Photography studio, gallery and training complex

Archive for April, 2011

Shooting On A Shoestring: Top Tips for Photography On A Budget (Part 1)


Few would disagree that photography can be an expensive hobby. Expensive to get the kit in the first place, expensive to get additional kit, expensive to produce prints, expensive magazines, expensive to shoot (once you start getting a bit adventurous), expensive software to edit your images etc.

Well, I’m proud to be something of a tightwad when it comes to my photography. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, every purchase I make for the business needs to be financially justifiable, and this is fine by me because its much the way I have always approached my photography.

There are two sayings I’ve picked up – and repeated ad nauseum – over the years which sum up my philosophy regarding spending money on photography…

“All the gear, no idea” : I’ve been around photographers and camera clubs enough over the years to notice that there is no direct correlation between the amount spent on equipment and the quality of results produced. Far from it. I’ve met LOTS of photographers who insist on the buying the latest model of this, and the top of the range that, and still have never produced an image worth the expense. Some do though, of course. Similarly, I know other photographers who continually produce original, beautiful, thought-provoking work using the most basic of equipment.

“The most important part of the camera is the 6 inches behind it”: Again, it is the photographer’s “eye” which is important, not the capabilities of the camera. We should sometimes remind ourselves that the greats – Cartier-Bresson, Capa, Julia Margaret Cameron… – had very little in the way of technology to fall back on but still managed to create images which continue to inspire up to a century and a half (in Cameron’s case) later.

So with this in mind, let me give you a few of my own tips for reducing your financial outlay without cutting corners on quality.

Acquiring your camera: Ever heard of a humble little website called eBay? Well, there’s loads of kit on there! It’s cheap (usually) and a great place to get a deal, especially if you’re happy to prepared to get a camera which isn’t the up-to-the-minute just-released model. I’ve bought several cameras on eBay, as have a few other pros I know, and never had a problem with faults etc. It’s a risk of course but you can go a long way to safeguarding against scams by using some simple common sense and reading the small print. Similarly, for many photographers, a tripod is a tripod, and a flash umbrella is a flash umbrella, so why not get a second hand one at a fraction of the cost.

A Camera for free?: Freecycle is a way to get rid of your own un-eBayable kit by giving it to someone who has a use for it. Likewise, you can often pick up FREE cameras, lenses and other kit such as darkroom gear when someone wants to get rid. You’ll need to be quite quick off the mark (sadly, human nature being as it is, there are people out there who use this site to source their own eBay or car boot businesses), and might have to travel a bit to collect. But I repeat – it’s FREE!

Magazine Inspiration: As I’ve written before, there’s only one magazine I subscribe to and that’s Silvershotz. But the first time I bought it, it was as a bundle of back issues direct from the publisher at Focus On Imaging. I NEVER buy any other new magazines – they’re way too pricey for the advertisement-packed rags that they often are. Often you won’t get much change from a fiver. The tips, techniques and tuition that are their staple content are often repeated (after all, there’s only so much material you can keep on churning out on how to use your DSLR) and so unless you have a particular interest in buying a new camera (in which case the reviews and comparisons CAN be useful, as long as you bear in mind their advertising revenue comes from the very people they’re reviewing), there’s no real need to get the magazine the second it’s released. Instead, think about sharing a copy with a friend or two, or better still, look out for bundles of back issues on car boot sales. It doesn’t matter if you miss an issue or two – I can guarantee that the content will appear again in a later issue. On the whole, a comprehensive book on the subject will provide more info per pound, and ultimately take up less of your spare room!

No Thanks For The Memory: Memory cards are getting cheaper and cheaper, and bigger and bigger (in terms of their capacity I mean). I know people who insist on getting several large-capacity cards when all they ever shoot is a few holidays and family get-togethers. You don’t need this extra outlay. One card of 4MB or 8MB is plenty for most people, as long as they upload their images regularly (which they should do anyway) and re-format your card when you put it back in your camera.

