Sledge Hammer Approach to Photography

The Photoshop Cloning tool is for wimps…

If you have been on a one-to-one photography course with me here in Galloway, I may well have taken you to one of the most beautiful photography locations in the area.

This is a wooded dell in a deep gorge down which tumbles a delicate waterfall. It is a magical place and I suspect it is where the Little People and fairies live.

sledge hammer photography

Time for action - Philip Dunn attacks the yellow cast iron bath beneath the waterfall in Bonnie Galloway

Can you believe that some moron would dump an old cast iron bath beneath that waterfall?

Well that is exactly what someone did. I suspect it was part of some contraption devised by a farmer – whose eyes were as dim as his soul –  to extract water from the stream.

photography course waterfall without bath

Gone - Oh what a joy. The view of the waterfall without that yellow, cast iron bath

I have put up with that bloody cast iron bath for some years now. It is heavy, immovable and worst of all bright yellow.

Now it is no more. It is gone. Smashed to pieces and I did it.

Things came to a head the other day when I took my student Christine down to this waterfall. Christine came from Switzerland for her day of one-to-one photography tuition. When we climbed down to the waterfall, the stream was so high that it was impossible for us to cross to the other side to get a camera angle on the waterfall that did not include that wretched yellow bath. It stuck out like a sore thumb.

I’m fed up with having to clone out that bath in Photoshop.

Sledge Hammer Photography
So today was Action Day. I loaded a heavy sledge hammer into the Landrover and went on the offensive.

Smashing that hideous bath to small pieces was hugely satisfying.

From now on my students can enjoy an unblemished view of one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Galloway; and the fairies, I’m sure will be pleased.

Find out more about One-to-One Photography Courses

Light Bulb Moment in Photography

I simply can’t help sharing this lovely email received this morning from John and Lyn Proud, who were with us for the latest Photography Weekend Break.

There’s an email from Simon Murphy who was also with us – that’s him in the light bulb photograph taken by John!

Photography Course Light Bulb Moment

John Proud's remarkable photograph of fellow photo student Simon Murphy enjoying his own Light Bulb Photography Moment. Photograph by John Proud

Hi Philip and Norene,

Even though I returned to work early this morning it did not in any way dull the buzz from the weekend. Memories of our visit with you in Kirkcudbright will last forever.

Photography Weekend Break John

John Proud hard at work with his Nikon D7000 during his Photography Weekend Break in Kirkcudbright

Your help has switched on several main beams and made my photography even more enjoyable and I thank you sincerely for that. Your explanation of photography is so good that it resulted in several “Eureka moments” for me.

Lyn and I enjoyed the weekend enormously and I could not recommend the experience in more glowing terms than EXCELLENT!

Thank you both very much and we look forward to seeing you both soon.

With sincere best wishes,

John and Lyn

Just to prove his point, John took a photograph of Simon Murphy enjoying his own Light Bulb Moment…

This is what Simon emailed this morning…

Hi Philip (and Norene)
Thanks to you both for a very enjoyable weekend.

I really feel I stepped up a level in my confidence and control of my camera. I think I had a fair idea before but now I actually feel I know what I am doing and why.

For me personally I think the most useful part of the course was the critiques, then the technical discussion and practical reinforcement.

My next mission I think must be to learn to see the photo opportunities in a given situation.

Thanks again

Thank you both. The truth is, the pleasure was really all ours – we always enjoy running these Photography Courses when we have such a super group of people with us. Everyone in the group last weekend came with two things firmly in mind – to learn and to enjoy themselves. Exactly the right approach.

I also got a lovely email from our old friend Russell Turner, who was also with us on the Photography Weekend – he sent a photograph of me. Hmm, thank you Russell, maybe I’ll post that one sometime, too.

The Next Photography Weekend Break will be March 30th – April 1st at The Selkirk Arms Hotel. The fully inclusive cost is just £399


From Switzerland for Photography Course

I take it as a great compliment that photographers come from far and wide for photography tuition I provide here in SW Scotland.

Photography course student with camera

Christine from Switzerland - at work on Kirkcudbright harbourside during her Photography Weekend Break. Photograph Philip Dunn

I have had students come from as far as Singapore, France, Germany, Belgium, Madrid and one chap who flew from New York specially for two days of one-to-one photography tuition with me.

Last week Christine  came specially from her home in Zurich, Switzerland. Christine chose a day of personal tuition before joining the group on the Photography Weekend Break at the Selkirk Arms here in Kirkcudbright.

Outdoor Photography
A real ‘outdoor girl’ Christine was overjoyed to see the fabulous arrays of wild snowdrops, which carpet some woodland areas here in Bonnie Galloway. It really is quite a spectacle at this time of year. There’s nothing like it in Switzerland apparently.

