Photography studio, gallery and training complex

Archive for December, 2011

Birmingham Noir

I thought I’d bring you a few images from a little series of iPhone shots I’ve been working on which have a distinctly Noir-esque feel to them, hence my description of “Birmingham Noir“.

I’ve begun pushing my iphoneography into a more “constructed” phase. The images in this series are composites – often a studio-taken portrait combined with a (usually nocturnal) location shot to suggest a narrative, whilst borrowing some of the visual traits of Film Noir.

Here’s my latest effort, featuring the eminently Noir-ish Joel Hicks…

Copyright David Rann 2011

As usual, all of these images were taken and edited on the iPhone 4. In case you’re interested, the layering of two images was carried out on the excellent “Juxtaposer” app (thanks Nettie Edwards for the tip-off).

With Jo Walter. Copyright David Rann 2011

And just one more, with Kat photographed during our last “Night Photo Safari” coupled with street shots from the same evening…

With Kat. Copyright David Rann 2011

That’s all for now – HAPPY NEW YEAR!


And So This Is Christmas

At the risk of sounding like Rudolph the Brown-nosed Reindeer, or leading you to think I’ve been over-imbibing the studio sherry, I feel the time is right to wish you – readers of this blog, attendees of my courses, CLUB and f2 members, exhibitors, studio users, and photographic friends various – a very very…

Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2012.

It’s been quite a year for us at fotofilia:

  • Over 1000 course/workshop spaces filled. This makes us one of, if not the, biggest photography trainers in the region.
  • Lisa moved out of the office, Rachel moved in, Rachel moved out, Eliza Beth and EB Media Ltd moved in. Phew!
  • The registration of Fotofilia Photography Limited.
  • Sally Crane and David Tunney helping out with courses at Botanical Gardens.
  • New business relationships with PhotoLinaker, Artaboutface, and many many more.
  • The birth of f2, sister club to THE CLUB – also fully subscribed.
  • The growth of the “Friends of Fotofilia” Flickr group to 129 members (at time of writing).
  • The significant growth of this humble blog’s readership, month on month, since the beginning of 2011.
  • We have welcomed some of the country’s leading photographic specialist practitioners as guest trainers and CLUB/f2 speakers.
  • Studio hire bookings up over 200% on the second half of 2010.
  • A wide range of quality photographic exhibitions from all areas of photography and all corners of the globe including my own “Pride of The Black Country” exhibition (at fotofilia in January).
  • The rise in 1-1 training over the year, especially in weddings and Photoshop.
  • Online payment facility (happily working nicely).
  • The excellent Photosynthesis (CLUB members and ex-students) exhibition at the Waterhall during Artsfest. A major achievement.

We love what we do here but we obviously couldn’t have done it without you all – s0 thank you.

And finally on that note, I’d like to thank Lisa Lester, Simon Smith, Christophe Dillinger, Nick Shale, Iza Faber, everyone at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens Study Centre, and our cast of magnificent “regular”models: Emma, Emilie, Jenny, Joel, Kat, Katie-May, Kevon, Michelle, Olivia, Omie and Vera, to name but the most regular – for all their help, co-operation, understanding, friendship, foresight and inspiration (delete as applicable) over the last 12 months.

Here’s to an amazing 2012…

Blue Christmas

Ever since I was introduced to the Cyanotype process during my degree, I’ve loved it’s unpredictable, painterly qualities. The process dates from the 1850’s and so is about as far away from what I’m currently doing with the iPhone or Photoshop as it’s possible to get. To give my Botanical Gardens students a taster of the thrill of seeing a photograph all the way from the taking stage to the final print as one would in the darkroom – but without the benefit of a darkroom – I have been including cyanotypes as part of the “Beginners DSLR” course for the last few years. I think it surprises people that they can produce such a unique result from a digital image.

