5 Things Every Portrait Photographer Needs To Know

Portrait Photographers – Come Clean!

The first time I ever took a portrait it was pretty awful – horrible confession there! How about yours?

Actually, the first time I met a piano, I made a terrible din. I’ve got better at both I’m glad to say, and it’s all about practice.

Natural Light

If you want to be a great Portrait Photographer – here are 5 essentials

1 – Get Rid Of Excuses

The first thing to do it get rid of your excuses, you don’t “need” expensive lights, a makeup artist, costume designer, expensive model and fantastic location to start learning. You just need a camera and a person to shoot.


When I was first practising, it would tend to be a fellow photographer I’d shoot. Taking turns to be model. This is free and helps you learn the technical side of things – you can work out which lenses work best, which apertures give the right effect, all  that kind of thing. If you can make another photographer look good, you’re well on the way :-).

2 – Learn About Light – From All Sources

Then there’s lighting the person, how do you do that?

Well, we’ve got the sun – that’s free and usually pretty bright.

When shooting indoors, put the person near the window – and use the light from that. You’d be amazed at the wonderful shots you can get.

It’s all about how the light “falls” on them, so try moving them around the window, get them facing out of the window and at different angles, you’ll see how it all works with experimentation.

Natural Light

Ok – so you’re bored of shooting your photographer buddies and want someone pretty to shoot. Models are expensive right?

3 – Use “Time For Photos” models

Well no, there’s a website full of models wanting decent photos called “Model Mayhem”. Look for models prepared to work for pictures – called TF*, TFP or TFCD – get in touch with these and see if you can come up with some ideas for a shoot. They like it if you have some good ideas for your shoot – if you’re too vague they may think you’re a time waster and ignore your request. So get a location and idea ready, then message a few and see what happens.

45-apogee industrial images

So you’ve got natural light off to a tee now – you may have had a reflector too – they’re like flexible mirrors which bounce the sunlight on to the model and help iron out any unwanted shadows on their faces.

4 – Invest in “Flash Lighting”

Lighting kit’s really expensive isn’t it ?

Well not really – you can use the camera’s own flash for some effects. Learn how to use that, maybe “underexpose” the background and use the flash to light the model.  It’s free to flash and to learn, so just experiment away.

The next step is a “speedlite” flash. These are the ones that fix on top of the camera – you see the paparazzi using them all the time.

They’re a bit more pricey, from around £50 to £600. But you can do so much more with them than your on-camera flash.

Flash heads spin around, point the flash beam anywhere you like. Try bounching light off ceiling and see how that works. There’s so much you can do with the flash on your camera, but there’s so much more to be had with your flash “off camera”.

There’s so much you can do with the flash on your camera, but there’s so much more to be had with your flash “off camera”.

2 Speedlites off camera, one with red coloured “gel”

To do this you need a light stand (£10 off amazon for a cheap one) and a light trigger (£40 for a cheap one) – the trigger sits on your camera, the flash on the stand. When you take your photo, the trigger fires the flash on the stand.

I’ll not go into more detail than that with off camera flash as it’s a full day’s workshop to explore it fully – not a blog post 🙂

2 Speedlites off camera, one on each person

5 – Need More Power? Get Studio Lights

I guess after you’ve mastered Off Camera Flash with speedlites, you can upgrade to studio lights or even the mega-powerful battery pack lights like “Elinchrome Rangers” which allow even more flexibility.

2 studio lights, one softbox and one brolly

Mastering Natural Light Is Always A Winner

The truth is, for most people, using natural light is the best solution – the same principals apply for your I-Phone as does for your £5000 SLR camera. If you really want to make a difference to the light in a scene, then “off camera” flash is the most creative, but it’s a hell of a learning curve to get your head around.

5 Tips…. Sunny Day Photography

Sunny day photography

Make the most of these tricky conditions

Bright days are great for many things, walks, days on the beach, beer gardens etc. but for Photography they cause a lot of issues:-

  • very high contrast scenes  
  • too bright for a flash to work
  • washed-out colours in landscape scenes
  • etc.

