An announcement and an Autumn shoot

Another season of school portraits is coming to a close, and with it some big changes to my freelance photography business. Over the past year I have really tried to step up my portraits game. I’ve worked with some great people and put out work that I’m genuinely quite proud of! Obviously there’s still rooms for improvement as I refine my work and streamline my workflow but I’m very happy with how far I’ve come.

With that being said, I’ve decided to specialise exclusively in portraiture and wedding photography! I’ve come to realise that they are by far the genres of photography that I enjoy the most, and if I don’t love what I’m doing, what’s the point in it all?! You’ll have already noticed that work has started on implementing various changes to my website to reflect this decision with various pages being altered or removed entirely. From here on out I will only be offering portrait sessions, be it family shoots, head shots or individual portraits; and wedding/engagement photography. I hope to see you all on the way through this exciting journey!

Moving on, here are some photos! I had the pleasure last weekend of shooting with Imogen Wilson - a local model currently studying at Bournemouth University. We went out to the Avon Heath Country Park just across the road and did a mic of natural light and off-camera flash portraits before local families took the park by storm!

How I Edit

Editing is a lengthy process - a one day shoot could be several days worth of editing, hence why some prices may seem like a lot! "£75 for one hours of shooting?!" - yes, because you have to add to that at least one hour of editing as well.

How photographers edit can be a major factor in how you chose your photographer; some may edit in a way that gravitates towards a certain style like replicating the look of film or verge towards certain tones. Editing style also undergoes certain trends over time - for example a recent trend is to desaturate certain colours like greens, and push others to certain hues like yellows towards orange and green towards blue. Sometimes this can look amazing and really give photos a certain feel to them, but sometimes it can be majorly overdone and ultimately may one day go out of fashion.

Personally I tend to edit in a natural style - I change colours minimally and if I do it's to correct how the camera has recorded it. For example, I find quite often that cameras oversaturate greens and they lean towards a more yellowish hue. I may also do minimal desaturation if a certain colour completely dominates a scene. Take a portrait for example, the viewers attention should be drawn towards the subject, but if the background is dominated by bright colours that are distracting rather than adding to the scene I may desaturate it a little.

Lighting conditions on the shoot also play a big role in how I edit. In harsh light I will brighten the shadows a lot more than normal so as to bring back detail and even out the exposure across the photo. Obviously how I shoot on the day will determine how the image is lit to an extent - if I shoot portraits out in direct sunlight rather than in the shade then the photos will be processed differently but what if there is no shade anywhere? Take these two portraits for example - they were taken at two different weddings, two different locations and in two very different lighting conditions...

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First we have Becky and Stuart - their portraits were done in an open field while the Sun was getting low in the sky. I always prefer to use the Sun as a backlight and only had one area that was suitable - one way had cars, the other a hedge (and if I put them here the Sun would be right in their eyes causing them to squint!), the other a caravan sight in the distance. So I used a narrow area that had nothing but perfect countryside in the background and the Sun just behind them. There's still some harsh light on Stuart's face but overall I loved how this portrait came out once I'd recovered some of the detail in the shadows in editing and lowered the brightness of the greens and yellows in the background. It's a nice photo but very different to our next example...

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This was shot in the gardens of Bowood House, in the shade of the building with the Sun camera left just behind the building resulting in a much softer light. As a result it looks quite different to our previous example and required pretty minimal editing - the grass behind them was also in shadow for the most part so wasn't overexposed relative to the subject nor was it oversaturated.

You could interpret this as two very different styles of editing when in fact it's just caused by the location and lighting on the day of the shoot. Obvioulsy I have preferences towards certain lighting conditions but I can take great images wherever you put me and ultimately I can't always control the Sun!

