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Monday, 16 June 2014

Being Brave Will Open New Doors

One of the most frequent questions I am asked about street portraits is how do I go about asking, there are a few more posts in this blog that covers this but I will explain the easiest/hardest part.

Its a case of simply being brave, or as I used to say growing some balls.

Many people can and do take candid shots, myself included but there is always something missing, that is a personal connection between the photographer and the subject. No matter how you try you will never get that from a candid shot, you have not spoken to them, you know really nothing of them apart from they passed you by.

You can only achieve that connection by stopping them and talking with them. When you do you find so much out it enlightens both your day and theirs, this will be reflected in the image, they are looking at you, they are making eye contact and therefor making eye contact with the audience of the image. That moment of contact you have with the subject is passed onto the viewer. Nothing will draw an audience into your shot more than a feeling that being part of it, some of the more powerful shots do just that and that's the reason they work so well.

But it does not come easy, you have to be able to make that first contact and be prepared for rejection but rejection I have found is far and few between and all the contacts you make far outweigh the no's.

So sometimes its a case of taking a deep breath and stride forward and just do it, I can guarantee the first time will be the worse, the more you do it the easier and more comfortable it becomes. I also guarantee that it will open new doors and you will make so many new friends, even if it is briefly.

Take this shot, I was walking through Liverpool and he walked past with his wife, I turned and gently tapped him on his shoulder and said excuse me but I just love the way you look. From that point on I went on to have a conversation with John and his wife, he is 59 years old, not only with multiple piercings but covered in tattoos with his Keith Flint hairstyle. I asked if he had been an old school punk such as myself as there is only 6 years between us, to my amazement he said no, three years ago he just decided he wanted to be different and set out altering his body.

Now that simply made my day, we all talked for a little while longer and I asked if I could take his portrait. The eye contact, that very slight smile and his body adornments just made this image for me.

Step out of your comfort zone and go make a friend even if it is only briefly.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Growing Up Without HDR

Is HDR becoming outdated and as photographers can we survive without it?

I recall when I first got into photography in 2006 HDR was one of the new editing tool to hit the market, I saw images created by others and wanted to know how it was done. I found one of the programs and started to use it. It was at the time amazing, the way you could play with details, light shadows and so was wonderful. I jumped in with full gusto, everything went through the HDR route, no matter the subject.

Then I noticed some of the issues we had, noise, halos, harshness and seeing these in both my own images and others I set about trying to refine the whole editing process, I used HDR was an editing tool along with others not a stand alone This gave me results that differed from others and I was asked on several occasions if the images I produced were HDR or not. At that stage when people were no longer sure I figured I must be getting something right.

Over time though other things start to change, other editing software such as Nix Color Efex and the rest of their plug in within CS, OnOne Photo Effects, PhotoTools Pro to name but a few more came along and were all game changers in their own right. They could do more than simple HDR conversions and if used right the subtle changes to an image made that image extraordinary.

Over time I changed as well, I got fed up of harsh course HDR images produced and so my reliance on this editing software has reduced to the point I now rarely use it.

Why? Because with time I learnt what my camera can and can't do, the importance of the right lenses, the right time of the day to get the right light, where to position the light in regards to the subject. I looked at my ability to post edit, my capabilities in making more subtle changes but more of them to bring the extra depth to an image I craved.

HDR became a lazy way out, for me and so many others, take an image but don't worry about it too much, we can shove it through any HDR post editing tool and make it stand out.  Some worked, others though stood out for the wrong reasons.

If you are going to use HDR then find a way of incorporating it into your work flow, don't make the mistake of making it the be all and end all of everything you do, it simply does not work.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Photographing The Homeless, Why And How


A question I get a lot but lets tackle the one issue most talk to me about the why.

The Morality Of It

This is where a lot of people struggle and I did myself, for a long while I used to simply watch the homeless going about their business but doing little. Then I began to interact, at the end of the day they are no different to me, all that has happened is that somewhere something went wrong. When I spoke to many of them I began to realise that so many had stories to tell but very few if any would give them the time of the day to listen. 