Bring Out The GIMP: In almost every class I run, there are people who don’t have photo editing software because they assume they either need to buy an expensive Adobe CS package, or get a dodgy copy from a man in the pub. There is another option. Download GIMP – a comprehensive photo-editing suite based on that produced by our over-priced chums at Adobe. It’s available in Windows or Mac versions and it’s FREE! It mimics pretty much everything that CS does because the geeks who put it together (God bless ‘em) challenge themselves to recreate all the best functions but don’t believe we should be paying through the snout for it. I’m finding that more and more of my students are using GIMP and apart from complaints that its occasionally a bit “clunky”, the feedback is almost universally approving. But if you’re dyed-in- the-wool Adobe, you can always download CS5 or Elements or Lightroom on a one month free trial and if you’re really mean, keep on switching the time and date back on your computer. Don’t laugh – there are people who do this.

More tips to follow in part 2…



Freecycle –

Adobe –


Where The One-Eyed Man Is King: Tips On Finding The Right Photography Training

Heard the one about the lady who goes to see the doctor to get treatment for a wart on her finger and the doctor tells her to go behind the screen and take all her clothes off. She says to him, “You’re not a real doctor, are you?” and he replies, “Well, I have a doctor’s outfit, and I read medical books, and I’ve painted this room up to look like a doctor’s surgery, and got a First Aid badge when I was in the Cubs. Isn’t that the same thing?”

Okay, it’s not much of a joke. It really isn’t. But this is my point. Should the lady have checked this man’s credentials or just dumbly done as she was asked. Sadly, the world of photographic training is a bit like the Wild West – unregulated and open to any charlatan who decides to put up a sign over the door that says “Photography Courses Here“. Yes, cowboy trainers. Or Rogue Trainers.

Anyone can set up a website and a studio, and invent an untraceable “professional” history, and unfortunately this seems to be happening all over the place. In these days when times are increasingly tough for those plying their trade in the socia/wedding fields, many photographers are, quite understandably, seeking new income streams to broaden their chances of sustainability. And in many cases these are just the type of people that those new to photography can learn the most from. Sadly, another breed of chancer is entering this market – the aforementioned “cowboy trainers”.

There is a huge appetite for photographic training – something that we at Fotofilia are very grateful for, of course. But I am increasingly concerned that photographic training is being offered by people who are unqualified, uninsured, part-time amateurs with no track record of significant or successful professional or artistic background.

I came to photographic training as a way to help fund my photography degree. To my surprise I very much enjoyed it and as time has gone by I have found it to be a rewarding and increasingly large part of my post-university career. It has meant that I have met (and continue to meet) some lovely people and have needed to do less of the kinds of photographic work that I previously had to do(but didn’t particularly enjoy) in order to fund my personal photographic practice. I feel that my own work benefits from each term that I teach and I am constantly looking for new ways to stimulate the people who attend Fotofilia’s courses, workshops and clubs. When I feel there is someone better placed to deliver training in a specific field, I am only too happy to bring those people in. After all, no photographer can truly profess to know everything about photography to a very high standard.

So back to those cowboys. Undoubtedly, people will hand over cash and trot along to be “taught” by people who have little more knowledge than they do, and even walk away with slightly more knowledge than they arrived with. But, as the old saying goes: In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Here’s my tips for ensuring your photographic training is being provided by real experts…

  • Ask to see examples of their professional work (images on a website mean little).
  • Ask to see proof of: qualifications, professional status, and insurance. Admittedly some real pros never had formal training but instead will have traceable work history or exhibitions.
  • Ask about weekday daytime availability. If they only seem to be available for courses in the evening and at weekends, this might be a clue that they have a “day job” and I don’t know about you but I’d rather learn from someone involved full time in the subject they’re trying to teach rather than someone who works at a call centre (no offence to call centre workers but maybe you’re not the ideal photographic trainers).
  • If they say they are wedding or social/people photographers, find out how many weddings or portrait shoots they’ve had in the previous week.
  • If they say they are art photographers, ask what they have exhibited and where.
  • And most importantly, ask where else they have provided photographic training.

