Saturday, 28 February 2009

Henri Cartier Bresson

Henri Cartier Bresson was a French photographer who was most famous for his photojournalism, in particular his work on everyday life in France. I like his street scenes of children, and there is one photo in particular that stands out for me. It is a photo of a child holding two bottles of wine and his expression is priceless. It looks like it is the first day that he has been allowed to hold one bottle of wine and now he has two.

Cartier Bresson influenced a lot of photographers through his work. For over twenty years he worked for Life magazine and he covered many of the major events of the twentieth century. I don't think that it is any coincidence that he trained as an artist and then became such a successful photographer. He also gave us a lot of quotes and any of them could be the subject of a blog. 'In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv' is one such quote. In my wedding photography I used Cartier Bresson's idea of a leitmotiv (I prefer leitmotiv to logo) and used a photo of a cravate and a rose as the theme for each of the pages.

Happy snapping

Friday, 27 February 2009

Sharpening 2

I remember asking one very well respected photographer how many photographs he sharpened on the computer. My question arose because the common comment on photographs is that they are very clear - they are very sharp. This is ususally a positive comment which relates to the quality of the digital equipment and the skill of the photographer. So if you have an ability to make any photo sharper do you use it all the time? His answer was yes.

For the next few months I was sharpening all my photos. If you sharpen too much then it does mean that a curve in your photo can look like a staircase. Also there are many contrasting differences within the same photo, which means that sharpening one line perfectly may mean that another line is over (or under) -sharpened. I don't sharpen everything now, because sometimes I was sharpening so little that I could not see the difference, and I started to wonder why I was spending time on it. You can start to see how sharpening should be viewed as an art and not a science.

One final thought on sharpening. Make it the last thing you do to the photo. If you sharpen and then resize you will change the sharpness.

Happy snapping

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Depth of Field

Depth of field sounds very technical and complicated but really it doesn't have to be. You can think of depth of field purely in practical terms. The 'depth' is the part of the picture that is in focus. Have you seen this effect on television? The focus is on something in the foreground and then the focus changes to something in the background. A lens is only perfectly in focus at one particular point, but the focus is acceptable within the range called the depth of field.

This field depends on the aperture (the size of the hole that lets the light in) and if it is a sunny day the aperture doesn't have to be big because light will get in anyway. This means that most things are in focus. However on a dull day the aperture is bigger and there is a smaller depth of field. This is not necessarily a disadvantage if you want to take pictures with some things in focus and others not in focus.

One tip is that the depth of focus is smaller if you focus on something close to the camera. This means it is easier to get the focused/not focused effect if something near the camera is in focus. If you have the ability to manually focus on your camera then give it a go.

Happy snapping

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Wedding photography - manipulation

I really don't mind guests taking their own photos when I am the main photographer. The guests want to record their memories of the day. They may even have the skills to produce a gift for the bride and groom. The really important thing is to get happy smiling expressions. It doesn't delay the photography.

Take a look at the secrets page on my website at to see the original of this photo and for more examples of photo manipulation. This is a very nice photo of the bride and groom with the church in the background. In the original I managed to also capture a couple of photographers in the bottom corner of the picture and one photographer who was moving quickly to get his photo. I did wait for him and I manipulated my photo to remove these people. I also had to tidy the church grounds and I find that commonly I will be removing weeds from the lawn. The couple received the adapted photo in colour and black and white, and also my preference which was a sepia version with a vignette because the grass looks a little dry and you can't see that in sepia.

Happy snapping

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Wedding Photography - the Scottish question

On the theme of unusual photos at weddings, I must include the groomsmen who were dressed in kilts. The bride had suggested that they should have their picture taken as they jumped in the air. This is not a photo that I would have suggested. Fortunately kilts are fairly heavy and the question as to what is worn under a kilt is still unanswered. However this gave rise to natural smiles and a close-up of the faces meant that one photo could easily become three or four photos.

