Monday, 6 August 2007

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Realgrain Plugin Review

flowing water, long exposure

Convincing Black And White Digital Photographs

I feel comparing black and white digital photography with it's film equivalent is like comparing apples with oranges. They just are not the same thing in look and feel. I discussed this in detail in part 1 of this series. When speaking with photographer Hellen Van Meene she describe film as having "magic". Now I'm not sure what the techical term for magic is but creatively I know exactly what Hellen means.

Until very recently I didn't really feel there was anything available for the digital photographer that would add that magic to a black and white digital photograph. I already knew from bitter experience that transforming a colour digital photograph into a convincing black and white print is very difficult and can be inconsistant and unconvincing.

I felt the end results could be lacklustre and the process time consuming. Also doing excellent black and white conversion is beyond most peoples abilities. People want to take pictures not program computers. I resigned myself to shooting rolls of black and white film and paying exhobitant sums of money to develop them. This was the situation until I discovered some software called Realgrain.

Realgrain is a plugin for photoshop made by Imagenomic makers of the excellent Noiseware program. Essentially Realgrain claims to mimic the visual effect of various colour and black and white film stocks. Classic films such as Fuji Velvia 50 or Kodak Tri-X 400. I tried it out to see if these claims where true. I began by experimenting with the black and white film conversion.

Accessing the plugin is simple it sits in the menu of Photoshop with all the other filters and plugins and is simply selected from the drop down menu. Selecting a film type for conversion is equally simple. You just select a group from a drop down list. In this case Black and White Films. Then select a specific film from the second list.

realgrains creenshot

In this first screen shot I have converted the colour image at the begining of the article into a simulated Kodak Tri-X 400. I have to say that the conversion impressed me at once as this was my usual choice of black and white film stock and it looked very close to the original to me. You can also control luminance, grain density and tonal range to gain the effect you want quickly and easily.

realgrain screenshot

The second screenshot is a conversion to a colour film stock demonstrating that you can also adjust the tone curve for the shadows, midtones and highlights. Much as you would do in the darkroom by adjusting your developing and printing processes. Only on this occasion it's cheaper, cleaner and you have an UNDO button.

realgrain screenshot

On the third screenshot i've done a simmulated cross processed effect and you can also see I have available a control pannel to take total control over the hue and saturation value of every colour in the photograph.

realgrain screenshot

In the forth and final screenshot I have selected a simulated infrared conversion and have also showed the forth control pannel which allows you too tone the image as you would in a darkroom. With options such as Platinum/Silver available. You can also easily set the tone balance and add colour tints with the click of a mouse.

I have to say I am completely sold on this wonderful plug-in. It does it's job superbly well and is very easy and intuitive to use. It's not processor hungry so it works efficiently on any reasonable PC. I tested on a 2.6Ghz Athlon machine with 2Gb of memory and a conversion took around 6 seconds on a 60Mb .TIF file. The plug-in works on 8bit and 16bit files also. It's also a total bargain as it weighs in at a humble £45 ($90)

Please note I recommend things I like and find useful and good value. My opinion is not for sale.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Cooking On Photography Trip

Pans steam and two people cooking A photograph of two of my photographer friends cooking up a feast on a creative weekend away. I've been using this image and others to test Imagenomic's Realgrain. It's a photoshop plug-in which simulates film and darkroom effects on digital files. I'll post an article on with my thoughts on it soon.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Portraits Of Strangers - 3

Candid Portrait of Stranger - Image © David Toyne

Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.

- Matt Hardy

When I took B's picture she said to me "I take a terrible picture". I told her obviously that was impossible she must have only met terrible photographers.

Portraits Of Strangers - 2

candid portrait photograph of stranger - Image © David Toyne

There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.

- Ansel Adams

Another candid portrait photograph of a friendly stranger as I photographed people at random this week in Liverpool. I felt the quote fits as my presence has obviously influenced the shot quite strongly.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Portraits Of Strangers

Kindly Strangers - Image © 2007 David Toyne

Usually I think if there is something imperfect in a photograph it makes the picture more real. Photographs that are slick, smooth, and perfect seem less honest to me.

- John Loengard, "Pictures under discussion" by John Loengard,
ISBN: 0817455396

I'm with John Loengard´s sentiments in this quote. Sometimes it's the quirks and flaws make the image for me. The above is one of my random street portraits taken this week in a Pub in Liverpool, UK. I think it fits in with the definition of flaws adding to the image.

Candid Photography Advice

Kindly Old Gentleman - Images © 2007 David Toyne

I have collected some of my thoughts on how to go about candidly photographing total strangers. More importantly my thoughts on how to make it home intact and without a black eye and a broken camera.

The fist piece of advice is about how you act. People are like mirrors of your own behaviour. So when you photograph in public if you are cagey and sneaky people will be guarded and suspicious in their dealings with you.

If you lack confidence they will distrust your motives. If you don't know why you are there and what you're doing then you will probably encounter hostility and more suspicion. It's sad but that's the world we are in now.

So I advise being honest, chatty and open if challenged by anyone. You have nothing to hide remember. Watch for peoples responses and act to reassure them if needs be. Sometimes having a business card saying you are a photographer or a small selection of your work with you is a great way to relax a person who challenges you.

Next thing is how to approach people? Do you take a picture and then ask or do you ask then hope that the moment will not be lost? This depends on if you are interested in the moment or the individual in your photograph.

When it's the individual you are interested in asking permission is often the best way to proceed. If you are open, honest and clear why you want to take a picture then usually they will say yes. Often in fact people seem quite flattered at being asked. However if they do refuse then be polite and withdraw. Never take a picture of them after they have refused. You know how you'd feel about that and also it's just plain rude.

In the first shot sequence in this article I was interested in the man´s wonderful face and slight inebriation not the scene that he was in. Due to this I asked him to take his picture and he readily agreed. We chatted for a while and as he relaxed I took my pictures. He was laughing at me by the third shot as it was only then he realised I was taking his picture. He'd forgotten me until that point.
Dog face - Image © 2004-2007 David Toyne

In the second shot it's the moment that is of interest. So asking would have ruined the shot. The shot depended on the eye contact with the dog but no eye contact with the people. It also required people and dog's heads in a diagonal line as they are in the shot. Asking would have disturbed all the elements critical to making this picture work. As such I didn't ask I just shot the image. Ethically I feel good about that as the shot is positive and in no way casts the subjects in a negative light.

Last but by no means least don't waste time fiddling with your camera settings. In candid and street photography you have very little time. You must be ready camera in hand to shoot a picture in an instant. Blink and you can and do miss it! In a normal day exposures change very slowly with slow changes in ambient light. I recommend setting the camera on manual, set shutter speed and aperture for the current conditions and then tweak it when conditions change significantly (or every 30 minutes or so). That way you're focused on composition and your surroundings not the technicalities of photography. You'll also have a camera ready to be used at all times. Worst case is your exposure is off by plus or minus 1/2 a stop which is easily corrected in the darkroom or lightroom later.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Conclusion - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

going to photography hell

The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking.
- Brooks Atkinson, 1951, "Once Around the Sun"

My series of photography sins is at an end. I hope you have enjoyed them. I've put links to them all here so it's easy to bookmark should you want to do so. The time has come now to stop being negative and get down of my soap box. There will soon follow a more positive series covering the seven corresponding virtues of photography.

