Photography studio, gallery and training complex

Archive for November, 2011

A Permit To Take Pictures In The Jewellery Quarter? Really?

A man is viciously beaten by police when they mistake his AK47 for a Sony DSLR. Just kidding, but you get the idea.

Just when you thought it was once again safe to venture onto the city streets with your camera, here’s yet another cautionary tale about over-officious and misguided authoritarian numptiness…

A few weeks ago I was in Birmingham’s leafy St. Paul’s Square on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter with about a dozen of my students on a one day “Introduction to Digital Photography” course. This is a regular feature of a regular course and we are rarely there longer than twenty minutes or so. On this occasion one of the group was standing in the square photographing up the street, experimenting with aperture settings for different depth-of-field. He was soon approached by a WPC who asked him what he was doing. At this point I went over and asked if there was a problem. The ensuing conversation went something like this…

WPC: Have you had permission to take photographs here?

Me: Erm, no. I didn’t think we needed permission to take photographs here.

WPC: Well you do.

Me: Why?

WPC: Ah, you don’t know who owns these buildings. I know because it’s my job to know. I know because I’ve been a police officer here for 14 years. For all you know, some of these buildings might belong to Americans.

Me: And is that a problem?

WPC: Ooh yes, what with everything that’s going on at the moment, with the Olympics and that.

Me: Isn’t that next year? And in London?

WPC: We’re always getting complaints from shopkeepers in the Jewellery Quarter about people taking photographs of their shops.

Me: But there are no shops here..?

WPC: That man was taking pictures of those buildings there. I saw him.

The man in my group: That building? Why can’t I take pictures of that building?

WPC: You don’t know who owns these buildings. I know because it’s my job to know. I know because I’ve been a police officer here for 14 years..

The man in my group: (reaches into his pocket and pulls out a key) Would you like to come in and have a look around?

Turns out this man was a key-holder for the building (which I daren’t specify for fear of breaching anti-terrorist legislation). That seemed to shut her up, briefly. But I gave up. No arguing with someone who’s been a police officer in the area for 14 years – even if she has a somewhat (alarmingly) patchy grasp of the laws of the land. We headed back to the studio (we’d pretty much finished there anyway).

What is it with Birmingham officialdom? You might remember a similar run-in my group had with a “Park Ranger” at Cannon Hill Park in the summer. This is getting to be a very tedious and slightly worrying trend. I don’t understand – do West Midlands Police think that Al Qaida are sending out groups of trainee photographers to photograph Birmingham office buildings in preparation for an Olympics-based attack a year hence? Do they think Al Qaida haven’t heard of Google Street View?

There is no signage anywhere in this area (I’ve looked) prohibiting the use of cameras – although there are plenty of police cameras in operation 24/7. Presumably, by extension, we are not allowed to photograph any building in the UK: City landmarks? West Country cottages? beach huts? stately homes? my next door neighbour’s house? After all, these might also belong to Americans… or jewellers.

In a nice little post-script to this story, I had a magistrate on one of these courses this week and I told her about the incident. She said “What? She didn’t know what she was talking about!” And of course she didn’t.

In retrospect, I should have brandished my “Bust card“, downloaded from the “I’m A Photographer Not A Terrorist” website. If you’re thinking of heading into Birmingham with your camera, you’d better get yours!





Leaving The Camera At Home: My First iPhone Studio Shoot

Jo Walter, shot and edited by David Rann on an iPhone4

Regular readers will know how much I value my occasional “fun shoots” where I try out new models, new lighting, new looks, new ideas etc. A couple of weeks ago I decided to bring in a model and challenge myself to leave the camera in the bag whilst conducting the whole shoot with just my iPhone4.

I put out a casting call asking for volunteer models for an “experimental” shoot and this was answered by the intrepid Jo Walter, sculptor/artist/model – and friend from my MA course.

Jo Walter, shot and edited by David Rann on an iPhone4

Without the ability to hook up to the studio flash, I was relying on the relatively low light provided by the flashes’ modelling lights only. The iPhone’s camera is notoriously pants in low light and so this was the real challenge of the shoot. In addition, the slow file saving/writing time plus the awkwardness of composing the images on the phone, meant that the shoot was a slower, more considered affair than my usual shoots. But I rather liked this way of working. It reminded me somewhat of working in medium format film.

Jo brought along a great collection of vintage – and I mean genuine vintage original outfits from the 1920’s/30’s onwards – and this inevitably inspired the way I lit the shots and the treatments I had in mind for the post-production.

Jo Walter, shot and edited by David Rann on an iPhone4

After a “normal” (ie. DSLR) shoot, I might spend no more than ten minutes on any particular image. But with the bewildering choice of apps on the iPhone plus my unfamiliarity with most of them, I found that I could easily spend two hours on a single image.

The apps used were (in no particular order): Snapseed, TtV PS, Grungetastic, Squaready, Instagram, NoirPerfectPhoto and Resize Photo… and probably more that I can’t remember.

Jo Walter, shot and edited by David Rann on an iPhone4

Hopefully you’ll like the resulting images as much as I do but whether you do or not, I’m sufficiently inspired to have arranged a second iPhone-only shoot next week.

Jo Walter, shot and edited by David Rann on an iPhone4

Maximum thankings to thank my trusting, patient, and fearless occasional muse, Jo Walter, for her help with this little project. 

A Soldier’s Eye View: Images By Paul Stephens

Image by Paul Stephens

We’re nearing the end of term at the Botanical Gardens and as usual, my “Advanced SLR/DSLR” course is yielding some excellent work and some very talented photographers. One, Paul Stephens, has produced not one but two excellent projects in the last few months. I will be bringing you both of them, but as we’ve just had Remembrance Sunday I’m going to start with Paul’s superb images with a military theme. Here’s the inspiration in Paul’s own words…

“As a huge fan of and the TV series Band of Brothers, The Pacific and World War II movies in general, I wanted to create set of images that portrayed the human emotion that is so prevalent in these programmes which, for me, makes them such fantastic television viewing. They are also of course, a reflection of the incredible work that our armed forces have done and continue to do for our country, and in some small way I hope that they can be seen as my mark of respect to those who have sacrificed so much and paid the ultimate price. The photos themselves were taken at a World War II exhibition that held a battle re-enactment.  The exhibition itself really brought to life what war-time life would’ve been like, which helps to keep such an important part of our history alive, and I hope that images play their own small part in doing such that.”  

Image by Paul Stephens

Image by Paul Stephens

What I like most about Paul’s images is that there is no actual glorification of war. His subjects, amateur re-enactment volunteers though they may be, have grave – and at times, almost frightened – expressions. The use of dark, grainy monochrome only adds to the sombre and respectful atmosphere of the images. One gets the feeling these are not “gung-ho” squaddies, but reluctant and care-worn veterans.

Image by Paul Stephens

One gets the feeling this is the END of WWII, post-D-Day, somewhere in northern France or perhaps even Germany. I think the project shows great sensitivity. By using the visual tropes of war films and newsreels but in a more subtle and humanistic way in terms of subject matter. These are definitely more Don McCullin than Robert Capa.

Image by Paul Stephens

This project is rather different from the other one I will show you in future posts. Actually VERY different. Keep watching.

Many thanks to Paul Stephens for his permission to reproduce his images here. 

Leaves Are Falling – It’s Folio Time!

If you hurry you might just be in time to sign up for the next year’s Silvershotz magazine and recieve the free “Folios” edition.

In case you’re wondering why I often mention this excellent magazine, let me assure you that I’m not the recipient of any little gratuities from the peeps at Silvershotz. Chance’d be a fine thing. They are, as far as I know, utterly oblivious to my existence. A completely one-sided love affair.