 

Why I make an image black and white

I love black and white photos, they can look timeless, dramatic and evocative. That being said I never process in black and white for the sake of it. For me, black and white images work only in certain situations - the lighting may be dramatic and the black and white processing may exagerate or highlight that. Alternatively, the decision to turn an image black and white may be purely a practical one. Disco lights may create nice highlights but be an odd colour so I go black and white to take attentions away from that. The scene may have another obvious colour distraction where desturating it may not work such as a bright red car in the background - obviously I try to avoid such distractions when I take the photo but sometimes they're unavoidable so I will process the image in black and white to eliminate the distraction from the subject. Finally, lighting in churches can be very mixed - sometimes they're lit great with a mix of a single artificial light source and natural light. However, quite often they have several difference artificial light sources, each with its own colour cast resulting in it becoming impossible to colour correct without a certain cast remaining. I once shot a concert in a church that had a mix of orange and purple lighting - I could correct for the orange but the only way to eliminate the purple cast properly was to desaurate it and even then the musicians faces would just turn too grey, so I processed the majority of the images from that shoot in black and white and it looked a lot better than if I had left them all in colour!

 

I hope this post has proved useful to you and provided some insight into the process! As I said earlier you may interpret the variations in some images as me being inconsistent with my editing style but the fact of the matter is, style is just controlled by how you edit a photo, but by a range of factors.

My Shoot with Gail Scott

After spending months doing school photography and getting used to only having a minute with my subjects, it was time to have an extended shoot in my own time. Gail Scott - a model from Salisbury who's worked with my girlfriend for nearly 2 years now, was the first model I approached when looking for someone to get in front of the camera for this shoot. This blog post is here to document the process of putting together a shoot from start to finish. Maybe it will be helpful for any other photographers out there starting out shooting portraits...

Step 1 - Model and Purpose

The first thing I thought about was the purpose of the shoot - for me it was to try out some new lighting setups, get some more images for my website and just for the enjoyment of actually spending time with someone for longer than 30 seconds! So an experienced model would be preferable as I wanted to get through a lot of different setups, so Gail was the first person that sprung to mind. After a quick chat she was on board!

Step 2 - The Planning Phase

From the start this was going to be done at my home - I was wanting to do this in a studio environment and my front room just about has enough space for this once a few bits of furniture were put to the side so why hire a studio when you have all you need at home? Next I put together a mood board for the shoot using Pinterest and shared it with Gail for her reference when picking out outfits for the day. Pictures could be added to the board for various reasons, be it lighting, background, pose, outfits, etc. Pinterest now allows you to add sections to a board as well so I split up the board into sections for each of the setups I wanted to do on the shoot.

Pinterest is a great way of visualising the ideas in your head and organising everything before sharing your vision with the model

Pinterest is a great way of visualising the ideas in your head and organising everything before sharing your vision with the model

  At this point I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do lighting-wise, so I draw up lighting diagrams with relative positions of the lights, what modifiers they'll have on them, and what camera settings I'll use. The day before the shoot I did a test shoot with my girlfriend modelling to check these setups worked out and to iron out any problems that may arise before recording the final positions and directions of the lights and light readings using a light meter. Light meters may feel a little redundant in this day and age, but for setting up a studio they're incredibly useful and greatly speed up the process. Between a tape measure, light meter and these diagrams I'd drawn up I could quickly switch setups while Gail changed outfits, saving time on the day.
 

Although a little crude at times, these lighting diagrams can save a lot of time on the day, and ensure you're consistent if you're ever having to repeat the same lighting setup across multiple shoots

Although a little crude at times, these lighting diagrams can save a lot of time on the day, and ensure you're consistent if you're ever having to repeat the same lighting setup across multiple shoots

 

Step 3 - The Shoot!

  On the day of the shoot Gail got here, we went through the outfits she'd bought and got straight to shooting once I'd set up, starting off with everything on a white background so I could get the extra lights required for this out of the way for the rest of the shoot. At this point I'm figuring out how best to direct and how much direction Gail needed - for some specific poses she took direction really well, but was also great at being let loose to pose however she liked and would quickly switch from pose to pose between shots. At this point we could get through a particular setup within 10-15 minutes and in the end did 6 different setups within 3 hours. It was a great experience working with a model who knows what they're doing and is a fun, outgoing person.

Step 4 - The Edit

Soon as the shoot is done everything gets backed up before editing. Once the editing is done the JPEGs are then backed up both online and on another hard drive before the images are sent via Dropbox to Gail.