Envy - The belief that that the camera makes the image not the person. Compounded by the delusion that better cameras make you a better photographer.
Gluttony - The foolish belief that if some equipment is good then more is better. The technical obsessive without a creative soul.
Greed - Photographers with the delusion that they must impede other photographers. They resenting the success of other creative people and see them as a threat.
Lust - The desire to mimic another photographer or artist that is so strong it destroys your own creative personality.
Pride - The mistaken belief that you know best and are the best photographer in the universe. When in reality your report card might read "Must try harder".
Sloth - The belief your failure to set the world on fire with your images is due to factors other than you making no effort whatsoever.
Wrath - Creative impatience and self delusion taken out on other people in a negative, intolerant angry way.

Wrath - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

Self Portrait of Author - Image © David Toyne

Wrath is disproportionate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred, frustration and anger. These feelings manifest as a denial of the truth, both to others and to ourselves. Our anger is often our first reaction to the problems of others. Impatience with the faults of others is often related to this.

The seventh and final deadly sin of photography has two distinct aspects, both of which will negatively impact your photography.

The first effect is in your dealings with people as subjects for photography. Imagine for a second being photographed by a frustrated angry photographer. Any little thing that's wrong is a major issue and it's all your fault! Would you like to be part of this experience? Would you relax and be yourself? Can you give your all to a photographer like this? Finally, in all honesty do you feel the best image of you could be made in this circumstance? I suspect you know the answer to this already. The tension and stress it would create between the belligerent photographer yourself would begin to show.

With any picture featuring people as subjects the relationship between the models and the photographer is critical. Tension and negativity show in the end result. It's because of this that a wrathful photographer renders themselves unsuitable and ineffectual when photographing people. Whole swathes of photography become denied to them. This will of course only increase their frustration and they will probably blame everyone else as usual. So the first lesson is Don't be that angry photographer. Kind words and patience go a long way. People who show the virtue of kindness are usually the best people photographers as people enjoy being around them.

The second trait is more subtle but can be very insidious when the wrathful photographer uses it. Sadly they use it freely on less experienced photographers or on their subjects. This trait is the destructive criticism of others. They very fond of delivering wholely negative critique in order to vent their anger. They don't like to receive any advice of critisism themselves. Even very reasonable and helpful remarks will be met with a vitriolic response. They certainly won't listen if any advice is given (See the sin of Pride). Criticism is their crutch. It makes them feel better and absolves them of responsibility for their shortcomings.

You need to watch very carefully for unfounded critisism. More so if you're starting out in photography. At the start a series negative and unfounded critiques from these wrathful people can severely erode your creative confidence and dampen your enthusiasm. Worse still you might get stuck in the thankless rut of trying to appease these pompous idiots. The trick is to spot the wrathful critic early on. This is suprisingly easy as a wrathful critic offers only negative thoughts or an insult in the guise of opinion. No advice will be forthcoming nor any indication of where you got things right or how to improve your work. Tact will not be in evidence at any time, under any circumstance. What they say will only hurt and not be designed to help it will make you feel confused and upset without justification. Any questioning of their negative attitude will meet yet more hostility. If you get sucked in then before you know it you're in their world being angry and frustrated right back at them. Moral of the story? Just walk away. It feels better removes their power and proves you the better individual.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Greed - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

Behind The Walls - Image © David Toyne

This is about more than being acquisitive and demanding. It's about NOT letting others get the credit or praise for their part. It is NEVER giving without having expectations of the other person. Greed wants to get its 'pound of flesh' or a bit more...

Artistic creativity is a strange business but in photography it gets even stranger. I think this may be due to insecurity about whether it's an art or a technology? Maybe it's due to this worry that it was in photography where I first encountered creative greed. And let me say that to me the sin of greed is most offensive to me. I shall elaborate...

The reason I started writing these articles was to help people. Plain and simple. I just wanted to occasionally shed some light or make something click for people that are where I was once. This is due to my early experiences in photography where I found help difficult to come by. You see I first discovered the phenomenon of creative greed as I started out. As I had been around artists all my young life and never come across this phenomenon it was something of a rude awakening.

I'd had a camera for only a week when I stumbled across a professional photographer. As I was really struggling I asked them for help with a very basic problem. It required about 15 seconds of their valuable time. Instead of an answer I got a very public mocking. I was left feeling a little red faced, non the wiser and very patronised. I'd had my first encounter with a greedy photographer.

In contrast in the many years since this negative experience I have asked many other photographers many questions. Usually I have received a warm reception, obtained great advice and encouragement and in some cases formed lasting friendships. It was only later with experience and hindsight I realised the difference between these two schools of creativity.

Photographers who suffer the malaise of creative greed have the fear that they must keep all information and skill for themselves. That some how if they help anyone they may have a success that is rightly theirs. They actually resent your interest in photography and your success is a threat to them. These people are actually not that great creatively. Their greed and selfishness only masks a deeper insecurity and often a poor ability.

Mistakenly these lost souls think they can create in a vacuum. They think by holding people back they move forwards. They do this by taking from everyone and give nothing back. Sadly for these creative vampires it's their loss. They fail to see that one of the great things about being creative is when you put a couple of creative people together in a room and they are both generous with each other then the results are fabulous and the time spent benefits all concerned. Where as if you remain afflicted with creative greed you end up walking a lonely road with very little to inspire you. You stagnate and your work reflects this.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

What Is Street Photography Anyway?

Television Lies Graffitti - Image © Johnny Mobasher

You'll often hear talk about the mysteries of street photography. Its much rarer to hear any solid discussion about what it actually is. Now there will be much nonsense spouted about the cultural sophistication required to understand it. It can also be the most cliquey and puritanical branch of photography. This should all be ignored, it's very easy to be fed a load of sophisticate nonsense by effete snobs who want to exclude you from what they see as 'their party'. I advise that you just filter out these pompous nay sayers and explore this rewarding branch of photography for yourself.

The above rant over it was most refreshing to find Johnny Mobasher's website. It covers the ancient art of street photography by letting the pictures do the talking. There are dozens of galleries of street photography and also some interesting thoughts on the subject. If you want an idea where to get started and an understanding of why street photography can be so innovative and liberating this is a great site to study.

In addition to the above site Johnny also has a blog which has on occasion made me die laughing.

Son Of A Shameless Plug

Use of lead in lines

Venerable photographer and writer Paul Indigo has once again hit the spot with an interesting article. It's a sequel to an article I previously mentioned as such I'm drawing attention to it. Once again it has a nice focus on the importance of non-technical aspects of designing and creating strong images.

The first essay was about designing images that work. The follow up is about more advanced composition and how to plan advanced design concepts into an image.

