Category Archives: comunication

In it together – apart


We’re all in it together – apart!

I live in Scotland where the current advice for people who do not have any Covid-19 symptoms is to practice social distancing. Briefly, and quoting from NHS Inform Scotland, that advice is to:

  1. Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) – these symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough
  2. Avoid non-essential use of public transport – when possible, alter your travel times to avoid rush hour
  3. Work from home, where possible – your employer should support you to do this
  4. Avoid large gatherings
  5. Avoid gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars and clubs
  6. Avoid gatherings with friends and family – keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
  7. Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

So, yesterday, feeling hale and hearty, I decided I should follow this advice but also get some fresh air and do some photography in the great outdoors. A fine activity when my commercial work is somewhat slowing down in the current climate.

So, I got in the car (2 – tick) and set off for the picturesque East Neuk of Fife, very near where I live. I was never within less than about 3 metres from anyone and all of this was outdoors (1- tick). I moved between the great outdoors and the car (4, 5 – tick) and used a hand gel each time I entered or left the car (bonus tick). I think, therefore, I managed to have some good and productive time out whilst keeping on the right side of the social distancing guidance.

I ventured round Elie, Pittenweem and Anstruther and bagged a whole series of shots much of which I broadly had in mind before I set out but the one that speaks most to me is the one that was opportunistic and which I have titled “soiltude”.

As I was walking uphill on the coastal path I spotted this lone kayaker out on the Firth of Forth. It just seemed to capture for me, something of the sense of “self-isolating” which is the phrase of the day. At the same time, it also looked like a peaceful and serene way to spend some time alone. There’s already talk in the media that perhaps the phrase “self-isolating” is portraying negatively which is partly why I titled the photograph “solitude”. This sounds more like a positive sense of being alone and having time and space to reflect.

I like the negative space* in this photo which represents not only the physical space around the kayaker but also the space to be and to think. Space we often desire away from the madding crowd.

This photo doesn’t need pin sharp detail – it’s all about conveying a mood or feeling. Consequently the processing was fairly light and I’ll take you through what I did. First, here’s a before and after comparison:

I wanted a slightly brighter, slightly bluer image so here’s a quick run-down of the editing which was all done in Lightroom:

  • First up – apply lens correction and remove chromatic aberration
  • exposure +0.5
  • clarity +9
  • dehaze +14
  • vibrance +15
  • white balance customised to 5855 (temp) – slightly cooling from as shot
  • applied a medium contrast tone curve
  • colours:
    • Aqua hue +12; saturation +12
    • Blue hue -9; saturation +20
  • detail – heavy masking (94) to isolate the outline of the kayaker then:
    • sharpening amount 82
    • radius 0.5
    • noise reduction – luminance 31

And that’s it.

The image was captured on a Canon EOS 7D with a 55-200mm lens shooting at 200mm and the settings were:

  • ISO 250
  • 1/1000 sec
  • f11

*Negative space, in art, is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image.

Pic of the week – Thursday 9 May 2019

Healing Hands
Healing Hands

Adding value

It’s a fine balance set against delivering on a brief, but I believe that one of the added values a professional photographer should bring to work for a client is creative input. So, let me share the story of this one of a set, which I really like.

This is Sharon who asked me if I could do some head shots of herself and the staff at Healing Hands Wellness Centre in Glenrothes. Sharon was looking for photos that would be an improvement on the ones already in place and was thinking of the standard head shot approach. There’s nothing wrong with that but I wondered if she might be open to someting a little more creative which said something about the centre.

I felt that “Healing Hands” was significant in the centre name and ought to be reflected somehow in the head shots. I also have a personal preference to show people in context as much as possible. I had the idea of creating a background shot which illustrated healing hands and put together a mock up of the concept to see what Sharon thought of it. I was pleased when the idea met with her approval and so we agreed on details for doing the shoot.

Each of the head shot images is constructed as this example, with the same background and here’s how they were shot and constructed.

First of all, we shot the background. This involved Sharon and one of her team. The room we shot this in was quite compact and I needed lighting in there along with a camera, tripod and myself. There was only one configration possible for this, which meant me being on the left of the subject with the lighting on the right. I knew this was the wrong way round for the final composition, but it was an easy enough job to flip the image in processing.

I wanted the background image to be muted so that it was very evident but not dominant in the overall composition, This was achieved in Photoshop where I placed a pure white layer under the background image then dropped the opacity of the background image. This was then used for the whole set of head shots.

The portraits were shot in another treatment room which has a pleasing forest image on one wall. I set up a temporary studio there using the feature wall as a backdrop. The lighting for the head shots consisted of two studio lights – one above and behind the subject to add some highlighting to the hair, and one at about 45 degrees from the front as a fill light. The main light was flash bounced into an umbrella reflector.

