Thursday, 31 December 2009

Social comments

On the 22nd December I showed you a photo of Lancaster Quay at night. This photo was taken from a similar place on the cycle track. It shows a building that will be famous to anyone who travels between Lancaster and the Morecambe peninsula because you will be stuck in a traffic jam. There must be a few exceptions to this because there is no traffic in this photo.

So this is the last blog of 2009. I could describe the composition. I could describe the colour even though colours are much less dominant at night. However as this is the 31st December let's think of the subject moving away from 2009 and into 2010. So you thought this was a photo and it's actually a social and historical comment!

Happy snapping

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

What would David Bailey say?

A couple of days ago I was asked about a camera. Was it a good one to buy? Well many of these blogs tell you what to look for when you buy a camera. In the few moments that I had I mentioned the large screen at the back. This helps you see what you are taking so that's fairly important. It had 12 megapixels which is great. It was half price which is brilliant but the most important piece of advice that I gave was asking whether she liked the camera. Choosing a camera is a bit like choosing a car. What makes you choose a Renault or Nissan or any other make? Whether you like a car or not very often depends on image. Maybe you like cars that turn into dancing robots or celebrity endorsement may be your thing. I work with Olympus cameras because I thought they had the best specifications for the money, but I do think that I am David Bailey (I hope that you remember the advert).

I like quiet shutters so people don't know you have taken photos even when there is not much noise. I like the option of using manual focus even though I mostly use the automatic setting. I like to use an external flash gun rather than the camera's internal flash because they give out more light. I rarely use a long lens but it is nice to have the option of interchangeable lenses. You will have read recently that I like to use the timer so for me a camera should have timer options, preferably two, one that is quick, just so you don't get camera shake from pressing the shutter, and one that gives you time to get into the photo. I also have a remote shutter button and that's a nice option. I think tripods are great, but whther it is a camera or any of the accessories, you can't get away from the basic rule of thumb which is the more you pay the more you get.

Happy snapping

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The view from the kitchen window

If you are following the blogs you will know that I took these photos late last Monday and the view that I get every day through the windows had been dramatically changed by snow. There really is nothing special about either of these photos and the one on the left is particularly grainy because it is dark.

The reason I took the photos this week is because of the exceptional weather. I managed to walk outside for around fifteen minutes before I decided that it was too wet to take any more. Then I looked out of the window. It is still snowing but I am now in the comfort and warmth.

Happy snapping

Monday, 28 December 2009

Transform mundane subjects

Yesterday I showed you how a mundane subject like the side of a house could be transformed by snow. The photo on the left has undergone the same transformation and this time I had I walked the dog along the road then crossed over. My house is there somewhere in the centre of the photo but it is snowing fairly heavily so it is not clear.

The conditions for taking photographs are not ideal as you have to protect the camera and in my case I have to hold a lead. I did get quiet wet in fifteen minutes but I managed to keep the camera dry. However there is an easier way. The photo on the right was taken through the window. The next time the weather is awful stay warm and dry and see what you can take from your window.

Happy snapping

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Effect of Snow at Night

I told you it was unusual to get snow in Morecambe so here is another photo. This time it is the side of my house. It is snowing and I was walking the dog as well so I didn't carry a tripod. I sat the camera on my neighbour's wall and cropped it twice on the computer. Otherwise no changes have been made to this photo.

You can see a little part of the wall on the left and you can also see how snow has fallen on everywhere including the ungritted road. The subject of this photo should not be interesting. It is the side of a house. However the snow makes it interesting. It was really strange to see how light everything was. Light was reflected by the snow on the floor, on the house, by the snow that was falling and by the light reflected in the clouds. It was like it was daylight but it was after 10pm. So look out for mundane subjects which may not be mundane given the right circumstances.

Happy snapping

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Can you guess what it is yet?

More photos of walking in the snow - and here is my walking partner. It is the same photo except that on the right I kept Molly's eyes in colour.