Editing a shoot like this should be easy, as you should in theory have got everything pretty much spot on in camera. All I had to do was minimal adjustments to the shadows and highlights, set the white balance and make a small tone curve adjustment, the only difficulty was reducing the number of shots down as there were so many shots that were keepers!

 

 

 

 

My First Season as a School Photographer

At the end of August 2017, I started my first full-time job since graduating that wasn't just casual student work. For the first time my job title was officially "photographer" - a very exciting time indeed! Only a month after graduating I'd already got my dream job... But was it? Although a photographer, I was working for a company specializing in a more demanding genre of photography I hadn't ever thought I'd end up in - school photography.

Let's start at the beginning. July 2017 I'm frantically searching the job advertising websites for photography positions or even jobs that mildly relate to photography. I come across a picture of an A4 sheet of paper in a shop window advertising "photographer needed" at a photography company - I send over my CV immediately. A couple of weeks later I get a phone call from the company, it sounds very promising, but the guy on the other end of the line does make it very clear that the job "isn't for everyone" - I wonder why that is? Another two weeks later I turn up for an interview, only it doesn't feel like an interview, it feels more like a pitch about the job for me to decide whether I actually want the job or not. This is because it turns out the company specializes in school photography - that means photographing hundreds of people a day, while keeping to a schedule, and making sure that "Harry" is under the name "Harry" not some other random child. Oh, and actually taking nice photos of course! I leave having been told to think about it and get in touch if I'm interested in the actual interview. Another week and I've had my proper interview, and got the job!

After a week of learning their lighting setups and poses, it's straight into school shoots shadowing senior photographers and getting stuck in. I picked up speed quickly and within a couple of weeks was off training pay. What followed was 3 months of long hours, a lot of miles, and thousands of photos over several shoots across the country.

 

A Day in the Life

As a school photographer, your day can start anywhere between 4:00 and 6:30 depending on how far away the school is and whether the school wants staff photos done or not, in which case you need to be setup ready to shoot an hour before school starts, which means arriving at the school at 7am so you have time to setup. You must always arrive an hour before the shoot time so you can set everything up, and you must also always aim to get there half an hour before you need to be just in case there's bad traffic, so usually you get to the school at 7:30. Usually there's a caretaker around to let you in, but this isn't always the case. Setup can be quick and easy or a bit of a slog depending on how far you have to carry gear between the car and the shoot location, and whether you have to move anything out the way to make room for everything. The location could be the other side of the school from where you're able to park, and it could be anything from a massive sports hall to a small library or classroom, so having to move bookcases out of the way or carry gear over 100 yards from the car is common.

So you've got there and set up, tested your lights, got the laptop up and running, hopefully by now your contact from the school has popped their head in to say hi and run over the schedule. If you're lucky the school has already got the schedule round to all the teachers so they know when to turn up with their class. Otherwise you'll be running by the schedule you wrote up the day before which hopefully doesn't conflict with anything the school has running that day (but in theory the school's break times and any other events you need to work around should be on your job sheet). The school's attitude towards you that day can vary widely - sometimes you'll be left to it completely, which means you have to hope the classes get to you at the right time, and you have to run around fetching classes yourself if they don't. Sometimes they're on the opposite end of the scale and will have a runner to get classes down and ready in time and you're not allowed to go anywhere on your own, you must have someone with you at all times from the school for safety reasons. In my experience most schools are in a happy middle ground where they'll have a runner to help organise the day and aren't too fussed about you having a member of staff with you at all times. All photographers must be DBS checked - meaning you have had a background check done on you to see if you have any criminal records. However you can certainly argue that these checks don't mean much as it only indicates whether or not you've been convicted. This is a bit of a grey area but ultimately it's down to the school on how they approach child safety.