I include the image on the left as it illustrates the use of lead lines as described in Paul's second article. This concept was first introduced to me by professional photographer Magda Indigo some years ago.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Gluttony - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

Mosquito - Image © 2007 David Toyne

Gluttony: does not accept the natural limits of your needs. It does not preserve any natural balance. This does not pertain only to food, but to entertainment and the pursuit of material goods...
In photography the sin of equipment gluttony is often compounded by the other deadly sin of camera envy. The results are negative and counter productive though for different reasons.

When a case of photographic gluttony begins the sinner in question begins to labour under the delusion that if some camera equipment is good then more is even better!

Now this can be OK if said person takes the time and effort to fully learn and utilize all that equipment. However in reality they tend to do one of two things and both are bad.

Option 1: They become totally equipment obsessed. The technical brain dominates the creative brain. Their piggy eyes see only into their camera bag they never look up and see the beauty around them. Photography becomes about the obtaining of camera equipment.
Option 2: The confusion of so many creative tools available causes endless mistakes, missed opportunities and botched images. Their potential is hindered not helped by their gluttonous acquisition of photographic equipment.

I'll end on a true story. A few years ago I went to London on a course in candid street photography. I arrived with one small discrete camera on a wrist strap. It had a small prime lens mounted on the front. There was a small flash in my pocket for any abstracts I saw along the way. In short I was mobile, discrete and blended in nicely.

Another course member exploded onto the scene with around six huge white telephoto lenses, two huge professional camera bodies, an enormous backpack and a ridiculous 'photo-vest'. He was somewhat 'high key'.

Within minutes of arrival and comparison the equipment junkie proceeded to mock me and several other delegates for twenty minutes solid. It quickly became apparent he was delusionaly impressed with the size of his own equipment and had assumed this view was universal. I tried to explain my choice of light, discrete minimal kit. I felt it was more suited after all. In the end we just sat in silence as the gear glutton pontificated from the top of his camera bag.

We spent half a day on our classroom lesson then in the afternoon we went out on assignment into the city with our cameras. The gear glutton crept noisily into a small square and raised his gargantuan camera to his eye. A small teenage boy looked shocked and pointed at his lens with the exclamation, "what in hell are you doing with the Hubble telescope!?!?". Everyone immediately noticed and most people laughed aloud. His candid moment was completely blown. This or similar happened all afternoon. His photographs where predictably poor.

The moral of the story is often less is more. Stick with what you need and what's appropriate.

Lust - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

If mine eye offends thee - Image © 2007 David Toyne

LUST: Self control and self mastery prevent pleasure from killing the soul by suffocation. Lust is the self-destructive drive for pleasure out of proportion to its worth. Sex, power, or image can be used well, but without knowledge of yourself they tend to go out of control...

The photographic sin of lust is a strange sin indeed. It is often the subject of much discussion amongst photographers. It manifests in the form of an unsuccessful and un-original photographer. One who is so influenced and so enamored with a particular photographers style that they seek to emulate every aspect of it. Their lust to actually be that photographer takes over and they cease to be their own creative entity. This manifests in their endless dry and technical emulation of their idol.

Of course they will only ever manage to be a pale immitation of the person they placed on the pedestal. Worse still, as is the way with all meaningless lust, their loss of an individual visual identity damages them. Their passion for photography dies and the tiny seedling of originality withers in the ground.

To make a distinction from this erroneous path I'll add this footnote: By all means you should look at the work of many other creative individuals. You can draw great inspiration and pleasure from the experience. One can learn and grow simply by being open to a creative experience as represented by another. In fact being honest with yourself for a moment is it not a natural thing to want others to appreciate your photographs? So would it not be hypocritical to not extend that courtesy to others?

This is where it should end though. A healthy love of the work of other people tempered with a knowledge of yourself. Not a lust to be another person at the loss of your own creative identity.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Digital Workflow - (Part3) - Clones and Space Invaders

Screen Shot of Reasonable Softwares NoClone Version 4

Screenshot Of NoClone Version 4

After the last workflow article I was asked if I had experience of a program to save space by finding and removing duplicates on a hard drive. The use of a program like this this being obvious too anyone with Gigabytes of .tif photographs and .mp3's clogging their hard drive.

Now as it happens I discovered a superb program for this exact purpose some time ago and have used it for Two versions now. The software in question is a very cheap little utility called 'NoClone' which is available from Reasonable software as a download. It's at a price like their name would suggest.

Use couldn't be simpler. Pick some file paths to search for duplicates. Tell the program what duplicates you want to look for. Something like 'Exact content duplicate files'. Next tell it what kind of file. An obvious choice from the drop down box being 'Images'. Click [Search] and wait for a short time.

The program will rapidly search the folders you request and mark up what it thinks should be deleted and place it in a list next to the suspected matching duplicate file. It will pick older files or whatever other preferences you choose to set. You can check the files and delete away. Couldn't be simpler. I saved 12.9 Gb on an 80 Gb Hard Drive in 5 minutes. Well worth it's $32.90 asking price just on $'s per Megabyte it saved me along with a few hours work.

Hellen Van Meene interview goes live.

Image © Hellen Van Meene - Courtesy of Schirmer/Mosel

In late 2006 I had the great experience of interviewing renowned portrait photographer Hellen Van Meene. She was a fascinating articulate person with great thoughts and opinions about her craft. So much so that I had to do the harshest edits I've ever done in an article. That or it would have been three times as long as my editor would like it!

Hellen's work focuses on teenagers, mostly young women, who are on bordering on adulthood. The images have an almost otherworldly quality. She discusses the reasons for this and how she approaches her work in my article. I've included an excerpt of below as a taster. The full article can be found here on where I work as Professional Photographer Portfolio Editor.

Hellen felt part of her talent as a photographer was to draw something more out of her models something from within them. She felt sometimes this meant strong direction of her models which often means having to ask them how to pose or how to look. Guiding them through the process. Her description of this was dramatic referring to it as "like sculpting on a living soul" She feels a strong responsibility for her models and the look she gives them as she has chosen them in the first place for qualities they are perhaps unaware they have at this point. She adds after pausing for thought "I try to get the best things out of them. If it means I have to turn her around or anything else, it’s my responsibility and that is a big challenge every time. It’s too easy to make a photo of an insecure girl. I mean…there’s nothing in it. It’s much more of a challenge to take an insecure girl and change her into Queen Elizabeth. That’s more difficult".

I really hope you enjoy the article and as always if you have feedback, suggested photographers to interview or would like that kind of exposure yourself please drop me a mail.

Hellen's Book is available from Schirmer Mosel Publishing. I have my own copy already and am delighted with both the content and the print quality.

Previous interviews on

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Sloth - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

If I had not got up I could not have taken this! - Image © 2007 David Toyne

SLOTH: The other sins work together to deaden the senses so we first become slow to respond then drift completely into the sleep of complacency. In short we become a lazy good for nothing photographer.

