Journal of a Photographer


Family photos: in the woods and in the home

Filed under: photography — admin @ 19:27

Over a year ago, my friend David asked me about having some family photos done. He had booked me for some business portraits (that’s a pun, it was for a book jacket author’s photo :-) and he wanted to roll that in to a family photo session. I don’t actively pursue family photo commissions (business portraiture and studio product photography are my bread and butter), but I do so love doing them, and I’m very grateful that David and his wife would trust me with this very important event in the life of his young family.

It took a looong time to schedule, but at last I found myself many miles from home (east, beyond the M25, the absolute boonies for someone who lives in west London!) in some absolutely amazing woods, and then in their home, where I’d set up a full studio for a bit more control. Well, as much “control” as I could get with two bright, but oh so cheeky, kids, and their rather headstrong dog. In the end, I delivered a carefully edited mix of portraits and “in the moment” candids to David and his family.

I’m quite proud of the results (especially the very rare smiles I got from David, a genuine triumph :-)

More photos after the jump.





Filed under: photography, wisdom — admin @ 14:08

“A good photograph is one that contains the whole moment around it.” Catherine Bailey




One Beautiful Thing: squirrel

Filed under: photography — admin @ 20:15

Every day I walk through the local park here in London to the tube station, and the squirrels always run up, looking for a handout.

I’ve photographed them a few times before: with long lenses, fisheye lenses and even extra lighting, but always with them in their natural surroundings. This time I wanted to shoot them in a studio environment. Inconveniently, they’re not tame enough for me to bring them back to my studio (and no Pied Piper was to hand), so I brought the studio to them, and below is the result. I actually got several shots of this little guy in typical “squirrel” poses, but this one stands out for me:




One Beautiful Thing: buttercup

Filed under: photography — admin @ 11:12

A simple one this week: a buttercup in the local park.

This little flower was one of thousands, I’m sure; the grass was dotted with little yellow dots as I walked through the park on the way home. I shot a few from straight above, but I didn’t get something I really liked until I lay right down and shot from underneath (and got a muddy arm and leg for my trouble :-)

These are tiny flowers, it took a macro lens and several stacked photos to get the detail on the edge of the petal (don’t know what “stacked” means? Ask in the comments and I’ll detail).

Cloudy day made for perfect colours. Gotta like that!



The One Beautiful Thing project

Filed under: photography — admin @ 12:38

I’ve decided to begin a weekly project, which I am calling “One Beautiful Thing“. The plan is to shoot one thing that I find beautiful, every week. Could be a model, a product, a rock, a landscape, or anything that catches my eye and my imagination. It could be inherently beautiful, or, I hope, it’ll become beautiful under my tender care (either in or out of the studio).

This week it’s a leaf I found in a nearby park 4 or so years ago.

Being Canadian, I am partial to the maple tree (sadly, called “Plane trees” here in the UK) and this huge leaf was sitting on the ground in front of me as I walked through the grass on my way home (my memory may be playing tricks on me though, it’s quite possible that this leaf is one that my son spotted for me!). It had recently fallen, and was yellow and green, and still soft. I brought it back to the studio and hung it up in a sheltered corner where I promptly forgot about it. A couple of years later I rediscovered it in its present form, and it’s been the back of my mind ever since and it was the first thing I thought of shooting when I began this project. I love the shape and texture!

For the technically minded (shout out to Strobists): I hung it from the ceiling with black thread and lit it with a gridded strip box about 120° to camera left, balanced by a white reflector on the other side. The hard part was dealing with how it never stopped slowly rotating on that thread :-) Post-processing was a matter of removing the thread, rotating it -90°, and playing with luminance masks (differently for the colour and black & white treatments). They make very nice prints.

leaf in studio, black & white

leaf in studio, black & white

leaf in studio

leaf in studio



Lovely model Monica Wong. Thanks Twitter!

Filed under: photography — admin @ 16:15

A brief look into my Twitter feed the other evening found a message by model Monica Wong saying she was free the next day for a photoshoot, and was anybody interested? Brilliant, I was just going to do a casting for a test shoot! A few quick texts back and forth, and we were set.

