Go Pro

Why do I take pictures?

Fun. What an easy and predictable answer that is! I’ll be more specific: photography is something that allows the creative bit of my brain to have an outlet. It also serves as a method to express my interests and the things that matter to me into a pictorial form. To document this stage in my life. Much as a journalist uses language, photographers use images captured on a sensor/film.

Photography is also so vast that it allows me to learn about all it’s beautiful little intricacies and history. Going to a gallery or exhibition is a great way to learn what people in the past have discovered about photography and is such an amazing source of inspiration.

As cliched or existential, as it may seem, my photographs are an extension of me. There’s no outside influence, no agenda, no prejudices but my own. That’s important in producing these images.

With all this in mind, why not ‘go Pro’? Why not get paid for doing something I enjoy? For me the answer is pretty straightforward. The pictures I take, are for me. For the reasons covered above, I get to make every single artistic decision in the images. I don’t have to satisfy any client requirement. I get to take the pictures whenever I want and to take as long as I want. That final image that you see is as close to the one in my mind, as I can make it.

Throughout these last few years, my family have been encouraging and supportive of my photographic hobby and in a highly competitive world, to rely on photography as a sole means of income would place unnecessary stress on myself and my family. I would never put my family’s happiness and wellbeing in jeopardy for a hobby.

This post is not here to discourage anyone who wants to or already does make a living from photography (quite the opposite, in fact) but this is just how I view the ‘Pro’ aspect. I would like to think that whether I’m paid to take photos or not, I always approach every single shot with a ‘Pro’ attitude. Hopefully, every image presented will have that for the viewer to see.

Horror

My next project will explore the themes of Horror and Evil. I'm a film buff. I've seen a variety of horror films over the years. 'Gore' and blood may provide shock value but this only provides temporary thrills. The stuff that truly terrifies, is the type that offers the viewer very little hope. Hope that they can escape. Hope that something can be stopped. Hope that they can understand and apply a reason to their fear. When you remove that hope, all you are left with is an endless cycle of terror.  That's something I wish to explore.  Think about it: 99% of horror films you've seen goes like this: 

Something (or multiple) scary happens;  Things move/appear/die etc

A reason is given for the 'scary-ness'.  A person was murdered and is now seeking revenge etc

The rest of the film is dedicated to resolving the reason; A the murderer is brought to justice etc

Unfortunately in the celluloid medium, its difficult to remove/deviate from that formula but photography offers us something different: it does not necessarily need to resolve a story.   It can be used to place an idea in the viewer - a one-off that relies on the viewer to make their own mind up. Hope can be removed from the equation. By it's very nature, a photograph, with it's framing, is already a very claustrophobic experience. The Exorcist works in this way. A lot of the time, we are stuck in the room or the house with Regan. Having exterior scenes in that film provides us with a relief from the trauma inside that room.

Films like Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity and The Exorcist play with the idea that evil has a history and this too, is an interesting sub-theme to explore. The idea that it has always been around and continues to lurk on the periphery of 'normal' society. It will definitely be a fun concept to explore.

Socially, we are taught and encouraged to help one another; to further Humankind but there are people who don't want to help. They just want to harm others for the sake of just being evil.  Just as most of us do things for love, there are others who will do things just to be nasty and spiteful.

The primary aim of this project is to produce a scary set of photographs. Disturbing a viewer's mindset would be the ultimate challenge and it's one I hope I can achieve with this project.

The Iron Man Gallery

Creative writers often cite the mantra: write about what you know. It is certainly something that I find useful when approaching photographic subjects. While its true, that we should occasionally break from our norm to spark our creative streak, generally speaking - it's the things we consider our passions that we find most inspiring.

From a young age, the comic book world has always held a certain appeal to me. Books in general. For a young mind, words may be difficult to understand but images and artwork make understanding easier. As I got older, my appreciation of the artwork itself and the storytelling that accompanies it became a source of fascination and wonderment.

The Superheroes (and villans) are exaggerated versions of normal people - some may have incredible powers but it is their exploits, character and adventures that really held my attention.  Most have flaws like you or I but it is their capacity to become great and realise their potential which serves as inspirational figures. The characters lend themselves well to television and cinema too.  There have been many incarnations of these heroes and villains depicted on screen to varying degrees of success. Many are big budget productions that do their best to re-create the amazing visions of the artists.