It is interesting to note how falling snow comes out in a photograph and I have also made another change. I am not going to tell you yet what I have done. Take a look and see if you can guess, then click on the comment and you will find out what has been changed.

Happy snapping

Friday, 25 December 2009

Happy Christmas

Well it is the 25th so merry Christmas everyone.

This is another photo taken on Tuesday. I haven't amended the photo on the left at all. The dark snow clouds in the background was a great contrast with the snow and the bright foreground.

It is the same photo on the right with just a couple of amendments. I made it a little darker to exagerate the darkness of the clouds, cropped it a little tighter and wrote in the words. And there you have my Christmas card to you.

Happy snapping and happy Christmas

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Morecambe in the snow

Morecambe is not used to snow. I have been told that the last time that there was thick snow on the ground was over ten years ago. So it is not surprising that I was out with my camera on Tuesday. I was drawn to one of my favourite views over the bay which is near Thornton Road.

I didn't have to move much to take some very nice photos and I will show you more over the next few days. I have to admit to taking a rail out of the bottom left corner of the photo on the left, and that is why the snow looks a little smoother in that corner.

Happy snapping

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Buck Ruxton's bath

A few days ago I came across the photo on the left which was on the internet in an article about the Buck Ruxton murders in Lancaster. It is my photo and I am pleased that someone has found another use for it. Not only have they found another use but I got a reference and a link as I took it a couple of years ago and published it on my photography website at

The bath is now used a horse trough at the police headquarters in Hutton. Above the bath you can see the plaque which I have copied on the right. The other website didn't make use of this photo but I suppose they wanted to interpret the events as they saw fit. In my turn I will give a reference to the author of the local history stories on my website. It is Susan Wilson. If you want to see some of her other stories then take a look at

Happy snapping

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Quay at Night

Lancaster Quay has been photographed many times because it is hard to get a bad image during the day or the night. There are so many places that are great for photos. The quay is famour for its Georgian buildings and here are some of them.

Look at the photo on the left and the building on the right is the Lancaster Maritime Museum. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was the Customs House but what you can see from here is the fabulous portico. Someone told me about the pillars. I will have to check with him again but it was something along the lines of the longest stone pillars. If you know then let me know.

The buildings on the left are just as famous but for different reasons. I am sure tha the George and Dragon is famous but just look at the angle of the adjacent building. There is a closer view on the right.

Happy snapping

Monday, 21 December 2009

The kindness of the photographer

I am going to continue with the theme of being kind to the subject of the portrait. There are many ways that a photographer can be kind. It is a cliche but people do have better sides and just by taking the photo from that side can mean a lot to that person.

Have a friend sit still and walk round them. Even better, take photos of them from all different angles. Then notice how prominent the nose becomes once it is part of a silhouette. Of course the nose is at its most prominent in profile. So the general rule is to take portraits without the nose becoming part of the silhouette. In a similar fashion a profile of the abdomen may not be flattering even with a small paunch.

Perhaps the easiest way of being kind is to take photos of the better facial expressions and the easiest way for this is to let the person know when you are going to take the photo. Sometimes the best photos are candid. In my experience a lot of candid photos don't work but when they do work then they are great photos.

Happy snapping

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Henry Kissinger, I promise to be kind

There is a question in the Christmas quiz that was in yesterday's Independent that asks which American politician asked for photographer Richard Avedon to be kind to him. Richard was famous for his fashion photography and he did photograph many famous people including The Beatles, Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol. He took a famous photograph of Dwight D Eisenhower, but if you didn't buy the Independent yesterday then the answer to the question is Henry Kissinger.

I didn't mean to write a blog about Richard Avedon's portraits as the question made me think about the kindness of the photographer. However I don't think about being kind when I take portraits as I just think about getting the best photo. If I take a wedding group photograph I look for the smiles on the faces of the bride and groom. I always take two photos of groups so I compare the facial expressions of the rest of the group. In fact for the full group I take out an insurance of three photos.

