Thursday, 25 February 2010

Come on over to my new 'Home'

Real pleased to tell you that I've got a completely new and updated blog over at this

All the original content from here has been imported so you can always look through earlier posts but in a way I think you'll find alot easier...less clicking around, not having to click on pictures to make them larger and so on.

Check out the new website too at: ... same address as before but with a whole new look and you can access the new blog from there too.

So, come on over to my new 'home' on the're always welcome!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Using HDR for Interior Commercial Photography

There's been quite a bit of discussion online lately on blogs and forums about the use of High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography and I reckon it's fair to say that some people love it, and some people (clearly) hate it. Scott Kelby wrote on his blog recently asking for peoples thoughts on the subject and boy, did some people really let their thoughts be known.

I first became aware of HDR when a Photographer / Photoshop Guru by the name of Ben Willmore began posting HDR images he'd put together during his ongoing journey along Route 66. He'd edited them in such a way that gave them an almost surreal, futuristic look and to be honest it was this look that I associated with HDR and never considered it's other uses...until fairly recently.

Ultimately HDR enables the photographer to produce images (when not over processed) that capture much more detail in the shadows, midtones and highlight areas and so resulting in a closer interpretation of what can been seen by the human eye:

Over the past couple of months aside from my Portrait work, I've been finding myself getting commissioned to photograph interiors of Hotels and Restaurants and rather than adding in bursts of light during longer exposures I've opted for HDR for two reasons. One reason being the speed it enables me to work and secondly (& more importantly) it gives me exactly the kind of look I'm after...a definite win, win situation!

To create a HDR image, the process involves photographing a 'scene' but rather than taking a single photograph, a number are taken. Five is a generally a good number of photographs to take as the first photograph will be 'properly' exposed and then two photographs are taken either side of this exposure each 1 stop apart:

Setting the exposures for each shot can be done manually but by doing this there is always the risk of knocking the camera so that it becomes out of line. Most modern SLR's and some 'Point and Shoots' like the Canon G series, have this facility (known as Bracketing) built into them where you can select the number of exposures you want the camera to take.

Once you have your five photographs, it's then a case of combining them so that the full range of exposures can be put together to make one final image. I generally combine three of the images together: the 'properly exposed image plus the image that is 2 stops under exposed and the one that is 2 stops over exposed. Photoshop does have a built in 'HDR' creating function but to be honest it still needs a little work, so the software of choice is Photomatix, and I tend to find 99% of the time that the default settings work just fine. Once the images have been combined (tone mapped) I'll then do a little tweeking in Photoshop just to add some finishing touches.

Here's a couple of examples of 'overly' processed HDR images where I went for the surreal/drawing kind of look (just for fun you understand)

So, what's your opinion of HDR? ... like it or dislike it? HDR is no magic wont make a bad shot into a good shot. The old saying of 'Garbage in Garbage out' still counts for HDR because you still need to have good quality images to combine in the first place. Personally I think there is defintely a place in the 'tool kit' for it but I'd love to hear your thoughts / feelings on the subject so please leave a comment. If you've got any examples feel free to send them over and I'll post some up here in an 'update'.

Also, if you have any questions about this post or would like to see a video tutorial then just let me know in the comments section below or send me an email, message on Facebook etc... and I'll 'get on it'.

Bye for now.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

InSight Workshop 'One2One' (Tester)

Having held a few 'tester' Workshops with small groups of photographers over the past few weeks I've been getting the occasional email coming through asking about 1-1 sessions to include both lighting & editing techniques.

1-1's are something I do intend to be offering so with a little spare time available this past weekend and being a big believer in the mantra of 'Practice makes Perfect' I got together with a good friend of mine (and keen Photographer) Neal Hibbert to run through a 'personalised' Workshop.

We started the afternoon off by going through basics of how to control the ambient light in a scene and then how to bring in some off camera lighting to light the subject. We then moved on to run through my Invisible Black Backdrop Technique firstly outdoors, and then indoors to go through the same technique but also how to deal with the challenge of light bouncing off the surrounding walls and creeping into the shot.

Keeping in the tradition of running workshops when it's either raining or freezing cold, we then headed out into what seemed like Arctic conditions (maybe a slight exaggeration) to work on a couple of 'location' shots:

Having been out for no longer than half an hour we then headed back indoors and once body temperatures had returned back to a respectable 36.8 ÂșC we then loaded in some of the shots from the afternoon and ran through some simple editing techniques.

BIG thank you to Neal's daughter Leah who helped us out by being our model for the afternoon, but I'm sure this wont be the last bit of modelling she'll be doing as I've already been notified of Neal's purchase of a light stand, reflective umbrella etc... (Just don't blame me Leah....please)


Image 1:

This shot was taken in Neal's kitchen during the middle of the afternoon and was created using the Invisible Black Backdrop technique. To minimise the spread of light coming out of the reflective umbrella I closed it down almost all the way and positioned it so that I was getting the light to give nice shadows on Leah's face.