It's time for the first class to come down - 90% of the time if you put them down to come straight after registration they won't, they will be at least 5 minutes late so when making our own schedules we put them 5 minutes afterwards. Same for afternoon registration. It may not sound like much, but that 5 minutes can make all the difference. Depending on how many classes you have you could be photographing a class of 30 kids in 10 minutes just to get the shoot done before school finishes. If you have a class turn up 5 minutes late, that instantly puts you back, and you're having to speed up considerably to get back on schedule. If you're good you can get through a class in 7 minutes (depending on their year group), but if you keep having difficult children, or lots of children wearing glasses such that you have to spend extra time making sure there isn't any glare, you're in for a bad day. Thankfully this is rare and again, if you're good at thinking on your feet and can get the children posed, smiling and framed up quickly, you should be able to recover. A big part of the training is about building up your speed and learning the little things that can get you extra time.

Lunch break - time to start thinking about the next day. Where are you shooting? What poses are you doing? What backgrounds and kit do you need? If you get these things sorted now then it should in theory be a quick trip to the office or no trip at all at the end of the day. You can also hopefully actually eat lunch now. On a good day you can just sit down and relax, on a bad day you'll have had to move everything to the side out of the way so the hall you're in can be used for lunch. You might also have staff popping in and out for their staff photos through the lunch break.

At this point the rest of the day should be easy, you might have been able to get a class ahead and only in the worst case should your last class be scheduled to come in just before the end of the school day. Once the shoot is done it's all systems go on getting the equipment packed away and in the car before parents flood the car park. Next step is to get to the office to pickup any backgrounds you need for the next day and drop off what you no longer need, figure out when you need to leave the next morning and write up a schedule. Sometimes we have after-school sibling portrait sessions, where siblings from within the school come in for photos or their parents come in with siblings who aren't in that school to join in as well. These can admittedly be rather taxing, as you get a lot more babies who inevitably are a lot more likely to cause problems (or to put it bluntly, babies cry!). You can also get very large families come in which can be a lot more challenging to pose up as you have to fit more people in and handle their different heights so as to make it look right - no one wants a photo of their child with her brothers severed head on her shoulder. Getting that many children to all smile and look at the camera at the same time can be difficult as well.

Last but not least, you can get home, eat, shower, and fall asleep in front of the TV (again), go to bed, and then let it all start all over again the next morning...

My typical week during this period was 50-60 hours. It is grueling yes, but also incredibly rewarding. You're also never in the same place, meeting new people every day, and getting nice photos that parents will likely look back on for years to come. Also, because of these long hours, you get a lovely month-long break over Christmas that makes it all worth while.

 

 

Thanks for reading! A lot of details have been left out for safety and security reasons, my aim here was just to give you an idea of what this job is like and what I've been up to. Or in other words, why I've been so quiet!

Iona and Will's Engagement Shoot

This summer I had the pleasure of heading out to the country for Iona and Will's engagement shoot. Using Iona's parents house as base, we set out to a nearby walk that's a regular for Iona and Will - I always encourage couples to think about where they want their engagement shoot, and where may be familiar and hold some meaning to them. Iona and Will took it a step further and even brought Iona's parent's dog, Meg, along!

Timing dictated that the shoot had to be done right in the middle of the day; not ideal for photography but thankfully for our first location we had decent cloud cover and shade, so the lighting wasn't quite as harsh as it could be. I was also blessed with an excellent assistant for this shoot - my girlfriend, Nikita, came along to help out and proved invaluable, helping out with reflectors and looking after Meg when she wasn't needed in shot.

We started off walking out into the woods, at this point I haven't even got my camera out the bag yet, just looking out for good spots as we go by to possibly stop off at on the way back. Upon reaching a clearing we crack on - my first priority is getting the couple comfortable and getting a feeling for how much direction they need for posing.

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Moving on, we're right next to a wide open field full of fresh straw bales, so I make a beeline straight to one of them to check it out. The ground doesn't exactly comfortable, but between a reflector case and a softbox we manage to make things a little more comfortable for the couple to take a seat. With Nikita reflecting some of the sunlight towards them to create some highlights and Meg finally joining them for some shots, we get to work...

Once we were satisfied that we'd got everything we could from the location, we headed back, stopping off at the spots I'd picked out earlier, such as the cornfield...

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And the path on which we stood!...
 