Sometimes the bride throws her bouquet to the eligible females. This gives another opportunity if not for a natural smile, then at least it is a natural facial expression. At the end of the wedding day I often hear the comment that facial muscles are aching because of the smiling during the day. I often ask for a serious photo of the bride and groom and they often work very well, but smiling on a wedding day is so natural that it can be hard to get that serious photo.

Happy snapping

Monday, 23 February 2009

Wedding Photography - natural smiles

Last time I wrote about the classic poses at a wedding. I don't think that I have taken photos at a wedding without learning something on that day, so there is a lot to be said for experience. Each wedding is different and I learn something each time because the couples bring something to the day.

One thing that I like to do is take the couple for a short walk from the venue. This means that you get the whole of the building within the photo. In the case of the Ashton Memorial in Lancaster you have to walk for a few minutes to get a picture of the whole building. I did not expect this but the bride jumped into the arms of the groom. It made a great photo but this is obviously not a post for every couple.

I like natural smiles and I usually get natural smiles when someone makes a joke, when the confetti photo is taken, when I am lying on the floor taking a picture of the groomsmen in a scrum formation, and when the bride is lifted horizontally by the groomsmen. Another pose that I do not generally ask for is the 'piggy back'. However it does give a natural smile. At one wedding the best man walked round with us and was holding a card which said 'thank you'. Shortly after the wedding I received a 'thank you' card with my photo on it.

Happy snapping

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Wedding Photography - classic poses

I don't think that you can get through a wedding day without taking the classic poses. The signing of the register, the first kiss, walking down the aisle - you know what I am talking about. However I always have a favourite photo of the day and it is hardly ever one of these standard poses.

When I am taking photographs at a wedding I have another photographer with me. They take photos from a different angle of the same scene or they just take photos from a distance while I am setting up those usual poses or the group photos.

I feel that my photos should be the best. People are looking at me and smiling, but when the bride and groom pick up their photos generally they tell me their favourite photos, and more often than not it is the other photographer who gets the acclaim.

A friend came to me who had just bought a compact digital camera and she had not used it before. She had taken one photo of the bride and groom as they walked down the aisle. It was taken at an angle , it needed cropping and I blurred the people in the congregation who detracted from the focus on the bride and groom and they dominated the picture. It turned out to be a great photo.

So the morals of this story are firstly, never discard a photo. Computers have huge inexpensive memories. Secondly, just because there is a photographer at the wedding, it may well be you who gets the best picture of the day.

Happy snapping

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Wedding Photography

I enjoy wedding photography and the preparations for the big day start with a framework based around the wishes of the bride and groom. In general everyone is prepared to have their photograph taken so it is a great time to take portraits and group photos.

Most wedding photographers charge extra for the prints. I decided very early on that I did not want to add pressure to the day by charging for prints. I have seen photographers deliberately break up poses so that no other photographers can take that photo. They feel that if someone else has the photo then they will make less money. I actually welcome the guests taking photos because it makes their day and I have already been paid for my service.

There is another reason why I don't mind guests taking photos, and that is because I work on all the photos. There are no weeds in my lawn. Any guest can take a photo of the first dance, but I give a gentle blurring effect to the background as not everyone is concentrating on the bride and groom. With my photos you can imagine that everyone is spellbound by the dancers.

Happy snapping

Friday, 20 February 2009

Posture and camera shake

Be careful where you stand. If the ideal composition is just a little higher than your height you can lift your arms and a compact digital (and one or two SLR digital cameras) will allow you to look at the screen. However do be aware of the much greater risk of camera shake. It may well be that the best photo is one step further back, but behind you is a river or a cliff face. My advice is don't step back. You can buy different lenses that allow for such situations, but generally you can step backwards.

Perhaps the worst thing you can do is bend your back a little to get just the right photo. You may get the photo that you want but it is not good for your back and this technique tends to develop into a habit. Apart from the back pain you will not be comfortable as you lean backwards and camera shake could well be an additional problem. The answer is simple. Take that step backwards or sideways, step up a step or kneel down.