Here are a few ideas for these sunny days

Sunny Day Photography Tip 1 – Stop Squinting

When shooting people in bright sun, get their back to the sun to stop them squinting, and use “flash” to light their faces, as their faces will be in shadow

Sunny Day Photography Tip 2 – Use The Shadows

Look for shadows – in the landscape, getting high up a hill and shooing down into fields with trees can create lots of interesting shadows. In the city, look for things like fire escapes, these create detailed shadows on walls.


Sunny Day Photography Tip 3 – Find Reflections

Look for reflections – if you’re on a narrow street, the chances are 1/2 of it will be bright and sunny, the other side in shadow. When this happens, the windows on the bright side will reflect sunlight into the dark area. This can create lots of unique patterns – maybe use one of the reflections as a spotlight on a model…


    Copright of McFade Photography

Sunny Day Photography Tip 4 – Go Inside Churches 

Churches – the bright sunlight outside illuminates stained glass windows, showing off their intricate colours. Also the colours create patterns on the floor of the church which you can use. This is an ideal place to practice your HDR skills as the contrast will be high

Sunny Day Photography Tip 5  -Try Street Photography

Street Photography – one thing with “candid street” photography is you are shooting “from the hip”, i.e. not looking through the camera when taking the shot. To do this you need to “pre-focus” the lens and guess how far away your unsuspecting subjects will be – usually 2-3 meters is a good guess, maybe a bit further. The advantage on shooting on a Bright Day is that you can increase your chances of getting sharp shots of people – by using a smaller “aperture”. This gives a larger “depth of field”, which means you get more stuff in focus – on a dull day you need a “large depth of field”, which means you get less stuff in focus, so your chances of getting everything sharp is reduced. It’s not the easiest thing to describe, but basically, you could use F2.8-F5.6 on a dull day, but on a really bright day you can get up to F8 or F11.

For more great tips, pleased check out more in our blog, or this great piece from our friends over at PIXPA. 

5 Landscape Photography Locations in Yorkshire

Such a HUGE National Park, where do you begin?

Yorkshire is a huge county and is full of amazing photography locations. It has 300 feet tall coastal cliffs and craggy inland limestone edges, long stone walls and burbling waterfalls. It really is a dream for photographers of all kinds, but where do you start our Yorkshire landscape photography journey? 

To help find the best places, and show you our favourite viewpoints, we regularly run Yorkshire landscape photography workshops in the Dales and the Yorkshire Coast, for more details of our days out in the dales, pop over to our Workshop website

View current workshops 


So where to start with your Yorkshire landscape photography?

This list could be easily 20 locations long, but we’ve kept it down to 5 which showcase the coast, dales and industrial heritage – the iconic images of the county. 


Firstly – What kit should you take? 

Before you go, we’d recommend you take with you some decent kit items – including:-


1 Flamborough Head – Caves and Cliffs

Just north of Bridlington, this outcrop is full of things like upturned boats, white cliffs and caves, rock pools and all sorts of other delights.

It’s certainly one of my favourite coastal locations – not as well photographed as it’s cousins up the road, Whitby, Scarborough and Staithes, as it’s probably not quite as “picture postcard” beautiful, rather majestic, dangerous and riddled with a smuggling past.


2 – Malham – Limestone and Waterfalls

If you’re looking for “impressive”, then Malham is the epitome of it in the Dales. The place has the amazing Cove, the even more amazing Gordale Scar, Janet’s Foss (waterfall), a tarn and lots of limestones.

In these shots, we see a very well photographed tree on Malham Rakes, up above Gordale Scar. The rock formation is known as “clints and grikes” – they’re really deep in parts, several feet, so be careful not to drop anything down them!


3 – Aysgarth Falls – 3 Cascading Falls in 1 Mile

Aysgarth has a series of falls rather than one main fall – here we see the lower falls cascading towards the camera. The shape and variety of the falls could keep you occupied for a shoe afternoon if you’re feeling creative.

Ample opportunity for wide angle shots like this one, or long lens shots which hone in different parts of the falls. There’s also a shop at the car park which does nice ice cream


4 – Hardcastle Crags – Woodland Trail With A Beautiful Mill

This is a gorge above Hebden Bridge, near Heptonstall. It’s mainly woodland and a burbling stream which guides you up the valley.