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After a quick break for lunch we continued to the second location of the day in a lovely field on the edge of Salisbury Plain. First order of business is to find some shade - by this time it was the middle of the day, a clear sky and very harsh sunlight. The thing to do here to deal with this is to find some shade and make our own highlights with a reflector, and that's exactly what we did!

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Finally, we finished off around the corner with a spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. Iona and Will get married June next year and this shoot certainly got us excited for it! This was just a small selection of the photos delivered to them, they got more than 90 photos from this session! Albeit a little longer than a typical session, this is a reflection of the kind of service you'll get from me during your engagement shoot - a lot of photographers will limit the number of photos you get but I include the photos taken on the day as part of the fee - you're paying for my shooting time and the extra time taken to process the photos is included. Don't hesitate to drop me a message if you're interested in hiring me for your wedding, or just a couple's portrait session!

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New Location and Night Time Photography in the New Forest

Anyone following my site may have noticed a bit of an absence for the past few months and there is a reason for this, I promise! Reasons that I'll get into in this post.

For starters, I had to finish my degree - deadlines for my 4th year independent research project had to be met, presentations made, and coursework submitted that all in all took up a lot of time unsurprisingly. For those who don't know, I studied geology at the University of Southampton, focusing mostly on palaeoclimate (or paleoclimate, no one ever seems sure of how it should be spelt (including people in palaeoclimate research!)) research in my 4th year. My final project was on utilizing grain size data from marine sediment cores taken from the coast of Northwest Africa as a palaeoclimate indicator over the past 10 million years. This involves a LOT of lab work, so photography unfortunately had to take a step back for a bit. It was all worth it in the end though - I graduated last week with a 2:1 classification in Master of Geology - I officially have something I can put at the end of my name on my business card! 

My girlfriend, Nikita, and I at my graduation - photo courtesy of Dad!

My girlfriend, Nikita, and I at my graduation - photo courtesy of Dad!

University out of the way, it was time to start my new job and prepare for the next one - let me explain: During my time at university I'd already got a job lined up ready for me to start as soon as my final coursework assignment was handed in as a lab assistant in the same labs I'd been using to complete my research project - not exactly photography related but it pays the bills and is reasonably flexible so if something were to come up I wouldn't be too tied down. However, since starting this job I've interviewed for a photography position at Fraser Portraits in Broadstone and (you guessed it) got the job. So, at the end of August I start at Fraser Portraits - primarily as an assistant photographer but possibly stepping in as a main photographer when required. Fraser Portraits deals mostly in school photography so I'll be working mostly with schoolchildren! 

Finally(!), I've moved out of Southampton; I'm now based in St Ives, Hampshire (not Cornwall, nice as that would be!) which is just outside Ringwood for anyone wondering. After years living in student accommodation, it's absolutely fantastic living in a small, quiet area again, where every horizon is crosscut by a tree. As a country boy at heart, I feel right at home again and my girlfriend and I have settled in nicely, after a rather hectic move over. For the moment I'm still working in Southampton, which is an easy journey across the New Forest on most days (don't get me started on Friday afternoons and school holiday traffic!). Speaking of the New Forest - it's now just a 5 minute drive away for me, perfect for a photographer!

Time for some photography at last - the New Forest is right next door, the UK is in the middle of a heatwave, and I'm buzzing to get out and find me a dark spot. These are areas with very little light pollution and therefore ideal for night time photography. Setting out at 11:00, and bringing a friend for company (and some other purpose you'll see shortly), we get to a car park and it's just us, the New Forest and its horses, and the night sky - and what a night sky at that. I'm sure I sound incredibly cliche and dramatic, but a night sky in a dark spot on a cloudless night is something everyone should see at some point in their lives. I've heard people say that climbing the Himalayas makes you feel small and insignificant - if you crave that same feeling, this is the cheaper (and easier) way of doing it. Just go out late at night, look up, and prepare to be amazed. You never truly see the night sky in the city; you'll see stars yes, but you just won't appreciate the sheer quantity of stars out there - you get this feeling of vastness and calm, shortly followed by this feeling of insignificance. Anyway, you get the picture, if you can ever get out into the middle of nowhere on a cloudless night, do it!