In normal lighting you don't need a tripod for most photographs, but the photograph that you intend to take may need a little help. for example if your subject is in the distance and you are going to either zoom in or crop, then your slight camera shake will be exaggerated. If you don't have a tripod try leaning against a wall. One of my favourite tricks is to find a wall, put the timer on so there is no camera shake from pressing the shutter release. If you don't have a mini-tripod then a bean bag may be the answer to getting the angle right.

Happy snapping

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Save money with digital photography

Money is saved with digital photography because you only print the photos that you want. Money is also saved because you can improve every single photo. You also save money by using rechargable batteries. Make sure that your camera does take rechargable batteries as my first digital SLR was sold to me with a non-rechargable unit only. I had to get on the internet and order the accessories myself. So beware of cheap sales in large stores. My second digital SLR was bought on the internet. I saved a lot of money and got an additional zoom lens. I know that not every story is a good one for people who buy on the internet but I could not be happier.

Another tip for saving money is not to print at all. The price of digital frames has come down so much that you can vary your display of photos and once you have bought the frame there is no extra charge. My preference is to put the photos on a DVD and watch them on TV. Albums of photos tend to get buried and never see the light of day, but TVs tend to stay in living rooms (and most other rooms in a house) and DVD players are often attached.

Happy snapping

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Fair and foul weather photography

Are you the sort of photographer who only takes photos on holiday or do you also take out your camera on nice sunny days? If the sun is shining brightly you can get harsh shadows which means that part of the image that you really want to see cannot be seen. Better weather does not always mean better photography. If you are taking a portrait in bright sunlight then fill-in flash may be very useful. Don't think it is strange if someone is using flash outdoors in summer.

I have mentioned the first and last hours of daylight - the golden hours. The chances are that if you hear someone say that the light looks lovely then that is the time to take your photos. However I also want to mention dull weather. This is the time that you can slow down the shutter speed and the waterfall becomes a mist, or the river becomes a fog. You may want to take a droplet of water, in which case you need a very fast shutter speed and lots of light will help, but dull weather gives you other options.

It is also worth tking photos of the sky in different weathers. you can use them as backgrounds and you may want a picture of a storm. Sometimes the light during a storm can be fantastic, but if it isn't then you can use some simple photo manipulation to make it fantastic.

Happy snapping

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

More composition

On the 19th January I wrote about composition and the rule of thirds. Yesterday I watched the James Bond DVD, Casino Royale. It was packed with action scenes and I did manage to follow the action but I could not help thinking about the rule of thirds. Examples are everywhere, on DVDs on television, in the newspapers and magazines.

One of the most obvious methods of learning composition is to look at photos that you like and copy that photo. Another example from yesterday's television was the Andrew Marr show on the BBC. The background picture was a live view of Westminster Bridge with The City in the background and Big Ben in the foreground. The interest in this photograph came from the camera angle. I was wondering where the camera must be because I felt it was much higher than any room in any building. This reminds me of the Ansel Adams quotation ' a good photograph is knowing where to stand'.

So if you are a tourist and you have looked at the calendars and the tourist information photos and then taken your photos, don't forget to take the photos from unusual angles. Do climb the tower and don't forget to take the photos.

Happy snapping

Monday, 16 February 2009

Andy Warhol and arty techniques

Last time I was talking about photo manipulation. If you got married in the seventies or eighties it was very common to have the bride and groom pictured in a brandy glass. I am not sure of the significance of the association, but this technique is so much easier now with digital photography. Any photo can be superimposed on any other. The difficult part is not the technical knowledge, it is getting the inspiration to join two photos.

Photo manipulation is often done to improve a face. Just making the highlight in the eye stand out more can make the face look so much more interesting. You can take out stray hairs that fall over the eye, but it is much easier to not have the hair there in the first place.

I do like easy techniques and changing the brightness and tone is fairly straightforward. It ends up a bit arty but if you like the technique you don't need much training. With a little bit of copying and changing colours in a portrait, you can end up with your own personal Andy Warhol picture if that is the style that you like. You still need a good photo to start with but take a lot of photos and one should come out well. If you think this is cheating then just watch how professional photographers do it. They must take hundreds of photos to get that one cover photo, and then they have a support team to adjust it to please the reader.

