Thursday, 12 August 2010

Wedding photography ... with a vintage twist

The photograph featured here is from Kerry's wedding - the wedding I did at the end of May. Kerry was marrying Stewart in Lancashire, and had asked me to be their photographer when they got engaged last autumn, to which of course I was more than happy to oblige.

Kerry had a strong idea of exactly what she wanted from her wedding. She was very organised and sent me examples of work she'd seen that she wanted me to consider when I was working. Kerry's an indie girl (as am I), and I felt her taste in wedding photographs reflected that. She even sent me a picture with the style of wedding dress she was going to wear... going for a real vintage Audrey Hepburn inspiration.

There were two parts to the wedding - a civil ceremony, followed by a formal church blessing, so I decided to change the tone of the photographs to reflect the differences - classic and traditional photography for the church, while at the hotel I went with more creative styles of photography.

I really enjoyed the wedding, I had a lot of fun working on the photographs. When I'm working hard, I prefer to make photography about having fun. I've always turned work into a game, even when I was working in an office, I'd turn any task into something more fun and exciting. For me, it makes me work harder and allows me to produce my best work.

Kerry and Stew are a fantastic couple - both were really up for playing with me, rather than posing in stiff, awkward poses. I think that playfulness came through in the photographs. I wanted them to go away thinking how easy it was to be in front of the camera, and with a real sense of fun after any photograph, because that's what you think about when you look back at the images.

I really want to take this style of photography to the next level, hopefully find some more couples who want something a little bit different, who enjoy blending contemporary and vintage photography methods.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Goes up to 11....

I'm currently working flat out at the moment with college work. It's very good, in many respects, although thoroughly stressful.

I've got about eleven projects in total. I did have twelve, but I decided I was being a bit over-ambitious about that.

So here's the run down (if I haven't written this already):
Location - editorial piece (I'm doing this on sport) - complete
Location - editorial piece (this is on charity) - complete
Location - advertising (mental health issues) - complete
Location - advertising (my friend's bakery) - still to shoot
Studio - catalogue products shots - still to shoot
Studio - set building advertising shots - getting there.... 50% complete
Studio - set building fine art shots - not quite got what I want.... 45% complete
Major project - hotel documentary series - complete (although I want a few external shots)
Major project - fairytale location series - 50% complete

So far, I've completed my sport, charity, mental health shoots. I'm almost done on the hotel series, and I'm currently working on the fairytale and studio projects. The bakery shoot has been temporarily postponed but will take place in a fortnight. My final deadline is 21st May, but I need time before that to edit, print, and fix anything that needs fixing before then, so I've set a personal deadline of 9th May for all my photography shooting to be complete. If I'm honest, I could probably sign-off the two studio shoots that are partially done, as I really need three images for each of those and I think I have three images I could use for that.

It was timely today to listen to the radio that thousands of pupils and students are currently starting their standard grade, higher, and other SQA examinations now. Part of this photography work reminds me of being back in an exam hall - although I have an answer for almost every question, I don't quite want to finish up early and leave, but instead make the most of every last minute in case I find an alternative and better answer in the remaining time. Although I potentially have a photograph for almost every shoot (save those I'm still to shoot), I don't want to sign them off just yet in case a better photograph comes along.

This week, I have been focusing on the fairytale and studio project. I also had my fourth hotel shoot at the end of last week.

It's fair to say though, I am feeling the stress. Trying to keep on top of so many aspects of so many projects is hard work, although there's something fulfilling about going to bed knowing you've worked hard all day. My days usually start around 6am, and end at around 12am, with driving, shooting, driving some more, downloading, editing, and sorting out all my kit for the next day. I've given up on budgeting through numerous trips to B&Q to buy props and things to help me build my sets, petrol costs (the train is completely impractical given the weight and bulk of what I need to transport back and forth to college), and parking costs. 

As with the actual photography... my shoots are mostly going well. There are many things I would like to improve, sometimes with hindsight. 

However, I think of the whole scenario as a learning curve. Part of the curve is learning to know exactly what you want, and learning what and when to compromise, and when you need to stick to the plan. Sometimes I don't always stick to the plan, and I think there have been occasions when I've found myself shooting something completely different to the way I want it to be. This past fortnight I've made a conscious decision to pull it all back to the original idea, stick to the script.