So I had to question the morality of it and the morality of myself and don't get me wrong it was not an easy resolution to come to. But someone needs to document these people, someone needs to show they are as human as you or me, just because they have no home, sleep on the streets, ask for money does not give them a lower standing in our species nor does it give those that walk blindly by the right to feel they are superior.

So I talk to them, I spend time with them, if they are sat on the pavement I sit with them, I help with anything I can. I show them I am no different to them, shaking a dirty hand does not bother me, its only dirt, the smell of someone who has not been able to wash does not make me adverse to them, it only saddens me. 

The morality is, it has to be done, it has to be shown, we have to come to terms that just maybe we are not as civillised as we think we are. I will not allow these people to be forgotten, its as simple as that.



Its the first thing you have to think of, your own safety, do not ever put yourself in a situation you cannot get out of. I have spent a lot of time in my life simply people watching, I have spent time with the homeless too. You get to know when its OK to approach someone but if you are unsure watch from a distance. If there is a lot of erratic behaviour then you have to be aware there might be more going on than your realise. Simply if you are not sure then don't.

Your Approach

Smile, it can open most minds if you simply smile at someone, its disarming and although they may still be wary of you the first contact of a smile will start the ice breaking.

Say Hi, how are you? and they will respond, if they are sat low such as on the ground then get low yourself, hold out your hand and introduce yourself. I have never had anyone refuse to shake my hand yet, its human contact its something they miss and its such an easy gift to give to them. 

Don't have your camera in full view, that will make overly cautious and maybe unresponsive, but don't try and completely cover it up as they may have the same effect. Be casual about the fact you even have it. 

Don't jump right in and ask for the image, to me that is immoral, chat with them, ask their name, ask them why they are on the streets and how long they have been on the streets for.

Ask what you can do to help, do they need something warm to eat or help finding a hostel, (yes I have done this a few times). Depending on their answer as to why they are on the streets be wary about the offer of money, if its drink and drugs go down the route of warm food and a drink but at the end of the day who are we to say they should not be numbed from what they are living through. 

The Photograph

You cant just ask, you have to have a reason as I will guarantee they will ask you why so you need to have an answer. I have people ask me if I am the police, a weirdo and more, I explain that I think its morally wrong that people in this day and age are living on the streets. I tell them I use their portraits and their stories to make those that live in ivory towers realise this is still happening. They want people to know what they are having to live through, they want them to know they don't want to be on the streets but they just cant seem to get off them.

Do make sure your camera is set up before you even approach them, nothing will frustrate them more if you start mucking about with it too much in full view of the public.

I personally ask them to look at me, that way when you the viewer see their portrait you can see them, the way I see them. 

Once you have taken the portrait don't just say thanks get up and go, once again that's morally wrong, this person has just shared part of their lives with you, as stated before a lot of time they miss human contact, give them that and sit and spend some time with them. I have sat and eaten hot dogs with them, I have laughed when some go on to tell me jokes or some of the things they have gotten up to. I have read a book with a very learned well spoken gentleman, I have gleaned more from them than I did any teacher I ever met.

Ask if they would like a copy of the image, some will, most won't, they don't really want to be reminded of this time in their life and who could blame them?

Before you go always thank them, always shake their hands and wish them well, I never say I hope to see you again, I don't want to see anyone like this again, I hope if I ever do see them again they are sorted but I can only hope.

So, first and foremost when you go off in your quest to photograph the homeless you are not dealing with subjects, you are dealing with human beings, get this right and it will show in what you want to show the world.  

Thursday, 9 January 2014

How Make It As A Social Media Photographer

I'm not an expert, in fact I'm not even a professional photographer, as the saying goes I work for a living ;) but for some reason I have become both successful and well known as a social media photographer.  This has meant over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to amass a fairly large following after being picked up buy both Google+ and Facebook.