I continue to be inspired by this magazine. It’s about the only thing that I see dropping through the letterbox that makes me smile before I even open it. I consider it to be the only magazine subscription worthy of my pocket money. The best £39 I spend each year. Nuff said.

The annual Folio edition is a sort of additional “greatest hits” compilation – except that many of those included haven’t appeared in the rest of the year’s issues (they have to apply separately for inclusion). Over 30 photographers get a couple of pages each to give you a taster of what they’re at, rather than the 4-6 pages they get in the other issues. This year’s Folio is once again truly international, with contributions from UK, USA, Australia, Greece, Japan…

The content is as varied as the geography: some breath-taking work (and in truth, some not so wonderful). I like far more than I dislike. But something for everyone. My favourites include: UK photographer Chris Spackman’s aptly titled “Unstill Life“, where he subverts our expectations of the traditional still life by introducing movement…

Image by Chris Spackman

…and Cathrin Shulz’s beautifully abstract “Sixth Sense” images, which attempt to convert “the power of sensory emotional perception based on an inner reality into colours”. According to the write-up, Cathrin collects “colours from all over the world”. Hmmm.

Image by Cathrin Shulz

Catherine Carter’s amazing photomontages (which I can’t find on her website – only live music photos?) are worth a year’s subscription to see. Just wish I could show you her “Cocoon” photo.

On a very different subject, Richard Allen Ashmore’sHurricane Ike: Images from the Debris Field” combines monochrome images of items found in the wake of Hurricane Ike with text showing it’s location and date of photograph (plus a handy “subject” title for those items you struggle to identify).

Image by Richard Allen Ashmore

So what are you waiting for? Get yerself signed up!

Some linkies… Silvershotz –, Richard Allen Ashcroft –, Cathrin Shulz –, and Catherine Carter – Oh, and Chris Spackman –

£2.7m For A Photograph? Gursky Does It Again


"Rhein II" by Andreas Gursky

“Rhein II”, a glass-mounted photograph (from an edition of six works) by Andreas Gursky has fetched £2.7m ($4.3m) at Christies in New York. This lifts the title of “most expensive photograph” from Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #96” which struggled to sell for a paltry $3,890,500 at the same auction house back in May 2011.

So what exactly is it that gives this image it’s immense value? Gursky’s work is often large scale, too big to hang above the average domestic mantelpiece, so one can only assume its value lies less in its inherent artistic merits (Gursky is no stranger to criticism of his work on the grounds of mundanity) and more, like other art forms, in it’s investment potential.

Gursky’s held the title before – for “99 Cent II Diptychon” which sold at Sotheby’s, London in February 2007 for $$3,346,456. Other prints of it sold for $2.25m in 2006, and $2.48m later in the same year so it would seem that at a time when various world currencies are on their knees, art, like gold, is a good place to put your (or your company’s) cash.

Other photographs in the “most expensive” list include a tin-type image of Billy The Kid, considered to be the only genuine likeness of that icon of the Wild West, which fetched $2.3m earlier this year. In that case, the image (by an anonymous photographer) is entirely unique and of some historic importance, which might go some way to explaining it’s high price.

But can the same be said of Gursky’s work? Or Sherman’s?

What do you think about this? What is it that puts this image in a different financial league to even the work of his most acclaimed contemporaries?

The BBC’s piece about the Gursky:

A list of most expensive photographs:



So You Still Want To Be A Wedding Photographer..?

You may by now be labouring under the misapprehension that I have something of a downer on wedding photography – not the case, I promise. But I thought you might like to hear about this American law-suit brought against a wedding photographer by the groom a full SIX YEARS AFTER the wedding.

New York fomer groom Todd J. Remis brought the action against H&H Photographers, claiming not only the $4100 for the original cost of the photography but also an additional $48,000 to re-stage the wedding, even though the couple are NO LONGER TOGETHER! And all because the photographer missed an estimated 15 minutes of the wedding.

Here’s the details from the New York Times:

“The photographers had missed the last dance and the bouquet toss, the groom, Todd J. Remis of Manhattan, said.       

