Photography studio, gallery and training complex

Archive for April, 2012

Fangtastic: When The Model Fits The Job

Model/actor Sam Knight first came into fotofilia many months ago to see one of my studio hire clients, but when he left, he left behind his CV in the dressing room.

I pinned his CV to my notice board, resolved to bringing him back for a shoot at some point. Eventually I called him in for a couple of CLUB and f2 shoots, during which I had the chance to photograph him. Sam has an acting background and it really shows when he’s in front of the camera – he’s not afraid to perform when needed.

But something else came out of those early shoots: I noticed an ability that Sam has for turning on quite an intense and… well, sinister… alter ego. This, coupled with Sam’s pale grey eyes, gave me an idea for a shoot – a Vampire shoot.

So I set up a vampire-themed studio evening, with the date set around Sam’s availability. And then set about finding his female counterpart. Again I already had someone in mind and she had initially agreed to do the shoot but eventually dropped out (as I suspected she might – she’d dropped out of a shoot once before). But then I realised I knew someone else who would be ideal – Chloe Avon – who, when I asked her, joked that everyone thought she was a vampire already. I had my dream team.

So here’s an image of Sam from the shoot. I should point out that he doesn’t actually look this normally – this is the result of a little bit of Photoshoppery and Sam’s stage fangs (yes, he had his own set!)…

Sam in vampire mode

You will notice we haven’t gone for the Hammer House of Horror/Karloff/Christopher Lee-type vampire, but have instead used the recent TV fashionable vampireness of “Twilight” and “Vampire Diaries” etc as our reference point.

Just to finish off, here’s a shot of the lovely Chloe, before and after a bit of digital jiggery-pokery. Done quite quickly as a bit of fun but hope you like it…

Chloe before and after being vampired.




An Unexpected Bonus

On Monday evening I took a call from a lady with a very nice french accent enquiring, I thought, about studio hire for the following day. Once we’d synchronised her french – or French-Canadian as it turns out – accent and my Black Country accent to a point where we could understand each other better (there was, to be fair, rather a lot of background noise at her end), I realised she actually wanted to book a shoot for the following day (Tuesday).

As luck would have it, the studio was available between 11 and 12:30 and so I booked her in, asking for the client’s name. “Cirque du Soleil“, she replied.

The next morning, the lady with the nice accent came in, along with the person I was to shoot – a new member of the team who needed publicity images for various press releases. I always enjoy photographing people involed in the performing arts, whatever the level, because they are usually fun and creative shoots, plus the subject is rarely camera-shy as proved to be the case on this occasion. This means the images are often successful from the first shutter click and the shoot is more productive than when one has to spend time “drawing out” the subject.

Because the images were intended for various international media, we shot a range of different styles and outfits, some more conservative than others. At the end, they asked if I was busy the next evening (Wednesday). I replied that I had a client meeting booked at 6pm, but that this might be moveable if necessary. So they offered me two free tickets to the opening night show of “Alegria” at Birmingham’s NIA. A couple of emails later and I managed to re-arrange my appointment (thank you, Rachel!) and arrange a babysitter.

The show was, as I’m sure you will know if you have ever seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, absolutely spectacular! Funny one moment, and jaw-dropping the next. We loved it.

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be professional of me to show any of the client’s images from the shoot here, so instead here’s a stock image to give you some idea…

One doesn’t get too many “perks” in this industry – the pleasure of doing what you love is usually enough anyway – but this was a very welcome and unexpected bonus. And to top it all, I received a message the next morning saying “How was the show? Your photos are great! Thanks!”

My sincere thanks to Gen and Claire at Cirque du Soleil.

The Future Of Photo Editing..?

I’d say that the complaint I hear most about digital photography is “I just can’t get my head around Photoshop“. Of course, this is good news for those of us who earn a few squids from teaching people how to do just that. But perhaps things are about to change.

Increasingly, we are told, people are leaving the compact camera at home and using their mobile phones to take their everyday snaps. Don’t take my word for it – there are figures to back this up, not to mention the recent news that Instagram (a phone-based photo editing and sharing app which I may have mentioned briefly here in previous posts) has just been gobbled up by the mighty Facebook for a billion dollars. So people are taking – and editing – more images on their mobile phones.

Photo editing apps are accessible and simple to use, as they have to be – they are used in the main by non-photographers. One of the things that I’ve often thought about since I started using my phone to create photographs is “Just imagine how great it would be if these editing apps were available for laptops and PCs”. Well, now they, or some of them, are.