Anyway, here’s something you can do without even a negative – a kind of cyanotype photogram – which I have used to make this year’s family Christmas cards. What you will need is…

  • Blank white greetings cards with envelopes.
  • Watercolour paper. Ideally at least 400gsm. Cut into squares or rectangles of a suitable size to fix to front of cards.
  • Double-sided tape, glue or seloptape.
  • Cyanotype chemicals: Ferric ammonium citrate* (the green variety) and potassium ferricyanide*.
  • Seasonal foil confetti (I used snowflake shapes).
  • Piece of glass or picture frame.
  • Bristle paintbrush, sponge, or sponge-brush.
  • Weighing scales capable of measuring down to at least 1 gram.

Snowflake-shaped foil confetti stuff.

Start by mixing your two solutions (separately): 5gm ferric ammonium citrate with 25cl of water, and then 2gm potassium ferricyanide in 25cl water.

In subdued lighting (these chemicals are now light sensitive), mix the two solutions together to make the cyanotype sensitizer and paint or sponge thinly onto your pieces of watercolour paper in whatever way you like – just don’t put too much on, less is more.

Put the sensitized paper pieces somewhere dark to dry. This shouldnt take long – 30 minutes at most.

When dry, and still in subdued lighting, scatter (or carefully place, as you wish) the foil shapes onto the sensitized paper pieces. Carefully place a sheet of glass on top of the paper/shapes.

You can now switch the main lights on. Ideally you’d be able to leave the “printing out frame” outside in the sun to expose but there doesn’t tend to be a great deal of that around at this time of year and so you can either leave it under strong room and/or window light for as long as it takes for the sensitizer (which was originally yellow) to turn a muddy green/grey colour. It is UV light which effects this change so the higher a UV content your light source has, the quicker it will happen. Don’t worry, you can’t really over-expose these prints so better to over- than under-expose. I have a Phillips UV face tanning lamp, bought on ebay for £15 which does the trick nicely. If you have a sunbed, you could use that – just make sure you keep the prints moving around or you may see the straight lines of the tubes on your print.

Once the prints are exposed, remove the glass and then the foil shapes. Wash the pieces of paper in cold water until the water runs clear (the background should look blue and the bits where the foil shapes were should be white). Leave the prints to dry. The blue colour should darken as they dry.

Once dry, stick the prints to the front of your blank cards and you have unique (no two will ever be the same) cards for family and friends.

Other ideas: Use watercolour painter’s masking fluid to paint designs or write a message on the paper before sensitizing rather than (or as well as) using the foil shapes. Or use other shapes for other seasonal cards.

* – Chemicals can be obtained by mail order in pre-measured kits (expensive!!!) or as the raw chemicals from Silverprint in London –  These chemicals go a long way so only mix a little at a time. You can store the individual solutions in brown glass bottles in cool dark conditions for a week or more if necessary.

Confronting Instagramaholism

I turn up my collar as I ascend the steps. Not because I’m cold, but because I am afraid of being seen by someone I know. I walk into the room and find a seat, carefully avoiding eye contact with those already seated, the other people like me.

Before long it is my turn. I stand, nervously. I clear my throat, and in the steadiest voice I can muster I say the words that I have known for some time, but been afraid to utter. “My name is David Rann, and… I’m an Instagramaholic“.

So there it is. I thought I could try it just the once, see what all the fuss was about, and then leave it alone… or at worst, to use it very occasionally on a recreational basis. Oh, how wrong I was. Before long I found myself checking in before I’d even had breakfast, and again before going to sleep at night.

What am I talking about? Instagram. That old devil called Instagram. iPhone app of the year.

So what is it? It’s an app that enables you to upload images from your phone or computer (and so from your camera) or to take pictures which can then be put through one of the 17 or so effects filters before uploading for fellow addicts to peruse. These filters mainly come with their own borders too and your shot can be tweaked to to show a clear spot surrounded by soft focus. All of the filters have their own distinctive, usually very retro, look. Instagram images are square once uploaded so you can either pre-crop or crop during image selection in Instagram.