Happy snapping

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Forrest Gump and photo manipulation

When you want to do some photo manipulation then the simplest techniques are usually the best. Nobody should have red eye caused by the flash because it is one click of a button and it has gone. With the quality of most cameras and the detail in each photo, it is an easy process to crop a picture correctly and still have an excellent quality for most sizes of photo. One click on the computer can also change your photo to black and white, another click or two and you have a sepia photo.

There are some techniques that require a little more skill, but there is so much help on the internet or in books that you can easily progress to opening someone's eyes or putting in a different background. I have bought some backgrounds on the internet. They are not expensive but backgrounds for the studio can be expensive. Whenever I am on holiday I take the usual tourist photos, but now you can put people into the foreground. If you have seen Forrest Gump then you will have seen some of this technique when Forrest meets Presidents Kennedy and Nixon. You can now shake hands with your hero but you will need to get a photo of them. That's a good excuse to meet them, so you may as well take a genuine photo while you are there.

Simple techniques include selecting a particular area of a picture and making it colour and the rest of the picture black and white. You may have seen this technique used for a bride holding her flowers and the flowers are the only thing in colour. Even simpler is to select an oval or rectangular section of a photo and make this colour and the rest black and white.

Happy snapping

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The secret of good comedy and photography

There is an old joke that asks 'what is the secret of good comedy?' and before the answer is heard the questioner says timing. Well timing is important in photography. When dealing with people it is about getting the right facial expression. Even in landscape photography it is about waiting for the best lighting. Good photography is also about being at the right place at the right time.

You can do some preparation before you get to the right place. We have all seen comedy photos that are made by tourists. Thousands of people must have their photos taken holding up the leaning tower of Pisa. Thousands will also have their picture taken next to Eric Morecambe's statue in Morecambe and they will be striking the Ernie Wise pose. You can use any tourist souvenir, for example a model of the Eiffel Tower and hold it in front of the actual tower.

Look out for specific ideas. Many years ago I took a photo of someone playing the guitar. they moved their left arm and because I used a long exposure their left arm is a blur. I had to carefully check exposure and it was not a routine print when I was in the dark room. but I managed to get the picture It is a much easier photo to take today with computer technology. Think about adapting the blurred arm idea to whichtever musical instrument or sport that you play.

Happy snapping

Monday, 2 February 2009

Tripods help

There is a very simple test that you can carry out to see how your photography can be improved. All you need is a basic tripod and even if you haven't got a tripod you can still take part. Take a photo. It can be any photo - a local building, your house, a landscape, or even the wall opposite you in your living room, but for this test it is best to take something that isn't going to move. If you don't have a tripod then take a photo from a place where you can put your camera down, like a chair or a table.

Once you have taken your photo take it again but this time with the tripod. Enlarge both photo to their maximum and even with the screen on the camera, the chances are that you will see the improvement with the tripod. If you want an even better quality of photo put your camera on timer and then their will be no camera shake at all.

Tripods don't have to be expensive, the more you pay the sturdier the tripod. I would look for one that has a spirit level but mine is not expensive. I tend to take photos in nice weather with very little breeze so my tripod is good enough.

Happy snapping

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Eric Morecambe and composition

When taking a photo of a person be aware of the background. The wonderful view of the sea will set the scene and it is a fine picture. Now follow the line of the horizon and see if it cuts through the head of your subject. Does this affect the picture? Can you change the perspective by standing on a step or by kneeling?

There are some pictures that you cannot take because the physical geography will not let you. Take the Eric Morecambe statue in Morecambe. If you step back a couple of yards then you have to go down steps, so any photo from a distance will be looking up at the statue. Now you will not get the horizon cutting through Eric's head but it will still be there even if it is at his ankles. I have known photographers take step ladders with them. This is not an easy answer but you might get the photo that you want.

I know that many photographers do think about composition and will change the camera position slightly at the last moment but they keep their feet still. They end up like a contortionist and this does not help camera shake. The answer to this is fairly easy - take a step to the side.

Happy snapping