On top of all that, we've got all of our end-of-year things going on, and this is the time when we really do the administrative work. So selecting photographs for our college year book; advertising our exhibition; deciding what we're using in exhibition, deciding on an advert for the exhibition, submitting work for the class website... the list goes on.

My diary is full of shoots for the coming weeks ahead. As well as my college work, I've also got a wedding to photograph. On the plus side, I don't feel so nervous about it because I've been distracted by my college work lately.

One of the difficult obstacles however is not actually anything within my college education. My local printing company is relocating, and will be closed right around the time of the deadline of my work. This obviously changes things significantly as to when I can send work to print and whether my work will be finished by that deadline. I am tempted to use one of the highly recommended alternative printers, although it's not quite as convenient, and it sounds like most of my classmates are thinking the same thing so the printers might find themselves inundated with student work.

The next fortnight will be crucial and hard going, although I know it's going to pass so very quickly.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

into April

The past few months have been increasingly busy, and finding a few minutes to update this blog has become increasingly difficult.

This past week, I've been working hard on my college projects. However, I'm currently at a point where I feel that I'm not as far forward as I'd like to be, and still have a lot of work to do. Sometimes I feel as if I'm not advancing as much as I think I am for the volume of work and the amount of effort I put in. However, I've felt like this before and usually it seems worse than it is.

This week, I've been focusing (no pun intended) on three projects - a still life/fine art project; a still life advertising project; and an editorial charity project.

Each has its own complications to overcome, which makes life a little more interesting. I'm starting to realise that I've set myself some pretty tough challenges to complete by 21st May. On one hand, if I achieve everything I want and to the standard I want, then I'm going to have a good portfolio by the end of the course. On the other, it's going to take a lot more sweat and tears (no blood, hopefully) before I get there.

Last week, I took a trip to a forest to get some textual images to overlay with some photographs I am intending on producing for my fine-art project. I've also set up a make-shift studio using some disused office space for my advertising shot. All I need now are some props to populate the space I'm using, and a brain of problem-solving techniques to get the photographs working perfectly.

I've also been working closely with a charity, who I occasionally help by providing voluntary photography work. In return, they've been kind enough to agree to let me come and photograph them at work, and very accommodating and kind.

Working like this can send me a bit up and down at times, in terms of mood. Fortunately, I spoke to my tutor and by the time I finished and had shown him my work to date, I was on an upward swing again.

I think for a few weeks I've felt that my work hit a plateau and I wanted to improve it. I wanted more from my photographs than I was achieving. My work was passable, but it wasn't quite what I wanted. My tutor was helpful and we talked about this "wall", and the idea that realising I'd hit it meant that actually I was challenging myself more and that was a good thing. My wall at the moment is trying to overcome a typical student photograph and make my work go beyond that.

I also found a photograph I've taken lately (shown here) which I actually really like.  I could tell you lots of reasons why I like it, but I think what I like most about it is how simple it is, but how effective it looks at the same time. I think this is the sort of photograph I'm trying to achieve, and getting to that point is a lovely, although difficult, process.

My diary has become increasingly full - it's wonderful needing to use one, but at the same time I am completely lost without it, more than I feel about my mobile phone.

I've also been working hard on my new websites. I've decided to have two separate sites, one for my commercial work, and one for more social photography - weddings, families, pets, children, etc. I'm still ironing out a few "creases", but hope to have a proper domain name for the latter soon. Meanwhile, my commercial work can be found at

Sunday, 28 March 2010

It's all part of the learning process...

What an incredible week!

I think when I look back on my time at college, this week will be among the most memorable for all the things that happened, and how fantastic it has been.

The week started with a selection of photographs by my class being shown on a giant electronic billboard above Central Station in Glasgow. This included one of my photographs from last year, of a friend, inspired by vintage portraiture from Vogue in the 1940s. The purpose was to raise awareness of our website, but also to advertise our upcoming photo auction.

The billboard was shown on a webcam which refreshes every five seconds. However I managed to see the image on the street, which was perhaps more exciting and pleasing. 

