Portraits…. outside is where it’s at?

I guess the traditional “Family portrait” is usually thought of as:-

  • a visit to a shop on the high street where you
  • sit in a little room with umbrellas,
  • choose a slightly mottled blue background
  • get posed in a traditional way
  • feel awkward and have to calm the kids down
  • get a few shots taken and then
  • wait for ages to see the results.

Traditional Family Portrait????

Studio based photography has of course moved on a lot since then, many people using white backgrounds or bold colours, getting you jumping around and lying down. It’s a look that’s had a very long run, how long it’ll last for is debatable, so I decided to err towards a different look with my portraits.

My current thinking is that the world outside creates a timeless backdrop to your family pictures, especially in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria where you have stunning hills and coastlines on your door step. With each passing month, the landscape changes, from:-

  • a snowy winter look where you can have fun throwing snow balls to
  • lovely green spring days in the countryside with new born lambs in the background
  • amazing bright summers days on the beach making sandcastles with your bucket and spade or
  • warm autumnal oranges of fallen leaves being thrown up in the air and children playing conkers

Summer sunset

Snowy winters

The choice of location can be a very personal one too. In the following shot, the family are in their grannies back yard, now their mother and father’s – a really significant place for them, full of memories from childhood, so a perfect place for them to have photos of their young family taken.

In your back yard

In this shot we see a totally different feel, an urban location, fast moving traffic scoring lines across the backdrop as Anthony stands still, taking stock of the world.

Tree and flower lined woods look fantastic in the spring and early summer, creating a unique background every minute as the sun changes the shadows and light.

The other thing I really like about shooting outdoors, especially with kids, is that its makes people behave more naturally – let kids (or even grown men) loose with a foot ball, get them on the swings, let them play, let them be themselves, let the photos reflect what they are “really” like, not some rigidly posed version of them that doesn’t convey their personality.

So that’s what I like about shooting outside – more opportunities than inside.

The flip side is that its technically more difficult than studio, you have an ever changing source of light to deal with – the sun – which you have to balance up with your own lighting. Thing is, to me, that’s what makes outdoor portraits exciting – you never quite know what you’re going to get and your technical ability with camera and light are tested on each shoot 😉

5 tips for photography on dull days

Photography on Dull Days…. can you do it?

Its the weekend, you’ve been looking forward to getting the camera out for shoot, but its dull as chuff… grey skies, no shadows or interesting light.

What do you do – abandon the camera?


Ideas for Dull Day Photography

Well here’s a few ideas

  1. Practice flash photography – with a dull background, you can use this to create a moody shot, with the foreground or “model” lit by your flash. Useful when your flash synch speed is only 1/200th etc.
  2. Avoid including skies – they’re dull, lifeless and have no texture, so no real interest
  3. Shoot waterfalls – low light means you can get those long shutter speeds to blur the water
  4. Have a go at HDR inside churches – its dull outside, but light enough to make those stained glass windows glow a bit, so ideal for HDR. If the windows are really bright on a sunny day, it can make even HDR tricky
  5. Street photography – I’ll not lie, I prefer bright sunshine and all the shadows and highlights it gives you, but street is good on dull days too. You probably need to jack up the ISO and have a wider aperture to sharply capture those moving people.

Dull days are the death knell to most Landscape Photography outings, but there’s so much more you could be doing instead.

5 tips for better portraits

We all take photos of people these days, be it on the phone, a little camera or a £5000 pro camera. Here are a few ideas which apply to any camera and any skill level…

1 – Don’t put the person in the middle of the shot, but slightly to one side

2 – Get them to face “in to” the shot – if they’re on the left of the photo, get them facing to the right & vice versa

3 – Rather than getting them just to “smile”, get them to act out a few things – e.g. puzzled, angry, sad, delerious, drunk etc.

4 – If its sunny, get the sun out of their eyes or they’ll squint

5 – Making people wait for longer than they expect you to take can get “interesting” results…

Leeds street photography

I don’t know about you, but with the prices of parking in Leeds and Manchester going up and up, I always want to make the most of my daytime trips there. One of my favourite ways is to wander around the centres capturing life as it goes by.

Both cities are in a state of flux, so a scene which seems trivial today may have huge significance 20 years hence, so it’s a worthwhile documentation exercise as well as an artistic challenge.

I’d been doing my bit for charity and the amazing CoHearantVision, centre for the blind and deaf, and had an hour to spare so decided to do a lap of the city, see what was going on.

The first choice was what to take; go minimal, or take a kit bag… the former won. Grabbed a 50mm F1.4 prime lens – they’re small so you don’t get hassled too much and also let in a lot of light on these dark Feb days. The other huge advantage of the “fast” lens (or bright lens) is that yu can make most things in a shot blurry other than what you want sharp – using a thing called “depth of field”. You’ll see it in many of these shots, some things are sharp and jump out, other just blur to nothingness. In  this shot I’d focussed on the words and left the art gallery to go “SOFT FOCUS”

It also helps force the viewer to look at what you want them to in a way a shot where “everything is sharp” can’t quite do..

I’m only guessing, but I’d expect you’re seeing “pagan body piercing” jump out here!

Now the problem with this shallow focus, or “narrow depth of field”, is that you’ve got to be quick and accurate with your focussing. If you’re out by a few inches, your shot is soft and blurry. So you need to be on the ball and practice lots – and needless to say, “take” lots of photos. Street is a bit of a numbers game in many scenarios. You can prep all you like, but life doesn’t stop and pose for you, its there and gone in the blink of an eye.

When I get these shots home, it just seems right to make them black and white, also to give them dark edges, known as a “vignette”. Adds a bit of mood to them.

Anyway – here’s a selection of shots from Leeds, taken last Thursday, a gritty and real February day

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Come create with me!

hi Folks,

Salford Quays, Media City and the Lowry are an amazing place to spend time with the camera, if you’ve never been it’s well worth a trip down. I was there last Friday, meeting with Lee, Eif and Paul from the Welshot team, and we managed to get some great shots to promote the next mcfade/welshot workshop. We’re taking this workshop to a new level, where we not only have a session of photography and coaching from me and the team, but also after lunch the delegates will be learning some new skills with their HDR processing.

It’s a pretty exciting workshop to run, a location that’s fantastic, a subject I love and hopefully showing people how to avoid making cartoon images from their HDR’s!

I thought the best way to approach it would be to challenge the delegates to “recreate” 10 mcfade shots, giving them a handout with the photos on and a few notes – then on the shoot, they have some goals to aim for. It’ll also give us come common shots to work on in the processing session.

So here are the shots I’ll be showing people, well challenging people, to photograph – then show them how I did it.

It’s all a bit like that “Masked Magician” show where they give away all the secrets!

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