After the initial rush things began to settle down and I have managed to maintain the following I have but I have a few rules that I abide by and I think that has helped me. I'll share these rules that I work by and its up to you if you want to use them or not, I'm not here to teach granny to suck eggs!

1/ Don't Overdo It

There so many social sites out there and a lot now offer the ability to showcase your work, join them all and you will spend the rest of your time bouncing from one site to another trying to keep track, eventually you will burn out. Your a photographer, yes you need to showcase your work but you need to be able to get out there and take the images first, you cant do that sat in front of your PC screen all the time. See what each site has to offer, join if need be and use that as a place marker in case that's the site for you. Limit yourself though to a few, I myself predominantly use G+ and Facebook and link my Facebook posts to Twitter.

2/ Limit Your Posts

Some feel they need to flood social streams with as many images as possible everyday, others will simply get fed up of seeing your work. I limit myself to one, maybe two and every now and then three posts a day but rarely more than one to two images a day. Keep them wanting more, over saturate the market and your audience will simply become blind to your work.

3/ Be Consistent

While you limit yourself as above try though to post on a regular basis, I try to post once a day at least, as above where your audience gets fed up of seeing your work, if though you fall of the face of the earth for too long they can soon forget your work too. Stay around as long as you can but not to the detriment to your real life.

4/ Like What You Post

If you like it then nine times out of ten others will too, we are our own worse critics and we do at times need to listen to that inner voice, don't post it up just for the sake of posting something. Post it up because you are proud to do so.

5/ Give Your Images A Title

I talk a lot about the images I take, its just the way I am, not everyone is that way, some prefer for the images to speak for themselves and I enjoy that as well. At the very least though give the image a title, I see so many images that have been uploaded with nothing but the date it was taken, tells me nothing and if I'm honest, I'm inclined not to bother looking. 

6/ You Cant Answer Everything

So don't try and don't beat yourself up over it, I tried and failed miserably but be polite, I leave a thank you post in each post I put up to those that have taken the time to look, share and respond. I would be here for too long and photography would end up on the back burner.

7/ Expect The Trolls

They will come out from their humpty backed bridges and poke you and everyone else near you with big stick because, well its just how they get their kicks. Leave them to it, they want a reaction and if you sully it they will feed off it and starve you of the will to live. The beauty of most social sites now is that you can self moderate. Don't be afraid to use it, get a troll, delete the post, they come back, delete the post again and block the user, can you image how maddening that is for them :D Be aware though in the cyber world we have many different cultures, someone may say something without really understanding what it means and may well mean no offense. 

So that's it, fairly simply and it seems to work for me, take from this what you will and remember, be safe out there!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

What Will Make You Different?

At present we have a world population of just under 7.2 billion people and growing so fast you cannot keep up with it. Just so you can get a grip of it that's 7,200,000,000 people of which you are one.

Next there is the fact that the number of active mobile (cell) phones will exceed the world population by next year, estimated to be 7.3 billion, or if you like to see it this way 7,300,000,000.

That means every man woman and child may have the capability to be a photographer! Of which you are one!

If we take into account say only 1%  of those consider themselves to be serious about photography that means there is estimated to be 72,000,000 serious photographers in the word of which you are one!

What is going to make you different enough to stand out?

Being a photographer is easy, we all do it, we look through a viewfinder at a subject and hit the shutter button and hey presto, you are a photographer, even phones make that nice little sound of a shutter movement even though its only part of the program and has nothing to do with the function, we just like to hear it.

Being different is were it gets harder.

Most are happy to take snapshots of their lives and families and cherish those memories they have but others want to do more than take snapshots, so they move on, they can chose to become one of hundreds of different genres within photography.

All the time though you are vying for position with others working within the same genre and the wealth of talent we have makes that a tough game to be in at times. So we have to be different enough to stand out.

But how?