All of which leads me to the my own project. I wanted to make photographs of superheroes in a cinematic manner; produce a set of photos, which I felt, would convey those amazing pages and dynamic films.  I did not have the super budgets of a Hollywood studio so I would have to improvise. During my research, I came across the Star Wars pictures of Cedric Delsaux (www.cedricdelsaux.com) and the scale model photography of Felix Hernandez Rodriguez (www.hernandezdreamphotography.com). They showed what could be achieved with the right combination concept, editing, lighting and careful planning.

I settled on one character in particular, Iron Man/Tony Stark. The main reason for this, is that Iron Man himself looks a little like a toy model himself. Photographing someone like the Hulk or Wonder Woman would be quite problematic for me, given the amount skin textures on show. I acquired a scale model and set about coming up with concepts and ideas. As an added bonus, the model also has a very realistic face which would come in very useful when doing the shots with the mask off.

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Now the great thing about comicbook (or 'graphic novel' - if you're more grown up) characters is that there is an abudance of imagery already available on the internet to spark ideas. This really was the most fun part of the whole project for a comic fan like myself! Seeing great artwork and having scale model toy to mess around with! Once the ideas had been written down it was time to actually do some photography.

Iron Man launching through the clouds was the first scene I tried. It is the only shot where the figurine was not shot on location together with the background. The clouds were shot first. This image was rotated upside down so that the clouds looked like the were shot from above. Lighting the model separately turned out to be a chore. Simulating the light reflecting off the clouds  was difficult. Not impossible but certainly requires a greater workload.

The shot with St. Paul's and the Millenium Bridge was based around the idea to put Iron Man in a scene which had been photographed (probably) millions of times by people. It's a very recogniseable vista to anyone familiar with London. Just by having Iron Man in the picture would hopefully do enough to set it apart. Its shot entirely on location but with two photographs composited together. The motion blur was done post edit but could have easily been done with a bit of panning. Iron Man was slightly lit with a hand held light. The area is very popular with tourists and I'm sure that I'm in plenty of people's holiday photos now...

The next two shots with Tony Stark's/Robert Downey Jr's face were a lot more straightforward. Shot indoors. Two flashlights either side, equal power, dome diffusers on and angled slightly back towards the camera. The shot of the model holding the mask needed a softboxed flash as fill. The other had the softbox overhead and slightly behind just to subtly light the mask on top of the head. Its actually easier to light a scale model as opposed to a real life human because the lights are a lot easier to control. A little flash suddenly becomes quite a big light source.  The poses were not what I originally had in mind.  The original pose wasn't really working well so I decided to change my idea up a little and the perserverance paid off with the almost Hamlet-esque image.  So from the initial frustration, came my two favourite images of the set.

The final shot of Iron Man coming into land was shot with the figure balanced on the roof of my garage, about 7ft above me. I used a 50mm lens just to keep the perspective from being too crazy. I exposed for the sky then just added a little pop of light to fill in the missing detail. Looking back, I should have used a white card instead of overcomplicating the shot with a light. Again it was a composited shot, the clouds and light were just a little too far to the left to be used as a one shot background.

This set of images were a lot of fun to produce. It also involved a very steep learning curve for me in terms of processing the images. I will probably add to this set in the future as there are still a couple of ideas I'd like to explore. From start to finish, it took about six months to complete. It was quite a time/cost intensive project but I'm very happy with how the images have turned out.

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Goals

A photo of mine made it into The Observer recently and it was a really big thrill.  Seeing it in a newspaper and having someone acknowledging your work is a very nice incentive.  It used to be that winning a competition at my local Camera Club also gave me the same feeling - although that appears to have slightly waned - mainly because ultimately, there is no particular payoff there.  Its a nice ego boost but that's about it.  So perhaps its time to think about what I want from photography and to set some goals.

I've always liked going to the major photography awards that we have here in the UK.  It's a very inspirational thing to see another photographer's work and see what they like to shoot and the things that matter to them.  So I think that would be a pretty cool objective to set - see one of my photographs in a major gallery (may as well set the bar high, right??).  There's a long way to go yet but I do think this is a nice long term objective.

When I first started, 'Street' photography was my main genre of photography and while I still enjoy this, I've done it less and less.  The aspect I enjoyed, was showing my hometown as I saw it.  Sometimes it looks spectacular and sometimes its looks grimy and dirty but its always beautiful.  So 'documenting London' will be an ongoing theme for me.

Its been roughly five years since I started taking my photography a bit more seriously so now would be a good time to do a 'retrospective'.  I think this will take the form of a photobook.  Now, anyone who has made one of these will know it's quite a long and labourious process - it may take a year to produce!  The book will serve a few purposes: it will be a nice record of the shots I have taken; it will remind me of how far I have come and what I'm capable of; the photos used in the book will have a purpose instead of just sitting on the hard drive/internet; It should also bring back nostalgia for me (most of the photos will have involved a 'journey' of some kind).

