6 things you probably shouldn’t say to your photographer…

It’s finally happened. I’ve officially been in the photography business long enough now to hear many of the stereotypical comments and “chat” that I’d suggest are perhaps not the best placed choice of conversation topic… I’ve been amused, baffled and even slightly frustrated with some of these, so just for fun, I thought I’d share some with you…

1. Your camera takes really great photos!

I know, I know. I’m starting with the comment that seems so obvious that surely no-one actually says it? I mean, that’s what I thought. I’d heard of it, seen many a meme about it, but I had never experienced it.

Until last year.

Those wonderful words were uttered in a kind, genuine way where I fully believe the person wasn’t trying to be offensive but I was left stuck for a reply all the same. I mean, imagine someone said that about a baker and their oven, or an artist and their paintbrush?

A camera is merely an instrument. A vehicle which enables us to capture an image as we see it or imagine it. Having professional equipment makes a bit of a difference yes, but only if you know how to use it. You could put me in front of the best stove on the planet and I’d still burn something – Michelin Star I am not!

The camera doesn’t make the photograph anymore than a laptop makes a novel. It takes time, practice and a certain degree of skill to get to a professional level. Implying that it’s all in the gear is a little bit cheeky however unintentional. Best avoided if you want to keep your photographer on-side (and remember, we have access to Photoshop…ha!)

2. My camera is better than yours!

This happens at almost every event I shoot. Whether it’s a corporate get-together, a christening or a wedding, I inevitably find myself sought out by someone who wants to compare gear. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have folk who are interested in photography and want to talk about it (provided I can still do my work for whoever has hired me!) – I could chat about certain types of photography all night but I keep finding myself in a situation with someone who takes that enthusiasm over the line in to competition.

Sometimes it’s the old Canon vs Nikon schtick and that’s fine for a bit of banter but let’s keep it in good humour. I’ve also had people feel the need to tell me that they own the more recent model of my camera and I’m never sure what to say other than a polite “that’s nice!” or “that’s a great piece of kit!”.

I rarely feel the need to compare gear with people. It’s just not in my nature to try to one-up someone over camera equipment and I find myself floundering for words when the subject comes up while I’m working.

3. Well, anyone can take a good photo on their smartphone these days.

Now this one I have to agree with – in a Disney’s Ratatouille style “Anyone can cook!” that is. Anyone can take a good photo on their smartphone but not everyone. As I mentioned above, a camera is merely an instrument and if you know how to use it properly you can take incredible images on smartphones. Many are doing it consistently and making a living and a name for themselves from it.

But not everyone.

And while professional photography went through a phase of struggling against the all accessible smartphone and even the entry-level DSLR, it seems to be picking back up again as people recognise the training and dedication it takes to acquire such a skill. Yes, there are natural born photographers who intuitively know how to compose and capture a jaw-dropping image with little practice but they are the exception, not the rule.

As Henri Cartier-Bresson says “Your first 10,000 photos are your worst.” Photography takes skill and practice regardless of the equipment.

4. I don’t get why people bother with photos… I never take any.

Yeah, this one left me stumbling.

It seems an odd way to endear yourself to someone, basically telling them you think their work is pointless. And it seems particularly strange when this is the first (and now the only!) conversation you’ll be having with them.

“Hey, nice to meet you. I think your work is a waste of time.” Not a great start, is it?

I know what you’re thinking – “Surely no-one has ever said that to you?”

Believe me they have. Right smack bang while I was in the middle of working an event. Someone came up to me to tell me all about how he doesn’t understand the point of taking photos. I didn’t know what to say other than reminding him that the people who had hired me obviously thought images to remember the event were important.

Photography isn’t for everyone and that’s absolutely fine. Of course it is. Art is subjective and photography is an art form.

I’ve long been a fan of documenting my life in photos and sharing them with people. It’s a way of life for me. I see the world in photographs and I find it difficult to switch off from that. But I understand that not everyone sees the world that way.

