The hardest shoot ever..

So as many people who read this blog will know, I have a fear of shooting people. Actually that’s not strictly true, I thoroughly dislike shooting people in any way, shape or form. It’s not that I dislike people or the art of shooting them, it’s the fact I have absolutely no idea how to pose them, how to accurately tell their story in a shot and how to then edit that to its fullest. It just sets off my anxiety… It’s something I need to work on.

I’ll be honest I’d much rather be in a field shooting deer, birds or insects than in a studio space or room shooting humans for any reason.

So with that in mind I totally went against every instinct I have and I agreed to help a fellow (now ex) RACC student when she shot a friends wedding. It was without doubt the biggest learning curve I have had and I’m not entirely sure I could even glean a little satisfaction from it. In fact it’s almost cemented my view that I cannot happily shoot people and animals are much much easier.

From the onset it was hard going, a Dimly lit venue with terrible lighting, no flash could be used and outside it was absolutely pouring down, which ruled out the lovely shots in the park or sunshine that initially we thought would be great.

In some shots we were hitting iso 12800 which luckily the 5d mark 4 can handle pretty well. Out of the 1000 or so images I took there are perhaps 80 usable and decent quality images to select a set which is actually surprising given the terrible lighting at the venue.

Trying to get and arrange a large group of people to pose, smile and cooperate when half pissed and hungry was a challenge in itself and one I can only admire wedding photographers for dealing with.

So putting all that aside I thought I’d show 1 image from day which I am pleased with. Backlit by a window in the world’s smallest bridal room I hope I managed to make it a nice shot.

Many lessons learned from that day, not least that weddings are not my forte unless it’s one of those kooky animal ones in a forest somewhere.

I will (no doubt) go against my instincts and try again and again because I suppose you can never stop trying new things and learning.

Hockney – Collage

Unit 1: Visual Recording in Art and Design – Criteria P 1, 3

This is a photo montage created by David Hockney in 1985 of his mother. He has created it by layering several different images to create the photomontage, He created many photomontage images between the years of 1970s and 1986.

He has called this photomontage ‘My Mother’ as it is a photo of this mum.

This image is influenced by the cubism movement. I think it is a very interesting portrait and style. Although it is fragmented and images are repeated and are of different sizes you can still see how the women would look if it was just a straight on normal photo.

If it were a simple picture if would be pretty straight forward of just an older lady. However, since it is broken up it adds a lot more complexity to this piece.

This image seems to represent the different sides of a person’s personality and the fragmentation of aging. The title changes the way that I see this image because at first I didn’t know who this person was but now I understand that it is his Mother, which shows that this picture hold sentimental value to him.

Hockney’s creation of the “joiners” occurred accidentally. He noticed in the late sixties that photographers were using cameras with wide-angle lenses to take pictures. He did not like such photographs because they always came out somewhat distorted. He was working on a painting of a living room and terrace in Los Angeles. He took Polaroid shots of the living room and glued them together, not intending for them to be a composition on their own. Upon looking at the final composition, he realized it created a narrative, as if the viewer was moving through the room. He began to work more and more with photography after this discovery and even stopped painting for a period of time to exclusively pursue this new style of photography. From 1982 Hockney explored the use of the camera, making composite images of Polaroid photographs arranged in a rectangular grid. Later he used regular 35-millimetre prints to create photo collages, compiling a ‘complete’ picture from a series of individually photographed details.

Each separate photograph within the image is a realistic depiction but the composition of the image is not realistic. The theme of this photograph is cubism which makes it more visually appealing.
The message that I get from this image is that his mother is old and frail which is represented in the separate photographs of her eyes. But the centre of this image, her smile, shows that although she is old, she is happy.
The photograph is in colour which helps to convey emotion as we see the pink in her cheeks which shows life. The lines that are represented are the outline of each photograph which help to block each picture and helps to form the stylistic features of cubism. The contrast is neither high nor low as there is a difference between light and dark but not to an extreme level. The shapes used are a range of rectangles and squares which adds variety as well as focuses on some facial features.
The photograph was taken outside, during the day time. Natural day light was used to light up the image. This is clear as there is not much harsh lighting and the skies appear to be grey.
The only way in which that the photograph has been manipulated is through the use of composition. This was done to make the image more interesting


Portrait Final choice

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

Just like in my still life we were tasked with taking a portrait image which draws inspiration from classical art, of course my mind immediately went blank and panic set in. Alexa, Sylvia and I decided that a trip to the national gallery was in order to actually view the types of Images we were to draw our inspiration from. Upon looking around the centuries of art in the halls I began to draw the conclusion that I wanted to follow my line of thought that I had with my Vanitas and do something broadly similar. I came across several Momento Mori style portraits and some portraits of monks in prayer and had an idea of what I wanted to do. Again I wanted to draw my inspiration from the paintings not simply replicate them.