I took Christine to a very special place – a hidden dell buried deep in a wooded gorge beneath the trees where there is a tumbling waterfall.

When Christine started work with me she had never used her Sony A300 camera on the Manual setting. Everything was done on Auto. We soon changed all that.

Manual Exposure

one to one photography courses

Christine hard at work among the wild snowdrops in the hidden dell in Bonnie Galloway. There's nothing like this near her home in Switzerland

That first afternoon Christine was shooting away happily using Manual Exposure setting and had taken control of her camera for the very first time. She produces some beautiful images from her climb down to that wooded dell.

By the time Christine was working on the harbourside in Kirkcudbright with the other photographers on the Photography Weekend Break, she was gaining more and more confidence. It was a pleasure to watch.

Christine now wants to come on a PhotoActive Photography Holiday and put her new photography skills to good use.

Find out more about One-to-One Photography Tution


Sharing Photography Weekend Break

A group of really keen photographers were with us over the weekend for one of my latest Photography Weekend Break here in Kirkcudbright – and what a great time we all had.

I get a tremendous buzz when the photographers relax and share their enthusiasm for taking better pictures, and this group all seemed to share a common aim – to enjoy themselves and to learn as much as possible.

Photography Weekend Break cameras & tripods

We always emphasize the sharing aspects of making pictures during these Photography Weekend Breaks - the more we share, the more we get out of our photography. Here, John Proud (from Yorkshire) and Helen Tait (from Argyll) discuss the merits of a portrait just captured - of me! While snappers Elizabeth Eastgate (from London) and Simon Murphy (from Carlisle) concentrate of their cameras

It was good to see some old friends joining us again – Eddie Dewhurst and Russell Turner have both been on my photography courses before – Russell several times.

The other photographers came from far and wide. Christine came over from Switzerland especially for the weekend. In fact, Christine joined me on the Friday before the course for some one–to-one photography as well. So she’s had a really good long weekend of photography.

Nikon D7000 White Balance
As usual, camera gear and experience among the students varied widely, but I was surprised to see three photographers using the super little Nikon D7000. What smashing camera. I found the effects of its White Balance settings a little confusing, though. While we were working indoors in what was obviously the low temperature yellow light of tungsten bulbs, the Nikon D7000’s Auto White Balance (AWB) setting seemed to give a much more natural effect that the camera’s Tungsten (I think they now call it ‘Incandescent’ – or is it ‘Halogen’?) setting. The picture taken with ‘Incadescent’ certainly seemed to remain very yellow, while the AWB shot had more blue and looked much more natural.

Anybody else noticed this?

Time for a Quick Photograph
Of course I get very little time during these Photography Weekend Breaks to take my own photographs – although I do try to take lots of pictures of the other photographers when I can. However, I did manage to take just one picture which I spotted while working indoors – it was just a set of coloured coat hangers, but I liked the effect they created. The picture is below.

Photography Weekend coat hangers

I spotted this in the cloakroom of the house we were photographing. The Camera was quickly on a tripod for a hurried shot between photo tuition. Photograph Philip Dunn

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens: Nikon 24-70 f/2.8
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter Speed: 2.5 secs
  • Aperture: f/11
  • Tripod: Gitzo Traveller

The next event on the PhotoActive Calandar is the Photography Workshop next weekend at Carlisle Cathedral – there are still just a couple of places available, but these are sure to fill during the week, so please don’t leave it too late if you want to join us. It’s just £60 for a full day of tuition and photography BOOK NOW

The next Photography Weekend Break will be March 30 – April First 2012. BOOK NOW

Cropping a Portrait Photograph

It’s always good to keep in touch with the progress of the photographers who come on my Photography Courses.

Photography Course student IreneIrene Dunton came to my Photography Weekend Break here in Kirkcudbright last October and she wants to follow this up by coming on a Photography Holiday to Menorca.

Just before Irene came on the Photography Weekend she had started a Level One City & Guilds Photography Course and is looking forward to moving on to Level Two later this year. Irene has now volunteered to take photographs at a reading & literacy event at  a local London school and is hoping that her photographs will appear on the charity’s website.

This is all very good news and a great example for any keen photographer wanting to extend their knowledge and boost their confidence behind the camera.

Irene also sent me a couple of her portrait shots this morning.

That’s Irene pictured above hard at work with her Sony A380 during her Photography Weekend Break.

I particularly liked the shot of her friend, which, Irene says:

Photography Courses - portrait uncropped

Irene's original portrait of her friend. Photograph by Irene Dunton

“Was taken on a sunny afternoon in my front room which has a north-facing window and the light reflects off the houses on the other side of the street, and I used a reflector – I’m sure I had it white but the reflected light seems quite golden so that could be either I had the gold cover on and I have a memory like a sieve or it is from the sunlight coming through the kitchen door!”