Out with the camera! Having recently upgraded to a full frame camera, I feel better equipped than before. Crop sensors are amazing these days but just don't have the same ISO performance you get from full frame, which you absolutely need if you're to have any success in night time photography. You may think you can simply leave the shutter open for longer to let the light in but in reality this isn't the case - the night sky is far from a still subject, so shutter speeds any longer than 5 seconds are likely to introduce some movement; great if you're looking to get star trails in your image, not so great otherwise. Further, there's a point where you just get trails so short the image just looks a bit blurry than as if you've made a conscious effort to capture the trail. What this means for those wanting still stars is finding the sweet spot in your ISO - for me I found 3200 was about right, anymore and in the post processing I found too much grain and noise in the final image to be satisfactory. With sensor technology constantly progressing I'm sure there'll be a time when much higher ISO settings could yield satisfactory results, but for now (for my camera at least) 3200 seems to be the limit. 

So, getting a wide angle lens on, pointing up in roughly the right direction (I'd already visited the area during the day but the spot I ideally wanted to shoot from was now full of resting horses), and experimenting with some settings resulted in the shots down below...

After getting some standard night sky shots I got a little more creative, using a standard smartphone torch to produce some light trails round my car - one trail from shining the light through my friends jumper, and the other by shining it through his thumb!

 

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So what did I learn? Keep the ISO down! going too high will expose better, but the grain it introduced was beyond my tolerance. Also, next time I'll be going even later into the night - even at midnight there was some light left from sunset, and with the Moon coming over the horizon this sunlight transferred through the atmosphere and shone on the Moon's surface, creating an amazing orange light across the horizon as if there were a forest fire in the distance. We didn't even realize it was just the Moon coming up until much later - there was a point where we genuinely thought there was a fire in the distance!

So there we go, it's been an amazing few months, the next stage of my life is now getting into full swing and I can't wait for whatever the future holds - Fraser Portraits will be a great first step in the right direction that's for sure. On top of starting at Fraser Portraits, I also have two engagement shoots coming up before the Summer's end, so stay tuned for those!

Diving into product photography

I've become a big fan of using studio lighting setups - they give you so much control and you can get really clean, dramatic results. However, they do have the disadvantage of requiring space! So what do you do when you want to practice using studio lighting? Product photography! Needless to say you can still need a vast amount of space for product photography depending on the result you're looking for, but you can still get some good shots with limited space in your own home, which is what I set out to do.

  The first step I'm sure a lot of photographers may start with when beginning a new project is inspiration - websites like Pinterest can be very handy and I find myself using it quite a lot, but you may also find inspiration in more unlikely places as well. I found myself in the West Quay shopping centre in Southampton which is full of jewellery shops - I have a particular appreciation for jewellery and watch photography, and found myself wandering past all the shops looking at the various adverts in the shop windows, trying to guess what lighting setup was used for each shot.

  For my first shoot I was going to shoot my own watch. I supported it using the foam it came in, with the aim of editing it out later. A major difficulty with jewellery photography is that most jewellery is just so shiny! It reflects everything around it, which can make it difficult to match the degree of cleanliness you see in advertising if you're constrained by location. Thankfully the lounge of my flat has no windows, allowing me to quickly remove all natural light and use only speedlights for the shoot. What this does is allow me to completely remove the background and get a classic low-key look, with complete control over the lighting on the product. Having switched off or covered every light source in the room (even that tiny LED on my computer, because even that was showing up in the reflections!) I could get a completely black background and control every reflection on the watch. Some reflections you want like a nice white reflection around the edge of the watch, some like a strong reflection on the glass of the watch face that effectively blocks your view of the face you don't want, you just need to experiment a little with angles until you find a setup that works best. I ended up with a 2-flash setup - one mounted in a softbox and one in a miniature softbox I triggered by hand several times during a 15 second exposure to get several plain white reflections while evenly lighting the watch. By systematically adding flashes from different angles I eventually ended up with a result I was happy with, which just required some cleaning up in Photoshop. When you're blowing up a small object like a watch to completely fill a page, you see every little spec of dust, every little imperfection, every little scratch, so you really need to do some intensive post production work to get the product looking its best as if it had just come out the factory.

