Tag Archives: action

Being discrete

a game of pool - table corner with side lighting


How do you preserve confidentiality and tell a compelling story? This photo is my answer to that question in a very specific context.

Recently I have been working on a set of photographs for the Levenmouth Foodbank which will be used in a new brochure they are producing. One of the challenges of this project was to illustrate aspects of the work of the Foodbank whilst preserving the confidentially of those who use it. It’s important to be able to tell a story through these kind of images which, for me, fall into the genre of documentary.

Why the need for discretion? It’s probably well known that people who use foodbanks are not doing so through choice but because they have fallen on hard times financially, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps more long term. There is a natural stigma about this and, for the most part, no-one forced to use a foodbank would wish to be recognised as doing so. The trustees and volunteers at the foodbank, quite rightly, also wanted to protect the identity of their clients.

One of the surprising things for me was to find that there is so much more going on at a foodbank than handing out food. I can’t be sure if this applies to all of them, but the Levenmouth Foodbank also runs a café where clients can come in and get a cup of tea or coffee, a hot filled roll and biscuits or, occasionally, some cake. It’s also a social time when clients can meet with each other and chat with Foodbank Volunteers who can guide them with things like budgeting, job seeking etc.

During a shoot at the café I was attracted to the pool table where clients can have a relaxing game with one another or, typically, challenge a volunteer to a game. I wanted to be able to capture this and illustrate the importance of human interaction in a supportive way. I also had to be discrete.

I knew this would need to be a tightly focused shot (and I’m not talking depth of field here) closing in on the detail rather than going wide. The set up for this was pretty simple. I set up my light source (one speed light mounted on a light stand bounced into an umbrella) to the side of the table. I used a wireless trigger to allow me to roam around the table looking for compositions that would work.

The single light source allowed me to create a clear focal point for the image and the shadow cast by the player on the left emphasises the light on the table. I like that the eye is drawn to the action on the table and the cue of the player on the left provides a nice leading line into the composition. It’s obvious that there are two players here and, in the background, there is also one spectator clearly visible. Immediately, there is a sense of what’s going on here without having to reveal any faces.

One of the bonuses for me is that I feel the depth of foreground shadow helps to accentuate the action and perhaps this gives a sense that out of the darkness of despair, there is always the hope of light and better things to come.


Travel retrospective 11 – paddling home

Paddling home


This was shot during a visit to the Indonesian island of Nias in December 2006. It was an extremely hot day and in a break from filming on the beach I had gone for shelter higher up the shore which gave me enough height to spot this lone fisherman making his way back to shore.

I was struck by the effort of paddling back home and the pose of this fisherman seems to capture that. I think the effort is made more visible by the contrast and silhouette created by the contre-jour lighting. When this fisherman had hauled his boat ashore with the help of a friend, I wandered down to see the extent of his catch; a mere three fish. I was struck by realisation of the amount of effort it takes for many people in the world today to scratch out a living and this photo always reminds me of that.

The photo was shot using a Nikon D70s at 1/640 sec on ISO-400 with an aperture of f14 and a focal length of 300mm. The original photograph was in colour and has been converted to mono in Lightroom with minor adjustments to tone and contrast.


Travel retrospective 10 – Catching the bus

Bangkok bus

Catching the bus

This was shot in Bangkok from an elevated walkway. It had been raining heavily and, as usual, the roads were busy with traffic. This bus had stopped in the congestion and I noticed a few people run through the traffic to reach it, as it was nowhere near the pavement or bus stop. That seemed to be no obstacle for those wanting to get on.  The woman approaching the bus was the last to make the dash and look of delight on her face indicated just how pleased she seemed to be to be in getting there.

I think the wet road adds an interesting texture to the photograph with small puddles of gathered water and softly reflected shadows. I like the sense of contrast in the story of this picture with the stationary nature of the traffic counterpointing the movement of the people grabbing an opportunity.

