My own Signature Style has evolved over many years and I regularly get comments that it is calming and instantly identifiable. I did’t set out to do this with a grand plan, I simply followed my heart. On one of my courses I chat about Signature Style and guide students through a process of how to discover and grow theirs…
LET THE BEAUTY OF WHAT YOU LOVE, BE WHAT YOU DO. Rumi
I truly feel that creating your own spacial palette, your own language of style to express yourself will be one of the most fulfilling aspects of your photography – knowing that it is absolutely unique and that it has come from your heart.
Amongst other things, I can recommend a real moodboard that is hung on a wall or kept of a surface where is it seen regularly – say above your computer monitor or on the back of the door that houses your props, or in your studio if you are lucky enough to have one. And if your own style isn’t something that is hung or leant against a wall, then you do it your way – as long as you can see it regularly and readily, that is fine. You shouldn’t be having to make a trip especially to see it – it should be visible.
How do I make a moodboard and what do I put on it, I hear you ask. The answers to these questions are straight forwards. Collect things that you like, that resonate with you. Collect things slowly and over time. It really is as simple as that. It may be a postcard of a painting, a colour strip for household paint, it could be the type or logo on a sugar wrapper or paper bag. Anything. Everything. You may go to a Museum to look at your favourite painting and pick up a leaflet with it on. You may go to a new exhibition at an Art Gallery whilst you are on a city break. You may pick up a dried leaf because you like the texture. A piece of fabric may resonate with you. A necklace or a bag of buttons left to you by an Aunt that generates a specific memory or feeling. A headline from a Sunday supplement…. a particular rose from your garden because you like the way it dries and fades. It’s texture.
Pin these to your board and live with them. Later you may want to put them into blocks for whatever reason – colour that work together, feelings from a painting translated into some words from an exhibition leaflet. Seasons. A genre – say portraits of women.
Live with your board longer term. You will add things and take things away.
Through this organic way of keeping it live and flowing, you are firstly defining your style broadly and then you are refining. Again, and again.
I’ve long been a supporter of personal projects for growth and the opportunities they hold… They allow you to build a portfolio that reflects the work you want to be hired to do – which is good if you are just starting out in your business. They also give space for learning, growth and expanding your creativity or whatever else you may need to nourish you at any one time. You can use this work to open the doors of opportunities too. This last couple of weeks, I’ve been sharing some insights and secrets of some personal work that I started recently. I have had much interest in it so thought I would share the posts all together, here…
Welcome to my playground – this has absolutely nothing to do with the words in my profile – or does it…
A lot of my work lies somewhere between fine art photography and graphic design, so you’ll understand my need to experiment. To explore. To fuse those worlds… Enter the backstage world of personal projects – I see them more as a playground or a laboratory. A space to experiment, learn, develop ideas, but, above all – to have a lot of fun. A place where curiosity is central.
Then there are Fine Art concepts of time and space – as a result of Covid and regular walks down my favourite lane with my dogs, I’ve started to think about time and space differently. We have all been caught in a state of suspended animation for the last year. I felt I needed to make some work to reflect – not the Covid days, but the solitary time and space we were given as its result. How it actually felt. Wanted or not. A precious and rare commodity…
The following few photographs are stills gathered for what will become an experimental multi media house art style film…
To carry on from Monday’s post, the sole purpose of the HELD project is to allow me to experiment with the cinematic side of art house video – films that are artistic or experimental rather than merely entertaining.
Along the way there are stills… There is painting – acrylic on board and watercolour on paper and more. It’s all part of the play, the experimentation…
Here, some source material taken on one of my daily wanders with my hounds on a VERY foggy morning. But somehow the fog was a warm grey rather than a dank cold grey. It actually made me feel uplifted and I found it hugely inspiring, being there at that time – alone in the stark silence of the early morning. The birds had stayed in bed – as had the rest of the world it seems. No signs of life on the hedgerows. Just this satisfyingly warm looking fog. Heightened senses. I wanted to bottle that. For me bottling things takes the shape of the playground that is multi media work. Experiential over documentary.
sight | touch | smell | taste | sound
That day in the fog was a Saturday. I knew that I was going to remember that evocative sense that the wander down that country lane threw out. Later that day, it was still in my head so I made some sketches and notes of the colours – warm pantone greys were noted. I eventually put my water colour paintbrush on to some lovely deeply textured paper. I needed to make overlays for my eventual photographs. I made an abstract painting too, this time acrylic on board… all in the same warm tone greys of the day… I think I may have my painting framed as it houses the feeling of that fog for me beautifully. But for now, it is part of my HELD project being a backdrop for still life photographs.
Wishing you a cosy, dry and safe week end. I’m looking forwards to continuing this story next week…
My visual sketches are naturally deliberately sparse in number. Why? Because my approach to my work is slow, considered, thoughtful, intentional.