However, it’s an opinion probably best kept to yourself instead of using it as drunken small chat with the event ‘tog. I politely entertained the notion. Many wouldn’t!

5. Can you photoshop this so I’m slimmer/have different hair/look “better”?

Eeeek! I find this one of the most awkward things that is said to me. It’s usually done in jest but sometimes there’s a real request there.

I am a “less is more” kind of photoshopper. My photography style is about natural moments and doesn’t lend itself well to airbrushing and liquifying my subjects. In actual fact, I work hard to encourage people to see the real beauty in themselves and the moment instead of focusing purely on things that we’ve been taught to see as “flaws”.

I’d much rather empower people to see their beauty than to feel the need to be artificially slimmed or smoothed thanks to unrealistic beauty standards the media has ingrained in us.

However, I completely understand that people are rarely 100% happy with how they look and are concerned that the images might amplify parts of themselves that they wish were different. The majority of us look at an image and instantly search for the part we’re insecure about.

If you’re in that situation, please feel free to have a quiet word and let me know. It’s my job to make you feel comfortable during your shoot and not left wishing that the images were altered afterwards.

6. Don’t worry, I’ll just Photoshop it when you send me the image…

Whether it’s adding a person (as was the suggestion in the case I’m referring to), removing a person, adding filters or even cropping – you’re unlikely to have permission to do this and will have signed (and of course read…) a contract that informs you that this is the case. It seems pernickety but it’s for good reason. Photographers rely on people seeing our work, loving it, and wanting us to work for them. If our work no longer looks like our own then we lose the ability to make a living. Like anyone else, we’re just trying to pay our bills.

So please don’t edit our work and talk about it like it’s no big deal. It matters!

So there you have it! A list of some of the odd things people have said to me since I started out as a photographer. I’m super lucky to have only had the occasional guest at an event who has said something strange or a misplaced, but well meaning, comment from an interested party. I know photographers who have heard much worse.

I’d love to hear the sorts of things people say to you at your work…

Keeping it Low-Key

 Well, you might have figured out that low-key photography is pretty much the opposite of high-key photography. Instead of bright and cheerful, it’s dark and moody.

Low-Key Portrait: Ross

 The good news is, it’s relatively easy to achieve with just one light source. By controlling the source and angle light you can add drama to your image very quickly. The light can come from a small opening in the curtains, a lamp, a studio light or even a candle. Anything really! As long as it lights up your subject and is controlled so it doesn’t brighten the scene so much so that the background is lit up. Your low-key image should be full of dark tones and shadow. It doesn’t have to be in black and white but this does help highlight the contrast between the dark and the light.

One way to think about low-key photography is that it’s about trying to capture darkness in your shot to tell your story. But to capture darkness effectively, you’ll also need a bit of light.

Low-Key Ewan

Moody Musician

To take a low-key shot, the best thing to remember is to experiment… play with the direction and angle of your light source.  Try different shutter speeds and aperture settings. Remember if the shutter speed is low then you’ll need a tripod to get the best from your camera. Keep your ISO low to avoid noise as this can end up being a bit distracting. Underexpose your shot as much as you can without losing detail.

Medusa: A well directed flashlight can be enough add more drama to the shot.

 

Leading the Way with Leading Lines

(c) Jo Foo 2017

Leading lines.

One of my favourite ways to compose a shot to give it a little ooomph. And, from my experience, one of the composition techniques my students find most satisfying during my classes.

Many of them naturally compose shots with strong leading lines because the end result is very pleasing. Any lines in an image can act as “leading lines” and they pretty much do as described, they lead the viewer into the shot. Combine this with other composition rules like the Rule of Thirds, patterns, colours or symmetry (plus many others!) and you’ll have a pretty strong image.

(c) Jo Foo 2016

The lines work best if they grab your attention at the bottom corner of the image and take you on a journey through it. This is a useful technique to remember if you can’t quite find the angle you want for your shot. The lines should add depth by guiding the viewer into the image.