This is really simple so I'll keep it brief. If you don't have your camera with you you can't take pictures. If you don't go out looking for pictures they will not come and knock on your door begging for you to pop out and take them. If you don't make an effort to find the pictures all around you, while moaning that there is nothing to photograph, then you are guilty of the sin of photographic sloth.

The cure is simple. Get up off lazy complacent backside, put down the pie and turn off the television. Make an effort. No one took a great picture by sitting doing nothing. You'll find Ansell Adams actually walked about a bit to take pictures. In order to practice what I preach I got up at an ungodly hour on a cold and windy day to take the photo in this article. I could have stayed in bed but I personally think it was worth the trip.

NOTE: The sin of photographic sloth should not be confused with photographing sloths which is a noble though slightly obscure pass time of wildlife photographers.

Pride - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

In the Frame... - Image © David Toyne

PRIDE: Seeing ourselves as something we are not. Pride and vanity are also collaborative. If someones pride really gets your goat, then you have a lot of pride.

In photography the sin of pride is a devastating sin. It will prevent you learning. It will prevent you accepting advice. It will make many a potential mentor shun you without you ever realising they have. Your development into a talented photographer will simply never occur. And why is that you ask? There's a simple and obvious answer to the question. If you are so prideful that you already believe you are a great photographer why would you struggle to actually be one? If you are so vain as to believe you already know best how can you ever listen and learn to a more experienced photographer? How can you ever see virtue in the work of anyone else if you are already the greatest? Also why on earth would anyone want to pause and help anyone so arrogant as yourself?

Now opening up to the fact that you are not the greatest at landscape, portrait, street or whatever type of photographer is difficult. You must subsume that huge ego. John Cleese once described this process of divesting yourself of ego as going to sleep thinking you're Atilla The Hun but waking up to find your a Budgie. Now it's very difficult to accept you are not always perfect but the benefits are enormous. If you are open to the fact you are flawed and have room to improve. You begin to strive to improve. You begin to be honest and examine your work more critically. You learn to listen and to take on board the opinions of others. That's how you grow as a photographer. It's how you approach greatness.

If you follow that advice then I am sure that one day you will be very proud of your accomplishments in photography. On that day being justifiably happy with what you've worked hard to accomplish is an entirely different ball game to just deluding yourself about your own greatness.

PS: The picture in the article is:

A/. The greatest picture ever taken.
B/. Has been posterized to hide the fact it's out of focus.

Which point of view will help me improve the most?

Friday, 16 February 2007

Envy - Seven Deadly Sins Of Photography

Church, Graveyard And Tombstone - Image © John MacLeod

ENVY: Resents the good others receive or even might receive. Envy irrationaly ignores the reasons for other peoples good fortune and despises the success of others.

Camera envy is one of the deadly sins of photography for a very good reason. It gives people the delusional excuse that if only they had the same camera as photographer x,y or z then they would take the same wonderful pictures as them. This insidious little delusion manages to insult the talent of the accomplished photographer by crediting only their equipment while simultaneously excusing them from responsibility for their own creative ability.

Rather than argue about the importance of what camera you use I will simply quote three professional photographers I interviewed recently and you'll see the pattern emerge yourself.

Deutsche Börse nominee Philippe Chancel when speaking about his work was interrupted by the cry of 'Great prints! What camera do you use?' looking very confused for a moment he said the following.

35mm. I don't know what one sorry, it's not important.

Philippe found the use of repeated motifs and symbols to tell a story far more important than any camera.

Johnathan Taylor a successful photo journalist when asked about his cameras of choice was using film cameras of a 30 year old design. The kind even a mild camera snob would ignore. His reason was relevant to his trade and revealed something about why he is good at what he does.

I like them as they have a small body so your face isn’t covered

Jonathan knew it was far more important to avoid creating a barrier with his subjects than to obsess over the best camera.

Hellen Van Meene brought a smile to my face and made a very relevant point at the same time. To quote from her own FAQ's:

Hellen started making photos on plastic snapshot camera she got from Santa Claus. She advises to get to know about color in the darkroom like she did, or simply by experimenting with Photoshop (like she does now, but based on what she learned among the chemicals in the darkroom). Learning to view the world like a photographer is the only thing that matters, not the hardware, film or settings used.

Hellen's full attention is on her connection to her models not what camera she has.

The moral of the story is covet not thy neighbors camera just focus on the content of your images, your approach to your chosen subjects and then really work at it. The rest will come and it won't ever matter what camera you use.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Digital Workflow (Part2) - Backup Those Files!

Ferris Wheel at Night - Image © David Toyne

To give an example hard drive problem think on this. A hard drive head hits a speck of dust on the disc. Scaled down it's like a jumbo jet flying down a runway at 650mph; six millimetres off the ground with it's undercarriage down. Imagine the chaos if at that moment it hits a family sized car. You'd be right in assuming both the jet and the runway are destroyed in the encounter. If it was your hard drive crashing then the disc and heads would be destroyed along with all your images. Image recovery costs, when recovery is posible, can run into huge sums of money.

Now backups are boring, time consuming and mistakes get made. So I run a very cheap and simple backup solution to avoid this problem. You could easily implement it yourself. All you need is one external hard drive and a small piece of software called AllwaySync. Looking online today a USB 2.0 external hard drive with 300GB of space can be obtained for around £65 ($140). AlwaySync Pro costs a paltry £10 ($19.99). So for a very small sum you're up and running.

What I have in mind is simple to set-up and simple to maintain. Afterwards your backups are automatic, rapid and only the files that have changed will be backed up. Just follow the easy steps below:

  1. Plug in your USB\Firewire hard drive. It will usually be detected automatically.Format the USB\Firewire hard drive with your chosen file system. Assign the drive a permanent drive letter that's not is use like X: or Z: for example.
  2. On the external drive create a folder called 'Picture Archive' or similar.
  3. Install AllwaySyc on the computer and run it (No explanation required it's a total cinch!).

  4. Allwaysync Pro - Screenshot
  5. Select the picture folder on your hard drive on the left and the picture folder you set-up for backups on your external drive on the righthand side (See above image).

  6. Click the 'Synchronise' button. The application will do the rest.
There are more advanced options you can use such as telling the software to look for changes and synchronise both folders when you plug in the drive, or to run on a backup schedule every week at a certain time.

AllwaySync Options Screen
You can tell the software to monitor your picture folder all the time and synchronise every time you save a change if you like. There are many self explanatory options available.

Loads of time saved!
There's nothing it doesn't do quickly and easily and without complication. It's what I like most about it. Most of all it saves time, doesn't rely on my memory and gives me piece of mind that my images are safe and sound. To me that's priceless.

***Note: I have no commercial affiliation with any product or service mentioned here. I don't get sponsored. I sing the praises of only what I have tried and what works for me. Even then only if I think it's a bit special and good value. I write these articles for personal satisfaction and to help you out, not for selfish capitalist reasons.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Design In Nature

Swan Reflected - Image © David Toyne

Another interesting article by Paul Indigo has just been posted. This one touches on design in nature. The article was illustrated with a great photograph of a swan.