For me, not the scattergun approach.
Look both ways – not just through your viewfinder but with your heart and soul.
Whilst collecting source material for a project with through a series of visual sketches, I work intuitively and not by photographic rules and guidelines. Exploring, experimenting. As Mr Picasso mentioned, learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.
No rules of thirds here, but an intuitive framing of square format. That wasn’t in my head. What was, was trying to capture to feel of that fog…
By coincidence, the past week I have been writing for the big course that I am making, FALP… I have been writing about just this – by intuitive way of working built on intention and ritual… it is the only way I know how to work after all the years spent behind the lens, seeing the world through that tiny piece of glass.
MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY PICTURE
You may scroll through here and not read the words… you may like or just carry on scrolling. You may read the captions.
Thank you for taking the time to linger here and read my words. This is the other side of slow photography, viewing an image in that considered and intentional way. This photograph is where all the components of the initial work for HELD come together…
The initial sketches were taken on a day where we were waiting for Spring – in a liminal space – not yet Spring but on that day no longer winter. Warmer, brighter yet that warm coloured fog. As mentioned before I painted water colour on textured paper and acrylic on board as a result of that walk. Here both were used as background and textural overlay. The tulips had faded and were drying but there was still a glimpse of that yellow of the stamen amongst the papery petals.
My hope is that you stayed a while, paused, breathed in the calm of the inspiration.
Thank you 🙂
Out of all the visual sketches I made from that day, this is THE one that resonated with me most. The colour, the shape, the feel…
This personal project is only just beginning and by sharing my initial thoughts and visual sketches with you, I hope you have enjoyed the insight. My exploration and experimentation will carry on through early Spring and possibly more. I have deliberately set no time limit on this project but I do know that I am learning from it. Learning more about painting, learning more about making short films and more about putting those paintings and ideas into my film.
I hope you have gained something from this too…
sight | touch | smell | taste | sound
As a PS – not mentioned on instagram, the above image on the left is the perfect illustration of where I am going with this project – looking at time and space with considered applications of textures and filters over the video that I make purposely for the project. Here the painted background can be seen and there is a watercolour layer applied over the final image.
I do hope that you have gained much from this post and that you feel inspired or empowered to go off and make you own personal project.
I often get complimented on certain props and people ask where I get them from… so I thought I would share some insight into the goings on in my prop cupboard, with some tips and hints to get your collection off the ground.
One thing to start you off collecting is that you will always have a transient population of props. They will come into your life and leave also. There will be some that are perennial favourites and others that will maybe stay only for one particular shoot.
Where do I start, I hear you ask.
A good starting point is for you to do a stocktake of what you already have in your life – those odd things at the back of your cupboard, maybe a long forgotten box of things that was meant for the charity shop but never got there.
Assess your colour palette and take it from there. Keep it simple.
When you are out and about, keep your colour palette in the back of your mind and choose texture over shiny.
When you are looking for props stick to your chosen colour palette, don’t worry about chips and dints in ceramics and metal and also consider how shiny an item is. No matter how beautiful that plate is, in the right colour for you, if it is glossy you will battle with reflections. There is some Anti Reflection Spray on the market, but you will need to assess how often you will use it – at more than £10 in the UK if you’re only use it once, then it may be wiser to look for a matt plate in the first place.
Building up your core collection of props can be a lengthy business and good fun at the same time. You will find yourself refining it as you go along – bringing new things in and selling other things on or giving them to charity.
Where to look for your props.
This is where you must get creative – start at home and spread the word that you are looking for props. Ask around the members of your family and friends. Tell them what colour palette you are looking for and that old and well worn is just fine. People will be thrilled that you will happily take on some treasured junk that belonged to an old Aunt or someone.
Flea Markets, Antique Dealers and Antique Fairs are good places to do your homework to get inspiration and also to learn what prices things are. They will more than likely be more expensive as the dealers need to make their profit.
Second Hand shops and Charity Shops are really good sources for the Prop Hunter – get to know when they put their new stock out and once the volunteers get to know you, they will happily look out for things for you as it will help both sides.
You would giggle if I told you all the stories that I have had about props with other creatives. I have friends that will stop their cars when they see the right branch fallen by the the road side, or barter for that tatty door from a skip.
How To Store Your Prop Collection
Storing you Prop Collection obviously depends on what space you have available. I have an old wardrobe with shelves in for mine. Space is at a premium, so clever organisation is key. Each shelf is full of open topped cardboard boxes that are labelled on the front side. The five shelves are well organised so I can access them easily. There is a drawer too in there where I keep cutlery and a box for random wooden tools.
My best secret is that I keep my neutral props divided in two – cool tones and warm tones. I am really meticulous about this and not only does it save time, but I also find it inspiring when it comes to styling a scene.
