Out-of-context Feature Photographs

Here is another successful newspaper photograph of one of those charming people I so much enjoy photographing.

Newspaper feature photography

Once again, this gentleman was photographed for The Independent newspaper – or it might have been The Times –  and once again it was taken a long time ago  so I cannot remember exactly what the story was about.

I do remember that he was a Druid Bard – probably a very important bard – and I think he might have won fame for his poetry – that maybe why I photographed him reading a large book. Perhaps if the gentleman sees this he would like to contact me and refresh my memory and I would be delighted to email him a copy of the image.

One of the things that really delighted me when I went along to photograph him was the fact that here was a very exceptional individual who wore clothes that would certainly make him stand out in any crowd – yet he lived in house that had to be the epitome suburbia.

I do remember it was a very hot summer’s day and that I decided to take his picture in his immaculate garden which was complete with flower borders and a neat vegetable plot. The fact that I could include the row of neat houses in the background added to the picture’s appeal.

By taking his photograph in this garden, I was able to place an unusual-looking robed figure in a perfectly normal everyday situation. His robed figure looked completely out of context – and that is often a winning formula for a successful newspaper feature photograph.

Of course – no set of photographs for a newspaper feature would be complete without making sure that there was at least one good close-up image of the subject. This was taken, but not used.

  • Nikon F3
  • Ilford FP4
  • Nikkor 24mm f2 lens

If you would like to know how to take newspaper and magazine photographs that SELL – find out more about Philip Dunn’s Photography Courses & Photography Holidays

Photographic Assignment – the electric harp

I’ve been delving into my huge photo archive again – and found this little gem of a feature story. Yes, I know the image needs a good cleaning up and I’ll get round to it sometime – but that picture has sold many times – it has a right to be a bit tired and spotty.

I’ve always taken great delight in photographing eccentrics. These are special people, often highly talented and very creative; they just seem to be out-of-step with the rest of the world.
Photography Assignment - electronic harp
When they can be persuaded to have their picture taken, the possibilities for gently humorous photographs is always there. Way back in 1986 I was sent by the then newly-launched Independent Newspaper to photograph a Welsh gentleman who had invented an electric harp that could be powered by a car battery.

I think – it is going back a long time, so I hope he will forgive me if I’m wrong – his wife objected to the noise of his constant harp playing (perhaps he was just harping on too much – sorry) in the house. He decided to power his electric harp from the car battery so that he could take to the hills with his harp and play without upsetting anyone.

The picture did not need to have any gimmicks or special treatment – just recording on film what the subject did was quite enough to tell the story and produce a happy, amusing picture.

After driving round to find a suitable photo location, we set up his harp and attached it with electric leads to the car battery. It was far more illustrative to use a battery actually in a car than just a separate battery.

I used a 180mm telephoto lens in order to foreshorten the background and make the distant Welsh hills appear bigger – and with everything set up I just asked my subject to play his harp.

This produced the perfect positioning and facial expression.

Photographic Assignment - electronic harp

Of course, I also photographed my subject in his workshop (see lower photograph), where the light was beautiful and, after a little tidying up, the background was particularly photogenic. But is was the outside image that was used across a whole page in The Independent. That’s because it told the whole story in one photograph – that is the essence of newspaper photography.

If you would like to know more about how to produce photographs that sell to magazines and newspapers – join Philip Dunn for a Photography Course

How to Photograph Smoke

Here’s an interesting photographic project to keep your shutter fingers working on the rainy days we seem to be suffering right now. Learn how to photograph smoke. It was an exercise I set up with a student during a photography course recently while the wind blew and the rain lashed down outside.

You do not need a well-equipped photography studio – everything can be set up on the kitchen table. You will need a flash which can be fired off camera – ideally two flash units, but you can easily make do with one flash and a white reflector.

If you’ve ever observed the extraordinary shapes and movement created by a smoking joss-stick, you’ll realise very quickly that these wonderful shapes can be captured very easily on camera to create very striking abstract images.

There’s certainly an element of luck involved to get a perfect photograph of smoke – but you can do a great deal to weigh the odds of success in your favour. What’s more, the resulting images are ideal for manipulating in Photoshop afterwards – and there is virtually no limit to the ways you can interpret your images. You might, for instance invert the colours or change the colours using the colour adjustment tools. Almost anything goes in order to create some really punchy pictures.

What you need to photograph smoke

  • A joss stick or scented cone
  • A dark background
  • A room without too many draughts

How to photograph smoke

  • Set the camera on a tripod
  • Set Manual Exposure Mode
  • Set Manual Focusing Mode
  • Set a low ISO for the best quality image
  • Set the White Balance (WB) to Flash
  • Set the maximum shutter speed for your camera’s flash synchronisation
  • Set an aperture of around f/8 or f/16 for good Depth of Field

Connect the flash to the camera with either a synch cable or remote control. Position the flash to one side and slightly behind the subject smoke. If you are using two flash heads, position one at either side and slightly behind the subject smoke. If you are using one flash and a reflector, ensure that the reflector is positioned on the opposite side to the flash gun

Arrange your composition and focus manually on the smoke. There is no need to look though the viewfinder from now on because nothing sill change except the smoke. So relax and watch the smoke with your finger on the shutter button.

Time your shots for the moment when the smoke makes an interesting shape and press the button. Take lots of pictures. Experiment by adjusting the power and position of the flash.


  • Use a non-draughty room
  • If your smoke simply climbs up in a simple straight line, try gently blowing the smoke to encourage it to make different shapes
  • Try to reduce ambient light by cloing curtains
  • Turn off an anti-vibration functions when using a tripod

Find out more about Photography Tuition with Philip Dunn

PhotoActive Website

My apologies to everyone who experienced problems with the PhotoActive website this morning. We got a spanner in the works somewhere and the home page went haywire.

PhotoActive website homepageAll is now fixed, thank goodness.

My thanks to our web hosts Web Hosting UK for the instant technical help.

The guys at Web Hosting UK are really tremendous – not only are they on the ball and knowledgeable but always ready to help.

Thanks fellas

Photography Workshop Oct 22-24th FULLY BOOKED

The Photography Workshop October 22-24th is now fully booked.

I’m sorry if you were wanting to come. However, there are still some places on the Photography Workshop the following week October 29-31st.

Photographers on a Photography Workshop course

A wild October day on the coast near Kirkcudbright - perfect conditions for photographers on a Photography Workshop to get out and take pictures

These weekend photography courses prove very popular and if you have been along to any of them you will understand why. I’m afraid, though, I only get the opportunity to run a few courses each year.

You will stay in a lovely hotel in the beautiful harbour town of Kirkcudbright in SW Scotland, ALL your meals, coffees, teas, accommodation are included – even a welcome drink of your choice. Of course, the tuition is provided by me and there is a lot of it. We get out to work together with our cameras and there are talks and tutorials over the weekend in the hotel’s conference room. The FULLY INCLUSIVE price is just £395 until the end of the year.

Photographers of just about every possible level have benefited from these photography workshops.

So – don’t miss your chance to learn the art of good photography while having a wonderful weekend.

Joan Johnson wrote about her weekend:
It is just over a week since I returned home from the fantastic weekend that I spent in Kirkcudbright. And the monkeys persists! [This is a reference to a simple, but highly effective teaching method I use] Thank you for causing me to have to abandon the Sunday papers to rush onto the beach and down to the harbour to catch the light of sunset. I just knew that the angle would be right – and oh those silhouettes! I learned so much in that one weekend; learning is so much easier when it is fun and in the company of a great group of folk!



Getting the right camera position

Photographers can adopt some very odd stances in order to get the shots they want. Sometimes, of course, it really is necessary to adopt the most bizarre contortions if you need Photographer's stance in the rainto get the camera in a particular position – flat on the ground, or leaning over the edge of a building, for instance.