(c) Jo Foo 2016

The lines can be straight or curved, symmetrical or one-sided…

(c) Jo Foo 2013

As long as they are a strong feature, they should work as an impressive way to capture your viewer’s attention. They can even make a seemingly “plain” sign tell a story…

(c) Jo Foo 2016

Mei Photo Challenge: Week 2 Favourites

Well, as expected, week 2 of the #MeiPhotoChallenge has been significantly quieter! Well done to everyone who has managed to hang in there and a big welcome to a couple of new faces.  You’re doing better than me as I’ve still not edited and uploaded my shots since Monday.

Here are my favourite images from this week:

Day 8: Books

 

Day 9: Happy

 

Day 10: High-Key

 

Day 11: Rainbow

 

Day 12: New

 

Day 13: Sky

 

Day 14: Shadow

How to High Key

High Key photography is a technique or style of photography where light is used to remove most of the harsh shadows from an image.  It sends a cheerful, bright message and is great for beautiful portraits and high quality product photography. High Key photographs usually have a bright background and make the viewer feel happy and positive.

a photo of a woman in black and white on a bright white background. she is wearing red lipstick - this is the only part in colour

High Key Me

To create a High Key image, you need a bright environment, either indoors with three or four studio lights on a white background or outdoors with bright sunshine. It’s great fun to experiment with and see how eliminating some dark tones from your image can instantly make your image feel more upbeat.

Mother & Son

Real Women, Real Beauty

This is a simplified version of High Key photography (for more tips check out Digital Photography School). It can take patience and practice to get the lighting right but for the #MeiPhotoChallenge, just think white background, bright and cheerful to get your photo of the day! x

 

Mei Photo Challenge: Week 1 Favourites

Week One of the #MeiPhotoChallenge has gone by and your photos have been making me smile! Here are some of my favourites…

Day 1: Something Blue

 

Day 2: Leaves

 

Day 3: A Face

 

Day 4 : Love

 

Day 5: Upside Down

 

Day 6: Bokeh

 

Day 7: Black & White

Some cracking shots from week 1 everyone! Nice work!

Looking forward to week two! x

Baffled by Bokeh?

Bokeh? What is it? How do you even say it? And why is everyone talking about it?

Well, bokeh, pronounced bo-kay (at least that’s how I say it!), refers to the quality of blur in your photos. And by blur, I mean something a bit different to background blur (from a shallow depth of field or small f-stop value) and a lot different to motion blur (from a slow shutter speed or fast movement). And by quality, I mean the subjective feeling that this particular blur gives and onlooker and is open to interpretation and discussion. And by everyone, I mean photographers.

The word itself comes from Japanese language and literally translates as “blur”. For photographs, the simplest way to think of it is out-of-focus light. The light can be from a variety of sources, fairy lights, candle lights, street lights, lamps in the background, natural light and even reflected light in your image. Most often, it is shown as little discs or circles in the area of your shot that is blurred. In some cases the shapes are different (for various reasons) but you’ll see a cluster of similar shapes where the light is blurred and rendered by your lens.

It’s a great way of making the out-of-focus part of your photo more interesting and more pleasing to the eye. I like to think of it as adding a little sparkle to your shot and adding a bit more of a story to your image.

Abstract image of a fortune cookie, red bracelets and out of focus fairy lights (bokeh) in the background to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Fortune Favours the Brave

In the image above, the round circles of light are the bokeh. You can get this effect in a number of ways. I used fairy lights in the distance so when I took this shot I was close to my subjects (the cookie and the bangles) and I used a wide aperture (low f-number). Since my lens has a circular aperture (curved aperture blades), the bokeh is circular. Some older lenses have straight blades and the bokeh ends up heptagonal shapes.

Some of you will have noticed that towards the front of the image, on the bangles, there’s a bit of bokeh there too. That’s from reflected light in the shot. Looking for light reflecting back to your lens in the out-of-focus area of the shot is another way to get bokeh in your image.