*NB...'Closing down' the umbrella simply refers to releasing the catch so that the umbrella is no longer fixed open. This allows us to control the spread of light and give it more direction but still gives a nice soft light as it's still a decent sized light source and is in close to the subject.

Image 2:

This shot couldn't have been simpler. The ambient light was reduced by about 2 stops and then Leah was lit using a Nikon SB800 high on a light stand. Initially no light modifier was used however this meant that Leah's top half was lit but lower half and ground became very dark. The solution...use a 60" Shoot-Thru umbrella to create a larger light source and consequently a bigger spread of light. (Image 3 was made using the exact same lighting set up)

Bye for now.

* You can check out Neal's results from the afternoon by visiting his Flickr page.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Lighting Workshop: 1-1 Training

Hi All,
Thought I'd post up a few random images from yesterday's 1-1 Lighting Workshop 'tester'. I'll

Friday, 5 February 2010

InSight Photography Workshop 'Tester' by Moonlight

Hi All,
Just to let you know the date of the next Photography (tester) Workshop is planned for Sunday 28th February in the Windsor, Berkshire area. This one is going to be a little bit different in that we'll be going through 'Off Camera Lighting' but this time we'll be shooting at night.

We'll be in various locations from a Town Centre, Multi Storey Car Park and maybe a few places you wouldn't expect so if you'd like to come along and join in (numbers are limited to 6 photographers) drop me an email or get in touch through Facebook / Twitter and I'll get more details out to you.

As with the other 'testers' I've organised over the past few weeks this is free to attendees so long as you give me brutal, honest feedback and we'll be concentrating on the 'shooting' side only and not the full 'theory' side that will be included in the complete workshop that'll be launched later in the year.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Lighting Walk-Through:Keep it simple with minimal kit

Sometimes I think one of the biggest challenges to us as Photographers is not what shot to take, but what kit to take with us. Clearly there are times when we need all manner of lighting equipment, stands, props and so on but it was Zack Arias' influence that turned me towards the 'minimalist approach to produce maximum results'.

Although I have a number of lights that I can bring to a shoot, as a rule I like to work as much as possible with one light and that'll generally be a Nikon SB800 or my Alien Bee 1600 (if I need that bit more..oommppff!!!). This approach over the last year has helped me to 'Keep It Simple' and as a result get much better results, and in a much shorter period of time. That being said, there are always going to be those times when one light just isn't enough as you'll see a little later in the following lighting walk-through:

'Vince the Hat': Lighting Walk-Through

First things first, set my camera to manual mode and expose for the sky. Then I set up a single SB800 without any modifiers, aimed directly at his 'upper half'. The only problem with this was that the lower part of his body and the ground around his feet became quite dark as the light 'fell off'. So, the the SB800 into a 60" Shoot Thru umbrella to create a larger light source; the result being that light then spread over a wider area ie his lower body and the ground around his feet.

The following two pictures show you the photograph as it was directly 'out of camera' and then the final image having had a few tweeks in Photoshop.

Now the second set-up which had us photographing 'Vince the Hat' in his shed was one of those times when one light just wasn't enough to get the job done. 

I've included these two images to show you first of all what kind of photograph the camera would give us in 'Aperture Priority' mode and in natural/ambient light...pretty lame huh? So, to get the kind of photograph I was after, it was back into 'Manual Mode' and set the exposure so that we get some detail in the sky. 

The result of doing this as you can see from the second photograph was a great looking sky but Vince going into complete darkness, so then it was a simple case of using the same Nikon SB800 and 60" Shoot Thru umbrella as before and aiming it in through the windows to create a large, natural looking light source.

This worked just fine but the only 'challenge' then was that the area under the shelf that Vince was leaning on was getting none of the light so the solution here was to bring in another Nikon SB800, hand held by my good friend Noel Hannan just outside of the doorway and aimed into the lower area of the shed.

These last two images show the photograph as it came out of the camera and then the resulting final image once I'd worked on it for a couple of minutes or so in Photoshop to remove some 'give away' shadows and tweeked the colour/tone.