The final image was completed in Photoshop by blending the portrait shot with the “healing hands” background.

I’m pleased with the final composition and that we have managed to give a fresh expression to corporate head shots. The moral of the story is that we should always be prepared to offer creative suggestions to clients in the interest of adding value to them. Of course, suggestions might not always be accepted – I have experience of that too – but when they are and come off like this, it’s really pleasing.

Alastair Clunie Photography

Why use a professional photographer?

I’ve got a perfectly good camera on my phone, why would I need to hire a photographer? This is a rhetorical question someone expressed at a meeting recently when I didn’t really have the opportunity to respond. My short and perhaps cheeky answer is:

  • I have a perfectly good pen but that doesn’t make me a novelist
  • I have a perfectly good calculator but that doesn’t make me an accountant
  • etc..

It seems to be that just because (almost) everyone takes photographs these days photography is seen as something anyone can do. Well, to an extent that’s true. Anyone with a camera can take a picture but having a camera doesn’t make you a photographer. Why? Because a photograph is the end result of the photographer’s vision and their knowledge and skill in knowing how to achieve it.

Good photography comes from the knowledge and skill of the photographer more than it does from the equipment the photographer uses.

One of my favourite analogies is that an F1 driver would get the very best performance out of a road car but, if you take an ordinary road driver and put them in an F1 car then I suspect the result would be best left to the imagination! Likewise in photography, a top photographer will get the best results out of even the most basic cameras. The reason is that it’s all about a vision for what the final image should look like, what story it should tell and how you then go about the composition and lighting to achieve the result.

So let’s consider an example. Let’s say someone, like me, has a Linked-In page and they want a head shot image to appear on their profile. Well one option is to get the iPhone out and take a selfie. That might look something like this and could be quite acceptable:

Alastair Clunie Photography
Alastair Clunie

However, whilst it certainly looks like me, it doesn’t actually tell a story or say anything much about me. I’m a photographer and I want a head shot which is going to reflect that. So a photographer is going to come up with something more like this:

Alastair Clunie Photography
Alastair Clunie

This requires rather more set-up and knowledge than simply using a phone camera for a selfie and it actually tells a story and says something about me that is consistent with how I describe myself on my Linked-In profile.

That’s just one small example, but I think it helps illustrate the value in hiring a professional photographer.

Spot the difference

Rannoch Station is one of the most remote railway stations in the UK. Here are two photographs of it. Can you spot the difference? You may need to enlarge the photos.

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Rannoch Station

Did you spot it? There are no prizes (don’t stop reading though) for seeing that in the first shot there are wires leading down to the station building from the top left of frame whereas in the second shot they are absent.

The question is, was this worth about 45 minutes in Photoshop to take the wires out? It’s not so easy to answer and is really a matter of personal opinion.

Leaving the wires in is an honest reproduction of what was actually there and there are people who would argue for that level honesty in photography. The curious thing here is that at the time I took the photograph I really wasn’t aware of them. By the time I got round to processing the photo in Lightroom, I became increasingly aware of them. I felt they were detracting from the scene as I had originally enjoyed it. So there’s another little dimension on this minorly ethical matter. When we view any scene live – by actually being there – we tend to focus rather specifically on what we take in and our brains undertake some live editing and we simply filter out things that we’re not interested in. So, by taking the wires out in Photoshop was I being true to my own memory and perception but untrue to the actual reality?

It was a fiddly and time-consuming process to remove the wires but I felt that the scene was better without them. There was no longer competition to be the leading lines into the photo and I feel much happier without that competition going on. I think the composition is enhanced by removing the wires and therefore the effort was worth it.

In the end, I take the view that Photography, of this type is art. I think the debate becomes more pointed when we get into the realms of photojournalism or documentary genres where there is much more of an overriding need to present things honestly.

So, what do you think? I’d be fascinated to read any comments on this.


The things you do

How do you illustrate an After School Club without using photographs of children doing what they do in the club?

I’m working on a project for a client to provide illustrative photographs for a website redesign and this is a question to which I’ve needed to find an answer. Why? Well, the obvious thing is to take a photo of the club in action but that would require shots of children and for that I’d need to get parental permission for every child in the photograph and that’s a logistical nightmare.

So, to avoid doing the obvious, I decided to ask the basic question: what is it the website needs to convey? Answer: that there is an After School Club. That opened up the opportunity to approach this in a different way. My original idea was to photograph a sign on a school gate and add some graphics to it so I set off in search of something appropriate that would also not identify any specific school. The answer ended up staring me in the face as I drove towards a school:

School street sign

I immediately envisaged a nice tidy crop on this with a graphic treatment that would clearly say there is an After School Club.