  Moving onto jewellery next, and aiming for a more traditional, high-key look. Using a softbox on each side of the subject to get it evenly lit and surrounding it with white paper so as to avoid reflections of my bookshelves. The only real problem I ran into was getting the focus so close up without a dedicated macro lens and had to use a set of extension tubes to get my lens to focus in close enough. For those of you who don't know, extension tubes are just a set of tubes that are mounted between your camera body and the lens so as the shift the focal plane relative to the sensor, allowing the lens to focus much closer to an object at the consequence of losing its ability to focus to infinity.

  After some post processing using a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, I got some shots I'm very happy with and learned a lot during the process. Product photography really challenges you to think closely about lighting, composition and keeping your images clean. It also makes the entire shoot dependent on you! There's no model to work with, no sunlight to depend on, it's all down to you to come up with some creative solutions to get the cleanest image possible. Below you'll find some of the results.

 

A Concert at St Deny's...

Last week marked the Southampton University String Orchestra's last concert of the academic term, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to go and shoot it for them! Although there were at least 3 other people getting video of the event, it was down to me to get the photos - much easier said than done it turned out. You see, this wasn't the BBC Proms or the London Philharmonic Orchestra, but a university society. As a result, the venue, rather than being a grand stage with excellent lights, a photo pit and more than adequate room for the orchestra itself to space themselves out how they please, was a small church with very poor lighting. For the orchestra it must have been great, they could see what they were doing! However, for a photographer, it was a nightmare - the church itself was very dark, and the stage lights were composed of a mixture of the church's ordinary floodlights and another set of lights. What this meant was that, although it doesn't look to dramatic to the human eye, the camera sees a mix of bright purple and dark orange light; not ideal for skin tones! So, first challenge - lighting! Solution - very high ISO and a lot of post-processing to remove the purple hue on people's faces where possible.

  The second challenge was the arrangement of the church - it was exactly as you would expect, with seating right up to the front of the orchestra, meaning taking pictures from right in front of them was out of the question and I was limited to shooting from the side or very far away from the back. This heavily limited the angles I could get and meant that I relied on my telephoto lens for most of the evening to get the reach I needed. This leads onto the third challenge. As I said earlier, the players in the orchestra didn't exactly have a lot of room to spread out how they wanted. This meant that a lot of players have to be bunched up in jagged lines and sometimes not even sit with the rest of their sections! Obviously this makes it very hard to photograph entire sections at a time like the society wanted, and it took a lot of hunting to find angles that worked.

  Next challenge! Not all "pro" photography equipment was created equal, and in the case of my telephoto lens I was using for most of the evening, a key thing to keep in mind is that image quality isn't going to be great through the whole zoom range. As a result, I had to be careful about just how much zoom I was using throughout the evening if I wanted to maintain a high image quality. On top of this, I couldn't just snap away as much as I wanted, I had to take the audience into account and keep my camera on silent mode (more like "slightly quieter mode" if you ask me), and only shoot during louder parts of the music. On the upside, this forced me to take my time and really think about each shot.

  And finally, the thing people may not ever think about when they play a musical instrument - their concentration face. Everyone who played in that orchestra obviously wanted to play at their best, with an immense amount of concentration involved. At times, this can make it very hard to take a flattering picture of someone. Even beyond that, people move a lot while they play, restricting how much leeway I had in my camera settings even more and at times completely ruining photos, not at the fault of anyone, just because the timing was *just so*...

Overall a great evening, and a great opportunity. Some of the results are on my website under "Events and Sports". The images were processed the next day and the society was happy, so I'm happy! The many challenges were exactly that, challenging - but this is what professional photography is about, overcoming situations to get great images. At the end of the day, the challenges just keep it interesting.

A bit more about me and a self portrait...