Beyond my wardrobe, I have an old toy box (from that well known Swedish flat pack company :)) that’s also used as a lower stand for shooting on. In there I keep my collection of papers for backdrops – old wall paper, painted watercolour paper, wrapping papers – there is all sorts of things in there. This is where I keep my small collection of pieces of fabric for styling – mainly linens, but also some voile that I like to dye with natural things for muted colours.
The bits and bobs department
I must tell you about the other, odd and often dead and drying things that are dotted about the studio. Once I had a dried pink peony in my tiny studio for a Winter. I had finished with it, but couldn’t bring myself to pop it in the bin as its colours reminded me of old faded chintz curtains. I can tell you that at the moment I have some dried Artichoke heads, dried wild oats, hydrangeas, poppy seed heads and the inevitable dried hydrangea head. There is also a lovely fragrance in there too at the moment that’s coming from dried oranges and limes from a recent shoot. Ooo and there’s the remains of a young Silver Birch tree that died, so I saved the broom like stem of it…
You really don’t need a large collection of props – just a well chosen ones – that’s the secret. If you really don’t have the space a prop box will suffice and you can use it to shoot on top of. Take inspiration from the rule of odd numbers for styling and use say three pieces of cutlery, three bowls and a piece of fine fabric and take it from there.
Finally, if you need help with styling and composing your props into a beautiful scene, do sign up to my newsletter in the side panel. You will get a copy of my free 33 page eBook for immediate download – The Little Book of Photography: adding that little EXTRA to make your photographs EXTRA ORDINARY. Once you are subscribed to the newsletter, then you will be the first to hear about releases to my courses and eBooks that have more about composition and styling. You will also get access to The Still Room for even more goodies…
I am regularly asked just what is Fine Art Lifestyle Photography? There may be clever definitions out there, but this is my own personal take on it that has been decades in the making…
To brake it down into elements is the simplest way to explain what it means to me.
Traditionally, Fine Art Photography was see as photography made solely for exhibition – whether in galleries or other institutions. I believe that this vision has shifted since the birth of the internet. The intention of the photographer as artist is still the same but the way in which this art is now seen has become different.
Fine Art Photography is photography created in line with the vision of the photographer as artist, using photography as the tool for creative expression. The intention of Fine Art photography is to express an idea, a message, or an emotion.
To put these thoughts into the context of my Fine Art Lifestyle Photography, it is more of an approach. It is about creating a cohesive body of artistic photographs – whenever I take a photograph – whether commissioned, for brand photography, editorial purposes or generated for content creation, it is my vision and mind that align to produce a photograph that conveys an idea, message or emotion that is at a level which is ultimately capable of being thoughtfully printed, framed and hung.
I am often asked by student clients which camera they should buy? It’s a minefield out there – so much choice, new terms and you really do not know where to start looking. There is no one definitive answer to this question, so here are a few guidelines that I regularly offer to help…
Don’t buy a pack – buy body and lens separately. The idea of a pack may be sold to you as being very attractive and a good deal, but the chances are that the lens included will be a zoom lens and as such will not offer a low enough f-stop to enable your creativity to shine though.
As said, don’t buy a zoom lens – a good place to start is 50mm – such a versatile lens – what is called a fast lens, known for its ability to capture low-light photographs. The focal length, when put on a full frame camera is more or less how the human eye sees. They are small and therefore light and will happily shoot most types of photography. My own 50mm lens was a gift from my mum about 20 years ago and has been a workhorse ever since. If you are investing in a 50mm lens, do your homework as the prices vary tremendously depending on the quality of the glass and how fast they will shoot.
Buy the best lens you can afford – it will be a life long investment – you can upgrade the body anytime. As you have read above, my own lens has been with me a long time and has seen four or five bodies during that time.
Consider a full frame camera rather than a crop frame camera (or crop camera) Does the camera have a full frame sensor or a crop sensor? The full frame camera will always be the more expensive of the two. When you look through the sensor, it is like looking through a large or a small window. This does not bother some people, but if you are going to take most of your photographs in a small space, then a full frame camera is the one to go for.
Factor in money for a tripod… you will get so much more value from your lenses if you do – and buy a remote shutter release cable for a few extra pounds whilst you are at it. Again, which tripod I hear you ask. The answer is the one that will keep your camera safe! Many cheap, flimsy tripods may blow over in the wind or wobble over if you accidentally knock it indoors. Yet again you only get what you pay for – the more expensive the better the spec. I have had the same Manfrotto tripod and head for more years than I care to remember. That says it all…
Always consider second hand – there are specialist dealers – ring up and talk to them, I have used on particular supplier for my film cameras for over a decade and they are always so very helpful if i ring up. Going back to the full frame camera against a crop frame one. If you can’t afford the full frame camera of your dreams, then I would strongly recommend looking into second hand. Things to be wary of are how many shots it has fired and also if you buy from abroad check on any taxes that you will have to pay over and above the asking price. Once again, I prefer to use my two or three tried and trusted outlets here in the UK.
