Introduction

Welcome to my photo blog! My aim is to put a new post up roughly once per week. If you click on a blog post’s title, you’ll find a place to  comment at the bottom of the page - I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Interesting photos of interesting things

I love finding good street art when I’m visiting a new place.  And of course, I photograph it.  So it’s quite easy for me to end up with lots of pictures of street art which, for someone who likes street art, might be interesting.  But they’re not necessarily interesting photos – if you see what I mean.  It can be a challenge to take interesting photos when the subject itself is interesting – to resist the temptation just to take a photo of the thing and have done with it. How can I make the actual photo interesting? … So as I was walking around Palma in Mallorca recently, finding fun street art, I tried to take photos of it which were more than just recording the piece of art.  I decided I’d try to get some context of the art – its surroundings, or the people nearby.  Here are a few attempts – do they work?!


Light and dark - the good and the bad

I’ve just had a nice few days away in sunny Palma, Mallorca.  The low 20s temperature in November was a nice contrast to the chillier UK weather.  A couple of the days had very bright sun - lovely holiday weather, but not always a photographer’s choice.  Strong sun can produce harsh shadows and strong contrast which can be difficult to deal with - it’s not always ideal photography light.  But it can be put to good advantage, using the shadows to create more dramatic images, using reflected sun (or even shooting into the sun - though be very careful how you do this) to produce nice star patterns (perhaps shooting at high f number, e.g. f22 - small apertures - to produce this effect).  Below are a few images I took using these sort of effects - they often work well in greyscale to show the contrast up to best effect.


All In A Day’s Work - Eve Arnold

I enjoy trying to take ‘Environmental portraits’ - portraits of people in their environment, that give them some context and help to tell their story.  So it was nice to find, in a rather higgledy-piggledy second-hand bookstore, a book of photographs of people at work taken over many years by Magnum photographer Eve Arnold (you can learn more about her here). The book has 150 images of people in their working context in China, Egypt, England, Canada, the US, South Africa and many other places.  The shots are natural, candid, largely unposed, and primarily of ordinary people (with a few celebs thrown in). Most look to be taken in natural light (something Eve Arnold was noted for), and those that are most striking, for me, are those where the light is highlighting the face or producing nice ‘chiaroscuro’ contrast on the face. A great collection of environmental portraits that show the characters of her subjects and the world of their work.


Low light photography

The setting is a dark church.  It’s well into the evening - night outside - so no light is coming in through the windows. For ‘ambience’ most of the main church lights aren’t on either - a few giving some pools of light around some musicians, a small number of very select other lights scattered around.  People are seated at tables throughout the church with various activities - some music, a short talk or two, a small drama - taking place during the evening to publicise a charity working in Africa and to raise money for it.  It’s a very friendly atmosphere - but not so great for a photographer!

How to take photos well in this situation? Not so easy. I still want to aim, as much as possible, for nice images. For me, that’s about still making sure I think about composition, and looking at how light is falling.  And trying as much as possible still to get sharp images, without motion blur. Oh, and I’m trying not to use flash - just because it disturbs people, draws attention to itself, and isn’t great when people are giving talks or doing drama.

So what do I do? I’m sure others will have their own methods, but here’s my recipe!

- Fix the ISO setting on the camera.  It’s going to be quite high - 1600 or maybe even 3200.  But for me, the key thing is to fix it and not let it run wild on auto - that way lies potentially very noisy images.

- I then tend to shoot in shutter priority mode.  I want to control the shutter speed, because if it goes too low I’ll struggle to get sharp images with either me or the people I’m photographing moving.  I find that, using my 70-200mm lines, I fix my shutter speed at around 1/100th of a second.  I might sometimes see if I can get away with 1/80th or even 1/60th, but I’ll need to prop myself against a pillar in these cases, try to take shots when the subject isn’t moving too much, and make sure I’ve got several shots under my belt so I can pick the best one sharpness-wise.

- I let the camera pick the aperture. I could be in full manual mode, but might not have time to adjust things when taking candid pics.  Very often the camera will default to the widest aperture - and so be it!  That can produce nice depth of field effects anyway.

- I’m fortunate in that my 70-200 lens has a widest aperture of f2.8, so lets in a reasonable amount of light.  I like this lens as I can stand a little way back and not disturb people.  But if I need to, I’ll use a ‘faster’ lens which can let in even more light through having a bigger aperture still (I’m fortunate enough to have an f1.4 85mm lens - but Canon do a very good and inexpensive 50mm f1.8 lens). Oh, and image stabilisation on, if your lens or camera has it.

- and then finally, take care in processing not to sharpen images so much that the noise comes out.  Ideally, you don’t want to brighten too much either, as this will also bring out the noise, but it sometimes can’t be avoided.

Well - that’s what I do.  Any thoughts on this? - what works for you?

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