Given the very short notice, our original plan was to work outside, but I happened to be walking past our local gastro-pub, “The Idle Hour” that night (brilliant food and atmosphere, highly recommended) and I remembered that they have a beautiful upstairs lounge. A quick word with Janga, the very friendly manager, and we were set (yay, no freezing outdoors!).

Monica and I didn’t have a lot of time to come up with a theme for our shoot, so we went with something simple: “stood up on a date” (Monica made sure I knew that she’s never actually been stood up on a date :-) She wore the classic little black dress, did her own hair and makeup “date style”, and we ran through a few scenarios to show her range. She was a genuine pleasure to work with!

For the technical geeks, the key light was a gridded 70cm beauty dish on a 500J monobloc set to give f/5.6-f/8. Fill light was ambient (1/60 @ ISO250) plus another 500J monobloc bounced off the ceiling/walls to bring up the room to f/2.8 (it was pretty dark where there was no sun. The bounced light gave quite a purple light due to the colour of the room, but I liked the look.




A Family photo session

Filed under: photography — admin @ 23:52

Lovely to work in my studio with Rachel, Jamie, Zephanie and brand-new Xyrissa today! (wish her a happy 8-days-old everyone!).




Albert Watson, wisdom

Filed under: photography — admin @ 10:38

I’m reading the excellent book: “Photo Wisdom: Master Photographers on their Art” (full of interviews insights and photos, all collated by Lewis Blackwell). Albert Watson wrote something that really resonates with me:

“Why is my work so diverse? If I see a landscape that I think is amazing, I take a picture. If Rolling Stone ask me to photograph Bruce Springsteen…I do it. It is interesting and I enjoy photographing people. If I find something interesting to shoot, I shoot it.”

EXACTLY!!! “If I find something interesting to shoot, I shoot it.”

Rolling Stone hasn’t called, yet, but I can’t express how much sense this makes to me. There is a lot of pressure on photographers to specialise (at least those that want to make a living taking photos), and I’ve been strongly resisting that idea. It’s natural for me to bring every part of myself to the process of making a photo, of any subject: a portrait, an amazing building, a nude in the studio, a sunrise landscape, an urban detail.

It’s refreshing, and liberating, to read that such a talented photographer feels the same way.



What’s easy/What’s hard

Filed under: on the job, personal, photography — Tags: , , — admin @ 18:53

When I look back on my photographic career (whether I look a day, a month, or even years back), “what’s easy” and “what’s hard” hasn’t changed.




I am being defeated by snowdrops

Filed under: personal, photography — admin @ 19:30

There are some snowdrops in a nearby park. Delicate, tiny little flowers, they are achingly beautiful.

It’s a huge patch, and they catch my eye every time I walk by. I’ve watched them come up for three years now (last year, they poked their heads through actual snow!), and I’ve been desperate to get a photo of them that does justice to how they make me feel.

Well, have I got that photo? No! I’ve shot them from above and from below, I’ve shot them with the late evening sun sweeping over them and through them, I’ve shot them on wonderfully cloudy days, I’ve shot them in the rain and snow, I’ve crawled in the mud to get them from below, I’ve used macro lenses, normal lenses, 200mm telephoto lenses, even a wide-angle tilt-shift lens. I’ve used my big cameras, and my little ones, and I’ve shot them in natural and artificial light. I still haven’t got a photo that really captures them! (no “wow” factor, and there needs to be a wow factor, they’re that beautiful).

When I’m wandering around with a camera, and something catches my eye, I pause, take a good look, and ask myself why I noticed that scene/object/person. What exactly made me stop and look twice? I then try to emphasise that in a photo. These little snowdrops catch my eye every time I walk past them, I always pause at least for a moment (or an hour :-) to contemplate. I still haven’t identified just what it is about these flowers, I know there is a photograph there, I just haven’t found it yet.

The subject line for this post is “I am being defeated by snowdrops”, but I am not yet defeated! They’re just about finished for this year, but I know exactly where they come up and, next year, I’ll get that shot! (I know it :-)


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