Some of the images I looked at during my research. Like like the Chiaroscuro lighting in some of these images and wanted to do something low key as I love that effect and look in images. The creation and appearance of something coming from the dark.


My initial idea was to do a momento mori portrait with Skull to tie in with my Vanitas as a common theme. I had noticed this running through several of the artworks I had seen in the gallery. With this in mind I ordered a large black cloak for my model to wear and obviously already had the skull from my still life. Just like with my Vanitas Still Life I wanted to give a nod to the portrait I had seen without replicating or imitating to much.


With this portrait task I decided that I wanted to do a much darker portrait and very much different to the norm. I wanted to not show the models face or at least only show part of it but leave enough in the Image that you knew someone was there. Again I tried several lighting approaches and schemes in the college studio and at home using speedlights and I really wanted a low key image and some separation from the black background similar to a Chiaroscuro effect I had in mind. I chose to rim light and feather the model to create this effect and feather the light onto the skull so that it only had minimal lighting so as not to overpower the image.


Initially I set the scene up in a small room with white walls, this was a mistake as no matter how low I put my flashes there was light bouncing all over the room due to the reflective qualities of the walls. I did a few test shots and quickly decied to use a large black surface behind my model to dampen some of the reflections which helped alot.

I used the 2 speedlights with snoots to help narrow the light as much as possible to pinpoint the shoulders and head and accentuate the skull somewhat. The test shots below show that initially I used the speedlights behind my model and at around 45 degree angle to the model facing away from the background. I quickly found that whilst this gave a great rimlight effect no light at all fell on the skull or the models face.



I then decided that directing the light toward the model from either side was a much better way of doing what I had in mind, It allowed me to not only light the model with a rim light effect but also to direct enough light on to the skull and a little on the models face so that the hood wasn’t just a black shape, I wanted you to know there was someone in there. I feel I have managed to give a nice nod of my head to Saint Francis in Meditation by Francisco de Zurban whilst making the image my own interpretation of this artwork.





For the portrait I chose a Fotospeed signature Cotton Etching 305 which is a 100% cotton Acid Free Fine Art paper with a white base. The surface has an slight etching texture which helps accentuate detail and gives a depth to your image.

Cotton Etching 305 uses the latest coating technology resulting in a wide colour gamut and pin sharp detail. Developing this paper with Doug Chinnery was such a pleasure as he understands not only his images but how a paper enhances them in a way a screen just can’t. We are thrilled to have Doug Chinnery on board as a Signature Photographer.”

I found this paper to be an excellent choice for the portrait as it wasn’t overly textured and had a nice smooth feel but being a cotton based media it held the ink well and had very nice black reproductions and sharp edges to the image. You can view the paper information HERE


Again as with my still life, I am extremely happy and proud of the way the overall image came out. I Love the lighting I have managed to create and the ambiance and atmosphere through the use of the snoots and finding the correct angle to just highlight the models face and give a little light to the skull. I have had a good reception to the image and even been asked for it on a canvas by a friend as she loves the image and the general feel of the work. Had I done anything differently I would maybe try some different approaches to the face and vary the lighting to see how they turned out, but overall I am extremely happy with the final image and print quality and how deep the blacks are.

Cruel and Tender Selection – Moments on Carpet

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

For my Final Cruel and Tender selection I was inspired by works I had seen at the Gursky Exhibition and his use of height and angles to make everyday scenes appear more interesting. Whilst in london on the rainiest of days shooting a few ideas for the project I noticed people gathering in the large atrium of the Tate Gallery. Whilst some admired the giant swinging silver ball installation others completely ignored it and went about their everyday lives and lunched or conversed with friends oblivious to the fact that some 4 floors above them I was on the skywalk, which joins the 2 Tate buildings, readying my camera to catch some candid moments on carpet. A carpet which I must say really lent itself to my idea by giving a uniform yet interesting backdrop and canvas for the human art I was about to image.