Questions or comments about this post? Please let me know in the comments section below, but in the mean time,


Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Help for Heroes..."If you don't ask, you don't get"

Update: I've had an email from Daniel's mother Debbie telling me that tickets to this event are now completely sold out and so far £92,000 has been raised in Daniel's name for the Help for Heroes Charity. An awesome achievement but let's not stop it there. If you can offer anything to be auctioned or would like to contribute (however small) just drop me a line. Thanks

In December of last year I spend some time with some of the bravest and heroic people I have ever had the privilege and honour to meet. I was at Heathrow Airport at the time and met up with a group of 10 soldiers that had returned from active service out in Afghanistan and were flying onwards to family and friends. Each and everyone of them had suffered horrific injuries and indeed it was an absolute miracle that any of them was still alive. I'll be honest with you and say that I really struggled to fight back the tears when one young guy in particular relayed the story of what had happened to him; I wanted to be strong but clearly the effect of hearing his story showed in my eyes but then he asked me if I was ok...I mean, here's a 19 year old young man infront of me, wheel chair bound having lost a leg, severely damaged right arm and shoulder and loss of sight in one eye asking me if I'm ok...remembering this still leaves me speechless. However, as they put it, they are the lucky ones because they're still alive as we know all too well from what seems like daily news reports, soldiers are losing their lives out there.

The reason for this post is to tell you that this week I received a letter from a woman...a mother of a soldier who had served and died on active service out in Afghanistan. Wendy Ellis Stafford is organising a Charity Ball in Support of Help for Heroes to be held on the 10th July 2010 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Marlow, UK which happens to be the anniversary of her son Daniel's passing. Amongst other fund raising activities on the night an auction is to be held where all the winning bids will also go to the Charity. As a photographer I've donated a Photo Shoot to the auction where the highest bidder will join me for a Location Portrait Shoot and also get a framed picture of their choice.

By writing this post I guess I'm really asking 'is there anything you could offer to the auction?' Hair stylists, makeup artists, owners of hotels and so on...would any of the people you know be prepared to offer something to be auctioned?

It would be incredible if we could all help raise a significant amount of money for the Help for Heroes Charity so thanks for reading this and as my late Grandad Fred used to say..."If you don't ask, you don't get"

Speak soon.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Photo Shoot: "Vince the Hat"

Making the most of a bit of 'down time' yesterday I met up with my good friend and fellow photographer Noel Hannan to talk through projects for the coming months including some social events for photographers and one project in particular being a photo shoot at Brooklands which I'll tell you more about nearer the time.

Anyway having 'chewed the cud' for a short while we headed over to meet up with 'Vince the Hat' on his allotment to take some shots for the portfolio. (No prizes as to why Vince got the nick name).

Here's a few shots from the hour or so we spent with him before heading off for a debrief aka 'a pint' and I'll add a post in the next day or two to show a walk through of the shoot including lighting set up etc...


Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Outtakes-The Invisible Black Backdrop Video

Just a quickie...thought I'd share the reason with you why I decided to do a written tutorial of the 'Invisible Black Backdrop' technique as opposed to a video tutorial.


Monday, 18 January 2010

The 'Invisible' Black Backdrop

Over the past few weeks in preparation for the launch of my new 'InSight Photography Workshop' I've been running 'testers' (mini workshops) with groups of photographers to teach a range of lighting techniques and also to get brutal honest feedback.

One of the techniques I've been teaching has become affectionately knows as 'The Invisible Black Backdrop' and without doubt has proven to be one of the most popular techniques amongst attendees. So, this got me thinking...why not write a tutorial, post it on the blog and then encourage those who give it a go to submit their photographs?...I mean, what better way to judge your teaching than by seeing the results achieved by others?

So...what is the 'Invisible Black Backdrop'?
Well as the saying goes 'a picture paints a thousand words' so here's what I mean:

There's no question that having this technique in your 'Photography Toolbag' can save you alot of time, effort and not to, but it also allows you to add a little extra creativity to your 'shoot' and get photos that you would have normally thought only possible in a studio or with a collapsible backdrop.

So, how do we achieve the 'Black Backdrop'?
Basically what we're looking to do is to tell the camera to capture no light other than what we introduce in the form of a speedlight flash for example. We don't want the camera to pick up any of the ambient/natural light at all, and by doing that we have an instant black backdrop.

Now I just want to add that this technique can be done with any camera that has the ability to be put into Manual Mode and has the ability to trigger off camera flash; so that means SLR's and some pocket cameras such as the Canon G range (G9, G10 and so on...)

There's only '5 Steps' to it...

1. Put your camera into MANUAL MODE. Yes, now we are in control: Shutter Speed, Aperture, iso...from this point onwards we're telling the camera what to do as opposed to the camera telling us and giving us the picture it thinks we want.