You have to be able to see more, the most important tool you have is yourself, too many times photographers get bogged down with the need to have the right kit when they forget they were born with the right kit. We have to see what is hidden within the mundane and to feel it before we see it. Only by using all the senses we have can we make what we create stand out. Life will throw little nuances at you and you may glimpse them from the corner of your eye but you have to be ready to capture those nuances before they go.

I do this by looking at the world around me as if I am looking through a viewfinder and I want to frame it, this way I see the composition in everything and even if I am not taking photographs I am rehearsing for the times I will. So I see the movement of hair on people in the street, I see how the light reflects upon the faces. The dew upon the grass at my feet will catch the early morning sun and I need to catch the dew as it does.

If you want your work to stand out then use what you already have, you, yes its nice to have all the right kit but if you only use both it and yourself in auto mode then you are only using 10% of its and your potential.

Look deeper, look longer, understand more.

  • 7,200,000,000
  • 7,200,000,000

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Being A Social Media Photographer

So, what the hell am I rambling on about now?

I have been going through a lot of changes of late, one is on how to take my photography to the next level but I'm not sure how to do that, one thing is I have been told time and time again I need to expand my online presence. But why do I have to expand it that much I can no longer control it.

I have in the past been a member of a lot of sites but in the end I had to pare them down as I simply could not keep track of everything going on. So I remain with the two big social sites were I upload my images and I find it easier to interact, it works for me but may not for everyone.

But whats wrong with being very active within the social media as a photographer?

Nothing, when Google+ came onto the scene just over two years ago it really upped the game, certainly were photographers were concerned. Their lightbox for images was not seen before on any other social media site and it attracted photographers en mass, me included. When G+ realised what they stumbled upon they geared themselves up for the artists of social media world.


Because we attract audiences, people want to see images, the web was designed for it in one way, whether it be for the users that wanted titillation through online porn or the more serious viewer that wanted to see art. Social media was and has been a great way of getting exposure for those of us that practice our art.

Since G+ arrived Facebook has had to up its game too but has a long way to go to beat the lightbox of G+, quality of uploads is still an issue with Facebook but its still a valuable tool in regards to social media so it cannot be written off, I remember when G+ first came out a lot of people thought it would be the death knell for Facebook buts its still going strong, goes to show there is a place for two big hitters as each delivers something different.

Do not write off social media, its a stronger tool than you realise, it has the potential to change not only your outlook but that of the people that see your work, use it to its full potential and it will reward you tenfold. Yes I still need a personal website and its being sorted as we speak but no personal web site is ever going to bring the exposure social media can, ignore it and you are losing out, big time.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Patience Is A Virtue.

Or so they tell me, I am probably the most impatient person alive, I refuse to get on public transport unless I really have to as its just too slow.

One thing that has taught me about patience is photography, more so street photography, why?

Under normal circumstances you don't really need patience to take most street shots, you have to be quick thinking as most of it can pass you by before you know it. So once you are set up it can be a case of spotting something and firing off a succession of shots of the subject.

There are times though such as this image when you have to learn patience and slow everything down. I saw him walk up to where I was sat, I spied the pipe in his hands and watched where he was heading, fortunately he chose to sit on the same bench as me. Now I don't smoke but I know if you are carrying a pipe in your hand and you have just sat down there is a good chance you will smoke it.

I stood up and walked to a point where I was close enough to take some shots but far enough away so as not to influence anything he may do. I watched as he started to light his pipe and fired off some shots but I knew I could get better shots so I waited a little longer, he fired his pipe up again, something common with pipe smokers is that you have to keep relighting. I got down a little to get on his level then as he was puffing away I waited. There was going to be that one moment when everything fell into place. How did I know, simple gut feeling and from doing this so often before.

Then it happened, with one mighty blow he surrounded himself with smoke and click I got the shot I wanted. It did not matter what happened for the rest of the day I knew I had my shot.

By simply watching what was happening around me I saw him and saw an opportunity and then by taking my time and waiting for that right moment I feel I managed to capture one of the best street portraits I have taken in a long while.

Patience can really be a virtue at times.