This is the end result:

Street sign composite

So how did I get there? Let me take you quickly through the process.

I did some initial work in Lightroom which involved slight adjustments to tone and contrast, lens corrections, straightening and cropping. The rest then happened in Photoshop where I worked with layers.

Photoshop layers

I find it helpful to name the layers so that it’s easier to make sure I am working on the correct one at any given time. As I drove home, it occurred to me that the background would be cluttered and distracting so when I got back I took a shot of the clouds which I intended to use as a background. That became a layer called Background copy (it now occurs to me it would have been easier to call it sky, but there you go; wise after the event).

I made a selection round the sign and used that selection to create a new layer via copy which I called Layer 1 and stacked that above the sky layer. I wanted to create a mixed approach to this graphically so decided that it would be good to have the word “Club” contained in a box like “School”. To do this, I made a careful selection round the “school” lozenge and again created a new layer with that. This one I called lozenge (finally getting down to one word labelling!). That was OK but it still contained the word School so that needed to come out. The easiest way to do this was to make a selection surrounding the word (but not touching the letters) and using the edit menu select fill/content aware. After that it was a simple job of tidying up some loose pixels using the clone stamp tool. Next I created a new text layer and typed the word “Club” which helpfully automatically renamed the layer. I moved that layer to overlap School and adjusted font and size until I had the closest match I could find. Then I moved the Club layer into position below School.

The next step was to create another text layer for After where I used a handwriting font, and free transform to place it just where I felt it had most impact. I was almost there, but two things still troubled me.

If you look at the original image you can see that the pole to which the sign is attached is off-centre. I decided to cut this into a new layer then reposition it centrally. That brought a better balance to the image.

Finally, I felt the sky was just too distracting so applied a gentle blur to make sure all the attention went on the actual sign.

And these, my friends, are the things you do to deliver on a brief.

The importance of story

I am currently working on a project to provide photographs for a website redesign. One of the challenges is that I can’t identify people within the photographs unless I have their written permission. Normally that’s fine and permissions can be obtained. But one aspect of what I needed to shoot required absolute confidentiality, for good reason.

One of the areas I needed to cover is a Foodbank. For many people the Foodbank is a genuine life saver  but it’s something no-one really wants to have to rely on and there’s a potential embarrassment in being known to use a Foodbank. When I turned up I was given a tour and explanation of what happens when people come in need of the help that’s available. They are generally referred and will have a voucher to use the Foodbank. They are met and gently welcomed by volunteers who appreciate how difficult this might be for the beneficiary. First off, they have a chat with a volunteer over a coffee and usually some biscuits. Here the Foodbank volunteer tries to create a friendly and compassionate conversation which allows them to do some of the necessary things such as checking for food allergies and dietary intolerances etc. Generally though, the beneficiaries just need to talk with someone friendly, have their story heard and be taken seriously.

This was what I felt I needed to capture in a photo and, especially when you can’t show faces, story becomes really important. So, while this shot was carefully set up, I think it manages to tell the story – of course, the context in which it finally sits will help and hopefully will inform the photo as much as the photo informs the context.

a confidential meeting over a coffee and biscuits

meeting in confidence

I entitled this photo “meeting in confidence” as the meeting is both confidential and one of it’s aims is to give the beneficiary confidence.

Foodbanks are run by The Trussell Trust and do a brilliant job. The project I am working on is not for The Trussell Trust but the Foodbank in question is directly related to it.


Travel retrospective 4 – simply being

Looking out


It was a very hot humid day on the Indonesian island of Nias, which sits just off the western coast of Sumatra. This was in the latter weeks of 2005 after the island had suffered from an earthquake on March 8 and the earlier tsunami of 26 December 2004.

I was there as part of a BMS World Mission filming team and as we were filming I spotted this couple watching us from the window of their home across the road. I was struck by their white faces, covered in a rice paste for sun protection.

This just seemed to present such a peaceful contrast to the seismic upheavals the island had endured so recently. Here was a couple of people who seemed completely relaxed and at peace in their circumstances, happy to simply sit in the shade of their home watching the world go by. Or, more specifically, watch some white westerners filming in the heat of the day. I wonder what their impression was of us.

This makes it into my travel retrospective as an expression of the simple things in life and how we can learn so much about value from those who have so little in material terms. I often think that we easily become prisoners of our material prosperity; the more we have, the more energy we must expend in maintaining and protecting it. How easy it is to forget about the joy of simply being.

This photo was shot at 1/600 sec at f4.5 on a focal length of 105mm.