2. ISO...Set your camera to it's lowest possible ISO. In laymen's terms, the iso dictates how sensitive to light your camera's sensor is i.e a low number like 200 means it's less sensitive to light whereas a higher number like 1600 means it's more sensitive to light. On a side note the higher the iso number the more noise/grain can be introduced into your photograph, particularly in the shadow areas. Now, seeing as we're looking to make a black backdrop we're not concerned with how sensitive to light the camera is, so we'll be keeping our iso as low as possible; in my case, my Nikon D3 can go down to 100 which means the camera isn't very sensitive to light at all and the final picture will be nice and clean with minimal grain/noise.

3. Shutter Speed...Set your camera to its maximum/optimum sync speed. Basically this is the maximum speed that your camera and flash work together ie any faster than this and your camera's shutter is opening and closing too quickly to allow all the light from your flash to fill the camera's sensor. Common maximum sync speeds are in the 1/200th of a second to 1/250th of a second. Now although we could quite easily make the scene completely black by going to an incredibly high shutter speed like 1/8000th second the problem with this is that the shutter will open and close so quickly that none of the light from the flash will hit the sensor, so we must stick to the maximum sync speed that our cameras and flashes work 'together'.

4. Aperture...The final setting on our cameras is the aperture or basically what 'f' number we should select. Now, knowing roughly what 'f' number to use will become second nature after you've done this a few times so the best thing is to choose say, f/5.6 and go from there. Once you're at this stage take a photo of your subject and see what results you get. The objective here is to see absolutely nothing on your cameras display ie you should see a completely black screen. Now, if you don't and you're seeing a bit of the environment then clearly some natural/ambient light is creeping into the scene. So, all we have to do is close down our 'f' number a little ie if you're getting natural/ambient light into the photo at say f/5.6 then try going to f/8.0 and see what that gives you:

5. Bring in the flash...Now we've 'set the scene' with our camera's and have a completely black screen, the final phase to this technique is to 'bring in the flash'. Where you prefer to position your flash and what modifier you use is entirely down to you depending on the look you want to achieve but I find I get great results using a 60" reflective umbrella. This is a great piece of kit that creates beautiful light but I can also 'close down' to control where I want the light to fall and how much etc...

Again experience of having done this a few times will dictate what power level you put the flash on so until that time just pick a power level ie 1/4 power, then take a shot and see what you get. If you want more light then increase the power of the flash in increments until you get what you want. If the light from the flash is too bright then simply lower the power level in increments.

As a rule, Shutter Speed controls Ambient/Natural light and Aperture controls flash power but in this technique once we've set both the shutter speed and aperture to give us our black background we really need to leave them well alone and control the power of the flash manually by walking over to (or better still having an assistant) adjust it by hand.

Triggering the flash
As this technique uses 'off camera' flash we need to have a way of triggering our flash. I use Pocket Wizards which are the industry standard radio triggers; great pieces if kit, very reliable that work at ridiculous distances, but they do have a price tag to match. However, there are lots of alternative ways to trigger your flash from a simple 'sync lead' which forms a physical connection to your camera and flash (with obvious limitations), an infra red trigger, Nikon users can use their 'Pop-Up' flashes to trigger another flash using the Nikon CLS (Creative Lighting System) and there's even budget radio triggers you can get off ebay that seem to work just fine.

In Summary:
2. LOWEST 'ISO' (200 or lower)
3. MAXIMUM SYNC SPEED (1/250th sec, 1/200th sec etc... depending on your camera)
4. SELECT AN APERTURE (ie f/5.6 as a starting point)

So, that quite simply is all there is to it. Now I've deliberately not gone into too much technical jargon to explain this because I want this to be a 'how to' tutorial as opposed to a 'why' but should you wish to know the ins and outs of the technical side I'll gladly pass on details of books that will cover it all.

A couple of things to note:

1. If you're using this technique indoors be aware that once you introduce flash, the light might end up bouncing off light coloured walls which will then light the room up and so destroy your black backdrop. My advice when using this technique indoors would be to restrict where the light falls by using such modifiers as a Honl Speed Grid or a Lastolite EzyBox, or 'close down' your reflective umbrella.

2. If you're using Speedlights outside to do this technique you may find that if you're doing it in the middle of a bright afternoon your cameras aperture (f number) will have to be set so closed down (eg f/22) that your speedlights wont be powerful enough to light the sensor. The answer here is to find a covered/shady area or better still wait for the sun to ease off a little. This technique can be done in the middle of the afternoon on a bright sunny day but that would call for alot more powerful lighting to be used which in turn would cost alot more money.

So what next?
If you have any questions then post them to the comments section...that way others with the same question will get the answers too. Also let me know how you get on...I'd love to see some of the results you come up with, or any challenges you experience and if you get the urge why not leave a comment...any feedback is great and don't worry, I've got broad shoulders.


>In the meantime, here's a few more examples:

Why not try this technique on 'still life' too as in this photograph I took of a Prototype Microphone whilst shooting at the Imperial College, London

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