Human portraiture. I don't think any other type of photography fascinates me more than this.  The styles involved in this are limitless.  The faces of people are so unique and capturing a person in a manner in which you see them is such a challenge.  So more portraiture - although how this will manifest itself in a goal remains to be decided.

So there you have it.  Some goals to achieve!  I'd like to revisit this post in a year or so and just see how far along I am....

My image "Ronnie Scott's At Night"  is in the bottom right hand corner...Its also in this gallery

Broken

Broke a lens t'other day. Had a couple of options: 

1. Do nothing (except maybe cry). 

2. Buy another one. 

3. Hire. 

4. Repair. 

I went with a combination of options 3 & 4. Fuji do have a quick turnaround on their repairs but I couldn't take the risk with a photography trip looming. Went with Lenses For Hire and they were excellent. Very easy process from start to finish.  

Just as a little side note, the cost of repair of the lens was £100, which I didn't think was too bad... 

#Photo24london

Bit of a gap since the last post.  Completed a photoshoot organised by those lovely people at Bright Publishing, Photo24 - photograph for 24 hours in London.  A fantastic blend of discovery, endurance, photography, meeting like minded people and of course, caffeine!  A lucky weekend to shoot with the Anti Austerity March, lovely weather, a visit to The Shard and just having an adventure in one of the greatest cities!

The photos are up on the Projects section of the gallery. Click here to see the pics...

Inspiration

Went to see 2 exhibitions today: "Drawn By Light" at the Science Museum and Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.  Two amazing shows and going to these ALWAYS inspire new ideas (photos from over 100 years ago CAN do that!).  One thought did cross my mind: What do I do with my images? Put them on Facebook? Put them on here? Enter competitions at my Camera Club? Wouldn't it be cool to get something on a wall at the Sony World Photography Awards?? Now obviously, I'm not an idiot and I do realise the chances of actually getting picked are remote BUT there's always belief!  I know one thing for certain: if I didn't enter, my images would definitely not be on that wall. Are there other reasons, other than "cool"? Yes, the thrill of seeing work up with other people I admire; (Ahem!) exposure - I've recently had a couple of conversations with people about the photos that I want to take and the type of photography I would like to do means that I have to make things happens myself...

So fingers crossed and if there's a future post on this subject then it's good news, if not it's time to pull the finger out and produce even better stuff!

Fuji X-Pro 1 and San Francisco

Recently went to San Francisco and I really didn't want to lug a DSLR and lenses around, SO I got myself a Fuji X-Pro 1!  I think they're about to announce the X-Pro 2 really soon so there are a lot of deals at the moment.  It was a camera I've wanted since it came out.  Why this camera?  It's small, light and the images off the sensor are very nice indeed!  There's about a stop and a half difference in ISO performance between this an my older D5100.  The other big factor is that Fuji continually improve their products through firmware updates.  There is a world of difference between the camera as it is now and the one that launched in 2012 - what other camera manufacturer does that??! Well done Fuji, have some of my hard earned cash!

So what's it like to shoot with? It all depends on what you had before and what you shoot.  If you had a DSLR, then you have to get used to the lack of mode dial/s.  If you had a film camera, then the LCD and hybrid viewfinder will be a Godsend!  The viewfinder is this camera's trump card;  You get the option of optical, electonic and hybrid views through the eyepiece.  Even though the EVF is a little laggy, it is useful for reading without constantly having to look at the meter.  The OVF was useful in low light when the EVF would be slow to refresh.  The HVF gives an optical view with a frame window and exposure info overlayed on top.  In a street environment, this camera excels.  It does not have a DSLR's size which means people will less likely be intimidated by it.  A lot has been said about the AF, I really didn't have any problems it at all.  It's definitely not as fast as my D5100 but I certainly didn't miss a shot due to slow focus. If you already own lenses then they can be attached (via adaptors) to the xpro1.  Obviously you lose AF but you do get focus peaking and a maginified view to help you manually focus.  If you want to make the camera look truly like a Frankenstein creation, you could attach a 600mm zoom on it...

