Saturday, 18 August 2012

"Great Expectations"

PC on, Chrome fired up, Google Maps, Paris, street view, various locations......I did this for about a month ahead of the Welshot Paris "All Night Photo Shoot" with Will Cheung  FRPS held earlier this month.  I also spent hours trawling through "Paris" tagged pictures on 500px and flickr to get myself fired up for the trip.

Doing the research was great because it made me feel more familiar with the environment we would be working in and it also helped inspire and motivate me to think hard about the shots I really wanted to get.

Then of course there is the downside.  This is when you start finding some truly great pictures or start looking through work by some of the masters such as Cartier-Bresson.  It's so easy to look at other peoples work, work which they have taken years to perfect, to then assume that you'll get a bunch of great pictures in just one night.

Ok, so I did have a few ideas about what pictures I wanted to take but I put things into perspective and set my expectations in a way that I knew wouldn't leave me disappointed after the shoot.  Then to complicate things it turned out that due to the flight times a few of us would actually have most of Saturday and all of Sunday to shoot as well as the overnighter.  

I guess there are a number of things I learned during this trip, mostly to do with photography but I've always believed that the more I get into photography the less my challenges are to do with photography.   Does that make sense ?    

I'll try and explain...... here are a few of the things that I'm talking about;

Getting from one location to another - Is this dead time while you travel from the arc du triomphe to the Louvre ?  No, the streets and the metro are great places to shoot so you should be looking for opportunities all the time.  It's the journey as much as the destination that is important.

Distractions - Paying lots of money and spending time away from home are big deals to most people. Add in the thrill of going to a foreign country and visiting such an amazing location and you can easily get distracted.  Do you stick to a game plan ?   Do you go with whatever takes your eye when you get there ?  I guess the point is that there is so much to shoot and so little time.  Unless you are focused you are going to be whizzing about all over the place trying to capture everything.

Hurry up and wait - I'm certainly guilty of doing things too quickly.  Probably more to do with the above but I often found myself rushing the shot because I wanted to move onto the next one.  I guess I felt that time was short and didn't want to hold anyone else up.

Pace yourself - I was awake for 44 hours in total from start to finish.  So, on arrival in Paris do I shoot all over the City during the day, then do the night workshop and then continue to shoot through the Sunday ?  I'd love that but I knew I had to pace myself.  Looking back though I think I got that a bit wrong.  If I could do it again I certainly would have done more on both days.
Lounging around outside Notre Dame on Saturday and then again at the Louvre on Sunday certainly helped the tired feet and weary eyes but I know that valuable shooting time was sacrificed. I know I could have done more and got more pictures.

When I was thinking about writing a blog for the Paris trip there were so many aspects of it that I thought it best to break them down into smaller posts.  That's why I've just covered these topics here. Things that aren't directly about photography but did have an impact on the number, type and quality of shots I took. 

I know this valuable experience will help me with future trips, shoots and projects etc.  It has already helped me decide my next project and resurrect one that I failed at earlier in the year. 

My next post will be all about the fantastic gang at Welshot and the photography skills I picked up / developed during the Paris trip.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Welshot - Snapshot Day, Liverpool - April 15th 2012

On Sunday 15th April 2012 the Welshot Imaging Photographic Academy held a "Snapshot" day to launch the Academy in Liverpool. The event was opened by Will Cheung FRPS, Editor of Advanced Photographer Magazine. Lee Iggulden and Eifion Williams are the driving force behind Welshot and their continued drive, enthusiasm and ambition is an inspiration to all.

As an existing Academy Member I was lucky enough to be asked to help out on the day. I jumped at the chance and thought I'd share my experience here;

I missed the actual start of the Snapshot Day so cannot comment too much on the opening words from Will Cheung FRPS or the session lead by Zoe Richards of Zoe Photography about how to pose your model. However, I do know that Will and Lee would have got everyone fired up for a fun filled day from the moment they arrived. I also know from experience that Zoe would have shared some really useful advice and prepared everyone for the first modules. In fact, I did hear several comments throughout the day about how good Zoe's first session was.

I joined my group on the waterfront in front of the Liver Building where delegates where being put through their creative paces by John Arnold. A variety of techniques were being put to good use and people where certainly being made to think about what they were capturing. I spoke to a few members of the group and they all seemed to be having a good time and picking up useful tips along the way. They were a great bunch and everyone was pitching in with ideas, questions and comments.

Next we were off to the steps of the Cunard Building where Radha was braving the bitterly cold wind while Will Cheung showed us how to photograph her with off-camera flash (Will had a nice warm coat on by the way). Obviously Welshot cannot guarantee the weather but that's all part of the learning experience, you have to deal with what you have and make the most of it. Bright sunshine and freezing wind is not an ideal combination but Will explained how to deal with those sorts of situations.

The group I was with included people of varying experience and it was good to hear advice being shared between the group as well as from Will. This wasn't just about people taking a load of photo's, every delegate was told which settings to use - and why. They were also asking lots of questions about off-camera flash, what to use, when to use it, etc, etc.

The groups moved around a couple of times so we also got to work with Hazel and Beth. Academy Member Tim Charlesworth ensured everything ran like clockwork so delegates got as much time as possible using their cameras. We used off-camera flash again with Beth but opted for natural light and reflectors with Hazel. Again we were adapting to our environment and making best use of the equipment to hand. So, having changeable weather (cloudy/sunny/cloudy/windy/sunny etc) is a must when you are learning because it is never how the text book says it is.

Before the models turned into frozen statues we packed up and headed back to base for some lunch and a well earned drink. The models did a fantastic job in the freezing cold for 3 hours without complaining...troopers all of them.

The atmosphere back in the hotel was very relaxed and although there was all sorts of planning and preparation going on behind the scenes it was kept well hidden and the delegates were left to mix and mingle sharing stories from the morning sessions. Everyone seemed to be getting involved and were keen to get started on the afternoon.

I was working with Welshot Team leader Paul Smith and Will Cheung FRPS helping out with the Studio set-ups. During the morning I moved around with the same group of people whereas in the afternoon I stayed in the same place and so got to meet the rest of the delegates as they passed through.  

The Studio set-ups where quite daunting to anyone not familiar with them but Will gave an introduction to each group explaining how everything worked. Each delegate then got some one-to-one time with Will and Paul learning what settings to use and how to get different effects. There is a huge amount to learn when it comes to studio lighting which is why Welshot will be running a "Lighting Academy" in the near future, be sure to check the website for details.

In between Studio lighting work the delegates were also photographing still life which on this occasion was food photography. Welshot Maestro Eifion and Team Leader Peter Hudson were on hand to show delegates various techniques for capturing food & drink. Delegates also got a demonstration of lighting gear from Lastolite where a variety of products were on display.

The next sessions were ran at the same time so delegates had to decide on either a "Lightroom - Benefits of upgrading from v3 to v4" module with John Arnold or a "Life lessons for the Working Professional" with Zoe Richards. I didn't count but it looked like a pretty even split between the two. Both sessions were very informative and interactive with delegates getting involved, asking questions etc. As with all of the modules on the day they provide a "snapshot" of the subject. Welshot run specific modules ranging from Academy evenings to 1-day, 2-day and 5-day workshops on a variety of subjects.

Finally everyone re-grouped in the main room and Lee gave a quick talk on how Academy Members work can be sold and how it is marketed by Welshot. That was followed by a presentation from Will Cheung covering how to get work published in magazines. This was very informative and generated lots of questions.

Then to round off the day there were a few thank-you's for the people who arranged and ran the day as well as some raffle prizes including huge discounts off workshops and magazine subscriptions.

I'm really sorry for the length of this review but if you got this far it was worth it. I certainly enjoyed the day and as with all Welshot events I did learn quite a few things and met lots of great people.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Project 50 (A journey)

50 pictures, 50 days, 50mm f/1.4 lens.....

That was the target I set myself at the start of the year.  I didn't set any other criteria as I wanted to be able to take pictures of absolutely anything.  The reason for this was because I wanted this Project to help me better understand what it is I like taking pictures of.  I thought that by the end of the Project I would be able to look back on the 50 pictures and see a pattern, trend or genre jump out at me.  Oh, and I also wanted a set of nice pictures too !

The 50th day was Sunday, 19th February and I was kind of sad when I posted the final picture up into my flickr set.  It was the end of a journey in a number of ways, ok it's not a Project 365 or anything but it's still hard work coming up with a decent image each day.  During the project I had fallen behind a few times by either not taking any pictures on a particular day or not liking what I had taken.  This was easily fixed though by taking more pictures next time around.  In fact, I had a set of reserve images just in case I fell short at the end.

So, here I am with 50 pictures hoping they will direct me towards my next project and narrow down the type of photographs I like taking.  This is where it gets confusing so bear with me.  The type of photographs I like taking do not appear anywhere in my 50 pictures.   That's right, looking through the pictures I can clearly see that something is missing.  What I can see though are pictures where I have made use of the flexibility of the 50mm f/1.4 lens.  The majority of images have a very shallow depth of field which is used to highlight a specific subject in the picture.  Additionally, they are all taken in a way which enabled me to produce a square crop image after post processing.  So, the project has confirmed the fact that I love images with a very shallow depth of field.  I also like images where a single subject dominates the shot.  I also started to play with some processing techniques to help me develop a style.  This was really interesting and I have found a couple of areas to work on.  You'll notice a number of pictures have been de-saturated but not too much.