When you go onto a photographer's portfolio and look at their "about me" section, most people want a quick, brief bio to get an idea of who this photographer really is (and maybe see if they're capable of proof reading!). However, maybe you're narrowing down your search for the perfect photographer and want to know a bit more before taking the plunge and using that contact form? After all, you could potentially be spending a whole day around this person! If that's the case, this is the blog post for you...

  So to bring it back to basics for a second, I'm Andrew McCombie - although the surname may indicate otherwise, I grew up in Wiltshire. There, I started taking pictures - first with a film camera I got my hands on when I was around 4 or 5 (bad idea on my Grandma's part there - got through the whole roll of film in no time!), then onto point and shoots in my teens. Back then any form of manual control on these cameras was incredibly rare and I that's exactly what I wanted, so eventually my parents bought me a Canon 30D for my birthday - at last, full control! This was the gateway, at this point I wouldn't say I was just taking pictures, I was officially starting photography. This camera was great, it got me into landscapes and portraits and the majority of what I've learned outside studio-based work was on that camera. I'll include a few shots below taken on it, maybe alongside some taken on the point and shoots too.

  At this time I was still in 6th form, I didn't have that much time to dedicate to photography and I was preparing to go to university - that seemed to be the go-to route in life, you go to 6th form, you go to university and get a degree, and then you get a graduate job. So my chosen degree path was geology. Geology rocks (not asking for forgiveness on that one), it meant a lot of time outdoors, the science behind it is awesome, and I ended up at the University of Southampton (my first choice, amazingly). University was, quite frankly, a bit of a disappointment, on the academic side at least. On the other hand however, it did involve some great field trips - some of which you may have seen photos from in my portfolio. On top of that I landed an unofficial and then official job as a photographer. By now the Canon 30D had partially bit the dust (began getting the infamous error99), and I'd moved onto a Canon 70D - this was just before the 7D MkII came out and the line between the 70D and the 7D was very thin and, in the end, I thought the 70D came out on top.

  My first job was the unofficial photographer for the Southampton Quidditch Club, photographing events for them from taster sessions to tournaments. The captain of the club then moved on to become lead of media at QuidditchUK, the governing body for Quidditch in the UK (in case that wasn't obvious). A position came up for lead photographer for the southern region, and I was asked to apply, and apply I did, and get the job I did! In the end, quidditch got three tournaments and several other smaller events under my belt alongside work outside of quidditch from people I'd met through quidditch. In the end, although sports photography probably wasn't what I wanted to get into full-time, it gave me a great taste for working as a photographer and I loved it. Despite the intense rain that came down for half the day for each of those tournaments...

  What have I been working on since, you ask? Expanding my portfolio - I've been learning more about studio-based strobe work, portraits, and product photography. I'm actually still at university so fitting in a lot of photography work can be a bit tough but I'm getting there and taking on small jobs when I can. At the moment I'm also booked for my first wedding next year!

  I hope this gives you a good idea about me - I may not be the most experienced photographer but those I have worked for have been incredibly happy with my work, and my prices are going to reflect that level of experience. That's not to say, however, that I don't know what I'm doing - someone once said that there are three levels of photographer, and they are reflected in what question you'd ask a photographer you come across at an event - "What camera are you using?", "What lens are you using?", "How are you dealing with this light?". I'm at that third stage, at the end of the day that's what photography is - capturing light - and I hope to at least be on the way to mastering that art, while making people happy at the same time!

                                              My only wish now is that this didn't come across as arrogant...

 

Anyway, moving onto my latest project - a proper portrait of myself! One problem being the photographer is you never really get any photos of yourself, being the one behind the camera rather than in front. The plan was to use the built-in Wifi in-camera but this kept disconnecting, so onto the old fashioned self timer it is! For this portrait I used two flashes in softboxes, triggered using a wireless trigger, with one being used as the main light while the one on the other side was used as a fill light. Here's a picture of the setup:

As you can see, a little on the compact side in our flat, but there's just enough blank wall and space to use for portraits! It took several attempts to get right - not because of the camera side of things, rather the subject side! Finding the right pose that looks friendly but not gormless and in frame was harder than I'd thought! In the end this is the one I ended up with, and the final result after some post-processing in Adobe Lightroom: