Tag Archives: people

Being discrete

a game of pool - table corner with side lighting

Pool

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.

 

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A personal project

Here we are behind the scenes at an outdoor photo shot for a personal project which I intend will result in a set of themed images. A little more on that later, let me first tell you about the planning and the shoot.

It’s easy to think of photography as just pointing a camera at a subject and taking a photo. Of course, if you’ve done more serious photography you know about the need to compose the shot, decide on your camera settings, desired depth of field and all that stuff. When it comes to realising an idea the amount of time behind the camera becomes such a small part of the whole process.

For a while I have been thinking about a concept for a series of images. At the moment I have no idea how many that might stretch to as it all depends on how creative I can be in exploring and illustrating the theme. A few months ago I had one very definite image I wanted to create and that was the driver for this photo shoot. I was clear in my own mind what I wanted to express in the image, how the composition would look, where it should be shot and what the general look of the image would be. To make that happen, I needed several things to come together:

  • some assistance
  • a couple of models
  • the right props – a card table, two chairs, a deck of cards, the relevant costumes a picture frame
  • and not least, a low or receding tide coinciding with either sunrise or sunset

This took weeks of planning through the summer and I realised that August was probably going to be the prime time to get the shot. During the planning, I developed another couple of ideas on the same theme, which meant that I could aim to create three or four images out of the one shoot.

While negotiating with friends, aiming to persuade them to help/model for me, I set about looking at tide charts and comparing those with times for sunrise and sunset to find the optimum dates on which to get the shoot done. A narrow window of opportunity appeared and a shoot time was set for 8pm on Tuesday 9 August. Sunset was due at 9pm and the tide would be receding, leaving me the wet sand I was looking for.

After a very dry summer, the days leading up the shoot were overcast and wet – it was entirely possible that the shoot would need to be abandoned if the weather didn’t improve. On the day of the shoot, the morning was wet and windy but the forecast showed this passing with sunny intervals appearing from around 7pm and, thankfully, the forecast was right.

So we set out a tarpaulin on the beach (sand and salty water are no friends to photographic equipment) in order to keep all the important things as well protected as possible.

And now, I am warmly sat before my computer doing the post-shoot editing and processing. This is definitely going to take longer that the shoot, but hopefully I will end up with some inspiring themed images which will be available as fine art prints.

The theme, I will tell you, is an exploration of the concept of absence. Perhaps my next blog post will be something about the creative process for this and maybe something on the editing work – what would you like? Please let me know by leaving a comment, or feel free to ask a question and I’ll do my best to pick those up in a future post.

Meantime I am grateful to my friend, Abbie Nelson, for the behind the scenes photos (above) and for helping me in bringing the shoot to reality.

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.

 

Settings, bleh!

It’s kind of funny the way people are often interested in what camera settings you used. Do you find that?

It’s largely irrelevant, because you can’t go out to the same location at roughly (or even precisely) the same time of day, dial in the same settings and hope to get the same results. Why’s that then? Well, there are so many other variables: the weather conditions will affect the air quality and clarity, it may be overcast when originally it wasn’t, others will probably not be using the same camera and lens and even if they are, they might respond differently; and those are just some of the variables. On top of that there’s the post-processing to factor in.

What’s more important is knowing how to use your settings to get the results you want knowing how your particular kit behaves.

Let me talk you through the above three photos all of which were taken on the same night in Perth, Scotland. I had been to the location before with just my iPhone to take some scoping out shots and get a sense of what I wanted to come back and shoot properly. That pre-shoot visit was really helpful in allowing me to get a sense of how the lighting was working, the scale, and some preferred vantage points. Based on that, I began to think about what kind of shots I wanted to achieve and how I would go about getting them.

For the shots across the River Tay, I was certain that I wanted to soften the water and therefore blur the reflected light which would offer a contrast to the sharper definition on land. To achieve that, I knew I would need a long exposure. However, I also wanted to minimise grain (or noise, if you were raised in the digital age) which might be an issue with a long exposure at night. I opted to shoot at ISO 100, knowing that the relative lack of light sensitivity at this setting would push for a longer exposure. So, I’ve now considered ISO and exposure time (shutter speed) leaving the issue of aperture. Here, I was mainly concerned to shoot near the sweet spot of the lens, the aperture where the lens is sharpest and performs best. For the lens I was using that was going to be somewhere between f8 and f11. So, I opted for aperture priority, setting that to f10 on an ISO setting of 100. I then had a look to see what the camera was choosing for an exposure time. For both shots across the river, that was coming in at around 30 seconds which I was happy would be long enough for the effect I wanted, and so it turned out. Had it been longer, I might have had to consider changing the ISO. It’s a juggling act.

I used the same basic thought flow for the shot of the catering van but I wanted something more subtle here. The plan was to include some human interest but in a way that a slow exposure would blur the movement of the people. However, an exposure time of 30 seconds would be too long and could almost render the people invisible. I was looking for something nearer five to ten seconds, but also wanted to shoot within the sweet spot range and keep the ISO low. In the event, the lighting here allowed me to shoot at f8, stay at ISO 100 and get the kind of exposure time I needed. I’m certainly pleased with the result.

Post-processing was fairly light touch, really and done only in Lightroom. I’ll often use Photoshop for sharpening, but in this instance Lightroom did all I needed. One of the issues with night photography with the range of lights here, is that some areas had highlights that were just too bright so I needed to treat them specifically with the brush tool.

So, there you have it. Don’t be too bothered about what settings anyone used for their photos. I know it’s interesting and I’m as culpable as anyone for often providing that information, but it actually tells you relatively little that’s actually all that useful. Better to understand how to use the settings to achieve the shot you want, whether that’s in a very structured pre-planned way or in the moment when a composition lies before you.

Most of all, have fun and enjoy the good feeling of pulling off a photo just as you envisioned it.

Happy shooting.

Focus folly

two men standing in a doorway at night

two men and a doorway

Here’s a curious one, which I’m calling a focus folly.

I was in St Andrews to get some photos of their St Andrews Day celebrations, but mainly the fireworks. Walking along the street my attention was taken by these two chaps standing in a doorway having a smoke. My line of sight was across the rooftop of a parked car and the way the light was falling on the raindrops intrigued me as a foreground. I had no time to set up a tripod so getting anything here was reliant on being quick and hand-held with a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake. This meant a high ISO of 10000 and the inevitable grain that would go with it. I quickly chose my composition and, using an aperture of f5.6 took two shots – one with the foreground droplets as the focal point and a second with the two men as the focal point. At this time I had no idea what I might end up doing with the shots, if anything.

Getting the shots on screen I really liked the way the foreground raindrops worked with the deep bokeh of the background. The trouble was, that this meant the two men were also out of focus and they really made sense as the subject of the photo. I did, however, have a second image in which they were in focus. At which point I was straight into Photoshop and working with layers and a mask to produce the end result we have here.

Why am I calling this a focus folly? Simply because this is a manufactured effect but I think it works with the foreground leading you directly to the main subject without all the other background distractions.

Now, after all of that, did I get any shots of the fireworks? I certainly did….

St Andrews fireworks-4988

Coming and going

appearing and disappearing

coming and going

It was one of those days; cloudy, overcast and heavily humid producing a very diffused light. Well, having gone to Westonbirt arboretum with the idea of taking photographs it was time to be creative and not wasteful.

Walking through, my eye was caught by the meander of this path and the  conditions had me thinking of people appearing in to and out of heavy mist. That in turn led to the idea of someone walking into shot and out of shot as though appearing and returning from nowhere. Very quickly I had the idea in my head of a finished piece with two images of the same scene showing someone coming and going. It was then just a case of creating it.

I knew I would have to work with layers in Photoshop, so this meant shooting a consistent background by mounting my camera on a tripod. I then used manual settings for exposure, locked that off, set focus and switched off the autofocus. Then it was a case of taking a number of shots of my obliging model walking towards and away from camera. I made adjustments in Lightroom which I then batched to the other images to keep the scene consistent. The final effect was achieved in Photoshop using layer masks and different opacity settings.

I’m reasonably pleased with the result which is very close to what I first imagined.

 

An hour in Wantage

What’s it like to view where you live as if you were shooting it as a travel photographer? That’s the question I set out to answer in an hour in Wantage.

60 minutes, one camera, one lens and the self-set challenge to view the familiar differently.

After about the same time editing in Lightroom and Photoshop here are the results.

loaves for sale

bread stall

It happened to be Wednesday and market day in Wantage. It’s always good to ask the stall holder for permission to take some photos as it usually gets a warm response and gives more time to frame the shots as you want them.

burger van

dining out

On the other hand, there’s also merit in some candid shots which give a natural feel of life going on normally. This one just looked better converted to monochrome and it needed some lightening of the shadows to bring out the detail inside the van.

Illistrative brickwork

relief mural

I like textures and this relief mural on the side of Sainsbury’s caught my attention. I’ve walked by here so often and given this little notice but the conscious effort of seeing through the lens of the travel photographer does force you to notice more.

a warning

official graffiti?

And just beside it was this notice which left me wondering if this was official graffiti. Curious.

church and graveyard

grounds of faith

Another shot that looked better converted to monochrome. The parish church in Wantage seen from the graveyard to the east. This meant shooting into the light, but it created the contrasty result I was looking for.

window sign and reflection

reflecting on wines

Opposite the church I noticed a building with two windows above which were the slogans “Wines” and “Spirits”. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition with the church and that there are gravestones reflected in the window; warning perhaps of the perils of over-indulgence?

statue of John Betjeman

John Betjeman bust

Staying with the theme of the parish, this bust of John Betjeman sits on a plinth outside the Vale and Downland Museum.  The inscription on the plinth describes John Betjeman as a poet and parishioner. It was always going to be difficult to get in one shot the bust and the inscription, so I shot them separately and blended them in Photoshop. I think it works reasonably well as there was little contrast on the inscription to work with and, at the time of shooting, the lighting didn’t exactly help.

old wall sign

wall sign

I’m not sure who was doing what repairing but this sign just looked intriguing and the shadows and brickwork added to the texture in the shot.

contrasts

shadows

And finally, I liked the way the sun cast strong shadows from the canopy covering the walkway outside Sainsbury’s. This was just screaming out for a mono conversion to maximise the sense of contrast.

But wait, I hear you say, isn’t Wantage known as the birthplace of  Alfred the Great? What about him? Oh, all right then, here you are…

Statue of Alfred the Great

Alfred the Great