Learning how to take better photographs

Just thought you might like to watch a short video I put up on You Tube a short while back. I had a lot of fun filming it and putting it together with the help of two lovely guys – Graham and Malcolm. They came up here to SW Scotland for a couple of day’s tuition and we had a great time.

It’s always a joy for me to show my students some of the hidden parts of Galloway, one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. We spent time photographing some old, wrecked boats, we went down to one of my favourite coves and tried out long exposures to photograph a secret waterfall.

Anyway – enjoy, and thanks again, Graham and Malcolm.

Photographing in hard light – part 2

As promised yesterday, here’s the other – very different – photograph taken for The Sunday Times at Aberdaron in North Wales.

This time, rather than use a wide-angle lens and move in close, I have moved right back from the scene behind the village churchyard and looked at the beach through a small telephoto lens. I’m still shooting into that hard, contrasty light, but the effect is quite different.

The outlines of the gravestones are picked out by the backlight – remember, backlight exaggerates outline shape – while the curve of the beach stands out because of the glare of the sun on the breaking waves. This backlight has also isolated the silhouette of each of the small figures in the water and along the beach.

Slight under-exposure has given an almost ‘moonlight’ effect, but in fact the shot was taken around midday with the sun very high in the sky. This under-exposure and ‘night time’ effect can be even more noticeable when shooting into the light and using colour. It is most noticeable when shooting into the light over a bright, reflective surface – like the sea.

Meeting photo bloggers

It was great to meet Dave, Alison, Christine, Jamie and ‘Angel’ at the Focus on Imaging show at the NEC in Birmingham the other day. Thanks for coming up to say hello. Obviously the tee shirt with the photoactive web address did the trick and you were able to spot me. Frankly I don’t know how you did it with so many people there. I just can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your encouragement to keep blogging.

I had a good chat with folk at The Disabled Photographers Society stand and I’ll be telling you more about them soon. I’ve had one or two seriously disabled photographers come to me for tuition and I can tell you, some of these guys are just a bit good behind a camera. Take a look at their website…

I also met one of my very first and most frequent students, Ken. He was tempted by a good show discount and took the plunge to spent an awful lot of dosh on a new Canon. He’ll no doubt be showing it off when he comes up to SW Scotland next week for the photography weekend. I’ve arranged for him to spend a day shooting wildlife under the guidance of the local wildlife ranger before he arrives at the hotel… looking forward to having you with us again Ken.

I am thinking seriously about taking a stand at the show next year – so then I will be very easy to find and maybe meet lots more of you.

Photographing in hard light

Here’s a photograph I took for The Sunday Times some while ago. They commissioned me to photograph a whole list of British seaside locations, and this was taken on the beach at Aberdaron in North Wales on a hot summer’s day.
The light was very hard and contrasty – what I would normally consider to be poor quality light, especially when shooting in black and white – but as a professional photographer working to tight schedules, I simply had to make the most of what I was given.
I started to look for shapes and shadows, and noticed the shadow of this chap cast on the windbreak. His shape has been distorted due to the angle of the sun, and this has added a touch of whimsical humour to the situation.
It is always good practise to look for unusual angles and the way light and shadow falls on different objects.
Of course, with this shot in the bag, I photographed the man from the other side as well – with the light behind me. But this produced a very ordinary shot.
The other advantage in photographing a subject’s shadow is that those of you who are a bit nervous about taking pictures of complete strangers can do so without drawing attention to yourselves. In fact you may not be noticed at all.
Tomorrow I’ll show you another, very different type of photograph taken in this same location on the same day.

Focus on Imaging NEC

I’m hoping to get along to the Focus on Imaging Exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham tomorrow. It would be great to meet some of you if you happen to be there. I’ll be wearing a white tee-shirt with the address of my website on the back…


So if you happen to see me – do say hello.

How to photograph abstracts – part 2

Pablo Picasso, arguably the greatest abstract painter of all time, spent years learning the craft of fine draughtsmanship before he created his unique abstract art. The moral of the story?… learn the rules before you go and break ‘em
So here are just ten practical ways to get more from abstract photography…
Practical camera skills will lead to better abstract photographs.
Look more closely at everyday subjects.
Look for strong colour, lines, shapes and textures.
Shadows can be included to create abstract shapes.
Place your rectangle around the most interesting part of the subject.
Try to exclude any obviously recognisable elements.
Create visual puzzles to make your viewer think.
Don’t always tilt your camera at an angle this is a hackneyed, overused idea.
Look closely at the natural world to see beautiful abstracts.
Think about presenting a finished set of abstract photographs as a montage.
Photograph above:
So what is it? This type of puzzling photograph doesn’t actually need and answer. For me it is enough to enjoy the diagonal bands of colour and the shapes created by the shadows. If you really want to know, it is a picture of upturned canoes

Photography Weekend place available

Due to a late cancellation I now have one place available for the Photography Weekend on 7th – 9th March. The theme is portraiture with both available light and flash.
Full details on my website
You’ll really enjoy this one, but do let me know asap.

How to photograph abstracts – part 1

Let your imagination off the leash and photography becomes far more than a means of capturing the literal world however beautifully or skilfully that may be done.
Once you start to look beyond obvious reality, a whole new world of shape, colour and form begins to reveal itself. Capturing and portraying abstract design is not just the preserve of painters who have it easy because they can paint what is inside their heads and claim the result to be art.
The photographer needs an actual subject, and must think objectively before he, or she, can convey a subjective view of it. Practical skills and visual perception are needed in equal doses to release a subject’s full potential.