One of my favourite iPhone apps has been Snapseed, which iphoneography supremo Nettie Edwards once described as “like having a darkroom in your pocket”. In fact I reckon that three out of four of my iphoneography images goes through Snapseed at some point. It’s a wondrous bit of phone-based software, and all for just a few quid.

Here’s the best bit: Now it’s also available for PC and Mac – and for less than £20.

Snapseed’s desktop/laptop version is, as one might expect, very similar to the phone app. There are ten adjustment tools (3 “basic” and 7 “creative”). Each tool has a number of preset options, which in turn can be tweaked. Here’s a rundown…

Tune Image (“Fix/Repair/Adjust”): Use this tool to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, ambiance, shadows and warmth. Adjustments can be added globally or to a selected area – so for instance, you can lighten a face by using the brightness tool to a selected area (the size of the area can be adjusted too), in a similar, but simpler way to Photoshop’s dodge tool.

Crop & Straighten (“Re-compose your shot”): Like it says on the tin, plus image rotation. When cropping, you can select the usual aspect ratios as presets.

Details (“Sharpen your photo”):  Sharpening, which I never use, personally, but this does it fairly sensitively if needed.

Black & White (“the classic”):  Convert your shot to mono with 6 presets plus brightness, contrast and grain sliders. Also, you can add colour filters as you would in traditional black and white film photography.

Center Focus (“put your subject in focus”):  This is a very cool tool. Add gaussian blur to as much or as little of the picture as you like, leaving only a clear “sweet spot” that you can move and resize easily – no masks, no clumsy selection tools – easy. You can even add a simple vignette.

The Center Focus tool

Drama (“better than Broadway”):  Snapseed’s easy one-touch pseudo-HDR. 6 presets, all of which can be tweaked on strength, brightness and saturation. From the subtle to the OTT.

Frames (“the finishing touch”):  Admittedly, Snapseed isn’t the best phone app for frames (I tend to use other apps for this), but the 10 basic options they give you are funky enough, and all adjustable (the size, spread and grunge effect anyway). A near instant transformation compared with the equivalent Photoshop process.

Grunge (“get a little gritty”):  I LOVE this tool. Use the “shuffle” button to randomly select grunge styles until you find one you like or drag the “style” slider across to go through the 1500 (yes, 1500!!!) or so grunge styles. Then you can tweak the look via the texture strength, brightness, contrast, and saturation sliders. There are 5 texture patterns to choose from and as usual, you can select how much of the image you want to stay relatively clear while the rest gets grunged. See how long it takes you to do something similar in Photoshop!

Vintage (“the past is new again”):  Replicate old film, or cross-processed film effects using the presets and/or the 4 texture patters and/or the 9 colour styles and/or the texture strength, saturation, brightness, vignette, and style strength sliders.

Tilt-Shift (“miniaturise your world”):  Intended to create a tilt-shift lens effect, which it does quite convinicingly. Funky, unpredictable (but very controllable) depth of field akin to that achieved with a “lensbaby” in that you can select a linear or eliptical effect. Not my favourite feature here but has its uses.

So all in all a darn good little package for the price (15.95 Euros including VAT for the download). Suits techonophobes as well as more ‘puter-savvy togs looking for something a bit different.

But there is one major drawback: For reasons I have yet to understand, your image will be shrunk within an inch of its life by Snapseed. Feed in a 10mb file and watch in horror as it is spat out at the other end as a 2+mb file. Hopefully, this will be sorted in the not too distant. Until then, this isn’t software you will use for high definition images anyway.

Conclusion:  I think this is the way that photo-editing software will go in the longer term. Apps will increasingly, I believe, migrate from phones to the household’s main computers, challenging the dominance of the bulky, over-priced, complicated editing giants. Who will want to pay £1200 for Adobe’s latest megapackage when much simpler and much cheaper options are readily available, even if it means multi-apping as one does when editing images on the phone? Snapseed can be mastered in minutes and can transform images in a much more user-friendly and intuitive way than anything Adobe (or, let’s face it, Apple or Corel) has yet developed.

What I Done On Me Holidays

I imagine that there’s nothing you’d like more than to have a look at my holiday snaps. Well, lucky you. Here are few shots from my recent trip to deepest, darkest (but thankfully not rainiest) Pembrokeshire. For pretty much the whole time we were there, there was no phone signal, no web connection and even precious little radio reception. Bliss. But consequently that meant that any iPhone-twiddling was restricted to shooting and editing photographs.

All of the following photographs were taken on an iphone4 and edited in any or all of the following apps: Snapseed, Pixlromatic, Noir, and of course, the ubiquitous Instagram.

