Happy Christmas Everyone


With special good wishes to all those wonderful people we have had with is for Photography Holidays and Photography Courses during the year.

Norene and I hope you have a peaceful and happy time.


Top subjects to Photograph at Christmas

Christmas should be a fantastic time for photographers – there so many great picture opportunities.

But if you are struggling to come up with picture ideas, here is my list of top subjects for your camera this Christmas.

Photography Ideas for Christmas

Christmas is a time for children - have your camera at the ready so that you can always capture those wonderful unexpected magic moments. Photograph by Philip Dunn

  • SHOPPING – Get out in the street on Christmas Eve – but try shooting at dusk when you are sure to capture the atmosphere of the Christmas lights
  • CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS – always a great source of picture possibilities. Use a tripod, slow shutter speed and small apertures to capture the glow of the lights PHOTO TIPS
  • PARTY HATS – Happy Christmas shots of people relaxing and enjoying themselves are often best captured with a small compact camera – especially if you are part of the company and want to join in the fun
  • HOLLY – Get in close. The bright red of the berries and deep green of the leaves can be enriched by using a dark out-of-focus background
  • CHILDREN – kids opening presents under the Christmas tree. It’s a cert! Plan it out the day before and get the lighting right so that you capture the maximum atmosphere
  • CHRISTMAS PUD – a sprig of holly and a dose of flaming brandy really captures the Christmas spirit. Push your ISO right up and shoot in low light to capture the blue flames
  • TURKEY – close-up shots of the knife carving the Christmas turkey – use off camera flash held to one side to capture the hot steam
  • AFTER DINNER SNOOZERS – Don’t put your camera away after Christmas lunch – that’s the time when granny will snooze in the armchair. Hopefully she’ll still be wearing her party hat
Christmas photography - holly

Christmas holly - this picture was taken using flash. The black backgroud emphasizes the greens and reds. Photograph by Philip Dunn

Here are some more tips for Photographing Christmas

Whatever you do, keep the camera to hand and don’t be afraid of using flash to capture the action.

So have a HAPPY PHOTOGRAPHY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE – and keep taking photographs.

Last Minute Christmas Gift Vouchers

Still can’t decide on that special Christmas Gift for the photographer in your life?

I can email you a Personalised Christmas Gift Voucher for any Photography Holiday or Photography Course right up until late Christmas Eve, or from Boxing Day onwards.Photography Gift Voucher

All you have to do is print it out, paste it inside a Happy Christmas card – and you have a fabulous Christmas present that will bring countless hours of joy and pleasure.

Gift Vouchers start from as little as £50 and can be used towards any of my Photography Holidays or Courses.


Action Blur in Landscape Photography

If you were down in the woods today you might have seen a couple of photographers practicing some landscape photography technique… I’ve been with another student on a one-to-one Photography Course and the light here in Bonny Galloway has been glorious.

I confess I am not fond of forests and deep woodlands – they give me the creeps and a feeling of claustrophobia. I much prefer to be out in the open, along the coast, in the hills or at sea where I can see for ever. But it can’t be denied that woodlands can make wonderful landscape photography subjects.

My student for the day was keen to explore some techniques in abstract photography.

My views on photographing abstracts are very clear – especially when it comes to creating blurred effects by moving the camera when the shutter is open.

First Rule of Abstract Photography
First learn the rules of light and composition, add a sound understanding of basic camera craft  – then create your abstracts. It may surprise you that one of the greatest abstract artists of all time – Picasso, was a trained and highly skilled draughtsman well before he was an abstract painter. In other words, he knew the rules first, then went out and broke them.

Without that knowledge your abstract photographs will always be hit and miss – mostly miss. I certainly do not subscribe to the idea of waving cameras about with the shutter open in order to create blurry abstract effects – unless!

action blur in landscape photography

By moving the camera downwards vertically as the shutter was fired, very pleasing abstract effects can be created. It is a technique to be treated with caution, or you will create a dog's breakfast. Photograph by Philip Dunn

Unless… the blur is created by the photographer who moves the camera in a calculated and controlled manner, and with the certain knowledge of the outcome. That certainty comes with experience, knowledge and camera craft. then the camera can be treated like a paintbrush.

