Why I Love this Shot – Little Photographer

Today’s Why I Love this Shot is a wee celebration of a girl who’s very special to me. This lass is celebrating her 5th birthday today and it’s been so amazing to watch her grow and get to know her.

This shot is taken from an afternoon of imaginative play with this creative wee girl where my cameras were the centre of her attention. They had their own personalities and parts to play in our story that day and she was determined to learn how they worked. This was her at 3 years old.

Creative. Determined. Inspiring.

Sounds about right.

Happy birthday lovely girl! Here’s to many more creative times together! xx

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 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

A Fresh Start in Frankfurt

As some of you are aware, we’re on the move again soon and will be packing up and heading to Frankfurt in just a few weeks (all things going well).

It will be our third move to a foreign country since January 2014. My fifth apartment in the same space of time.

For the past two years I’ve split my time between our home under the blue skies of Madrid and various homes in Bonnie Scotland. It’s been both hectic and brilliant, both tiring and rewarding.

Image of a sunrise out of a plane window with "Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone" quote

However, it hasn’t helped me keep my business goals clear, as the playing-field, never mind the goalposts, keeps moving.

In Madrid, I jumped in head-first and not fully prepared for what was coming. I got caught up in trying to “make it work” and took on projects that were nothing to do with my original business plan. Some successful, some not. A degree of flexibility is a huge asset to working abroad, especially if you’re self-employed, but I was bending over backwards trying to find my feet in this new place.

It was an attempt to make it feel like home.

Every few weeks I was also flying back to the UK and running parts of my business from there. The first few years of being self-employed are difficult to navigate at the best of times, never mind when they involve a fractured set-up from two different countries. It’s a constant rollercoaster and that old foe “self-doubt” regularly comes out of the shadows for a visit. I wasn’t doing things as well as I wanted to and I’d fallen into the trap of being busy but not productive.

As our move to Frankfurt edges closer, I’ve been feeling somewhat apprehensive. The idea of starting all over again and learning how to run my business as a stranger to yet another city makes me understandably nauseated. Being a soloprenuer and small business owner is not for the faint-hearted. It takes drive and determination. Dedication and confidence in not only your product but also yourself.

Feeling like a stranger is enough to make anyone feel lost and unsure. It took its toll on me these past couple of years and has had big implications for my business. Don’t get me wrong, the last couple of years were by no means a failure, but right a that point where most small businesses face a time of reflection and reassessment, I’m faced with starting over. Again.

It took a conversation with a friend (who really should consider a career as a life-coach) to recognise what deep down I really knew. Our move to Frankfurt is one full of opportunity and new beginnings. A chance to take a step back and “pivot” so my business can evolve into something I’m happy with. A time to refocus and adjust as necessary.

But to do this properly I actually need to take a step back. To take the time to get to know my new city and find out what works there. Decide the best way to continue working with the wonderful colleagues I now have in Scotland, England, Norway and Spain. Make sure what I’m doing has the impact I aim for and stays relevant in a industry known for changing at a fast pace.

As other small business owners will know, the whole reason you started can sometimes fade behind the growing expenses and realisation you’re working for less than a few pounds an hour.

So for the next few months I’ve decided to take a little bit of a break to allow myself to remember why I’m doing this. With the exception of the bookings I’ve already got in the diary (and a handful of people I’m working out dates with), I won’t be taking on any more clients until later this year.

Instead, I’ll be rewriting my business plan, taking some classes, learning about Search Engine Optimisation, updating my website(s) and practising my craft. I’ll keep in touch through blogging, eNewsletters and my #MeiPhotoChallenge so I won’t disappear altogether. It’s just time for new chapter in both my business and personal life.

And I’ve got some German to learn too…

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

Top Ten Favourite Photography Resources

So for today’s #BLOGtober post I thought I’d try to be a bit more helpful and share some of the online photography resources I have come to rely on.  In no particular order, these are my top ten favourite resources:

1- Adobe Creative Cloud Adobe-Creative-Cloud

This one is pretty obvious and I’m not even close to using it to it’s full potential but without the wizardry of AdobeCC I’d struggle to process my RAW files as quickly as I do and they would take ages to be ready for my customers. There are other free editing software packages out there but I’ve not found anything that comes close to what you can do on Photoshop or Lightroom. I use Photoshop mostly and while I do minimal editing compared to what’s possible on this software, I also use it to design leaflets, fliers and social media posts.