New leaves on a plant with lots of out-of-focus leaves which are reflecting light back to the lens and causing circular bokeh in the background

Day 2: Leaves #MeiPhotoChallenge

For some people, all bokeh is good bokeh. For others, it can be distracting. In the above image, while I was enjoying playing with the reflections on the leaves, the discs are quite sharp and bright which might not be pleasing for some people. It may appear too harsh to be considered “good bokeh” by some, but again, like with most creative things, it’s subjective and depends on the onlooker.

Bokeh comes from the lens and not the camera. This means that some lenses will give “better” bokeh than others. From my experience and the overwhelming opinion of most photographers, fixed portrait lenses (e.g. 50mm) and telephoto lenses give the best bokeh. But you don’t need to worry about that right now. You’ll still be able to get this effect from your kit lens if you remember to keep a wide aperture, or simply what I mentioned before, bokeh is out-of-focus light.

Hundreds of circles of light in different colours and different sizes

Rainbow Sparkles: In this image the bokeh is created by taking a photo of sequins and playing with the focus to get a pleasing pattern of circles as the sunlight is reflected back into the camera.

So, now you know what it is, it’s your turn to give it a try. Fear not! I’m not leaving you just yet. Here’s how to get started…

(*** For those of you using camera phones or compacts, all is not lost, you can still get bokeh shots… hang in there til the end!***)

First off, you need a large aperture (low f-number), a short focal distance and lights in the background, i.e. your subject close to the lens (in focus!) and a light source in the background (the out-of-focus area).  Remember this can be something you’ve positioned there like fairy lights of candles or it could be something that happens to be in the background like streetlights or light filtering through the trees. The large aperture and short focal distance is what gives you a nice shallow depth of field allowing you to focus your subject and blur those background lights.

A champagne glass with rose wine and a christmas tree in the background. The christmas tree is out of focus so the fairy lights show as large round circles of light (bokeh).

Christmas Drink: Christmas tree lights make bokeh a lot of fun!

When you line up your shot, it’s helpful to be on the same level as your subject. Position yourself so the light source you’re intending to be out of focus is behind it, at least 4 feet away. The further the distance between the subject and the light, the bigger the bokeh shapes will be.  In the image above, there’s at least 6 metres between the glass and the Christmas tree. In the image below, the ornament and the fairy lights are on the same chair with only ~1ft space in between.

A silhouette of a fairy ornament with coloured lights out-of-focus behind it on a dark background.

Bokeh Fairy: In this image my fairy lights aren’t far enough away from my subject. The result means I get some bokeh but you can almost make out the lights themselves.

It’s good to start this in Aperture Priority if you can. This way your camera will work out the shutter speed to get the correct exposure. Remember if you’re shooting a dark shot (like the image above), you’ll need something to rest your camera on as the shutter speed will be slow so the exposure is correct. If you’re shooting in manual, low ISO numbers are best, otherwise the noise (grain) will distract from the bokeh.

***But what if I’m using a camera phone or compact camera??***

Well, the sad truth is that the “quality” of the bokeh will be better with an SLR or mirrorless camera. This is purely because the bokeh is to do with the lens and not the camera body.

However, you can still play with this technique by following steps similar to the ones above – set your light source for the bokeh in the distance and place a subject close to your camera (5-10cm away). Focus on the subject by tapping on it on the screen (on a phone) and, provided you have something newer than an iPhone 3G or equivalent Samsung/Android phone model, you should be able to take a shot with the lights out of focus and the blur will cause bokeh. Some newer smartphones and compacts allow you to change your aperture priority or allow “selective focus” which means you’ll have more control over this effect. Remember if you move the phone, your phone will refocus and might bring the lights back into focus. The easiest way around this is to use a mini tripod and have a subject that won’t move!

Alternatively, you can get some really beautiful creative shots by putting the whole image out of focus, like this one by my cousin!