Camera setting for the picture above:

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter speed:  1/10sec
  • Aperture: f/22

This morning we were photographing the patterns of the tree trunks lit by wonderful sidelight, but I suggested that we try slowing down the shutter speed and moving the camera in a vertical direction (same direction as the tree trunks) in order to create a pleasing blurred abstract effect. It is of little use moving the camera in a horizontal direction with this type of subject. It just doesn’t work and the blurred effect in not pleasant.

I know these effects can be achieved in Photoshop, but where is the satisfaction and skill in that? Get it right in the camera.

If you have any question about creating motion blur, Contact Philip Dunn and he will try to answer them by email or in another PhotoActive blog post.

You can learn many landscape photography techniques on a Photography Course or Photography Holiday with Philip Dunn – Gift Vouchers are available.

Outdoor Photography in Poor Light

For the photographer living and working in the UK, winter is not always a bagful of snow pictures, frosty dawns and wintry sunsets. A lot of the days are dull, dreary, damp and not very bright.

Not the sort of conditions to encourage photographers to get outdoors and take pictures – but don’t be put off. All you have to do is change your thinking and tactics a little and you can still produce great photographs outdoors.

Yesterday I was out and about with a student on a one-to-one Photography Course. It was a gloomy day to say the least, but we headed off in the old Landrover to a place where there are streams, woodland and some old buildings.

Now I have a passion for photographing old derelict building, and the broken-down summer house in the picture below is just up my street. It is situated in what is now overgrown woodland – and there’s not a lot of light there on a good day. Yesterday when my student and I photographed the building it was very nearly dark.

Winter photography on dull day

A good tripod is essential when photographing this sort of subject on a dull winter's day. Photograph: Philip Dunn

Number 1 essential in these conditions: a good tripod and remote release.

Using our tripods, we were able to keep the ISO settings low and use really slow shutter speeds – look at the shooting details below…

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens: Nikon 70-200 f/2.8
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter speed: 1/4sec
  • Aperture: f13
In dull, wintry conditions, it appears that the colour of a subject is diluted – so use this to your advantage. Don’t even try to go for brilliant saturated colours. You may even find that the black and white, monochrome, approach is best.

The fact is that if these very dull conditions were ideal for photographing the moving water of the stream, and within a very short time, my student had a firm understanding of how to create that lovely flowing water effect in her pictures. I have writing a couple of posts in the past about how to photograph moving water, so you might want to check these out.

The photograph below was also taken yesterday.

No, the subject is not a stop-you-in-your-tracks eye-popper, but as an exercise in photographing moving water, it really did the business for my student yesterday and helped build her confidence that this type of image was well within her capabilities.

Photograph Moving Water

It does not matter how dull the light is when photographing moving water - you just need a good tripod. Photograph Philip Dunn

Again, just look at the shooting details – notice that slow shutter speed. That is what creates the lovely flowing effect of moving water.

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens: Nikon 28-70 f/2.8
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter speed: 2 sec
  • Aperture: f22
  • So don’t be put off when the weather is not sparkling bright – get out there with your camera and enjoy taking pictures.

    You just need to adjust the way you think and see in order to get the most out of the dull conditions.

    Learn photography with Philip Dunn on a Photography Course or Photography Holiday

    First Rule for every photographer

    My first assignment as Santa’s Official Photographer went off smoothly yesterday… and it produced the photograph below.

    Following the first rule for every press photographer – ‘Be First To Arrive’, I was aboard the Guard Boat ‘Gallovidian’ helping to put up Christmas decorations and lights ready for our grand entrance as we sailed into Kirkcudbright Harbour. But first we had to head down river and out across Kirkcudbright Bay to Little Ross Island, where we were due to rendezvous with Santa who was flying in from the North Pole.

    Santa arrives by boat in Kirkcudbright

    Santa arriving by boat to a great welcome in Kirkcudbright Harbour yesterday. Just look at all those people waiting to welcome him. Photography by Philip Dunn - Santa's Official Photographer

    With Santa safely on board the boat and with a glass of malt whisky in his hand, we set off back to Kirkcudbright harbour.

    • Photograph above, details:
    • Camera: Nikon D700
    • Lens: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
    • ISO: 400
    • Shutter Speed 1/200 sec
    • Aperture: f/13

    It’s always a great sight to approach the town from seaward and see the crowds of children gathered along the harbour to welcome Santa. With bells ringing, and three piper playing Jingle Bells, we slowly came alongside to disembark Santa.