Now it just so happened that I had a lovely picture of a swan to hand today. I took it a year or so back. So I thought I'd post it as it ties in with my previous article on healthy creative differences as it shows one subject with two very different interpretations.

My image also fits with Paul's thoughts on design in nature. Read his article and you'll see what I mean.

In The Eye of The Beholder?

What happens if you put lots of photographers at the same time, in the same place and ask them to photographer the same thing? All the pictures will be the same or similar right?.

To be honest I've often found it most odd when people state this kind of nonsense. I find it stranger still and most distasteful when a photographer is unwilling to share a 'secret' location. Is this in case you somehow steal their mojo? Thankfully I've recently had the opportunity to robustly debunk this myth.

I was recently on a photographic weekend with several practiced photographers and a recent convert to photography. One morning sat on a hill looking at the same tree at the same time. I suggested we all took pictures and then we compared the results. The results surprised even me.

I'll start with myself. I wanted a panoramic symmetrical shot of the scene. So I used a wide lens with the intention of cropping the top and bottom of the image afterwards.

Sycamore Gap - Image © David Toyne
Next is the photograph of Wirral, UK based photographer Anthony Smith. To use his own words

I shot this as a variation of what is an often shot scene. I wanted to include some of the surrounding landscape too. I shot in portrait mode for something a bit different as its not the usual landscape orientation.

Sycamore Gap - Image © Anthony Smith
Next up is Andy Rosochacki. Now Andy made me smile straight away by vanishing over the hill into the opposite direction and photographing into the sun. This is 'against the rules' so it gets my vote. In Andy's own words:

As you remember I did my loner bit and disappeared down the other side of the hill. I'd made a mental note to shoot towards the light source at some stage during the break as most of my previous landscapes have shown lots of detail on the land due to keeping the sun out of shot.

Sycamore Gap - Image © Andy Rosochacki
Last but by no means least is the new kid on the block John MacLeod. He's had a camera only 3 months and is already hooked. I feel he's got great potential largely because no one has had chance to try stifle his creativity yet. He's not hobbled with too many rules and technical obsessions. The result is his photograph is completely abstract and original. It shows a very individual way of looking at things. The great message for us all in John's shot is that you learn by experimenting and should never stop doing so.

Sycamore Gap - Image © John MacLeod
As you can see with a group of photographers in the same place at the same time the results vary hugely. This is for a very simple reason. The creative intent and the creative eye of each photographer is totaly different. This difference in creative intent shapes how a photographer will compose and what they want to show in their interpretation of a scene. It also tends to influence how and what they look for in the first place.

If there is a moral to the tale (and I am not sure there is!) then I think it is this one thing. There is no right and wrong image here there are just different interpretations of what was there. Don't mimic and don't fight your own creative urges. Be yourself, see for yourself and you will not go wrong.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Lars Tunbjörk Exhibition

Lars Tunbjörk at OpenEye Gallery - Image © 2007 David Toyne

I recently interviewed renowned Swedish documentary photographer Lars Tunbjörk. Later I attended the preview of his first U.K. exhibition at the OpenEye Gallery in Liverpool. The exhibition consists of three aspects of his work. The Office Series (2001) which shows all the underlying chaos and claustrophobia of the modern corporate workplace. The images are taken with a wry sense of humour while retaining the disturbing claustrophobia of the hot desking, cube farmed, globalized workplace. The second series Dom Alla (All Those) 2002, looks at institutional environments in the Swedish welfare systems.

© Lars Tunbjörk, Lawyer’s office, New York, 1997 - From the series Office. Courtesy of Galerie Vu
© Lars Tunbjörk, Lawyer’s office, New York, 1997.
From the series Office. Courtesy of Galerie Vu

The third and final series in the exhibition is Madrid, 2004 a very stark series of images of the residential developments on the outskirts of Madrid. It is an almost alien landscape punctuated by feeble attempts to add a plant here or a border there. In stark contrast to the Office series there are no people at all in these images. Its a suburban landscape repeated all over the brave new world of Neo-Europe and Lars demonstrates it very well. The lyrics of the Dead Kennedy's came to mind as I looked at this work. The chant of 'This could be anywhere! this could be everywhere...' echo'd round my head. It could have been a statement or a warning and the same can be said of Lars Tunbjörk's well observed photographic narratives. When asked about this he enigmaticaly said simply 'you decide.' and i'd certainly recommend everyone visits this exhibition and does just that.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Interview With Hellen Van Meene

New Work Book Cover - Image © Hellen van MeeneI'm a few days off publication of my latest interview with a profesional photographer. In this case it is with renowned Dutch photographer Hellen Van Meene. I'm just editing the final draft of the article and have to say I'm very excited about how it's shaping up. She's a fascinating and articulate person who's views on her work are extremely interesting. The interview will appear on very shortly. I'll post an update informing you when the article goes live. The image on the left is the cover to her book 'New Work' which I'd recommend both for the themes it contains, the quality of the images and as a masterclass in the use of natural light.

In the meantime if you haven't already you could check out my previous two interviews on

Jonathan Taylor - A Photo-journalist based in Asia talks about his work and how to keep your cool and produce good documentary photography work while dining with a contract killer! A real insight into photo journalism from a very talented photographer.
Andy Rouse - The world renowned wildlife photographer Andy Rouse talks about his new work, photography in Antarctica and his future plans. Worth checking out for his award winning images alone. Add to that he's funny and to the point and you're on to a winner.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Shameless Plug

Veteran photographer and professional writer Paul Indigo has written two excellent articles recently. I thought I would highlight them here due to their excellent content. What sets them apart in my mind is the focus they have on the importance of non-technical aspects of creating a great image. An image with meaning and emotional content rather than a snapshot or a dry technical exercise. This is something that is often overlooked in art, design and photography.

The first is an article on conveying emotion in an image.
The second is an essay about designing images that work.

Both are recommend reading.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Is creative imperfection a good thing?

Brighton 2006 - Image © Luke Smith

What do we mean when we say a photograph is technically perfect? In fact I wonder is it a good thing to dwell on such things? I began to consider the topic of technical perfection seriously this morning when I read comments criticizing Henry Cartier Bresson for being technically imperfect. It's no secret that at times he was technically imperfect. However I was quite surprised someone could be so obsessed with the technical as to miss the undoubted emotional and artistic merits of H.C.B.'s vast body of groundbreaking work.

To me a technically perfect photograph, one devoid of meaning, is anathema. It is a photograph that asks no questions of my eye and makes no demands on my mind. It does not engage me at all. Its like a brand new show home. Beautiful on the surface but too anodyne and sterile to stay there long.

Please don't think that I am not suggesting that technical discipline is not required in photography. I am suggesting something quite to the contrary. There are too many lazy artists already I wouldn't suggest that you join their already bloated ranks by throwing any craft to the wind and trusting only your 'muse'. What I am suggesting to you is that obsession with nothing but technical perfection is the death of a thousand cuts to your creative eye. The end result is images like thousands of others. Images with no relevance and no originality. Images that serve no purpose other than that of a dry technical exercise.