On Thursday, Martin Parr came to our college to give a talk, as described in a previous post. It was good to listen to him deliver his talk, very informative, but also very humourous as you might expect from a man who has (possibly) the world's biggest collection of Saddam Hussain watches. He was very straight with his advice and thoughts to us about life as a photographer and our chances in the outside world. There was absolutely no sugar coating, which I think some people weren't comfortable with. I quite liked it - I enjoyed the idea of being challenged and I felt it helped a lot. Afterwards, my tutor introduced me to him, and asked him to pose for a photograph with me. I admit I felt like a rabbit caught in the headlights meeting one of my photographic heroes, particularly when he signed a book which my tutor gave me as a gift to say thank you.

In the afternoon, I went to the Kings Theatre in Edinburgh to help a friend take photographs of vintage make up and costumes. I have to admit, I was still buzzing, even when she pointed out that I'd had my shirt on inside out all day.

On Friday, we had our college auction. A lot of hard work had gone into it, by a selection of my classmates, but it worked. The auction was a success. All of the photographs were sold (over fifty in total), and included work by students, ex-students, tutors, and professionals. Our auctioneer was a great guy who normally does cattle auctions, but agreed to help us for a reduced fee. Having a professional made all the difference - he knew exactly how to encourage people to part with their cash, how to get their attention, they all laughed and listened to him talking, and he made everything feel so exciting. However, the top sale wasn't by a professional, or one of our star prizes, but one of my fellow students Laura. The price for her print stunned everyone, but it helped raise a lot of money for us to spend on our end of year exhibition. In total, we raised nearly £5000. This year, we're getting the Lighthouse in Glasgow for our show, and the money from the auction will help us pay for that.

This week has definitely been a good one. It's also been good for me, mentally. Sometimes I feel as if I have so many ideas, that pinpointing one single one is impossible. Trying to work out what sort of photography I really want to do, what really drives me... I find that difficult. I know what work I don't want to do, which at least rules those areas out of my list. But trying to distill my thoughts is not easy, and sometimes I feel that my results are muddied because of this. I feel this week a step closer to being able to concentrate on what I want to achieve. The thing I want to do now is to be realistic about what I want to achieve and what I genuinely find interesting to pursue. It's a bit like listening to music, trying to listen to the music you really genuinely like and filter out all the things that you listen to but possibly don't care for so much. Perhaps about trying to filter out the other opinions from your mind and listen to what you think first and foremost. Hopefully the coming weeks should produce more fruitful results with that in mind.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Keeping busy

The last week has been more hectic than I had anticipated. No sooner had I started to relax on Monday evening than I was heading off to hospital to see my brother and pick up his car, and not getting home until almost 4am. There was a time when 4am was actually quite a reasonable hour to head to bed, but in those days I wasn't getting up at 6am the morning before.

My shoot last week went well. I had to travel to the north of England for this one, so had a couple of overnights while I was there. I was photographing a sports team, which I had mixed feelings about. On one hand, it was exciting and a great opportunity. On the other, the usual thoughts about all the things that could potentially go wrong erupted in my mind. Most of all, I was conscious of trying not to annoy them or get in the way. They were polite and very courteous,  and I shot a lot of action shots while they trained in preparation for a game at the weekend (which they won spectacularly). I also managed to get a few of them to pose for me in static shots, which came out nicely. As always though, there are things which I would do differently if I had the opportunity to do it again, but that's what learning is all about.

My next shoot was on Monday, as part of my day-in-the-life series with a hotel in Edinburgh. The plan here, was to shoot in shifts over different, non-consecutive, days to show the behind-the-scenes workings. This was my second shoot, and I still have a couple more to do before I'm finished. Again, it's all about the learning curve. The curve sometimes isn't necessarily photography, but more about how to handle myself in different situations to get exactly what I want from a shoot.

This week, I've mostly been concentrating on organising my up-coming projects. I've managed to secure some samples to photograph in the studio from different companies in Scotland. My intention there is to produce a series of images which would look good in high-quality print magazines or catalogues.
I've also organised another shoot with a charity as part of my college work, doing a behind-the-scenes for an editorial style shoot. This weekend, I've got a friend posing for my mental health awareness advertising project (another one from college) and I'm heading off to the New Start Business exhibition in Glasgow to get advice about starting up once I leave college for good.

Next week, we've got our college auction and we've also got a visit from Martin Parr, which I am thoroughly looking forward to.

I do enjoy keeping thoroughly busy at the moment as it helps me calm myself a bit at the thought of how long I have left at college. If I feel that I've actually done something useful with my day it makes getting to sleep a whole lot easier. On the days when I feel I could have used my time more productively... those are the days I end up lying awake at night thinking of ways to fill my diary as much as possible.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Sees, shoots, and leaves

I've had a bit of a busy seven days, and this is the first day I've really had to get on with catching up on things.