During my photography coaching I try generally to discourage any stance that will lead to camera shake – standing on one leg is quite common. It’s always best if you can keep both feet firmly on the ground.

Another fault I do try to correct is the position where the photographer’s head is leaning over at an angle. This usually comes about when the photographer is in a comfortable position and decides to lean over to one side to take the picture. The result is a cockeyed horizon because it is virtually impossible to judge when the camera is level if you lean over and look through the viewfinder from an angle.

Anyone who has reads this blog regularly will know of my distaste for cockeyed horizons. See ‘Level Horizons in Photographs’

The picture above also answers the question I am often asked – “What do you do if it rains when I come on a photography course?” – Yes, sometimes we might get wet.

It helps to keep your head upright behind the camera if you want to get your horizons or verticals straight and level

photographer lying on beach

I have posted here a couple of photographs of former students who have adopted picture-taking stances that actually did work very well – even if they do look a little odd. Who cares if they work? – and anything that encourages my students to enjoy themselves is welcomed.

Find out more about Photography Courses with Philip Dunn

Photography Tuition Gift Vouchers

Sony NEX Compact Camera System

The latest camera models from Sony are now stocked in the PhotoActive Camera Shop – the Sony Alpha NEX-5 and the Sony Alpha NEX 3.
Sony NEX3KB Alpha Compact=These new mirrorless cameras are aimed at photographers looking to upgrade there compact camera. At the heart of each camera is Sony’s newly-developed APS-C size Exmor HD CMOS sensor offering 14.2Mp resolution.
Technical Details
  • 14.2 megapixels Exmor™ APS HD CMOS sensor – Large (APS-C size) image sensor captures very high resolution, low noise images with the quality of a DSLR camera: also supports HD video shooting
  • 1080i HD movie – One-touch movie record captures AVCHD video clips and stereo sound
  • Sweep Panorama with 3D – Capture extra-wide images and view in 3D on compatible TV (3D requires firmware update July 2010).
  • .5cm/3″ tilt-angle TruBlack LCD – Photo-quality (921k dot) screen with TruBlack technology for bright, high contrast image preview
  • High speed burst shooting – with rapid burst shooting up to 7 frames per second (fixed AF)

The picture shows the Sony NEX3KB Alpha Compact System Camera  with 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS Lens – Black

Both camera are available from the PhotoActive Camera Shop

Just two places available for Photo Workshop

There are now just two places available for the Photography Workshop to be help the weekend of October 22nd – 24th later this year.

Photographers on a Photography Workshop in KirkcudbrightThese Photography Workshops have proved hugely popular, so don’t miss your chance to get involved. You will stay in a lovely hotel in the harbour town of Kirkcudbdright in SW Scotland. You will get the benefit of my considerable professional experience to help you get more from your photography – and you will have a wonderful time with like-minded people. Every good reason for booking now before it’s too late.


  • All Photography Tuition with Philip Dunn
  • Two nights hotel accommodation with full Scottish Breakfast at Selkirk Arms Hotel
  • Welcome drink and fresh canapes
  • Morning coffees with homemade biscuits
  • Lunch – soup and sandwiches, tea, coffee
  • Afternoon teas – with homemade shortbreads
  • Canapes before dinner on second night
  • Dinner – two nights

If you cannot get a place on this weekend, there is another Photography Workshops the following week – October 29th – 31st. Get full details on Photography Course dates & prices

No Frills Photography Workshops NEW

NEW – Now you can enjoy professional tuition on a low cost one day Photography Workshop. These new Photography Workshops are aimed at those who do not have time or cash to spend for a full Photography Weekend. PRICE ONLY £35

Philip Dunn’s Photo Tutorial DVDs

Philip Dunn’s popular photography DVDs ‘Light & Composition” and ‘Portraits in Natural Light’ will show you how to take better photographs of all your subjects. Philip demonstrates the photo techniques