But what is striking, said the studio that took the pictures, is that Mr. Remis’s wedding took place in 2003 and he waited six years to sue. And not only has Mr. Remis demanded to be repaid the $4,100 cost of the photography, he also wants $48,000 to recreate the entire wedding and fly the principals to New York so the celebration can be re-shot by another photographer.       

Re-enacting the wedding may pose a particular challenge, the studio pointed out, because the couple divorced and the bride is believed to have moved back to her native Latvia.       

Although Justice Doris Ling-Cohan of State Supreme Court in Manhattan dismissed most of the grounds for the lawsuit, like the “infliction of emotional distress,” she has allowed the case to proceed to determine whether there was indeed a breach of contract. But she displayed a good deal of amusement about the lawsuit’s purpose in an opinion in January that quoted lyrics from the Barbra Streisand classic “The Way We Were.”

“This is a case in which it appears that the ‘misty watercolor memories’ and the ‘scattered pictures of the smiles … left behind’ at the wedding were more important than the real thing,” the judge wrote. “Although the marriage did not last, plaintiff’s fury over the quality of the photographs and video continued on.”       

Mr. Remis is suing H & H Photographers, a 65-year-old studio known fondly among thousands of former and current Bronx residents because it chronicled their weddings, bar mitzvahs and communions.       

One of the two founders, Curt Fried, escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna in September 1939 as a 15-year-old and was drafted into the United States Army, where he learned to shoot pictures assisting cameramen along the legendary Burma Road supply line to China during World War II. Mr. Fried recalled that in the late 1940s, Arthur Fellig, the celebrated street photographer known as Weegee, twice sought work at the studio when he needed money, but was turned down because he did not own a suit.       

In November 2003, Mr. Remis, an equity research analyst, and his fiancée, Milena Grzibovska, stepped into the H & H studio, which was then in Riverdale, met with Mr. Fried and signed a contract to have photographs and videotape taken of their wedding the next month — on Dec. 28 — for $4,100.       

It was a small party, with fewer than 40 guests, at Castle on the Hudson in Tarrytown. Photographs show a cheerful bride and groom surrounded by delighted relatives, including Ms. Grzibovska’s mother, Irina, and her sister Alina, who traveled from Latvia.       

But a month after the wedding, when Mr. Remis returned to the studio to look over the proofs, he complained that the three-person crew had missed the last 15 minutes — the last dance and the bouquet toss. He noted in a deposition last July that the employees at H & H did not respond in a courtly fashion.       

“I remember being yelled at more than I have ever been yelled at before,” Mr. Remis said.       

In his lawsuit, he also complained that the photographs were “unacceptable as to color, lighting, poses, positioning” and that a video, which he had expected to record the wedding’s six hours, was only two hours long.       

“I need to have the wedding recreated exactly as it was so that the remaining 15 percent of the wedding that was not shot can be shot,” he testified.       

Mr. Fried, now 87, chuckles at this idea: “He wants to fly his ex-wife back and he doesn’t even know where she lives.”       

Mr. Remis, who said at his deposition that he has not been employed since 2008, and his lawyer, Frederick R. McGowen, did not return messages left on their phones. Ms. Grzibovska did not respond to a message left through her Facebook page. The next court hearing is scheduled for Thursday.       

Mr. Fried said Mr. Remis left the studio in 2004 with 400 proofs — essentially small photographs used for selecting a few dozen photographs for the album; Mr. Remis claims “the office kept everything.” But a 2004 magazine published by Mr. Remis’s alma mater, Bowdoin College, which is also online, displays a photograph of the bride and groom in a feature on alumni weddings. Mr. Fried said it was a photograph his firm took.       

The couple separated around 2008 and their divorce, which Mr. Remis contends was amicable, was finalized in 2010. Mr. Remis sued in 2009, just before the statute of limitation was about to expire, according to Mr. Fried.       