Of course, you must look further than a simple representation of the obvious world, but unless you just get lucky, those basic practical photographic skills are essential before worthwhile abstract pictures can be produced with certainty almost every time.

And that is where many newcomers to photography come unstuck and need help. The ‘abstract’ genre is so often an excuse for poor, lack-lustre ‘arty’ images. It is also where I part company with the teaching methods in many colleges and universities these days.
I have lost count of the number of youngsters who have come to me straight from college and told me they only like taking ‘abstract shots’. Why? Because they don’t know how to photograph anything else. They have not been taught the essential practical skills of photography that will enable them to be fully creative. They have been sent out unprepared and told to ‘be creative’ as if this by itself will produce ‘art’.
What utter nonsense. The methods encouraged vary from waving the camera about with a slow shutter speed to angling every composition at 45 degrees. These half-baked teaching methods are cheating our youngsters; filling them with false hopes and denying them access to professional standards though which they might find employment and personal fulfillment.

To me, an abstract picture is one that draws on the less obvious elements of a scene or object such as line, shape, texture, tone and colour purely for their own sake. Often it is the type of image that stretches the imagination of the viewer that is most successful. A picture that puzzles or intrigues; the one that makes someone look twice and then hold their attention.

Start by looking at an everyday subject it might be an interesting modern building or perhaps a river view with reflections. Look for lines, shapes, colour, anything that you can identify as having some visual appeal. Then frame these elements of the subject carefully, placing your rectangle around them tightly so that you isolate them into one strong composition.

The joy of seeking abstract images is that everyone sees things quite differently, in fact some photographers just cannot see them at all and prefer to concentrate on more obvious subjects. It’s all subjective and in each individual’s eye. Once you start to see abstract pictures, though, you will soon realise that they can be found everywhere in the natural world and in the everyday manmade world as well. So far as my pictures here are concerned, they were all taken purely for the fun of capturing them, and they make no claim to be art… and if I can spot the visual potential of simple subjects like these then so can you.

One of the best ways to start recognising the abstract potential of a subject is to take a closer look at an everyday subject. Try to home in on one particular area of the whole. Find something that has strong colour, good lines or outstanding shapes. Don’t fall into the trap of tilting the camera to one side every time in an attempt to inject an unusual angle or viewpoint. This is a hackneyed idea. Try, instead, to compose tightly and if possible crop out any obviously recognisable elements.

Photograph above:

I found this fairground a fertile ground for all sorts of abstract pictures. It was closed during the daytime and the canvas covers of some of the rides have helped provide an intriguing point of view. I like the bright colours and the fact that the clown’s picture can only be half seen








Photography in bars and cafes

Not counting India, which is in a league of its own, there are three places in the world that really press my button – places where you can almost feel the buzz and vitality coming up through the pavements beneath your feet. The first is New York, then Hong Kong. The third, and possibly my favourite, is Istanbul.
How could any photographer go to Istanbul and not find visual stimulation? The buildings,the skyline, the boats on the Bosphorus, the markets. But, for me, best of all the people. I have always found the people of Turkey to be kind and helpful.
The picture above shows a man smoking his hookah, better known in the West as a hubble-bubble – in a cafe on the old Galatta Bridge. It was taken before this fascinating bridge with its double-deck of shops and cafes was burned down. Probably by someone sat in a cafe smoking a hookah.
I just walked into this cafe because it looked interesting, and ordered a glass of that wonderful Turkish coffee that is so strong and thick you can stand a spoon up in it. Within a short time, people were asking where I was from, introducing themselves and trying to speak English.
Now you must judge these situations very carefully when you are in a strange new place, but all my senses told me there was nothing to fear in this cafe. I started to take photographs and some of the customers insisted that I took pictures of them. One man borrowed my camera to photograph me with the owners of the cafe. I was even prevailed upon to take a pull on a hookah which damned near killed me. I still have that out-of-focus shot as a happy memento.
The photograph from the cafe that pleased me most was of the man sat quiety puffing away on his hookah beneath the faded pictures on the wall.
The picture was taken with a Nikon F3 with a 24mm Nikkor lens. It was hand held ISO 400 Neopan film at 1/20sec at f3.5

How to use a telephoto lens

Here is another simple example of using a small telephoto lens – in the case a 135mm equivalent – to capture candid pictures of people. I’ve had some photographers take me to task for daring to use a telephoto for ‘street’ photography. These purists believe it is only possible to take real ‘street’ pictures if a lens of 35-50mm is used. They are talking twaddle.
Perhaps they are secretly obsessed by the notion that they are following the example of Henri Cartier-Bresson who, they believe, was able to make himself invisible, get in close to all his subjects without being seen, and capture them all on a Leica with just a 35mm lens.
The story goes that the ‘great’ Cartier-Bresson tried this method while covering Winston Churchill’s funeral for The Sunday Times. Apparently he did not produce a single photograph worth printing.
A small telephoto can actually add a lot to the ‘feel’ of a candid photograph by throwing the background slightly out of focus and isolating the most important elements of the picture. This frees the viewer’s eye to concentrate on what really matters in the picture.
Of course it also gives the photographer the added advantage of remaining just that little bit less obvious.