People, where are the people ????
I had to turn this thing on it's head to get some answers.  Obviously, the type of pictures I like are the ones I didn't take any of !  So how does that make sense ?  Simple....."Comfort Zone".  Something I need to get out of if I'm going to take my photography any further.

The Project failed in that sense because I didn't set any specific criteria.  By leaving the subject completely open I gave myself a back door, a way in which I could just take pictures (half decent ones mind) of anything .  So my sub-conscious was at work here making sure that I didn't have to step out of my comfort zone.  In fact, when you look at the pictures you'll notice that the vast majority where taken indoors.  I guess my sub-conscious didn't want me to get any fresh air or exercise either !

Time to put things right
While the Project was running I was flicking through a few photo magazines and books looking for inspiration for the next Project.  It occurred to me that in order to work out my favourite type of photography I had to analyse the type of pictures I like looking at rather than the ones I like taking.  The battle with my sub-conscious had started and I was already plotting the next project before this one had finished.  I would recommend a couple of books by John Berger;  "Ways of seeing" and "About looking".  I must admit it took me a while to get into them but there are pennies dropping everywhere.

This thread is going to go off on a huge tangent but I wanted to include this much in the Project 50 update as it demonstrates the kind of thing you can get out of a photo project.  Look out for my next blog detailing the new project.

So, back to Project 50
If you are looking for inspiration, a small project to get you out with your camera or just looking to improve your skills then I would strongly recommend doing a project 50 (or similar).  The rules are completely up to you so you can get as much or as little out of it.  The huge benefit you get is stretching your creativity.  Having to come up with a new and unique image every day certainly does that.

I hope you like the images and I guess if you got this far you were able to put up with my ramblings too.  I achieved my goals in a round-about sort of way and learnt a lot more about my photography and my comfort zone as well.

Here are a couple of mosaics showing all 50 images.  These were created with "Big Huge Labs" on Flickr.

The full set can be found here

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Welshot HDR Workshop - February 2012

On 4th February I went to the Welshot Imaging HDR Workshop in Liverpool.  The workshop was open to members and non-members alike.  As with all Welshot events numbers were restricted to ensure that we got the most out of the day.

The purpose of the workshop was to show delegates how take architecture shots intended for HDR processing.  Obviously there was a session where this was put into practice and the magnificent Liverpool Anglican Cathedral was our location.  This was then followed by tuition covering how to process HDR images and included time saving batch processing techniques.  A slap up buffet lunch was also provided at the Atlantic Tower Hotel which was our base before and after the shoot at the Cathedral.

The limited numbers for this workshop meant that people could get plenty of one-on-one time with the course leaders.  For this particular workshop we had Welshot Pro Eifion Williams and Adrian Wilson of McFade Photography.  In addition we were lucky enough to have John Arnold of also in attendance.  As with all Welshot events the course leaders and attendees all pitched in and everyone learnt from each other.

Throughout the day we were looked after by Lee Iggulden who made sure we all got the most out of the day.  Lee kept us topped up with tea and coffee as well as arranging transport between the Hotel and Cathedral.  Lee even looked after our gear while we were taking pictures in the Cathedral.  If you ever meet anyone more passionate about photography than Lee, I would be very surprised.

The day had a great flow to it and lead us through the various steps from location spotting, taking the shots, preparing images for processing, the actual HDR process itself and a batch process to save hours and hours of post-processing time.

Adrian (Mcfade Photography) gave a great presentation at the start of the day which included some fantastic images he has taken.  He provided lots of tips covering composition and exposure etc,etc.  When we arrived at the Cathedral we then had further tuition covering how to set up our cameras for HDR shooting.  Adrian, Eifion and John were all on hand to assist us and made sure everyone was ready to go and capture some great images.

Before we all went off to wander around the Cathedral we were given a challenge.  The workbooks provided by Welshot contained some images of the Cathedral taken by Adrian.  Our challenge was to find where they were all taken and capture them ourselves.  As you can imaging some of these images would be fairly easy to find.  The Cathedral is absolutely huge and the vast spaces provide you with an endless supply of ideas.  One or two of the images were taken from places which are usually restricted so one of the benefits of attending these workshops is that you get access to those areas.  This means you can get the shots that no-one else can.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and learnt a great deal from a great bunch of people.  If you have thought about giving this type of workshop a go but not yet tried then I strongly recommend that you take a look at the Welshot website.  Events are added regularly so keep checking every now and then.

If you have never been to the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral I would certainly recommend it, even if you are not into photography.  I would also suggest that if you do go make sure you check out the Lady Chapel....amazing.

For more of my images from this workshop please click here