I believe strongly that our eyes and through them our minds really enjoy a visual puzzle. A visual puzzle engages us and holds our attention. It's a feast for the eye and it stops us from becoming bored with an image before we have engaged with it. In fact I'd suggest it is often an images quirks and imperfections that grip us the most.

Take the image in this article kindly provided by extremely talented Aardman Animation photographer Luke Smith. It could be argued it has technical imperfections. It has converging verticals, motion blur and some dubious areas of exposure. I'd argue strongly that it's a dynamic image, it makes suggestions to us. It tells a story that demands more of our energy to figure out what's occurring. We can even easily apply our own interpretation to it. In short it engages us as viewers and holds us there. I could go further and state it's the blur and dynamic 'on the fly' feel of the image generated by it's imperfections that add most to this image. In short it is when measured by my yardstick and excellent and engrossing image.

I'll end with Luke's own thoughts on his image:

It's been interesting reading the threads about Cartier Bresson and peoples thoughts about technical perfection in photography. In case you don't already know this image shows where I stand on the subject...

I need say no more...

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Double Velvia Vision

Standard Hadrian's Wall - Image © David Toyne One of the major reasons many landscape photographers avoid going digital is Fuji Velvia film. It is without a doubt a fantastic film for landscape. It has a great colour and tone idealy suited to landscapes.

So it was with great interest on my landscape weekend that I tried out the Adobe Photoshop 'Velvia Vision' plugin from Fred Miranda's website.

The picture on the top left is taken with a 3 stop ND Grad filter to hold back the sky. The same shot shown on the bottom left has had the Velvia Vision plugin used on it. The Velvia shot has a warmer tone and has a better dynamic range and contrast. This has benefited the look of the sky greatly.

Velvia Hadrian's Wall - Image © David Toyne
Now i could have done all this myself given enough time in Adobe Photoshop. This plugin did it in 10 seconds 1 click and no effort whatsoever on my part. This gets my vote every time. Less time in Photoshop is more time taking pictures.

Verdict: $25 well spent

Understanding the Abstract

Cobbles, lines and curves abstract - Image © David Toyne Fellow photographer Chris Shepherd has written and interesting article detailing his thoughts on Abstract Photography. It's a good read and illustrated with a picture I particularly like. To me it is a good example of an abstract image that's both well executed and contains meaning for the viewer.

His views in the article differ slightly from my own so I may at some point write a contrasting article to compliment Chris's. This is not a critisism of the views Chris holds. Quite the contrary as it is different view points and perspectives that make any creative act such as photography unique. The fact our views are simmilar but diverge is no suprise to anyone and i'd certainly not want to change that difference of opinion. I'd add that I wouldn't say one of us is right and the other wrong either. Creativity is never as black and white as this if you'll pardon the photography joke in the metaphor! We all have our own approaches shaped by our own creative perspectives.

This is vitally important as without this no unique work could be produced. We'd all be static and boring clones of each other.

My next article will cover the differing ways photographers can perceive and approach the same subject. Like this note it deals with the 'creative differences' all photographers share and how they enrich photography for us all.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Digital Workflow (Part 1) - Appendix

Sycamore Gap, Hadrian's Wall, UK - Image © David Toyne

I've added some additional links to support the article: Digital Workflow (Part 1) they should assist you if you decide to follow any of the advice in the article.

Some tutorials for using Capture One are available on their support page at Phase One's website. I'm a huge fan of this products ease of use and end result as you may have gathered.

Tutorials for using Adobe Bridge are available as a video tutorial on Radiant Vista. I like the Radiant Vista tutorials very much. I find video demo's a great way to hit the ground running when learning new software.

Two other workflow enhancing tools to organise images and keyword that I neglected in the article are:

AcidSee Pro - Easy to use and very flexible and feature rich. It has slowed a lot with .tif files when they are in the 100's of Megabytes when I tested it out. This doesn't affect most people of course but heavy photoshop users and people who get above 8MPixels and 4 layers at 16 bit also need to try it out and see if its okay on your machine.
Extensis Portfollio - Superbly fast program to organise and catalogue all your media files including files on offline drives or CD/DVD backups that are not loaded on your computer. It's only drawback is the price is a little steep. Other than that its a fast and solid product.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Digital Workflow (Part 1) - Organising Your Files

Crosby Beach Inlet - Image © David Toyne I'm now less than a day away from my annual trip with my photography friends. As always each year I'm very excited and currently counting down the hours. I realised that weather permitting I'll generate 1,000 plus digital photograph's in the next four days. This scary thought made me consider digital workflow.

You will soon find that thousands of digital photographs on your PC at random can become a huge headache. Files get lost, impossible to find or damaged. Duplicates are created and space gets wasted. As digital photography is now inside so many homes this has become a real issue for many of us. In the past we may have had physical photograph albums and negatives, where as now we have a hard drive. Our eggs are now all in one basket and it has become a worry. You could easily loose a precious image of great sentimental value. Perhaps something you can't ever replace? Worse case you could loose all your photographs in their entirety. If you're a pro or semi pro this could also have severe financial implications and affect your reputation and future business.

In this series of articles I'll cover how to organise your digital photographs, how to back them up and archive them and I'll also cover the image processing essentials to get from your original digital pictures to the best quality print you can manage. We'll start with what to do with your files before you even start work on them.

For the purposes of this exercise we'll assume you have taken your pictures. You are comfortably sat at your PC with your memory card clutched in your hand or your camera in it's docking station. The next thing you need to do is organise those files on the PC.

Preparing a place to store your images

Step 1 - When copying the files from the camera card or the camera itself copy them into one central folder. This folder should be where you keep all of your images. This makes backups easier to setup as you simply remember to backup one main folder.
Step 2 - A good plan after step 1 is to create sub-folders named by year and then under these sub-folders create a folder for each group of shots you take. Name the shots by using a date coupled with meaningful names. Use these folders to organise your files in. A good format of folder name is yyyy-mm-dd-{Photo Name}.
Step 3 - In each sub folder have a folder named 'developed' or similar in which to save you processed images. Never overwrite the original unprocessed image files in case you damage them. Always work on the copies of your originals in the developed image folder. Saving them in a separate location like this helps instill the discipline of not using your original files. Your final file path for images may be something like:

PictureArchive\2007\2007-01-29-HadriansWall\Develops\{file names}

All your files can easily be batch renamed within this central folder. This can be done with programs like Irfanview image viewer.

Irfanview Thumbnail Viewer

Irfanview thumbnail screenshot

can batch rename files and allow easy and rapid viewing of thumbnails. Best of all this is totally free though a donation to the author is an option well worth taking with this excellent program.

The finished file location

screenshot of image folder structure

Keywording your Images:
This used to be something of a bugbear. The software was expensive and unreliable but nowadays this task can be easily and quickly accomplished with a variety of cheap and cheerful software. First a little on what keywords are and why you want to use them.