Not being allowed to use a tripod in the Tate and for safety reasons I had to securely strap my camera to me and hold it out over the edge of the skyway, Using a zoom I managed to get several shots and several angles and viewpoints of the carpet below and I love the outcomes.

I edited the selection in 5×4 format as the native cropping of my camera of 3×2 accentuated the horizontal lines and made the images feel stretched. I also like the format to be close to square but not actually square and the 5×4 was the best fit for this and also for the print size I have chosen.

Now comes the time to reduce this selection to a final set and I shall blog further when that is done and I have a final selection.

Portrait Selection

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

So the time has come to pare down my shots and although I think I have already chosen my final portrait, Here are a few of the images I took in the build up to the shoot as practice and some I considered as the final choice. I have left some unedited so the difference between studio outcome and final shot can be seen as the difference after editing is a stark. Contrast to the out of camera raw images as always.

The difference between shots in the college studio using the powerful flashes and those taken at home with speedlights is quite surprising too, the college images seem to have highlighted a hell of a lot of dust in the air which looks like stars and is actually quite pleasant. Though the studio may need a little cleaning.

Hopefully you can see my thought process in trying to get the image darker and to help direct the light accordingly. I think I have made some great progress during the term in working with studio lighting and speedlights and hope this continues in my future photography.

My Still life/portrait process

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

After initially deciding on a subject for the still life or portrait image you have in mind it then falls to composition. How do you want the subject posed or objects arranged, do they need a specific arrangement or just to be placed randomly. Is there a story or some message in the composition or do certain objects need to be in the foreground of the shot.

Test composition

Test composition

Once you have decided on your Composition it is time to decide how to light the scene and which direction, strength and type of light you want to fall on the subject/objects. This is where a rough lighting process can be used.

After deciding and testing what focal length to use, the correct aperture for the scene and setting your camera to the chosen flash sync speed you can move onto a workflow for deciding on your final lighting scheme.

1 – Decide or test what type of light you want whether hard light, soft light. Do you want to try imitating a specific type of light like window or natural light. What modifiers could you use to get a chosen effect.

2 – Decide or test how many lights you want to illuminate your scene. Do you want 1 sole light from a certain direction (key light) or would you need to add some more (fill lights) to highlight a particular part or provide a certain approach such as back lighting or rim lighting the objects. Do you need to have a spotlight or reflector to give some light into a shadowy spot.

3 – Using your preferred type of light first either meter the scene or test your exposure at your chosen f-stop to check for a well exposed overall key light. This is the most important part to getting your first light set and can be done using a light meter or test shots.

4 – Begin to add fill lights to the scene testing the power and coverage of each one as you add them to make sure the scene remains as you would want it to be and that the light isn’t spilling into areas you don’t want it to.

5 – Adjust all lights and light modifiers to taste and take an exposure. Look over the image and see if you are getting the correct light into the places you want it and adjust or add more light to get to where you want the scene to be.

6 – Take your images and adjust and correct lighting, exposure or composition to match your ideas and be prepared to change those ideas if you discover a new way of doing something.

I used the process above to decide how I wanted to light both my portrait and still life shots for this term. I feel quite happy and confident in the studio now with selecting modifiers and adjusting settings and positions of light. During the term I helped several fellow students to select, position and set light power correctly for their projects and I believe this had helped greatly in our mutual understanding of the process involved.

Young Man Holding a Skull – Frans Hals

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,4

Thinking more about our studio Portrait task and varying the previous darker images I have seen of monks in prayer, like below,

I have been considering doing something along the same lines as the Vanitas still life I am Planning. Why not try to have a common theme between the portrait and studio tasks and perhaps even the cruel and tender part.

I saw the image below at the National Gallery on a trip and was Intrigued by the pose more than anything else. The man reaching from the canvas seemingly mid speech or conversation, gesturing to an unseen audience yet looking lost in thought.

The artist Frans Hals was born in Antwerp around 1582. His family were forced to leave their home and flee to Haarlem during the siege of Antwerp by Spanish troops. Hals studied under the Mannerist painter, Karel van Mander. In 1609 he became a member of the city’s painter’s union and society, the Haarlem Guild of St Luke and began to earn a living by working for the town council as an art restorer.

Unlike his fellow artists of the time he demanded that his patrons came to him rather than for him to leave his family and travel the country to seek out patronage and make his fortune. Frans Hals died in Haarlem in 1666, aged 84 with very little to show financially for his artistic career. He had been penniless on many occasions and had often been taken to court by his creditors. Left destitute, the town council had little choice but to subsidise him for the last two years of his life.