It’s a great place on a sunny day when light peeks through the trees leaving a mottled pattern on the floor. After a good walk from the car park, you get to Gibson Mill, which has this wonderful mill pond at the back offering perfect mirror reflections on a calm day.


5 – Bolton Abbey – Classic Dales Landscape And Ruined Abbey

Bolton Abbey has featured the BBC2 series “The Trip”, where Steve Coogan falls in the Wharf whilst running over some stepping stones.

The stepping stones are a great feature as are the abbey ruins and woods around the river. There’s also a very thin part of the river called the Strid, where the whole Wharf goes through a 6-foot gap – surreal.

A little walk from the river up Desolation Valley gets you to 2 waterfalls – the falls in this gallery are the lower and largest, it must be between 20 and 30 feet tall and is probably one of the most beautiful in the Dales.

I prefer it in winter when you get some ice on it and the leaves don’t block the sunlight so much. It also gets lovely icicles.

Well there are 5 locations to have a go at if you’re after somewhere with photographic potential.


Other Yorkshire Locations You Need To Visit

5 Tips on…. Dog Photography

Man’s best friend… but not always the photographer’s easiest subject. Here are a few ideas for the dog owning photographer to play with
  1. Get some assistance, 2 or more people are ideal – they can call the dog, get it running around in more predictable directions than just one person can.
  2. Get lots of treats – these are essential to lure the dog to the right area.
  3. Dog’s eye view – get down low, lie on the floor – so you see the world at its level, it makes for a very different view than you normally see.
  4. Use a long lens, get the owner to take the dog some distance away, then call it over to you – track the dog with the long lens on “Servo Auto Focus” as it comes towards you. They may be really fast, so you need to be on the ball!
  5. Use an ultra wide lens… these are great for quirky shots, the ultra wide lens distorts their look, creating really big noses and tongues, making their legs seem very long.

Lines everywhere!

When you start getting interested in photography and look to improve, there are a few “rules” which help – things like the Rule Of Thirds or ensuring you’ve got a Single Focal Point/Subject in shot are very useful.

The rule I like best is “lead lines” – these are what they say on the tin really, lines that lead the viewer through the shot. They’re like “pointers” which we use to guide out viewers across the image. They can be subtle, like the imagined line of a couple looking into each others eyes, or as blatant as a fence down one side of the photo.

Lets have a look at a few shots where lines have been used….

This is Leeds Museum, a fantastic building itself, but the photo has more to it, the building only takes up 1/3 of the shot. The main feature is really those yellow lines, leading the eye from the bottom left to the building – but there are also a lot of bollards also pointing us towards the building. Two sets of lines for the price of one!

Also, there’s a kind of zig-zag going on here – the line of the roof, the line of the bollard and the yellow lines all interact to take you from side to side in the shot.

In this shot of Leeds Town Hall, we have some lines, but these are not really pointing us at the town hall – rather taking us up from bottom to top. So lines don’t always have to point to the main subject of the shot – they can just add a little extra to the shot.

In this shot we have lots of lines – the road markings again, the kerb, the top of the roof of the building on the left and the rail line top right – all pointing in the same direction. Some call this a “crash point” – a point where lots of lines intersect. You can use these when photographing people, put them in the frame where the crash point occurs and see what happens – it’s pretty cool.

This is a classic “perspective” shot, and again, you have a crash point where the lines all lead to. Don’t you just get drawn into the shot – you hardly notice the Royal Armouries on the left of the shot, the lines are so powerful.

And finally, more street lines and an arrow all taking you from the left of the shot across to the action on the right of the image – the buildings themselves are interesting enough to hold a shot, but a bit of visual guidance from the lines adds a bit extra to the shot… or is it just me who likes those line ?

So next time you’re out with the camera, keep an eye out for lines you can use in your composition – let them lead the viewers eye through the shot in a way you intended.


I used to work on dairy farms, so am pretty used to cows and their general demeanour – inquisitive, curious and usually pretty friendly.

Just move slowly and they’ll hang around you for a while – feed them a bit of grass and you’ll get a nice tongue photo like this!

Here’s a few shots a quartet of heifers I found on my travels – I can’t wait to show these to AIM Space clients, projected huge on their walls! Sure these would brighten any office walls!