like Flickr and 500px is a frustrating experience. Overall the quality of photography is horrible.

Home truths. Straight from the horse's mouth
Nobody dares say anything negative. Often votes and comments are motivated by a desire for reciprocation rather than because the viewer actually likes the image. Many people spend less than a second viewing an image. It's so easy to click the fave icon on a page of thumbnails.

People that receive a lot of votes/likes/favs are either good photographers or just good at playing the social game.

This has all been said before and I really am not bothered by the social side. The thing that bothers me is the lack of interest, effort and passion for their images among so many photographers.

Do they not see that when they push the saturation slider out near the maximum that the colours look awful, unnatural and garish?

Do they not see that when they over-sharpen or over-use the clarity tool that the images develop spots and artifacts that make it look horrible?

The list goes on, with cartoonish HDR and many more aberrations caused by filters and effects.

Sadly, under all the manipulation there's often a good image. But no, the photographer just could not resist adding a sun flare filter and putting some awful frame around the image. Why? Is reality not good enough?

Here are some truths to take away:

  • A poor composition can't be fixed with a filter.
  • An unsharp image will never be properly sharp, no matter how much sharpening you apply.
  • Without real interest, care and passion for your images they will never be good. 
  • Software will never make you a better photographer, one who engages and connects with their subject and produces beautiful work that stands up to serious scrutiny from people who know what good photography should look like.
  • Likes and favs are not a measure of photographic skill.
I'm not claiming to be the world's greatest photographer but I certainly know what good photography looks like, and it's really scarce.

What do I want to achieve? I'd like photographers out there to take a long, hard and honest look at the images they produce and aim to be better without trying to rely on tricks and gimmicks. 

My strongest plea is to those photographers who do make good compositions, to not add all sorts of filters and to go easy on the sliders in Photoshop, Lightroom etc. Camera manufacturers spend millions on research to make cameras that produce an excellent quality jpeg right out of the camera. Usually you have to do very little these days to get a decent quality image. 

Focus on taking great pictures, not on trying to produce them after you've pushed the shutter.

Thanks for your time.


Sunday, July 05, 2015

An artist's passion

Technique can be learnt but there are two other vital ingredients in an artist's makeup that you're born with, one of which is easily lost along long hard road of life.
Flemish artist Willem Vermandere
Creativity is something we all have in us. Some people are born more creative than others. There's a range but how creative we actually are depends on the third ingredient and that's passion.

Without passion there is no drive, no new work, we become stale, copying our past successes with nothing fresh to show.

I'm fortunate enough to know two living artists with real passion; Willem Vermandere and Magda Indigo. Both are absolutely driven to create new work every minute of every day. Naturally they do the things we all do, going to a restaurant, shopping and so on but all the time you know that what they really want to be doing is creating new work. They have a grand obsession in their lives.

On the other side of coin you have artists who get off to flying start, producing new and exciting things and then somewhere along the way they lose their passion. They live off past successes and end up producing poor copies of what originally made them great.

So do you have a passion for your art, your photography, or are you coasting along?

Passion is the difference between 'it's good enough' complacency and striving for new brilliance that pushes the boundaries.

Till soon,

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Photographic memories

A classic view of Brugge at night. Millions of photos have been taken from where I stood, but I still think this image has something special. During the day Bruges is filled with tourists and nearly every one of them has a camera of some description.

The trick is to find a different way to photograph a place. I'm not saying nobody has shot this scene at night but it is certainly a more rare and special view. The dramatic lighting makes it stand out and a good image is all about special light.

I'm happy with the result and it will always bring back a fond memory of standing there with my wife in one of my favourite cities in the world.

Sometimes we photograph to sell to clients, other times for our own artistic endevours and always to preserve those precious memories. Our photographs have become our diaries.

Till soon,

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Selfie obsessed

A tourist poses for a self portrait using his selfie-stick.  His selfie will probably be posted straight to a social media site; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any number of others with a caption along the lines, "Look how much fun I'm having in Bruges."

In 2015 we noticed lots of people doing the selfie-on-a-stick thing  in Brugge. When people pose for these selfies their smiles often look forced. Or they pull weird expressions. They appear oblivious to the world around them, all attention focused on the small smartphone screen.

Getting creative with a high viewpoint.

And some people do it the old fashioned way, holding their smartphones.

Three young ladies get ready to pose for a group selfie in Brugge.

Are people becoming selfie-obsessed? Is it a good or a bad thing, or doesn't it matter? I remember when most of us would stop a friendly looking passer-by and ask them if they would mind taking a picture of us. Usually there was a bit of banter. Now most people seem to be into the DIY approach.

So what do you think?

Till soon,

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Inspirational National Geographic photographers on photography

What does it take to make the gold standard images we see in National Geographic magazine and what type of photographer does it take to get the job done?

Since I was a kid, curled up on the sofa, with a copy of National Geographic, I've admired the beautiful, informative images on the pages of my favourite magazine.

The photographers follow strict ethical guidelines forbidding any overt manipulation. This means that you can trust what you see in the magazine. The images accurately represent what the photographer saw. The photographer is our witness on the spot transporting us to exotic locations, adding a visual story to the well researched articles by National Geographic's writers.

The video below offers a fascinating and inspirational insight.

The video features the following photographers:
Lynsey Addario
William Albert Allard
James Balog
Marcus Bleasdale
Jodi Cobb
David Doubilet
David Guttenfelder
David Alan Harvey
Aaron Huey
Lynn Johnson
Ed Kashi
Tim Laman
David Littschwager
Gerd Ludwig
Michael Nichols
Paul Nicklen
Randy Olson
Jim Richardson
Joel Sartore
Stephanie Sinclair
Brian Skerry
Brent Stirton
Amy Toensing
Michael Yamashita

Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. Over the last year and a half I've watched it numerous times. Always a pleasure.

Till soon,

Saturday, February 21, 2015

New photo-story platform

Launched in September 2014, still in beta, Immersive is an online platform designed to help individual storytellers create and publish beautiful, visually rich stories. I published my first story on the platform and I must say I think it looks good. It's optimised for mobile and tablet too and supports stills and video.

Spanish fishing nets. Image from my photo story, Catch of the Day.

Overall Immersive is easy to use. Some buttons are hidden, revealing themselves when you hover over an area on the screen. But I got to grips with the system quite quickly.

Check out my photo story Catch of the day, about the local fishing industry in Spain.

Till soon,

Thursday, January 15, 2015

176 Portraits

January 2015 is well under way.  It seems like a good time to look back at one of my favourite photography genres, portraits.

I love photographing people. A good portrait is usually the result of collaboration between photographer and subject. It may result from a few minutes of conversation. Or happen after hours spent together, chatting, planning and travelling.

I try to make authentic portraits. They happen when the person I'm photographing engages with me. A good portrait is a gift, 'given' to the photographer's lens. Those moments are awesome to experience.

I am extremely grateful to everyone in my 176 portraits collection for allowing me to photograph them.

Visit the full gallery to browse the portraits at your leisure here:

If you would like a quick two and half minute overview then take a look at my YouTube video below.

What makes a good portrait for you?

Till soon,