    Philip Dunn - photographer

    Mission completed - Santa's Official Photographer back aboard the Gallovidian in Kirkcudbright Harbour. Photograph by Carl Dania

    It was also good to see photographers from the local newspapers there for this grand Christmas event.

    And that was our job complete – Santa was safely delivered and I had a set of photographs of him on board the boat.

    Seriously – that Rule for every press photographer is the number one! Get there first – leave last.

    It has paid off countless times during my long career in newspapers and magazines.

    You can learn many professional photography secrets on a Photography Course with Philip Dunn – and have a lot of fun at the same time.

    What should Santa bring the photographer in your life this Christmas?

    Check out a dozen of the best Christmas Gifts for Photographers

    Santa’s Official Photographer

    It’s been confirmed – Philip Dunn is now Santa’s Official Photographer!

    I received a charming letter from Santa’s Chief Elf this morning to say that in recognition of my services to Santa over the past few years, I have been appointed as Santa’s Official Photographer.

    It is now ten years since local boatman Gary Mckie and I first went to Santa’s assistance. The weather was dreadful: first the rain, then a snow blizzard and finally thick fog driven by a severe gale of wind.

    Santa aboard boat to Kirkcudbright

    Santa heads up river aboard 'Gallovidian' to meet the children at Kirkcudbright Harbour with boatman Gary McKie. Photograph by Santa's Official Photographer Philip Dunn

    Even the most experienced navigator can get confused in those conditions, and Santa was no exception. He brought his sleigh down to a crash landing beneath the lighthouse on remote Little Ross Island out in wild Kirkcudbright Bay. Gary and I were alerted by the Coast Guard and set out to sea to offer assistance in answer to Santa’s distress call.

    Santa arrives Kirkcudbright Harbour

    Philp Dunn's services to Santa have included helping him up the harbour wall on his arrival in Kirkcudbright. Judicious use of a boat hook from below has often proved encouraging

    When we arrived on the island, we found Santa and his reindeer sheltering from the teeth of the gale behind the lighthouse cottages. Santa was a little bruised and shaken, but otherwise hearty. In fact, after a liberal dose of malt, he was soon his old cheerful self again. We left the reindeer chomping the organic carrots we had brought with us, got Santa into our boat, and brought him back into the harbour in Kirkcudbright.

    Winter Wonderland
    News of Santa’s arrival had spread – and he was greeted on the harbourside by hundreds of cheering children. The town’s pipers were there and they piped Santa through the town to a special grotto at the Winter Wonderland event in the Parish Hall.

    Santa was so touched by his welcome and enjoyed his visit to Kirkcudbright so much that he has been back to Kirkcudbright every year since. He now has a proper landing strip on Little Ross Island and it has become a tradition for Gary McKie and myself to sail out to the island and bring Santa into the harbour to be met by the town’s children.

    Of course, over the years the boat trips to the island have provided me with some wonderful opportunities to photograph Santa, and I do have quite a stock of super candid portraits. I have to say that he has been a little evasive about signing a Model Release, though. Maybe he’ll do that now that I’m Santa’s Official Photographer.

    I’ll be heading out with Gary to Little Ross Island this Saturday 10th December and will be arriving with Santa in Kirkcudbright Harbour at 11.30am. Come and say Hello!

    Camera Kit to fit your budget

    I have started a set of new pages on the PhotoActive website with my recommendations for camera kit within certain set price limits.

    I’ve kicked the idea off with Camera Kit for £200 and Camera Kit for £500Camera kit for £500 PhotoActive page

    The pages will be extended to cover my recommendations for £1000 – and upwards. Each time I will give my personal recommendation for photographers looking to buy. I daresay there will be lots of photographers who may disagree with my recommendations – particularly some Canon DSLR users – but I can only speak from my own personal experience.

    While it is important for any photographer to buy the best camera equipment he or she can afford, it is vital to understand that it’s not how much money you spend on kit that will help you produce great photographs.

    It is the way you use that camera that really matters.

    I have been teaching photographers this for 10 years now. If you have loads of dosh, fine, spent it on camera gear – but it will NOT make you into a photographer until you learn how to use it properly.

    Far better to spend a little on a Photography Holiday or Photography Course – then I can show you how to get the most from any camera.