Mr. Remis testified that he wanted photographs of the wedding, even if it ended in divorce and even if Mr. Fried contended he already had them.       

“It was unfortunate in its circumstances,” he said, “but we are very much happy with the wedding event and we would like to have it documented for eternity, for us and our families.”       

Mr. Fried retired in 2004 and turned his half of the business over to his son Dan, who now operates the studio with Lawrence Gillet, a son of the other founder, from a loft in Irvington, in Westchester County.       

Dan Fried said that the costs of defending the lawsuit had already matched the amount sought by Mr. Remis and that it was hurting his business’s bottom line. He said the case was “an abuse of the legal system.”       

Mr. Remis’s lawyer works for Goodwin Procter, where Mr. Remis’s father, Shepard M. Remis, is a litigation partner. The younger Mr. Remis has testified that he is paying his lawyer himself.       

Curt and Dan Fried are paying their lawyer, Peter Wessel, themselves, they said, and the costs — $50,000 — the time the suit has taken and the distress have taken a toll.       

“I had a good life, thank God,” Curt Fried said, “and at the end of my life this hits me in the face.”       

Phew! Couldn’t happen in the UK though, could it? Or could it? If you’re a photographer, you NEED professional indemnity insurance!

The piece in the NYT –


Please mRelease Me

The mRelease logo

Here’s an iPhone app that I never even thought to search for. It was only when one of my students, Miguel, said that he’d downloaded something similar that I even realised such a thing might exist.

I’m often asked about Model Release forms – the necessity for, and availability of – and usually someone suggests, quite reasonably, that you mightn’t have a form with you when you most need one (it’s not the kind of thing that every photographer keeps in their pocket on the off-chance).

But now, if you have your iPhone with you, then you also have the facility to create a legal and completely paperless Model Release form on the spot, which when completed can be emailed directly to all three parties involved (artist/photographer, model/participant, and witness). There are, I now realise, several such apps, but the one that I have found suits me best is “mRelease“.

mRelease does have a cost – £1.99 from the app store – but you’ll almost certainly save this in paper and printer ink in a fairly short time. There are free apps too of course, and naturally I gravitated towards these first. I downloaded PCM-Lite (Photographers Contract Maker) which is a free app and theoretically allows ten free contracts to be drawn up before the need to purchase the £1.99 full unlimited version. The idea presumably being that you can “try before you buy”. Sadly this app fell at the first hurdle (as it did for Miguel) in that it continually crashed, usually when scrolling down. Needless to say, I didn’t upgrade.

In addition, there’s also Easy Release (by Robert Giroux), and iRelease (by Fullframe Photographics) – both at £6.99 – which seems a bit pricey to me and if the sample graphics are anything to go by, don’t do anything very different to mRelease.

After the inital set-up on mRelease, where you fill in the default artist/photographer details, during which there’s limited guidance, the rest (actually drawing up the model release contract) is relatively straight-forward. I ran a few dummy contracts before trusting it sufficiently to write this post, all of which worked nicely. There’s the facility for under-age models to be represented and everything is sealed by an on-screen signature (easier on an iPad than the iPhone although a stylus helps). Once completed, the contracted can be previewed before sending off to the signees.

One thing to note is that here a Model Release is called an “Appearance Release“, a term which apparently also refers to participation in moving image productions. But there’s also the option of “Property Release” (for property, objects, artwork, animals etc), “Location Release” (use of location and permissions to bring crew and kit onto premises), and “Crew Release” (to use media recorded by other crew members, as well as their own appearance in your work).

I do wonder also if your prospective model might be more likely to “sign” on-screen than if being presented with a sheet of A4. The process is, after all, a bit more entertaining.

The event/contract stays on your phone until you delete it (in fact, it took me a while to work out HOW to delete them – turns out you just slide the entry to the left to reveal the “delete” option). More sample releases can be downloaded from

How the contract looks on completion

All in all, a nice little package for the price of a cappuccino.