It’s very simple to produce striking and stylish images and present them to the world. And this is definitely a worldwide addiction. If the demographic I’ve come across is anything to go by, it’s especially big in the far east but I’m also currently following Instagrammers from Brazil, Europe, USA and Scandinavia.

You see that’s how it works: you “follow” people whose work you like and in turn, a few people hopefully also like what you’re doing and follow you. And that’s perhaps the dangerous part, addiction-wise. Every little message that appears on your phone to say that someone new is following you is like a mini ego-boost. You can also “like” any image to show your approval.

At least that’s how it should work. Unfortunately there are more than a few saddos who clearly follow everyone on the system (you can see a summary of the number of people someone is following against how many are following them at the top of their profile) in the hope that lots of people will follow them even though they might only have half a dozen images on their profile. Others leave pathetic messages against others’ images pleading for them to follow them, or saying “follow me and I’ll follow back”. All a bit sad and desperate really.

Also, I made the decision right at the beginning that this would be a forum for only my iphoneography and I wouldn’t, as many do, import images taken on my DSLR to disseminate via Instagram. While I can see why they might do this, it does rather defeat the object, in my view. Some pro photographers clearly use Instagram as a portal to showcase their DSLR work and they do make interesting and impressive viewing. However, I prefer to see images taken – if not on the Instagram app itself – then at least on a phonecam of some sort. I feel (and it’s just my opinion) that this is what Instagram is really best at.

There is a “Popular” page which is supposedly where the most popular images can be found. These tend to be HDR skyscapes/sunsets, pictures of pretty schoolgirls, kittens, shots of teenagers’ shoes, and the like. Not necessarily where you’ll find the best that Instagram has to offer, that’s for certain.

Some small comfort is that I am in good company with my addiction. Among the people I am following are Jamie Oliver, the chef and all-round talented geezer, who it turns out is a prolific producer of some great  IG images, as is his wife Jools, and David Loftus (Jamie’s photographer). Also worth a look is lumilyon (aka our very own Nettie Edwards) and the extremely original julioestrela (wonderfully manipulated images).

Anyway, can’t talk now – got some images to IG!

Paul Stephens’ “Miniature Worlds”

Remember Paul Stephens’ WWII re-enactment images that I posted a short while ago? Well here’s something very different from the same photographer. Paul, you may remember, was a student on this term’s “Advanced DSLR” course at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. His “Miniature Worlds” project though was produced entirely for his own amusement. Here’s how he explains the inspiration behind this project…

“I wanted to explore the macro side of photography but from a different perspective to the popular flower and insect photographs.  One reason that made me keen to try macro photography came about after a friendly debate in the pub with a friend (who isn’t a photographer I should add) who insisted that macro photography wasn’t real photography because it shows detail that the human eye can’t see.  Whilst perplexed at his opinion, I vowed to create a series of photographs that would change his mind.  I wanted to take a light-hearted approach, and was influenced by similar projects that I’d seen, including Mike Stimpson’s lego ones on your blog, and decided to create a series of my own that brought everyday objects to life in a humorous way.

My friend enjoyed this series of photographs because they forced him to think about what he was looking at and what story they might be telling him.  However, he remains sceptical about macro photography in general so I have some further work to do to convince him completely.  In the meantime, I’ll continue with this project as its proven to be lots of fun creating them and brought some smiles to people’s faces.”  

All images shown with kind permission of Paul Stephens.

Kat Meets Dog And Bone

Kathryn Summers, shot at fotofilia on an iphone4

Last week, fotofilia intern Simon Smith and I set aside some studio time to bring in a model for a shoot to try out a few props etc and so I posted a casting call on Pure Storm a full week beforehand. In time-honoured tradition I was contacted by models from throughout the land, most of whom had clearly not read the actual casting call. I shortlisted a few and asked them to confirm and again, the usual lack of response (only to reply a day or so after the shoot claiming internet problems etc).

By sheer coincidence I was contacted by Kathryn Summers, well known to us here as Kat, who has had a break from modelling for about a year, to let me know she was now back and available for work. I promptly asked Kat to come along for the shoot and was very glad that she did.