Do your homework so that you are completely happy with what you are investing it – speak to people, do go a local camera club exhibition, go to trade shows, speak to shop owners – online or on the high street. Write down what you want from your new kit to avoid being overwhelmed. If you are, then make your polite apologies and leave to consider and do more homework!
I know I said 7 tips, but here are a couple more. Ask yourself these questions…
What is my budget?
What do I want to shoot – this may change but be clear in your head when you buy your first camera. If you just want to take up photography then ask yourself what resonates with you, look at photographs that you really like – are they indoors or outdoors, children and families, nature, landscape… Chat to your family and friends if you are not sure – the answer may be right under your nose 🙂 To help further – have you read my previous post? Maybe go back and reread that and grab the checklist to work through to help you.
I remember I certainly was when I bought my first DSLR! In my photography courses, programmes and workshops I only teach students how to shoot manual. Why? It simply provides the key that opens the door that takes you from your comfort zone and into the creative zone – this space is where the magic happens – it may be uncomfortable at first, but see these as growing pains. Stick with it and it will become your best friend. You won’t even think about it. By shooting completely Manual, you will find that door that has been locked to you is open wide.
Another point to bear in mind is that if you don’t use manual, then think of all that money you have spent for that facility is wasted… not to mention how much of your creativity you aren’t able to access.
Always remember this, whenever you pick up your camera…
SLOW DOWN – LESS BUT BETTER
7 TIPS FOR SHOOTING IN MANUAL
1 UNDERSTANDING DEPTH OF FIELD.
So many of my students struggle with this. If you see DoF or Depth of Field mentioned – don’t panic that you don’t understand. Simply think of it as Depth of Focus. You can control the of your photograph that is in focus from front to back and more – you can pinpoint where you actually want that focus to be. More of this later…
Do you want your background to be sharp or blurred? The aperture setting controls the size of the hole the light falls through thus again determining the amount of light falling on the sensor. Aperture settings control the Depth of Field – Depth of Focus mentioned in number one. Different lenses will have different numbers – at the very extreme, f2.8 will give a more blurry background and f32 will give a sharp background. To use depth of field in manual is so much easier than in semi-automatic as you can control both the shutter speed and aperture without taking your eye away from the camera.
3 SHOOT IN RAW
The simple answer here is that RAW files contain a lot more information. With Jpeg files, your camera – the computer inside does the processing for you – so you are allowing it to second guess what you are seeing in your minds eye! Computers are not creative – they think in 1’s and 0’s. In black and white. They don’t know about all the shades in between. This is where shooting RAW comes in. RAW files have much more depth to them, much more information that you can alter to align with your vision. This will be done in your editing software – the same as you would use to edit your jepgs. By choosing to shoot RAW, you are able to access that illusive creative zone.
4 CREATIVE EXPOSURE
Once you work in the Creative Zone by shooting on Manual then you will be smudging boundaries and breaking rules that aren’t really rules at all. Take exposure – there is absolutely nothing that is correct exposure, apart from what you see it to be in your mind. When you look through your viewfinder and see the exposure compensation guide – there will be 0 in the middle then minus and plus on either side. Think of 0 as merely an average – if you are wanting dark and moody then explore the minus and if you are wanting bright and airy then look at the plus settings.
5 PICK YOUR FOCAL POINT
This is a really important reason to get away from your comfort zone and using your camera as a point and shoot camera – the focal point cannot be altered by editing. When you shoot in Manual, you have control over the focus and you have control over where your want the focal point to be…
It is very simple to do – simply choose the focal point that you wish to be in focus, semi press the shutter release button and whilst holding it down, simply reframe your shot then press the button down fully to take the photograph.
6 THINK WHAT YOUR SHUTTER SPEED CAN DO FOR YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS
This is how long your shutter is open for… You can have pin sharp photographs or introduce some movement with blur – it will be your choice. Pop your camera on a tripod and spend an afternoon playing with this to see what you can find! I often suggest a cable release here – the sort that plugs into your camera side. This will ensure less camera shake for pin sharp images if your tripod is a little spongy. So many of my clients are camera shy, so I use a longer shutter speed introduce some blur on a sharp background.
7 BECOME BEST FRIENDS WITH YOUR CAMERA
By actually deciding that you are going to get to know your camera better and actually understanding everything works is possibly the greatest step you can take to becoming a better photographer. Find your instruction manual to find out where the various buttons are on your particular camera. By really understanding how things work and being able to use all the controls without having to think so often the only barrier that stops you being really creative with your image making. This is possibly the key that will open that door from your comfort zone to your creative zone – where the magic happens.