The photo was shot using a Nikon D90 at 1/320 sec with an aperture of f5.6 and a focal length of 105mm. The original photograph was in colour and has been converted to mono in Lightroom with minor adjustments to tone and contrast.


Travel retrospective 1 – A symbol of freedom

Afghan boy with kite

Afghan kite

I was going through my library recently and decided it would be interesting to do a retrospective of some of my favourite photographs. Inspired by Don McCullin’s book, simply titled “Don McCullin”, I decided that all the photographs for the retrospective would be converted to monochrome. To keep a sense of scale and focus, I decided to limit the retrospective to my travel photographs.

Here, then, is my first offering in my Travel retrospective series.

I visited Afghanistan in December 2003 with colleagues from BMS World Mission as we did some filming there. NATO had taken over security earlier that year after Taliban control of the country effectively ended in 2001 under US retaliation for the twin towers attack. At that time it was a very beleaguered country. There was a lot of war damage visible in Kabul. Many buildings were bombed-out shells and walls were riddled with bullet holes. There were no street lights.

Flying kites has been popular in Afghanistan for a long time and ranges from being a common hobby to sport and even an art form. The Taliban outlawed kite flying during their time in control and it only resumed after the collapse of their regime.

This photograph was taken in a mountain village where we were filming and was one of those opportune, unplanned moments. I spotted this young boy flying his kite and it struck me as a symbol of new found freedom. The interesting thing is that this was about freedom to return to a traditional pastime. In many ways it symbolises for me the way in which repressive regimes are not merely anti-western, though there are those that present that face. Rather those regimes are about controlling the population for their own ends rather than the for the good of the people and here was an expression of freedom to resume a national tradition.

Being high in the mountains and having the perspective of looking up at this young kite flyer, I had a real sense of the freedom of flight. He’ll be eleven years older but I hope this young man, as he will be now, is still flying kites.

The photograph was taken on Fuji 800 Pro film stock. Unfortunately I don’t have a record of the exposure details but in processing, as well as having negs and prints, the photos were all converted to digital format as JPEG images.  The original image was in colour and the reprocessing to monochrome was done exclusively in Lightroom 5, with minor adjustments to tone and contrast. I also cropped the original to improve the overall composition.

standing still

Water sculpture

Water sculpture

One of the joys of photography is the ability to capture a moment in time and sometimes that stops movement and freezes the flow of action to reveal something new and different. This photo was taken at Evian on the shore of Lake Geneva at 1/1600 sec at f5.6 at ISO-200.

I like that the fast shutter speed froze the movement of the water fountain revealing within it shapes and textures that we simply don’t see otherwise. It stimulates the imagination in a completely different way to watching water moving and it reminds me that there are times when we need to stop our own hectic activity and take time out to pause, reflect and marvel at some things in life that we otherwise miss in the busyness of life.





A matter of trust

competition driving

competition driving

This photo was taken at The Royal Windsor Horse Show and is the closest I have ever been to serious competitive sport with horses. This competitor was taking part in a driving marathon and the photo was taken at a point in the course where a series of gates had to be negotiated under timed conditions. This required a combination of speed and accuracy. It’s possible to get a sense of how fast they were going by noticing that the horse on the right has only one hoof on the ground as they go in to a turn. They are also negotiating gates that are by no means flimsy as evidenced by the sturdy poles.

It’s quite a privilege to get this close to the action in a truly competitive sport featuring some of the top competitors and I was certainly struck by the skill and agility of both driver and horses. It’s an amazing witness to the mutual trust between the driver  horses that’s necessary for success and it makes me think that we need to exercise this more among ourselves as people in whatever ventures we are collectively involved in. Incidentally I was also trusting that they would not crash into the barrier behind which I was standing!

For those interested the photo was shot at 1/640 sec at f5.6 on a  focal length of 55mm. The lighting diffused by heavy cloud cover so I opted for an ISO of 800 to give me the flexibility of a fast shutter speed and decent depth of field.