When I take portraits I just look for the best expressions which does not necessarily mean that I am looking for a smile.Crying at weddings can lead to great photos and this includes the facial reactions to the person who is crying. In general I don't think about being kind as I just want the best portrait but Henry, if you want a portrait then I promise to be kind.

Happy snapping

Saturday, 19 December 2009

It is worth adding a suffix

Following on from yesterday's blog, I turned slightly to the left to take this photo of houses on Lancaster quay. By taking this photo at night you get little sense of the river Lune. Whether you look at the photo on the left or the right you only get a glimpse of water. In fact all you can see is a little reflection on the water.

When I crop photos I label them with the cropping that I have used. For example, if the proportions are 6 x 4 then the photo has the suffix -6x4 and this is the proportion used on the left. However at night there is little or no interest in the sky and little or no interest in any unlit area. the subject has to be lit and by the river the photos tend to be more like the proportions of a letterbox. The photo on the right has been labelled -6x3. The numbers are arbitrary as all it means is that the width is twice the height.

Happy snapping

Friday, 18 December 2009

Spot the difference

I have written about the Millenium Bridge in Lancaster in the blog from 8th March entitled 'Colourful Lancaster'. In comparison this photo is almost monochrome - well it is night. This blog shows you a much closer view and this time you can't see the support structure but it is just to my right.

The eye is led into the photo by the footbridge which takes you to the one of few sections of colour which happens to also coincide with the rule of thirds. If you don't know the rule and you haven't read previous blogs then you could take a look at the 19th January.

You will see that it is the same photo on the right. I hope that you can spot the difference but if you need any help I will give you the answer as a comment to this blog.

Happy snapping

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Where to place your assistant

These photos are a straightforward portrait of son and grandson (or if you prefer, uncle and nephew). The photo on the right has not been cropped so you can see what a big difference cropping makes. However the main point of today's blogs relates to facial expression.

How do you get children to smile? I think you can answer that yourself. Now multiply it by ten and you get close to getting these expressions but you don't just get a reaction from the child. Take a look at the eyes and you can see where the person is who is going crackers. The lesson from these photos is have your assistant close to the camera.

Happy snapping

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Take your pick

Today I thought that I would take another look at Hornby Castle. You have seen the photo on the right in an earlier blog but compare it with the photo on the left. There is no inkling that there is a river on the left but you do get a much better view of the woodland.

Both photos have the castle as the main theme and both use the rule of thirds and there is the castle as the main subject. I prefer the photo on the left because I like the main subject to intersect in the thirds on the right of a photo. This is because the eye usually looks at a photo like it is reading a book and looks from left to right. This means that we are lead into the photo if the interest is on the right.. I also like the lush view that you see before you get to the castle.

I previously used the photo on the right because I had to set the scene for the photo of the fish jumping upstream. However without the river the photo is less cluttered so if I had to choose my preference it would be the one on the left.

Happy snapping

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Tripod and Timer

Imagine that you are moving when you take the photo. This is known as camera shake and is generally an unwanted technique. Now imagine that you are using a zoom that is ten times more powerful. Any shake will be magnified by ten. So in yesterday's blog about zoom you may choose to use a tripod if you are using a powerful zoom.

At night you need a tripod anyway. You simply can't hold the camera long enough to get a sharp image because the shutter may be open for over a second. There is a rule of thumb that says you need a tripod if the shutter speed is greater than 1/focal length of the lens that you are using. If you are using a zoom of 200mm then you need to be quicker than 1/200th of a second. You have no chance at night!

These photos were taken last night and they are to show you the importance of using the timer to avoid shake. The first photo was taken when I pressed the shutter. The second had a two second delay so there is no shake caused by contact with the camera. You can read so much more on the right. The moral of this story is use a tripod and use the timer.

Happy snapping.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Optical and Digital Zoom

There are two reasons why I want to show you these photos that I took yesterday on Morecambe promenade. The first reason is that I want to write a blog about the use of zoom. The photo on the left is ten times larger than the photo on the right. I set the camera to take this photo and then zoomed out for the photo on the right.