Your files all contain 'meta data'. This is simply a part of the file which holds information about the file itself. In the case of your .mp3 player we're all already familiar with it as this is the part of the file that contains the artist name, track name, album title etc... We see it scroll on by as we listen to our favourite tune. In the case of picture files there is similar information available. You can, for instance, add the photographers name to a picture file. You can also add a description, title, copyright notice and camera information.

Most useful is the ability to add keywords. I'll explain myself. If you have a portrait of a monkey called John and keyword it with the words 'portraits, monkey, John'. What happens later in life when you have 20,000 pictures on your hard drive and need to find the picture file in a hurry? With keywords you can search for files containing the meta data 'portrait, monkey, john' and find your file instantly. As opposed to searching through years and years of files at random. Keywording takes minutes to do when saving your files from the camera and will constantly save you hours of stress in the future.

There are many tools to add meta data to batches of images. If money is an issue and performance is not then Microsoft do a very good tool for metadata editing.

Metadata editor screenshot

Microsoft Metadata editor screenshot

Microsoft also do an add on RAW file viewer to show RAW files as thumbnails. When used in addition to the meta data editor this is a very useful free solution.

There are also solutions to copy your files to a location on your hard drive. Batch rename them and add keywords and details all within one program. The ones that spring to mind are Adobe Bridge, Capture One LE/Pro and Adobe Lightroom.

Capture One Pro or LE is a program designed to import and process RAW images as a batch it is also able to keyword and rename files. It's RAW processing abilities are second to none in my opinion. I'll cover its use in a separate tutorial at a later date.

Capture One Screenshot

Capture One screenshot
Adobe Photoshop comes with the program Adobe Bridge which allows you to browse all your files as thumbnails, batch rename them, add metadata and keywords and also to send them directly to other programs to edit such as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Imageready.

Adobe Bridge Screenshot

Adobe Bridge screenshot
So at the end of this first article you should have a good idea of programs to use to organise and categorise your images. If you follow the advice in the article you should also have all your images stored in a manner where they can be easily found. No longer will questions about 'Where did I put that image of the cathedral in Liverpool I photographed in April last year?' be an issue. It'll be in the 2006\April\ folder and you can search for the keywords 'buildings, cathedral, Liverpool'. What was a stress is suddenly transformed into satisfaction.

Next time we'll look at back-up strategies to stop you loosing your images.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Portrait Photography - Useful Information

Sir Frederick Funkeldink Today I have the mental weakness of thinking in straight lines. This means I must follow yesterday's useful information on landscape photography with resources for portrait photography. As I've stated previously a lot of portrait photography is about your rapport with your subject and their trust of your ability to represent them. This means a portion of these links are a little less specific. I'll start with two portrait photographers of note worth looking at for differing reasons.

Arnold Newman - One of the great masters of the photographic portrait. His work is worth looking at for its great use of space and his ability to use the environment to tell you something about his subject. It's also obvious how great his relationship with his subjects is.
Hellen Van Meene - Renowned Nederland's photographer. Uses natural light and props/costume to produce stunning and original portraits with a very unusual and original feel to them. A great photographer to study for her use of light and colour in an image. Sadly the web can't do justice to how wonderful her prints are in reality.

The next two links are more technically useful with some information you can use directly either for ideas or to improve your technique and ability. This has the side effect of making your subject more relaxed as you'll be working fast and with confidence so they don't have time to panic or doubt your ability.

DG28.COM - This site is the brainchild of Neil Turner. Neil has been a freelancer and then a staff photographer for the Times Educational Supplement. He's a master of his craft and has great lighting and improvisational skills. I think they've been developed by hard work and the need to cope under the pressure of his job. On his website he generously shares his experience, tips and skills to give you great insight and inspiration as to what you can achieve in a portrait.
Planet Neil - A site made by Neil van Niekerk with a splendid tutorial on flash lighting. It is the best tutorial on this tricky subject that I've read anywhere. It's accessible easy to follow and superbly readable. It puts mastering flash and controlling light into the reach of anyone with a flashgun. As available light will not always suffice this is an essential read.

A couple of good books to read on the subject of portrait photography are:

Lighting For Portraits - By Steve Bavister. - A well illustrated and well written book covering the simple lighting for portraits right up to very complex studio setups with examples and diagrams of each style.
Portraits - By Steve McCurry. - A book of nothing but portraits by this most splendid of photographers. Pay attention to his use of colour and background. He reminds me of a rennaisance painter.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Landscape Photography - Useful Information

Dunstanburgh Castle - Image © James Burns

Once again I prepare for a long weekend of looking out at rain out a cottage window instead of taking landscape photographs. This got me to thinking about landscape photography for a while. I wondered what sites and information would be useful to photographers starting out with landscape photography. On the web there is a glut of information out there but I find I always return to the same handful of sites. With that in mind I thought I would list them here with a brief description.

The Luminous Landscape - The brainchild of the very talented Michael Reichmann. This frequently updated site contains articles on photographic equipment, printing, workflow and varied creative advice. The articles range from the very technical to clear and concise advice. The site has something at the right level for everyone.

Northscape - The creation of seasoned photographers Keith Henson and Andy Dippie. They run superb landscape courses all year round. I can highly recommend these courses as I have done one myself and learned more in 3 days than I could have taught myself in a year. They have also recently started master classes. More to follow on them soon.

Radiant Vista - In Digital photography and with scanned film photography also, the post processing of your images vital. It is often the diference between a stunning landscape and a mediocre shot. Radiant Vista has some excellent video tutorials to set you on the right track to produce shots that really stand out from the crowd. - Is a great web community for photographers of any ability. Ask a question and it'll be answered quickly and in a useful way. The site is crammed with people in the know on just about any landscape topic you need. There are also some well known professionals melingering on ePhotozine offering the benefit of their experience to beginners and enthusiasts.

Charlie Waite - The grand master of landscape photography. I recommend studying his images to help collect your own thoughts on landscape. He also gets involved protecting the landscape he loves rather than just being a tourist which I find admirable.

Joe Cornish - It was after first seeing the work of Joe Cornish I decided I wanted to be a photographer. Sadly I have the wrong temperament for landscape. However I greatly admire those who do landscape well like Joe. He's a really friendly, approachable and articulate person with very clear views on art and photography that show in his work. He does great courses which really make you slow down and think about what you're doing. Joe teaches you how to recognise what works in landscape and why it works. Once again this is not a random recommendation. I did a course with Joe and Dave Ward Two years back and loved every minute.

David Ward - Has a very unique abstract style all of his own. He also has a highly intelligent outlook on his work. He's the philosopher king of landscape photography and his book The Landscape Within is on the reading list of many skilled photographers I know.

Note: I'd also like to thank landscape photographer James Burns(*) for the beautiful image of Dunstanburgh used to illustrate this article. You can purchase prints from James or hire him for commissions, training etc... at his website.

* As with all landscapers don't feed him after midnight and keep him away from direct sunlight.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Portrait Photography (Part 1)

Maria in repose - Image © David Toyne A friend of mine told me when I started out on my photographic journey that portraits are the greatest challenge in photography. I was puzzled by this statement at the time. As at the time I thinking in purely technical terms about photography. I was struggling with all photography not just portraits.