After shooting with it for around two weeks solid, there were some things which were annoying: Shooting in a continuous burst rate means that camera has to write to the card and this is too slow (I used a Class 10 card).  I can't see why this can't be fixed through firmware.  You need additional batteries.  Just walking around all day shooting (without the LCD and EVF on where possible) would kill the battery completely!  The wake from sleep mode takes about 2 seconds.  This does not sound a lot but this is more of a reason to miss shots than the AF!  The RAW files are roughly 25mb in size so expect longer transfer times too (this isn't necessarily a drawback but something which needs to be considered when purchasing storage)

It was very warm and sunny in SF so this was a very challenging situation with such contrasty light.  The camera performed fantastic in this situation especially with the recovered details in the RAW files.  Fuji also show off their film stock heritage in the film simulation modes - Velvia was my particular favourite.  Although these only come in the JPEG files, Adobe Lightroom has added these colour profiles in the Camera Calibration tab in the Develop module which means you can develop the RAW files with these presets.

So who's this camera for?  Street shooters, casual holiday snappers, retro enthusiasts, studio shooters definitely. If you're a sports or wildlife shooter then I'd be a bit more hesitant due to the slow write speed and lack of phase detect focus.  It more than meets my needs for my particular style and methods a of shooting. 

PS Pics of the SF are in the #fivedayblackandwhitechallenge section.

No Pain...

Off to Mam Tor for a sunrise (hopefully). The journey starts at 2:30AM tomorrow... I always enjoy a photographic journey/road trip. Such a good way to grow as a photographer and even better when you can drag a mate or two along...

Street Photography Abroad

Was in Sorrento, Italy for a nice little weekend break.  For some unknown reason, it felt a little strange to snap away at strangers in a foreign country.  I have no qualms about doing it in London.  Is it because we're unsure about the customs?  Is it familiarity?  Definitely something that I need to work on...

Post Xmas

Always nice to have a few days off.  Not always nice when you have to stay indoors because of dangerous weather.  So it was a very welcome relief to do some landscape shooting at Frinton-on-Sea and Walton on the Naze.  Freshly added to the Landscapes section.

Movember

Movember gallery has just been added - go check it out!  Big thanks for all those who took part.

Sssshhh!

Posted the Paintball pics up from the shoot a few weeks ago. Guys seem really happy with them which is nice.
Got a day off work on Monday and I'm off on a secret mission! Don't want to say too much but I will be genuinely excited if I get to shoot at this place - a real one-off location! Will have to be at my charming best. Watch this space!
I'm going to be like Ray Liotta at the end of Goodfellas running around from one end of London to the other sorting things out. Got to pick up my prints for Wednesday's camera club comp as well...

All good fun...

Guess what?  Only went and won the disposable camera challenge!  Good job the challenge was split into Standard and Advanced groups - don't think I would've won otherwise!  It was nice to see plenty of the camera club members taking the time and effort to go out and shoot.  AND it's definitely a lot easier to ask strangers for photos when you have a disposable film camera as opposed to a digital camera.  Will post a selection of the shots up on the blog at a later date.

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Disposable...

...after a last minute burst of shooting, the disposable camera challenge has been completed! Now the development wait begins...

Talk

At Camera Club last night, we had to stand up and talk about some of our photos.  First time for me to stand up in front of the club and give a little talk.  I knew everyone there. They were my photos. It was only about 5 mins. I wasn't the first one up, but it was still quite nerve wracking.  No logical reason for that.

The best part of the night, was when someone who had been at the club for over a year (never shown any of their photos) stood up and presented some very nice images. 

Sometimes all you need is a little push I suppose...

Paintball

An exhausting but satisfying day's shoot at Bricket Wood Paintball today. Big thanks to the centre for letting us shoot. Also the PB Religion guys sorting it all out and being such good sports. If you want to get involved in the sport these boys are fantastic teachers and are really passionate about it. A special thanks to my second shooters, Mandy and Gary. Without them, the shots we got today, wouldn't have been possible.

Transient

First...

Right! So, here we are.  First post!  Its been a very steep learning curve to get a website all set up and hopefully I can keep this blog going with lots of constant relevant updates without resorting to keeping you informed of which brand of coffee I'm drinking right now...  Big Thanks to everyone who have shared their comments about the site.

Got a busy weekend and it would be rather helpful if the weather holds out.  I'll be photographing some paintballers as they go about their business!  I'll try to blog and post some pics during the shoot, if I get the time.

Then I'm off to see the Only in England exhibition at the Science Museum.  It features two of the most under appreciated photographers this country has ever produced: Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr.  Go check out the links if you'd like to know more.

I've also got to get my backside in gear and take some photos with a disposable camera as part of a Camera Club challenge.  So if you see someone jump out in front of you this weekend with a one of these...

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 ...you'll know who it is!