I went to Windsor last weekend to visit my boyfriend. However, while he was working, I decided to have a trip to London for a day. It's been five years since I last wandered round London on my own and in the interim time I've simply followed friends from place to place, letting them be my tour guide. So it was good to have a day getting to know the city by myself.

In the morning, I met with a photographer and chatted to him over coffee and lunch. Sometimes it's good to just meet with people and talk to them - certainly faster to get ideas and responses and exchange thoughts than via email, and you can't always get the same dialogues when you're assisting or on work experience partly because you're concentrating on the job in hand, and also because most clients aren't going to be interested in listening to photographers talking shop when they're paying you.

Afterward, I headed to the Photographer's Gallery to take in the Deutsche Börse prize nominees. I was torn between Anna Fox, and Donovan Wylie.

I loved the way Fox presented her work, but more importantly the text to accompany the images worked because she told stories rather than being a bit oblique and the photographs reflected that. I loved her work for its complete lack of pretention. Her work was very saturated views of British life, although compared to Martin Parr. However, I think her work is more intimate than that of Martin Parr, her photographs were of things around her home or her parents home, of life in her local area and her world. Martin Parr's work tends to be on a larger scale, about life in particular countries. Her images were also presented in different ways - a blue notebook; a set of fold-out postcards; as well as the prints on the wall.

Donovan Wylie had photographed the decontruction of Maze prison in Northern Ireland.  I loved Wylie's work because it lacked any sentimentality, leaving the viewer to consider their own feelings about the photographs. It felt to me that the photographs weren't about "the troubles", but about the next steps in Northern Ireland and the good things that lay ahead, about a new future in the same way that the deconstruction of the Berlin Wall had on the lives of millions of people in East and West Germany. What perhaps makes the decontruction of Maze Prison more interesting to me is how it featured so little coverage in the press, these photographs therefore don't come across as being a symbol or statement in the same way that the Berlin Wall, but an observation.  I think it also comes across as being an observation of life in Northern Ireland, of getting on with things and not making a big fuss, maybe recognising that peace is, and always should be, normal life; its a right rather than a privilege.

The exhibition runs until the 17th April and is free. Also, it's just off Regent Street and Oxford Road, so perfect for anyone looking for something easy to access, and the Photographer's Gallery has a fantastic little shop and a nice cafe, both worth visiting. 

My second visit, was to the National Portrait Gallery, where I saw the Irving Penn exhibition. Penn died recently, and was one of the most prolific fashion and portrait photographers of the twentieth century. I based some of my photographs last summer on 1940s - 1960s Vogue fashion shoots, which was the work of Penn and his contemporaries. The exhibition catalogues Penn's work across the decades. What it reminds me of, is the Vanity Fair exhibition that toured to Edinburgh in 2007, mainly for the fact that perhaps what we see is a different value of celebrity in different decades. In the most recent decade, celebrity has been about actors and actresses; singers; reality television stars; and TV show hosts. What these photos remind us, is that it used to encompass so much more: authors, poets, dancers, politicians who didn't lead countries who had nuclear ability, musicians, civil rights activists, scientists. Now we have a small group of representatives of people from those catagories in celebrity, but not in the same numbers as they had in the twenties or thirties. What is noticeable about Penn's work, is his ability to create a strong silhouette against the background. One of the things I also notice is how sometimes there is this centre divide, where one part of the background is dark and the other part is light and how Penn seems to light his subject in a way that you still get this clear silhouette.

The Irving Penn exhibition is on until 6th June, and costs £10.

The rest of my weekend involved meeting friends, which was great to catch up. I arrived back in Scotland on Monday and Tuesday I spent photographing a friend for one of my college projects. I've yet to look at the photographs on my computer screen as I didn't get home until late last night, but at the time I had an idea of something I wanted to try and do again. While trying to light the background, I had a small spill of light which highlighted one side of her face very faintly. While I managed to flag the background light I decided that actually I might try and create these highlights again but on both sides of her face instead.

 My diary is fast filling up with dates of shoots and plans at the moment, and getting a lot more use than it has for quite a while. It's extremely satisfying but also slightly frightening at how quickly a week can pass, how fast a month can go, and how long I have left to complete all my projects.