Gold Reflector?
Well, Irene, I’m guessing that you may well have used the gold side of that reflector judging by the angle of the golden glow on your subject’s cheek. It’s really given a pleasant, warm effect.

I felt that Irene portrait could really benefit from a little careful editing and I did a few quick adjustments in Photoshop.

Firstly I corrected the Levels a tad, then cropped out some of the background.

I then cloned out the distracting wallpaper border and vignetted the image a little by using the eye-dropper tool to copy a dark green from the shadow of the subject’s jacket and, with a large paint brush at just 10% opacity I painted in the vignette.

Photography Course - Irene Dunton portrait

Irene's photograph after a little adjustment to the crop - you must have a good, sound portrait photograph to start with to make a crop successful. Photograph by Irene Dunton

Why Crop the Portrait?
With a straightforward and simple portrait like this I feel that the viewer’s eye should be concentrated on the sitter’s face and unless there is real value in the background – for instance if it is putting the subject in context – then it is best cut down.

It is important to remember that even the most intelligent of crops cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

In this case the portrait was a good, sound image to begin with and well worth a little editing.

Irene’s portrait was taken with her Sony A380

  • ISO: 400
  • Shutter Speed: 1/8sec
  • Aperture: f/4
  • Lens: 70mm
Keep up the good work Irene and we look forward to seeing you on a Photography Holiday in Menorca

Why Menorca is Top for Photography Holidays

I’ve been sorting out some of the Photography Holiday pictures from Menorca and came across this simple silhouette image of the old windmill in the village of San Lluis.

This basic photograph sums up much of the essence of why we have been running these Photography Holidays in Menorca so successfully for the past 10 years, and why we will continue to do so.

photography holiday menorca windmill silhouette

A perfectly simple photograph taken on a Canon Ixus. Nothing in the least clever about it - just a matter of composing the image carefully and pressing the button. The camera looked after exposure. Photograph by Philip Dunn

It was taken on a compact camera after the end of one of the holidays when all the other photographers had returned home last year and Norene and I were strolling through the village of San Lluis one evening. We often do our shopping late in the evening when the shops are open again after siesta.

San Lluis is a great place to shop in real small shops where real shopkeekers still serve you.

Anyway, as we walked down the main street I saw the possibilities of the photograph of the silhouette of the old windmill and the outline of the fish. I had to take a picture.

Problem was, the best position from which to take the photograph was right in the middle of the street.

But this proved no problem at all. The cars simply stopped and waited for me to do what I needed to do. No panic, no hurry, no hooting car horns, waved fists or hurled abuse.

This gentle, laid-back attitude is the main reason why we run the Photography Holidays in Menorca – photographers are made welcome on this beautiful and photogenic island. It’s a the best place in the world to run a Photography Holiday with photographers who want to learn in a completely comfortable environment how to take better travel photographs.

So it’s not the subject of the photograph itself that makes me feel good about Menorca, it’s the way it was captured and the understanding Menorcan people who enabled me to capture it.

The May Photography Holiday is now fully booked, but there are still places available for the Photography Holiday in September – don’t miss out.



Street Photography Instant Rating System

Okay – here are some more pictures from that Sunday Times assignment photographed some years ago.

If you have been following the thread of these Street Photography posts you will be aware that the commission brief was to photograph Windsor, Eton and the River Thames nearby for The Sunday Times travel pages. I had just one day in which to get everything needed.

Gathering pictures under pressure like this requires considerable effort, tenacity and determination on the part of the photographer.

Street Photography Windsor

Dog walkers stop to chat in the avenue of trees in Windsor Park. You must be alert to these situations all the time you are out with your camera. Photograph by Philip Dunn

It may look easy – and judging by the standards of some of today’s Street Photography, it seems many photographers believe it is. But the techniques needed for success draw on many photographic disciplines – not least the ability to make the most of every opportunity, even those with only an outside chance of success.

Photographers who come on my Photography Courses and wish to expand their skills in this direction are introduced the Philip Dunn Street Photography Rating System. Yes, I like that – sounds very grand. Maybe I should patent it.

Street Photography Sunday Times

A couple of tourists brave the rain to watch the Guards at Windsor. Photograph by Philip Dunn

This is an assessment of every situation at the time with the aim of achieving a successful photograph from the possibilities in front of you. This instant assessment leads to a simple rating system – How much time shall I invest in this subject? The answer might be anything from a couple of minutes to much, much longer.

How you arrive at that decision is one of the techniques I teach to my more advanced students, so I’m afraid you will have to come on a Photography Course if you want the answers to that.