Kathryn Summers, shot at fotofilia on an iphone4

Simon was shooting for his uni portfolio using a Nikon DSLR, while I once again decided to shoot mainly with my iPhone4. This time, however, I also took a few shots with my Nikon DSLR. The shots you see here were those taken – and also edited – with the iPhone using the usual (and quickly forgotten) array of apps.

Kathryn Summers, shot at fotofilia on an iphone4

Kathryn Summers, shot at fotofilia on an iphone4

Kathryn Summers, shot at fotofilia on an iphone4

Kat is one of our favourite models and so comes very highly recommended. She can be contacted for work via her Pure Storm profile at –

Dear Santa: The 12 Tips Of Christmas

Wondering what to get the photographer in your life for Christmas? Or are you a photographer eager to suggest something other than socks and after-shave to the mother-in-law in the unlikely event she asks you what you’d like this year? Well, here’s my little round-up of things you might like to add to – or strike from – your letter to Santa…

  • Do you have one leg? Or one leg considerably shorter than the other? Were you usually cast as a pirate in your school play? Do you live on the side of a steep hill? Then what could be more useful than a little spirit level for your camera’s hot-shoe to prevent those embarrassing slanty landscape shots?

A must have?

I’ll tell you what is more useful – using the hotshoe (or “accessory shoe”) for the purpose it was intended: attaching lighting! What do you need a spirit level for? God gave us Photoshop to correct minor wonkiness if necessary but if you can’t tell if your shot is wonky without a spirit level, perhaps photography isn’t the hobby for you.

If you want a funky little photography-based trinket, then maybe you’d be better off with the £12.99 Camera Lens Cup from which bears an uncanny resemblance to a real Canon EF 24-105mm lens. Take care not to confuse this with your real lens of course as hot Bovril can have a detrimental effect on most photographic equipment. If you have a Nikon, then this confusion may not arise although you might resent being seen with a faux Canon product in your mitts. If you have a Sony – why on earth do you have a Sony?

More like it.

  • Just imagine having a sexy, fashionable item of clothing that has enough pockets for all those photographic knick-knacks and which is not only warming but also conveniently coloured so as to minimise detection by skittish wildlife. I refer of course to the veritable totty-magnet we know as the Photographer’s Vest.

Mmmm Who could resist?

Don’t even think about it! Unless, that is, you have a penchant for resembling a sort of fat, khaki advent calendar and in the habit of finding yourself fumbling in your trouser pockets for a AAA battery whilst stalking a pine marten . The very pinnacle of naff.

Save your vest cash and invest instead in a subscription for Silvershotz magazine (£39 from ). Inspiration and mind-broadening with every issue and you won’t look like a pillock.

  • Get yourself along to Calumet and splash out your sweat-earned readies on that photographic gizmo, you or your snap-happy chum has been hinting about since the royal wedding, right?

Wrong! Go somewhere else and buy two. Calumet only recently stopped wearing masks and sporting flintlocks as corporate uniform.

  • Fancy setting up a little studio in the loft? What you need is a nice white (well, nearly) muslin background as available on leading international auction sites at suspiciously reasonable rates.

…And then spend a large percentage of 2012 ironing the damn thing in the vain hope of minimising the inevitable creases. On the plus side, you’ll be getting lots of photoshop practice as you laboriously remove each crease and manually whiten the creamy coloured backgrounds in every single shot.

Instead, peruse the range of Philib‘s funky frames from I mentioned these once before when their new Hipstamatic frame was still in development and being offered at a knowck-down price. These glassless frames rely on powerful magnets and are ideal for iphoneography or Lomo square images. I have one (in white) and love it! But there are others in the range. A very contemporary (and easily changeable) way to present your images.

The Philib Hipstamatic frame system

That’s all for the moment, but I may add more as the inspiration takes me, or the bile overcomes me. Any offence was purely intentional.