A bright image of a barn wedding with chairs and people and the fairy lights out of focus to get bright warm white circles of light across the image.

Beautiful Bokeh by my super talented cousin @amazingrachael – check her out on Instagram!

Time for you to play! I love bokeh shots so I can’t wait to see how you get on. And maybe next month I’ll show you how to do bokeh shapes!

Here are some props you might find helpful for bokeh shots:

  • Fairy lights (Christmas is a perfect time for bokeh shots!)
  • Candles (lots of them!)
  • Sequins and sunlight
  • Streetlights
  • Reflective surfaces in your shot (usually they need to be textured to get the small discs of light – a smooth surface won’t yield much bokeh!)
  • Natural light being filtered by trees etc

Once you get good at it, you can start using bokeh to help you tell your story, or even create whimsical images…

A ceramic mug with a plum blossom tree branch on it, and blue discs of light rising out of it.

Cuppa Plum Bokeh

Have fun! x

April – 30 Day Photo Challenge

I had a lot of fun last weekend with my “Develop Your Photography” class for intermediate photography students. I really enjoy teaching and informal education and Saturday was no different. I always learn more about myself with every class I teach.

The class participants are keeping in touch and I’ve set them a Photo-A-Day Challenge for April.  I thought it might be fun to see who else wants to get involved. Check it out! Post your photos on my Mei Photography page or share them on Instagram using #MeiPhotoChallenge. Can’t wait to see what you come up with! x

Be Careful What You Post…

Yesterday I learned a lesson. A lesson on taking more care about what I repost.

I have been working through a few things recently and come up against some fairly common challenges for soloprenuers in small, creative businesses. Issues with payment, making ends meet, being sustainable, people not giving you credit for your work – all that wonderful stuff. So when a blog from a well known Scottish company entered my feed about their troubles with trademark infringement I thought “Brilliantthat captures exactly how I’m feeling.” and I reposted it on my page.

Within the hour a good friend got in touch and questioned this decision. And that’s exactly what good friends should do. Question you when they think something you’ve done doesn’t quite sit right. With a gentle shove she quickly made me realise that this company was NOT one I wanted to align my business ideals with and opened my somewhat naive eyes to a rather unscrupulous couple of guys with questionable ethics. I’m so glad she did.

Good friends ask hard questions and gently shove you in the right direction - Mei Photography

Checking company backgrounds and ethical practices is something I’m normally really good at. I’ve got a long list of ones to avoid and ones I’m happy to give my hard earned money to. I don’t always get it right but I do make the effort to do my research and try to stay on top of things. Yesterday I got caught out and it reminded me how important it is to pay attention. I don’t doubt it will happen again, but I know I can rest assured that my friends will be there to call me on my missteps. And for that, I’m always thankful.

10 Weeks, 10 Selfies – A Photographer In Front of the Lens

Ah, the dreaded selfie. Some love it, others hate it. You only need to look at a person’s social media profile to see which category they fall into.

I love a selfie with my other half to capture our latest adventure, or with a friend where I inevitably pull a silly face to distract from the discomfort I feel in front of the camera.

However, I really believe that to be a good portrait photographer, you need to be comfortable both infront and behind the lens. I’ve tested myself a couple of times by having portrait shots taken and volunteering for model calls. They both start the same way, with me awkward and giggling, but after a while, I start to relax and I learn new ways of helping my subjects relax when it’s my turn to capture them.

I still need practise at this though and I have a lot to learn about being at ease as the subject. So I decided to set myself a challenge. Over the next 10 weeks I’m going to take and post a self portrait. Each week, I’m also going to challenge a photographer friend to join in and do the same. Here’s hoping a few take me up on the offer. I think we can all benefit from being in our subject’s shoes.

This is a self portrait I took a couple of years ago for a different project. It doesn’t count as my first one, I’m posting those on a weekly basis on my Facebook and Instagram accounts. At the end of the ten weeks, I’ll post all 10 for you to comment on!

 

High Key Me

High Key Me