Optical zoom is when you use the optics of the camera to enlarge part of the screen. It brings the object of the photo closer to you and this is what I have done on the left with my compact camera which has a 10x optical zoom. Technically the camera has increased the focal length of the lens by increasing the distance from the lens to the sensor. Sometimes you can see this because the lens moves. Sometimes you can't. Now look at the difference between the two photos and it is truly amazing what you can do with common technology. You may also have heard of digital zoom which is not really zoom at all. It is just an enlargement of part of your photo.

If you have digital zoom then the camera will crop the photo for you. It looks like the photo has enlarged but basically you have the same quality of photo. The next time you want to buy a camera and you are considering zoom, just look for the optical zoom and forget digital. It will make your choice a little easier.

The second reason? It is to show you what a nice day we had in Morecambe. You can see some ice on the floor but it was the 13th December. The weather is often very nice here in Morecambe but at the same time you can see the clouds in the Lake District.

Happy snapping

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Morecambe's History

These photos were taken in Poulton-Le-Sands which is part of Morecambe. In fact Morecambe was formed in 1899 from three villages, Poulton, Bare and Torrisholme and you may be able to guess that Poulton's history included fishing and cockling.

I think that both these murals (and there are many other works of art in Morecambe) brighten up the town and celebrate its history. It is interesting to compare this kind of art with work that has not been commissioned, otherwise known as graffiti. You may like these paintings or you may not. You may like some graffiti or you may not. Banksy does rather well out of his 'non-commissioned' work but essentially the beauty of paintings and photographs is in the eye of the beholder.

Happy snapping

Saturday, 12 December 2009

What would Cyril Fletcher say?

It is easy to take photographs in winter especially if you are interested in night photography. I stopped at a service station earlier this week and took these photos. I had my compact camera in my pocket and saw the garage which I thought looked well-lit.

The photo on the right was taken on the footbridge. It is the garage on the opposite side of the motorway and there is much less light hitting the sensor. The automatic focusing failed on this occasion. It generally works very well and it is really rare to end up with a photo like this. If you like fine art then its good, but I didn't want to take this photo. I am showing you this because it highlights a limitation of compact cameras. I don't know of manual focus on compacts but as Cyril Fletcher used to say on That's Life, "unless you know differently, do get in touch"

I do like compacts. I think the quality of image is excellent. They are easy to carry around and the optical zoom is amazing and continuosly improving. You can even get compacts that have interchangeable lenses. The great advantage of film SLRs was that you took exactly what you saw as opposed to something slightly different that you saw through the viewfinder. This is no longer a benefit in the digital world because you see the image that you are going to take.

Happy snapping

Friday, 11 December 2009

Walk the dog and take photos

There are many opportunities to take photographs. A few days ago I took these photos while I was walking the dog and the photo on the left is the side of my house. Everything looks different at night so much so that if you asked a child to draw their house at night you would have to start with a black piece of paper and a light coloured pencil. You just wouldn't draw a house without a roof but you do have to imagine it on the left. As usual I didn't take my tripod but their are many flat places to take photos. My neighbour's wall is flat. A tripod would have given me my choice of viewpoint for the house but I couldn't walk the dog and carry a tripod with me. I have cropped the photo but I have made no other changes on the computer.

The photo on the right is The Shrimp roundabout in Morecambe and the pub called The Shrimp is behind me. The wall belonging to The Shrimp is not quite flat so I had to crop and change the angle of this photo. I was tempted to get rid of the road markings but it is not for a poster. If it was a commission there is no doubt that my tripod would have been used, you would have seen the full sign of the house and photos would have taken from many angles.

Happy snapping

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Verticals are rarely vertical

I took these photos last week. We had fine weather and it really makes a difference to the photos. On the left we have Nazareth House. I work here part-time and I have never worked in a nicer building. The problem is that you can't stand back and take a good photo from the front of the building because of all the trees. It is easier in winter so I will take another look in the near future.