When I asked for clarification and she said something to me that I have never forgoten since. She said 'unless you can connect with the person and draw out who they are. Unless they trust and like you. Then your picture will be of a reflection of their discomfort at the situation and their distrust of you'. The obvious thought at this statement is that you do not want the picture that this situation would create!

When I asked what I should do to avoid this situation she said at the time what seemed the strangest thing. My friend answered 'you must take a slow portrait...'. At the time I was quite baffled by this most enigmatic of statements. However with the benefit of a few years hindsight I shall attempt to elaborate what I believe was meant.

There are technical aspects of portrait photography it would be foolish to pass over. Light is critical. The way it interacts with your subject should be ignored only at your peril. Lit from below your subject will look like Frankenstein. Lit harshly from above unflattering shadows will dominate the shot. Hair is naturally dull on camera unless you can get some soft light into play on it then it will take on a whole new dimension. A lens of 85mm is a great focal length for a flattering shot it will not distort the subject. Take care of plants growing out peoples heads, pay attention to your background. Don't be afraid to fill the frame.

All this is useful to learn and all these rules can also overwhelm you when starting out. It can easily be learned by rote from any photography textbook. Though that will not guarantee a good result. It also does not answer what was meant by a slow portrait? How do you take a slow portrait and what will be the resulting benefit?

I will attempt to explain by relating a true story. I was at the wedding of a photographer friend of mine in the happy capacity of his best man. It was during this time I finally realised what a slow portrait was. It was also then that I took my very first slow portrait of note. This was the picture of the wonderful lady pictured here. He name is Maria and she was the grandmother of the groom. She is without a doubt an awkward subject who dislikes her picture taken so much that she cuts herself out of family photographs. To be fair we all know people who dislike thair picture being taken so she is not unusual in that respect. That said Maria is a challenge to photograph even going by this standard.

I asked to take her picture during dinner and was politely declined without hesitation. My status as best man carried less weight than that of the official weding photographer who also received the cold shoulder. However I was by then determined to photograph this distinguished lady. When I had the chance I spent 45 minutes talking with her. During this time she relaxed, warmed to me and finally she began to speak about seeing her grandson married. This made her think about meeting and falling in love with her husband. This was the start of a wonderful and heart warming moment that I still smile when I recall. I took the picture shown at the moment she related to me first laying eyes on the man who became her husband when she was still a teenager. Her expression became wistful and she gestured with her hand as she spoke. I insisted that I must take her picture as she recalled her husband as she was radiant in that moment and anyone could not fail to see this. When stated like this she warmed to the idea of a picture and agreed to the photograph being taken. The result is more than a simple photograph in my opinion. It is the portrait of the person as she seemed to me in that moment in time. A time capsule.

I've used a touch of fill flash. The wide aperture of f/2.0 has made the background less distracting. The candles on the table have softened or removed entirely any unflattering shadows. These are all technical and to a certain extent ephemeral things. The main thing is that I spent time getting to know Maria. I gained her trust and her confidence. When I finally took a picture we where on the same wavelength and I had her trust in my intent as a photographer. This is all reflected in the resultant image. It shows the wonderful person I saw. It is not simply a snapshot or recorder shot of a stranger that will mean nothing to anyone else. It is an image with more intrinsic value than that. I'd also say that at 45 minutes it was indeed a very slow portrait. This is what is meant by a slow portrait. One that takes the time to connect with the subject and draw out the best in them because they trust you to do that.

So when taking a portrait remember the technical rules by all means. Remember though you forget the person and your bond with them at the cost of a worthwhile portrait. When given a great opportunity like Maria gave me don't be so obsessed with appertures and shutter speeds that you don't see the golden opportunity in front of your face. Be engaged with the person and the personality you want to photograph. Remember this and you will not fail. Your portraits will always be greater than the sum of their parts

(Warmest thanks to Magda Indigo for all her advice and wonderful exampleson of portraits over the last few years.)

Friday, 19 January 2007

Appreciating Photography

Just a quick note to say professional photographer Paul Indigo posted a rather nice article on appreciating photography. It can be found in Paul's January 15th blog. I certainly think its worth a read.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Photography: The big secret (Part 3)

The Angel Inn - Image © Berny Howden

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series of articles I illustrated the use of words to generate an emotional response to an image and also using words to fix or alter the context of an image. I'm going to end the series on words in images with several images each using words as a visual device in very different ways. I'll discuss why and how I think they work.

The first image of the Angel Inn works on multiple levels. The interaction between the word 'Angel' and the glowing white of the building. The fact it's an oasis in the middle of a desolate decaying landscape. To me an almost subliminal message is the inference that this is a shrine to alcohol, seeming to be offering drink as a form of hope or salvation in a hopeless place. It lead me to wonder at what cost? So I felt it seems a nostalgic image but one with a very modern and pertinent message none the less.

Chaos - Image © Berny Howden

The next image 'Chaos' is of a young boy and is an exemplary example of the use of words to create a strong emotional response in the observer. It's also a great piece of social photography. I can't give a concrete definition of the meaning of words in this image and that is part of its appeal to me. The reference to Chaos asks more questions than it answers. Does he cause chaos? Is he in turmoil? Why did the photographer choose to position the boy this way? Even simple things like is it his picture? Or what is he saying? Consequently this is a photo I've come back to time and time again. The single word 'Chaos' and its effect on the images context is a large part of the reason. So once again a great example of the power of one little word. If I am lucky perhaps Berny Howden who took the above two photographs will comment and shed some light on this most enigmatic of photos.

Cancer - Image © David Toyne

I took the above image 'Cancer' on a wander around Manchester on a dreary windy day. Landscape was not an option. I found the open dustbin and its grizzly contents an interesting thing to juxtapose with a warning about Cancer. Cancer consumes in a horrible manner and so do we. To this planet we are a cancer. We blank out fear of cancer much like we blank out the thoughts about our own conspicuous waste and consumption. I'm not entirely sure if the image works as some of the connections it makes are not clear to me yet but I do find it morbidly fascinating.

When Shut we've moved - Image © David Toyne

Last but not least a simple bit of fun to show that if you keep your eyes open you can see some hilarious and farcical things written all over the world. People quite accidentally make the most amusing visual jokes all the time. Don't forget to exploit these opportunities to create your own creative work. It's what arts all about.

Creative Training Sign - Image © David Toyne

The last image is just a small afterthought. Words are just symbols with meaning as are arrows, cartoons, graffiti and any number of other visual props. The last image mixes the idea of training with lack of direction using the arrows and words combined. Expressing concepts and feelings using words and symbols can be abstract but also great fun with very rewarding and unexpected results. So get out there and make something unusual and beautiful...

Note: Warmest thanks to Berny Howden for giving me permission to use the first two images in this article. It was a very generous of him to do so. Check out more of his great social photography at the link in the article you'll be glad you did.