So make yerself a cuppa, sit back and enjoy my bit for the Wales tourist board…

Candle in the rain. St. Davids cathedral.

There, now that wasn’t so bad was it?

It was? Oh.

The Trouble With Photography Magazines…


I was thumbing through a few of the photo magazines that I picked up from Focus On Imaging and I made a rather alarming discovery.

One of the magazines, which I won’t name but is apparently aimed at the professional end of the photography market, listed it’s production team and even provided a short profile of each. Quite a nice idea you might think, and you’d be right… But this is (with the actual names changed) what the profiles said about the people putting together this monthly magazine:

Person 1: Five years experience in magazine design and has been with team since 2010.
Person 2: Freelanced as a travel writer and edited and online magazine for two years.
Person 3: Just graduated with a journalism degree and is making her first steps in the magazine industry.

Can you spot anything missing?

How about the word “photography”? Or “photographer”?

It seems to me that none of these people has any experience of photography whatsoever. Does that worry you? Should it? Just because you know your photographing onions doesn’t necessarily make you the ideal candidate for putting together an entertaining and informative magazine – far from it.

This is a slick magazine, stylish to look at and clearly with high production values that are designed to impress as it stares at you from the newsagents’ shelf. But personally, I prefer to read magazines that are “passion-led”, even if this means they are a bit rough around the edges in other areas.

I know that I’m guilty if banging on about Silvershotz magazine rather a lot but it has to be said that its editor, Clive, is clearly passionate about photography and scours the globe for cutting-edge innovative photography. Silvershotz has more than the odd typo, arrives too late for some of the events it advertises, has the world’s weirdest editioning system, and doesn’t (sorry, Clive) always look as glossy as some of the monthlys. But I love it.

What worries me about many of the monthly photographic mags is this:
The cover of the magazine I’m discussing has an image of a smokey, long exposure seascape, of exactly the sort that appeared in the same magazine twenty years or so ago when I knew no better than to hang on their every word/suggestion/tip.
The growing reliance on images submitted to the mag’s website. After all, why go looking for edgy contemporary images from artists who might charge for use of their images when hundreds merrily upload their passable efforts for you to publish free of charge?
The tendency towards tutorial articles which are, in effect, actually “advertorials” for a sponsor’s product.

In short, one sees the same cliched images and recycled tips year in, year out. Even when a “real” photographer is brought in to provide some credibility to a page or three, there is a bias towards the photographers who make the most noise – rather than those who take the best photographs. But most of all, what are we to learn from people who are producing images no better than our own? Would it not be better to be exposed to those who operate on a totally different level – that we can aspire to be like – that will open our eyes to new and unexplored opportunities?

When I was just starting out in photography, I must admit that there are some things that I learned from magazines, but once past that basic level I wonder if this “visual nepotism”, this reliance on the safe and easy rather than the challenging and inspirational doesn’t actually hinder a photographer’s creative development.

The Androids Are Coming! Great!

Instagram, iPhone’s “App Of The Year 2011” is now, at long last, also available for android phones. And as before, it’s free.

I for one think this is wonderful news. The Instagram community has been growing on a daily basis anyway but now that the potential membership has doubled I look forward to encountering a whole new world of images.

For those of you who don’t already know, Instagram is a way to share your images with the world via your mobile phone. But also, you can use Instagram’s 19 or so preset effects, along with the border and selective focus functions to transform your images before uploading for other Instagramers (their spelling, not mine) to see – and comment on.

Reviews of the android version of Instagram are a bit mixed at the moment. One supposes a certain amount of teething troubles can be expected but hopefully this will be swiftly overcome. It remains to be seen whether andoid users take to it to the same extent that iphone users have but I hope so. I notice that “androidography” is an increasingly visible term online.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I (along with iphoneographista Nettie Edwards) recently set up the official Birmingham Instagram Group. Well, we held our very first Instameet on April Fool’s Day (whose idea was that?), meeting at fotofilia before wandering around the Jewellery Quarter and finally heading to a wifi-enabled cafe for refreshment and some fevered uploading. New Instagramers can find us by searching for #igersbirmingham (also our Twitter tag). We met some lovely people, put some faces to the photos and usernames and got some great images to boot. There will be another Instameet in the not-too-distant so keep watching. Here’s our new logo (they sent us a new one recently)…

Hopefully, we’ll have a few android Instagramers on board next time.

PS. As a post-script to this post, I understand that downloads of the new android version of Instagram topped 1 million in the first 24 hours after its release!