What’s more, Adobe have some brilliant videos and tutorials to help you learn new techniques and get the best out of your subscription. I love it!

squijoo2 – Squijoo

Next up, it’s Squijoo.com. Yep, a crazy name but one you remember. I came across it via Facebook and I got a little addicted. Partly because I learned a lot very quickly using their templates and designs to smarten up my marketing.

They have just about everything you can think of – backdrops, overlays, business card designs, advertising boards and even logo designs. You can subscribe for less than £10 a month to download your templates. Follow them on Facebook to see their latest updates and things they have to offer. Plus they regularly ask for feedback and ideas so you have the chance to request designs.

creative live3 – Creative Live

Online photography tutorials and classes. Perfect for the travelling photographer who struggles to commit to be in the same place for an extended period of time.  The classes are well priced and if you’re lucky, the stream a lot of them for free at the time of the class. It is based in America so you need to be prepared for some late nights or early mornings if you want to catch these classes.

I’ve subscribed to a few of them and enjoyed them all. My wishlist for their courses continues to grow.

4 – Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers SWPP

This has been really helpful for me. As a UK photography business I was looking for advice and help to make sure my business was functioning properly and adhering to regulations. By being an SWPP member I uphold their code of conduct and rules.

I also benefit from their conferences, monthly competitions (of which I’ve won 3rd place in once already!) and I’m soon to tap in to their Mentoring Programme to keep pushing myself and my work.

5 – 500px 500px

I actually use 500px for my wildlife work more than my portrait work. This is mostly because the images on 500px can lead to sales and I don’t sell my portrait work to anyone other than the people in the photo (and with permission, their families).

The site itself is really useful for both inspiration and getting feedback on your work. There are regular competitions and photo “quests” to challenge you and I could spend hours looking through the incredible talent from around the world. Some of the images are mind-blowing.

6 – Phlearn – Free Tutorials phlearn

I love Phlearn! I’ve only used their free video tutorials for Photoshop but I’ve probably learned more through them than the photography class I took a few years ago. Simple and effective videos which are really well presented. I can’t wait to dig a little deeper and see what else they have to offer.  I know you can subscribe for more support but at the moment, I’m getting tonnes of help just from the basics since I don’t do a lot of image manipulation anyway.

mail chimp7 – Mail Chimp

E-marketing. It’s a MUST for businesses and something that I’ve yet to master. I started off quite well but it fell by the wayside and is something I will be resurrecting soon.

Mail Chimp makes emailing your customers so much easier! There’s a little bit of a learning curve at first but it’s by no means a steep one. Definitely worth having a look at the free plan to make your emails that bit more polished.

Pinterest-logo8 – Pinterest

If you’ve never used Pinterest, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? It’s an amazing resource for finding blogs, tutorials and inspiration.  I have different boards to help spark my creativity and share ideas with fellow entrepreneurs. A word of warning though – you can very easily get sucked in and before you know it, you’ve pinned thousands of ideas which you’ll never come back to. I used to spend hours on it when insomnia hit but now I’m better at regulating my time and I only go on it when I’m looking for something specific.

9 – Moo.com moo

Ok, I know I said I was sharing my favourite online resources but as far as marketing goes, I’ve loved Moo.com. The quality of the business cards and fliers is brilliant. I’ve also used them for products like gift vouchers and postcards. The reason? A little something they call Printfinity. The ability to print lots of different images in one order. This has been so helpful for starting out so I can sample projects and ideas instead of spending lots on hundreds of prints.

10 – 365project

And finally, the 365project.org. It’s really good for expanding your technical ability and a photo-a-day project will challenge most photographers to stay creative and keep moving. The community on 365project are generally great though be prepared, if you ask for honest feedback, you’ll get it!  There are challenges to take part in as you see fit and of course, there are the “Popular” and “Trending” pages which are always nice to be on. Definitely worth a look for both amateurs and professionals.

365

So there you have them! My favourite resources at the moment. I imagine this will change in the future but so far, these have been the most useful for me. Have I missed anything obvious? Can you recommend anything else? I’d love to know what you think! x

Lost Along the Way…

Back in December, I wrote a blog about the 12 Things I’ve Learned in 500 Days of Mei Photography.

Today, now at 818 Days of Mei Photography, I went back and read it again.

I’m really glad I did.

I wrote the blog as a way to help people in a similar stage of their businesses realise that they are not alone. All the worries, panics, fears and insecurities are normal and part of the journey.  Somewhere along the way, I forgot about it.