When I was driving home I passed the site of the former Kingsway baths in Lancaster. Love it or hate it these apartments are certainly distinctive. I wrote a blog on the 7th October about the view of Lancaster from the north. These apartments are really distinctive from miles away and it is interesting to compare the view from a distance with the view from a couple of hundred yards.

As for any manipulations, I have cropped both photos and the only other thing I did was to correct the converging verticals on the left. Looking at the photo now you would think that no correction has been made because the eye accomodates and thinks the verticals are vertical. Take a look at any building and verticals are rarely vertical. I haven't amended the photo on the right. Converging verticals are less obvious because of the distance that I took the photo. However you can see a little convergence. If you are not sure what this means then take a look at the left and right sides of the building. They are leaning slightly towards each other.

Happy snapping

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

High Key Photography

If you see a photograph that is very light in tone then you can say that you like (or dislike) high key photography. All this means is that the photo is mainly made up of light tones. Mid-tones are not well represented and because of this you don't get many shadows. Basically if it looks light then it is high key.

It helps if the subject wears light clothing and you can see how the detail of the clothing has almost disappeared. You also need a light background which becomes even lighter when creating the high key version.

Like any form of photography, you may prefer the change or you may prefer the original. In this case I have a definite preference for the high key version.

Happy snapping

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Looking for the truth

I have a black background, a white background and this cloudy effect. I have scores of other backgrounds but they are computer generated and some people don't like computers to provide backgrounds in photography as they see it as false.

A few days ago I wrote about why we take photos. I don't think that there is ever just one reason why a photo is taken but if the main reason is to create a form of art then the 'truth' of the photo doesn't really matter. We can create our own truth about art.

It isn't actually true that the photo on the right was sepia. It is a computer generated change in colour, as is the slight vignette around the edges. I don't think anyone would complain about this photo telling lies but it is interesting to think about how you would define the truth.

Happy snapping

Monday, 7 December 2009

A Complement for the Photo

As with yesterday's blog, I amended the photo on the left so that the black background expanded to the left and you can see the amendment on the right. We started with a fairly basic portrait. It doesn't get more simple than just looking at the camera. Whether you like monochrome or prefer colour is up to you. My preference with these two specific photos is for the colour version but sometimes my preference is for monochrome.

Once you have space you can add words or other photos. In this case I added personal details which means it can be used as a business card. I won't show you the variation with the words but it does complement the photograph.

Happy snapping

Sunday, 6 December 2009

One portrait session, many photos.

I took some photos yesterday in my studio. When I say studio I mean dining room. I do have a black sheet that I can hang up and you may have seen it recently on this blog when I took portraits of Andy Bell. This is a more typical portrait. I like to put people in a situation that they are used to. A very common type of portrait is the subject sat at a desk holding a pen over a piece of paper. I suspect that a portrait with a computer will be replacing the pen and here is an example.

My black sheet isn't this big so I added more background. You may think that it looks a little unbalanced but I think it looks good and I did use the space for adding personal details which could be used as a business card. A dark background, dark clothing and a generally dark image with little contrast is called low key. I will tell you about high key photography in a couple of days.

The whole portrait session lasted no more than fifteen minutes but there were dozens of great photos when I finished. Not only do I change photos to monochrome and sepia as with these photos but I will show you more techniques over the next few days.

Happy snapping

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Why take photographs?

Why do we take photographs? There are probably hundreds of answers to this question but I will try to give a few answers. Photography is art. We enjoy art and put it on our walls so that it brightens up our wall. Photography helps our memories. If you look on your wall are your memories there? You may have photos of family members on your walls or there may be places where you have lived. You may only take photos on holiday and there is nothing wrong with that. You can show your friends where you have been.

Times are changing and photos are now shared on the internet. Some of my photographs are used on my website at and they are used for advertising. Photographs from around the world are now visible in seconds. Photos are used as comments on contemporary life and then become historical documents.