This painting is entitled Young Man Holding a Skull (Vanitas) and was painted by Frans Hals between 1626 and 1628. On first sight I immediately thought of the scene from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet when Hamlet was seen holding the skull of Yorick in the graveyard of Elsinore.

For many play and theatre buffs this scene is a lasting favourite and remains one of the most memorable images of the melancholy Prince. The play was first performed in 1600 so maybe Hals based his painting on that very scene. But art historians cannot agree and many believe it is much more likely to be a Dutch Vanitas allegory.

Vanitas paintings feature an object (or objects) which symbolises our own mortality and the fact that life is short and reminds us of the transient nature of all our earthly pleasures and achievements.

The Vanitas paintings are meant as a warning and ask us, the viewers, to think about death . The inclusion of a skull in a painting was a typical motif of a Vanitas and Momento Mori painting.

However this is more than just a Vanitas painting. In front of us we have a boy holding a skull. His rosy cheeks, similar in colour to his lips, give him a youthful appearance. His right hand reaches towards us as he gestures. You can see how the artist has skillfully shortened his arm and hand in such a way that it seems to be bursting out of the canvas towards us. In his left hand is the skull, glowing in comparison to the darkness of the boy’s palm and clothes.

The light comes from the left hand side of the painting causing a dark shadow on one side of the boy’s face. This should be relatively easy to replicate with studio lighting using barn doors and snoot to highlight the skull against the slightly darker figure.

The painter was famous for his style. He worked quickly, often painting “wet on wet”. Wet-on-wet is a painting technique in which layers of wet paint are applied to previous layers of wet paint. This technique requires a fast way of working, because the art work has to be finished before the first layers have dried. This technique results in vibrant swirls of semi-blended colour. Van Gogh admired this technique and wrote:

….eyes, nose, mouth done with a single stroke of the brush without any retouching whatever,,,,, To paint in one rush, as much as possible in one rush…..I think a great lesson taught by the old Dutch masters is the following: to consider drawing and colour [as one]….”

This is an interesting portrait. There is a beautiful simplicity about it but let us not overlook the skill of the artist who has given us such a work of art which certainly gets you thinking about the circumstance behind the pose and the meaning behind the image.

Now I must look at how to light this and perhaps reimagine the scheme and pose yet take inspiration for a scene without being a direct copy of the original which, I think, would be impossibly hard to match the nuance and beauty of the original.


Daily art display


National gallery

Studio Safety and legality

Unit 23 – Photographic Media, Techniques and Technology criteria P 1,2,3,4

So this week Alexa and Sylvia were shooting their projects in the studio and I was helping move lighting, tables and studio gear, so now is probably the time to talk studio safety and good practice.

When working in the studio you should always ensure you observe any studio rules concerning safety and equipment usage and check insurance coverage on the studio and yourself for any potential issues or breakages.

All lighting should be electrically checked for safe use and you should keep in mind that there may be cables or overhead rigging that could easily be a trip hazard or need secured above head height when not in use.

Liquids, food and non essential items should be out of the way well away from props and bags and such should be secured and stored away.

When you have finished using the studio items they should be stored and unplugged or turned of at any safety switches.

Whilst in use you should observe any instructions and safety guides that may come with the lighting and keep well away from water if you are using it. Lights and modifiers become very hot during use and you must be careful not to handle the hot surfaces without protection.

Studio backdrops and paper rolls should be secured and wound up when not in use and whilst you are using them they should be firmly taped down to the surface or to the floor to avoid becoming a trip hazard or loose on tables.

Always bear your surroundings in mind when stepping around the studio taking care with your equipment not to bang people or objects that may be behind you.

When your shoot is finished and you are leaving the studio tidy everything away and keep lighting stored in its correct position on the overhead rigging, replace modifiers on hooks on walls and replace any tables backdrops and items to their storage.

Legal and Copyright.

When shooting any models in your studio or any property you may be shooting for commercial or publication use you need to ensure a model release form is obtained and signed by the model. A model release form is a legal document between you and the model or the person who owns the property you’re photographing. It is their written permission allowing you to sell the work or publish the image on your website. There are many places to obtain templates and model release form to be customized online and you can detail your own terms and payments on these forms.

Copyright lies with the photographer who produced the images.