“It” being both my blog post and the information within it. I really need to learn to take my own advice.

In the last few months, this roller-coaster ride that is setting up and running your own business has felt a bit shaky. This is thanks to a variety of reasons but at lot of it is linked to the very first point -> lots of ideas + not enough time = lack of focus and a bit of a burnout.

Burnout is pretty severe sounding. It’s not as bad as all that but I am getting bogged down in worrying about all the things I’m trying to do and not really feeling good enough to do it all. And to be honest, I can’t do it all. At least not at the same time. Somewhere along the way I forgot that again and I’ve had to take a step back to refocus.

I’ve never been one to be short of ideas. And I’m the first to admit that not all my ideas are good ideas. So I have to learn to take time to think about what is useful and worthwhile before diving straight in.

Teal green writing on a white background which reads "A goal without a plan is just a wish" with the Mei Photography Logo

And that requires planning.

I love planning. The act of it that is. The charts, timelines, budgeting etc. I am one of those people who actually enjoy it. At least to a certain extent. But for some reason, when the excitement of a new idea or project takes hold, the planning stage goes out the window and I dive in at the details end. And then a few weeks/months/a.n.other amount of time later, I’m left with a lot of half finished projects which I didn’t have a clear end point and feeling like I’m treading water instead of achieving anything.

And no wonder. With no clear end point, how can I know if anything is finished? What am I trying to achieve with all these ideas? A greater good like #RealGirlsRealBeauty where the aim is to help people? To meet more people who might be future customers and make my business sustainable? To increase awareness of the work I’m doing? Or to improve my craft and upskill? Lots of ideas are great but if they quickly become useless without any point.

So here’s the thing, by the end of BLOGtober, the goal is to update and refresh my Business Plan and have clear outlines and priorities for these many ideas floating about in this creative but sometimes impulsive mind of mine!

Wish me luck… I’ll need it! x

 

 

 

 

12 things I’ve learned in 500 days of Mei Photography

500

FIVE

HUNDRED

The number of days since I started my own business.

That’s actually a lie.

It has now been 523 days since I started my own business.

I’d fully intended on posting this more than three weeks ago but, as I’m about to write about, things don’t always go to plan. However this next part is true – I can’t quite believe I’ve been self-employed for over 500 days. I’ve learned so much from my successes and my many, many failures! So as a little bit of revision for me and hopefully some helpful tips and advice or even just a chance for any small business owners to see that they aren’t alone, here are a few things I’ve learned…

1. So many ideas, so little time…

more focus WR

I started this business the way I start pretty much everything. Headfirst with a million ideas all jumbled about in a heady mix of excitement and nerves. I’m a planner, an organiser and I’m ambitious. My original idea was to combine my 3 loves: photography, dog training and conservation science communication. My Business Gateway Advisor’s head was spinning when I first rushed in with all my ideas. And my “elevator pitch”? At best garbled and had to be delivered on a trip up the Empire State Building to get through it all. The truth was, I knew what I wanted to do but I had no idea how to do it all.

Since then, I’ve become a bit more realistic. I couldn’t do everything all at once. No matter how much I tried or wanted to – it just wasn’t a feasible business strategy. To survive as a small business owner you have to be focused and work out how to make your idea make you money. It seems a bit basic but the reality is, if your business doesn’t make money, it won’t survive. Successful, sustainable businesses need money.

So I focused on photography in this first year with a little bit of conservation thrown in.  This made most sense for me. I love taking photos and capturing moments for people. I also love the art of it.  The creativity and ideas behind it. I’ve temporarily shelved a couple of my other ideas until life becomes a bit more stable – then I’ll throw another ball into the juggling mix.

2. Value what you dowhat you're worth WR

This has been a tough lesson. Especially when just starting out and working in a creative business. Creative work is personal. We do it because we believe it improves other people’s lives even in just the smallest way.  We do it because we want to make a difference.

Figuring out how much to charge has as much to do with confidence as it does maths.  You need to cover your costs, have good enough profit margins to be able to reinvest in the business but still be competitive and also be able to take a wage so you can, you know, live. Simple? Yes? Not quite.

It takes a lot to put yourself out there and this becomes more apparent when the product you’re selling is a creative one, it’s like an extension of yourself and the way you feel about yourself is reflected in your prices. Getting the price you deserve for your work starts with you. Know your worth and value your work, or no-one else will.