Photos are used for legal reasons. My first thoughts were speed cameras but photography is commonly used by the police. There is a specialist department in hospital called medical illustration. The digital age has transformed photography and I suspect it is now difficult to find anyone for whom photography does not play some part in their work.

There are hundreds, possibly thousands of reasons why we take photos but essentially photography is about communication and a picture is worth a thousand words but there is a more important reason and you have read about it in my last two blogs. Take photographs because you enjoy taking photographs.

Happy snapping

Friday, 4 December 2009

More Favourite Tips

I share my photography tips with you when I write every photography blog and each tip could be a favourite if it relates to what I want to do. When I take wedding photographs I like to take the bride and groom away from the venues so that the background is relevant and fully in view. it only takes a minute to walk this far away so this must be one of my favourite tips. It's not just for weddings as you can use great backgrounds on holiday or even in Morecambe.

I also like to get the bride and groom to look at a mirror or a picture on the wall and when I get home I superimpose a photo of them onto the wall. It doesn't take much skill but I suppose it is like anything. If you can't do it then you can't do it. One of the simplest techniques on the computer is to convert to monochrome or sepia but this could be a favourite technique. I think that photos are totally transformed with these techniques. You can start to look at form rather than bright colours.

Having written about great backgrounds, I also like to take out distractions from the background. Very often a simple crop takes out the unwanted item but I will often clone them out. It is impossible to tell that this has been done if you work on grass or any natural background. I have published some photographs on where you can see the 'before' and 'after' on the secrets page. You already have my favourite tip - enjoy what you are doing.

Happy snapping

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Favourite Photography Tips

I wonder what a photographer would tell you if you asked them for their favourite tip? I remember one person telling me that if you imagine an Austin Powers type caricature of a photographer then they are taking a lot of photographs. They are talking to their model and they are getting different reactions from them. It is so much easier to follow this example in the digital age. As long as you come away with some good photos it doesn't matter that many of the others will never see the light of day. Another photographer may tell you that you shouldn't take too many photos as you need to organise and store them as well as do some work on them.

If you ask for a favourite tip for good composition would you be listening to an explanation of the rule of thirds. I quite like this rule but there are many very good photos that break this rule. Would you be told to learn the physics of photography? If you understand the theory then you can take control of the camera. On the other hand is it more important to encourage artistic experimentatiion. A theoretical basis may stifle innovation.

What is my favourite tip? It is enjoy your photography. I sign off with "happy snapping" but enjoy the slow deliberate photographs as well. If you enjoy photography then everything else will follow.

Happy snapping

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Emotion in photographs

There was a supplement to the Guardian last week which was called 100 years of great press photographs. There were many famous photographs including one of Margaret and Denis Thatcher as they left Downing Street for the last time. Margaret looks particularly tearful. Capturing emotion produces powerful photographs.

The first time that I came across a tearful wedding guest I hesitated to take the photo. I have not hesitated since then because the photograph may be wanted. Whatever the bride and groom decide to do with the photographs afterwards is up to them. When I write blogs about weddings the subjects of the photos are almost always just the bride and groom as I ask their permission to write about them. Occasionally there are tears from the bride or groom but I don't think that I would ask their permission to use this type of photograph for publication, and I don't think Margaret was too happy about the Iron Lady showing her vulnerability.

Happy snapping

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Midland from the sea side.

I will stay with the subject of night photography a little longer because it is an easy subject at this time of year. These photos are the Midland Hotel taken from the sea side. I think you get a better sense of the grandeur of the building at night. I also think you also get a better sense of the ship design.

The camera is resting on a wall and from this angle you almost get the impression that the wall is a wonderfully smooth path leading to the Midland. This distortion may not be to everyone's taste. You can always crop it out but this is not the most efficient way to take your photos. You lose megapixels by cropping. A bean bag as per Woodsy's comment on Sunday would help, and so would a tripod. The former is definitely easier to carry around.

You may be interested to know that it was from this very wall that I took the left-sided photo for the blog on Friday 30th October. So it is possible to take a more common perspective without a tripod

Happy snapping