Street Photography Sunday Times

A very simple photograph intended to capture some of the atmosphere of the place - I can't remember whether this was Windsor or Eton. Photograph by Philip Dunn

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Learn how to take great photograph on a Photography Course or Photography Holiday with Philip Dunn

More Street Photography

Here is another photograph from that set of four contact print sheets I mentioned in my recent posts about Street Photography in Windsor and Eton.

B&W contact sheets of Sunday Times commission

The four sheets of black& white contact sheets for The Sunday Times Commission to photograph Windsor, Eton and the River Thames at Datchet nearb

Looking at the notes on the back of those contact prints I notice that The Sunday Times also asked me to photograph the River Thames at Datchet – and the photograph below was the result of that. It was the briefest of visits, time was very limited, and I remember being hugely pleased to have found this scene at the time.

Can this photograph be classified as Street Photography even though it is obviously a rural scene?  Yes, I believe it can.

For three reasons at least:

  • The main subject was totally unposed
  • It captures a live scene exactly as it happened
  • The picture is the result of using an opportunity as it presented itself
Street Photography for The Sunday Times

Totally unposed - this was a case of using an opportunity as it presented itself. This photograph has been published at least three times. Photograph by Philip Dunn

I said in one of those previous posts that the sum total of published images from the four films used on that assignment was 10. I was wrong – I have been counting up and I have reached a figure of 12 published images. Five of those images were published at least twice.

My sincere thanks to all those who have sent me your ideas for locations suitable for Street Photography. Please keep them coming – I am learning a great deal and it really will be a big help when I get down to planning a tour of Photography Workshops. Please just fill in the form below…

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Dramatic Landscapes for a Compact Camera

I’ve said before that I can’t help taking photographs. That’s why I always have at least my compact camera with me all the time.

Well, you never know when you’ll see something worth photographing.

This afternoon I pulled on my wellie boots and thick jacket and set off up the fields at the back of our house. It was tough going on the hill in the cattle-rutted soft ground. But I know that I am usually rewarded with a fantastic view when I get somewhere near the top.

landscape photograph with sunset and sheep

I can't resist capturing moments like this - especially when I'm out walking on a Sunday afternoon. So I always have a little compact camera with me. This was shot on my Canon Ixus. Photograph by Philip Dunn

So it was today. The sun was very low, golden-organge and spotlighting great beams of light through holes in black cloud. Of course I rooted out my little Canon Ixus and took a couple of snaps. But in reality they were just basic sunset sky pictures.

I little further on and the sheep appeared. Perhaps they thought I had come to feed them so they came quite close and stood staring at me expectantly.

For me it was the perfect opportunity to lift an ordinary sunset photograph into something much more interesting than a simple sunset.

Those sheep made an ideal foreground and the Canon Ixus has coped extremely well with the high contrast of the sky and shadow . The picture has had just a little cropping and a brief wipe across the sheep with the dodging tool. That’s all.

You really don’t need bags of expensive and heavy cameras to produce dramatic landscapes and worthwhile photographs.

Learn more about photography on a PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE WITH PHILIP DUNN


Philip Dunn’s Disabled student – Photography MA

Ian Farrant just happens to be severely disabled. He is one of my former photography students and I got wonderful news from him the other day. He’s gained his MA in Photography.

Bob by photographer Ian Farrant

Ian Farrant's simple poignant photograph of Chelsea Pensioner Bob. Photograph by Ian Farrant

Ian has gained his MA in Photography at the London Metropolitan University.

He sent me a link to The Telegraph website where one of his portfolio of photographs has been chosen for the London Photomonth – Most Captivating Photos. I have posted Ian’s picture here.

Ian wrote to me:
“Hi, Happy New Year – Thought I would share this. It all start with your teaching. Thank you.”

That short sentence – It all started with your teaching – makes this news extra special for me. It makes what I do so worthwhile when I can encourage someone to get moving on the road to success

Not that Ian needed much in the way of encouragement – he was a natural right from the start.

He was the very first disabled photographer I have taught. And Ian is very severely disabled after a terrible accident – but it mattered not a jot to his determination to succeed with his highly focused photography ambitions.

Where so many others might have given in, the thought of failure was never an option for Ian Farrant.

Ian is a member of The Disabled Photographers Society and the photograph of Bob is part of Ian’s ‘Veterans Portfolio’. You can see this on Ian’s website

Disabled Photographer Ian Farrant MA

Photographer Ian Farrant MA in Kirkcudbright during his One-to-One photography course with Philip Dunn

I am absolutely delighted for Ian and wish him every success for the future.

There is little doubt that we will be hearing much more about Ian and his photography.

Ian Farrant is the latest in a long list of photographers who have gained success after attending a photography course with him.

You can learn on a ONE-TO-ONE PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE with Philip Dunn