By asking any or all of these questions, you should be able to sniff out the cowboys.

Animating Your Photographs

Here’s a bit of fun. Charlie O’Hare, one of the students in my most recent “Advanced DSLR” course at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, put together this short stop-motion animation using only his DSLR and basic slideshow software (Windows Moviemaker I believe).

What you’re seeing is slices of carrot and parsnip and a chilli, and the product of a lot of patient trial and error. Enjoy…


Photographing A World Without People

Perhaps I read too many sci-fi comics when I was a kid, but a recurring fantasy of mine was to be a lone survivor in some sort of post-apocalyptic world, wandering around places which would usually be brimming with people but now completely empty.

As an adult I might now fantasise about wandering around the same deserted world, but being able to photograph it too. Well, there is a photographic project which allows and encourages photographers to do just that. Not just deserted spaces, however – judging by some of the images submitted to the project’s photostream from participants around the world, 4am looks something like rush hour in Wolverhampton.

You’ll be glad to hear that the rest of the population doesn’t have to be killed off by a bomb or mysterious futuristic virus in order to do this. They are in fact tucked safely up in their beds – because this project is all about photographic the world at 4am.

Before you stop reading, wondering what on earth would possess anyone to go out at 4am on a cold night to take pictures, imagine this – you could, for instance, walk around public buildings, including the bits that the public never usually get to see, and record it photographically as you go. Now wouldn’t that be setting your alarm for?

There’s another scheduled global event coming up on 24th April (at 4am of course) but for those in the Birmingham area, 4am Project organiser Karen Strunks has organised a photographic tour of the city’s “distinctive” brutalist Central Library which even includes access to some bits of the building normally off-limits to the public. The building is ear-marked for demolition so this might be your last chance to photograph this controversial Brum landmark.

Portuguese project participants


Here’s the blog of the 4am Project…

 And details of the Birmingham tour…

However, you mightn’t want to tell everyone. If this project gets too popular, 4am will be like rush hour and everywhere will be just as busy as it is during the day.

Photographer unknown

Don’t be a Square – Be SQUARE

I’m fortunate enough to have been one of the first recipients of a lovely new book – Squarebook #1 – a truly international collection of square format images by 30 (I think) photographers, who use squareness in a multitude of ways.

Images range from the high quality and visually startling self-portraits of Kimiko Yoshida, to the comparitively dreamily soft monochrome architectural images by Michael Jackson (no, not that one!) – and from France Dubois‘s thought-provoking “Twins” project, to Nicolas Evariste‘s eerie but beautiful “Dark Zoo” (low key studio-type shots of zoo animals). The only common thread to these images is their shape, and their impact.

From "Marcelle by Alain Greloud

The book was compiled by Fotofilia exhibitor and longtime square format evangelist Christophe Dillinger, as a spin-off of his excellent online SQUARE magazine. Don’t expect in-depth analysis of the images or lengthy artists statements to accompany the images – most of the available space, except for a brief introduction by Christophe, is given over to the important stuff – the images.

From Deborah Parkin's "Childhood Narratives"

All in all, I think there’s something for everyone here. If you’d like to know what’s going on in the world of contemporary photography, this book is a great starting point. The book is a softback, approx A5 in size, and costs just 21 Euros (including postage within Europe) via the SQUARE website –

There is only a fairly small print run of these books so get in early. Hopefully, there will be many more compilations by Christophe and the SQUARE team. I understand there may be plans afoot to produce a subscription system for these books as they’re published periodically.

Kimiko Yoshida –

Michael Jackson –

Nicolas Evariste –

France Dubois –

Deborah Parkin –

Alain Greloud –