In the Autumn, our tutor suggested we should get more photographers to give talks. I suggested Martin Parr, and my tutor responded with "why don't you ask him?". So I did. I didn't actually expect that it would come to fruition, but Martin Parr is coming to our college to give a talk in a few weeks time. I was sorry to have missed Vision 2009 in November when he gave a talk then, while I was on a college trip in Kinlochleven instead, so this more than makes up for that. 

This weekend, I'm heading back down south for my rescheduled photoshoot which was cancelled last month due to the weather. Hopefully I should have a bit more success and an update for you by early next week on how the shoot went.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Learning from A Pro

At the end of last week, I was back in college for a group presentation. We all had to give a mini presentation to show where we were with our work. It was good to see what others were doing, and how far they are with their projects. I really want to step the pace up a gear though. I've done a lot of research and had a couple of shoots, but I think it's time to have more shoots going on.

My projects are:
Three still life studio based projects: catalogue/product type shot, set building, and some sort of fine art project;
Architecture using a large format camera (although this scares me, a lot);
Day-in-the-life documentary series;
Personal/ fine art project involving telling a story;
Sports editorial shoot on location;
Charity editorial shoot on location;
Mental health advertising on location;
Corporate awareness advertising on location.

I should point out for the studio and location shots I chose the subject matter but the editorial/ advertising/ location/ studio aspects were assigned.

So. I've got models lined up to start working immediately, with a couple of shoots lined up for next week after I return from being down south, and hopefully running fairly regularly through the remainder of March.

In other news, I managed to get some more assisting work on Monday. It was a series of publicity shots for a large well-known organisation in Glasgow, and great to see a pro-photographer at work. While I was working with him, there were a few things that stuck in my mind. Firstly, how simple the set ups were. At college there's a lot of push towards using as many lights and techniques as possible. He used two at most, either two studio lights -one for the background and one for the subject- or one for the subject and natural daylight. I realised that at quite a few shoots I've attended the photographers seem to prefer to keep lighting simple with no more than one or two lights at most. I suppose a lot of it is down to preference, but also thinking about the purpose of the photograph. I suppose these shots are more the bread-and-butter pictures, the ones you have to get right to earn your income, but it seems to fly in the face of some suggestions of using nine or more lights for a shoot. Perhaps if you're doing a really intricate set, or fashion or art shoot, then yes, nine or more lights is fine. Perhaps if you have time and money and inclination then it's ok too. But I suspect there's something against over-complicating a shoot, making your clients wait while you set up (plus the testing time required when both the clock and the meter are ticking) and lugging nine or more lights (and stands and attachments) with you to a shoot. 

The second thing, was how much I enjoy doing anything in this line of work.  It's not just about watching what happens, but listening too. Listening to how a pro photographer talks to his subject, how they deal with clients and talk to them, the tone, the vocabulary they choose (part of that last bit might be because I was a language student in a former life and tone and words are still embedded in my brain). That's the stuff college can't teach me and the stuff that frankly, probably counts for about 35% of whether you get a second job with that client. (The other proportions being - at a guess: how organised you are in terms of contacting them and arranging a shoot; how good the photos are at the end of it all).

Thirdly, I realised that I really love doing things in photography. It doesn't matter what my role is, as long as I'm there. I thought about all those temp jobs I've done in the past during summer holidays from university, when I was a receptionist or admin assistant or data entry enterer-person. I can safely say there was not a single day I came back from work on a buzz like I get from coming back from a photoshoot. When its me behind the camera, I realise I can work almost as long as required, I get such a kick from it that I don't have any concept of time passing and I don't notice if I am actually feeling tired, which is great unless I'm driving afterwards. Photography is a bit like a can of Red Bull for me.

What I enjoyed most, was just being at work with it all, and knowing that if I enjoy it this much then I must be in the right career. It is a tough career path, perhaps moreso than many others, simply for the abundance of photographers at every level competing for work. Sometimes that thought is hard to consider and quite depressing. But then I think of the things I have achieved so far, and remind myself that all the things that have been hard have always been worthwhile in the end. There are many things that I'm going to need to make it in the industry and make a living out of photography, and realising that my work ethic is one of my strengths allows me to focus my attentions on any deficits or weaknesses.